Saturday, September 30, 2006

David Helwig's The Names of Things

While in England a couple of weeks ago, I finished reading writer and editor David Helwig's memoir, The Names of Things (Erin ON: The Porcupine's Quill, Inc., 2006). A fascinating look at a writer's life, he moves through the University of Toronto in the 1950s, writing about Ed Lacey, Henry Beissel and John Robert Columbo, to theatre in Peterborough with Timothy Findley, Gordon Pinsent, Jackie Burroughs and Bill Davis, the infamous "cigarette smoking man" of the X-Files, to Kingston of the 1960s and the "world of little magazines with Tom Marshall and Michael Ondaatje," writing of his experiences with Don Bailey, as well as, eventually, Steven Heighton, Margaret Atwood, Matt Cohen and a whole slew of others. He moves through his time in England, to Toronto, and points further, including a trip to China, before ending up on Prince Edward Island. The late poet John Newlove used to refer to himself as living "an accidental life," and parts of this memoir read about the same, where one circumstance leads into so many other things, whether his daughter, the writer Maggie Helwig being born in England instead of in Canada, to finding himself teaching at Queen's University, or later working for the CBC, or to ending up with his partner Judy on Prince Edward Island.

Almost always the second question any writer is asked is, where do the books come from? And Helwig answers these questions by not focusing on them, and working in other directions instead, coming to the writing only when it is necessary to come to the writing, moving instead through experiences and relationships he has had with others (and a fascinating lot they are, as Helwig writes them), while still including some of the sparks that led to his enormous productivity as a poet, fiction writer and editor. Still, through the memoir, Helwig sprinkles poems through the text here and there, very sparingly, when it seems appropriate; I have always preferred David Helwig the novelist to David Helwig the poet, but the poems do enlighten and enliven what is even an already engaging text, but more as interesting asides than anything that really push the text further. Some of the sections that are most engaging are the ones in which he writes about his family history, including a section he writes about his maternal grandmother, and learning about the circumstance of his mother's birth. As he writes:
My impression of my grandmother is still the one I developed in early childhood, a sense of kindness, of acceptance, of easy laughter. She was always a small woman, and as she got older, an inherited disease bent and bowed her legs and made her smaller, though she never had to struggle with the grotesque barrel staves on which some of her older brothers and sisters hobbled around. (It startles me now, in this world of modern nutrition and medicine that I took for granted that my mother's aunts and uncles should be half-crippled, distorted, dwarfish figures.)

I thought of my grandmother as a small, kind, warm, rather plain woman. Yet in her wedding photograph, she looks very pretty. No doubt some of that is youth and happiness. That photograph is in an album of ancient pictures of members of her family, an album full of the flavour of Victorian England, where she was born and raised. There are photos entwined in a lithograph of English roses and decorated with a little scene of boats near the shore that might be an illustration to David Copperfield. Built into the back cover of the album is a music box that plays two little marches with a metallic carnival gaiety. Many of the figures are anonymous: an old woman in her bonnet and a long dress of a spotted material, sitting straight in the photographer's upholstered chair, her arm across a carved table; a young man in his best suit standing in front of a blank background, one hand on his hip, the other leaning on a small table where his bowler hat waits complacently. A few are labeled: Mr and Mrs Pickles, Mrs Maud Morris and Edgar, Vinnie, Uncle Will's first wife, died in childbirth. A pop-eyed little boy sits on a wooden horse. A blurred photograph of a young woman in mid-Victorian dress. On the back is the photographer's label, Smith, 33 Park Lane, Leeds. […]

It was one of those remarks in which a certain meanness of spirit has garbed itself in the robes of charity, and behind it lay a story my mother told me when I was seventeen or eighteen, one dark winter afternoon. What she told me was the story of her own illegitimate birth. The man I had always known as my grandfather wasn't my mother's father. My grandmother, in her teens, had fallen in love with a married man who wrote poetry and played the double bass and sometimes preached in the spiritualist chapel she attended. When she found herself pregnant, they went away together to Somerset, where my mother was born, in that house on Taunton Road I must assume. On the birth certificate, the man is described as a printer, the two of them as husband and wife. Later he went back to his wife and two sons, and my grandmother emigrated to Canada. My mother was five years old when my grandmother married David Abbott, who was younger than she was and had been her father's apprentice.
As potentially "shocking" as this might be, anyone working in genealogy already knows that these stories are far more common than people might think; the rarity for Helwig comes in the facts that he was told the story in the first place, was willing to do more research in the matter, and then write it down for the rest of us to read. Every family has an interesting series of stories, and I appreciate Helwig giving us his, along with what they mean to him, and the rest of his life. What makes this memoir is that Helwig writes of all of his selves, from lover, husband, father, son, grandson, writer, editor, carpenter, actor and what else makes up the whole of a life, instead of limiting it to stories of his "writing" life. This is the story of his life, so far, with so many writers and actors and others written about that there should have been an index at the back of the book. Another interesting insight Helwig shares is into Oberon Press's Michael Macklem, a publishing house that Helwig was involved with early on, and that has managed for decades to be extremely active and almost completely invisible at the same time (they currently have offices about three blocks away from where I write this):
Michael Macklem was, and is, a fiercely driven man, who has always approached the world as a battle in which every day a few inches may be gained or, more likely, lost. Comprehensible I suppose: when he was born, because an older brother had been found dead in his crib, the thymus gland swollen, Michael was given massive doses of x-rays to shrink the thymus gland, and these affected the thyroid nearby so that he was until adolescence, in his own words, 'a fat little porker'. (The doctors expected the therapy to make him impotent. It didn’t.) As a small boy, he was brutalized by bullies at Upper Canada College. His mother was a clever and formidable woman who, left a widow with two young sons, married a rather shy lawyer and, after the crib death, gave birth to one final son, Michael. While Michael was pleased to assert that his father, whose business included a lot of money-lending, never foreclosed a mortgage during the Depression, the man understood money and he made quite a lot of it – though I believe they were people of means even in earlier generations. This has allowed Michael to run Oberon for more than thirty-five years without ever paying himself or Anne a salary – that's a gift to Canadian writing, as I calculate it,
of well over a million dollars.
As an aside, later on, while continuing to write on Macklem, Helwig adds:
He was attacked by pirates on Lake Muskoka.

Only Michael could be attacked by pirates on Lake Muskoka.
So much of his life he chalks up to luck, downplaying his own skill and talent, but it's difficult to downplay the luck of geography and birth, and the opportunities that came through the explosions of Canadian Literature that he was not only there for, but an important part of. As he writes at the beginning of chapter six:
The smartest thing I ever did was to get myself born in 1938. What that meant was that I was just a few years ahead of the baby boom that came along after the war, my own more thinly populated generation catching most trends on the way up. I left high school in 1956 and only six years later I had a full-time teaching job at Queen's University. I had never intended to be an academic, or wished to, but I was married at twenty-one and a father at twenty-three, so when the job offers began to arrive – I was in England, with a wife and a child and no money – it was impossible to turn them down.
This is a highly compelling and highly satisfying memoir that gives as much information about Helwig as there probably is, much of it in the way of him deflecting the focus off himself and onto others. If I were to list the books that David Helwig has published, there would be little space for anything else; there is much for Helwig to be immodest about. Still, the strength of this three hundred page document comes from the fact that this is a memoir by a quiet, modest and engaged writer, with some sixty-odd years of experience behind him. Whether you care for his writing or not, I would almost call this essential reading; a "writing life" that focuses on the life.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Reading Writers Reading: Canadian Authors' Reflections

Years in the making, Danielle Schaub's Reading Writers Reading: Canadian Authors' Reflections (Edmonton AB: University of Alberta Press/Jerusalem Israel: The Hebrew University Magnes Press, 2006) is a collection of photographs that the Israeli photographer/critic had been taking for years of Canadian writers. One hundred and sixty-five authors strong, this impressive and attractive coffee-table sized collection features photographs and brief essays on writing by Canadian writers both English and French, established and emerging, from first nations to new arrivals, and not limited to, but including authors of poetry, fiction and non-fiction, including Elizabeth Hay, Yann Martel, Ken Babstock, Jan Zwicky, Di Brandt, David Bergen, Kristjana Gunnars, Aritha Van Herk, John Newlove, Janice Kulyk Keefer, Marnie Woodrow, Alistair MacLeod, Donna Morrissey, Robert Kroetsch, Stephanie Bolster, Madeleine Thien, Gabriella Goliger and Esta Spalding. Books like this are always interesting, for readers and writers alike, to get clues and information from the other side of the writing page, and the writing life [see my review of the recent Writing Life: Celebrated Canadian and International Authors on Writing and Life (Toronto ON: McClelland & Stewart, 2006) edited by Constance Rooke, here]. Not just as suggestions on how to enter into the work, perhaps, of the individual writer (or even deeper), but how to enter into the mind of writing, and therefore reading.

