Friday, July 29, 2005

Ongoing notes, late July 2005

Victoria, British Columbia: I recently got copies of the two chapbooka produced by Maleea Acker’s LA MANO IZQUIERDA IMPRESSORA out of Victoria: Bren Simmers’ Fire Lookout and Fred Wah’s Isadora Blue.

Produced in a numbered edition of seventy-five, Fire Lookout is a collection of ten ghazals by Bren Simmers. A young poet who actually works as a Fire Lookout in the Rocky Mountains, Simmers has published poems in journals across Canada, and attended the 2003 Sage Hill Fall Poetry Colloquium, but this is her first solo collection. Since John Thompson’s Stilt Jack from 1976, pretty much every poet in Canada has tried ghazals, with varying degrees of success (with some of the most interesting produced by Phyllis Webb, Douglas Barbour, Eric Folsom and Andy Weaver, for example). Still, sometimes its best to go right to the source: Thompson’s own ghazals have been put into a Collected Poems published by Goose Lane Editions in 1995 that everyone should own.


This valley bears no water.
Pine trees, thin columns of thirst.

Mountains, the dry hips of women.
Your letters, blessings in golden envelopes.

Sweet Vetch blooming in the meadow.
Kinnikinick on the south trail.

Your voice muffled with distance.
Another bad reception.

Wax of old candle stubs, engine oil, ink;
all my hands have touched.

Produced in a lovely edition of two hundred copies with french flaps, Isadora Blue is the first Fred Wah publication in a while, since he retired from the University of Calgary and returned to Vancouver (check out the two issue Open Letter tribute Alley Alley Home Free that published selected contributions from the Poetry Conference and Festival for Pauline Butling and Fred Wah at the University of Calgary, May 15-18, 2003). At least it’s something else to tide the reader over, after he announced a forthcoming new poetry collection from Talon during a reading he did as part of the Vancouver Writers Festival a few years back.


Like white silk
Forget the world

White-headed crows

Only dew,
Therefore grass

Moon, the sound of branches, rivers, pines

Dynasty, official, garden, scholar, temple
Meticulous, like ten thousand

The radical
In heaven’s refrigerator

Late spring
Diving or pissing into the moon
A watchman
And bowl of wine
Silence as music
Ratio of axe to handle
Too far off

I like the slight reference to W.C. Williams’ plums, and the way the references become linked but not linked, like stringing beads beside other objects into something further than a straight narrative line. One of the original Tish kids running around Vancouver and UBC in the early 1960s, Wah has really been moving in interesting directions since the early 1980s, with his writing becoming both more aware of issues around race, as well as subverting narratives (my current favourite of his collection is So Far). He has also been more open to collaborative works with visual artists, including a recent piece presented as part of Spatial Poetics in Vancouver in early July. Even these pieces exist as one half of a collaboration, as Wah writes in the acknowledgments, “Most of these texts were written during the Canada-México Photography/Writing Exchange 2002-2003 in Mérida and in Banff.” And who better to explore such exchanges?

Acker, in an email, says that the press has a whole bunch of stuff by Mexican poets in the works, and possibly some larger collaborative art/writing publications as well. For information on this or any other titles, you can either check out the website, write c/o 733 Connaught, Victoria British Columbia Canada V9A 2Z1 or email

Montreal, Quebec: Young poet Ben Kalman has been making small chapbooks for a couple of years now, out of his home in Montreal, where he has been a student at Concordia, focusing on publishing the work of newer poets (with some fiction as well), such as Denis Robillard, Shane Plante, J.J. Steinfeld, Zach Wells, Matthew Tierney, myself and Michelle Tracy..

One of his most recent chapbooks is Sporting In New Scotland, by east coast poet Jeanette Lynes, the author of three trade collections and a previous chapbook, published by above/ground press. As in many of Kalman’s productions, the type is far too small, as he seems convinced that the only way to produce a chapbook is to put two 8 ½ x 11 sheets of paper side by side and reduce them in a photocopier. When mine was produced a few years back, I suggested the type was too small (it would have been fine had he kept it the same size), but he said that the machine did that. I keep hoping he will realize the difference between machines and the people who operate them, but so far, he hasn’t. Otherwise, I quite like this little production of poems on Scottish immigration. As a Scot myself (Glengarry County, thank you very much; where we have the largest Highland Games in North America, happening this weekend), I appreciate the references and bone dry humour Lynes puts in her poems.

a brief history of the celts in the old
world & the new (in five moveable parts)

[old] they board a boat; they suffer.

[new] they disembark; they suffer.

[then] they out-migrate; they suffer.

[later] they return; they suffer.

[any time] they pipe their song; they suffer.

One thing I’ve noticed, is that her chapbooks (her previous chapbook inglish prof with her head in a blender. turned on. high. appeared in 2001 with my own above/ground press) always have a poem or two that are formally more challenging and interesting than the rest of her work, relying more on play than the straight narrative line. Somehow these poems never end up appearing in her trade collections. Why is that?

Wicklow, Ireland: I just got a package of Wild Honey Press chapbooks in the mail, including The Richard Nixon Snow Globe by Californian poet Rachel Loden (and doesn’t it just sound like a Richard Brautigan title, somehow?). There’s something about Nixon and the 1960s and 1970s that seems to seep into her poems on a regular basis, something that was also evident in her first collection of poems, Hotel Imperium (University of Georgia Press, 1999). Hotel Imperium, much like the current collection of twenty-four pages, wrote on the complications of history in hindsight, working through the fall of the Soviet Union, Richard Nixon, Woody Allen and Little Richard, blending them all together into both poems and commentaries disguised as each other.


Some ambitions are blonde and impetuous
Like searching Google’s endless manse
For a Richard Nixon snow globe
Letting desire overcome good sense

Because one night under a dappled moon
A man with the requisite supply
Of glitter flakes and plastic
Might have physically needed to make one

So he could see Dick’s head inside a dome
While hoodoo snow is falling
On the baby bush tricked out with lights
In his rancho home sweet ovum

Just what is it about Richard Nixon? Throughout the collection, Loden also touches on Playmates, Leonid Brezhnev and the current American President. There is something about Loden’s light touch of phrase that I’ve always been attracted to, even making the hard turns seem less severe. Still, the collection is predominantly about Richard Nixon, both political and cultural figure, and the only American President that had to leave office in disgrace. And I wonder if she’s written a piece to go along with the recent outing of Deep Throat?

You can find the website for Wild Honey Press (with other titles as well) here.


Jonathan Ball said...

your blog entries are always so meaty & linkfilled. kudos. on a sadder note, i can't get your "archives" links to work. is this a problem with the blog or my browser?


richard nixon snow globe is amazing. thanks so much for sharing it.