Thursday, June 24, 2004

June 17
(from a day book)

met a physic
on the road
asked him

so it is with journeys one is drawn
– bpNichol

the last few nights , unable
to get her out of my head

miss ruby red

a pale shade of everything else, & far
too late
a limb

of restlessness & regret
time against me (days)

into flatspin, spinning
out of control, out

of the fire air these


it hardly matters how what was said
or never

there is nothing left to be said

drafting speeches & letters in my head
that will never be sent or shouldnt

stuck in the limbless air

am i even capable of reason

a loss of brute feeling
a colour in the shade

police lights flicker flicker
in the moonlight


a long line of comparison
a long continuous line

a long continual

or life we line at, all narrative
being false,

a beginning
& then an end

where else would you put that

“im not talking to you anymore”

a list longer
than richard nixons

don’t you know that i know that
what i don’t know


There’s no playlist on foolscap promoting standards
– Geoffrey Young

one thing after another thing,

what is her email address, can
i have it please

calling her 1-800 number at night
to hear her voice

& the date today

what does that tell you

what is it that im saying

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Open Letter to The Danforth Review, re: Shane Neilson

Over the years, New Brunswick writer Shane Neilson has reviewed a number of my trade collections of poetry, very little of which he has liked. Until now, I have felt no need to comment on his reviews, or anything else he has said about me, whatever I might have thought about them, but recently reading further into your website, I think he has gone too far.

I am disturbed to read that his bio, as poetry editor for The Danforth Review, included this statement – “I dislike the lazy multitudinousness of rob mclennan and his legions. He’s the only Canadian poet I’ll bother citing as bad, mainly because he deserves it: a prodigious non-talent, his influence on young poets is inexplicably pernicious and therefore must be combated.” (

Now, Mr. Neilson is free to like or dislike anything he chooses. I’m not interested in questioning his critical credibility on poetry or poetics in Canada. It seems completely beside the point. But I find the venom (not to mention the pomposity) in such a piece included in his bio both unnecessary and completely unprofessional. The point of being a critic is to be critical in a considerate way, & not to merely throw about mud. He seems to spend a great deal of time dismissing what I do without any explanation. This to me reads as especially odd, considering that I am somehow the focus of what is wrong with literature (& how do I become the only example of what he doesn’t like? That seems interesting in itself). If he can’t be bothered to explain what it is he sees as the problem, then there seems little point in bringing it up.

It’s easy to attack things, & merely feeds into that lowest common denominator of readership. A good battle never hurt anyone, but if he were a journalist, he would be considered at a tabloid level. This kind of attack doesn’t make Mr. Neilson look clever, or create a strong defense of his stylistic position. Does Mr. Neilson consider his own position so weak as to attack mine? Wouldn’t it be a more effective use of his time to champion the kind of writing & writers he does admire? It requires more effort to do such a thing, I know. It seems very lazy to hate, especially with so little to back it up. He should try to find some of the literary essays written by Ottawa writer & editor John Metcalf. I might not agree with a number of Metcalf’s points or positions, but he knows how to back up every swipe that he makes. It might not necessarily change my mind, but it does make me respect his opinion; it’s something he’s thought about very carefully. & it usually gives me something interesting to think about.

No one has come to Mr. Neilson on the behalf of Canadian Literature asking that he save it from the likes of me. The role of a reviewer is not about their likes & dislikes, or about cruelty. Mr. Neilson’s reviews in The Danforth Review & other venues when writing on books he dislikes include a complete lack of respect for the author & their work. Simply because he disagrees with someone else’s opinion or style does not mean that Mr. Neilson can treat a writer any way he sees fit. Canadian Literature as a whole is no more about Shane Neilson than it is about me. It is a broad spectrum of ideas & styles that are as diverse as the people who create it. As a reader of reviews, I don’t care what the reviewer thinks. I care about intelligent & considered talk about the work itself. Considering that he has come after me with such regularity, if mine is not the kind of writing he likes (the procedural open-form), then I wonder why he feels the need to focus on it? A body has only so much energy to put into the work that he or she decides to do, & I am at a loss as to think of why Mr. Neilson is spending so much of his time being deliberately unpleasant, & with so little weight to hold it. It reads as childish, deliberately ill-informed & cowardly; it reads as an attention-grabbing attempt at bullying in review form, plain & simple. & it has no place in The Danforth Review. Or anywhere, for that matter. But that simply is my opinion.

rob mclennan, Ottawa
June 2004
On recent reissues: Gerry Gilbert’s Moby Jane & Peter Van Toorn’s Mountain Tea

It seems the days of Canadian publishing are rife with reissues, with two Gwendolyn MacEwen books of fiction recently reissued by Toronto’s Insomniac Press (including her long out-of-print white elephant, the novel King of Egypt, King of Dreams), a reissue this fall of Roy Kiyooka’s transcanada letters by Edmonton’s NeWest Press (along with a new second volume of letters, Pacific Rim Letters), rumours of a 30th anniversary reissue of Andrew Suknaski’s Wood Mountain Poems in 2006, & the recent publication of Gerry Gilbert’s Moby Jane by Coach House Books, & Peter Van Toorn’s Mountain Tea by Signal Editions, Vehicule Press. Republishing or reissuing books in Canadian literature is usually a thing few & far between, given that older books don’t get the sales or attention a newer one might, & the fact that (I believe) funding bodies don’t necessarily help fund the publication of non-new titles. Apart from the ongoing New Canadian Library Series at McClelland & Stewart, there really hasn’t been that much before. John Metcalf tried it a few years ago through The Porcupine’s Quill, Inc., putting titles by Irving Layton, Ray Smith & others back in print, but again, sales were not forthcoming, so it seems the project was abandoned (or at least pared back). Whatever the reasoning, it’s impressive for Stan Bevington, Jay MillAr & others to champion Moby Jane through Coach House Books, & Simon Dardick & Carmine Starnino (with help from Stephen Brockwell) to champion Mountain Tea through Signal Editions / Vehicule Press.

