Saturday, December 31, 2005

a brief note on the poetry of Fanny Howe

Through multiple collections of poetry and her most recent Gone (University of California Press, 2004) and Selected Poems (University of California Press, 2000), Fanny Howe’s poems seem to be all part of a long, ongoing line of stanzas from beginning to end, breaking down moment upon moment until they have accumulated into so much more than the sum of these individual parts. I like that at any point, any moment, I can open up any of her collections at random and simply read; simply listen. Does this make meaning/narrative meaningless, someone might ask. Meaning and narrative are made out of moments, and Howe knows all about moments.


Let it snow unless it is in heaven

Let it know
what it is itself that waterstuff

as it covers the silver
winter dinner bell

Any ideas had in Canada on the long poem, the life-long poem, the poem as long as a life have long been writ of and spoke by the likes of bpNichol and Robert Kroetsch, among others (taken in part from Americans such as Jack Spicer, Robert Duncan, Charles Olson and William Carlos Williams), and the same consideration of the life-long poem can easily be said of the work of Fanny Howe. Lyrical and linked, her poems echo and re-echo off each other, and resonate in ways that don't require reading them (almost) in any particular order, dipping in to the poems in Gone where the fancy strikes. Built out of elliptical poems and prose sections, each fragment of her lifelong poem exists in its own moment, able to exist separately, but, as Jack Spicer once suggested, can no better live by themselves than we can.

Your heard is your tongue and the sweet jam that loves it
Your heart is your shoe, your place on the sod
Your heart is your baby cribbed in your ribs
Your heart is a tulip with a tulip-sign on it
Your heart is your brain
Your heart is a troubadour singing to wood
Your heart is a camel plodding along
Your heart is your ring that was reddish brown
Your heart is your sex and your mouth next to mine
Your heart is my heart that trails you in death
and guides me to the bird (a heart)
named Only-One-Song.

-- from “The Passion”

Friday, December 30, 2005

bpNichol's Christmas cards

Since Ron Silliman recently mentioned Sheila Murphy's annual Christmas poem mailout, it seems only fair to mention the annual handout that bpNichol started, and his widow and daughter, Eleanor and Sarah Nichol, still continue since beep's death in 1988 at the age of 44. The tradition that bp started, through publishing new work, is continued by Ellie and Sarah through picking from bp's large stable of published work. This year, the poem fragment comes from his collection Zygal: a book of mysteries & translations (Toronto ON: Coach House Press,1985).

to encompass the world
to take it in
inside that outside
outside that in
to be real
one thing beside the other

Last year, Saskatoon's Grain magazine even did a special feature on bpNichol's Christmas mailouts (see the entry I made at the time on it here). It's a good thing I got it, too. The return address seems to be Calgary, and I was about to send her a bunch of things to the Toronto address (when did she move?).

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

drinking red wine in glengarry county

me + my lovely daughter Kate

It’s most of what I’ve been doing since coming out to my parents farm on December 23rd, just five miles west of Maxville, Ontario (home of the largest Highland Games in North America); that, and posting bits I wrote before I left Ottawa. Spending time with parents on the homestead, and my sister, her partner Corey and their daughter Emma (who just turned 2 years old; Kate and I take turns teaching her strange phrases to repeat very loudly) who live in the log house across the road (we’ve been on the same road since 1845). The poet Nicholas Lea is about two miles away on Norman Drive with his family, doing whatever it is they do.

I spent much of Christmas Eve reading a badly written book about Paul Chartier, who tried, unsuccessfully, to blow up Canada’s own Parliament in May 1966 (our own Guy Fawkes!'; see the related blog entry here). All he managed to do was accidentally kill himself, but only because he had no idea what he was doing. Reading the book, it’s actually rather frightening how close he came, failing only due to his own incompetence. The book, The Mad Bomber of Parliament (Nepean ON: Borealis Books, 2005) by James Fontana, seems to be well-researched enough, and Fontana was even on the front lines as a young lawyer (assistant Crown prosecutor in Ottawa), but really isn’t that well-written or compelling, despite the material, and presumes that the reader knows as many facts as the author does, such as mentioning the bus station on Albert Street (someone should tell him that it has long since moved; I have no recollection of it ever being there. Isn’t this something the author should be mentioning?).

Otherwise, I’ve been watching plenty of documentaries (The Real Da Vinci Code and Worst Jobs in History, both hosted by Tony Robinson, who seems to host a multitude of extremely interesting docs through BBC, and was Baldrick on Black Adder...), and episodes I missed of the past few months of Smallville (while waiting impatiently for the summer movie).

Yesterday, I went back to collect my daughter Kate (who turns 15 on January 4th; does that mean I'm an old guy?). We spent today wandering parts of Alexandria and Cornwall, doing nothing in particular (while listening to the mixed CD she made me for Christmas, with songs by Death Cab for Cutie, The Donnas, Air, The Bloodhound Gang, Coldplay and plenty of others; extremely cool). Our usual stops always include the Dairy Queen in Alexandria (I liked the building better, before the fire a few years ago; when on the farm without her, I spend most afternoons in there writing...) and the new/used bookstore on Main Street, where I usually leave handouts and pick up books on Glengarry history (if I can; most of them are bloody expensive). This time around I found The Scottish Pioneers of Upper Canada, 1784-1855: Glengarry and Beyond by (Toronto ON:Natural Heritage Books, 2005). Hopefully they'll be nice enough to send me a review copy if I ask all nice?

We return to Ottawa tomorrow, for whatever it is we do in the Capital. She’s been reading through the books I gave her, including Les Miserables (she requested it; she's actually a huge fan of musicals...) and The Astonishing X-Men: Volume Two, collecting the last six issues of the year long run of The Astonishing X-Men written by Josh Whedon (the guy who invented Buffy[I much preferred the movie], Angel and Firefly; I am very much hoping his run continues). In the kitchen, my father is currently working on his train (a lego-type huge model he got yesterday from Uncle Bob with nearly 1,000 pieces; he’s always been a big fan of puzzles, and other such things you have to figure out; far better than the 1980s, when he was the only one who played with my Rubic’s Cube by taking it apart and putting it back together in the right order, or the 1990s, when he would spend entire winters playing and solving the King’s Quest games, annually for the first three versions).

I was hoping to get a group photo of the whole bunch of us -- parents, sister, etc --but that doesn’t seem to have happened, again (couldn’t get one during the August long weekend either, during my sister’s third annual pig roast). At least something to show season (I'll just have to remember what they look like between now and March, when Kate and I come back here for March Break + my 36th birthday). Once I’m back at my desk, I’ll be producing smarter blog entries in no time. But one wonders, why?

Monday, December 26, 2005

George Bowering's Left Hook: A Sideways Look at Canadian Writing

Anyone who pays any attention to me at all knows that I'm a big fan of the work of Vancouver writer George Bowering [check out this new interview at P.F.S. Post], so it seems pretty obvious that I would be eventually talking about his most recent collection of criticism, Left Hook: A Sideways Look at Canadian Writing (Vancouver BC: Raincoast Books, 2005). Bowering has published a number of collections of criticism over the years, from the smaller publications How I Hear Howl (Montreal QC: Beaver Kosmos Folio, 1969), Al Purdy (Toronto ON: The Copp Clark Publishing Company, 1971), Robert Duncan: An Interview (with Robert Hogg) (Toronto ON: Coach House Press / Beaver Kosmos Folio, 1971), and Three Vancouver Writers: interviews by George Bowering (including Audrey Thomas, Daphne Marlatt and Frank Davey) (Toronto ON: Open Letter, Fourth Series, Number 3, Spring 1979) as well his larger collections of essays A Way With Words. (Ottawa ON: Oberon Press, 1982), The Mask In Place: Essays on Fiction in North America (Winnipeg MB: Turnstone Press, 1982), Craft Slices (Ottawa ON: Oberon Press, 1985), Errata (Red Deer AB: Red Deer College Press, 1988) and Imaginary Hand (Edmonton AB: NeWest Press, 1988).

Published right after he ended his two year stint as the first Parliamentary Poet Laureate of Canada, Bowering's Left Hook is over three hundred pages of essays and articles written over the years, including pieces on British Columbia, Al Purdy, Canadian postmodern fiction, the Véhicule Poets of Montreal, Robin Blaser, bpNichol, Mourning Dove, Ethel Wilson, Michael Ondaatje, appropriation of voice, and what it is to be Canadian, all with his usual style and wit. A number of these pieces even appeared as book introductions or afterwards, including to the Canadian fiction anthology he edited, And Other Stories (Talonbooks, 2001), as introduction to the anthology The Véhicule Poets Now (Winnipeg MB: The Muses' Company, 2004), and as afterward to Ethel Wilson's novel Swamp Angel (Toronto ON: New Canadian Library, McClelland & Stewart, 1990), as well as the piece "Diamond in the Rain," commissioned by the Neue Zürcher Zeitung that appeared online in English in John Tranter's Jacket magazine. In doing her own work on Bowering, Winnipeg poet Di Brandt recently suggested that George Bowering has done more work on other writers than just about anybody, and sometimes wrote the only (if not the only useful) critical work on particular authors. When looking at the volume of critical work he's done, you can even see it. One of the organizers of the Al Purdy symposium at the University of Ottawa that will be happening in spring 2006 suggested that Bowering's work on Purdy in that small booklet from 1971 is still the best critical work done on Purdy's work. When a writer such as Bowering does so many different things, and so many of them, it unfortunately becomes easier to overlook so much.