As Russell Morton Brown writes in his introduction:
I began by suggesting that this book offers a collection of observations. The doubleness of that word reminds us that we slide between the imagery of words and the imagery of vision: "I see what you're saying."

The collection of photographs that accompanies these writers' words, images of these speakers juxtaposed with the imagery called up by their words, gives us a rich sense of the diverse faces of Canadian writing. Turning these pages, I am reminded of a student who once told me she didn’t like to read the books I assigned until she had gone to the library and found pictures of the writers. "I like to see who's talking to me," she explained.
Listen, as Wayson Choy writes in his "A Brief History of Reading":
In Hans Christian Anderson's fictions, the decent and the determined struggle unrelenting odds. For the first time, I sensed that I wanted to tell stories just as wonderful, as human and heartbreaking as these light-filled stories, these tales of mortals who never forsake hope, even in the most fearful of times.

Born at the end of the Depression and at the beginning of the World War II, born in a ghettoed and racist Chinatown, I already knew that the determined, the decent, were seldom rewarded. But Anderson instilled in me a lifetime of faith. Faith in storytelling. Faith in those whose eyes would finally learn to read, to sense through words qualities transcending the darkness of the world.

I thank the grade five librarian—who demanded the ignorant child that was me, the child that is in all of us: Read this.

The vivid, uncensored tales of a Danish writer led my child's heart to perceive the wisdom of a collective, mysterious humanity. Danish? Chinese? In literature, we are all one.

What I read then matters. Forever.
There, too, is Calgary writer Nicole Marcotic's opening assertion that "To me writing is an extension of reading." It's something echoed by Edmonton poet Douglas Barbour [see my recent note on him here] when he beings his piece with:
Reading is writing is reading is writing. For a writer the two are inescapably-entwined. So what do I mean when I talk about reading for writing? Is it something I always do? No and yet, yes, perhaps. Certainly, when I read poetry, I find some of my pleasure comes from the experience of learning something I may be able to use in my own writing. Not that this supplemental pleasure takes away from the central pleasure, be they emotional, intellectual, or various combinations of these, that good poetry offers any reader. But I think writers never quite forget their craft, even when lost in the intricacies of another writer's work, and so they are always learning. At least, so I think of my own reading.
Reading Writers Reading: Canadian Authors' Reflections will be launched Tuesday, October 3 in Ottawa as part of the ottawa international writers festival. For other tour dates, and a complete list of authors included, check out the University of Alberta Press website.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

a bpNichol cerebration: jwcurry reading the entirety of The Martyrology in Toronto

Ottawa poet/publisher jwcurry has been planning this for months, to read the entirety of bpNichol's nine book poem The Martyrology (Toronto ON: Coach House Press / Coach House Books) as a fundraiser toward completion & publication of A Beepliographic Cyclopedia (& its side-project, a concordance to the martyrology) that he's been working on now for a decade or two. Since he doesn’t want any of his words posted on the internet, you'll have to write him yourself to get a copy of the magnificent little essay he published, "an announcement or more with regard to A Beepliographic Cyclopedia 5 september 2006" (published in an edition of 400 (?) copies as 1cent #378/newsnotes #12) to explain his interest in working a bibliography for the late Toronto poet bpNichol, as well as an information sheet on how to pre-order the set of eight volumes at $3000.00 (they increase by $1000.00 once they're published, & he's actually sold at least one set that I know of), & a space to provide information on any bpNichol publications that he might not (yet) know about. A while ago, he did his practice reading in Ottawa behind the Parliament Buildings [see my note on that here], partly to get a sense of how the audience would react to hearing that much text, & partly to see how his voice would be able to keep up.

If you want information on the bibliography, how to donate to the completion/production of the bibliography, or to order a set, would like to tell jwcurry about a bpNichol publication he might not (yet) know about (there is no such thing as too small a bpNichol reference…even his name in someone else's poem counts), or would like a report of some sort from him on how the reading went (since he's probably already been in Toronto for days), write him c/o #302 - 880 Somerset Street West, Ottawa, Ontario Canada K1R 6R7.

Thanks to an email that Toronto poet/publisher John Barlow sent to the lexiconjury email list, here is the information for this weekend's Toronto event:
The full and precise details for John Curry's complete reading of Nichol's books this coming weekend have now been proffered with wish that they be forwarded to those that could take interest.

Spectacular location: the property on which the readings will occur can be entered by way of 263 Niagara St, or 163 Walnut St. These two streets run north up from King St a bit west of Bathurst. There will be signage.

Re the cost of attending, I got relative if humoured agreement on the phrasing "pay what you can, but as much as you can." The costs haven’t been minimal for this project. He does need the money.

And most importantly, the precise schedule. He was quite adamant, saying, if he says the reading begins at 7, it doesn’t mean people filter in between 7 and 7.45 and the reading finally gets going 20 minutes after that, he means, 7 is when he will start reading. (It's all been timed.)

Right then, here's the precise schedule:


BOOK 1 - 7PM

BOOK 2 - 8PM

BOOK 3 - 9:30PM


BOOK 4 - 1PM

BOOK 5 - 2:15PM

BOOK 6 - 8PM



BOOK 7 - 2PM

BOOK 8 - 3:30PM

BOOK & - 4:30PM

BOOK 9 - 8:15PM

…I'd think that this wouldn’t be a reason not to enter if late, just approach more quietly.

Next year, the hosts hope to have Nicky Drumbolis read all of Shakespeare.

John (B)
This event is already legendary, so be sure to get out there if you can, & try to donate $100 or more to jwcurry to help him produce this nearly lifelong project; because he isn’t attached to any formal institution, there isn’t any funding for such a thing that he could ever be eligible for.

There are posts on the same event by Ottawa blogger John W. MacDonald & St. Catherine's Ontario poet/editor Gregory Betts here, with links to Coach House Books.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

The Forestry Diversification Project: New Prince George Poets

Don't Believe the Crows

now that winter has come, I am less
likely to believe the crows
and their outrageous lies. They sit
high in the bare trees making pronouncements
sloughing them off on us
with a shake of feathers. They leave
with a sly nod and I'm not even sure
if they're looking me in the eye
just a swish of wings as quiet
as a ponytail of a girl. I'm more
likely to listen to the wrens
peppering the sky with high trills
the pitch of whip-cracking ice
like a warning. On the road
they make nervous pecks
where the sun barely warms. I'd sooner
take my cue from empty seed packets
grass-heads rustled by the wind

As soon as I mentioned, again, just how much is happening in that Prince George, British Columbia, I get a copy of the new anthology The Forestry Diversification Project: New Prince George Poets, edited by Rob Budde (Prince George BC: UNBC Press, 2006), featuring the work of Michael Armstrong, Kim Bonnell, Michael Cruikshank, Amy Dawley, Justin Foster, hardy f, Earson Gibson, Heather Glasgow, Jesse Haber, richard krueger, Michal Latala, Melissa Linteris, Doug Lussier, Michael Read, Al Rempel, Jeremy Stewart, Denielle Wiebe and Gillian Wigmore. There has been a whole swath of activity up in Prince George over the past few years, much of which can be seen on-line, whether through the journal It's Still Winter, Budde's own stonestone, a recent issue of The Capilano Review on norther poetics, or the various blogs that have been going on up there about Prince George poetics. Budde even produces a pdf journal, Norther, for poets living north of 50, but (unfortunately) it's only available through sending him an email and having him send you a copy (I don’t know why he doesn’t just put it online somewhere). As Budde writes in his introduction:
These poems are NOT about the forest necessarily. In fact, most do not mention forestry. Part of diversification is thinking outside traditional associations of place. Yes, Prince George is a lumber town. But it is much more. It is the celebration of art in the face of a misguided image of Prince George as a single-minded place. This collection presents an alternative vision to the rest of the country.

