Sunday, December 31, 2006

ongoing notes, December 2006 (end of year special)

I haven’t been avoiding you lately, I swear. I've just been busy lately, what with putting together all the titles for Chaudiere Books 2007 list (including titles by John Newlove, Andrew Suknaski, Decalogue 2: ten Ottawa fiction writers, the Collected Sex anthology & others…), & finishing that book for Arsenal Pulp (Ottawa: The Unknown City), that Open Letter issue I've been editing, as well as the final touches on the third issue of ottawater… working to get a number of above/ground press items made over the next two months as well, so if you haven’t subscribed or resubscribed yet (I've been slowly mailing packages out over the past few days…)… working on a number of reviews as well, essays & the like, & other various things I haven’t had time for lately (you know how it is)…

I guess this is the time for year end lists & such: I've been slowly teaching myself "Killing Moon" by Echo & the Bunnymen, "Shopping Trolley" by Beth Orton & "Oleander" by Sarah Harmer, the first of which was on this most amazing cd that Katie made me for Christmas (I really think she'd be an amazing dj at some point…), preparing for a new year's eve party at Melanie's house (at Hallowe'en in the same place, Monty Reid & I played a few hours worth of music…). Listening to impressive first albums by KT Tunstall & Emily Haines. You missed an amazing "Christmas Tree" [see Amanda Earl's note abt same]). Did you see how my Aubade & Monty Reid's Disappointment Island both made it on Pearl's 2006 top 5 list? Or Amanda Earl's list? Or the nice things she said abt the Decalogue: ten Ottawa poets launch? Did you notice I had a little chapbook recently come out with Dusty Owl? Not the best reading series in town, but easily the most fun… hopefully they'll be back to their old venue, Swizzles, very soon (the venue had a fire a few weeks back, but should be back on their feet any day now…). I got an email recently from Ottawa's Sean Miller, who has probably been to more events at the ottawa international writers festival than anyone else, apart from the organizers & perhaps even myself, telling me that he's put together a website of his short fiction. There are newish websites, too, for Tim Conley's In Case of Emergency Press & kemeny babineau's Laurel Reed Books. & I've been reading Kate Greenstreet's first book & loving it; why haven’t I reviewed it yet? What the hell is wrong with me?

Brockwell got me a first edition copy of Ralph Connor's The Man from Glengarry: A Tale of the Ottawa (1901); pretty funny. I'll actually have to read it at some point. The only Connor stuff I'd previously read is Glengarry School Days: A Story of Early Days in Glengarry (1902), & of course, his Postscript to Adventure, The Autobiography of Ralph Connor (1975). He was Canada's best-selling novelist circa 1900, selling three million copies of one book, for example, & he arrived right near my house. Want to, for the sake of this book-length Glengarry essay I've been writing for years, read his Torches Through the Bush: A Tale of Glengarry (1934) at some point, talking about the religious revivals in my area in the 1860s that brought about the "Gordon Church" St. Elmo Congregationalist Church that Connor's (pseudonym for Rev. Charles Gordon) father was minister for. Who can keep up with all of this learning?

Windsor ON: It's been a few years since RAMPIKE moved from northern Ontario down to the southern-most tip of the entire country, so you might not necessarily know Karl Jirgens is down there teaching at the University of Windsor (along with Louis Cabri, Nicole Markotic, Susan Holbrook & others). The brand new issue, Vol. 15/No. 1, is called a "FRANK DAVEY SPECIAL," & is considered part of the celebration that began with the symposium a couple of years back at the University of Western Ontario when Davey retired [see my previous mention of the Open Letter issue on same here], & includes both pieces from the conference & otherwise an interview with Davey, along with work by Jeanette Lynes, Paul Hegedus, Cabri, Markotic, George Bowering, Matthew Holmes, Paul Dutton, Stan Rogal, Charles Bernstein, Gregory Betts, Darren Wershler-Henry, Carl Peters & Joyce Carol Oates, among others. Apart from the Davey & Bernstein interviews, & Betts' "The Geopoetics of TISH (in the Canadian Context)" piece, are the two poems by Nicole Markotic (isn't she due for a third poetry collection sometime soon? & have you read her wonderful novel about silence?), including this one:


succumb to Winnipeg
suck on combs pegged to winter

snap crackle popsicle python
paste the cracks like clear snake facials

I disguise my wry face into no one knows
I'd die to be your guy -- it's fine to know NO

dented rhyme misprints the chance
tendency to hint at a margin miss

set me up for fall / drop / launch / crash
test the pump four times in autumn / droops / leaves / crush

flip the last page then duck
lift past the final peg due to age or elbow tucks

rearview mirrors look closer than a book jacket
cute ears press across kooky thumb tacks

kumbayahead past reasonable history or 60s tunes
come to jaded poet reading his ability as tombed

