There’s a Poem for That: AJ Dolman + Crazy/Mad

Our first poem for National Poetry Month – AJ Dolman’s “Slippery slope thinking” from their debut collection, Crazy/Mad (Gordon Hill Press) – is for resisting redemption arcs inherent to “sameness” and instead, embracing the multitude identities contained within each of us.

A graphic reading: "there's a poem for... resisting redemption arcs". The cover of the collection Crazy/Mad and an inset photo of the poet AJ Dolman are featured on the graphic as well.


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There's a poem for that... NPM on All Lit Up.

An interview with poet AJ Dolman

All Lit Up: Can you tell us a bit about Crazy/Mad and how it came to be?

The cover of Crazy/Mad by AJ Dolman.

AJ Dolman: I’ve written much fiction, non-fiction and poetry over the years about mental illness, about the realities and effects of and fears around it among people with mental illnesses and those who engage with them/us. But, somehow, in trying to put a full collection of my poetry together, I could not see that recurring theme as a cohesive tie between so many of my completed poems. Maybe that was an act of self-preservation for a while. Maybe it is that we can’t see ourselves as clearly as we think we can see others. Regardless, it wasn’t until I came across Jon Crispin’s photography of patients’ confiscated luggage found in storage at the former Willard Asylum for the Chronic Insane. His work offered me an entry point, and a sort of green light, to engage consciously with my own fears around mental illness and the threat of institutionalization. And maybe that was because he worked in a different format, was contemporary, was male, was being actively praised for looking where I’d thought we weren’t supposed to be looking anymore.

ALU: What are you most in the mood to read these days? Any poets you’re especially enjoying?

AJ Dolman: I read across genres, and, since the pandemic, have been reading a lot of queer urban fantasy and romance, which I find helps my anxiety.

In poetry, I am wildly excited about this brilliant wave of poets being noticed recently in Ottawa, including (but by no means limited to) magnificent work by Manahil Bandukwala, Amanda Earl, Natalie Hanna, Conyer Clayton, Chris Johnson, nina jane drystek, the VII collective as a whole, Ellen Chang-Richardson, Sneha Madhavan-Reese.

I am also very much looking forward to getting my hands on the new Judith Copithorne collection, and Anne Carson’s latest, as well.

ALU: What sparked your initial love of poetry?

AJ Dolman: My first language is Dutch. I barely spoke any English when I started school. So, my experience with English was initially very function-driven, with my goals being to understand what was going on around me and to be understood clearly, to not make mistakes I could be mocked for.

In high school, I began exploring the poetry section in my school library, for reasons now lost to memory. I started in with romantic ballads, but soon leapt to John Lennon and Jim Morrison (which I doubt my high school library carried, so I imagine these must have come from one of my sisters).

Poetry made me realize language could be so much more, do so much more, than conveying information as data in and of itself. I think I had already recognized this subconsciously from my mother’s lively and dramatic storytelling, and from fiction I’d read in both English and Dutch.

But, seeing what words and letters could do on a page, how the sounds of them could be so plainly as important as the message they functionally contained, was an epiphany. From there, I started to love not just poetry as a tool for this, but language itself.

ALU: Has your idea of poetry changed since you began writing?

AJ Dolman: I think I have in recent years, and all the more with the support I’ve seen so far for Crazy / Mad, been able to finally overcome my tendency to denigrate my own work. I had, in my own mind, diminished the value of my approach from the outset, when I began writing poetry in university. I’ve always leaned towards what is seen as a confessional style of poetry. When I started out, I was told by a number of those (men) minding the doors of CanLit at the time that confessional poetry was female, feminine, outdated, passe, a medium only for diarists (which I read as non-men) and introverts (read: queers and Mad folk)—simply, a bunch of valueless navel-gazing. I was apparently considered good enough, however, to be told that I could, if I worked at it, become better than that.

I have very mixed feelings as we watch that generation die off and be lauded by their acolytes as heroes. I have planted both dogwoods and fences, but I was never going to write about conquering the land with either. I hope Crazy / Mad can be part of an overall shift in how, and whether, we compartmentalize and stigmatize both poetic forms and authors’ identities.

ALU: If you were to set your collection to a soundtrack, what song is at the top of the listing?

AJ Dolman: It didn’t exist yet while I was writing most of these poems, but, for better or worse, Billie Eilish’s “bury a friend” leaps to mind!

There’s a poem for resisting redemption arcs…
“Slippery slope thinking” from Crazy/Mad

No song or star or launch to spark,
just a lonely ring around my finger,
feeling of being further behind
than I was before, slipknot, dragonknot,
berber, loops meant to silk the rough

A passage, then clumsy tangle, snag
in the carpet where hammer toe catches,
scuff of prairie dust to knee, hairline tear
in cloth, a rift in a nail
going all the way down, unhealable,
ass to floor, a magpie pecking
at another bird’s nest
outside the sliding door

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A photo of poet AJ Dolman. They are a femme-appearing, light-skin toned person with short, dark purple hair, and they stand with their arms crossed, wearing a blue button down shirt.

AJ Dolman (she/they) is the author of Lost Enough: A collection of short stories and three poetry chapbooks, and co-editor of Motherhood in Precarious Times. Her poetry, fiction and essays have appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies, including Arc Poetry Magazine, QT Literary Magazine, The Quarantine Review, Imaginary Safe House, Grain, Canadian Ginger, On Spec, Prism international, The Fiddlehead, Utne, Crush and The Antigonish Review. They are a bi/pan+ rights advocate living on unceded Anishinaabe Algonquin territory.

Their debut full-length collection of poetry, Crazy / Mad, released in 2024 from Gordon Hill Press.

* * *

Thanks to AJ Dolman for answering our questions, and to Gordon Hill Press for the text of “Slippery slope thinking” from Crazy / Mad, which is available to order now (and get 15% off with the code THERESAPROMO4THAT until April 30!).

For more poetry month, catch up on our “there’s a poem for that” series here, and visit our poetry shop here.