Tuesday, October 31, 2006

poem for the newly renovated museum of nature

canvas of history & wings, a methodology
of bone

carved out a cradle; earth, & earthen-worn

first how on polar shavings, polar plastic
bear displays

that wouldnt hold a wind

set out or simple calm

would burst a main
for water; dinosaur bones

a sunny morning light a brine
, or beautiful face of calm

floating outer into space

spackle-thin, a spate

memorial of small stone
grasses, herding cats

to stars that twinkle dim & light

the victoria memorial building

where else would you wonder when,
the royal geological

, in what period you were bred

between old country & new

circumnavigate the wings
, a horse-hair slowly in

follow to seed, & original wood
, a generation, strewn

this pattern-flow of benches, molten rock
& superheated air

in screen & glassy eye

or how I endured
the seal hunt, hunt

what one to one another floor
& service

marble calm & steps, a hair
or capable string

where else would you breed,
an einstein mark

through border, trouble; pound
& glass

electrons through a unified whole
a displaced stare

of buckets under ice

Ottawa, Ontario
October 2006

Monday, October 30, 2006

Bruce Whiteman's The Invisible World is in Decline


The generating gap. Refusing to write what had come into your
mind out of a wish to push against its being spoken, to query its
occasion. The labyrinth of rebellion against the prompter. You
have a bright memory of the occurrence of the leading word of a
text, subsequently erased through a dangerous discipline that
leads toward silence, absence, a book of blank pages. The hole
from which the poet rescues by some weird instinct of self-
preservation what he had almost thought to say. (Book II)

Originally published in part as The Invisible World is in Decline I (Toronto ON: Coach House Press, 1984), The Invisible World is in Decline II-IV (Toronto ON: Coach House Press, 1989) and The Invisible World is in Decline V (Toronto ON: ECW Press, 2000), the entirety of the project has just been released with a sixth volume as The Invisible World is in Decline (Toronto ON: ECW Press, 2006). Almost a sister project to Ken Norris' own ongoing Report on the 2nd Half of the Twentieth Century (the most recent, Books 16-22 appeared with The Muses' Company in 2005), Canadian writer Bruce Whiteman started the project while still working as a librarian at the McLennan Library Rare Books Room at McGill. During that same period, he was also editing poetry for ECW Press, until he finally moved down to the United States to work at UCLA in 1995, the same time his Visible Stars: New and Selected Poems (Dorion QC: The Muses' Company, 1995) appeared. Since originally starting his long poem, he has published a number of other books including the poetry collections The Sun At Your Thighs, The Moon At Your Lips (1978), Ten Lessons in Autobiography (1981), The Cold Engineering of the World (1983), A Nature Murder (1985), Polyphonic Windows (1993), Tristia (2002) and XXIV Love Poems (2002), as well as being responsible for the non-fiction works Leonard Cohen: An Annotated Bibliography (1980), Raymond Souster and His Works (1985), A Literary Friendship: The Correspondence of Ralph Gustafson and W.W.E. Ross (1994), Lasting Impressions: A Short History of English Publishing in Quebec (1994) and J.E.H. Macdonald (1995). Why is it, that of all the poets in and around the original 1970s Vehicule Poets and further Muses' Company poets, most of their company still active and publishing (Ken Norris, Claudia Lapp, Bruce Whiteman) are living in the United States? As American poet Theodore Enslin writes in his preface to Whiteman's Visible Stars: New and Selected Poems:
It is true: "Language outlasts the uses we put it to" as in section II of Book I of The Invisible World Is in Decline. The development of that work through five books is carefully measured. It is not a place that all men might want to go, and I confess that I am not always convinced by its philosophy, but it is an arresting development. The poet at times is that ancient mariner who will not let the wedding guest go on until he has told his story. In the sections of Book V, "Zukofsky Imprompus," there is the deep need of both Bach and Zukofsky, but to a measure not known to either of them. What might Zukofsky have thought of this? But there is an underlying sweetness and affirmation, and after so much "decline" it is a mark of restorative health.
The "prose-poetry" tradition is much stronger in the United States than it is in Canada, with practitioners few in number, but including poets such as Rob Budde, Nicole Markotić, Jacqueline Turner, Daphne Marlatt and Robert Kroetsch. What is it about the prose poem that lingers, against such continued disuse? It is good to finally have all of Whiteman's long poem The Invisible World is in Decline in one place, his long poem in place, something that Ken Norris has suggested for his own continued and continuing poem. Unlike Norris' poem, holding more to the modernist traditions of Montreal, including Louis Dudek, Whiteman's Decline works out a lyric prose from that central Montreal modernist point to include Ralph Gustafson, Louis Zukofsky, William Carlos Williams, bpNichol and a slew of others, continually picking up influences as he increases speed. This is a painstaking and loving work.


The customs official turns a complacent eye on the few things
of any value the poet hauls across the border. It is a deft
translation, taking pornographic notebooks and a piano with
ivory keys over the line. A new country collates all the neglected
verities and transubstantiates them like an oblate who has
forgotten his place. Even the ownership of words is lost track of
in the process, and "aloe" becomes a metaphor of strangeness.
The poet translates everything in his head into the superlative
degree and gets away with it. The invisible cannot be stopped at
the border. (Book VI)

Saturday, October 28, 2006

rob's western adventures

I'll be a couple of weeks travelling west to promote my new poetry collection aubade; it means my blog activity might be more random than it usually is, but perhaps I'll see you on that long open road? & did you see that The Ottawa X-Press has this (plus a bunch of others by various familiar & friendly names) shortlisted for "best local blog" in their Best of Ottawa Readers' Poll? Vote here! Vote often!

Prince George BC: rob mclennan reads with Stephen Brockwell at the University of Northern British Columbia, Room 7-152. Thursday, November 2, 11:30am. Info: Rob Budde at rbudde@shaw.ca

Vancouver BC: rob mclennan reads with Stephen Brockwell (Ottawa) at Robson Square Bookstore as part of the Robson Reading Series, 800 Robson Street (between Hornby and Howe, down the stairs from the Art Gallery). Monday, November 6, 7pm. Info: rsquare@interchange.ubc.ca or 604 822 6453

Edmonton AB: rob mclennan features at the monthly Olive Reading Series, Martini's Bar & Grill, 9910 109 Street. Tuesday, November 14, 7pm. Open mic to follow, & a chapbook (distributed free) of each featured reader made for events. Info: tcowan@ualberta.ca

Edmonton AB: rob mclennan will be reading a combination of fiction and the long poem avalanche (a different reading than the night before) at the University of Alberta (HC L-3). Wednesday, November 15, 3:30pm. Info: Thomas Wharton at thomas.wharton@ualberta.ca

Calgary AB: rob mclennan reads with Douglas Barbour (Edmonton) at the Oolong Tea House, #110 10th Street NW (Kensington). Thursday, November 16, 6:30pm. Hosted by Jordan Nail and dANDelion magazine. Info: innocuous@shaw.ca

Winnipeg MB (NOTE THAT THIS EVENT HAS MOVED A DAY EARLIER FROM NOVEMBER 22ND TO NOVEMBER 21ST): rob mclennan reads with Winnipeg poets Karen Clavelle and Ariel Gordon at Aqua Books, 89 Princess Street. Tuesday, November 21, 7:30pm. Info: (204) 943 7555 (bookstore) or A. Gordon at janeday@mts.net