"Why do we visit graves?

Why would we travel to a place we have never been to before, and stand at the foot of a grave in which lie the remains of someone we have never seen in the flesh?

In the summer of 1992 I drove to Omak, Washington, to visit the grave of Mourning Dove, the first Native American woman ever to write a novel. At the tourist bureau they had never heard of her, but they told me that the graveyard I had mentioned was in Okanogan, the next town.

The graveyard, white and dry under the hot familiar sun, was deserted. I parked my car and got out and stood where I could see the whole place. Then I walked to the area that looked 1930s-ish. The first grave I looked at was hers.

She had bought this plot out of her minimal wages from hard orchard work, a grave in a white people's cemetery. In Jay Miller's introduction to her autobiography, I had read that the words on her marker were only "Mrs. Fred Galler" (xxvi). But now I saw that someone had cut a rectangle out of the old stone and put a new marker in its place. It depicts a white dove flying over an opened book upon which appear the words:


There I was, a still living white male, standing, and eventually kneeling at the last narrow home of a great woman I had not heard of while I was being educated there in that Okanagan Valley. She died when I was seven months old. I did not read her books until I was the age that she had attained at her death. What did I think I was doing there? I was reading."

-- from "The Autobiographies of Mourning Dove"

Much more a collection of more general essays than most of his previous collections, as he writes more generally on postmodern fiction, Vancouver and British Columbia, as well as on particular works and particular authors he is interested in. One of the essays that might seem more relevant these days is his piece "Backyard Burgers: A Letter to the U.S.A. about Transborder Culture," originally composed as "a talk at Cleveland State University sometime in the 90s" that seems to be aimed as much at Canadians as Americans, that writes:

"My childhood was a battleground where the armies of the United States and Great Britain continued the conflict they had been conducting for a century and three-quarters. I lived in a valley where British was veterans grew tree fruits. So there were English accents all around me. I hated them. The reason I hated them was that they valley extended across the border, and so did radio waves. Most of the narratives I knew were from the U.S. From Donald Duck to Walt Whitman, they were my compatriots. The comic books I got, the novels I found in the drug store, the radio serials, the movies on Saturday afternoon, the sport magazines, the hit parade, the popsicle wrapper -- they were all made in the U.S.A., and they were not presented as anything but USAmerican stuff speaking to USAmericans.

Things have not changed that much. At the video store I go to they regularly list movies made by Canadians among the "foreign films." The movie theatre closest to my house bears a (relatively) permanent sign that declares its fare as "American and foreign movies." In the neighbourhood chain drug store that advertises itself as "Canadian-owned" you can get two hundred different paperback novels, but you can not find a Canadian novel among them unless Margaret Atwood has been recently reprinted. It took me years to persuade my daughter that the U.S. president is not legally our president. It took me longer to persuade her that we do not have a president.

I like to ask people from the U.S.: how would you like to go into a bookstore and find no USAmerican books? How would you like to go to a record store and find no USAmerican music, unless the musicians had become famous in another country? How would you like to buy a popsicle, and read the rules about saving up popsicle wrappers, and see in fine print at the bottom: "This offer not valid in the U.S."?" (p 16-7)

What I'm really looking forward to is Bowering's baseball memoir coming out sometime in 2006, although I'm not sure when (I'm pretty sure it's with Talonbooks), with sections that have already appeared in Open Letter and online at Toronto's Dooney's Café. Who knows baseball better than Bowering (although David McGimpsey's baseball piece in a recent issue of Matrix is pretty impressive; and then his book on it too?)? Don't talk to me of Field of Dreams, or Kinsella's Shoeless Joe

Saturday, December 24, 2005


read one book
interested in speaking.

The door slammed. Carpet footfalls
echoed away.
'But they mocked the word


What impressed me first about Elizabeth Bachinsky's first trade collection of poetry (after appearances in magazines here and there, and the anthology Pissing Ice: Canada's New Poets that appeared with BookThug early in 2005), is the way she knows how to make a poem look good, and play with the shape of how a poem exists, even throughout her own collection. Not all poems are built equally, so neither should they be built to look the same. Bachinsky's poetry works from the basis of convention and twists, as in this poem, opening up the collection:


Think of sailing the round earth to arrive at your point of departure.
You arrive, but the landscape has changed so much you don't
recognize it. A deck-hand calls to you from dry dock, but he
speaks a language you don't understand. So much has changed

in the time you have been gone, you sail right past the harbour.
In doing so, you have neither the sensation of a beginning nor the
sensation of an end. You have a different sense altogether. A middle
sense. The water moves beneath your ship, and there you sail. (p 9)

"This is a story of resistance." she writes in one of the first poems, and the collection is built on the simplicity and straightforwardness of that statement, later writing "This moment when you know you are should stretch on forever." (p 39). A resistance to what occurs outside and both inside her own spaces, Bachinsky's poems reach out and grab their own terms.

A cold song isn't wet feet, if Pip
Sired gold I'd mine your tit thus: sew my bed
Of reverend, a favor -- ever for rend.
Whole dulcet limbs hook youth.

Ape, attend your tired sex.
You, young, took wind, feverish winter desire, bent trial
You even find he's not even foam. A
Foolish dream she never knew to bake or hug. So, my

Aged teen, you down your youth.


Friday, December 23, 2005

ubu web: Deanna Ferguson

d I

-- from "Unwanted"

I recently discovered the /UBU EDITIONS series edited by New York poet Brian Kim Stefans (while looking up more material by Juliana Spahr, an American poet I've been reading lately), with titles published in pdf form in (so far) two seasons: winter 2003 and spring 2004. Publishing (and republishing) more challenging poetic texts that would be difficult to acquire otherwise, the series includes book length works by Caroline Bergvall, Robert Fitterman, Gustave Morin, Ron Silliman, Brian Kim Stefans, Kevin Davies, Juliana Spahr and Darren Wershler-Henry, among others, as well as two collections by Vancouver poet Deanna Ferguson, including Rough Bush and Other Poems, and a reissue of her earlier Tsunami collection, The Relative Minor. As Stefans says in his introduction to the first series:

"My hope, with the /ubu ("slash ubu") series, is to complement and augment relatively "traditional" methods of publication by usurping one of the most common functions of independent presses -- bringing vital new literature to the attention of a wider public -- while moving into an area that most small press publishers are not able to approach: reprinting important works from the past decades that are too commercially unviable to do as print books.

What made this idea seem interesting now, as opposed to eight or so years ago when internet publishing began its colorful but checkered history (prematurely vaunted by poets as the sequel to the "mimeo revolution") is the realization that people are willing to read long, complex works of literature from the internet provided they can print them out.

By formatting these books with professional typesetting tools and publishing them as Adobe Acrobat files, not only is the amount of paper needed to print out a book lessened because web page items like menu bars and graphics are absent, but the letter-size (8.5 x 11) page is transformed into a visually pleasing "book" page, its seductive gutters, leading and tracking making Cinderellas out of the plain-Jane ream of photocopy paper.

Publishers of innovative poetries on the web have always had trouble formatting works in html (which, among other limitations, does not have tag for a tab), but the ubiquitous Adobe Acrobat format is perfect for giving the designer all the features of advanced typesetting and graphic techniques that are stable and consistent across several computer platforms. A colour printer lets you fully enjoy the cover pages of these files, most of them original designs by Goldsmith and including one of the artworks from the ubu archives." (Stefans)

It's interesting that Ferguson's work moves from potentially having such a localized audience to a much wider one, with her part in the /ubu editions project (will there be a third run, I wonder, or a fourth?). Part of the Kootenay School of Writing collective in Vancouver during the time of Lisa Robertson, Dorothy Trujillo Lusk, Judy Radul, Jeff Derksen, Colin Smith, Nancy Shaw and others (see Writing Class: The Kootenay School of Writing Anthology), Deanna Ferguson's The Relative Minor was originally published by Tsunami Editions in 1993 (publisher also of texts by a number of the Kootenay collective. Kevin Davies' Pause Button, also reprinted here, was originally published by Tsunami in 1992; rumours have the press perhaps restarting in 2006?). An editor of Vancouver's late Tsunami Editions, as well as Vancouver's tabloid of arts writing from the 1990s, BOO Magazine, Ferguson's publications also include Link Fantasy, Democratique and The Goth Poem (Cleave), ddilemma (Hole Books), Rough Bush (Meow Press) and Small Holdings (Tsunami). As editors Andrew Klobucar and Michael Barnholden write of Ferguson in their introduction to Writing Class:

"Linguistic relations reveal further institutional ties in the work of Deanna Ferguson -- specifically the institution of patriarchy. Unlike Derksen's paratactic socio-economic commentary, Ferguson's lines at first suggest a more continuous narrative:

In using the telephone, she says, I really gave so-and-so
a good reaming, reprimand city,
Soon enough, circularities of story, intimacies shared.
Bullshit made apparent, but
What is constructed in this world
Has at least a shelf-life.