or jack posts by tucking fliers post midnight
then -- sigh

Vancouver BC: Following his Governor-General's Award winning poetry collection Surrender (2002) is Vancouver poet Roy Miki's There (Vancouver BC: New Star, 2006). The author of a number of other books including the non-fiction Redress: Inside the Japanese Canadian Call for Justice (2005), as well as three previous poetry collections, Saving Face: Selected Poems 1976-1988 (1991), Random Access File (1995) & Surrender (2002), he spent years editing West Coast Line magazine, & has also edited work by the late Toronto poet bpNichol, Vancouver writer George Bowering & the late Vancouver poet/artist Roy Kiyooka. Miki's There feels less a collection built out of a whole than a series of extended parts, writing poems that respond to the world around him as opposed to being written out of that same world, responding to his own work in the Redress movement, his history in Winnipeg & returning there (his family was moved to the prairies from the coast during the Second World War), a trip to China, & the previous works of Roy Kiyooka, as he begins in the piece "This Side," writing:

This is the unspeakable screen where he sought to protect the
inquiries that riddled one's childhood.

He was born in a neighbourhood where the streets, lanes, and foot-
worn paths of the park returned on themselves.

The provisions of memory, always on alert for the anomalous
register, cloaked the bone rush of his awakened tensile regions with
a notorious green thumb.

It resembled a casual photo seen years later in the multitudinous
chambers of a lexicon in crisis.

What it incarnated then – the spooks removed from the tongues in
check – came across the divide as a designer storefront for ripe but
modified melons.

In what was described as a salamander like manoeuvre, even after
prolonged decades, the resonance, or call it the abrasive whiskers,
would sneak up on his reveries at the most anticipated of times. Dub
it then the installation of the so-called syllabic entourage.

What tissues assumed the audible signed on as compensation for
the displaced get out of childhood free card. Each album cushioning
the aerated passage of family matters enveloped the alleys of his

I find it interesting, for example, that Miki will work capitals at the beginning of lines but still work the lower-case "i," working a variant, perhaps, on Kiyooka's own sense of "inglish." Working more a series of ongoing occasional than individual collections, Miki's poetry seems instead to be working one large life-long project, accumulating book after slow book.


There is the location
in front of the computer

The technology dissipates
and the ache of the temporal

exudes a fine mist that conjures
the diaphragm of rolling hills

minted fevers that produce
crab apples by the bushel

Tart folds in the evening walks
on the boardwalk the ferris wheel

whirls in overdrive as the street
talk moves the crowd past (85)

St. Catharine's ON: Gregory Betts seems to have taken over parts of Cubicle Press, Grey Borders etcetera down there in that part of Ontario, with the most recent publication being The Din (2006), subtitled "interviews with young canucks, poets, and other fragilities," with interviews with Calgary poets/editors Jason Christie [see my review of his first book here] & Jill Hartman by Angela Chatterji and Tara Yelland, originally conducted as part of a class at the University of Toronto (when Betts was teaching there). There has been talk of perhaps finding homes for a number of the interviews that were conducted, & Betts has only included two here; will there be more? Talking about incoherence, Jason Christie says at the end of his interview:
Often in my writing what seems incoherent will have some internal necessity. I sometimes try to achieve a coherence through the musicality of sequences using internal, slant or end rhyme, assonance or consonance, or by referring back to a concept in many different ways and from different viewpoints, sometimes by using the same sequence over and over as anagrams. Lately I've been obsessed with noise. I find so much of popular music to be banal and irritating. I really feel the need to push for something non-marketable. John Cage's famously loud silent piece 4'33 is an example of a resistance to produced sound as product. If you've seen the movie Pootie Tang then you've seen an updated version of this idea. Pootie Tang is a character in the movie who recods a song composed of silence. When it is played on a radio station there is the slick, over-produced beat leading into the piece, then silence. Everyone that hears the song, stops what they were busy doing and turns to the radio. It is a powerful moment in a hilarious film about our immersion in media so much so that we only notice it when the flow is interrupted and we come up for air into silence. R. Murray Shaffer conducted research into the gradual increase in urban noise, the increasing presence of abstract noise in our cityscapes. He coined the term
"soundscape," but that is no longer enough to contain the noise that inflects our life. It is no longer just noise in sound. Noise is a concept in Information Theory that is used to identify anything which distracts from a signal. This can be something useful such as a cry for help interrupting a conversation, or damaging such as the sound of a jackhammer interrupting a conversation. In both cases, following the guide of Information Theory, the interruption of the conversation is considered noise. In a world where we are inundated by the need for efficiency noise is counterproductive behaviour or activities to a streamlined work experience. Anything that distracts a worker from a task is noise. Coherence functions in a similar manner. Coherence is a function of understanding and I'd like to believe that in some instances my poems can disrupt that understanding long enough to call attention to the plurality and
ecstasy of noise.
For details on this or other publications, submissions & upcoming events, email

Phoenix AZ: After other such as bpNichol, American poet Sheila E. Murphy has been sending out her Christmas poem for years now [see my previous note on bpNichol + Christmas here, from the Grain magazine issue]; I'd actually been wondering where it was when it appeared in my mailbox. I know Gil McElroy used to do the same; what happened to his?

