Monday, December 22, 2014

Dorothea Lasky, Rome


All my life
It was a lie
To try to go towards bliss
But death is the ultimate blissfulness
To be a candy or a corpse
The world holds you on its tongue
And no one can save you
Not even your own children or your friends
So have a seat with the home of the dead
They will eat your colors
Until you are blank
The best thing to happen to you
The greatest happiness
To be an animal who is smoke
And beyond the mouth
That tears your bones from one another
To be a mound of meat
At the table of the living

Brooklyn poet Dorothea Lasky’s fourth poetry collection is Rome (New York NY: Liveright Publishing Corporation, 2014), following Thunderbird (Seattle WA/New York NY: Wave Books, 2012) [see my review of such here], Black Life (Wave Books, 2010) [see my review of such here] and AWE (Wave, 2007) [see my review of such here]. In the past, Lasky’s work has been compared to the work of both Frank O’Hara and Allen Ginsberg, and the influence of O’Hara’s “I did this, I did that” strain of lyric narrative is unmistakable. Both O’Hara and Ginsberg were also performative sentence-poets, writing out their immediate world as they understood it, and the performance poem-essays that make up Lasky’s Rome is clearly immersed in much of the same approach. Much like Lisa Robertson (but in a more narrative vein) and Lisa Jarnot, Lasky is very much a poet of sentences and stark phrases, allowing them to speak and shout and whisper and silence when appropriate, and even provide the occasional gut-punch. The final stanza of the piece “Poem to Florence,” for example, reads:

There were things I wished I’d said
And done
But it is too late now
So I go
Heavy with my offering
This book, this book

The ten-poem sequence that lends the book its title plays off considerations of the city of Rome, the fictions of real and imagined lives, and a grandness of history against certain disappointments of the contemporary: “Rome is about the Colosseum / Said the cashier in the local market / Where I went with my mother / In the town I grew up in / No longer a young man / But tunneling towards a ferocity / Not anyone could have predicted [.]” Throughout the title poem, as well as sprinkled through the book as a whole, Lasky forces confrontations between classical knowledge and the contemporary, pushing a darker series of tones through romantic ideas and ideals, as well as an exploration of some corners that aren’t often articulated (or so well) in contemporary poetry. As she writes in the poem “Porn”: “I watch porn / Cause I’ll never be in love / Except with you dear reader / Who thinks I surrender [.]” Part of what makes Rome so striking is in the way she writes the intimately personal so deeply dark, as though each line somehow a nail-scratch seeking blood beneath the skin. Listen to the opening stanzas of the poem “Moving,” as she writes:

Yes, I am moving but I am not
I will never see my body dead
In the way I have seen yours

The soul never sleeps
I told you
After you were gone

What was your name
I kept moving on
Until I did not need you anymore

Sunday, December 21, 2014

the return of The Peter F. Yacht Club regatta/reading/christmas party!

lovingly hosted by rob mclennan;

The Peter F. Yacht Club annual regatta/christmas party & issue launch for The Peter F Yacht Club #21: edited/produced by rob mclennan

at The Carleton Tavern (upstairs)
233 Armstrong Avenue (at Parkdale Market), Ottawa
Monday, December 29, 2014
doors 7pm, reading 7:30pm

with readings from yacht club regulars and irregulars alike;

Saturday, December 20, 2014


The Writers' Union of Canada is pleased to launch its 22nd Annual Short Prose Competition for Developing Writers, which invites writers to submit a piece of fiction or non-fiction of up to 2,500 words in the English language that has not previously been published in any format. A $2,500 prize will be awarded to a Canadian writer not published in a book format. The entries of the winner and finalists will be submitted to three Canadian magazines for consideration. The deadline for entries is March 1, 2015.

The Union initiated the Short Prose Competition in 1993 in honour of its 20th anniversary. The Competition aims to discover, encourage, and promote new writers of short prose. “The Short Prose Competition attracts a wide pool of talented writers,” notes the Union’s Executive Director, John Degen. “The quality of the writing continues to impress with each passing year.”

The Union is proud to announce an esteemed group of jurors for the Competition. Vancouver-based environmental journalist and author Arno Kopecky’s second book, The Oil Man and the Sea, won the 2014 Edna Staebler Award for Creative Nonfiction and was shortlisted for the 2014 Governor General's Award. His writing has appeared in such publications as The Walrus, Foreign Policy, The Globe and Mail, and Reader’s Digest. Donna Morrissey is the award-winning author of Kit's Law, Downhill Chance, What They Wanted, Sylvanus Now (shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers' Prize), and the children’s book Cross Katie Cross. Originally from Newfoundland, she now lives in Halifax. Retired Professor of English, University of Winnipeg, Uma Parameswaran is known for her contributions to the emerging field of South Asian Canadian Literature, writing novels, short stories, and poetry. Her works include A Cycle of the Moon, Sisters at the Well, The Sweet Smell of Mother’s Milk-wet Bodice, and the Canadian Authors' Association Jubilee Award-winning What Was Always Hers.