If there is contradiction in this work, it emerges at the level of syntax first. Ferguson does not clarify whether the adverbial clause "in using the telephone" modifies "she says" or "I really gave." In other words, is the subject using the telephone to give the other un-named conversant "a good reaming" or merely to tell she has done so? The logic of the narrative supports the latter meaning, for how could one make specific use of a telephone to reprimand a person, save as a device of communication; yet the syntax of the line suggests that in the actual use of the instrument, the reprimand was given. Similarly, the jargon "reprimand city" plays with two meanings, making a pun of her terminology. Even after closely considering the different sections of Ferguson's long poem "Wanke Cascade," from which the above is taken, the reader inevitably realizes that s/he is no nearer to a sense of "shared" narrative than when s/he began. The point at which the description or representation of the supposed event actually begins is not clear here. Ferguson displays two fictions simultaneously, or rather two levels of a linked fiction: "circularities of story, intimacies shared. / Bullshit made apparent, but…" Once again, the medium of communication appears to disrupt more than it transmits.

What in the romantic poetry of social anger or in a "work poem" might appear as a literal complaint cannot overcome its discursive origins, and so retreats back below the linguistic surface. Only "fabrication remains intact"; and this, Ferguson implies, remains the real target of her critique. The poet, and a female poet especially, cannot simply escape her social role or create a new one; her language works against it. But the ideological forces affecting her diction do not necessarily mean that she is completely powerless. It is no small feat to recognize and acknowledge the condition of one's exclusion. Exclusion carries with it its own shades of autonomy and possible freedoms. She concludes:

until all events speak for themselves
until representations know what it feels like
until positioning in the order is located
until orders of knowing suss up
until strata is axed as metaphor
until economic isn't always the organizer
fear, baby

Such are the demands Ferguson makes, not only on her social condition, but on language itself. To revolt against the political economy of liberal capitalism is to abandon all of its cultural institutions, including those guiding communication and representation. Once again, as she suggests, exclusion from mainstream culture invokes its own terms of agency and capability ("fear, baby"). Ferguson is in charge of her language to the extent that she doesn't have to communicate, if she doesn't want to communicate. Perhaps the most cogent example of this form of cultural defiance is her refusal to participate in this anthology. It is difficult to assemble works from so many disparate writers, despite their similar origins and collective engagements, without risking reductive categorizations of a poetry that, by its nature, remains highly dependent upon context for much of its import and innovation. Ferguson is right to be wary of being included in such a project, and she wastes little time in demonstrating her obvious sense of exclusion even here." (p 40-42)

In her collection Rough Bush and Other Poems, Ferguson gives us fifteen poems in under ninety pages, moving from expansive to tight lines, and blocks of prose, wide movements across the page, to thin strips of words. There have been discussions lately on a list-serve or two about if poetry is supposed to be uncomfortable, and I think it should be. And "uncomfortable" can end up meaning a whole swath of things, whether through content or form or any mixture of whatever else. Deanna Ferguson's poems could be considered "uncomfortable" only in the fact that they help challenge any notion of what a poem is "supposed to be," something that should almost always be challenged, and re-thought. Ferguson's poems move through areas of thinking and language that help keep an active blur, and a shift to what a poem is, or can be. For any of us who write, or read, I think it's a constant struggle to keep an open mind to new possibilities of form, and not become too comfortable in any one stance or area, and any of the collections published in this series have certainly achieved great strides in important and interesting directions.

We are welcomed by a special discordance.
In shape of an elder bushes morning.
He was forty-two and I seventeen.
Gone hum-speak-griddle to our boiling roles.
Darned compendium. Too close to a
hint of relative and plank-walled with respect
to the mouth. His nose hooked over my
untaxable cache. Pine hotel. Laid directly
on account of country. Straight through it.
Forty borders in a curious
line behind us. Woody with joints.

-- "Rough Bush," Rough Bush and Other Poems

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Juliana Spahr: this connection of everyone with lungs

New from poet and critic Juliana Spahr is the collection this connection of everyone with lungs (University of California Press, 2005), a highly personal and political collection of two long poems written in response to world events. The author of a number of works available on-line as PDF, including Gentle Now, Don't Add to Heartache, 2199 Kalia Road and Unnamed Dragonfly Species, her print works include Fuck You-Aloha-I Love You , Nuclear and Response (originally published by Sun & Moon in 1996, now available as PDF at Brian Kim Stefans' /ubu editions), which was also the winner of the National Poetry Series Award. Co-editor, with Jena Osman, of the international arts journal Chain, she recently moved from Hawai'i to Oakland, California. Built of two highly charged pieces that seem self-explanatory, the collection begins with "Poem Written after September 11, 2001" and continues with "Poem Written from November 30, 2002, to March 27, 2003."

But outside of this shape is space.

There is space between the hands.

There is space between the hands and space around the hands.

There is space around the hands and space in the room.

There is space in the room that surrounds the shapes of everyone's
hands and body and feet and cells and the beating contained

There is space, an uneven space, made by this pattern of bodies.

This space goes in and out of everyone's bellies.

Everyone with lungs breathes the space in and out as everyone
with lungs breathes the space between the hands in and out

as everyone with lungs breathes the space between the hands and
the space around the hands in and out

-- "Poem Written after September 11, 2001"

There is something even eerie about getting my copy in the mail on November 30, 2005, on the anniversary of the beginning of the book's second poem, that starts with this small note:

Note …

After September 11, I kept thinking that the United States wouldn't
invade Afghanistan. I was so wrong about that.

So on November 30, 2002, when I realized that it was most likely that
the United States would invade Iraq again, I began to sort through the
news in the hope of understanding how this would happen. I thought
that by watching the news more seriously I could be a little less naïve.
But I gained no sophisticated understanding as I wrote these poems.

September 11 shifted my thinking in this way. The constant attention
to difference that so defines the politics of Hawai'i, the disconnection
that Hawai'i claims at moments with the continental United States,
felt suddenly unhelpful. I felt I had to think about what I was
connected with, and what I was complicit with, as I lived off the fat of
the military-industrial complex on a small island. I had to think about
my intimacy with things I would rather not be intimate with even
as (because?) I was very far away from all those things geographically.
This feeling made lyric--with its attention to connection, with
its dwelling on the beloved and on the afar--suddenly somewhat
poignant, somewhat apt, even somewhat more useful than I usually
find it.

Political writing is difficult, and there is something deeply personal and abstract in the way Spahr writes her explorations of the world. I've heard poetry described both as an exploration of language and a process in which to try to understand the world, and Spahr's this connection of everyone with lungs certainly works to explore those connections. There are strange things going on in the world, and these two poems ache in their response to but a few of these events. They ache and they explore and they struggle to understand, opening questions that either have no answers, or have answers even too horrible to express.

Yesterday the UN report on weapons inspections was released.

Today Israel votes and the death toll rises.

Four have died in an explosion at a Gaza City house.

Since last Monday US troops have surrounded eighty Afghans
and killed eighteen.

Protests against the French continue in the Ivory Coast.

Nothing makes any sense today beloveds.

I wake up to a beautiful, clear day.

A slight breeze blows off the Pacific.

It is morning and it is amazing in its simple morningness.

-- from "January 28, 2003"

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

from “Missing Persons” (a work-in-progress)

Alberta kept to her journal and let everything else slide. She wrote out her hurts and her hates, and she hid them between the mattress and box spring, away from prying eyes.

After her father died, her mother finally had to learn how to drive, otherwise they were trapped where they were, the three of them in their big empty house. Cabin fever, or stir-crazy. Anything with a higher temperature, deepening to boil. They couldn’t keep depending on neighbours to take Emma in to town for groceries and other errands, or the first few weeks of prepared meals after the funeral, nearly a dozen women in the area, every night, taking turns.

It was Mrs. Friesen, Brian’s mother, who had offered to teach her, afternoons Alberta and Paul watched their mother drive circles around the yard; Mrs. Friesen the passenger, calm. Their mother a wreck.

Emma wound so tight she was kinetic; a spring. A spring that only explodes out before coiling up again, slowly squeezing the air out before another release. Alberta and her brother learned to walk on glass; whether cracked or shattered depended completely on their mother.

