Sunday, June 25, 2017

Gary Barwin, No TV for woodpeckers


dad a pink sea horse
mom a tiny ear

dad remember
the sea

remember the thrum of blood
your body the colour of eyelids

mom the rush of wind
in the ridges of the ear

mom and dad
you curl up in my hands

mom and dad

not yet

Hamilton writer, composer and editor Gary Barwin has been on quite a roll lately, receiving a grand amount of attention and accolade for his latest novel, Yiddish for Pirates (Penguin, 2016). The latest in his long line of poetry titles is No TV for woodpeckers (Hamilton ON: Wolsak & Wynn, 2017), produced as part of editor Paul Vermeersch’s Buckrider Books imprint. Opening with a sonnet on blackbirds (one that, possibly, suggests an extra way of looking at a blackbird, beyond Wallace Stevens’ classic and endlessly-reworked “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird”), No TV for woodpeckers quickly establishes itself as a collection of poems thick with detail, distraction and play, constructed, if not to unsettle, but to keep the reader slightly off-balance, albeit through rhythm, chants and repetitions. This book requires attention, one that requires the reader to dig deep into the quick repetitions, the variations on sound and play, and thrums and twists of both language and meaning. As the opening poem, “Not,” writes:

for all the blackbirds
for all the blackbirds
for a million blackbirds

for the blackbirds’ wings
for the blackbirds’ eyes
for a sky of blackbirds

if you paid me feather
if you paid me wing
if you gave me flight
if you gave me nest

for all the blackbirds
for all the blackbirds
for the mind of blackbirds
for the whole heart of blackbirds

In fourteen lines, Gary Barwin argues, in his own way, for a completion of blackbirds. Take that, Wallace Stevens. Barwin’s work has long been associated with that of Stuart Ross, along with a whole slew of “Canadian surrealists,” and much of Barwin’s ongoing work circles around the surreal, bad jokes, quirks and twists, as well as the physical and emotional landscape of his hometown and domestic of Hamilton, Ontario, where he and his family have lived for years. The surreal, one might argue, is as much an element of what he does in his writing as means for his writing to actually be surreptitiously doing something entirely different. Any conversation on his writing should include surrealism, but shouldn’t end with such.

After the initial sonnet, No TV for woodpeckers moves into a small handful of poems playing off rural or small town “field guides,” including Hamilton-specific pieces such as “The Birds of Hamilton, Ontario,” “The Fish of Hamilton, Ontario” and “The Snakes of Hamilton, Ontario,” the first of which opens: “we are for the chuck-will’s-widow / the horned grebe / the fulvous whistling-duck / for looking directly into the semi-palmated plover / for the shearwater / for the lazuli bunting [.]” Thick with sound and description, there have always been two sides to the Gary Barwin poem: the straightforwardness of what the right hand is showing you, and the twists of what the left hand, alternately, is doing. The right hand exists, in part, to distract away from and counterbalance the left.

I do find it interesting how both Barwin and Ross have centred books and/or chapbooks around specific animals, from this current title with multiple poems and references to woodpeckers, to other Barwin titles wrapped around baboons, porcupines, parrots and multiple other waywards beasts. If and when Barwin might have a selected poems, I’m curious as to see which elements of his ongoing menagerie might be included.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Felicia Zamora, Of Form & Gather

In Of Form & Gather, poems become choral assemblages to their proximity, tuned into the maker’s spirit as coiled out from unhurried interactions with ancestral zygotes. Where does identity invoke place over silence—intimate implications of nuance, trust in the reader’s ability to move in concert with the writer’s soul? If even a fraction of beyond-space is gleaned by possibility, the maker’s job is done. If one could imagine what awaits between where one could go and why one has remained, would that bring us to a finite completion—a cyclic undercarriage of removal in the language remaining? (Edwin Torres, “Introduction to the Poems”)

The author of three prior poetry chapbooks, Colorado poet and editor Felicia Zamora’s first full-length collection is Of Form & Gather (Notre Dame IN: Notre Dame University Press, 2017), produced as part of the 2016 Andrés Montoya Prize (as judged by Edwin Torres). Predominantly set in prose blocks, Zamora’s poems shift from meditative narratives to short lyric essays, sketched in ways deceptively straightforward but multiple and slightly askew. The title to this debut is intriguing, suggesting a composition of disparate elements gathered into a series of collage-works set in particular shapes; the collage element might be there, but the poems appear to emerge even as you are reading them. “you remember your cells,” she writes, in the poem “O for passage,” “belonging to others, before the dark grew you [.]”