The fact is Prince George has long been a hot-bed of poetry and it's this tradition that we see carried on in these poets. They are not all young in years but all are in various stages of learning the craft. This collection serves as a stepping stone to that achievement of self-identification: I am a poet. More importantly perhaps: I am a Prince George poet. When I was an "emerging" writer (whatever that means), it was projects like this that defined who I was as a writer. I hope these poets have long and distinguished careers. They bode well for the future of writing in this place.
One of my favourites in the anthology has to be hardy f, working his series of interesting spaces and line breaks, very little of which can be replicated in a place such as this, and I am looking forward to that point when he breaks out of himself and goes further, proving (so far) to be the finest example of slowly working a Prince George/Barry McKinnon poetic into his own.

Old Poet

lungs of ice come
and drink
walking the old icebox poet into submission -
he's been on that stool for centuries, tracking
silent & unchanged paths ( got GPS to confirm nowhere

I'll hold open the grave / be sure
to invite a priest
publishing each ulcer now
and stain'd glass grocery lists…
make him smoke
all the butts
on the grass of parliament
so kindly I will roll
poison'd apples down
from the top
top of the hill

u like them wild thots of topless
was once clean rebel / now dirteye

/ u old white powder

you old poet
bald spot
big bug, wings folded back
talking me down from the
skyline over Los
the writing was
ur flower
is now young poet / seed again

The thing that gets me about this anthology, is that poets inside seem too new, and, as much as I like some of the work here, it's good, but not great, despite the fact that many of them have the potential to be great. I know for a fact that I've seen work by a number of these writers that I've even preferred to the works included in this anthology (like hardy f and Jeremy Stewart, for example); the heart is there but the writing, as yet, is not. I applaud Rob Budde for his efforts to promote the works of the writers around him, but some of these folks just aren’t ready yet; take down their names, watch for them. I will be watching for the time when they are.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Fred Wah's Diamond Grill, 10th anniversary edition

to my friend Charlie Chim Chong say Wong Liu Chung, the Chinese poet. He said he could tell me more about my father than I can imagine.

Like my name. This Chinese doctor I go to for acupuncture always gets it wrong. He calls me Mah. And I say no, it's Wah. Then he smiles, takes out his pen and writes my characters on my forearm, sometimes on my back, between the needles, or down my leg (sciatic signature). He says Wah just means overseas Chinese. So I'm just Fred Overseas.

I tell him my dad was really Kuan Wah Soon. He says my family comes from Canton region. Then he smiles. He knows so much.

Now I have a large coloured portrait of Kuan Yü, illustrious Chinese ancestor hero of China's epic drama, the San Kuo. You can see him as any number of small porcelain or clay statues in Chinatown; he has three long beards swirling out from his chin and cheeks. Charlie says he wasn’t even Chinese, probably an invading Moor.

No warlike nomad left in this long, slow stroke of signing and signature.
Unreadable, but repeatable.
I find these poetry reissues over the past few years interesting, including new editions of Robert Kroetsch's Completed Field Notes in 2000 (with a new introduction by Fred Wah; originally published in 1989), Michael Redhill's Lake Nora Arms in 2001 (originally published in 1993), Dennis Cooley's Bloody Jack in 2002 (published with new material; originally published in 1984), Gerry Gilbert's Moby Jane in 2004 (originally published in 1987), Peter Van Toorn's Mountain Tea that same year (originally published in 1983) and George Bowering's pennant poem, Baseball: A Poem in the Magic Number 9 (originally published in 1967), or this year's thirtieth anniversary edition of Andrew Suknaski's Wood Mountain Poems (originally published in 1976) [see my essay on him here] and second edition (with a new cover) of Ken Babstock's first collection, Mean (originally published in 1999). Insomniac Press recently took it upon themselves to reissue two novels by the late Gwendolyn MacEwen in 2004, her Julian the Magician (originally published in 1963) and her King of Egypt, King of Dreams (originally published in 1971), which was her albatross-novel, and unseen even by rare booksellers for over twenty years (on a related note, did you know about the new Gwendolyn MacEwen Park Memorial in Toronto?).

It takes a lot of faith for a publisher to produce a new edition (or even a reprint) of a particular work in Canadian literature, especially anything more poetic (since funding bodies such as the Canada Council appear not to fund reprints, making me wonder if this is why the "new editions" of such works are the norm, as opposed to more examples of straight reprints of the originals…). The Porcupine's Quill was attempting a series of the same in the late 80s and early 90s, with very little return, of what they considered Canadian classics by Norman Levine and Irving Layton, among others; ECW Press reprinted John Newlove's The Night the Dog Smiled when it was up for the Governor General's Award in 1986 (losing the award to Wah, actually), and apparently they still have boxes of them. If one went through Canadian Literature as a whole, even just over the past thirty years, there would be plenty of examples of books that deserve a continued life, including two by our first Parliamentary Poet Laureate, George Bowering, with his Kerrisdale Elegies (Toronto ON: Coach House Press, 1986) and Delayed Mercy (Toronto ON: Coach House Press, 1987). Luckily, there are other important works that have remained in print; Karl Siegler at Talonbooks says he has worked very hard to keep a number of his publications in print over the years, and many have seen second and even third printings, including David W. McFadden's Gypsy Guitar (1987).

Last month, NeWest Press in Edmonton has published a new edition of Vancouver poet and critic Fred Wah's Diamond Grill (originally published by them in 1996), one of the books that really helped secure Wah's place on the map, along with his Music at the Heart of Thinking (Red Deer: Red Deer College Press, 1987), his Governor General's Award-winning Waiting for Saskatchewan (Winnipeg MB: Turnstone Press, 1985) and Breathin' My Name With a Sigh (Vancouver BC: Talonbooks, 1981). Writing out the genealogy of the collection in a new afterward to the collection, "Re-Mixed: The Compound Composition of Diamond Grill," Wah writes:
In hindsight now, I sometimes think I can locate a tangible beginning for Diamond Grill. It was in a poem in a book of transcreations (Pictograms from the Interior of B.C., Talonbooks, 1975, p.16) of Indian rock paintings I worked on in the mid-70s.

September spawn
fish weirs everywhere
all through the narrows

Upstream, upstream

A feast for all of us
cousins and old friends
everybody dancing
like crazy, eh?

That word "transcreation" is from Coleridge (Literary Reminiscences [1839], IV, 166).