Ariel Gordon is a Winnipeg-based poet and editor. Recent projects include a collaboration with new music composer David Raphael Scott called Tranquility and Order that had its premiere simultaneously in Westminster United Church as a part of WSO's 2006 New Music Festival and via the airwaves as part of CBC Radio's Two New Hours. Palimpsest Press will publish a chapbook of Ariel's poetry in 2007. Karen Clavelle is a literary writer, poet, and publisher (Atelier 78), who spends part of every summer taking in equal parts of the prairie sun, wind, rain, grasshoppers, and the odd honey bee from Manitoba to Montana, on the back of a big black motorcycle. In addition to writing critical articles on prairie writers and a monograph on Dennis Cooley, she has written two long poems and several chapbooks (pachyderm press). With Atelier 78, she produced and published Three Days in Spain (2005), a small anthology of international writer's work. She is the producer of The Archaeology of Water (2004), a print project that brings together five prairie poets and two print-makers. Karen recently completed her PhD dissertation on the garden in prairie literature at the University of Manitoba where she presently teaches courses in Prairie and English Literature. In addition, she is working on an archival project; a collection of Mother Goose letters found in a tin box retrieved from an old granary; collaborating on a blind print project with print-maker Gordon Trick; and, from time to time, producing hand-made books. A new chapbook of her poetry is perpetually forthcoming with above/ground press.

Toronto ON: I still haven't figured out Toronto. I think I arrive late on Friday, November 24. Any suggestions? Or should I just hang out with Andy Weaver and have a drink or two?

Friday, October 27, 2006

Ottawa X-Press interview with rob mclennan on Chaudiere Books by Matthew Firth

Yesterday, the Ottawa X-Press ran a (slightly) shorter version of this interview Matthew Firth did with me a week or so ago on that Chaudiere Books Jennifer Mulligan & I have started, conducted to coincide with our first launch last night at the National Library & Archives [see Amanda Earl's report of such here]. The X-Press version (with the most fantastic photograph I've ever seen of me; I usually hate photos of myself) exists here, & now the unabridged version (with many thanks to Firth):

Matthew Firth: Where's the name come from?

rob mclennan: The name comes from the waterfalls and rapids on the Ottawa River just west of the downtown core. The falls themselves, where Samuel de Champlain would have first seen them in 1613, sit where the Booth Street bridge passes from the western end of Centretown into Gatineau, crossing the Ottawa River (also known as the Gatineau, or the Grand River), very close to where Chinatown meets Little Italy in Ottawa, and very close to Pubwells Restaurant, where most of the Chaudiere Books schemes were first imagined and dreamed up. A number of the Confederation Poets of the late 1800s and early 1900s lived and worked in the city for various government departments, and it held like a bad joke that, if you hadn’t written a poem on the Chaudiere Falls or Rapids, you weren’t really an Ottawa poet. What we really liked was the link between history, literary history and geography that the name gave us; you can't confuse who we are or where we are from the name. It places us, secure in the Capital Region.

MF: What does Chaudiere Books bring to the Ottawa literary scene?

rm: Hopefully, Chaudiere Books brings years of experience, for one thing. Our aim is for a high quality series of poetry, fiction and eventual non-fiction titles, including, at some point down the road, non-fiction works on Ottawa, the Pontiac area of Quebec (where Jennifer Mulligan is from) and Glengarry County in eastern Ontario (where I hail from). Hopefully, what we are able to bring is a more coherent sense of the literary scene here to locals and otherwise; there is an impressive amount of work being done here by dozens of writers, although looking at the books section of The Ottawa Citizen, it would be impossible to know.

MF: Why should Ottawa readers read Chaudiere Books books?

rm: Why should anyone read anything? We're producing high quality books. I think we should at least be considered, whether or not anyone should actually read the books. If any reader is a fan of poetry and fiction, I want to be creating books that people would want to read, not should. We aren't producing medicine; isn't that the 1980s version of Canadian Literature, that you should read it because it's good for you?

MF: Why does local matter?

rm: Arguably, everywhere matters; the problem with Ottawa that we're trying to correct is that local almost always gets overrun for the sake of national, simply because we're the National Capital. Local doesn’t matter any more than any other place, but historically, Ottawa has always overlooked its own local. We simply want to help give voice and acknowledgment to the work being done right under our noses. Somehow, Ottawa is the only city that really dismisses its own creation, whether through lack of media attention or sheer, simple apathy; nothing ever happens here, they say, so no one bothers to look. I would like to alter that, whether or not I ever fully understand it.

MF: Give me 20-25 key words on each book.

rm: Clare Latremouille's The Desmond Road Book of the Dead is pretty much our lead title. Wonderfully lyric, Latremouille has been working on this novel for a decade and a half, and works through three generations of women in the most heartbreaking prose. Meghan Jackson's poetry collection movement in jars is a series of fine moments shaped like glass. Monty Reid's Disappointment Island, his first collection since he moved to Ottawa from Alberta, works the long line and the long idea better than most, and he is easily one of the best working poets in the country today. Decalogue: Ten Ottawa Poets, features the work of Stephen Brockwell, Michelle Desbarats, Anita Dolman, Anne Le Dressay, Karen Massey, Una McDonnell, rob mclennan, Max Middle, Monty Reid and Shane Rhodes. I'm already working on a fiction version for the spring. If both books do well enough, I'd like to be able to do another of each, ten more Ottawa poets and ten more Ottawa fiction writers, just to let locals and otherwise know the amount of work that's been going on here for years.

MF: What's the plan for the press? Will it stay focused on Ottawa or branch out?

rm: I think to focus on local to the exclusion of all other things would be simply the same problem we're trying to correct, but in the other direction. Meghan Jackson isn’t an Ottawa writer, but one who lives in the Toronto area; I just happen to have been publishing her work through above/ground press for over a decade. The second season includes a new and selected poems by Saskatchewan poet Andrew Suknaski, who has only visited Ottawa once (that I'm aware of), and that was the year I was born. I like the idea of really working what we publish by Ottawa writers and what we publish by non-Ottawa writers working into each other's contexts; perhaps through the Suknaski book selling in the prairies, some other titles might be brought west with him. Perhaps some folk here who wouldn’t have known his work will notice, because we're publishing him. Regionalism by itself is an interesting and even an inevitable thing, but unless someone else is out there connecting the regions, the whole enterprise becomes rather pointless.

What I would like to be able to do is to publish a book of fiction every season, and work up to a book of non-fiction every season as well, but, like all publishing ventures, it depends completely on what works are out there, and what I can find.