Alberta tried to persuade her mother that she should be learning too, but Emma wouldn’t hear it. You’re too young, she said. Paul simply wanted to go along for the ride, pounding gleeful palms on the window or backseat as they drove in circles. As they drove in eventual squares, turning corner on dusty corner around quarters in two mile stretches.

Needless to say, whenever Mrs. Friesen came over for Emma to learn to drive what was once their father’s car, the children were relegated into the house. At least until the engine stopped, and the two women came in for tea.

In the end, Emma drove herself a month before her license took effect. Everyone in town knew. If you were to ask anyone about it, no one would admit to knowing anything, but would have called it special circumstances. You don’t expect three people to stay out in the middle of nowhere without a car, do you? Even less if they have one. Emma something stronger when no one else was looking.

For Emma, beginning to drive herself on roads she thought memorized, lost her way as quickly as she found it again, more than a few times. Roads she thought she knew but less than she remembered. It was like re-learning a language after a stroke, with the frustration of taking longer to get anywhere moving slowly to the joy of discovery, of parts of the land around that she previously hadn’t known.

Once she was a bit more comfortable, she took to driving on Sunday afternoons, by herself or with Paul, in a different direction from the house simply to see where she might end up. She used a series of highway around and the valley below as her boundaries; when she came to one, however she got there, she would return home the way that she knew, back along a more familiar series of turns and straight lines.

For Alberta, it felt nearly impossible to get lost on a grid. There was time, and then there was only time, turning left or right or heading straight through.

It seems too obvious to mention that Alberta dreamed of escape, but to where. If there was as much sky as what was under it, her choices would be infinite. Even the direction itself didn’t matter, whether the rise from the west, or sloping down to the east. Each side held its appeal. Or to float down the hidden river that sat miles beneath her.

After her father’s death, shopping with her mother became more tense. Alberta, Emma and Paul, walked through a strip mall an hours drive from the house. Emma, tired but driven. Up at dawn rolling dough for bread, leaving it rise under damp cheesecloth at home. What they would tiptoe around. Dozens of loaves. For a bakery in town. If Emma saw her, or her brother, they would be forced to join in. Alberta working soft brown with her hands. Pounding with whole wheat flour that padded soft sounds on the floor as it dropped, in small handfuls. That made footprints from the dog, or white puff on his dark nose.

In the discount clothing store, Alberta caught a slap from Emma’s hand, on the back of her shoulder. She was humming too loudly again, nearly singing out loud. A habit she got into from spending so much time alone, or with Paul. Releasing the music in her head. The soundtrack to every piece of her, everything that she does. She said nothing, but glared at her mother. She said not a word for the rest of their excursion. She said nothing else for the rest of the day. Her green eyes shot daggers; her green eyes shot knives. Their mother didn’t notice, but Paul did.

Out of water, Alberta felt the full weight of gravity. Her body became stone, her feet turned to lead weights. She felt the air push against her face as she struggled to walk, wondered how it felt to be truly weightless, a creature of air.

To Alberta, there was no such thing as normal. The things that they used to do, ordinary activities were suddenly more difficult, with even the simplest act wrought with new tensions – shopping, going to school, dinner. Every act took on a new and tainted air. At school, no longer just the quiet girl, but the girl with the dead father. Alberta had never lost anyone before, but to Emma, it was far more. As though even their reactions to each other suddenly changed. Who they were, and what they were doing.

Alberta didn’t know if she’s the water or the fuel to her mother’s fire, but knew she was something liquid. Something pure. Her body pushed out impurities with a violent grace. Quickly, and unapologetically.

Mary knew the difference. Of what a parent was supposed to do, and what they weren’t. At least that what she told Alberta. Her own were examples of both, moving to such extremes that neither end she found terribly useful. As she felt, trapped in her own freedoms.

Not that Alberta saw that side, or would have understood. She saw only the freedoms at the end of Mary’s smile. As her own heart lit up. With equal excitement and envy.

During the long drive home, it felt so much longer. She cursed her mother under her breath.

When they reached an intersection, the road across their path firing straight and endless in both directions, Alberta stared so hard into the dot that made the line that the two ends looped around, and connected. Repeating grain elevators and water towers, and secret rail. Where hills and fields rolled wind into empty flow; where no tree, building or body could ever give a sense of space, and where there was no forgiveness.

To Alberta it felt as though they were about to cross an old and sacred line. It felt as though they were crossing something you couldn’t go back on.

(an earlier section of the same work appears here)

Monday, December 19, 2005

a note on the poetry of Stan Rogal

In Toronto writer Stan Rogal's ninth collection of poetry, Fabulous Freaks, (Wolsak & Wynn, 2005) he works the poem as collage through writing about the nature of celebrity. Starting from an innocent enough beginning, Rogal tears through the ugly truths (whatever they might be) of writing from such a beautiful place. In the first line of the first poem, "Haunts," he writes "Which craft bends such strange ambition?" (p 13), referencing a number of writers, text and bad jokes (in a poem dedicated to Toronto poet Heather Cadsby, writing "Whatever cads be on this heathered moor"). His willingness and fearlessness to use other forms is impressive, with each collection becoming its own individual project, or series of projects. For some reason, Stan Rogal is one of those writers who never seems to get enough credit for what he does, whether his plays, novels, short stories or poetry collections, one after another after another. Does the volume of such merely build up immunities? In a review of Stan Rogal's In Search of the Emerald City (Seraphim, 2004) in This Magazine (March 2005), Chris Chambers wrote:

"The prolific writer persistently demands what is and will always be highly valuable to readers: time. And if prolific writers value time differently than slowpokes, should we not then assume they value words--the tool of their craft--differently also?

Some writers are fast. Stan Rogal is one of these. The poet/playwright/fictioneer published his eighth collection of poems (his 13th book) last fall. In Search of the Emerald City (Seraphim Editions) is a sequence of 50 untitled poems that manage to spin Rimbaud and van Gogh through the kaleidoscope of The Wizard of Oz. In these punning, poignant, playfully allusive lyric poems, Rogal juggles various themes (going home, growing up, being exiled, going nuts, missing parts, giving up, talent being squandered/abandoned/unrecognized) and bizarre narrative turns (schizophrenia, suicide, asylums, ear slicing, leg losing, cancer) from the true lives of his principals. He smoothly goes about his business, introducing his characters and themes, buffering them with quest tropes from The Wizard of Oz and then loosening up and playing them off each other until some of these poems positively chime with the accretion."

Interspersed with visual collage works, by Rogal as well as collaboratively with Jacquie Jacobs, who was the other half of his collaborative (sub rosa) (Wolsak & Wynn, 2003), Rogal works image against image, and body against body, and letting the poetry come out through the collusion of smashed contrast. Rogal's best writing comes from both the collusion and the writing through myth-making, as in this fragment, the first part of the poem "ONCE UPON A TIME" (p 45), that begins:

Let's begin at the beginning: Once upon a time,
Say. Once upon a time there is a child.
There is a child & there is a journey
(as there is always a child & a journey in such cases).
There is a wood, or an ocean, or a desert.
At any level, a place, where bread crumbs have a snowball's
& Grails remain uninvented.
Hell, it whispers. There is a howl in the wilderness
that threatens a guise of claws, fur, fangs
& smoky breath, set to boil young brains

Rogal manages to take what is familiar and completely twist it, moving it around so it becomes something completely other, but in such a way that the reader has remained through the journey. Consider previous works of Rogal's, and his fascination with such cultural icons as Marilyn Monroe and The Wizard of Oz, from references scattered throughout his first collection, Sweet Betsy from Pike (Wolsak & Wynn, 1992) to his Wizard of Oz long poem, In Search of the Emerald City (a much earlier version was published as a chapbook by above/ground press in 1996; it was reworked extensively for the Seraphim edition). His collection The Imaginary Museum (ECW Press) is based on Mallarmé's idea that everyone has "un musée imaginaire" in his head, holding both masterpieces and velvet paintings of Elvis. Other collections, such as (sub rosa) and Lines of Embarkation (Coach House Books), riff off ideas from the outside, becoming texts of reaction, a text responding to something other (as someone once suggested, what all texts really are, in the end). A self-proclaimed “lusty collection,” in (sub rosa), Rogal worked a collaboration, writing a series of poems in reaction to a series of paintings by artist (and partner) Jacquie Jacobs. Going outside writing into visual art is certainly not a new thing, with Stephanie Bolster and Fred Wah being only recent examples using art as a trigger, but the breadth of Rogal’s interest, from science, philosophy, writing and pop culture, brings in a whole other range of ideas and experiences into his poems. His collection Lines of Embarkation (Coach House Books) riffed off ideas from the Douglas R. Hofstaedter book Goedel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, much in the same way George Bowering’s Delayed Mercy (Coach House Press, 1986) riffed off lines from other writers’ works, from other lines, phrases, ideas, etcetera.