"Not the qualities merely, but the root of the qualities
is transcreated. How else could it be a birth, a creation?"

and that etymon, "trans-", becomes, also, like "cousin", a little burr, another little thorn, that has prodded the discourse of the hyphen for me since "betweenness" also frequently engages a "crossing over," a trans-creation, trans-lation, trans-port. The implications of such a term around notions of Diaspora, foreignicity, and multiculturalism are clear (see p.5, Yet Languageless, Mouth Always A Gauze, Words Locked). […]

After Pictograms, the bio started to demand more in my writing. As a long poem,
Diamond Grill is really anchored in my next project after Pictograms, a collection of poems called Breathin' My Name With a Sigh (Talonbooks, 1981). This was a crucial writing project for me since, around 1979, finally, after twenty years of writing, I was able to confront my racialized past, albeit mostly as an address to my father's death fourteen years earlier. So that other RE, the more nebulous RE of regarding, starts to particularize my own name, Wah. What's that all about, I start to ask. Breathin' My Name With a Sigh opens with this poem:

I like the purity of all things seen
through the accumulation of thrust
forward especially the vehicle
container maybe/or "thing" called body
because time seems to be only it appears
to look into the green mountains valleys
or through them to the rivers & nutrient creeks
where was never the problem animal is
I still have a name "breathin' it
with a sigh"
Published with additional pieces, along with the new afterward, Wah refuels the bio-text of exploring his mixed blood with the idea of it being an ongoing work, a work in progress working fluid through the years and between the covers, much the way Cooley kept reworking his Bloody Jack, even after its original publication. Writing on the emergence of the mixed race aspects of his content, and the movements through form, Diamond Grill explores "bio-text" as opposed to poetry, fiction or memoir (almost ironic then that the previous edition was the winner of the 1997 Howard O'Hagan Short Fiction Award); not only the blending of cultures, but the blending of genres. Vancouver writer Michael Turner has written about the same about his own work, mixing the genres together and producing books that almost defy catalogue description; the author of, among other books, Hard Core Logo, it was originally published as a "poetry book," but after the film version came out, was reprinted as a "novel." As others have suggested, Turner himself doesn’t write the genre in, but the publisher does, making decisions based on bookstore rules. As Turner wrote in his piece in side/lines: a new Canadian poetics (Toronto ON: Insomniac Press, 2001):
My ambivalence towards poetry, now that I am forced to defend it, comes about through a general mistrust of generic distinctions. As a writer, I like to combine forms; not just literary forms, but all representational forms. I believe that form in-and-of-itself is shaped by (and carries with it) certain suppositions, and my writing likes to exercise those suppositions (see the "Preface" to American Whiskey Bar). In that sense, I am a sociological writer, one who gravitates towards ideas and concepts, not the 'perfect' line or the ultimate sentence. Although I can recognize the craft in Anne Carson's poems, it doesn’t mean I like her work. A common response to that is: "Oh, but she's doing something really interesting—contemporizing antiquity." To which I say: "Yeah, but there was no middle class in ancient Syria, so what Dr. Carson's doing is just as kitschy as Von Gloeden taking photos of 19th-century Sicilian boys, putting laurels in their hair, getting them to pose naked in front of Roman columns." What Carson and Von Gloeden have in common, then, is their willingness to pander to the fetishistic impulses of their readers and viewers, those who don’t take into account the complexities of political economy, history, language, etc., and how those things affect a work. Although fetishists make great supporters of literature and art (without them there would be no avant-garde), they do little do enhance the dialogue.
He goes on to say:
If pressed, I would admit to having written one book of poetry, and that was Kingsway.
In Wah's magnificent afterward, he moves through this work in the context of many of the works and concerns that followed, and the consideration of reworking, writing:
The "re-" is an aspect of a larger poetics, the applied methodology of re-writing, re-cuperating, re-siting, and re-citing, re-furbishing, and so forth. It attends to an important aspect of all writing, but particularly poetry and its obsession with song and rhythm, iteration: re-peat, re-iterate. For me this appears in the 70s and 80s "re-reading and re-writing strategies generated in the ethnic and feminist rejections of assimilation, the bargaining for a position in the reterritorialization of inherited literary forms and language" (Faking It, p. 203). Daphne Marlatt's book, Salvage (1991), for example, is a good example of this "re-" poetics in that it "re-reads and re-envisions [her] earlier writings in light of her feminist experiences of the late 80s and in doing so salvages them" (jacket blurb).
A few years ago, Fred Wah read as part of the Vancouver Writers Festival, and announced that the texts he was reading from were part of his "forthcoming collection with Talonbooks." Now that he's retired from the University of Calgary and living in Vancouver, whatever happened with that? Is this reissue in part a precursor to something new, something more?

make her go back to eating meat. This is a really good gingery win-
ter dish, particularly as a leftover when you get home late from play-
ing hockey and it's still warm on top of the stove.

Use nine to ten small tomatoes or a forty-eight ounce can, stewed
or whole. Stir-fry strips of beef with about a thumb of sliced ginger,
one or two cloves of crushed garlic, a chopped onion, and a ladle full
of soy sauce. Add tomatoes, one tsp, sugar, a little salt, and simmer
to boil down a bit to stew-like consistency. Add some diced celery
about ten minutes before serving. Spoon over top of rice and pick
out pungent chunks of ginger and hide under bowl.
related notes: my notes on the Fred Wah/Pauline Butling Open Letter issues; on a recent Fred Wah chapbook; on Andrew Suknaski's Wood Mountain Poems; on Gerry Gilbert's Moby Jane & Peter Van Toorn's Mountain Tea; on poets talk, conversations with Robert Kroetsch, Daphne Marlatt, Erin Mouré, Dionne Brand, Marie Annharte Baker, Jeff Derksen and Fred Wah by Pauline Butling and Susan Rudy

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Anthony McCann's Moon Garden (Wave Books)


From Fort Hamilton Parkway
All the way to Avenue X
Fatherhood reduces Brooklyn to pure geometry
At 18th Avenue and again, here, at Avenue P
Only the dead know Fatherhood
Gathered at the window, counting beads of light
Fatherhood is the last warm thing in your hands
I have to say something about Fatherhood:
Fatherhood replaces England
So that no one may look into it
So that no one may hold it up to the sky
All the way to Gravesend, last night I rode the F
Fatherhood rode by the window
I took the F train back to jail

Seattle/New York-based Wave Books (Verse Press merged with them last year) has been doing an insane poetry bus tour around the United States lately, with some dates in Canada, even. On Sunday, a whole slew of poets American and Toronto on the "poetry bus" converge on Ottawa to read through the ottawa international writers festival at a little gallery on Major's Hill Park [see the notice I posed here], including Brooklyn, New York poet Anthony McCann, reading from his second collection, Moon Garden (Wave Books, 2006), a follow-up to his Father of Noise (New York NY: Fence Books, 2003).


I, myself, should have been a thing.

But then the things themselves appeared.

Some were called the squibs.

Others, vague and old,
became the higher animals.

They were like

words painted in the lake
or like

clouds riddled through with sun.

And also they were like
some more directions to the builders.

It's true—I should have worn protective gear.

But whether I woke up in the park
smeared in pink and yellow thread

or when I walked around the lake
damaging the geese

I stayed exactly how I am.

So when I rush along the world
it leaves a rushing in my ears

and I am placed along the water
as the lake becomes a thing.

An interesting collection of short and shorter poems, I wonder what McCann could do with longer forms; his poems in this collection move like a suite of pieces, each one echoing softly off the other. I very much like the movement of McCann's pieces, graceful and playful-wary as his title poem.


Because the moon is his most important organ
Max is obliged to conceal it in his body.
It is the source of his eternal youth.
According to Max the moon is falling
All the way through our bodies
To the bottom of our soles. When it gets there
We are history. Meanwhile
Max is tortured by women—
By some sad and beautiful women.
Because Max is not his name.
In the Moongarden they proffer their cheeks
For the final kiss, the kiss goodbye.
In his first photos of the coffin academy
Young Max exhibits a flair for light.
Light and potable, the portable moon
Feeds itself on Max.
Though she be round of face
And worshipped by Max
She will not return.
Enter Max on a bright disc of now
Which the moon is obliged to reflect.
O Milky Moon, Mammalian Moon,
The Moon of Failure, the Human Moon.
According to The Poet—{Enter The Poet}—
The moon is not like anything—
The moon is just the moon.
According to Max the moon is a map:
A lifesize map of the moon.

related notes: see my review of The Verse Book of Interviews: 27 Poets on Language, Craft & Culture (Verse Press) here and my review of Dara Wier's Remnants of Hannah (Wave Books) here

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Ongoing notes: September, 2006

Did you see my new poem up at Intercapillary Space (UK)? The same place that reviewed my British book even before I saw copies. Or my poems up at melancholia's tremulous dreadlocks 4? Or that editor Sina Queyras' Drunken Boat stuff is finally up, with poems of mine & that interview I did with Rachel Zolf? Why is the front of my apartment building on a blog? Did you see new blogs up by Toronto writer/filmmaker RM Vaughan, or this one by Chicago resident & Canadian poet nathalie stephens? [see my note on her here if you haven't already] Did you see that the schedule for the ottawa international writers festival is up? Will I see you at said festival? & I've been getting a lot of publications from British Columbia lately (not that I'm complaining…); is there anyone else doing anything else anywhere? Did you notice I'm still looking for new subscribers for 2007, so I can afford to make more chapbooks now (the story of my life, really)? & I'm walking again—my bicycle is out of commission again; someone has kicked in the back wheel, bending it all to hell. Am I doomed to go through a bicycle a year?