MF: How does this affect your work with above/ground press?

rm: I consider this separate from my work with above/ground, as much as I consider it an extension of the same work. I've known many of the writers included in the first season of Chaudiere Books for years, and have certain advantages through doing years of editorial through above/ground press, as well as the various editorial projects through Insomniac Press, Broken Jaw Press, Vehicule Press, Black Moss Press and Guernica Editions, not to mention Poetics.ca and ottawater, that other editors in start-up projects obviously wouldn’t have. It's been thirteen years so far of making chapbooks for my own amusement, and I don’t really see that changing; they're two different beasts. I'm editing an issue of the critical journal Open Letter, but I don’t see that conflicting with the work I've done so far with Poetics.ca; they can only add to each other and feed each other. Everything I seem to do, so far, manages somehow to connect with just about everything else.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Ongoing notes: ottawa small press book fair, October, 2006

Did you see that Max Middle has a blog now? Or the poem of mine on the Murderous Signs website, that appeared in the spring issue of his magazine? A poem written after a bowling game with Nathaniel G. Moore, Jon Paul Fiorentino, Jennifer Mulligan & Kristy McKay after one of the previous book fairs [see my note on such here, with bowling scores]. Or them "gifts" poems of mine up at Jacket? Currently putting final touches on my fall tour (full info soon), spending November doing readings in Prince George (with Stephen Brockwell), Vancouver (with Brockwell), Edmonton, Calgary (with Douglas Barbour), Winnipeg (with Ariel Gordon & Karen Clavelle; & staying to do research on Andrew Suknaski) & maybe Toronto, if I can find anything (If I can't find a venue, I might just float through without reading to have a drink & visit with Andy Weaver). Did you know that Dusty Owl just published a little chapbook of mine? The Chaudiere Books website is finally up; the blog is already there, but you know that. And then there's the launch we have on Thursday…

The small press fair here went well enough [see Amanda Earl's note], unfortunately I can't go to the Toronto one this time around, or this one in Hamilton, or Canzine this coming weekend, but that's okay. Hopefully someone making things for those will be nice enough to send things back to me in the mail (hint, hint). Here are a couple of things I picked up at this fall's ottawa fair:

Buschek Books, Ottawa: One thing I picked up from him was Christine Wiesenthal's Instruments of Surrender (2001). I know it's a few years old, but I know I know her name from somewhere. A graceful first poetry collection, I'm wondering if perhaps she's published something more recently since? I would certainly like to see more of what she has been doing; much of this feels connected to the point of being a single unit, whether suite or sequence, each poem merging slowly into the others. "There is no place like Saskatchewan," she writes, and I would believe it, where you can hear (to mis-quote Peter van Toorn) and see the poem in the thing for miles.

precious & inconvenient, the ragged dead

reappear out of the blue:

streaming eyes & hair &
tracking grave mud

they confront me in my kitchen
as ii peel the last unsuspecting
potato, or idle in my car
at uncontrolled intersections

sometimes they come with a stray
aroma of tobacco sawdust mildew
or caraway

a sharp surprise that sucks
the whole breath from my lips &
the cartilage from my knees

that undermines the arches of my feet,
the business of the day

but when the ragged reappear
really, there is nothing you can do

hail them with as many
flustered greetings as you will

mine never answer me & mine,
they never come clean

Don't forget the launch he has on Friday…

Artsy Type, Ottawa: Artist, fiction writer and former Concordia University creative writing student Tina-Frances Trineer has been producing more chapbooks of her own short fiction, as well as the anthology Fledgelings, with a piece by Ian Roy ("The Skull Collectors of Formosa"), myself ("Missing Persons (an excerpt)")(longer than most excerpts seen so far) and herself ("One of Those River Cats"). Part of what is entertaining about this collection is the fact that all three pieces are wildly different in scope and form, while their main characters are all roughly between the age of twelve and fifteen. As the back cover reads, "A good boy with a secret, a bad girl by the river, and a fish out of water." It probably couldn’t have been planned better if someone tried.

The scene slowly comes into focus. We see the boy stumble out of the theatre, looking like a miner after a twelve hour shift: blinking, surprised at the sunlight. He rubs at his eyes with his small fists and looks around. The other movie-goers emerge from the theatre and thin out across the sidewalk and street. A few of them linger long enough to light cigarettes, and begin discussing the movie. The woman in the booth is reading a paperback novel. She does not look up, but nods her head in his direction, acknowledging him there. She then turns the page of her book, and continues reading.

Down, and to the boy's left, we see his sister. He notices her now, as well. Joan is sitting on the sidewalk with her back against the wall, still in her Sunday dress, her white shoes. And she is throwing stones into the street, aiming for the sewer grate by the curb. Colin stands there, watching her. Soon, they are the only ones left on the sidewalk. Joan rises, brushes herself off. She looks at him and smiles mischievously.

"I saw you do it." (Ian Roy)
According to the back of the collection, "Artsy Type welcomes both established and emerging writers to submit fiction for us for possible publication in our upcoming chapbooks and/or collections. We're hoping to work with local writers, but would be happy to consider the work of other Canadians as well." For information on how to get a copy of this or any other of her small publications, email her at artsytypepress@yahoo.ca

Dusty Owl Quarterly, Ottawa: I've said for years, that they might not run the best reading series in town, but it's certainly the most fun. The new issue of their literary zine, The Dusty Owl Quarterly, vol. 2, issue 4 (September 2006) doesn't have much inside it; do they need to start getting more work? With only the short story "Until The World Stops Spinning" by Sarah Frances, the poem "The Tide of a Fall from Grace" by Peter Gibbon, and a review of Jay MillAr's False Maps for Other Creatures by Ottawa ex-pat Jesse Ferguson, the issue is still entertaining, but smaller than I would have expected. Do they need more folk to send them more work?


The raindrops assault the parking lot pavement.
When they strike, they are washed away—
The puddles meld and meet and form
A single living organism
Then they all just wash everything away.

Everything away
Like some floodgates have opened.
Stops poets pens short—
They don't even bother anymore.
They all just sit around
As if there's nothing important left to write about.
It's apathetic gesture
These post-Christian, post-punk rockers
These doubters
Clichés and wordplays,
Rhyme or rant,
It doesn’t really matter anymore,
They're just wasting space.

They're just wasting space.
And I'm just dissolving in this rain,
With a broken umbrella
Unable to withstand the tide
Of a fall from grace.

Puddle leaflets, Ottawa: Max Middle is still publishing these one-page handouts of visuals. You should try to get a copy.

40 Watt Spotlight, Ottawa: My neighbour, Adam Thomlison, has been producing strange bits of fiction for some time now, from his short story collection We Were Writers for Disastrous Love Affairs Magazine that came out a little while back, or his newest small (tiny) collection, the last thumbnail picture show (2006). One of the things Thomlison has going for him, is that he's got some of the best titles around, right up there with Ottawa ex-pat writer Grant Shipway, back when Matthew Firth published his fiction chapbook It Runs Around The Room With Me (Black Bile, 1996). The stories in the last thumbnail picture show have titles like "Ignoramus. (that's French for regret)," "Chuck Jones-Animated Travel Stickers on the Soul" and "Brief Notes on the Pleasant Aesthetic Nature of Shame." And they're short enough to include here in full:
Brief Notes on the Pleasant Aesthetic Nature of Shame.

Beautiful thing, this shame.

It's what sets us apart from the animals, you know. People can run off about their opposable thumbs and their self-awareness and what have you, but that's all theory. What's a fact is that humans are the only creatures on this green earth who've ever thought to do something knowing every step of the way that they'd regret it, and then immediately go about making good on that prediction. It's a subdividing of the mind, where one half of you says, "Only a sick bastard would do this" while the other half says "I'm gonna do this!"

The ability to disgust oneself is man's one great achievement.

The opposable thumbs: great. They're there to let us act on our shameful impulses.

The self-awareness: better. Lets us know where to dump the blame.