Of ghosts

You take a photo of the thermometer
outside the window; think degrees of, think
what blurs & what melts from; the truck full;
the tin roof gleams in midday

& her eyes in pools; think torn of; think

vacant; how the ditch overgrows & the table
once held rhubarb pie & asparagus picked;
think an old highway; think a gravel lot; think
three young hearts; think play-

ground; how we memory out of; how place
haunts behind each pupil; how rusted poles
suspend the MOTEL sign; shadows in cast;
think spells; cradle of; of the mulberry tree;
think where fireflies catch; bark once in curve

to your body, towers silent, deep in root.

Friday, June 23, 2017

some new poems : Tupelo Quarterly + Public Pool,

I've had a small selection of newish poems appear online recently via Tupelo Quarterly and Public Pool. Thanks much to all the editors/publishers involved! Further poems that have appeared online can be seen over at my author page, here.

And, of course, a chapbook of a selection of "the book of smaller" is forthcoming through above/ground press at some point...

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Queen Mob's Teahouse: Novelists Tom Stern and Adam Novak in Conversation

As my tenure as interviews editor at Queen Mob's Teahouse continues, the twenty-ninth interview is now online: Novelists Adam Novak and Tom Stern [pictured] in conversation. Other interviews from my tenure include: an interview with poet, curator and art critic Gil McElroy, conducted by Ottawa poet Roland Prevostan interview with Toronto poet Jacqueline Valencia, conducted by Lyndsay Kirkhaman interview with Drew Shannon and Nathan Page, also conducted by Lyndsay Kirkhaman interview with Ann Tweedy conducted by Mary Kasimoran interview with Katherine Osborne, conducted by Niina Pollarian interview with Catch Business, conducted by Jon-Michael Franka conversation between Vanesa Pacheco and T.A. Noonan, "On Translation and Erasure," existing as an extension of Jessica Smith's The Women in Visual Poetry: The Bechdel Test, produced via Essay PressFive questions for Sara Uribe and John Pluecker about Antígona González by David Buuck (translated by John Pluecker),"overflow: poetry, performance, technology, ancestry": kaie kellough in correspondence with Eric Schmaltz, and Mary Kasimor's interview with George FarrahBrad Casey interviewed byEmilie LafleurDavid Buuck interviews John Chávez about Angels of the Americlypse: An Anthology of New Latin@ Writing and an interview with Abraham Adams by Ben FamaTender and Tough: Letters as Questions as Letters: Cheena Marie Lo, Tessa Micaela and Brittany Billmeyer-Finn, Kristjana Gunnars’ interview with Thistledown Press author Anne Campbell, Timothy Dyke’s interview with Hawai’i poet Jaimie Gusman, Hailey Higdon's interview with Joanne Kyger, Stephanie Kaylor's interview with Kenyatta JP Garcia, Jaimie Gusman’s interview with Timothy Dyke, Sarah Rockx interviews Gary Barwin, Megan Arden Gallant's interview with Diane Schoemperlen, Andrew Power interviews Lauren B. Davis and Chris Lawrence interviews Jonathan Ball.

Further interviews I've conducted myself over at Queen Mob's Teahouse includeGeoffrey YoungClaire Freeman-Fawcett on Spread LetterStephanie Bolster on Three Bloody WordsClaire Farley on CanthiusDale Smith on Slow Poetry in AmericaAllison GreenMeredith QuartermainAndy WeaverN.W Lea and Rachel Loden.

If you are interested in sending a pitch for an interview my way, check out my "about submissions" write-up at Queen Mob's; you can contact me via rob_mclennan (at)

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

My writing day : Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Given I did one of these a year or so ago, I thought it might be interesting to see what may have changed in the interim. Or remained the same. Might it all be the same? 

8:08am: everyone wakes late. By at least ten or fifteen minutes.

Around 5am, Rose complained for her mother, loudly, so she and I switched places, leaving her in the master bedroom with Christine and Aoife. I slept in Rose’s room, sans clock. I finally woke, wondering the time. Panicked. Woke everyone else.

8:12am: Ablutions. Coffee. Prepare oatmeal for preschooler as baby rouses. Turn on Ane Brun. Set both children down for breakfast. Check email. Christine prepares for work.