Originally published by Coach House Press in 1987, Vancouver poet & broadcaster Gerry Gilbert’s Moby Jane is a continuation of his ongoing & lifelong poetic project. (Moby Jane is but one of two recent Coach House Books reissues, including the combined British & Canadian edition of bpNichol’s Konfessions of an Elizabethan Fan Dancer, edited with an introduction & notes by Nelson Ball.) Considered one of the “downtown Vancouver poets” in the early 1960s, close to TISH but not necessarily part of the group, Gilbert’s band of loose outcasts also included John Newlove, Roy Kiyooka & Maxine Gadd. Still publishing, but wary of editing & (seemingly) the bane of publishers (he hasn’t had a new trade collection appear in some time), he also turned down a part in Talonbooks’ group of selected poems collections for 1980. This new edition of Moby Jane appears exactly as the previous, the way Gilbert intended, the only difference being the bar code & small tag of publisher & price on the back cover, slight colophon on the inside back in a different font than the rest.

For those who haven’t experienced Gilbert’s writing, the only way to talk about it briefly would be to call it ongoing & expansive, opening the form as wide as it can get. Written as a diary or journal of his writing & life, most of his work side-by-side sit as a never complete utaniki (a journal written as a mixture of poetry & prose). The book begins with the poem “Sounding” on the front cover, to the final piece, “Zig Zag Blues” on the back. Check out this fragment of the poem “The Hunt” (n.p.):

was diefenbaker canadian
is the smilin’ buddha buddhist?

dief ends
a prairie lawyer

dief the chief
a good poem

follow john ...
& all the king’s horses & all the king’s men ...

He ran about the same age as hitler
but more like wc fields than charlie chaplin

unbelievable failure
politics as negative myth

he spoke up
but he talked down

Gilbert inhabits his city & country completely, moving as he does completely through the white whale of the poem that is Moby Jane. It’s good to see Gilbert back in print, but will there be any more? A reissue of Sex & The Single Mushroom (although I think his Year of the Rush published by underwhich editions might still be in print)? Or even a new collection at some point? While actively resisting the structures that might further his career (& admittedly uneven in his works, often accused of “publishing everything he writes”), Gilbert has never wavered from his commitment to the writing, making him one of Canada’s often-overlooked masters. Another fragment, this one from the beginning of the poem “getting to sleep” from the section “YVR BUF YYZ” (n.p.), writing:

I don’t know anything about greed
but I want what I know

I might have known the scanner’d find the knife built into my–
how do you say? –bag
did they really mean it when I said I’d throw it away if necessary?

but I never guessed immigration’d want to read my orange
my seed is my soul

does it show?
my seat is my soil

there I grow again

Montreal poet Peter Van Toorn’s Mountain Tea, originally published by McClelland & Stewart in 1984 as Mountain Tea & Other Poems, is the third & final of his poetry collections that build into each other, after the collections In Gildenstern County (Delta Can, 1973) & Leeway Grass (Delta Can, 1970). As individual in what he does as Gilbert, Van Toorn works the far-flung opposite end of the craft, once spending months & even years working hundreds of drafts of poems, & perhaps destroying himself in the process.

The previous edition, nominated for the Governor General’s Award, appeared just after his stroke, an event that helped derail his writing career. But for a brief chapbook privately published by Stephen Brockwell’s The Rideau River Press, writing is something he has done almost nothing of since. Long out of print & completely unavailable, Van Toorn’s Mountain Tea is a collection of homespun classicism, roughneck wisdom, formal studies & his own translations of poems by Tu Fu, Pien Chih-Lin, Li Po, Sylvain Garneau & others. On the translations, the previous edition includes the commentary, “Concerning the translations in this book, Peter Van Toorn writes: ‘I aim at a text which will be native to the genius of contemporary English in Canada. My antecedents may be fond in the ‘imitations’ of Pound & Lowell. This kind of free interpretation should stand as a self-contained, autonomous poem: a transmutation or transposition, a new work in its own right – like the latest ad-lib of a ‘standard; in jazz. There exists no generally agreed-upon term for this kind of interpretation; but it aims to produce what the poem whose work is being translated might have done had he been writing in English in Canada at the present time.’ These remarks are elaborated in the essay, ‘The Pain Called Babel’ (The Antigonish Review, #53, Spring 1983).”

Van Toorn’s poetry is a lovely mixture of reverence & irreverence, working in & respecting the forms he uses, but still able to mess around the structures & language. Very much a signature book for Van Toorn & his style, much the way John Thompson’s Stilt Jack was (since reprinted in a lovely Collected Poems & Translations of Thompson’s by Goose Lane Editions in 1995), the book starts with, as David Solway writes in his introduction, Van Toorn’s signature poem, “In Gildenstern County.” Check out the opening to the first part, “1. Wawa: Slipped Beat” (p 21):

In guildenstern county
where there’s hardly any wind
to go by
you can smell the poem in a thing for miles
when wind wins.
handsdown, right out of nowhere: given
good grass out front,
bad brush behind.
Even so,
not counting wind in the pines,
wind in the brakeslams,
there’s hardly any
to go by. Go
by, put arms around, smoke on, ride off, bounce
on a blanket about. Just
miles and miles
to crash
and keep crashing through.