But this shame, man, is beautiful.
You can find out more about him and his stories by emailing him mail@40wattspotlight.com at or his website at www@40wattspotlight.com

Thursday, October 19, 2006

c/o 858 Somerset Street West, main floor, Ottawa Ontario K1R 6R7

Chaudiere Books (rob mclennan & Jennifer Mulligan) & the ottawa international writers festival invite you to the launch of three of the first four Chaudiere Books titles on Thursday, October 26, 2006, 7pm at the National Library & Archives Building, 395 Wellington Street, Ottawa as organized by the ottawa international writers festival. A free event, lovingly hosted by Chaudiere Books editor/publisher rob mclennan. We will be launching Ottawa writer Clare Latremouille's first novel The Desmond Road Book of the Dead, Toronto-area Meghan Jackson's first poetry collection movements in jars, and former Alberta poet Monty Reid's first Ottawa poetry collection Disappointment Island.

On Clare Latremouille's The Desmond Road Book of the Dead:

In Clare Latremouille's debut novel, The Desmond Road Book of the Dead, she writes a story through the lives of multiple generations of women in a family line. Moving seamless through a lyric of decades, blood and voices, Latremouille works her story through a collage of prose and poetry to their compounded end, and her authorial voice is fierce, lyrical and impassioned. Once you step inside the doors of her house, it becomes impossible to leave.

On Monty Reid's Disappointment Island:

Since Alberta poet Monty Reid moved from badlands Alberta (Drumheller) to badlands Quebec (Aylmer) in April 1999, he has barely published at all, with his last trade collection Flat Side (Red Deer Press) appearing the fall before. Now that he has moved directly into the City of Ottawa, he gives us his Disappointment Island, made up of a sequence of sequences, including some that have previously appeared in editions by BookThug and above/ground press. Monty Reid takes the best of a small idea and stretches it, moving from poems that are short, individual, and even quick, and that resonate through simple information, in that way that feels almost Creeley-esque, to the extension of an idea pulled gracefully across the page. The winner of the Stephan G. Stephansson Award for Poetry three times and a three-time Governor General's Award nominee, these may poems hold the weight of the emotional world on their shoulders, referencing bluegrass, the Gulf Islands and Cuba, as well as friends and lovers, and they never disappoint.

On Meghan Jackson's movements in jars:

Meghan Jackson's poems are a series of studies of small moments, like figures of fine glass. Formerly publishing quietly under the name meghan lynch, her movements in jars is a work honed and steeled over an extended period of time, and one that many of her readers have been waiting on with bated breath. Her poems are the alabaster that capture without destroying and explore and display without diminishing; hers is a sacred, scrying art.

for more information on the launch, call the ottawa international writers festival office at (613) 562 1243 or check out their website at www.writersfest.com ; for more information on the press, check out the Chaudiere Books blog (official website to be posted very soon), or email rob mclennan at az421@freenet.carleton.ca or Jennifer Mulligan at jennifermulligan@sympatico.ca

Later in the fall, we will be launching the first in hopefully of a short series of anthologies of work by Ottawa area writers, the anthology Decalogue: ten Ottawa poets, featuring the work of Stephen Brockwell, Michelle Desbarats, Anita Dolman, Anne Le Dressay, Karen Massey, Una McDonnell, rob mclennan, Max Middle, Monty Reid and Shane Rhodes.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Governor General's Literary Award, shortlist

If you've been paying attention at all, you probably noticed the shortlist out two days ago, here at the Canada Council website; fourteen categories, two languages, including:

fiction, English:
Peter Behrens (Brooklin Maine, formerly of Montreal), The Law of Dreams
Trevor Cole
(Hamilton ON), The Fearsome Particles
Bill Gaston
(Victoria BC), Gargoyles
Paul Glennon (Ottawa ON), The Dodecahedron, or A Frame for Frames
Rawi Hage
(Montreal QC), De Niro's Game

poetry, English:
Ken Babstock (Toronto ON), Airstream Land Yacht
Elizabeth Bachinsky (Maple Ridge BC), Home of Sudden Service
Dionne Brand
(Toronto ON), Inventory
John Pass (Madeira Park BC), Stumbling in the Bloom
Sharon Thesen
(Lake Country BC), The Good Bacteria

The rest can be found here. The thing about lists such as these, everybody has an opinion, and everybody has a version of what their lists would have been (I won't offer what I would have put on or left off of my version; what are they missing? Tons). But predictions? I know Cole has been up for it before, which probably gives him an advantage of sorts, but I really hope it goes to Bill Gaston (what little I've read/heard is fantastic). Failing that, Paul Glennon, simply because it is a brilliant book (as is the Gaston, but there you go). I have no idea about the other fiction writers; but isn't this list a little more short fiction heavy than it usually is?

Poetry? John Pass has been up for it before, Elizabeth Bachinsky's book I really liked [although I preferred her first book; see my review of such here], but I think it should go to Sharon Thesen; this current book doesn’t do for me what her other work has, but she's more than earned it for everything else before. Is that a reasoning? I have no idea. And isn't this one of the few poetry lists over the past bunch of years that doesn’t include a title or two or three from Brick Books? What happened there? Is Anansi slowly taking over the shortlist?

The winners read in Ottawa on December 14th (unfortunately, the same day of the launch of our fourth Chaudiere Books title).

But still. I've been too busy focusing on pho lately (Vietnamese soup). Phocusing on pho, in that little place across the street from my apartment. Do you know it?

Monday, October 16, 2006

Matthew Zapruder's The Pajamaist


By Canada I have always been fascinated.
All that snow and acquiescing.
All that emptiness, all those butterflies
marshaled into an army of peace.
Moving north away from me
Canada has no border, away
like the state its northern border
withers into the skydome. In a world
full of mistrust and self-medication
I have always hated Canada.
It makes me feel like I'm shouting
at a child for letting a handful
of pine needles run through his fist.
Canada gets along with everyone
while I hang, a dark cloud
above the schoolyard. I know
we need war, all the skirmishes
to keep our borders where
we have placed them, all
the migration, all the difference.
Just like Canada the Dalai Lama
is now in Canada, and everyone
is fascinated. When they come
to visit me, no one ever leaves me
saying, the most touching thing
about him is he's so human.
Or, I was really glad to hear
so many positive ideas regardless
of the consequences expressed.
Or I could drink a case of you.
No one has ever pedaled
every inch of thousands of roads
through me to raise awareness
for my struggle for autonomy.
I have pity but no respect for others,
which is not compassion, just ordinary
love based on attitudes toward myself.
I wonder how long I can endure.
In Canada the leaves are falling.
When they do each one rustles
maybe to the white-tailed deer
of sadness, and it's clear
that whole country does not exist
to make me feel crappy
like a candelabra hanging
above the prison world,
condemned to freely glow.