8:17am: Prepare lunch for preschooler. Pack towel, extra clothes. Today Rose in a swimsuit, as her preschool has ‘water days’ today (the day prior, also). Sprinkler, water table, etcetera. It meant, at least for yesterday, she returned home in soaking wet sandals covered in sand (but she had fun).

8:20am: collect newspaper from the front porch. Set it aside until tomorrow (there is no time for it this morning). Rose requests a second bowl of oatmeal.

Send out weekly mass email for the “Tuesday poem” series I curate over at the dusie blog [see link here to sign up for such]; this week: Sarah Cook (author of an above/ground press title announced last week). Field three emails from exhibitors for this Saturday’s semi-annual ottawa small press book fair.

8:31am: daily blog post posts. I change and dress the baby. Slip a dress over Rose’s swimsuit.

Christine nurses baby and brushes preschooler’s hair, covers her in sunscreen.

8:45am: leave for preschool with both children (Christine leaves a few minutes after we do). Rose has been at preschool five mornings a week for the full year, with the Tuesday and Thursday mornings extended to full days on February first. Given she begins junior kindergarten this fall, we worried about her being one of the younger kids in the class (she turns four in later November). At least this way, she gets used to full days in a familiar environment, and gets a little bit of French in the afternoons. The teachers keep telling me that she is completely ready for school.

Preschool: which actually ends next Tuesday, making this her last full week. I’ve already a local teenager I’m bringing in as ‘mother’s helper’ two mornings a week to watch both girls so I can sit at my desk, otherwise I would get nothing at all done.

I don’t need much, but I have to get something.

9:10am: land in basement with baby. Already I know she won’t nap at her usual time (9:45 or so). Which is fine, given Rose in a full-day preschool.

Read Aoife some stories. Attempt to answer some outstanding emails as she plays on the floor.

10:13am: random phone call from my father. Apparently an older woman named Carol called him this morning, insisting we were related somewhere along the McLennan genealogy. He had no idea, and seemed not convinced, but passed her name and email along to me so I could check my files. I’m not convinced either, given I’ve never heard the name, and we aren’t really related to anyone (in six or seven generations, we’ve many who didn’t have kids or simply vanished). But I’m curious to see if I can figure out where she connects. I’ve a 350+ page document I’ve been constructing since the early 1990s of McLennan/MacLennan genealogies throughout Stormont and Glengarry Counties with some forty or more unrelated/unconnected (so far) families.

Honestly, given she apparently told my father that her family came from Scotland around 1800, that wouldn’t be us. We were far closer to 1840.

10:30am: begin to attempt baby down for her nap.

10:49am: refresh coffee, and move myself and laptop from basement to desk. Hit “refresh” on the same Tycho album I’ve been listening to for months.

Carol is nowhere to be found in the genealogy file I’ve built, so I send her an email for further information. I’m almost certain she isn’t one of ours, but I’m wondering if I might be able to connect her to one of the other families, at least.

Since Christine returned to work in mid-April, I’ve been focusing my writing time on short poems and reviews, awaiting the fall to return to longer prose. I haven’t worked on short fiction in a few months, and would also like to be able to return to that larger novel I set aside a few years ago, for the sake of completing a possible draft of my short story manuscript, “On Beauty,” as well as my post-mother creative non-fiction title, “The Last Good Year.” Given both those manuscripts are now floating around the ether as submissions, I would really like to return to “Don Quixote” [see my 2010 essay on such posted at Rain Taxi here]. Oh, to be able to finish that, if only to see what might come next...

While I think some of the short poems I’ve been working on lately are quite strong, there is something about fiction that feels like an entirely new set of possibilities for my work. I should be writing more fiction. I’ve had the feeling the past few years that prose is really where I should be focusing my attention, but such is near-impossible while I’ve such small windows of time and attention with which to work. I need something longer, more sustained.

Until then, I’ve nearly one hundred short prose poems in the manuscript “the book of smaller,” begun back in December. I’ll keep adding to the file as new poems complete, perhaps see where it is as a whole later in the fall. Unlike most of my poetry collections, I’m composing with no sense of order or sections, but simply adding finished poems as they complete (I’ve some twenty or thirty pieces in various states of incomplete, most of which might never be). Once the manuscript is “completed,” I’ll worry about removing the weaker pieces, and re-ordering, much in the same way I composed my short story collection, The Uncertainty Principle (Chaudiere Books, 2014). I am deliberately not being in a hurry with such. I write when I can; short, single stanza collages.

I accept poems by Marilyn Irwin and Sean Braune for upcoming issues of Touch the Donkey. I send a first interview question off to Suzanne Wise for same.