Most of the collection is made up of poems in the “Mountain Tea” section, including the translations, resonating an almost spiritual thread through pieces such as “Mountain Going,” “Mountain Wine,” “Mountain Nurse,” “Mountain Study” & “Mountain Fox.” For the sake of clarity & completion, I’ll include the poem “Mountain Cure” (p 108), in full:

How you take my breath away from this book
which I keep in front of me for its salt,
so I will not hear your eye lashes swim
out in the waves they make round this table,
finely combing the air they move round in,
so I will not feel the hard red peppers
turning in my tongue, but keep my fingers
on my pen in my pocket, and my eyes
on the plane hanging like a big ball point
in a corner of the sky, and keep my heart
standing up straight as any bank building,
and keep the red hot bird toes off the roof,
and keep my wandering voice in book ends,
and keep my breath from lying down with you.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

Tour Notes, part two

Another range of dates, another range of things. Although I know there’s still a whole swath of things I haven’t covered yet, at least these a small start. There is always more.

Toronto, Ontario. One of the best parts about being in or around any part of Toronto is seeing the odd new bit by Stuart Ross. One of the founders of the Toronto Small Press Fair, he’s been running his Proper Tales Press for probably twenty-five years at least, & publishing books, chapbooks & pamphlets of his own poetry & fiction as well for years. The first thing I got from him on this trip was the leaflet “civilization sonnet,” a small poem “to mark my participation in the OLA conference Big Ideas, Now, in Toronto, April 30-May 1, 2004.”

civilization sonnet

Out of the flabby sky, water began to leak.
In the synagogue, the gritty plumber slept.
Wet became the new dry. Celebrate.
There was only one bag of Fritos
to share among us, and eternity
was reportedly longer than a week.
I try to eat good,
like lettuce, but
you get hands and they get
dirty. Let’s get organized.
I’m after the lady
with the monkey in her carriage.
I was before, but
I let her go first.

Part of the fun of any Stuart Ross ephemera, is that it is usually event-specific, which make for an interesting tracking method, & reason alone to go over & say hello, trade publications, etcetera. People are still talking about his absolutely lovely selected poems, Hey, Crumbling Balcony! which was published a year or so back by ECW Press. Stuart Ross can be found pretty easily around Toronto, or at or at his “online home,”

At the Toronto Small Press Fair itself (May 15), I wasn’t able to pick up that many things, but what I did get was My Lump in the Bed, Love Poems for George W. Bush (edited by Stuart Ross, published by Dwarf Puppets on Parade, a division of Proper Tales Press), & the 10th issue of Jennifer LoveGrove’s dig magazine. As Ross writes on the back of the anthology, “31 writers from Canada, the U.K., and the U.S. reveal their true feelings about George W. Bush.” Some of the contributors include Gary Barwin, Stephen Brockwell, Alice Burdick, Debby Florence, A.L. Kennedy, David W. McFadden, Victor Coleman, Laurie Fuhr, Renee Rodin, Richard Hell, Michael Dennis & Anne F. Walker. A strange collection to say the least, but highly entertaining. Check out this piece by Toronto writer Chris Kubsch:


you take my breath away
like others knock off an intern

fingers coiled around me as
if my face were a kitten

broken skull leaking between your legs
fists deep inside you

your voice the smooth
twang of a Texas guitar

sincere as
a drum machine

dig, on the other hand, is lovely & strange but not as strange. She hand-crafts every copy with a different cover, & my contributor copy includes an image of a blender on the front, & the sheet music to “Draw me into your presence” on the back, arranged by Phil Perkins. It’s been quite a while since an issue of dig, which I think used to be twice a year, but is lucky to be annual now. Writing by Stuart Ross, Sandra Alland, Rick Taylor, James Moran, Megan Butcher, myself, Brian Burch, Helen Stathopulos, George Murray & Jonathan Bennett, as well as an interview Bennett did with fiction writer Peter Darbyshire. You can find information on digger Jen, her own writing & her wayward armadillo press at

St. Catharine’s / Niagara Falls, Ontario. I must admit, I do like that Jordan Fry kid, editor/publisher of the magazine Grey Borders & Cubicle Press (with events to go along with them), as well as an editor for the randomly-appearing Harpweaver magazine, out of Brock University. A new publisher barely into his twenties, he publishes a literary magazine & various chapbooks by himself & others. He has some neat moments himself, as both writer & publisher, although wildly uneven. Still, there are more things in his publications worth reading than not, though, & he is certainly worth sending your poems to, or your dollars, to get copies of the 2nd issue of Grey Borders, which should be out soon. I did a strange reading through him (May 11, built as a Cubicle Press launch party) with Gil McElroy, Shane Neilson, Tanis Rideout & Barry McKinnon which was pretty entertaining. A participant in both the ottawa & toronto small press fairs, he’s considering organizing the same for Niagara Falls for the tourist seasons. His most recent oddbits include single poem pamphlets that he hands out for no particular reason. This is the one he published for the event:

ceiling fortune

header, back seat of my car,
four am. and our breath makes
patterns in the glass. the

cigarette burns out, leaves
ash and a whole where
it fell; black lip curled


driving home, stopping once
to dump the body. stopping
to find another.

