Wednesday, October 19, 2005

companions & horizons: An Anthology of Simon Fraser University Poetry; edited by Stephen Collis

New from West Coast Line Books (I didn't even know there was such a thing, an imprint from the Vancouver journal West Coast Line) comes the anthology companions & horizons: An Anthology of Simon Fraser University Poetry (2005), edited by Stephen Collis. Much the way the anthology 32 Degrees (Montreal: DC Books, 1994) was put together to highlight the graduates of the creative writing department at Concordia University, Collis' companions & horizons was compiled to showcase both the highlights and cross-section of those poets who either started at or came through (student, faculty and other) the university over its past forty years. The fact that it is even published through a journal that lives on-campus and edited by Collis, who teaches as an assistant professor at the university, reads as a bonus. An attractive and rather large collection (it sits at nearly 300 pages), the contributor list reads: Robin Blaser, Michael Boughn, George Bowering, Kate Braid, Colin Browne, Ted Byrne, Hannah Calder, Susan Clark, Stephen Collis, Wayde Compton, Dennis Denisoff, Jeff Derksen, Phinder Dulai, Roger Farr, Brian Fawcett, Reg Johanson, Lionel Kearns, Paul Kelley, Ryan Knighton, Glen Lowry, Tom McGauley, Kathryn MacLeod, Daphne Marlatt, Roy Miki, Catherine Owen, Lisa Robertson, Jordan Scott, Nancy Shaw, Sandy Shreve, Karl Siegler, Catriona Strang, Sharon Thesen, Chris Turnbull, Jacqueline Turner, Karina Vernon, Aaron Vidaver, Stephen Ward, Betsy Warland, Charles Watts, Rita Wong and Jerry Zaslove.

University
1967

Personally, said the professor,
I'm not altogether opposed
to security checks on campus.
In fact, he went on,
with my office bugged I feel
that I'm participating directly
in the Electronic Age.
Besides, without RCMP agents
and CIA spies and those
informants for the administration,
I wouldn't have anyone at all
showing up at my lectures.

Lionel Kearns

Collis, himself the author of two trade collections of poetry, Mine (2001) and Anarchive (2005) as well as numerous chapbooks, including the new Blackberries (BookThug, 2005), has compiled a worthy collection crossing numerous lines, but still leaning toward the more avant. As he writes in his introductory essay (well worth reading in full):

For well over 40 years now Vancouver has formed an important poetic nexus--a key point in the map of twentieth century avant-garde poetics--a node in the network of linkages that include New York, Montreal, San Francisco, and Buffalo. Poetry's genealogies are complex and contradictory, rarely linear or unitary, always eccentric and multiple. Nevertheless, the rough outlines of the stories of Vancouver's poetry can be told. One such story traces a migration north, a transnational exchange that marks Vancouver poetry in particular ways, prompted in part by Warren Tallman's presence at the University of British Columbia and his promotion, at the outset of the 1960s, of the "New American Poetry." This in turn was a key inspiration for a 'new Canadian poetry'--more intellectually and politically challenging, culturally ambitious, and formally experimental than what had been seen in the country up to that point--which found early expression amongst Tallman's students in the "Tish" movement and like-minded poets such as Phyllis Webb (then teaching at UBC). By the early 1960s, Tallman was regularly bringing prominent American avant-gardists such as Robert Duncan and Robert Creeley to the city, culminating in the landmark Vancouver Poetry Conference (1963).
[ …]
A good example of the permeable boundaries and cultural overlap of the university and avant-garde poetry is the ongoing exchange between SFU and that very uninstitutional-institution, the Kootenay School of Writing, Vancouver's now 20 year old independent writing collective. In their introduction to the KSW anthology, Writing Class, Barnholden and Klobucar note that "Throughout its existence, KSW's relationship with other writing institutions, especially those of high cultural repute and academic authority, has been one of mutual suspicion." I have no doubt that there is some truth to this, but it is in part belied by the fact that so many of the poets in Companions and Horizons (at least 14 of them, by my count) have themselves, at various points, been involved in KSW--before, after, or during their tenure at SFU. The point I am trying to make is that there is not a mutually exclusive--nor a proprietary--relationship between institutions of "higher learning" and "academic authority," and a radical, avant-garde poetry. But the two can on occasion converge, and SFU seems to have been host to just such a convergence, whatever the exact historical reasons. (pp 11-14)

I like very much the idea of anthologies such as these, to highlight a community (however loosely based) through a university; it is these that should be presented to students before they make their final choices, and not just samplings of course packets (not that I went to school myself, or anything). It reminds me of something that George Bowering himself did as professor at SFU for decades, teaching a course on British Columbia writing, and altering the course every year depending on what new books were appearing (Compton's 49th Parallel Psalm was apparently, and rightly so, quickly added to the course list when it appeared). Shouldn't every university in the country have a version of the same course? Robert Hogg used to teach a course at Carleton University on Canadian poetry, teaching texts such as Bowering's Kerrisdale Elegies (part of which Collis includes in the anthology), and Christopher Dewdney, but wouldn't it have been interesting for someone, at the same time, to teach the work of William Hawkins, jwcurry or John Newlove? (Or is it simply that British Columbia has a more impressive pool to choose from than we do? Perhaps.)

Potency is everywhere.
When a boy is told, when a man turns and says

"expansionist" or "insatiable," an endless
performance. The world endures

authority and apparatus. Simple
and straightforward, teach and lead;

each time it is reproven.
An erection. Make a statement.

You hear me? Tumid, as language.
I don't have the heart to tell him.

Shame--organic. Our own search
never began or ended. Seeded--

sucked into experience, rampant
in the need for. My male playfulness.

You have given your life
as required. Took a stab
at it.

Kathryn MacLeod, "1. Laced," Physick

One of the most interesting bits in the anthology was seeing one of my own publishers, Karl H. Siegler (publisher of Talonbooks, with his wife Christy), with a selection of his translation of Rilke's Sonnets to Orpheus. According to his author biography, Siegler "was a charter student at SFU, completing his B.A. (honours) in 1970, and his M.A. for his translation of Part One of Rainer Maria Rilke's Sonnets to Orpheus (supervisor Jerry Zaslove) in 1974, the same year he joined Talonbooks, where he is today President & Publisher. His translation of Rilke's compete Sonnets to Orpheus (Parts One and Two) was published to critical acclaim in 1977 [Talon]. He received the first SFU Alumni Association Outstanding Alumni Award in the category of Arts and Cultural Achievement in 1993." I mean, did you know that? I think that's pretty cool. (We so often forget that so many publishers in Canada started out working in writing, whether Tim Inkster, Mike O'Connor, John Flood or Howard White.) Another highlight has to be the ongoing collaborative work of Nancy Shaw and Catriona Strang, excerpts from their Arcades Intarsai that appeared in the Kootenay School of Writing online journal W 8 in Summer 2004. Even when they publish books, they seem so quiet.

And of course, who can resist new work (it so rarely seems to come) by Chris Turnbull, Vancouver writer but Ottawa-area resident, from her series "Continua" (a fragment also appears in the first issue of ottawater; watch for the interview with her in the second issue in January). Such activity in Vancouver makes me jealous, from a town where neither university participates in any of the conversation that poetry is, or writing at all (it seems), and even Turnbull and I have had conversations of the same, that this notion of writing community is a western beast, not one that is easily found around here. But still we try. It's almost too bad a book such as this prevents (almost) a list of who they didn't include: didn't Stanley Cooperman teach there in the early 1970s? And what about Stan Rogal?

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