The competition is open to Canadian residents who have not had a book published and who do not have a contract with a book publisher. Submissions are accepted online (along with a $29 entry fee per submission) at by 11:59 pm Pacific Time on March 1, 2015. The winner will be announced in May 2015. For complete rules and regulations, please go to

The Writers' Union of Canada is the national organization representing professional book authors. Founded in 1973, the Union is dedicated to fostering writing in Canada and promoting the rights, freedoms, and economic well-being of all writers. For more information, please visit

Friday, December 19, 2014

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Rodney Koeneke

Rodney Koeneke’s latest poetry collection, Etruria, is just out from Wave Books. He’s also the author of Musee Mechanique and Rouge State, as well as four chapbooks. He studied history at U.C. Berkeley and Stanford, and currently teaches it in Portland, Ore.
1 - How did your first book or chapbook change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different? rob, it’s been so long since my first book—over 10 years—that I can’t quite remember. I suppose it was affirming, like it is for anyone. Then you go back to the silence to pull out more poems, and the book’s like a snapshot on your desktop of that vacation you took that one year.
2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction? Stung by a bee on the lip as a youth.
3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes? I tried to answer this one for you rob, but it varies so much from poem to poem that I couldn’t make an accurate generalization.

4 - Where does a poem usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning? My three books so far have been collections of poems, few longer than two pages. “The book” starts to happen at around 50 poems I can live with.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings? Readings help find the 50 I can live with. Don’t all writers enjoy readings? They sure enjoy readers.
6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are? What is a poem? What can poetry do?
7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be? I like thinking of Skelton at Diss, shaking fists at Wolsey. “Ware the Hawk.”
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)? Essentially difficult?
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)? No one listens to poetry. Wait. That’s got a nice ring. rob, feel free to use that somewhere.
10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to critical prose)? What do you see as the appeal? Prose is a snow machine; poetry’s snow.
11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin? A typical day begins with routine, which I try to keep poetry free from. 
12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration? Other poets.
13 - What fragrance reminds you of home? Other poets.
14 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art? I went to Google for this one to meet David W. McFadden, and it tells me “his poetry critiques the commercialism and shallowness of modern society.”
15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work? O rob, that’s a dangerous question! You’ll get one of those panicky Academy Award-type speeches that keeps cramming in more and more names, but somehow omits mom and dad.
16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done? Question 17.
17 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer? Plastics.
18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else? Seems I’m made to do lots of something else, as opposed to writing.
19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film? Against the Day. Solaris?
20 - What are you currently working on? I just finished a chapbook for Oakland’s Hooke Press that Brent Cunningham’s editing. It’s called Seven for Boetticher and Other Poems and it’ll be out later this year. I’m also at work with the great Team Wave to help Etruria find its way in the world.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Michelle Detorie, After-Cave

In motion is how we live, sleeping inside skin. I want wheels turning only in, around. My clothes, they get thin as I get worn. We were looking out for tracing clouds, fin slid under wing. We were without beds. I nurtured sounds. We came to land on land like rest. We fluttered full to nest only sticks built into temporary chambers. (“Fur Birds”)

Following the publication of a series of chapbooks through Insert Press, eohippus labs and dusie, Santa Barbara, California poet Michelle Detorie’s lively first trade poetry collection is After-Cave (Boise ID: Ahsahta Press, 2014). Composed in three sections, each of which are constructed via a collage of untitled poem fragments, prose-pieces and short lyrics, she opens the first section, “Fur Birds,” with “I am 15. Female. Human (I think).” The poems then move into an exploration of what the book describes as “feral life,” disappearing into the wilderness and abandoning numerous comforts of human culture, writing:

Digging underground, I disrupted homes that did not belong to me
but wound deep and tethered together.
          I thought of coupling tunnels and the downward wind of tubed
                              Like swans
                                        leaning in, their necks so long:
         the forged reflection
            the rubbed-out lake