A starting point as well, like predecessors Bowering and Judith Fitzgerald, Rogal allows the language to move through itself, both intellectually and musically moving and working through its own ends. With an ongoing influence by the open-ended form pushed by San Francisco poet Jack Spicer, Lines of Embarkation was a book touching on Achilles, Scylla and Charybolis, Gogol, biology and Mars constructs, it seemed fitting that it would begin with the Leonard B. Merger quote, “The world is a complex, continuous, single event.” and going through a framework not only for the collection as a singular object constructed out of fragments, but Rogal’s poetry as a whole, breaking down into individual collections, yet continuous. It reads as a continuation of the bpNichol mantra illustrated by the open-ended Martyrology, that the text connects, even if only on the basis that it is all written by the same hand. So many of his collections shape and are shaped.

From that collection to this new one, both illustrated with Rogal’s own artwork, intensifies the collage aspect of his poetry, taking bits, jumps, fits and starts from other parts, weaving them into his own. Moving from John Berryman, Jack Spicer, Stanley Cooperman (the late poet and professor at Simon Fraser who taught Rogal), Richard Brautigan and others, they read like threads that have moved through all of Rogal's poetry so far, reaching back as far as the mind can see. Saying, if you want to understand me, go here. In an "author comment" for his collection Personations (Exile Editions, 2001) on the League of Canadian Poets poetry spoken here page, Rogal wrote:

"My work tends towards an attempt to deal with grand ideas or issues, though set within a very personal arena. My first collection of poems, Sweet Betsy From Pike, dealt pretty much with ecology and environment. My second collection, The Imaginary Museum, looked at Art. My third book, Personations, centred around the notion of 'maleness' and can one be a well-rounded, caring, sensitive, intelligent human being and still be a man in the sense of maintaining an identity separate from woman. My fourth book, Lines of Embarkation used science as a stepping off point for developing poems. My fifth book, Geometry of the Odd dipped into chaos theory and my next book, Sub Rosa, will offer various interpretations of a group of eight paintings.

Some singular influences on my poetry (in no particular order) include: Jack Spicer, Marjorie Welish, John Berryman, Richard Brautigan, Judith Fitzgerald, Arthur Rimbaud, Kenneth Patchen, Stanley Cooperman, Michael J. Yates, Viktor Scklovsky and Anne Sexton. Add to this the Beats, the Black Mountain poets, certain Surrealists, the letters of Lorine Niedecker/Louis Zukofsky, the literary theory course I took at York University.

Through it all, I imbue the work with various discourses, from fairy tale to myth to science to art to academia to street vernacular and so on, all in an effort to collapse time and space in order to make everything appear alive and lively here and now. Obviously, some of this comes from my background as an actor and director, which may explain my love of the present-tense verb. In all of this I'm certainly not alone, though it makes for a seemingly tight crowd at times.

Some call my poetry modern, others post-modern, some call it lyric, others call it language; some see much of it as stream-of-consciousness, others read it as tight and well-thought out; some see it as imagistic, others as idea oriented; some see it as wildly subjective, others as coldly objective. This I perceive as a good things and wouldn't disagree with any one's interpretation. I'm happy that someone reads it and gets something out of it. Overall, I write poetry because I get a kick out of it and it gives me an opportunity (a way) to explore and experience the world through language."

In a recent interview he echoed the sentiment, where he said:

"Yeah, I do think things out a fair amount and try to make each book different in some way. In fact, within the books themselves I consciously try to offer variations, whether in style or voice, though clinging somewhat to a particular theme. Part of this is because I read too many books that sound the same all the way through or read like the same poem or story and this tends to bore me. I tend to play with voices in the poems as well as with line length. My short stories tend to genre-jump, moving from naturalism to noir to magic realism and so on. I like ‘playing’ and it keeps me — the writer — interested. I trust that others find it interesting, though the mainstream generally likes (prefers, demands) a quick easy label. My first novel was filmic/noir, my second a pseudo writer’s journal with a thin narrative (which no reviewer seemed to pick up on), my third (unpublished) is an epistolary novel in female voice, I have a collection of linked short stories coming out in the Fall, the novel I’m working on now is much more loose and stream-of-consciousness but around a specific plot line. New short stories are much more absurd/magic realism and poems around the themes of freaks and monsters.

A lot of this has to do with what I’m reading or watching at a particular time or simply an accumulation. Plays this year run from performance of a noir piece about a serial killer to a comedy with songs about Bertolt Brecht to a Beckett-like piece and will end in August with a frenetic dark comedy in a Futurist vein. The whole shift to keep me amused more than anything else, but also wanting to try certain established things and re-work them into something else. I guess, the whole collage metaphor (more obvious in the poems and plays) is a big thing for me.

Also thinking about a Country-Western play. We’ll see if I can keep it up amid the lack of notoriety and funds. Great reviews for recent play, which is nice and tends to keep me pumped."

The last section of Fabulous Freaks, "The Celebrity Rag: Opà!," focuses more heavily on the myths of celebrity, writing an eighteen page poem that even includes at the end, a "Cast of Characters (In Order of Appearance)," including Miles Davis, William Hearst, Clark Kent/Superman, George Bowering, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Saddam Hussein, George Bush, Sonny Bono, Tom Waits, Christopher Reeve, Karla Holmolka, Paul Bernardo, Barbara Gowdy, Catherine Zita-Jones, Britney Spears, Mike Myers and Avril Lavigne. As Rogal writes as brief introduction, "This is an interactive piece in which celebrity names are encrypted into the poems as homonyms. There are also further clues to assist in the uncovering. See how many you can 'dig up'." (p 69).

Shilling down by the boxcars manages barely enough
to shoulder fortune's wheel against the fleece. Argot or
any dimly coined titanic hit hard & sunk amid the gambol.

Much hubris grants scant pleasure, seems, all hugger muggery
gone limp at the lip as light breaks & sirens sound off.

About as funny as a dam's antler, to watch your noble dream go
tits up from the fallout: fart jokes & further gross contaminate
leeching land, sea & air for lack of … je ne sais quoi … cultivation?

What unholy concord that dives & flashes
oozes ohs borne on the bloodied wings of beheaded bats.

How jazz this holy coil that never breaks a cool blue sweat? Even
caught half-undressed in the elevator fails to catch: what better way
to hold a Frenchman's liquor than by the ears? "Fish gotta swim …"

Not so grand turn of the century or slick coated candy, this M'n'M
squarely hits the heat on the nail -- "Ow! Yo, muthafugga …" (p 76)

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Ongoing notes, December 2005

I've been reading Larissa Lai's blog lately of the combined Taiwan trip she's taken with various other west coast authors, and the subsequent other blog they started, with contributors including Fred Wah, Roy Miki and Rita Wong. And why do bloggers ryan fitzpatrick, Laurie Fuhr and Sina Queyras keep mentioning my name? It's enough to make a boy paranoid. And did any of you know that Fredericton poet and publisher (etc) Joe Blades just had two of his collections translated into Serbian and published over there? He even got to go over for the launch. Canadian poet Ken Norris just had a version of Hotel Montreal published in both English and French as well. How can I get something like that? And did you see blogger John MacDonald's clever photo from the annual Gallery 101 art auction? Or the new website being constructed on William Hawkins, Ottawa's most dangerous poet? And what the hell is Nathaniel G. Moore up to now?

I recently got an email from Calgary's Jason Weins, wondering if there's a place that lists all the Canadian poetry books published in a year, something like a year-end review or list. Does Canadian Poetry do such a thing, he asked? Maybe Queen's Quarterly? I have no idea. Does anyone else? It sure would be an interesting list, if for no other reason than to find out about all the books I'm probably missing. Whenever anyone asks me such a thing, what were your favourite this or that over the past year, I'm always at a loss to remember. Just go back through my blog, really. I know I loved the new titles this year by Erin Mouré, Margaret Christakos, Sylvia Legris, Dennis Cooley, Andy Weaver, Meredith Quartermain, Stan Dragland, Phil Hall, Jay MillAr, Suzanne Buffam, Jordan Scott, Donato Mancini, Stan Rogal and Stephen Cain (I know I'm probably missing a bunch else). Steven Heighton, Lisa Moore, Paul Glennon, Jaspreet Singh. And then the two poetry collections I edited: William Hawkins and Shauna McCabe. And that's just the Canadian stuff. What about C.D. Wright, Rachel Zucker, Lisa Samuels, Juliana Spahr, Andrea Baker and Jennifer Moxley (to name but a few)? Geez, what else?