Vancouver BC: The author of nearly a dozen trade poetry collections, Vancouver writer Patrick Friesen's most recent publications are the chapbook Bordello Poems (Vancouver BC: Vancouver Film School, no date), and Interim: Essays & Mediations (Regina SK: Hagios Press, 2006), a collection of non-fiction pieces written over a period of some twenty years [watch for my review in an upcoming issue of The Antigonish Review]. In a structure reminiscent of Leonard Cohen's Songs From a Room or Monty Reid's cuba A book (above/ground press), Bordello Poems works three sections of fragments of a single piece written from a single room. For the longest time, my favourite of Friesen's many books has been St. Mary at Main (Winnipeg MB: The Muses' Company, 1998), working longer lines and longer thoughts in what has essentially become his (so far) last Winnipeg collection, so it's interesting to see him move back into the shorter line, working the page itself as the single line, or the chapbook as a whole as the extended idea.


there is enough


a world

the mystics

I don’t
know that

just enough
for knowing

Almost a book of koans, the title Bordello Poems works a different direction than the deliberateness & deliberations of the poems that exist within the collection, writing out a contemplativeness from a small room, with only a bed and the company of the woman he loves.


you see me

a nakedness
I haven’t worn

and lost
in this kneeling

a fish nibbles
at the window

a room of

a room
of rivers

Produced in a numbered run of only 200 copies, Bordello Poems is available for a limited time through Friesen's website.

Edmonton AB: I got the chapbook anthology tempus (Edmonton AB: Rubicon Press, 2006) in my mailbox recently, edited by Jenna Butler and Yvonne Blomer. I'm not sure if this was made for any particular event, or if this is the first issue of anything, but I do wonder why their press has the same name as the former journal (in Montreal; 1983-89)? The brownish publication includes works by a number of knowns and unknowns, including Edmonton poets with larger reputations, those names I only know thanks to K.L. McKay's Spire Poetry Poster (formerly of Ottawa), and various in-between, including Pamela Porter, Wendy McGrath, Andrea Porter, Rosie Livingstone, Christine Altieri, Grace Cockburn, Karen Shklanka, Alice Major, Ian Marriott, Kimmy Beach, K.L. McKay, Jeff Carpenter, Sheila E. Murphy, Cynthia Woodman Kerkham, Wendy Morton, Andrea McKenzie, Barbara Pelman & Douglas Barbour [see my review of his collaborative book with Sheila E. Murphy here].

last night our niece fit perfectly into her new
husband's arms on the dance floor, her veil tossed back
the night an unspoken remembrance
of her sister's death eight years earlier
she'd have been tall and wise in the bridesmaid's dress
of autumn rust
I waltz with my husband and our hands fit
as perfectly as they did at our wedding twenty years ago
these same nieces young and bored
picking at cookies and loose threads while we danced (Kimmy Beach, "Saskatchewan Testing Ground")

Existing predominantly in the expected lyric, there are moments in which parts of the chapbook/journal transcend, as in the poems of Murphy & Barbour, & some very nice moments in Beach & McKay. But I wonder: why is the expected lyric so prevalent?

Reverse Haibun


Tilt of the earth pronouncing routine warmth

Each sunlight occupies the lip of pool inviting limits of
the body. One pauses prior to becoming fluent
daylight. Water in the hair pre-dusk, the silver calm
reveals metonymy for which a clock…One breathes.
Dried apparel, horizontal lines spawn informal tenure
made to seem an intersection. Turmoil of the soil
enriched long reeds swell to a sample size of seeds
repeating. (Sheila E. Murphy)

You can find out more about tempus & Rubicon Press by writing c/o suite 304, 10750-78 Avenue, Edmonton AB, T6E 1P7, or through their website.

Prince George, BC: Ken Belford sent me his two most recent chapbooks lately, his till (series 9) & convergences (series 10), both produced through his off-set house. In an interview I did recently with poet Rob Budde, he talked a lot about being influenced by Ken Belford's poetics. As he says at the end of the interview:
RB: Finding Ft. George will actually be the first book of mine that will reflect a "Prince George aesthetic." It is made up of poems I've written since coming to
Prince George and you will see the influences of Ken Belford, George Stanley,
and Barry McKinnon in it. It is my discovery of Prince George (and regions
around) and also reflects my new-found Green politics. I am co-chair of the
provincial Green Party constituency association here. Really think that poetry
could delve more into the reason we are trashing the planet. It is nice
Harbour/Nightwood is doing the book because it will create an interesting
conversation with Belford's Ecologue, which came out last year.

rm: Why do you think it important to establish such a dialogue with Belford's

RB: I am just really into what he is doing now. He is my current mentor and so a lot of the poems come out of conversations and poems we share. I respect him immensely for his politics/poetics and hope to learn a lot more from him as we go on.

I saw that place in the water
where rainbow would naturally be,
and in the spray of sunlit drops,
glory off the float plane's bow.
But I had doubts about the answers-
not all the arcs are rainbows
and light consists of streams.
The pastel bands in the roily water
are invisible, but I can see
the shadows of the moving bows. (convergences)

There's a lot happening up north. Belford's partner, the poet & editor Si Transken, even edited an anthology recently called This Ain't Your Patriarchs' Poetry Book: Connections, Candles, Comrades… (Prince George BC: Transformative Collective Press, 2003), including the work of various northern British Columbia writers including Jacqueline Hoekstra, Dani Pigeau, Ellen Winofsky, Maria Walther, Transken herself, Lynn Box, Theresa Healy, Yolanda Coppolino, Clayton Boehler, Rob Budde, Will Morin & Chuck Fraser.

Another poet local to the Prince George aesthetic, Donna Kane, reads in Ottawa at the next TREE Reading at the Royal Oak on Laurier; will I see you there?

On a whole other note: I've been reading The Essential Avengers Volume Four lately (reprinting a series of issues from 1969-1972), including the infamous Kree-Skrull War that I've been wanting to read now for years. With the storylines happening in Young Avengers, a new series only about a year old (& so very well written), it's interesting to get into the background of some of this material. Most of the stories were written & scripted by Rascally Roy Thomas (& even a two issue story written by Harlan Ellison) seems particularly dated, & even somewhat sexist (especially when he tries to move in the other direction, which is too bad, & somewhat even laughable), but otherwise the stories are magnificent. I'm currently waiting on the appearance of further volumes (to step into some of the stories I started reading in the mid/late 1970s, & get the "whole story" as opposed to the individual issues I read, scattered through the years…), as well as the volume of The Essential Amazing Spider-Man that will include the third Green Goblin (I've looking for my missing issue or two of that story for twenty years). Patience, I suppose, as in all things…

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Daphne Marlatt in Ottawa

I thought, since Vancouver poet & fiction writer Daphne Marlatt is reading at the ottawa international writers festival, and doesn’t have a new title she's launching, it might be an opportunity to reprint (a variation of) this (short) review I did of her previous two poetry collections, originally published in Books in Canada in fall 2001. Wouldn’t it be good if she had something new, soon, too? Then I can write something new…

In two collections, one new and one reissued, Vancouver poet Daphne Marlatt's work exists as a series of small recordings, concerned with sensual things; with the language of the body, and a body of language. "words incessant as rain fall hear what slips / between this tea we bring to our different lips, this space where nouns unfold" (This Tremour Love Is).