You can find more about him & his various pressings & readings by going to

Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. I must say, it was extremely cool to read in Charlottetown with Gil McElroy (May 27), as I had not only never read in the province, but was excited to be able to spend time with local writers Joe Sherman & David Helwig (one of my most favorite Helwigs), as well as be able to meet a number of others I hadn’t heard of. With poet & editor Hugh MacDonald, Sherman & Helwig have started producing chapbooks by PEI authors in a series called Sunday Morning Chapbooks. Produced so far in two sets of four chapbooks per (& available only in sets at the launch), the one I picked up was Shawna McCabe’s first chapbook, scene, road. A lovely little book of poems, I quite liked the way her poems moved across the page, but it would be hard to quote from too many of them without throwing off all of the spacing. For the sake of not messing up her poems but still giving a sense of how they flow, here’s the end of the first part of the poem “scene, road,” that reads:

in one ear a river rises
once again a half moon shouts
coulee hymns
and the heat misses its mark
to thicken time

Produced in editions of 100 signed & numbered copies, they seem exclusively available from The Reading Well Bookstore, 87A Water Street, Charlottetown PEI, C1A 1A5, or by emailing them at

Montreal, Quebec: At the League of Canadian Poets AGM (June 4-6), I saw a couple of neat things, including an amazing lecture by Anne Carson on the topic of sleep (as she said, this lecture will last 58 minutes). & to be able to hang out with Winnipeg writer Catherine Hunter is reason enough to go anywhere, isn’t it? From lovely Maxianne Berger, publisher of Over the Moon chapbooks, I got Montreal author Mark Featherstone’s latest chapbook, Mechanicsville. Mechanicsville is the name of an old Ottawa neighbourhood, just five minutes walk (literally) to the west of where I live, & the cover of the publication has a map of the same. As he writes in his introduction, “Mechanicsville was a name later given to those neighbourhoods where blue collar workers were concentrated, with Ottawa’s Mechanicsville being in place since the 1800s. The following poems are inspired by events from my father’s Mechanicsville childhood in the 1930s and 40s, a period bracketing the Great Depression [...] In most of these poems, I adopt my father’s voice as the narrator of Mechanicsville.” Some of the poems have their moments, but are overall pretty straightforward, such as this part of the poem “Rendezvous,” that reads:

I am good at killing rats.
Like fishing.
The body relaxed
but at the ready,
so noise is
noiseless. Stray
sounds from the street, hoof
clops, cart
wheels, a woman
yelling at her husband,
or her kids.

Over the Moon has done a number of chapbooks by Montreal poets over the years, including her own & one by Carmine Starnino (I can’t recall any other authors to save my life, for some reason). For more information (backlist & availability), write c/o 417 St-Joseph Ouest #4, Outremont, Quebec H2V 2P3.

Ottawa, Ontario: It wasn’t really part of my trip, but soon after I (finally) arrived home, exhausted from travel. The TREE Reading Series (one of the longest running continuing reading series in the country) featured Ottawa writers Stephen Brockwell & Peter Norman at their most recent event (June 8), where they read the entirety of a collaboration they had been working on for a few months. Producing a chapbook of the same through Brockwell’s The Rideau River Press, the chapbook Wild Clover Honey and The Beehive, 28 Sonnets on the Sonnet ($5) is exactly that, fourteen poems each of fourteen lines, written as response sonnets between Brockwell & Norman over a period of a couple of months. It’s good to see Brockwell producing chapbooks again under his pressname. For a while during the late 1980s, Brockwell was editor & publisher of the chapbook literary magazine The Rideau River Review, featuring poetry & reviews, but producing only three issues before it disappeared (he designed the fourth, but never released it). Lately, he has started again, by producing limited edited poetry broadsides by featured readers at TREE, as well as a couple of other small items. Recently, he produced a chapbook of his own for friends, the six poem Bill McGillivray’s Cap And Other Poems.

One of the strongest TREE readings in some time, they nearly sold out of the chapbook almost immediately. A lovely design, & hilariously funny poems, here’s an example of one of the last pieces in the collection, a sonnet by Peter Norman:


Rain is no miracle. It’s only rain.
It falls, as gravity demands it fall,
As water grinding on a canyon’s wall
Submits to entropy, to the mundane.

True miracle rebels and therefore shocks:
We gasp when the sustaining order bends
And rivers creep uphill, and rain ascends,
And lichen rises from its bed and walks.

Poetry, too, coerces awe
By busting from its own constrains. This isn’t random:
Rule and dissent must move in tandem.
What is defiance if there is no law?

Keep watch: the clouds may shower frogs, or fish, or ears of grain,
And we will gasp, who had expected rain.

For more information on The TREE Reading Series, check out For queries on the chapbook or broadsheet series, email Stephen Brockwell at

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

a bite out of ga: Montreal’s ga press

Part of an intense burst of anglo literary activity in Montreal was Colin Christie and Corey Frost’s ga press, producing small hand-made chapbooks where individual design and performance were essential to each publication. Credited by Montreal’s HOUR weekly at the end of 1994 for “starting a small-press publishing renaissance in Montreal,” each publication was willing to take risk with design, displaying how form was never separated from project or content. In many ways, ga press was simply an extension of the collaborations between Frost and Christie, including both publication and performance, whether of their own work, or the work of others. Despite ga’s short life, less than two years of activity before both Frost and Christie left Montreal, the most lasting offshoots of ga press appear to be Corey Frost’s own writing – from his self-published Tonight You’ll Have a Filthy Dream – Performances in Montreal, 1994-1999 (Backwards Versions) to his collection of anti-travel stories, My Own Devices (Conundrum Press, 2002) – and the direct influence on Andy Brown, who started his Conundrum Press almost immediately after ga’s last publication (Andy Brown was introduced to the work of ga through interviewing the two for Concordia’s student newspaper, The Link).