Another part of the infamous "poetry bus" that came through Ottawa a few weeks ago was Brooklyn poet and Wave Books editor Matthew Zapruder, with his second poetry collection, The Pajamaist (Port Townsend WA: Copper Canyon Press, 2006). The author of one previous collection, American Linden (Tupelo Press, 2002), he also co-translated the Romanian poet Eugen Jebeleanu's final collection, Secret Weapon (Coffee House Press, 2007). Obviously his "Canada" poem was one of the first that struck me in this collection [see my note here on the poetry of New York poet Lisa Jarnot, where I quoted hers; should someone here put together a collection of poems about Canada by non-Canadians, perhaps?], but there were many places where I was also struck. The moments that Zapruder strings together are small but carry enormous weight, and work against each other in the most intricate arrays of beadwork; craft here is everything, and it’s the human moments that bring these poems up to that kind of radiant clarity that is so often sought, but so easily, and otherwise missed. In the middle of the collection, for example, is the impressive series "Twenty Poems for Noelle," writing his own suite of post-September 11, 2001 New York City poems, where he begins:

Noelle, somewhere in an apartment
symphony number two
listens to you breathing.
Broken glass in the street.
What was once unglowing glows.
Through tiny holes the page
exhales, fire escape white in the sun,
and vaguely parasitic
cramped in the courtyard
endlessly undulate the leaves.
Silos preside over thousands of miles.
Tiny puffs move the flags.
The child of the happiest woman
died and who will save us?
It's good to end something never begun,
but the question always is. Static
in the trees. People in their clothes.
Empty tables facing the street
in open verandas, wait for beautiful
women, they always come.

I'm impressed with the strength of Zapruder's poems, and wonder just how strong he might be by the end of this poetry bus tour, one of the few to be going the whole fifty-one days of it, from coast to American coast and points-in-between (including their few Canadian dates). Will there be new poems from him and others as a result of the tour? After fifty-one daily readings in different towns, will there be anything left of Matthew Zapruder?

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Grave of Light: New and Selected Poems 1970-2005, Alice Notley


The world, all that live & all that occur
Within it, being the one organism
A monstrous life-death living not-dying
Caving-in upthrusting all over it-
Self like pits & mountains forever thing―
I was despairing one
Grey day a week ago
Cold, we having fought he
Having thrown on the floor say 3 large books
The way the Weather Angel was throwing
Just a handful or 2 of hard, tight rain
Out that morning: so thinking
About that organism, I disappeared
Into it ― And I brought him, who is you,
A placatory copy
Of the biography of, as it turned
Out, poor Vivien Leigh.
Today, the weather exactly similar
And I again different, my tiny
Lights in a December tree and
Fingers happily black touching the pearl sky
A man crosses Avenue A
Customarily not thinking about the Universe


A lot has happened for second generation New York school poet Alice Notley over the past two years, from the publication of her late husband's The Collected Poems of Ted Berrigan (Berkeley CA: The University of California Press, 2005) [see my review of such here], edited by Notley, and their two children together (also poets), Anselm Berrigan and Edmund Berrigan, to her book of essays, Coming After, Essays on Poetry (Ann Arbor MI: The University of Michigan Press, 2005), and the publication of her own nearly four hundred page Grave of Light: New and Selected Poems 1970-2005 (Middletown CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2006). Over the years, Notley has published over thirty collections, including For Frank O'Hara's Birthday (1976), When I Was Alive (1980), How Spring Comes (1981), Margaret & Dusty (1985), The Descent of Alette (1996) and Iphigenia (2002), as well as a previous selected poems, the straightforward-titled Selected Poems of Alice Notley (1993). Starting with a page-length author's note, I'm disappointed the collection doesn’t include a larger introduction to place her work in a context; I know it's been said before that the New York poets, second generation especially, were famous for not writing on themselves or each other, but it would be good for any reader of Alice Notley to have a kind of entry point. It is interesting, though, that she worked opposite to how she and her sons choose to build Berrigan's own Collected Books, writing:
My publishing history is awkward and untidy, though colorful and even beautiful. A number of smallish books and chapbooks came out in the early years which didn’t find their way into subsequent, dignified "collections." I found, when I began to edit this selection, that organizing the texts according to my "books," and interspersing previously unpublished poems, would entail an apparatus of titles and title-pages making for a choppy reading experience.

On the other hand, I've explored sequential and long poems since I first began writing: as chapbook-length and book-length entity, as epic poem, and as quasi-autobiography. Increasingly, the long and/or serial form has become how I write. Such works cannot be represented without overall titles.

Thus, when I decided to present Grave of Light in chronological order, I dismantled previous collections to present poems by the year in which they were written, but kept poems from sequences together since they were written at the same time. Unpublished poems also appear chronologically. The larger headings in Grave of Light are meant to designate sequences or long poems. The years printed at the bottoms of poems or extracts from sequences are the years of composition not of first publication. The book now tells its own story.
The first time I'd heard of Alice Notley was in 2001, when I was reading at the University of Maine in Orono; they were still talking about her reading there two weeks earlier from her collection Disobedience (New York NY: Penguin, 2001), which later won the international contingent of the Griffin Poetry Prize, the same year Christian Bök won the Canadian prize for his Eunoia (2001). At Ken Norris' insistence, I picked it up as soon as I got home. Starting with her later work, it gave me as a reader a difficult place to enter; how does one enter such a dense and deliberately askew work? As critic Jed Rasula writes of Notley's Disobedience in his "Experiment as a Claim of the Book: Twenty Different Fruits on One Different Tree" in his Syncopations: the stress of innovation in recent American poetry (Tuscaloosa Alabama: The University of Alabama Press, 2004):
Disobedience by Alice Notley (2001). As Notley enthuses in "Homer's Art," "What a service to poetry it might be to steal story away from the novel & give it back to rhythm & sound, give it back to the line" (402). That's just what she managed to do in the long poem The Descent of Alette (1996), with its oneiric heraldry and unique application of quotation marks as prosodic cues. The venturesome sense of theft Notley claims for story is more audaciously pursued in Disobedience, which establishes a precarious reciprocity between the continuum of a dream life and the cultural displacement of the author's relocation to Paris. The mediumistic labor of culling dreams is exercised here on a scale to rival Yeats' séances. Notley deftly enfolds her oneiric prima materia in an idiom dispensing with all traces of reportage; the dreams here assume the dimensionality of historical events, numinous provocations endured in a spirit of whimsical desperation. The casual daybook notational style sustains a multilateral ventilation, so that memory, fantasy, imagist observation, political rage, and psychological disarray easily cohabit the same space, and the amor fati one associates with dreams leaks out into the circumambient medium of the real world, with all its desperations and elations intact.
The joy of going through any writer's work is finding that entry point that makes the rest of it come into focus—over a decade ago, it was Toronto poet David W. McFadden's The Art of Darkness (Toronto ON: McClelland & Stewart, 1984) that made everything of his suddenly make sense to me (it remains one of his strongest collections). Going through the selected poems of Alice Notley, it has to be the poems in her selected from Mysteries of Small Houses (New York NY: Penguin, 1998), which was also a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. In some of the strongest pieces I've read in a very long time, these pieces reference herself as a widow, and conversations with the late Ted Berrigan, including the line "How many of you sexist feminists think I'm only part of him / part of him?" (p 243). The poems from this particular collection show an interesting process of re-affirming one's own identity through not only the mess of loss itself, and what that means, but existing at all.


Sings in the gullies
To all you go without is added more as the years
Youth's face health certain friends then more and
so to get poorer
life's arrow ― tapers thinner sharper

She always sang there to purify
not the desert always pure
but me of my corrupt furor
So losing more further along in this dream of
firstrate firmament fireworks ―
consigned to roam above brown dirt occasional
maxilla, and be shaped badly ―
twisted internally: join her truly

She's I

She should be

the shape of a life is impoverishment ― what
can that mean
except that loss is both beauty and knowledge ―
has no face no eyes for
seasons of future delivery ― rake the dirt
like Mrs. Miller used to
down at the corner had a desert yard and raked her dirt.