With the publication of two impressive spring poetry titles, Marlatt concerns herself with a process of history and looking back, with a third edition of Steveston (Ronsdale Press, 2001), including new work by both author and photographer, and This Tremour Love Is (Talonbooks, 2001), a collection of poems called "a memory book", reworking twenty-five years of love poems.

Originally published by Talonbooks in 1974, and reissued by Longspoon Press in 1984, Steveston is a record of a dying fishing village at the mouth of the Fraser River, and its predominantly Japanese population, by the poet Marlatt, and photographer Robert Minden. For the new edition, both have revisited the work, with a new piece by Marlatt, "generation, generations at the mouth" (p 61-2), and nine new photographs from the same sessions as the originals, as well as four expanded prints, and an afterward by Minden. "what is the mouth of the river now? a toxic O of emptiness? teeming hole of / ever-becoming we create?" (p 62). I've always admired what Marlatt can do with the longer line, and prose that flows liquid down the page, revisiting "the still lake of our muddy and / intermingled present." (p 36).

In This Tremour Love Is, Marlatt again shows herself to be a good listener, to the sweet and gentle cadences of loss, love, longing and small tender joys. "her hands, when i saw her dead, were half curled like those of a child asleep" (p 16, "hands on the table"). Marlatt has always been one of our most powerful postmodern poets, able to say so much quietly, there, or just under the surface, as in the poem "listen" - "but he was reading to her about loss, excited, because someone had named it at / last, was naming even as he read, the shape of what he felt to be his own, / recognized at last in words coming through him from the page" (p 24). The series "small print" (p 53-65) is an exercise in craft, a series of small, carved porcelain figures in print - "as you ascend out of the / limits of love a joy you wished language written / in quick gesture bold stride new reference i / try to deceipher" (p 57, "v").

This isn't the first time Marlatt has gone back into her own work, seeming to make a habit of it, such as the collection Salvage (Red Deer College Press, 1991), going back through Steveston and Vancouver Poems, Selected Writing: Net Work (Talonbooks, 1980), What Matters: Writing 1968-70 (Coach House Press, 1980), which revisted journal entries and other writings made before and during her son's birth. In all these, Marlatt is our poet of the heart, documenting movements and missives like no one else gets close to, the painstaking minutae of process, thought and feeling.

[Daphne Marlatt reads at the ottawa international writers festival as part of the TREE Reading Series night on Tuesday, October 3 at 9pm with Ottawa fiction writers Paul Glennon & Mark Frutkin]

Monday, September 18, 2006

writing geographies: The Capilano Review 2:47 (fall 2006)

Linear tankers lie
on the harbour's
horizon. The speed
of globalization. "Community-based
crystal meth focus groups."
Jog by. "China
Shipping Lines." Nature
in the city. More or less.
Crows crack mussels
on the concrete, at sunset rest
on corporate
postmodern architecture.
Low-level boredom at
capital's exhaustion
of options. (Jeff Derksen, "A City Called Capital")

After various discussions on geography in various places, including my interview with Vancouver poet Meredith Quartermain, or my piece on writing The Ottawa City Project, it's interesting to see The Capilano Review engage geographies as well in their new issue subtitled "Six Cities," guest-edited by Roger Farr. Working with regional editors for six sections, the included sections are Vancouver (ed. Roger Farr), New York (eds. Laura Elrick & Rodrigo Toscano), Calgary (ed. Ian Samuels), Minneapolis/St. Paul (ed. Mark Nowak), Toronto (ed. Margaret Christakos) & San Francisco (eds. Rob Halpern & Jocelyn Saidenberg). Geography, in any sense of writing/interpretation is always a tricky game. As Farr writes in his introduction:
The city locates one of the most disturbing paradoxes of our time: at the very moment when human civilization has taken a decisively urban turn, many of civilization's oldest urban centres are being destroyed and "reconstructed," while longstanding rural and urban populations are being uprooted, all in accordance with the accelerated logic of "progress" that spawned the growth of the city in the first place. In short, "the city" is a sign for a global urbanization characterized by rapid investment and divestment, construction and demolition, decomposition and recomposition.
The city selections by themselves are interesting, as Farr talks of his "regret [in] not having included Honolulu, Montreal, and New Orleans." (What, no Ottawa?) Does this, then, leave space for further explorations in a subsequent issue? Why not, also, Prince George, British Columbia (Rob Budde &/or Barry McKinnon would be the most obvious choices for editors there…)? Why not a section, perhaps, of expats, Canadian writers who have left & now consider Canada as a variation of a whole, instead of what we see from the inside, our smaller corners & segments? (For a variation on what a Winnipeg section, etcetera, might have looked like, check out the Post-Prairie anthology edited by Jon Paul Fiorentino & Robert Kroetsch; obviously variants on anything Ottawa related could be extrapolated from the annual ottawater journal; watch for the third issue to appear in January…). As it stands, the editors (who were asked to include their own work as well) included the work of Jeff Derksen, Marie Annharte Baker, Maxine Gadd [see my review of her new book here], Melissa Guzman & Roger Farr for Vancouver, Carol Mirakove, Tan Lin, Rodrigo Toscano & Laura Eldrick for New York, Jason Christie, Jill Hartman, Natalie Zina Walschots, Julia Williams & Ian Samuels for Calgary, Sun Yung Shin, Lisa Arrastía, Ed Bok Lee & Mark Nowak for Minneapolis/St.Paul, Louise Bak, Ken Babstock, RM Vaughan, M. Nourbese Philip, angela rawlings & Margaret Christakos for Toronto, & Amanda Davidson, Taylor Brady, David Larsen, Eleni Stecopoulos, Melissa R. Benham, Beverly Dahlen, Rob Halpern & Jocelyn Saidenberg, Wendy Kramer, Cedar Sigo, Brandon Brown, Alli Warren, Chet Wiener & Marcus Civin for San Francisco.

I'm sorry to make of poetry a mockery again
But this evening, as I exited Safeway, the historic process
Of separating the proletariat from the means of subsistence
Forced itself upon my eyes with such a violence
As to break the levees of false consciousness.
For it was there, among the Tylenol and the razor blades
Among a disturbing array of meat and dairy products
I spent $3.38 on mozzarella cheese, $1.04 on Macintosh
Apples, $2.29 on fresh basil, $1.10 on hot-house tomatoes
$1.95 on French-style Artisan bread, and $4.99 on a Green
Drink. Now I admit I'm no Campesino. But as the last
Long rays of a late September sun cast shadows over
The obsolete lawns of Point Grey, I understood precisely
Our need for autonomous land initiatives. (Roger Farr, "from SURPLUS")

I find it interesting & entirely appropriate that Calgary editor Ian Samuels included both Jill Hartman and Julia Williams, both of whom have been working their Calgary geography for some time now, including reworked pieces from their respective chapbooks My Alberta Beef, from a manuscript-in-progress, "St. Ampede & The Greatest Outdoor Show On Earth" (Calgary AB: Semi-Precious Press, 2006) & MY CITY IS ANCIENT AND FAMOUS (Ottawa ON: above/ground press, 2004) (neither of which are credited, oddly).

