ongoing notes, November 2004
Buffalo NY: During a reading I did recently in Buffalo, I was given a small chapbook by SUNY Buffalo student Jessica Smith, a collection of six short pieces published in early summer, 2004, titled blueberries. As she writes at the back of the collection, blueberries was published as "an invitation to my work. These poems are an experiment to record the vast and shifting visual architecture of memory in the space of very small pages. The spatiality of memory is further explored on larger sites in my recently completed manuscript, Organic Furniture Cellar: Works on Paper 2002-2004."
The poems in blueberries work from associations and disassocations, with patches of words, phrases and parts of words scattered across each page. Part of the point of each piece is working through the difficulties of following the lines, working through "e / b / dewy patches / grow blue" (p 2, Wolf Lake), as well as working through multiple kinds of readings of each piece, depending on which thread the eye decides to follow.
As she writes, "These blueberries are for tasting, not for selling. Please share them with your friends." These blueberries never hold to the same flavour, and the brief taste certainly makes me crave another helping. I would like to have some more.
Information on how to get a copy, or for anything else about Jessica Smith, contact 547 Franklin St., #1, Buffalo NY 14202 or email her at email@example.com
Mount Pleasant / Paris ON: Any new publication by Paris, Ontario resident Nelson Ball is an event, and the chapbook WITH HELD is no exception. Published in an edition of fifty copies by Kemeny Babineau’s relatively new chapbook press, Laurel Reed Books. As the acknowledgments tell us at the back of the small chapbook, "The title of this collection is in part a reference to their history as they were withheld from the following books: With Issa, Bird Tracks on Hard Snow, Concrete Air, Almost Spring, At the Edge of the Frog Pond."
As publisher/editor of Weed/Flower Press in the 1960s and early 70s, Ball published early and important books by writers on both sides of the border, including George Bowering, Clayton Eshleman, William Hawkins, David McFadden, Victor Coleman, Anselm Hollo, John Newlove, David Cull, Brad Robinson, Gerry Gilbert, David Rosenberg, bpNichol and David UU, and more recently, edited the new edition of bpNichol’s Konfessions of an Elizabethan Fan Dancer (Toronto: Coach House Books, 2004). As well, Ball is, as both collector and bookseller, the holder of the largest collection of small press in Canada.
That being said, through his own writing over the years, Ball has become our most essential minimalist. In twenty-four short poems, there is nothing left but the essence. Here are a few of the smaller examples:
the words spark
Everyone should read the work of Nelson Ball. To see how his influence over the years has shaped others, go to the work of Toronto writer Stuart Ross, Ottawa resident jwcurry, or Mark Truscott’s first collection, newly out from Coach House Books, Said Like Reeds or Things.
For information, contact Laurel Reed Books at 206 Maple Ave., Mt. Pleasant, Ontario, N0E 1K0. Also, watch for his most recent trade collection of poems, At the Edge of the Frog Pond, newly out from Toronto’s Mercury Press.
Ottawa ON: Grant Wilkins has been doing some very interesting things lately with his semi-annual ‘zine, Murderous Signs, usually available for free at various of the small press fairs around these parts. As he writes, "dedicated to presenting comment, prose, poetry and perspective on subjects literary and cultural, and to the notion that the printed word, well crafted and aimed, can be used as a weapon." I just remember the piece he published, a few years ago, by jwcurry; a letter he had sent to the rare books librarian at McMaster University, explaining at length why it was so foolish for librarians to not be purchasing small literature new, waiting instead for out-of-print prices. How price tag does not equate value.
The 10th issue of Murderous Signs is in three sections that both collide and compliment: A Note On Modernism & two poems by Charles G.D. Roberts, five poems by George Elliott Clarke and the poem "Guernica" by Stephen Collis. From three sides of literature, Roberts was considered one of the Confederation poets, and the essay is reprinted from the anthology Open House, edited by W.A. Deacon and W. Reeves (Ottawa: Graphic Publishers Ldt, 1931), back in the days when poetry and poetics were argued in the daily news.
The poems included by George Elliott Clarke are probably my favorite of what I’ve read of his. Before moving to teach at the University of Toronto via teaching in the Carolinas, Clarke spent a number of years living in Ottawa. Listen to this, a section from the middle of the poem "La Verite a Ottawa," writing:
Crossing the Eddy Street Bridge,
Into drab, bureaucratized Hull, its fat, grey edifices,
And Tijuana-raucous bars, you’d see, on your left,
The frothing falls of the E.B. Eddy factory, the clean
White energy of the water charging into channels
To electrify turbines and generators, with the Peace
Tower behind you, in the rear-view mirror, thrusting,
Marvelously erect despite all the eunuchs droning
In its bowels.
You’d absorb all this beauty, but also
A marriage fraying because of your unreconciled
And unrequited desire, that acidic love that seeped
Into all the sutures and silences of the marriage
And corrupted it.
In Ottawa, you were never able
To forget a one-sided, wasteful, self-hating love,
A record of cold kisses, unhealthy, and so you
Tumbled out of love with a body, the Arctic cold
Axing your lungs, while the barren, spindly trees
Before the Chateau Laurier put on stalactites or daggers,
And you fell between wedding and divorce into
A warm nest of treasons.
The seven-page "Guernica" piece by Stephen Collis includes some interesting surprises, from a poet about to publish his 2nd collection with Vancouver’s New Star, as well as working on a book on the west coast poet Phyllis Webb. Listen to this fragment of the sequence:
Crouches on the ground
Just stands there
Flaps its wings
Are lying around
Picks herself up
Falls or is hurled through the air
Emits rays of light
Hangs down lifeless
Is twisted upward
Is turned back abruptly
Has been severed from the body
Is torn back violently
Has almost been snapped off
Is isolated from her breasts
To order copies, send $5 for 2 issues or $8 for four issues. Payable in US outside of Canada or add %50 CDN. Make cheques or money orders payable to The Grunge Papers, c/o PO BOX 20517, 390 Rideau Street, Ottawa Ontario K1N 1A3. Otherwise, just come to either the ottawa small press book fair or the Toronto Small Press Book Fair, and you should be able to get copies from him there.