Vehicule Press publisher Simon Dardick was quoted in an article in HOUR in 1994 (August 4, “GA! Press: The merits of the small” by Mark Shainblum) as saying, “Corey Frost and Colin Christie are big believers in the joy and importance of doing it on your own. The founders of GA! Press, Frost and Christie are Concordia University Creative Writing students in their mid-20s, and both relished the taste of self-publishing they received within the program.”

The original idea for the press started during a fiction seminar with P. Scott Lawrence at Concordia University, where various young writers met, including Frost, Christie, Catherine Kidd, Steve Edgar, Alexis Diamond (now a playwright/librettist) and Benet Davetian (winner of a Mordecai Richler award). As Frost says, “At the end of the term we collectively decided to publish an anthology of stories by the class, to be called for example. Colin and I volunteered to design and produce. That was the birth of ga press.” During the same semester, Corey Frost was invited to participate in a private poetry-writing group by Catherine Kidd, that included Trish (then Patrick) Salah, Sina Queyras, Chris Banks, Carmine Starnino and Michelle Powers.

Corey Frost writes in an email:

I think that the most significant aspect of ga, for me, was that we were exploring the idea of publishing as performance. Colin and I talked about this a lot. We saw our role, as designers/editors/publishers, to be analogous to that of a musician interpreting a song or actor interpreting a role. The piece "Ampersand", which I later included as a comic in my chapbook Tonight You'll Have a Filthy Dream, sort of discussed this. We wanted to reach audiences directly by making our books unique and tactile, so they could feel our presence in the object. It was logical, then, for us to reach audiences even more directly by doing our "publishing" in live performance, reaching audiences even more directly with our actual presence. We never drew a distinction between the print and performance aspects of ga.

In addition, ga served as a community nexus, not just for Colin and I, for whom it was our entire lives for a short time, but for the other writers and performers in the scene who were our friends and therefore "ga" authors. The word "ga", and the concept behind it, did I think become more than the name of the press, evolving into a symptom of a thriving lit-performance scene in Montreal. The quantity of our output was, it seemed, less important that the enthusiasm and innovative attitude with which we approached that scene. Jake Brown said that it was talking to Colin and I for that Voice article (I had met Jake at Concordia) that inspired him to get involved in performance and start the Yawp series. Also index magazine was really born out of ga, and it involved a lot of different people while it lasted. It would be helpful to read the chronology section of Impure for information on some of this, or contact Andy Brown, Jake Brown, Todd Swift, Cat Kidd, Lee Gotham, Simon Dardick, Golda Fried, Judy McInnis Jnr., Chris Bell, Ian Ferrier, Trish Salah, Victoria Stanton, Vince Tinguely, etc.

Throughout the next year and a half, ga would produce a number of small items and performances, including chapbooks, books and cassettes, in a city where the line between text and performance has always been thin, including the mini-book Super Socco and Other Super Stories (June 1994) by west coast writer Judy MacInnis Jnr., published with covers cut from different cereal and laundry detergent boxes, and Chris Bell’s novel, Tales of the Lost Cheebah-ha (November 1994), designed as five chapbooks bound in a paper sleeve, with each chapbook individually fingerprinted by Bell (one finger per book). They even designed and produced a miniature book to go with the first Wired on Words cassette (December 1994), (which they also designed), after being approached by Wired on Words hosts Ian Ferrier and Fortner Anderson. David McKnight, rare books librarian at McGill University’s McLennan Library, writes in an email, “My own feeling is that the ga press story is not about the press and its output because it is so tentative and frankly undistinguished. The most ambitious of the lot is the Chris Bell multi-part novel, Tales of the Lost Cheebah-ha. Chris was very much hands on and interested in book design and quality. Its nicely done.” He adds, “The question – does spoken word run counter intuitively to printed format and thus seeks a home in a more suitable format: video, audio tape, digital. I’m not sure if Corey Frost intended ga to emerge as the printed outlet for the Montreal spoken word scene, but if that was his hope it never really got off the ground.”

Corey Frost writes:

Colin suggested the name "g press" because g is his middle initial, and also because we were both really into typography and we liked the little hook serif on top of the g. I suggested that this sounded too much like a specifically women's press (g for gyno), so we should add an a (a for andro), leaving us with ga, which we liked the sound of. The archeology of the name changed though, when people started asking what it meant. First we said "Colin came up with the g, Corey came up with the a" which was the truth, but then the word ga developed its own significance. To me it was like dada or fluxus, a nonsense syllable that could mean an infinite number of things, and we started referring to ourselves not as "ga press" but simply as "ga", because we wanted to be an infinite number of things, not just publishers. In the Fringe Festival show, the word ga took on a major role, and we did a couple of mock interviews in which we gave outrageous, surreal answers to the question "what is ga?" (One answer I remember from the play was "ga is three winters and one summer, in Russia, working at a bakery" or something like that. Later this got transformed into "ga is two winters and one summer in Montreal..." which it really was.)

Patchen Barss in The Montreal Gazette (July 31, 1994. “Little book offers big excitement”) wrote of Oralpalooza: “Last week, Ga Press published Oralpalooza, a collection of transcripts of performance art from the Third Stage (spoken word) at Lollapalooza. The 5-by-8-inch book had a print run of only 200 copies. But amid out-of-control profiteering, this little book held true to the original motives of the festival. [...] ‘This book tries to capture the spontaneity and motion of performance art,’ Frost says. ‘These people are performers, not just paper poets. I would like it if this book suggests to people some of the exciting and live quality of performance poetry.’ [...] But for now, Oralpalooza was the only thing I found at Lollapalooza that sincerely valued making a statement more than a buck.”