For Canadian poets, it's certainly been a year of poetry anthologies as well, with the impressive companions & horizons: An Anthology of Simon Fraser University Poetry (West Coast Line Books), Post-Prairie (Talon), Open Field: 30 Contemporary Canadian Poets (Persea Books, NY) and Writing the Terrain: Travelling Through Alberta with the Poets (University of Calgary Press) [my review of Post-Prairie and Writing the Terrain is due soon in Toronto's WORD], and, closer to home, 25 Years of Tree (BuschekBooks); others I didn't like as much, such as Breathing Fire II (Nightwood), and two I haven't yet seen, Carmine Starnino's pompously-titled The New Canon (Vehicule Press) and intriguing Shift & Switch: New Canadian Poetry (The Mercury Press), edited by derek beaulieu, a. rawlings and Jason Christie. And then there was writing in our time: Canada's Radical Poetries in English (1957-2003) (Wilfred Laurier University Press). What will next year bring, I wonder?

Oh; are you coming to the Peter F. Yacht Club Christmas party? Did you see I'm doing poetry workshops again, and ongoing editing services? And Erin Mouré recently pointed out this link to Harold Pinter's Nobel Laureate speech.

Prince George BC: Reprinted as a facsimile of seventy-five copies of the original handmade chapbook is home when it moves you, poems by gillian wigmore ($12), the first chapbook produced by Sheila Peters' Creekstone Press. A graduate of University of Victoria, wigmore makes a fine addition to other writers in Prince George (and area) such as Barry McKinnon, Hardy Friesch, Rob Budde, John Harris, David Phillips (will he ever publish again?), Donna Kane and Ken Belford.

she goes to bed wet and her hair pillow dries

in the morning she looks like a field bereft of winter
the grasses stuck together, dried in surges and hollows

after a long sleep she is dry, the snow has left her

over coffee in the sun she looks done over, undone
she looks uncertain

the field is aloof in april, the grasses disgruntled
she wants no company
save the absence of the wind

Prince George seems to be the mecca of poetry these days; Rob Budde even recently called PG the poetry capital of Canada (a claim made in the 1970s by a number of people as well, including McKinnon, Brian Fawcett and UBC professor/critic Warren Tallman).

at angles to the trans-canada highway -- ugly in spring, dusty in summer with long
winters, but under a migratory bird route -- the small town hospital under the
flyway sits like a succulent above the river, fat with life and death and make-do,
small town people succumbing to cancerous tumours, colo-rectal disorders, lung
collapses and the handful of stab wounds and broken-bottle inflicted cuts that
make the story believable -- leavable that's the point here but the view, the stretch
of the river, the goat-grazed islands in its lowdown middle, the river meandering
back and lazy forth, its sand bars showing, the river brings you back

-- "small town under a canada goose flyway"

You can find copies by at the end of their website or by writing them c/o 7456 Driftwood Road, Smithers BC V0J 2N7.

Ottawa ON: I recently got my contributor copies of the new and improved Arc magazine in the mail (I had two reviews in the issue). Whatever issues I have with Arc (and I have plenty), they are at least doing a considerable amount of work, including the "poem of the year" contest (now ten years old), the annual Diana Brebner Prize, and the monthly "How Poems Work" feature on the website, that they took over when The Globe & Mail dropped the feature. Even more impressive, watch for poems to reappear on Ottawa city buses, as last year Arc took it upon themselves to restart the one-off known as Transpoetry that happened in 1999 (the new version to appear in February); apparently a number of people have already been notified that their poems are soon to appear throughout the OC Transpo system.

Featuring a new design for their winter 2005 issue, #55, Arc still leans more toward the formally conservative than I, personally, am comfortable with (but what the hell), and the issue even sports a review saying good things about Carmine Starnino's collection of essays (in my mind, the essays were like The Passion of the Christ -- you walked out of it with exactly the same opinion you walked in with; essays as spirited as his, I think, should be attempting more than that; I might not always agree with John Metcalf, for example, but his essays have made me rethink a few things…). Still, the issue is thick with reviews, something that seems less and less prevalent in Canadian Literature, especially where many of the journals seem to be concerned, and every fall, Arc always tries to review as many of the poetry books published in the Ottawa area as possible, including a feature review of the books shortlisted for the annual Archibald Lampman Award (for best poetry book by an Ottawa area writer).

The issue features, among other things, a poem by Ottawa writer Sylvia Adams, winner of the fourth annual Diana Brebner Prize, awarded to an emerging National Capital Region poet who has yet to publish in book form. It's good to see Adams get this kind of recognition, finally. Adams has been writing for years, and was director of the TREE Reading Series, ending her run way back in November 1993, and is currently a member of a number of writing groups around town, including the Ottawa-based Field Stone Poets. Judged by Michelle Desbarats, the honourable mention was Dilys Leman. The issue also features "Four Cantigas from O Cadioro" and "a preface to come" by Montreal poet Erin Moure, poems by a multitude of writers across Canada (and beyond) including Suzanne Hancock and Christopher Doda, as well as some love poems by former Ottawa resident and current University of Toronto professor George Elliott Clarke.

I will tell you of my vow my
lovely 7 later when i have from you de-
parted. i had for you my beauty my lovely
but to die 7 i would have died but pining
That never would i see you werei.dead
7 because of this i died not.
Pining at how god gives you so much.
in appearance.7 in fine speech.
i wd die but for my own good.
i loved you 7 god makes me realize
That never would i see you thus.
Pining for the way you looked
i should have died if god wd pardon me.
and for your appearance so fine.
i wd die but awaken then.

Pining for you i should have died like this
7 pining for you my lovely i died not.

CXL! (150,1) [246] #262
Roy Queymado

-- Erin Moure

St. John's, NFLD: A lovely little hardcover collection of sixty-four pages, Stan Dragland’s small vignettes in Stormy Weather / Foursomes (Toronto ON: Pedlar Press, 2005) read almost as personal meditations, sliding easily between the essay and prose poem. Even Dragland’s more formal essays move through the personal, much like the essays by Calgary writer Aritha Van Herk, including (as he calls it) his “prose blues” piece 12 Bars that co-won the bpNichol Chapbook Award in 2003, and was included in his collection of essays, Apocrypha: Further Journeys (2003), part of NeWest Press’ Writer-as-Critic series. In many ways, Stormy Weather seems an extension of the work done in Apocrypha: Further Journeys, moving from topics such as kitchen music and the McGarrigle Family Album to the rituals of pool-playing and literature (Agnes Walsh and James Reaney) and “after September 11, 2001,” all set in his new home of St. John’s, Newfoundland, while still holding together as an extended elegy. “Look here, dear reader, I feel like hell but that hasn’t stopped me from writing this stuff. I’m writing this stuff even though I feel like hell. When have I ever had any more inspiration? Jack up the beanstalk, the legend of Mr. Iceberg – when have I surprised myself more? When have I been more surprised?” (Dry Bones).

From all his years of hard-won wisdom, Dragland brings us into the work through the filter of his own experiences, both emotional and intellectual, and often through the filter of music as well, not only through this collection of prose meditations / poems, but through Apocrypha: Further Journeys, and even back to his biographical first novel, Peckertracks: A Chronicle (1978). Stormy Weather reads as an elegy while talking of aloneness without being alone, writing about living with his books and his friends and his reading.

Broken into four sections of three pieces each (nearly as months and seasons), Dragland moves through such placement of people and place in his writing that it becomes hard to see it not shaped as a story he’s telling. Do you remember from the old Fat Albert Show (circa 1970s), when narrator Bill Cosby came on at the beginning and said, “If you’re not careful, you just might learn something before we’re through”? “And Agnes said to her therapist, who was really not grasping the problem, she said, ‘You can look out your window at the beautiful snow falling there, and just enjoy it, can’t you?’ ‘Yes,’ he said. ‘Well,’ said Ag, ‘I can’t ever look at that beautiful snow without having to search and search for words. I have to write it down.’ And he looked at her funny. Which gave her serious doubts. Was he the therapist for her? Which of course made me chuckle. You’d better write that or else I will, I should have said. But of course I’m a dab hand at keeping things to myself.” (Come All Ye).

(a variation of this review appeared in Arc #55)

Victoria BC: Continuing their own tradition of finely produced chapbooks is George Murray's A SET OF DEADLY NEGOTIATIONS, produced by Caryl Wise Peters' Frog Hollow Press. The past couple of years, since returning to Canada (Guelph, I think) from New York City, Murray, the author of three trade poetry collections, has been so busy with the BookNinja website that he started with fiction writer Peter Darbyshire, so it is good to see that the poems are still there, somewhere. An impressive weight to the collection (printed on a heavy stock, and large enough to have two signatures), it was originally promoted as a collection of sonnets; sonnets are a dangerous form. The past few years, I've noticed more and more poets writing in the form again, which by itself is interesting (I remember when late Ottawa poet Diana Brebner was one of the few writing them, back in the mid-1990s, before it became fashionable again, or the hidden sonnets of John Newlove), but such a form so worked and overworked, it can be difficult and more demanding to master (I think of Leonard Cohen working in lyric rhyme, and writing eighty or ninety verses before he works his way back down to four or five). Imagine: to write a sonnet you are suddenly in the context of every other sonnet written, from William Shakespeare, to Ted Berrigan's collection The Sonnets from the early 1960s (included in a new Collected Poemsout from University of California Press), to the chapbook ESP: ACCUMULATION SONNETS (BookThug, 2004) by Toronto poet Jay MillAr (although MillAr, as an example, worked pretty loose with the form) [Let's not forget the brilliant collaboration by Stephen Brockwell and Peter Norman, the best argument for the form]. Sure, structurally these are "real" sonnets, far more traditional. But to what end?