Beginning in poverty as a baby there is nothing
for one but another's food and warmth
should there ever be more
than a sort of leaning against and trust a food for
another from out of one ― that would be
poverty ― we're taught not to count on
anyone, to be rich,
youthful, empowered
but now I seem to know that the same of a self is poverty
that the pronoun I means such and that starting so
poorly, I can live


There is certainly much to go through in the works of Alice Notley, and like any good selected, it gives a sense of her work as a whole, and often as teaser into a larger project (as well a number of unpublished and/or uncollected pieces in-between her published collections); this book makes me want to pick up further of her collections, just to see where else she has gone. Writing of some of her later work in the epic in her essay "The 'Feminine' Epic" in Coming After, Essays on Poetry, specifically her book-length poem The Descent of Alette, Notley writes:
I began to move towards the epic first out of a sense of the twentieth-century "Big Poem." I'd become interested in Olson again, mostly in terms of his geologic-mythological connection. The earth has a past, and present, formed in rupture by godlike forces. And his presentation of pieces, beauty of fragmentary past, and present, as reflected in the look and feel of Maximus. But I started to be intrigued by the possibility of telling a continuous story, not in the manner of Olson, Pound, Williams, but more in the manner of Dante or Homer. Because it seemed so difficult; and I already knew how to negotiate pieces. So many people in this century seem to.
It was the discovery of this measure that made writing The Descent of Alette possible—that and finding a way for a woman to act, to commit actions, enact a story, that suited the genre of epic. With regard to the measure part, I don’t think you can write a real epic (as opposed to the twentieth-century Big Poem) without some, even a lot of, regularity of line. I wanted something regular, but also catchy—not some prosy long-line spinoff of the what-had-come-before; I'm afraid I wanted something all my own. As I worked on the first part of Alette, the line of the previous two poems evolved into something I could depend on, not think about, have to invent
while I was inventing the story. I needed more freedom to tell the story than a
constantly changing metrics would allow me. Thus I arrived at, and stuck with, a
four-line stanza, each line of which consists usually of three to four phrases:

"A man" "in a suit" "in the first car the" "front car of the train—"
"This older" "distinguished man" "asked me to" "ride with him"
"join him" "I declined &" "moved back" "far back, I" "joined a
car" "that contained" "women &" "girl children" "women in skirts"

"girls in dresses"
I find it interesting, too, the poet as the widow of another poet and the mother of two more, and how the works of the four writers interrelate, if at all. In "Cubism, the Blues, Visions: A Conversation," conducted between Alice Notley and her son, the poet Edmund Berrigan (Fence magazine, Volume 6, No. 2, fall/winter 2003-2004), Notley begins:
Alice Notley: Why do you write poems?

Edmund Berrigan: My immediate reaction to this question is that I don’t know, which I am sort of proud of. Which is to say that I've accepted writing as part of my life now, something that will always be there. My writing has always been a place for me to explore inarticulable ideas. The words are symbols or images, and whatever happens happens around them, as I look at them or hear them. The variety of ways to use those symbols, including extracting an actual representation of something, or
distilling vocal trends, or taking both and misusing them, offers up many possible informations. The music that I hear from poems is (mostly) inaudible (though not conceptual), and the possibility from that resonates with everything else that occurs in my life, while I choose to accept it as such. After wandering down that road a bit, the "Why?" question disappears or turns into "How?"

So I'll ask, how does history affect your responsibilities as a poet? Do you feel responsible to poetic traditions, or to the current political/social/intellectual climates, or to your own immediate individual concerns? Something else?

AN: My first responsibility is to that mostly inaudible music you speak of. I listen for it and listen to what it tells me. Sometimes it sounds like me but at its most interesting it seems to go beyond my sound so far (that is, at any point). It is not responsible to poetic traditions or to history or to current political/intellectual climates, etc.; it is, however, responsible to, or embodying of, something like justice and something like love. It therefore talks to present situations and present people. It loves and despises poetic traditions, which it exists partly because of.
One thing I found particularly interesting was this poem, "The Ten Best Issues of Comic Books," making me wonder what her current list might be. The best part of this list, knowing I have almost every issue. This is obviously a writer engaged with the world on an impressive level, working classical references beside references to Marvel Comics, leaving the artificial boundaries between high and low art completely alone; one could easily spend months going through this collection, always picking up something new. Still, It makes me wonder, what does she think of what they've done to the X-Men since? What does she think of Josh Whedon's run? What does she think of the current Marvel Comics Civil War?


1. X-Men #141 & #142

2. Defenders #125

3. Phoenix: The Untold Story

4. What if…? #31

5. New Mutants #1

6. New Mutants #2

7. Micronauts #58

8. Marvel Universe #5

9. New Mutants #14

10. Secret Wars #1

Friday, October 13, 2006

fragment (montreal)

a tour of endless lakes,
as north as the hill

a battle of collegiate will,
as north as the mountain

sedition of ste catharines west,
as north as the tower

an entrance of the third bed,
as north as the cross

fighting gravity, then some
the whole range of the field

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Ongoing notes: suddenly October, 2006

Thanksgiving; Mulligan & I went over to Sunday dinner at Clare Latremouille's house, even though Clare & I were barely able to keep ourselves awake (see also: post-festival). A spectacular meal & company but an early evening. Will I see you at my Montreal reading this week? Have you signed up for the book fair? Will I see you at all of those other events? I keep finding dead mice in my apartment; they come into my apartment to die. How am I supposed to feel about that? I need something new to listen to. & did you see Amanda Earl's last words on this fall's ottawa international writers festival? Or that fractions of my novel-in-perpetual-progress "Missing Persons" [see a fragment of it here] is forthcoming in a small press book fair publication by Tina Trineer?

Victoria BC: It's good to see Jason Dewinetz' greenboathouse books producing lovely limited-edition chapbooks again, with the three-story collection Those Girls by Jessica Westhead (the press has produced fiction chapbooks before, including one by Ottawa-born Victoria writer Sara Cassidy that even went into multiple printings…). Made up of the stories "Bev's Chick," "Those Girls" and "Some Wife," the three stories tell the stories of the collisions between relationships, told predominantly through dialogue, and manage to highlight both the small and large moments concurrently, of what is and isn't important, but feels essential at the time.
"Pete," Bev says to me the next day, "you ever meet a woman you could talk to?"

"No," I say.

"Well, I'll tell you, it's a thing." And he pats Marilyn on her knee, which you can't see because it's covered by this big sweater she's wearing, with a cat on it.

Marilyn says, "Ah-choo," and we all look over. Then she sneezes.

Marilyn says her sneezes before she does them.

"You guys want to hear how we met?" says Bev.

"Sure," we all say.

"You want the rest of your fries?" Marilyn says to Bev.

"They're yours," he says to her, and slides them over.

Stuggy looks up from his Rib Feast.

"I saw her in the coffee shop," Bev says to us. "I had a coffee and she had a coffee and I walk over and go, 'That's funny – we both have coffee.' And what did you say?" he says to Marilyn.

"I said, 'It's a coffee shop,'" she says, with Bev's fries in her mouth.