In Impure: Reinventing the Word: The theory, practice, and oral history of ‘spoken word’ in Montreal (Montreal: Conundrum Press, 2001), Victoria Stanton and Vincent Tinguely write of ga press under the chapter heading “The Oralpalooza Generation,” along with the performance group Fluffy Pagan Echoes (Ran Elfassy, Justin McCrail, Vincent Tinguely and Victoria Stanton), The Wired on Words cassettes (involving Ian Ferrier, Fortner Anderson, Ian Stephens and others), and Lee Gotham’s Enough Said series. Their introduction to the chapter, writes “In the spring of 1994, a number of anglophone writers and performers began to come together. One loosely-defined group was largely drawn from the ranks of graduating Concordia creative writing students interested in innovative means of presenting literature to their generation. These people created ga press, a chapbook publishing house, Index, a free monthly literary magazine, and Ouma Seeks Ouzo, a performance troupe. A second group, which became known as the Fluffy Pagan Echoes, was made up of five writers, poets and performance artists who were disenchanted with the format of the traditional poetry reading.” (p 163). On ga specifically, they add: “The pursuit of excellence in small-press publishing went hand-in-hand with a growing interest in the performative possibilities of text.” (p 163).

Corey Frost writes:

We also had elaborate plans for other publishing projects: Hundreds and Thousands, which was to be serialized fiction (we still talk about doing this someday), and ga press book jewelry (I made a couple of book-pendant prototypes – dana has one). However, we sort of got distracted by live performance. We appeared at Todd Swift's slam Vox Hunt as featured performers, and did a piece which developed into "Ampersand", a kind of sound-poetry skit, involving two typewriters as percussion instruments. Later we participated in another Vox Hunt thing, a benefit show that included an auction, for which we produced a one-off book: it was big, about 3 feet long, and the text was completely done with potato stamps. It was called LIT. A guy bought it for $30 or so I believe.

As far as continuity goes, Andy Brown, with his Conundrum Press (first with chapbooks, and later, full-bound books) picked up the ga ball through similar considerations with design (both Brown and Frost have done design work with Matrix magazine, and Brown currently designs as well for DC Books), and publishing a number of former ga press authors and contemporaries, including Catherine Kidd, Dana Bath and Corey Frost.

Around March 1995, Frost became editor of Index magazine, which curtailed some of their activity, and, later that same year, ga press went into haitus, as both of the main participants moved away from Montreal. As Frost writes of his beginnings with Index, “After that, I got gradually more involved in performance, with Trish and Laura and Dana and Andy in the group OUMA seeks OUZO, and also in publishing index and trying to keep it afloat. I also got married that summer and went to the Maritimes with Dana. So ga activity tailed off, and then in the fall I moved to Japan and Colin moved back to Ottawa (then Toronto, then London [UK]). The ga momentum was to be focussed on a project called "Music Stories", a more serious full-length book that Simon Dardick of Vehicule had offered to fund and put out as a co-production. We communicated on this between Japan and Ottawa, but other things got in the way. We talk about doing new projects whenever we see one another, but so far nothing.”

ga press Bibliography:

for example, anthology (Corey Frost, Colin Christie, Catherine Kidd, Steve Edgar, Alexis Diamond and others),1994
Hence, anthology, 1994
Truth, Memory and Lies, Steve Edgar, 1994
Super Socco and Other Super Stories, Judy MacInnis Jnr., 1994
Oralpalooza, anthology (Golda Fried, Ian Stephens, Jonathan Goldstein, Manchilde, Corey Frost and others), 1994
The Sentence That Thought Life Was Simple, anthology (Corey Frost with Catherine Kidd, Patrick Salah, Steve Edgar, Ibi Kaslik, Lama Mugabo, Michelle Power, Victoria Stanton and others), 1994
Tales of the Lost Cheebah-ha, Chris Bell, 1994
Wired on Words Series 1, anthology (Ian Ferrier, Fortner Anderson, Julie Bruck, Lynn Suderman and others), 1994
Blister in the Sun, Sandra Jeppeson, 1994
LIT, 1995
Hundreds and Thousands, anthology, 1995
Book (title goes here), anthology (Colin Christie, Corey Frost, Patrick Salah, Laura Killam and others), 1995

Monday, June 07, 2004

Méira Cook’s Slovenly Love

In her third collection of poetry, Slovenly Love (Brick Books, 2003), Winnipeg poet Méira Cook writes an essential musicality, even a musical abstract, in her poems, with a tone unlike any other. After two previous poetry collections, A Fine Grammar of Bones (Turnstone Press, 1993) and Toward a Catalogue of Falling (Brick Books, 1996) as well as a novel, The Blood Girls (NeWest and Overlook Press, 1998), Cook still manages to write in a silence, with very few poems appearing in magazines or journals. It feels almost as though her books simply appear out of nowhere every few years, completed.

Since Barry McKinnon, Robert Kroetsch, Dennis Cooley and so many others, the contemporary form of the prairie poem seems rooted in the long poem, sequences of fragments that hold faster than any adhesive. As Rob Budde once suggested, the amount of prairie long poems being written an effect of the onslaught of prairie long poem anthologies. In Cook’s poetry, a serene and powerful mixture of heart and craft, with shades of other Canadian poets’ work sifting through, including prairie contemporary and friend Nicole Markotic. Cook writes in lush sweeps of language, more sensual than what the boys do. “She reminded him that Flaubert believed every photograph / rubbed away a thin layer of skin.” she writes, in the sequence “Kiss by the Hotel de Ville, 1950, and other Kisses Various” (p 99).

