Monday, May 21, 2018

Ongoing notes: late May, 2018

[I made a gazpacho the other day, as the wee girls made birthday cards for their Oma]

I’m behind on everything, but utilizing part of the long weekend to catch up on some reviews. Christine took the girls to her mother’s cottage, allowing me nearly two full days of work. Huzzah!

Working on reviews, short fiction and an essay on the (so far) twenty-five years of above/ground press

Portland OR: I’m going through Cincinnati poet Caylin Capra-Thomas’ second poetry chapbook, Inside My Electric City (YesYesBooks, 2017), a follow-up to her The Marilyn Letters (dancing girl press, 2013). Gracefully produced as a square, softbound title, “A Vinyl 45,” I like the quiet hesitations in Capra-Thomas’ poems, composed as a staccato series of small gestures, from the observational to the more intimate breath. Given that 2018 sees her as the writer-in-residence at The Studios of Key West, as well as the Vermont Studio Center, where she was awarded a fellowship, I’m hoping that one doesn’t have to wait another few years for a third selection of poems; might a full-length collection be in the works?


            was a gesture towards                          the post-magnificent.
Courting gleam                                    we swallow them
in the copper afternoon.                      Our necks bulge
            like kingsnakes                                    with mousedeath.
We are not choking.
                                    We are settling our accounts.

Toronto ON: Montreal poet (by way of Ottawa) Lauren Turner’s debut chapbook is We’re Not Going To Do Better Next Time (2018), produced by Kirby’s infamous knife|fork|book, a press and bookstore focused on poetry and poets. Another softbound chapbook, gracefully produced, I’m intrigued at the increase in chapbooks produced as softcover, whether YesYes, knife|fork|book or Vancouver’s Rahlia’s Ghost Press, moving a direction separate from the hand-sewn items by, say, Cameron Anstee’s Apt 9 Press, or those presses that hold to the classic folded and stapled. The poems in Turner’s debut write on disillusionment, with both love and the body, and the narrator Delilah, who manages, despite herself, to be completely overcome, writing from that in-between of belief and disbelief, fully aware, or even forced to finally admit, that either is entirely possible.


There was intoxication at first. A love to be regulated
to rooms made dark by smoke and other people’s limbs.
Those are exciting places. Where nights go to stagger.
Hours drain away with the lowballs. They’re pressed close
as twinned thieves, magnetic in their newness. He’s soft
with the hands and god his neck smells good. Buoyant in gin,
in hunger, she needs it all to kill so delicately. They meet
on a Sunday and left their phones for dead, no sick notes
forged to bosses or paramours. A love to repel outward.
They cluster in his bedding like a shared lung until dusk
air expels them. Mornings spent picking the bones of his
cupboards, whiskey in nescafé. The world, a silhouette
on the curtains. Delilah washes her dress in bath water.
Wants to wear what he does. Mimics her lilac hair
into a man bun and laughs. It’s so nice, everything.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

rob reads w Tanis MacDonald at Ottawa's TREE Reading Series, June 12, 2018

In case you haven't heard. I'll most likely be reading snow day, the prose poetry sequence I composed from January to March, which also appeared as a chapbook (I had originally aimed to launch my new Salmon title, but the book has been delayed). Might we see you? Everything begins at 8pm (open set, featured readers). See the link to further information via The TREE Reading Series website here.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Annick MacAskill, No Meeting Without Body


One hungry afternoon
I ate an entire orange peel,
told my sister it tasted like the sun.
The neighbor gave birth to twins
and my mother returned with blood under her nails.
As crass as a teenager, my grandmother
moved in. Her moonlit flower-picking
became an escape attempt
that failed. We made six apple pies
one weekend. No one
could say no. I implored the skies,
tied my hair in twists
every night so it would curl.
Every morning the curls fell limp,
an argument I couldn’t win.