Bev shakes his head. "The sense of humour on her. You should see it."
With characters that feel in their teens, Westhead does have a talent for getting inside a teenager's head, and bringing it out in dialogue, of those mundanities and teenage essentials. What would have been nice in this collection, though, would have been a biography for the author; all I know from this collection is that two of the stories appeared previously in Geist and Matrix. What else has she done? Where else has she published? What else has Westhead done?

Sarnia ON: She was here for only a few days, but last year's John Newlove Poetry Award winner Melissa Upfold was here long enough to launch her first chapbook (the result of the prize) welcome to beautiful san ria (Ottawa ON: The John Newlove Poetry Award Chapbook Series / A Bywords Publication, 2006) and her poetry journal VARIATIONS VOL IV: DIAGRAMS. The author of more blogs than anyone should have (blame living up north, I suppose), Upfolds suggested that "san ria" is the name of the mythical alternate place to living in the inherent ugliness of Sarnia, Ontario. I like that she is, through everything else, writing and producing small strange publications; her writing has some interesting moments, but doesn’t feel quite "there" yet. I'm not worried; with the amount of work she's been putting into this over the past few years, it's just a matter of time.

After Everything Else

There is a sadness in lying next to you
in a rectangular space made to hoard

when the arch of your elbow and the shadow
of your face on pillow seem
so insufferably secluded.

The contour of torso an
impenetrable solid

unfastened from the duvet
but fixed securely to the frame.

Her VARIATIONS VOL IV: DIAGRAMS includes poems by Lily Plumptre, Adam Petrashek, Jesse Patrick Ferguson, Jordan Wilcox, Scott Moynes, Amanda Earl, Jamie Bradley and Theo Von Waldow. Published on individual cards, each has a painted/silkscreened image on the back of a printed poem.

Of plaid and earthtones

if brighton beach were a living room,
this would be it. two children play
pretend on the floor. the girl tells
the boy what to say; he says it and
she is glad. four people sit
on two chairs and one terribly proud
sofa made for three and seats two --
these must be the adults. the adults
allude to what one another must say:
they get ahead of themselves and have to
sit down, confused, because they are
already seated.

when children start to combine ideas
they use the word 'but' to indicate that
they are aware of everything but reality.
the adults just nod - bored of neil simon,
but too scared to say so. children are
scared of nothing yet, not even sex or death,
and will poke and prod until they learn. (adam petrashek)

To find out more, Upfolds has a blog for the little magazine here.

Exeter England: Apparently just down the road from Stride, is Shearsman Books, publisher of fine books and the journal Shearsman, now out with its double issue, "69 & 70" that arrived in my mailbox over the past week. Edited by Tony Frazer, the new issue includes poetry by Paul Batchelor, Linda Black, Richard Burns, Kelvin Corcoran, M.T.C. Cronin, Mark Goodwin, Anthony Hawley, Matthew Jarvis, myself, Valeria Melchioretto, Mary Michaels, Erin Moure, John Phillips, Anna Reckin, Elizabeth Robinson, Peter Robinson, Geoffrey Squires, Sasha Steenson and Janet Sutherland, along with an essay on Roy Fisher by Peter Makin, and translations of Pura López-Colomé by Jason Stumpf.

Hearth, rad, ing. The river'd risen.
Crusts of ice hang in the trees.

Hearth, rad, ing. In spring I won't stand
where I did in the autumn.

Hearth, rad, ing. Where the muskrat pulled
weed and shell to the water's surface.

Hearth, rad, ing. Frozen surface hanging
in the trees!

Where I was and am not, but I am standing.

Do you want a lesson from life? There is
none to be found in the cantigas.

Peorth, thorn, ur. There is none in the river.
Ice pans cling frozen in the trees. (Erin Moure, from "Snowfall")

One of my favourite pieces in the journal has to be Elizabeth Robinson's "from The Woman in White," but there's no way I could reproduce that here, so I'll give you instead a fragment of Kelvin Corcoran's "Basil Bunting and Dylan Thomas in Tehran"


When Thomas read for the Anglo-Iranian Society
Bunting was not in the audience, he would return
later that year and go about his own dubious business;
apparently the reading left Mrs. Suralyir shivering with delight.

Why do I pursue this coincidence where none exists?
Both me were entangled in the politics of oil for gain;
if our peers were so involved we would enjoy hating them,
how we would revel in such irrelevance.

Bunting was a spy: Thomas a drunk.
In Country Sleep (1952), the dark enfolding hills of song.
The Spoils (1951), the moment of knowing, free of itself.
Voices drawn from a well deeper than history.

In their great flood of the music of water of music
a chorus explodes; sing sing you reckless bastards,
sing your headfull of singing birds
winging it across the drinkless desert.

And here's one of Anthony Hawley's "P(r)etty Sonnets"


tired campfire
fired marshmallow
my luck done
dry done
felled timber
sage of sorrow
page will
hear it all fore you
bear it
forgive me now, i cannot run
walk around in circles
talk in squares

For information on submissions, subscriptions and/or other books they're responsible for, check out their website.

London ON: Thanks to blog kudos from critics Joanne Saul and Christl Verduyn through their essay in the new issue of Open Letter: A Canadian Journal of Writing and Theory, Twelfth Series, Number 9, Summer 2006. Called "Productive Parenthesis: Interviews and Dialogues from the Poetics & Public Culture in Canada Conference," it was the same conference at the University of Western Ontario held to honour Frank Davey and coincide with his retirement. I'd heard from poet Aurian Haller that someone had referenced me and my blog as part of the conference, but he couldn't for the life of him remember who (drove me nuts for months). As part of their piece "Creative Criticism: the 'Writer as Critic' in Canadian Literature" they included a nice credit at the end, writing:
A final example of the creative writer as critical essayist shares many of the qualities of the collections in the NeWest "Writer as Critic" series. A striking number of Canadian poetry blogs and/or websites present some of the same attributes of the essay writing discussed above. What is particularly exciting about these blogs or weblogs (journals that are available on the web) in the context of the writer as critic is their interactive nature, with their emphasis on links and linking; their focus on intertextuality; their focus on community; and the fact that they are public while being extraordinarily private — they are, in a sense, a collaborative diary. In a practical sense, the web offers writers, particularly poets, a place to publish poems, write articles, and share enthusiasm for the art form. The most important aspects of the web generally and of blogging more particularly are links (nothing has done quite as well before it) and a commitment to real engagement with an audience. The latter is an element that public intellectuals have perhaps talked about more than achieved. In his blog entry for Thursday, February 3, 2005 for example [wrong date, by the by], Canadian writer and editor rob mcclennan [note: their typo, not mine] makes reference to: Kristjana Gunnars, Phyllis Webb, West Coast Line, Robert Creeley, Cole Swensen, Bad Moon Books, Red Deer College Press, Fred Wah, and George Bowering (and those are only the ones with actual links). "Part of the joy of writing," mcclennan [there it is again] states, "is the surprise of where it ends of [why all the typos? should be "up"] taking me, whether a title or a reference taking me to another title, even as little as a poem in a journal." He concludes his entry by declaring "Writing, as an act of exploration and discovery. Don’t write what you know, George Bowering once said, write what you don’t know."
I originally started this as a huge THANK YOU to them for even paying attention, so hoping my niggling on typos don't offset; to read the rest of the essay, or anything else in the issue guest-edited by Jessica Schagerl, pick up a copy; for more information on this or further issues, check out their website.