Built in five sections of sequences – A Year of Birds, Blue Lines, Trawling: A Biography of the River, Kiss by the Hotel de Ville, 1950, and other Kisses Various, and Tempestuous – the first writes of her first child, born since the publication of Toward a Catalogue of Falling, writing: “As for me, // little bird, I am no longer hollow / boned, audacious. Gravity / keeps me buoyant, bright / anklet of teeth about the bone.” (p 12). It leads to the safe assumption, I think, that the dedication to “Shoshana” and cover photo of a redheaded toddler are both her daughter. A sequence of moments referencing sleep (for when else can a new parent write but as their child sleeps), Cook opens with beautiful images, from “What can you be smiling at in your sleep? / Milk, the crook of our arms.” (p 15) to “Sleep is a thin crust these days, / easily broken.” (p 21).

In the sequence “Blue Lines” she begins, “There are places you can only get to by dying / or writing. There are places that cannot be paraphrased.” (p 34). The sequence reads as a love letter to loss, literally blue lines, notes written through the blues, that move from passages to single lines, from “By the time you get this we will have spoken.” (p 38) and “By the time you get this I will have left.” (p 42) to “By the time you get this we will be together again.” (p 50) and “By the time you get these blue lines I will be drowning in revisions.” (p 52). Possibly the strongest section in the collection, if I were to quote all the lines that struck me, there would be no room for anything else. I would have to copy out the series. “The problem with swimming is how to remain / on the surface.” (p 47).

In “Trawling: A Biography of the River,” subtitled “In commemoration of the brief but uneventful hyphen // between the birth of Heraclitus in 535 BC // and the great Winnipeg flood of 1997.” (p 63), Cook writes of the river and Horace, the river and Heraclitus; of city councillors and St. Bonafice church bells, and sand bags protecting “A city of floods and fevers, this old flat weary prairie town.” (p 64). In long, florid and fluid lines rarely seen in Canadian poetry, or seen so well, Cook places the flood in the surge of history, knowing full well you can’t step into the same flood twice. Of the river itself, she writes, “The river is the object of our surveillance, our wary, red-eyed scrutiny.” (p 64). She writes, “So far no one has referred to the river by the female pronoun. It is only a matter of time.” (p 64).

Generations choking in his throat Heraclitus the engineer, sneezes once for sorrow, twice / for joy. Horace-on-the-shoulder cocks his head at an elderly couple on a bridge. With gothic / poise, they watch the river rise. The long calcified haul has not exhausted them, nor yet
the hard ethic of bone and breath. Still, the inching water refutes Archimedian logic, / reminds that blood also rises the better to fall and, falling, drags the body like a tide.
(p 73)

“Six men have borne the name Heraclitus.” (p 70), she tells us, continuing,

Of the sixth Heraclitus three things are known: he tried to save a town from drowning, / he wore his pet raven like an epauler. He was peripheral and always sodden. // Oh, four things: once he made a hole in the world, now he can’t pinch it closed. // Whether he ever said, in so many words, “you can’t step twice into the same river,” / is widely disputed.
(p 71)

The section “Kiss by the Hotel de Ville, 1950, and other Kisses Various” begins where it ends, with a photograph so familiar it’s known as postcards and posters, suffering through its own familiarity, and turned into something less than it was. The sequence ends with the picture itself, Robert Doisneau’s photograph “Le basier de l’hotel de ville” (p 102), as she writes, “Everyone recognizes that photo by Doisneau, anyone can buy / cheap postcards at a news stand. The reproduction’s thin slice / cut from the world, vivid as processed cheese. Again, she whispers. // He bends to the perfect repetition of her mouth.” (p 87). She even speaks of the photographer himself, writing, “The photographer of chance meetings and delayed appointments, / Doisneau may be compared to a thief at the scene of the crime. / Of course he would deny loitering.” (p 89).

A Fall Between Kisses

This is a story about falling again (thought I
got it out of my system). Was standing on the edge
of a hole someone dug for some reason. Or:
I was standing on the edge of reason. For
some reason I fell in, hit my head on, say, a rock.
Three weeks later I fell in love with a photographer, fell
hard. (So here I am again, once around the world and back.)
Wouldn’t mention it except for the dying fall linking
both stories and the feeling each time of gravity
sewn into the soles of my shoes.
(p 93)

The last section, “Temptuous,” tells the story of The Tempest, written between Shakespeare’s lines into the smaller moments. “What we learn from these pages is how to stay afloat.” (p 107, “Prospero: Young Ferdinand, – whom they suppose is drown’d, –“), a mantra, perhaps, for the entire collection. The shortest section, nearly a coda, with three pieces over six pages, she speaks of fathers and daughters; of Prospero watching Miranda on their island, circling the collection back to the first section, of mothers and daughters. Each piece beginning with a line from Shakespeare’s play, it moves across a story we all know, and know the ending of, writing of Miranda’s speech, given her, too, by Prospero. “The first word you gave me was father.” she writes of Miranda (p 109). “Father, you named the world out of all recognition, each word / a pendulum in my uncertain blood, my mouth ajar, smoking.” (109). This book is about keeping your head above water. “If you want to stay afloat, watch Miranda” (p 107).