Lyric precision and lyric polish aren’t, as I might not really need to explain, the same thing. And while my interest in the lyric doesn’t necessarily gravitate towards the polish of a more straightforward line, there is something about the poems in Halifax poet Annick MacAskill’s debut, No Meeting Without Body (Gaspereau Press, 2018), that compel my attention. Her poems are narrative, sure, but hardly straightforward, achieving an accumulation of thoughts and movement, as well as the occasional narrative disjunction and disruption, composed as polished poems both precise and slightly jagged, slightly off; punchy and visceral. She knows how to compose poems that suggest one purpose, and provide something slightly different (such as her attempts to twist certain Canadian standards), all while moving through a series of meditative, first-person lyric narratives. The poems in No Meeting Without Body range from good to compelling, and often with such a nebulous difference between that it becomes difficult to articulate. Needless to say, there are a couple of poems here that left me breathless.


Cortege of Ukrainian pontiffs and delis
and storefronts boasting embryonic
commercial success and water pooling

where tawny leaves blocked the drains.
You were asking why we call the month
September, coming back from a friend’s

Apartment and kissing me as if you expected
answers along my gums.
I tracked the whale sounds

of your indifference and the ways crowds
lifted their feet for us to follow. A man
on the sidewalk held a sign that said

Will Poet for Food. You referenced your treatise
on disappointment with a hand
on the small of my back, your eyes

on what you swore was a cormorant
hanging in a butcher’s window. Later
I lost three years and the sight of you

to a bottle of Shiraz. But fall, that’s permanent.
I was on your street at the wrong hour
and you smelled of pine.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Emilia Nielsen, Body Work

At the edge
of the logging road nothing
but tall grass, movement,
a shape out of focus
sharpening – a bear cut
on its hind legs sniffing
the wind. Might have been
standing in a patch of sapling alder
coated in dust, or cottoning fireweed,
for the softness of seed fluff.
Might have wailed
showing pink gums and milk teeth
as the car cut into morning.
But it faded back into grass
where it first emerged,
fur licked and glowing. (“Done”)

I’m impressed by poet Emilia Nielsen’s sophomore collection, Body Work (Signature Editions, 2018), a considerable leap from her Gerald Lampert Award-nominated debut, Surge Narrows (Leaf Press, 2013) [see my interview with her around such here]. Nielsen is a British Columbia poet set to join York University in Toronto this summer as Assistant Professor in the Department of Social Science, in the Health and Society Program, and her Body Works writes the body as both a topic of study and of revision, managing both to articulate and rewrite, re-stitch and map an intricate series of patterns across the skin of each page. There is a meditative quality to Nielsen’s poems, but one akin to the language fractals of poets such as Margaret Christakos, Sylvia Legris or Christine McNair, composing pieces that concurrently seem less constructed than disassembled for the purpose of study and labelling, and precisely jumbled, jagged and staccato, as she opens the sequence “Dermographia: (Desire)”:

More than some accounting of notches, scrapes?
This birthmark, that mole. More than description
(decorative script).
                                    To stray, surface. Dig a little.
Become floozy, flimsy: dermographer?

Nielsen’s lyric sequences exist as explorations, picking and pinpointing of minutae around the body, and are remarkable for their vibrancy and sheer precision. Much as in Legris’ ongoing work, Nielsen’s cavalcade of body-study revels in language and in such exacting precision. As she write in the sequence “Surgical Notes”: “That I fuction well without an organ / but don’t have the know-how to stitch / a button back in place. Lacking how-to / to do a tidy job.”

Thursday, May 17, 2018

The names of things,

I gave my attention to the pause.
Angela Carr, Here in There


I am downsizing, for practical reasons. I gift my belongings before the choice is no longer mine. Ending six months of aggressive treatment, some small strength returns. Moving through boxes and bins and shelves, I name items as I release them into the world. I name you, glass figurines I salvaged from my grandmother’s possessions, as her quiet death ended the decades they sat in her sitting room. I name you, pilfered coffee mugs, each adorned with a different company logo.

That summer we drove through the prairies and out to Vancouver, as yet another mug slipped into my bag at a rest stop. You were not amused.

I name you, dresser: the scratched and scarred second-hand chassis with lime green coat over almond brown over deep red over powdered blue, salvaged from Neighbourhood Services when I was eighteen.

Downsizing, sized. My body erodes. The clothes on my back.

I name you, silver pocketwatch: handed down from my great-grandfather, from his time in Montreal. Now set in the palm of my sister.

Family lore holds that during his first decade away from home, he worked as a conductor for one of the newly-established lines of the Grand Trunk Railway. A decade saved, and spent, before relocating again with the emergence of a wife and three children, back to his eastern Ontario nesting grounds, where he gathered a further fifty-five winters. They say he moved non-stop until he finally did.