The John Newlove poem, "The Tasmanian Devil" (Groundswell: best of above/ground press, 1993-2003), is impressive because the fact that it's a sonnet isn't the first or even the second thing it tells you, but something you have to realize, after you've gone through the guts of the poem. It's a great poem first, and a great sonnet later.

It seems there are a whole bunch of these poets around, including Murray, Zach Wells, Peter Norman and various others, working in this whole "new new new formalism" thing I keep hearing about. Where do I keep hearing that? An issue of Cross-country from the 1970s with David McFadden and Ken Norris, writing new formalism. Was it even new? Was it even formalism?


The beautiful hands of skeptical women,
the mouths of pursed disbelief. The dirge
interrupted, the broken pall: elegy's
need for repetition, weeping widows,

and other forms of calm continuance.
The ambulettes are full to overflow,
carpools of the gory, overrun
with flesh; the hospital doors have had enough.

The fear of contact, the need for touch.
Some women are always shivering:
light sweaters and arms across chests, chilled
even in the blood heat of August. Trace

in your palm what would permit each to die
or heal in private; what will be left to chance.

These are good poems, as Murray is a good poet, but they are not great. I want so much for them to be great. Impressive as a collection of sonnets, as a collection of poems I somehow find them less interesting. Of his three poetry collections -- Carousel: A Book of Second Thoughts (Exile, 2000), The Cottage Builder's Letter (M&S, 2001) and The Hunter (M&S, 2003) -- it was his second that I found most compelling. Murray has a good sense of craft and a fine ear, but he sometimes lets the craft take over, to the detriment of the poem. I like it best when he simply writes and isn't carving out a particular.

And I can't help but ask, why don't Frog Hollow Press chapbooks include biographical information about the author? Some of us actually like to know those things.

Frog Hollow Press can be found at their website, or by writing c/o 1758 Armstrong Avenue, Victoria BC V8R 5S6.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

I haven't seen my copy of this yet, but am very excited. It was presented to George at a birthday party for him recently, & somehow he had no idea it existed until it was presented to him! Happy Birthday, George.


71 for GB: An anthology for George Bowering on the occasion
of his 70th birthday
; mostly new works by friends, writers, poets and artists

Its a great game ask 71 writers, some from out of retirement, each to step up to the plate and deliver a short text on the occasion of Bowerings 70th birthday. What will they do reach for some nostalgia out of the strike zone? hit a zinger back through the box? work the words for a base on balls? swing mightily for the bleachers? pop up right out of genre? agonize over the last strikeout? You wont want to miss this one.

--Frank Davey

Profits from this limited print run will be contributed to the George Bowering scholarship fund. The George Bowering/Poet Laureate scholarship is given to a student graduating from George's old high school in Oliver, British Columbia. The student must have a demonstrated interest in writing and be a bit of a pain in the ass. The first scholarship was awarded in 2004.

130 pages, designed and printed by Coach House Press
$20 Canadian plus shipping
order from

That 1935 miracle churns poetry

that 1935 miracle herds words like cats

marvel oozing syntax rolling

stones and homeruns over country.

--Suzette Mayr, from Reflections of George (or George Bowering, That Cream Soda)

You can hear George everywhere. Go to a ballpark, hes shouting at the umpire; go to a pub, he announces TFP (Traditional First Piss); go to a party or a reading, hes the loudest man in the room. No kidding. You cant miss hearing him even if youre a whole block away, or youre driving by Nat Bailey Stadium with your windows down.

You know what that loudmouth side of him does? It creates space around him so he can write his heart out. He jokes off his worst so he can write his best. He can hit a poem out of the park, slam a paragraph over the infield, and land a chapter that looks so easy that the centrefielder catches it with grace.

No one can strike his writing out. Theres a George rhythm to his work and play. Friends and readers sometimes have to stretch to catch a joke, but theres no doubt Bowering has balanced his life so he can compose books. More books than hes had birthdays--not bad, eh? He catches phrases and creates lines or sentences with glee. Deep love and consciousness also. Consciousness is how it is composed.

--G. Maria Hindmarch


Margaret Atwood, Endre Farkas, Roy Miki, Margaret Avison, M. A. C. Farrant, Cath Morris, Douglas Barbour, George Fetherling, Erin Moure, derek beaulieu, Brian Fisher, Susan Musgrave, Ken Belford, Dwight Gardiner, Ken Norris, Tony Bellette, Goh Poh Seng, Charles Pachter, Charles Bernstein, artie gold, P. K. Page, Reg Berry, Hiromi Goto, Stan Persky, bill bissett, John Harris, Greg Placonouris, Christian Bok, Steven Heighton, Meredith Quartermain, Michael Boughn, G. Maria Hindmarch, Peter Quartermain, Marilyn Bowering, Robert Hogg, Margaret Randall, Thea Bowering, Reg Johanson, Jamie Reid, John B. Boyle, Kent Johnson, Lisa Robertson, Di Brandt, D. G. Jones, Spider Robinson, Brian Brett, Lionel Kearns, Renee Rodin, Nicole Brossard, Robert Kroetsch, Stephen Scobie, Colin Browne, Patrick Lane, George Stanley, Leonard Cohen, Red Lane, Anne Stone, Victor Coleman, Jason LeHeup, Sharon Thesen, Wayde Compton, Billy Little, Lola L. Tostevin, Dennis Cooley, Nicole Markotic, Will Trump, Pierre Coupey, Daphne Marlatt, Chris Turnbull, Greg Curnoe, Mike Matthews, Kate van Dusen, Frank Davey, Suzette Mayr, Aritha van Herk, David Dawson, Steve McCaffery, Fred Wah, Stan Dragland, David W. McFadden, Chris Walker, Phinder Dulai, Don McKay, Victoria Walker, Paul Dutton, Barry McKinnon, Phyllis Webb, rob mclennan.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

a question of translation:

This email arrived in my inbox today. I wonder if it's related to the brooha Zach Wells started, suggesting an award for Goran Simic?

Dear Friends

Robert Majzels and Erin Moure have put together a letter (included in the attachment) in the hopes of lobbying to the Canada Art Council to expand their criteria to recognize and promote the translation and publication of foreign works in Canada. If you would like to lend your name in support of this cause please write to either Erin Moure ( or Robert Majzels(

thank you,
Oana Avasilichioaei

Hi everyone,

We just wanted to send you a copy of the letter (with a few tweaks and polishes), and signatures we mailed on December 1 to the Canada Council. People are still sending their names in support, and in about 2 weeks or so, we will send these names as well. Please do feel free to circulate the letter to others, and encourage anyone else who wishes to support these efforts to send us their name and location. Anyone can, of course, write directly to the Council, expressing their ideas on the issue.

It has been heartening to witness the passion and enthusiasm of so many writers, editors, and translators. We want to stress that our effort is but one of many, and that the question we all raise here has been raised for years. If anything comes of this latest effort, it will be first and foremost thanks to earlier efforts, particularly those of translators. Let's hope the timing now is right.

If nothing else, the response to our proposal and the list of names appended certainly demonstrate how strongly readers and writers feel about nourishing this work here at home, as part of our literature and place.

We will keep you in the loop, and we welcome hearing of any parallel efforts or comments that will help open the debate and keep it alive.

Thank you,

Robert Majzels,

Erin Moure,

Here' a draft of their letter. If you want to be included, send your name (and location) to either Erin or Robert.

Joanne Larocque-Poirier
Manager, Celebration 2007
Canada Council for the Arts

Melanie Routledge
Head, Writing and Publishing
Canada Council for the Arts

Dear Joanne Larocque-Poirier and Melanie Routledge,

Following my conversation with Joanne during jury deliberations for the Governor General’s Awards in English Translation 2005, I took up her suggestion to elaborate a proposal for extending Council support to Canadians translators working from languages other than Canadian English and French to translate non-Canadian authors into French, English or First Nations languages.

I first consulted poet and translator Erín Moure just last week, and as others caught wind of our initiative, we quickly discovered that many writers, editors and translators are as passionate about this issue as we are, and wanted to append their names. People seem to want to ally themselves to opening up this debate and doing something. The proposal breeds a lot of excitement.
As several people suggested I send the proposal to Melanie Routledge, I am including her as well at the outset.

We believe this initiative is crucial to Canadian readers and culture. It would not only contribute to diminishing Canada’s cultural reliance on American, British, and French filters here at home when we look outward to the world, but it would increase Canada’s contribution to cultural understanding and dynamism on the world stage. I look forward to hearing your response and any ideas you may have to bring the idea to fruition.
I’d like to thank Joanne, above all, for her encouragement.