Remember: her narrator may or may not be human, openly admitting at the offset to a rather considerable uncertainty, allowing the reader to find nearly anything else the narrator describes as possibly suspect, however open and sincere ‘her’ descriptions, admissions and considerations might be. Exactly what might our narrator be describing, one might wonder, or do we simply take her at her word? The way the accumulation of short pieces stitch into each other to create a larger construction is quite impressive, and her section-fragments shift and shimmy between abstract considerations, pure description, articulations of shelter, displays of animalistic tendencies, and talk of social interactions, shifting between a narrator who claims to have left the world long behind (in the ‘mad hermit in the woods’ sense), to someone who has merely stepped away for a moment. Towards the end of the collection, Detorie admits to the possibility of the abstract and even contradictory qualities of what this unnamed narrator presents: “To insist that something—someone or some being—cannot be / imagined is, in fact, its own form of oppression.” As poet and critic Bhanu Kapil suggests in her back-cover blurb, this is very much a collection exploring a space between “feral life and the ecology of shelter.”

We measured the mountains.
This small sadness:
I can hold in my swale, taste
it only tongue. Salt
showers and the glow
inside bones—lit up,
electric signs. The desert
is the pain of home, the home
away. This withholding—
it makes me pine all the more.
Sympathy is a craving. The stone
around us turns to ice.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

the chaudiere books blog:

There has been a ton of activity lately on the Chaudiere Books blog worth paying attention to, including new reviews of Amanda Earl's Kiki, Roland Prevost's Singular Plurals, Monty Reid's Garden and my own The Uncertainty Principle: stories, as well as links to new work by a variety of Chaudiere Books authors, and upcoming appearances and events. You can even follow press activity via the Chaudiere Books Facebook group, and consider directly ordering any or all of our titles via All Lit Up. And did we mention we're doing a critical collected poems by William Hawkins (edited by Cameron Anstee) and a second poetry collection by N.W. (formerly Nicholas) Lea in the spring, and a first poetry collection by Chris Turnbull in the fall? There's so much more to come.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Alex Leslie, The Things I Heard About You

The book that dreams all the names swollen green and black and yellow. Watermarks, birthmarks, names left out in the rainforest grow a new spore body, spine slipped by the pages that broke out. Popped a disc, the book staggers. No cellphone reception, the man in the store called Store heaves an eyebrow at my story. I open the phone book on the island where you now live. Open it, exhume pulp rot, head stuffed with wet leaves. An island where everybody knows each other’s name, your address it the place where the index is left to become microbe, become feast. Centres of pages mauled out, sections of letters (half the Ks, a few pages of Ps). After the cancer you decided you’d seen the worst. You decided to be positive and therefore become humourless. Moved to this place. Fell away. I turn the heavy edges. Where the names slope and wilt. My hands slow at the pages before your name. Qu Que—I’ve heard how different you are now, survivor, washed. I find your name, untouched by green, crossed out by a human hand.


Vancouver writer Alex Leslie’s first trade poetry collection, The Things I Heard About You (Gibsons BC: Nightwood Editions, 2014), is a book constructed as a narrative exploration in precision, excision and the variation. Originally titled “I know how small a story can be,” the book is constructed out of a series of single paragraph prose poems, each with a subsequent ripple of two or three poems that follow utilizing the same language, but incredibly boiled down, including the occasional end-piece made up of a single, short sentence. Combined with a prior chapbook of microfictions, 20 Objects for the New World (Vancouver BC: Nomados, 2011) and trade collection of short stories, People Who Disappear (Calgary AB: Freehand Books, 2012), Leslie gives the appearance of having an ongoing interest in utilizing condensed prose forms, and the poems in The Things I Heard About You seem to exist in a curious boundary between the prose poem and the short story. Each piece is thick with narrative, yet openly lyric, and incredibly dense. Given the explorations into multiple tellings, each denser than the last, there are echoes of the reworkings of Toronto poet Margaret Christakos, specifically in the reworkings-as-chorus-codas of her What Stirs (Toronto ON: Coach House Books, 2008) [see my review of such here] that play the same language as the main piece to remark, boil down and further examine what has already occurred.

The names by watermark, by birthmark, rainforest book body popped, cell store. I open the story at cancer, exhume an island where everybody is index, where you left to maul wet loss. Therefore place fell away. I edge the wilt, slow at different cold. Left to this, I find you by hand.


What makes the poem-sequences, even poem-breakdowns, of The Things I Heard About You so intriguing is in how Leslie works to not boil down per se but to extract, creating new poems in the variations as much as continuations of each base piece. The strength, and the innovation, comes from that very variety, seeing just what is possible in the space within, and even between, each piece. The final poem in the four-poem “Pacific Phone Book” (the first two appear above) reads:

            Dreamed you crossed and washed me.