Thursday, September 16, 2004

Ongoing notes etc, September 2004

Prince George, British Columbia: I got four lovely chapbooks in the mail from Prince George, B.C. poet Ken Belford last week: sequences (series 1), crosscuts (series 2), fragments (series 3) and transverse (series 4). All published in 2003 through the name Off-set house, they follow Belford’s collection Four Realities (with other northern B.C. poets George Stanely, Barbara Munk and Barry McKinnon; Caitlin Press, 2000) as well as his solo collection, Pathways into the mountains (Caitlin Press, 2000). Prior to this, Belford had been quiet up there in the mountains for some time, after the publications of Fireweed (Talon Books, 1967), The Post Electric Caveman (Very Stone House, 1972), Sign Language (Gorse Press, 1976) and Holding Land (Gorse Press, 1981). Given the kinds of books Talon was doing at the time, as well as Very Stone House (run by Patrick Lane, Seymour Mayne and bill bissett) and McKinnon’s Gorse, that pretty much puts Pathways into the mountains as Belford’s first full-sized trade book.

Belford is one of those poets I’ve heard speak of more and more lately, from Barry McKinnon and Rob Budde, neighbours of his up there in the British Columbia north. Maybe it’s the fact that up there, they have only each other to lean on as poets, but it’s always a good thing to listen to your writer-friends when they tell you someone is worth paying attention to. As well, one of the things I love about watching someone begin to self-publish, is not only the excitement about getting the work out in the world, but the excitement of making that much more. Hopefully this will be something somewhat on-going. (Budde himself, actually, has started publishing chapbooks as well, under the "wink books" imprint, but so far I’ve only seen one item, his own my american movie.)

Born and raised in northern Alberta, spending his early teen years in Vancouver, but living north since the late 1960s, Belford is very much a poet of the northern British Columbia landscape. I like the well-considered roughness of his poems, almost a zen Prince George (which is hard to imagine if you’ve ever been to Prince George).

I’d rather forget the bush
I lived in, the old farm too.
The places I lived in aren’t
gone yet but I’ve joined
something else now.

p 8, City Limits, fragments

I’d been hearing his name for years, but after getting these lovely chapbooks and seeing his bio, it makes sense that I haven’t seen his books around (since there really haven’t been that many that would make it into an Ottawa bookstore). Still, there are rumours of a new Ken Belford collection out next spring with Harbour Publishing, which will probably include some of the work included in these four chapbooks. If you can’t wait that long, write Off-set house c/o pobox 21016, Spruceland Post Office, Prince George, British Columbia, V2M 7A5.

Toronto, Ontario / New York, New York: Apparently George Murray’s Bathurst Street Press has started making publications again. In 1997, soon after he was a student at York University, he founded Smoke: A Journal of Literary Prose that had, I think, only two issues before he eventually moved down to New York City and eventually came back to co-found (with Peter Darbyshire) the website BookNinja. Recently at a reading in Toronto, Adam Seelig handed me his chapbook HANDS FACE, produced as A Bathurst Street Press Chapbook / Upper North Side Series #1 in a numbered run of 100 copies for a reading Seelig did at the IV Lounge Reading Series in Toronto on October 24, 2003, soon after he too had returned from a few years spent in New York City.

As long as I live, I think, I’ll never get tired of the form of the chapbook, especially those handed to me randomly at readings by writers I’ve never heard of. It’s an exciting form, and always good to find out about new writers, and new writing. Seelig’s poems weave in a multitude of forms, seemingly unafraid, in a natural and fearless exploration of both content and form, as each poem moves in completely different directions. With the limitations of what I know how to reprint, I’ll reprint only the first piece in the collection:


Imperfect bud

thorn loving skin

let blood stream
silence through wounds
core revealed.

Pressed acropetal
pain worms up
to air a rose
surface drawing

red – written –

from this point.

What I find interesting, too, is the fact that he includes at the end a series of "NOTES & OVERTONES," writing that "Some of what I hear in the poems, though you no doubt will hear notes of your own. All pieces written 1999-2003 in New York, with a few geographic exceptions." For the above poem, he writes:

POEM (‘Imperfect bud...’)
Point to page, poem as palm to be read and red, its pain a sign of life, yet one that serves no purpose, bearing no stigmata.
And poem as psalm, not unlike Celan’s: ‘With/ ...our corona red/ from the purpleword we sang/ over, O over/ the thorn.’ (‘Psalm,’ The No-One’s-Rose, trans. Felstiner)
‘Pain is a flower like that one,/ like this one,/ like that one,/ like this one.’ (Creeley, ‘The Flower’)
In contrast to ‘The Sick Rose’ of Blake, worm not only destroys a ‘bed of crimson joy,’ but creates one of pain; so, to echo Dylan Thomas, the force that through the green fuse drives the flower drives my red blood, and is my destroyer.