My City Glows When We All Fall Silent

if you often interpret silence
you know noise vibrates
and the violent can't be soothed by empty rooms

this makes sense
we cloak the streetlights to confound moths
this makes sense
we wear masks to underscore our authority

loud voices remind me of engines
remind the masked they are visible
noise gathers in fabric, but bends in water
peels our eardrums
moves us closer to our doors (Julia Williams)

In so many ways, in the context of any literary work, geography is an idea well before it is the geography itself—how to represent or reference or remark any geography—& the authors included are very good examples of how writing writes a place. Think of John Newlove's "the life of the mind." A very attractive issue with a photo section in the middle, & new format, I'm hoping that The Capilano Review keeps to what the new designers have done to liven up an old standard; & guest editor Roger Farr has done a fine job in his geographies. Not there to answer any questions or give the reader any sense of finality, Farr's & the other editors' selections open up a dialogue, & bring the conversation into a place more open, and as much placeless as any given where.

mapping the martial character of movements up and down this street as
the charisma of a hardened torso muted by exposure to the light in v's film,
turning back the hands of the woman in the mural just behind but who the
shot unfreezes and brings forward, not as a reaching to possess but as a legato
merging the traffic that her body might be across the border region the mural
memorializes in and out of place, and that is certain in what she holds of
produce suspended between her hands, onto the same plane as the male body
soldiering, shouldering the wall (Taylor Brady, "from THE BLOCK PARTY")

related notes: a previous entry on The Capilano Review here

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Ongoing notes: London Calling (rob & Stephen's continental adventures…)

Back home from the UK & very glad for it; as brilliant as it was, I have to admit I'm completely exhausted. Jennifer Mulligan was nice enough to pick us up from the plane, & we went straight to Pubwells, after we left Stephen in his daughter's arms, over there in Westboro. Did I tell you about the nine gin & tonics I had on the plane home? We took plenty of pictures; give another few days before I go over to Stephen's house & post them from there. We met a number of extremely interesting people while we were there, including that young Edmund Hardy, who runs the collaborative blog Intercapillary Space (we had a good night of pub-hop with him), & spent some worthy time with Lawrence Upton, who currently runs Writers Forum, & spent a very interesting evening with Nova Scotian poet John Stiles & prairie poet/playwright Kim Morrissey, both of whom live now in London. Another Canadian poet (born in the Netherlands but raised here) that we met at the London reading with Christopher Gutkind, but his first poetry collection from Shearsman only arrived in the mail today, so I haven’t had any time to look at it yet… Why is it every time Stephen & I travel, we meet someone we didn’t know before who grew up in Montreal? (it happened in Ireland too, in Cobh, I believe. Or was it Galway?) In Cardiff (which we didn't know not only the capital of Wales but the student drinking capital of the UK) we read in the foyer of the Wales Millennium Centre, which seemed a Welsh version of Ottawa's National Arts Centre, showing all the important large plays & such, & then us, with local poet J. Brookes, a very interesting micro-publisher. From my previous note, too, spent the first proper London evening at the Crossing the Line series with David Miller, jeff hilson (I misspelled his name in my previous note), & plenty of interesting others. How can we thank any of them enough? Here are some of the publications & folk I picked up along the way…

David Miller, jeff hilson, Maurice Scully & Crossing the Line: Both Miller & hilson were nice enough to give me copies of their recent Reality Street publications. This is an impressive series, with previous publications by Lawrence Upton, Denise Riley, Peter Riley, Maggie O'Sullivan, Fanny Howe, Allen Fisher, Barbara Guest, Anselm Hollo, Robert Sheppard, Nicole Brossard as well as two UK reissues by Lisa Robertson.

Co-organizer of the Crossing the Line reading series & talented host, David Miller has been publishing books of poetry & fiction since 1975 with presses such as Stride, St. Martins Press, Burning Deck, paradigm press, Wild Honey Press & Singing Horse, among others, including his more recent Spiritual Letters (I-II) and other writings (2004) with Reality Street. An interesting series of prose-sections, I look forward to getting deeper into what Miller has been up to all this time.

He arrived at the door at five in the morning, with an
expectation of some desperate action on your part. – I'm
not angry
, he said in an angry voice when you stood there
unharmed. A landscape of reddish hues, hard by the sea.
Inscribe in outline a dwelling, a tomb – a city of dwellings
and tombs. The bones of a sparrow or mouse beneath the
decorations and charms; the charred bones of a small
child. As you walk along the littoral, the movements of
your gaze may result in unexpected 'wipes' of colour. A letter
that answers your accusations: unsent, it's kept in a cupboard,
its eyes open in the dark. You retrace the confidences, too:
the beatings her first lover gave her for his pleasure, his
rejection of her when she was pregnant by him. Gainsay a
concern with persuasion or display, elegance or finesse, as
well as the formulas of ruin. Place another sheet alongside
the first: move across, reflecting upon, engaging with, in
places canceling. An amateur, I write, rewrite – for the
sake of what remains invisible in the showing-forth.

Co-organizer of the reading series with Miller, hilson is the author of three chapbooks & one larger trade poetry book, stretchers (2006); he recently finished a doctorate on the work of Louis Zukofsky, & teaches alongside Canadian poet Peter Jaeger [see my review of his SALT book here] at Roehampton University. Built out of three long poems, stretchers works the stretch of London & language, incorporating a lot of found material & other strange sources.

…the sawing man I fear for his legs
red white red white and he has years
this road they will dig it and widen the pave
tho it is not oxford street it is said
the rich must now walk on that side too
for graffiti there's dogshit it's a kind
of writing can be scried an inventory
taken of say colour consistency and
I won't have this neighborhood
fears of a mass break-in nor pay
for inside when you can have sound
from over there (where was angry)
the phrase "phenomenological night"
and hedges such as do you know
what I mean the word hedge is new
and used everywhere by ladies like
albert ayler's music for circus and
as in hedge-school and hedge-bird
and hedge-priest as in hedge-bantler
on the right or wrong side of the
hedge takes a sheet off the hedge or
is on the hedge regardless of others
the hedge-creeper he's a creeper crept
into a hedge for the hedge-police
would catch him for his creeping and
the hedge of hawthorn was a cloak
to hide the creeper gone aside from
the straight way the shifter and shuffler
his means of protection as in the dancers
bottom right of bosch's garden their blind
owl-headed dance buried in a tusked bug
schal or schil rind and quarrel these
briars and brambles will protect you…

When in London, I read with Dublin poet Maurice Scully, who was reading from his collection Tig (Exeter: Shearsman Books, 2006). They even had to hold the reading up a bit, since (as they said) he was coming from a "long way away." (how could I not make fun? oh, yes, Dublin sure is far away from here…). Another poet with a wide publishing history going back about twenty-five years (most of that time he's been working on a single project called Things That Happen, said to be complete with this new volume), Scully works the long movement, long poems that move & move along in visual ways that weren't as obvious to me, the listener, during his two sets.


distinctly through
the night air trains

through otherwise
silence – contact –

toy-like parallel
movements where machinery

clocks into place.
listen I saw what

I meant you saw
& the sunny external

world slid past over
yr shaded spectacles

& for the sake of
the rhythm I suppose

of the train on its
track you smiled.

it all takes you back.

under an intimate
intense cone of light

on a page on a desk
among books in the night

to return upturn upset
visit obsessive hating

obsessed teaching the
cocky ignorant well-to-do

offspring of the European
upper echelons to

limp along in something
like an intelligible

legible béarlagar
tax free on the button…

I always liked being there
that dark & haunting house

off the South Circular
at the canal end where

colossal mirrors
spread out their

cloth ducks in flight
across a wall

oranges & lemons
& the bells

of St Clement's
the strangeness

of flickering eyes
that are blind –

oh movements
continuous &

formal forgive
us our futures!