I return to a short piece I’ve been working on for Ottawa Magazine, on being a writer home full-time with small children, and how I manage to juggle writing and children (short answer: poorly and breathlessly and constantly). After feedback from the editor yesterday afternoon, I finally manage to return to the piece, tweak it a bit, and send off another draft.

I poke at design for forthcoming above/ground press chapbooks by Sarah Dowling, Stephanie Bolster, Buck Downs and Valerie Coulton. Field a couple of author emails.

Yesterday I poked at a review of the new Gary Barwin poetry title, and managed about a half hour’s worth of flipping through poetry books in the backyard, as the children played, but don’t manage to get anywhere near reviewing today.

11:52am: baby wakes. We lunch. I empty, refill and start dishwasher.

I package up the two loaves of banana bread Rose assisted with yesterday, for eventual distribution. Perhaps I’ll give one to jwcurry at the reading on Friday. Since I can’t support him financially in the way I would like, I can at least offer him some of my homemade banana bread. He seems both enthusiastically appreciative of my baking, and always, just a wee bit, confused that I keep handing him loaves of bread, so, really: it’s win-win.

Pull loaf of brown bread from the downstairs freezer. Clean cat barf discovered in sunroom.

Clean counter. Wonder what the hell dinner is going to be.

Roused by a thumping, I discover a City of Ottawa crew slowly creeping north along Alta Vista; I have no idea why. I see the pile of detritus left at our curb by yesterday’s hedge trimmers has started to blow across our front yard. Nice.

Check the many gendered mothers email account; nothing new. I retweet a few items from the mgm twitter account.

12:27pm: clean and change baby, including her outfit (covered in strawberry stains). Put away clean cloth diapers Christine re-assembled. Head back downstairs with baby, laptop.

We play quietly. Read through a Richard Scarry picture book. She plays the drum.

This morning was last night’s The Daily Show and Late Night with Seth Meyers (his “a closer look” segments really are spectacular), and now we enter last night’s Late Show with Stephen Colbert. The Late Late Show. Conan.

1:23pm: upstairs, Aoife gets a cookie and we collect the mail. Some very cool new books by Katy Lederer (I’m doing a chapbook of hers soon), Daniel Handler (I realized a couple of months ago that he was an above/ground press subscriber circa 2008) and Tom Stern, as well as a couple of copies of her first book that Brynne Rebele-Henry was kind enough to donate to our eventual many gendered mothers fundraiser.

Aoife has been a bit clingier the past few days, sitting up with me more than usual. For a while she was grumpy, and almost seemed tired, but she refuses to settle into a nap (if that’s even what she needs). She cranks, cranks, cranks. She sits up beside me on the couch for most of our time downstairs.

2:36pm: head upstairs again, to use main bathroom (easier to contain baby in such than in downstairs bathroom) and notice all of our hedge-refuse at the curb is gone now. Weird.

Aoife seems pleased with the introduction of two Arrowroot cookies. We start another episode of Colbert, from last week.

2:57pm: Christine emails, asking for the girls’ social insurance numbers for some reason.

I change the baby’s wet diaper and I change my shirts, covered in Aoife’s cookie-goo.

3:17pm: we leave to collect Rose from preschool. I take the ‘running stroller’ for the sake of a quick post-pickup grocery run. We’re caught in the rain, but only briefly. Rose stops to pick some flowers.

4:23pm: land home. Fold and put away the stroller. Downstairs, I settle the children to snack on goldfish and blueberries. I put away groceries.

Sean Braune sends his bio for Touch the Donkey and says yes to an interview. I send him the first question.

Carol responds, but with not enough information for me to find in my document. “Duncan McLennan” sans dates is impossible. My document, on a quick scan, includes sixty examples of “Duncan.” I request further information, such as birth/death dates and wife’s name.

Carol’s mention that she believes we’re related “because she’s read the census” isn’t helpful. I request clarification.

5:05pm: I head upstairs for dinner prep. I empty the dishwasher.

5:18pm: Christine returns home. Dinner.

5:35pm: I quickly shower. I begin children bath preparations and clean dinner dishes and highchair as Christine plays with children in the living room.

5:55pm: Christine bathes children (a task usually mine) while I run out for a quick errand (wine). I’d like to head downtown to pick up the small press fair catalogue to begin folding and stapling, but there isn’t time, given Christine heading out again. Tomorrow.