Seelig is obviously widely read, but sometimes the tone of the "NOTES & OVERTONES" does get a bit much. Still, I think it will be interesting to see if he turns, perhaps, to writing critical prose, to see where he goes with it. Certainly a poet worth watching, to see what he does next.

To order copies, or to see what else they’ve done or will, contact The Bathurst Street Press at

Willowdale, Ontario: It’s hard to believe that anything interesting not only comes out of Willowdale, but remains there, but that’s where Nate Dorward exists and publishes his poetry and critical journal The Gig, publishing some of the best of the avant-garde from the UK, the US and Canada, and wherever else he can find it. The 20-odd issues he’s published so far include the writing of Marjorie Welish, Lise Downe, C.S. Giscombe, Bruce Andrews, Catriona Strang, Nathaniel Mackey, Leslie Scalapino, Dorothy Trujillo Lusk, Lisa Robertson, Steve McCaffery, Ian Davidson, Lissa Wolsak, Clark Coolidge, Allan Fisher and many others, including some highly intelligent reviews of international writing. As one of the sidebars to The Gig, he recently issued three chapbooks by Peter Larkin, published simultaneously in March 2004: Sprout Near Severing Close (isbn 0-9685294-9-6), Rings Resting the Circuit (isbn 0-9685294-7-x) and What the Surfaces Enclave of Wang Wei (isbn 0-9685294-8-8).

A librarian at Warwick University, Peter Larkin also runs Prest Roots Press, and is the author of the major collection Terrain Seed Scarcity (Salt Publishing, 2001) and Slights Agreeing Trees (Prest Roots, 2002). This is the first of the forty-part sequence Sprout Near Severing Close:

Where woodpeckers physic the woods
short, healing wasn’t suspect
if cut is taken in slip.

Curt docks of circuit
affray low region post-envelope:
sprout with the limb fusiform,
hold on scrap lignant pasture.

Original trees blew long thirst
from blockage to props of clip,
capitulum was cut of their headiest
capillary to fountainous shelter.

Sharp stint below bend be stilled
upwards, owing they out-trussed freely
tied over so far torn.

Part of what I miss about Rob Manery and Louis Cabri, in the years after they left Ottawa (Louis in 1994 and Rob in 1996), taking their hole magazine and hole books with them, was the introduction to a kind of writing that just doesn’t get covered in the mainstream literary journals. Who else would have brought in Lisa Robertson or Catriona Strang? Who else would have brought Aaron Williamson, a deaf sound poet from England, to the Manx Pub? Sure, Willowdale ain’t Ottawa, but it’s close enough for me to appreciate. Really, it’s strange enough just for someone in Canada to be embracing writing somewhat off-kilter, let alone off in the middle of Willowdale. Just for that alone, everyone should send him money for subscriptions. For more information on The Gig or any other of his publications, write Nate Dorward at 109 Hunslow Ave., Willowdale Ontario M2N 2B1 or check out the website at

Dorward has also been a regular at the Toronto Small Press Fair, and even been to the ottawa small press fair. Maybe if you’re lucky, you’ll run into him and be able to pick up everything he has.

Halifax, Nova Scotia: Ever since Ottawa poet and cab driver William Hawkins told me to read this kid, I’ve seen his name everywhere, from the Bookninja site to his own regular web rants on Maisonneuve (, as well as reviews and poems everywhere. Very nearly out of print is Zachariah Wells’ chapbook Fool’s Errand, published earlier this year by Charlottetown’s own Saturday Morning Chapbooks, distributed by The Reading Well Bookstore. One of the smarter versions of the angry young Canadian poet/critic, Wells’ chapbook writes of the island (he is a PEI native), Brer Rabbit, horses, cormorants and other images of east coast wilderness. I like how he mixes formal writing considerations with informal language, such as in this piece:


Finicky fuckin thing that old silver Ford–clutch
So touchy no one could start er without stallin
Least once. And gutless! Christ, that clunkety four-
Banger couldn’t climb nothin without gearin down–

Burnt out three clutches pullin stuck neighbours
From ditches. Didn’t help none when the old man,
Comin back from the Shore, nodded and pitched off
The road, a quarter mile shy of our drive.

Must’ve tramped the gas when he passed out, hit
The ditch like a ramp: stripped bark from a birch
Nine feet off the ground, woke up, unbuckled, lurched
Down the dark empty road home, a cage full o cracked

Ribs. Bought the wroteoff wreck off the broker,
Got er fixed up with parts off other old trucks.
New silver paint was a different batch, though, not quite
A match–no, never was the same, after that.

Apparently his first trade collection of poems, edited by Paul Vermeersch, comes out almost any day now from Toronto’s Insomniac Press. With any luck, he’ll at least get to Toronto or Montreal for launches, from his home out there in Halifax.

Produced in editions of 100 signed & numbered copies, contact The Reading Well Bookstore for more information on the Saturday Morning Chapbooks series c/o 87A Water Street, Charlottetown PEI, C1A 1A5, or by email at

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