From the pieces in her previous collection, Cook has shown that she is capable of great things, and Slovenly Love gives that and more, each book become thicker than the last, to the point of no exit, and no return. Slovenly Love is the flood, that overcomes.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

May 27
(from a day book)

without words it just gets colder
– Jon Paul Fiorentino

bus to charlottetown, a short
irving esso jam

big step

a dark star text, “inflate

thick w/ mud

a red bone glistens as the
rain abates

girl on the bus reads othello
says, welcome

to nova scotia

when the light is flashing


writing longhand, long
in the tooth

the first bus vs
the springhill mine

anne murray songs,
snowbird disaster

switching quick, this is not
creeleys amherst

highway one roundabout
how i hate them

one wrong turn

get over it, they say
confederation bridge


back on the island, mccain
& mary jane

her north shore house
near reading

july first

a retirement then
to that place where she began

north shore east

overlapping concerns
from book to book to book


a huge potato
& summerside arrive

hotel & imperium

potato soil

Tour Notes, part one

Another tour, another box or four of publications mailed back to my doorstep. This time, it was six weeks from Vancouver to Charlottetown, from mid-April to the end of May. I’m probably buying more books on these tours than I’m selling, but there you go. Here are a few of the highlights, scattered across the floor of my apartment.

Victoria, British Columba: Jason Dewinetz’ greenboathouse books always does lovely publications. In Victoria (April 18), he gave me copies of the most recent broadsheets, printed especially for subscribers, contributors & friends. The first, a poem by John Lent, aint exactly my thing, but the design is gorgeous. Lent is one of the driving forces behind most things happening in Vernon, B.C., including the rumours of the return of Kalamala Press. The other, “Voyageur” by Sina Queyras, is a thing to die for. The more I read of her work, the more I want to, starting

It started early
thinking the river
a conveyor belt,
trees step ladders,
clouds a possibility
who says feet
are for walking, wings
only for flight?

It’s been a few years of silence after her first collection of poems from ECW Press, but finally, another is due this fall from Nightwood Editions. Also, greenboathouse books has a new sequence of poems by Sina appearing as a chapbook this fall, as well as a chapbook by Ottawa resident Shane Rhodes, and a broadsheet by Marita Dachel. Check out updates and their variants series at

Calgary, Alberta: Andy Weaver & I drove down from Edmonton to participate in two nights of readings around dANDelion magazine and Truck Gallery’s +15 Disaster opening (April 22 & 23). With some fine, fine readings by nathalie simpson, Dorothy Trujillo Lusk, Aaron Vidiver, David Fujino, Brea Burton (& us), the event included a number of publications, including the Disaster! issue of dANDelion, the chapbook anthology disaster (produced in conjunction with dANDelion magazine), the chapbook anthology HEY MOM I’VE BEEN CENSORED (published by ryan fitzpatrick through filling station), and a broadsheet by Dorothy Trujillo Lusk (published by One Great City Press in an edition of 32 copies). Some of the highlights of all of this included nathalie simpson’s reading (she really has to start publishing more, so I can read it), the Vidiver/Fujino collaborative reading (of their piece in the dANDelion issue), new work by Fred Wah in the disaster chapbook, & the fact that Andy Weaver decided to start referring to himself by the nickname “Mustang.” Although that by itself is hard to beat, check out one of the Fred Wah pieces from the chapbook (There are rumours of him (finally) having a new poetry collection from Talonbooks (now that he’s moved back to Vancouver) maybe next year):

isadora blew and blew the sea the sand the blue boards sky
high waves smashed broke and splintered shutters white walled
water over roof (it’s true!) and filled the floor with beach roar
blues but you’d be too to start the day as blue sky-blue could
fool you too now look at the misery you can see right through
poor sad and lonely one she knows you’ll spend your nights
alone and never know how much nobody’s missed somebody’s
blue yeh! ain’t this storm come through my door tellin’ you

There was a closing reading as well, but I wasn’t there for that. Enviable readings by Ryan Fitzpatrick, David Bateman, Susan Holbrook and Fred Wah. For any information on their publications, check out their website at

Another important part of any trip to Calgary is spending time with derek beaulieu, who recently ended his housepress with (as it’s called) “the last publication from housepress,” the poem “Squarely” by Kyle Schlesinger. The notion of “last” is always sad, especially with a press as entertaining & consistently interesting as housepress. What I love, though, the colophon that includes “published in an edition of 75 copies (on stock donated to the press by Fred Wah).” I just think that’s neat.

for L.P.G.

Squarely arch
tracks heist
dreaming figures
nude zeal
socialism drains

a more pliable
tomorrow again
successions step
carnations for
plausible thaws

forgetting disclosure
stepping through
one tires of
someone else

always here we do
not know the water
with water

Kyle Schlesinger

I’m not sure how long this will last, after years of beaulieu’s involvement with his own housepress, & the magazines filling station & dANDelion & forthcoming Open Letter. After a while (a rest, perhaps), I do think he is going to miss it. At least I’m hoping.

Edmonton, Alberta: Staying a week with Andy “Mustang” Weaver (one of my favorite humans), I got to read with him at a special for their Olive reading series (April 27), which ended its fourth year of monthly readings (Weaver also recently had a first poetry manuscript accepted by NeWest Press, to appear in spring 2005). Produced as both reading & chapbook series (but only during the school year), they have produced monthly events & publications by various poets, including Dennis Cooley, Douglas Barbour, derek beaulieu, Sina Queyras (there she is again!), David O’Meara, Tim Bowling, myself, Stephen Brockwell, Louis Cabri, kath macLean & plenty others. Get a hold of them through

More to come. As soon as I finish unpacking.

rob mclennan, Ottawa