Robert Majzels
285 Spicer/West Bolton, Québec/J0E 2T0
(450) 243-1336/


In the years since the creation of the Canada Council, and thanks in no small part to its intervention, Canadian writing in both English and French has emerged from its infancy to become a recognized player on the international scene. Meanwhile, funding and support for translations of Canadian works between our two official languages has made possible a dialogue between English and French Canada and enabled writers in both communities to learn from and influence each other.

In our reception of world literature, however, Canada is virtually silent. Without the administrative support for translation of works by nationals from other cultures into Canadian languages and a Canadian context, we are attempting to sustain a national literature in isolation.

This is not to say that Canadians have no access to literatures of the world. However, because we rely on English translations from the United Kingdom and the United States, and on French translations made in France, we view the world through foreign glasses. We are letting these other cultures open the world to us. Those individual Canadian translators who take up the work of translating foreign works must do so without institutional support; Canadian publishers are barred from using block grant funds to publish those works; and our prizes and grants exclude them. We, in effect, force Canadian translators to “emigrate” their skills and work elsewhere if they want to publish.
By not taking measures now to support those Canadian artists in the domain of literary translation who are working to open Canadian culture to new and vital influences, to international works filtered through a Canadian – not an American, British or French – sensibility, we not only point them toward the border, toward leaving their country, but we attempt to maintain and grow our literature in isolation and, above all, we lose an opportunity to enhance Canada’s cultural dynamism by beckoning the world in, and welcoming it into our literature and our place and time.

Why are Canadians taking up the work of translating literature from foreign languages? Well, first of all, because we can. Thanks to decades of attention to the craft of translation, to university programs in translation, and to the large number of multi-lingual Canadians, and to immigrants bringing their literatures with them, we have in this country the talent and skills to locate international work and create high-quality translations that will find a home in our own literature, helping ensure its vibrancy, while also potentially having a market here and abroad.

Britain, France and the U.S. in fact produce very few translations from other languages; in 2004, for example, just 3.2% of all books published in English were translations. As far as translation into English is concerned, this is undoubtedly, at least in part, one of the effects of the globalization of U.S. culture, and of cultural myopia in the U.S. We cannot rely on our neighbour to the south to reverse this trend, and to provide us with access to the stories, rhythms, and sensibilities of other cultures and languages. Canada, with its tradition of building ties between different cultures and respecting minority languages, has a role and responsibility on the international stage to foster exchanges that allow different cultures to understand and impact each other.
By relying on translation that originates abroad, filtered through values and choices that are not necessarily ours, we impoverish our own literature and the world to which our young people have access. Canadian literature and society need this nourishment from other cultures. Without it our literatures are in danger of provincialism, and we cannot play a full role on the world cultural stage. Whether or not this is already happening in Canadian writing is perhaps a matter of debate, but it is still true that vibrancy will inevitably be lost without stimulation from outside.

The Canada Council has always known and argued that our Canadian idiom and culture differs from that of the U.S. or Britain. When our access to world literature is mainly via U.S. or U.K. incursions, we receive values, lexicons and angles that may not reflect ours. Translation is not a neutral activity; translations are also reading practices and, as such, are culturally and historically embodied, marked by the translator’s lexicon and values. Even as translation enriches, challenges and finally alters possibilities in the target language, Canadian translators read and translate from Canadian perspectives and into Canadian idioms (note the use of the plural here, for there is no question that local perspectives and idioms are heterogeneous). To preserve and develop the various idioms and cultures of Canada, we need to provide a Canadian context for reception of these literary texts from outside our borders. We need heterogeneous translation practices rather than the homogeneous language spawned by economic globalization.

This work of translation is already being done in Canada, unsupported, often unnoticed. Canadian writers are translating literature from Argentina, China, Croatia, Denmark, Estonia, Galicia, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Spain, to name a few. However, this work is done under conditions of struggle, without access to institutional supports other writers and translators can take for granted, and is going largely unrecognized, and often unpublished in Canada, as a result. Translators are compelled to seek publishers elsewhere, meaning in the United States, thus finding themselves caught up in the vortex of the infamous brain drain.

Of course, Canadian letters do have a distinctive history already, with a rich variety of themes and forms, but these did not and cannot evolve in isolation from influences outside our borders. In the past, not surprisingly, such outside influences have been overwhelmingly British and American in the case of literature in English, and French in the case of Quebec. But other influences have also played a role. Who can imagine contemporary Canadian drama without the influence of Ibsen or Chekhov, Canadian prose without Kafka or Garcia Marquez, Canadian poetry without Neruda or Lorca? In the present historical moment, our contact with international experiences and approaches can and must be allowed to multiply. Our cultural tapestry can be made more vibrant by letting the world enter. In multiplying and strengthening our ties with the world and its literatures, we will all benefit, as writers, as translators, as readers, as a society united by values of justice and diversity. As well, other cultures will embrace ours more readily and recognize our distinctiveness. We would assume a more dynamic and fruitful place on the world stage, as our translations filter out into the world.

What measures can the Canada Council implement to remedy this situation, to foster translation from beyond our borders and invite new air into our literatures?

1. To begin with, Canadian literary publishers should be allowed to use a set proportion of their block grants (funding without which it is impossible to publish a literary book in Canada, especially books that open up practices apart from the mainstream) to publish the work of Canadians translating from languages other than English and French, and from works of literatures outside Canada by writers who are not Canadians. This major change can be accomplished without any cost to the Council, and with great benefit to the literature.

2. At least on a trial basis, the Council’s translation grants should be extended to cover translations from literatures other than Canadian French, English or First Nation languages, into Canadian languages, regardless of the citizenship of the original author, as long as the translator is a Canadian whose work is recognized by qualified peers. Finding readers to judge translation quality in any language will not be difficult in this country, thanks to the large number of multilingual writers and translators either born or immigrated here. It’s probably worth warning from the outset against the temptation of limiting or listing the source languages the Council would recognize. Such discrimination is dangerous and tantamount to making judgments on the relative value of different national literatures. If a recognized Canadian publisher is prepared to publish the translation in Canada, it’s not the Council’s role to question the source language, literature, or culture.

3. At some point, the Governor General’s Awards, Canada’s highest literary accolade, which seeks to applaud every type of literary production, ought to include a category for the translation of a foreign-authored work by a Canadian translator. We must find some way to recognize these translations, to applaud their existence, to applaud the craft and dedication and artistry of the translators.

Of course, the Canada Council is limited by the money governments make available to it. New programs must involve new funding, and not take from existing programs. But we do not believe the measures we are proposing would be all that expensive, especially in the initial period of implementation; the numbers of translations are just not that high, which is precisely the problem. Certainly, for Canadian translators, writers, and for Canadian readers, the potential return on such an investment makes it foolish to pass up. The loophole that refuses to honour the contribution of one sector of Canadian cultural producers – translators from international languages – will be closed, and our translators will feel welcome, not stifled, at home.
We believe the Council has a critical role to play in expanding the field of Canadians’ reading experience, and the time to act on this pressing need is now.

The following individuals have expressed their support for this proposal:

Phyllis Aronoff, Montréal QC
Oana Avasilichioaei, Montréal QC
George Bowering, Vancouver BC
Per Brask, Winnipeg MB
John Buschek/Buschek Books, Ottawa ON
Barbara Carey, Toronto ON
Lisa Carter, Toronto ON
Margaret Christakos, Toronto ON
Paulo da Costa, Victoria, BC
Mary di Michele, Montréal QC
Patrick Friesen, Vancouver, BC
Linda Gaboriau, Montréal QC
Phil Hall, Toronto ON
Beatriz Hausner, Toronto ON
JonArno Lawson, Toronto ON
Lazar Lederhendler, Montréal QC
Robert Majzels, West Bolton QC
Daphne Marlatt, Vancouver BC
Roy Miki, Vancouver BC
Jay MillAr, Toronto ON
A. F. Moritz, Toronto ON
Erín Moure, Montréal QC
Kenneth Mouré, Santa Barbara CA
Michael Ondaatje, Toronto ON
Susan Ouriou, Calgary AB
Sina Queyras, Brooklyn NY
Michael Redhill, Toronto ON
Lisa Robertson, Poitiers, France
Howard Scott, Montréal QC
Adam Seelig, Toronto, ON
Martha Sharpe, Toronto ON
Gerry Shikatani, Peterborough ON
Goran Simic, Toronto ON
Sherry Simon, Montréal QC
Carmine Starnino, Montréal QC
Nathalie Stephens, Chicago IL/Toronto ON
Luise von Flotow, Ottawa ON
Fred Wah, Vancouver BC
Zachariah Wells, Halifax NS
Paul Wilson, Heathcote ON
Rachel Zolf, Toronto ON
rob mclennan, Ottawa ON