& loneliness.
& affection

that atom

in the tune
the train's

shadow flickering
over the fields

mountains passing
(a city, distant)

gull-spots wheeling

a child nearby
at the window

where the world
tracks past a

very young child
so happy so

taken aback
she sings…

For info on Reality Street, check out their website or email For more info on Shearsman Books, check out here.

frances kruk, Sean Bonney & Yt Communication: Days away from finishing her PhD dissertation while I was there was Calgary poet frances kruk. Hers is exactly the kind of relationship I want with any writer in another place: she helped promote the reading, & introduced herself by handing me a small stack of publications (I gave her a bunch back, of course). Had I only spent more time talking to her, our interaction would have been perfect! She handed me three items, including her chapbook clobber (June 2006), all produced by kruk & Sean Bonney's Yt Communication. An ex-pat from Calgary's filling Station crew, kruk's work fits along the lines from much I have seen of (as Bowering has called it) the "Calgary renaissance."

how raisins crawl and bump
about maggoty in sifty
oats and bran plump wrigglers
horny for milk mouth gaped to gulp
spoons excitable on milled silt
as a neck i would roll my face
into chew the chords from a whole
bowl full mulchy. silk crushed
in cheeks i toggle in pagamas
crumbs between my toes hairy in distress:
the fogged morning kitchen. Shall I Open

confetti grains snow
court yard dust fruit
benediction rolls, tickles
nipple sharp on glass

Apparently Sean Bonney has a trade poetry collection with SALT that I would LOVE to be able to see; apparently his performances around London are legendary. I got copies of his Document: hexprogress (May 2006) and their small magazine hick moth: yt communication bulletin (July 2006). Just seeing these three publications, I would think this lad would fit in perfectly in any part of Calgary, Toronto, Vancouver, Ottawa, or various other places around the country, where strange little publications get made. The magazine includes work by Adrian Clarke, Marianne Morris, Lara Fuckerton (a pseudonym, perhaps?), Sophie Robinson, Steve Willey, Keston Sutherland, jUStin!katKo, & visuals by Canadian lads derek beaulieu & daniel f bradley.

what the eye might see
is split open as imagination
sighs nipple back and lick
she in new brown shoes
rock and shred in equal
ideas of the depth of
the city, runic and blistered
cheeks are red as global
virtue is a trap zombie
right now. extract more cars
and shower with songs of
tremor ditch. you walk it
from its rosy gawking walls
will conduct you. your menu
opens out into city square
incident is hot tail, jump-start
celestial earth, make terror swab
as globe interior, her eye
talks up such split sunrise
to wake up this morning
and wake up this morning


and if they bite you
you need poison and fast
anxiety wire: take him hostage
fading red globe inside his
muscle stolen, think of him,
he is my neighbour. I
have fed him and how
there is nothing more but
we will trade, he is
call out tenant shift, is
image fixion, is burst droplet
to explain our bad intention
tongue from neck to what
his name is Simon Stylites
and his neo-bite is fatal
image, as the thought persons
merge, the Circle Line on
orgy level, now wash your
hands dry. then at Aldgate
attach a split panty shift:
clasp and lick. kill Blair. (Document: hexprogress)

This is someone I need to keep an eye on (to see what he does next in his writing, of course). For more information on these little publications "made in hackney," email them at

Lawrence Upton & Writers Forum: The afternoon after my Crossing the Line reading, Stephen & I dropped in on a Writers Forum workshop, which was absolutely thrilling! Upton, one of the premiere UK concrete/visual poets, also kept Writers Forum as a workshop/publisher going after the death of its founder, Bob Cobbing, just a couple of years ago. Imagine workshops running since 1952 & still going; Cobbing's widow, Jenny, was even there, & read a few pieces. matt martin & Jamie Wilkes, two local young fellers, even read some things that Stephen & I thought particularly brilliant & mind-blowing (we decided that they + Upton should all be writing pieces for us to consider for future issues of…); unfortunately, I forget which was which, so I couldn’t even tell you which did the brilliant pig sound poem (I made sure to give him Max Middle's contact information), or which one did the postcard pieces that I would LOVE to turn into a chapbook (what is a boy to do?). Upton gave me a copy of his Mutation (London: Zimmer Zimmer Press, 1977).

mighty lonely
where it and he stood

he fingered Peggy
then unity alone

this depression ordered an idea

but of all who bobbed
I dealt her out from Rome

how they accept it!
and cowardly too (Mutation)

I even bought copies of two older Writers Forum publications (some of the few that Upton had brought with him), bob cobbing & robert sheppard's CODES AND DIODES (1991) & Peter Ganick's cafe unreal (1994). After hearing these names for years, these are only the second publications each I think I now own by Upton, cobbing & Connecticut poet/publisher Ganick; what's taken me so bloody long?

"as is said
as seep through the elicits
anon dry front l i p heal
and journey l a s t o r g a n"

"diverse non sequin
a r r e s t no hail
appreciably turned into"

"what are share, announce
is deplorable artifact, ultra range
textured and of itself,
listen, like that"

"j u s t when n e e d e d"

"how else? that"

"concept orchestra,
spent an ideal,
that cribbed row
textile, some
animal's essence"

"divergent siphon
newer lace orange"

For information on anything Writers Forum-ish, email Upton at

Kim Morrissey & John Stiles: They took Stephen & I out for drinks one night, without having met each other previously (even though they'd both been at the London reading). A pub, some Indian food, & then another pub. What is it about the British & bar hopping? Toronto folk do the same thing; is it just me, to be happy in one place the whole evening? (& at the end of every night, it seems, Stephen & I getting to Eva at the hotel bar…)

A Canadian poet living in London for seventeen years, prairie author Kim Morrissey is the author of the collections Batoche (Regina SK: Coteau Books, 1989) and Poems For Men Who Dream of Lolita (Coteau Books, 1992) as well as a number of plays, including her "black comedy about Freud," Dora: A Case of Hysteria (Nick Hern Books, 1994) and Clever as Paint: The Rossettis in Love (Toronto ON: Playwrights Canada Press, 1998). She gave us copies of her Rossettis play when we were there (which excited Stephen very much, I think), apparently she has boxes of them. When will come the other poems? I know she organizes various poetry events around London, including something for National Poetry Day on Thursday, October 5th (there should be a poetry week, she said; check out the website for it here) but where are her new pieces? When will be that third collection? I met her originally in Brenda Niskala's house in Regina back in 1998, when Brenda & I were late catching a plane… (but that's another story for another time).

Much quieter than Morrissey was Nova Scotian John Stiles, who still publishes in Canada, and hasn’t been overseas nearly as long. A new poetry collection from Insomniac Press came out recently, & I think he's published a book of fiction already, & there's supposed to be another one. A very nice lad; his parents were even at my London reading (I never got up the nerve to ask why). It's strange spending an evening with someone & realizing you still don't know a whole lot about them. Hoping very much to see him again.

Academi & the Wales Millennium Centre: I wasn't kidding when I called this building the National Arts Centre of Wales; just look at the program or the website & you'll see what I mean. It was pretty cool to see our names listed in their magazine, alongside a notice about Welsh author Niall Griffiths, author of Stump; we got to meet him when he read at the ottawa international writers festival in fall 2001; would have been good to see him again, but I'd forgot he was there… (see the schedule for the upcoming festival here, by the by). Thanks to poet Peter Finch (who couldn’t make the event due to a bad back), Stephen & I got to read in the foyer of this magnificent building with local poet, ex-pat Londoner Jonathon Brookes, reading from his self-published chapbook Nobby: Prince of Wales (The Profitless Press, 2006). A writer who refuses to move beyond the self-published, there is a lot to admire in the work of Brookes; the name of his publishing house reminds me of such other publishing houses as NMFG (no money for the government) that was run up in that Prince George, British Columbia in the 1970s by Brian Fawcett, or the Not One Cent of Subsidy Press that produced Ottawa poet Michael Dennis' poems for jessica-flynn in 1986 [read my note on him here]; what is it about the impulse to announce one owns belligerent independence? Brookes read from a number of smart, funny & formal without being too formal poems at the event (had Brockwell & I in the back in stitches), & it would have been great to get a couple of those posted. His Nobby is a strange play/prose work weaving elements of the Welsh language through a series of twisted characters I have only started engaging with. A very smart writer, & one I would certainly like to see more of.

Our reading host, Cardiff poet ric hool, gave me a copy of his voice from a correspondent (the collective press, 2001), a collection of his own poetry. Maybe I was lucky with who I interacted with, but the notion of throwing strange visuals & using space across the page seems much more prevalent in the UK than it does in Canada; it would be interesting to explore the reasons why (although difficult, I think, from over here).

The Fall




the instance


to be
the fact

the incident
of process

as cork
the leaf


as bud
but changes
in defeat

in this


the fall

I won't even tell you about getting to the pub after, & having the young local feller (who was extremely bright, & gave interesting tourist bits about various of the buildings around us) finally snapped when I told him I liked the band Coldplay; his friends had to pry him off me. Otherwise, a very positive night…

To contact Brookes, write him c/o 20 Princes Court, The Walk, Plasnewydd, Cardiff Wales CF24 3AU

& then we came home.