I name you, small wooden box, discovered in my mother’s closet. The musty nest of crumbling paper scraps: correspondence, postcards, a pendant. A locket, held in an envelope. Dust. Her maiden aunt’s engagement ring. This is all that remains. She, who died when my mother was young. I name you, Marjorie, aunt of my mother.

Heirlooms: objects for which we are but temporary caretakers, a loom that weaves in and out of the hands of ancestors down, and from mine to my sisters, nieces, nephews. Brother.

I name you, long dark curls, like my mother, back in the day; as her sisters, too, and their mother as well. Curls that hadn’t the seasons to autumn, to silver.


In my youth, I collected; perhaps more than I should have. I saved, and kept everything. Girl Guide badges, nuts and bolts from the driveway, miniature carvings of frogs. I constructed scrapbooks of fauna and flora, a field’s-worth of clover. I gathered my late grandfather’s wartime diaries, secured in a steamer trunk. I collected a single smooth stone from each childhood beach, carefully placed on my bedroom bookshelf as tokens. As tangible memories. From our suburban backfill, a daily memory of a particular Nova Scotian beach at sunset.

A vial of red sand from Prince Edward Island shores, St. Margaret’s Parish, where my mother’s family historically cottaged. A vial of water from the Athabasca Glacier. What had once been what it no longer can.

In our first shared apartment, there was the alchemy of a half-hidden compartment of books in a cupboard, unlocked. Paperbacks, mostly. Mass-market stuff from an earlier decade. I immediately decided they were there precisely for me, and read everything. Susan Dey’s For Girls Only. The Hawkline Monster. A Brief History of Time. I absorbed each one, until there was nothing unread. Upon our eventual move, more than a couple of titles managed to slip in among our possessions.

I name you, library. I name you, history.


I name you, rage. I name you, anger. A cracked wooden bowl. Stage four. The one where nothing left can be done. Meeting with doctors and lawyers and further doctors. I name you, comfort; I name you, recollection. I name you, heartbreak.

In a fever-dream, the moon asks: Why do we melt?


They say to name a thing is to suspend it, freeze it into a singularity. To name is to reduce, some say. To name is to provide weight to something otherwise nebulous, unformed. To name is part of being. Biblical Adam, who spoke, and the animals became what he named; as the Word of God, also. He speaks, and what has spoken is solid.

I name instead to remind myself of each object’s purpose, and to give them air.

To make concrete, self-contained, and release.

I have been contemplating both religion and spirituality lately, but am undecided, as yet.

Soap bubbles, carried away.


I name you, signed first edition of Margaret Atwood’s Cat’s Eye, from a lover who’s name I’ve long forgotten. I name you, soft and dear and nameless. I name you, address book that belonged to my mother. I name you, Red Maple leaf, set between the pages of a hardbound, wax paper saved from summer camp. I name you, first kiss by the strawberry bushes. I name you, lakewater silt that spawned from our overturned canoe.

I name you, squeamishness. Layers of blood, burned brown on white linen.

I name you, intimacy. I name you, pigmentation. I name you, jade elephant.


Lorelei believes that people are a construction of memories and experience, and can be pieced together though what they have abandoned. Nigel remains unconvinced. He claims: we are made up of stories. Without stories to accompany, items are stripped of their substance. And yet, once beyond us, they become clean, able to collect anew. Are our possessions allowed lives beyond ours? If no-one knows why I owned a jade elephant or where it originated, will that even matter?

I have a jade elephant, attached to a string. Purchased at an outside market, I think. London? Paris? I suspect I might be losing my rigorous attention to the integrity of each object.

I consider writing your name on a paper scrap, something I can ingest. Something I might keep.


Terminal illness can’t be fixed, it can only be carried. I am putting it down. I release it. From here on, everything lightens. Even my step. Living well, as they say, the finest revenge.


I name you, school portrait of my first love, squirreled deep in the pockets of my leather jacket, circa 1995. I name you, 1980s Polaroid of my father in the kitchen window.

I name you, shadows; cast in the doorframe, the hospital blinds.

I name you, tears of my mother. I name you, legs and arms. I name you, mouth.

I name you, morphine. I name you, breath.