Monday, October 09, 2006

aubade launches, Ottawa, etcetera

There are two upcoming opportunities for you to hear me read from my twelfth poetry collection aubade in Ottawa:

Friday, October 20: a mini-launch as part of "An Evening with David Cation and Friends" at Galerie la petite mort, 7:00 pm. David Cation provided the angel paintings that grace both the cover & insides. Short readings by rob mclennan, Nichole McGill & tba, music by David's son Brooks; link to event here; for more information, email the artist at d_cation200@yahoo.ca or Guy Berube, director la petite mort gallery at guy@lapetitemortgallery.com

(don't forget!) Saturday, October 21: the ottawa small press book fair

(don't forget!) Thursday, October 26: the Chaudiere Books launch

Monday, October 30: official launch of aubade, with Vancouver poet George Bowering, launching his new poetry collection Vermeer's Light: Poems 1996-2006 (Talonbooks). 7pm, National Library & Archives, hosted by Stephen Brockwell and organized through the ottawa international writers festival. [UNFORTUNATELY, THIS EVENT HAS BEEN POSTPONED]

& keep an eye on my forthcoming tour in November, with stops in Prince George, Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg + Toronto. In Ottawa, copies of aubade & Perth Flowers appear to be available at Collected Works.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

festival, day last (or, unidentifiable author remains & the true nature of guilt…)

Another year, another festival, and another long festival hangover, loaded up in my little apartment with dirty laundry and as much hotel soap as I could carry (I won't tell you what time I left the hospitality suite this morning, but I will tell you it was long after everyone else, after cleaning the room as much as I could, as the sun was just pushing up against the horizon…). As entertaining as the evening events were, there is something fun about spending the later part of every afternoon drinking beer and watching Star Trek in a hotel room, waiting for various authors to come by, whether starting up strange conversations or just watching cartoons, including Wayne Johnston, Ivan E. Coyote, Jon Paul Fiorentino, Bill Gaston and Kenneth J. Harvey, Stuart Ross or Dennis Bock [he and I were on the Via Rail Tour together, briefly...].

The Friday night readings were pretty entertaining, with Bill Gaston and Chris Robinson reading from their hockey books; it seemed strange, though, with one being predominantly about beer, and the other predominantly about former drinking. A strange pairing, but very interesting. It actually made me want to read both (and I'm not big on the sports, you know). Elizabeth Hay, when hosting Bill's reading the night before, called him a "national treasure," and I don't know if I would disagree. An extremely likeable man, and a very good writer. His new collection of short stories (that I couldn’t afford yet) includes this great story of his that I read in Granta magazine a year or two ago.

I missed the Writing Life #4 in favour of Transgress, hosted by Capital Xtra and James Moran, who used to run The TREE Reading Series, with readings by Matthew Firth, Marnie Woodrow (we have the same hair), Sky Gilbert and Ivan E. Coyote. It took real nerve to put Matthew Firth at the beginning of such an event, as his work and self have been called all sorts of unpleasant things; reading from his second collection of short stories, he read far too long for a first reader (well over twice his 15 minute allotment), but was extremely strong. As strong as the reading was, there are rumours already that parts of the crowd were turning against him; unfortunately, he did much of that to himself by reading too long. Marnie Woodrow, a strong writer reading from a third manuscript, hasn’t been part of the festival for years; it was good to hear and see her again, after meeting her during the Great Canadian Via Rail Tour sponsored by the ottawa international writers festival way back in 1998; someday I'll tell you about tackling her in a hotel bar in Saskatoon… And Vancouver writer/performer Ivan E. Coyote. If you ever get a chance to hear either Sky Gilbert or Coyote, do so; it would be one of the smartest things you could do. Magnificent readings, and the room was standing room only. A fantastic event (even if it did run over…).

In the hospitality suite, I spoke to a very well dressed man for about half an hour about divorces and children (we compared notes) and the relationships one works to have with one's children before I finally asked him, I know I've seen you on television; where would that have been? Oh, said author and journalist Linden MacIntyre, I've been sixteen years on The Fifth Estate… (so I'm a complete moron, really; and he does not look old enough to have a kid in their mid-40s...)

Saturday, the last day of the festival, was completely exhausting, with a noon event with Noah Richler's Literary Atlas of Canada, 2pm with Mark Zuehlke's book on The War of 1812. 4pm with Patricia Phenix' book on Sir John A. Macdonald, 6pm's Writing Life #5 with Jean McNeil, Simon Ings and Paul William Roberts, and finally, 8pm with Wayne Johnston's new novel, The Custodian of Paradise. What a long, long day (I left the hospitality suite, after all of that, well after 5:30 am…). The War of 1812 event was extremely interesting. As Zuehlke suggested, there were plenty of books about the beginnings of the war and reasons for such, but no books talking about the repercussions and reasons on the ending of the war we had with them Americans; we still claim the only country in the world able to fight off (more than once) an American invasion, and the War of 1812 did a lot for Canadian history and identity, including giving (eventually) Ottawa the capital, the building of the Rideau Canal, and much of the Scottish immigration that was naturally moving east along the border from Glengarry County (to the increasing discomfort of the British government) a reason to continue, as the British realized that the Scottish immigrants were some of the best suited to fight off an attack from the south (afterwards, we had a pretty entertaining conversation about the Glengarry Fencibles, among other things…). Did you know that Simon says that Ings translates either to "bog" (Simon of the Bog) or to some kind of "phallic god" (Simon of the Penis God); which do you think he prefers?

British writer Simon Ings was easily the best reader of the day, and I very much want to get into his work; the sort of fellow, after the readings, who could talk equally on the genocide in Rwanda, the series The Young Ones, or the argument between Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica; who knew? Did you know that the first place that Wayne Johnston and his wife lived together (before they got an apartment here) was the youth hostel jail by the Rideau Centre (when he was supposed to be going to Carleton and she actually was)? Did you know that Marnie Woodrow and partner Eliza Clark are going to open up a café together in Prince Edward County? Did you know that Jennifer Mulligan and my lovely daughter worked on a film shoot most of yesterday together (Jennifer's screenwriting circle is co-producing a short film with IFCO…)? Did you know that after a week of a million billion people around, I don’t want to see anyone right now?

Over the past ten years, the generosity of the festival to the community around them has been immense, and is much of the reason they get back what they do (apart from putting on a strong festival); it would be hard not to respond to such things. Think of Stuart Ross, willing to spend the rest of the week as audience, or Sarah Dearing the entire week, even though she wasn’t even reading at all.

Given my writer-in-residence status, here's another fragment written in that hospitality suite.

hotel variations

Angels are unthinkable
in hot weather
-- Monica Youn

elect a terrible struggle
against disposable soap

in order to speak

what started
should be started then

the time of umbilical
& the broken cord

an open door

is a cold gold room
on the eleventh floor

some other festival-related posts here, including John W. MacDonald {and again, and again and again], Amanda Earl {and again}, Charles Earl; "Merisa", The Dubblog, Afua Cooper, and piles of others; doesn't it make you feel as though you really missed out on something?

Keep in mind: rob reading in Montreal, October 12th; the ottawa small press book fair, October 21st; Chaudiere Books launch, October 26th; rob mclennan and George Bowering launching new books on October 30th…