6:20pm: land home, collect bathed/dressed baby for downstairs, while Christine assists newly-clean Rose with her bedtime snack. We collect downstairs for the sake of their bedtime stories.

6:30pm: Christine leaves for chiropractor appointment.

I somehow managed to convince the children to pick up some of their toys in the basement. Well, not as much as I would have liked, but there you go.

7:00pm: Aoife and I take Rose up for bedtime. Teeth brushing, vitamins, stories. I make the bed in the master bedroom. Aoife is very wiggly and less than (entirely) helpful, but amusing.

7:16pm: Aoife and I return downstairs. Rose’s monitors are on and she is singing. Then complaining.

7:19pm: Aoife and I downstairs again after re-settling Rose. Aoife drifts. I put her in sleep-sack and she floats away.

7:30pm: arrive downstairs from putting sleeping Aoife in her crib. Return upstairs to re-settle complaining Rose.

7:34pm: return to the basement to work on the latest above/ground press mailout – nathan dueck and Sarah Cook chapbooks and Touch the Donkey #14 – for the sake of distribution at this weekend’s small press book fair. Receive first interview answer from Sean Braune and send second question.

I’m tempted to post a couple of “12 or 20 questions” for future blog appearance, but I’m just too damned tired.

I work on the mailout and watch some of my stories. This Hasan Minhaj Homecoming King special is really, really good.

8:50pm: Christine returns home.

9:24pm: we attempt a series on Amazon Prime in which Christina Ricci plays Zelda Fitzgerald (I had added “Zelda” to our wish-list of names, prior to Aoife’s birth; I liked the idea of “Rose and Zel”). We consider the show acceptable, and watch the first three episodes.

10pm: poems rejected by an online journal. Bah.

10:44pm: finally, a response on an interview I wished to post as part of my Queen Mobs Teahouse deal as interviews editor. After months of asking for a bio from the student for their interview, they respond by sending the interview again. Sigh.

11:01pm: We crash, finally.

Monday, June 19, 2017

The Factory Reading Series pre-small press book fair reading, June 23, 2017: Rubacha, MacDonell, Million + Christie,

span-o (the small press action network - ottawa) presents:

The Factory Reading Series
pre-small press book fair reading

featuring readings by:
Elisha May Rubacha (Peterborough)
Sarah MacDonell (Ottawa)
Justin Million (Peterborough)
and Jason Christie (Ottawa)

lovingly hosted by rob mclennan
Friday, June 23, 2017;
doors 7pm; reading 7:30pm
The Carleton Tavern,
223 Armstrong Street (at Parkdale; upstairs)

[And don’t forget the ottawa small press book fair, held the following day at the Jack Purcell Community Centre]

Elisha May Rubacha lives, writes, and gardens in Peterborough, ON. She is the editor and designer of bird, buried press and the co-curator of the Show and Tell Poetry Series. Her work has been published by Bywords, Puddles of Sky Press, The Steel Chisel, and Skirt Quarterly, and she was shortlisted for the PRISM International Creative Non-fiction Contest in 2016.

If you work in the arts, Sarah MacDonell [pictured] would like you to hire her. A 2017 Tree Reading Series Hot Ottawa Voice, AOE Young Artist Mentee, and youth board member of the OAG’s dépArt, Sarah has performed at Slackline Creative Series, Sawdust Reading Series, CSA rout/e, and the ottawater launch. Her first chapbook, The Lithium Body, came out in January with In/Words. You can find her poems online and posted outside of McCarthy Park.

Justin Million is a poet living, working, writing, and curating art happenings in downtown Peterborough, ON. Million has published 19 poetry chapbooks, with presses such as Apt. 9 Press, and bird, buried press, and has been featured in literary magazines such as Word and Colour, Poetry Is Dead, and ottawater. Million is also the curator of the Show and Tell Poetry Series in Peterborough, ON, is the Poetry Editor for bird, buried press, also located in Peterborough, ON, and features every month with his Smith-Corona Electra 110 at KEYBOARDS!, Peterborough’s only live-writing poetry show.

Jason Christie is the author of Canada Post (Snare), i-ROBOT (Edge/Tesseract), Unknown Actor (Insomniac), and a co-editor of Shift & Switch: New Canadian Poetry (Mercury). He has five chapbooks from above/ground press: 8th Ave 15th Street NW (2004), GOVERNMENT (2013), Cursed Objects (2014), The Charm (2015), random_lines = random.choice (2017). He is currently writing poetry about (being) objects, and exaltation.