On the Threshold of the Year 2007

Any lifetime is enormous in symphonic breeze. Plurality, a learned
reprise, draws love from dream of present tense spectacular, where winter
is a precondition for the needed healing. Even a clipped flower that survives
on empathy imposes blossom from a crystal vase. The laureate assigned to
tether faith may improvise new midnight at the moment ashes on the willing
forehead fade.

As distant soldiers bypass life support, a close-up of our breathing

Saturday, December 30, 2006

further thoughts on Glengarry:

The Loyalists who established themselves in Upper Canada came from the south.
Many of them made their way from the Mohawk Valley, west of Albany on the Hudson River, where they had settled on land originally acquired by Sir William Johnson. Some were veterans of the French and Indian Wars. Johnson also brought in Highlanders from Inverness-shire and the west of Scotland in an effort to populate the very large territory he had acquired. A group of around 400, led by the tacksmen brothers Allan, Alexander and John MacDonell, sailed in August 1773 on the Pearl from Fort William at the head of Loch Linnhe to New York. There was an outbreak of smallpox on board, and twenty-five children died on the voyage. These were Catholic families, traditionally Jacobite supporters, who saw little future for themselves in Scotland. Their disillusion with Highland landlords at home may have contributed to their adherence to King George when the Thirteen Colonies rebelled. The Mohawk Valley, like other Highland communities in America, responded to the call for recruits for King George's American regiments.

Scotland's Glengarry lies north of Fort William, reaching west towards Knoydart, still one of the most wild and remote parts of the West Highlands. It was MacDonell country. When in 1784 the Mohawk Valley people made their way north they took the name with them, and where they settled along the upper St Lawrence River became Glengarry County. The Loyalist settlers were joined over the next few decades by friends and family, as Highland emigration intensified. They arrived in 1785 and 1786, the latter group a substantial migration of families evicted from Knoydart to make way for sheep. Upper Canada, they believed, would enable them to maintain a traditional Gaelic community. As was recognized at the time, this was not an isolated event. 'These people, when once they settle in Canada, will encourage others, as they are now encouraged by some friends before them. They will form a chain of emigration.' This is exactly what happened. More came in 1790. As the struggle for survival in Scotland's Glengarry intensified, a local priest, Alexander MacDonell, encouraged migration to factory jobs in Glasgow. When this source of livelihood also failed he came up with the idea of the Glengarry Fencibles (fencible regiments were raised to defend home territory), which saw service in Ireland, a
Catholic regiment in action against Catholic Irish dissidents. In 1802 it was disbanded, leaving the men with no means of support. Alexander MacDonell conceived of a plan to enable them to emigrate to Upper Canada. He raised money from landowners and industrialists to pay their passage: 800 joined the Glengarry settlement. By 1806 there were over 10,000 Catholic Highlanders from Scotland's Glengarry area in Canada's Glengarry, and the exodus continued. 'Go not to Glengarry, if you're not a Highlandman,' commented John MacTaggart in an 1829 guide.
-- Jenni Calder. Scots in Canada. Edinburgh Scotland: Luath Press Limited, 2003

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

post-christmas blues (with pictures)

Home again, then. The pictures aren't new, but a selection of various from the past couple of years of crazy travel with Stephen Brockwell [see my note on him here] on our wacky reading tours; in fall 2007 we should hopefully be doing more, for his fourth poetry collection and my collection of lit essays, both out then with ECW Press... you should invite us to read. There will be more to follow...

in my sister's backyard, August long weekend, 2006

in a pub in Cardiff, Wales, September 2006; did you know that it's not only the capital of Wales, but the student drinking capital of the UK?

these three are from 2004, when Brockwell launched his ECW book & I launched by Talonbook; above is Robert McTavish (currently putting the finishing touches on the selected poems of John Newlove that Chaudiere Books will be producing in fall 2007) looking mischevious; below, me sitting with Brian Fawcett at the post-reading drinks with crew-cut Brockwell; below that, Jonathan Bennett listening to someone we can't see, while beside Prince George BC poet Barry McKinnon.

Finally, a picture with Edmund Hardy in London England in September 2006 (lots younger than I thought he would be); notice the picture of the Queen Mother in the background; everyone knows that famous shot of her waiting for a pint that took too long, so she got it herself. Apparently she did it in one of a chain of pubs around London; we happen to be in another of same chain, right near where the MI-5 building is (wherever the hell that is; I preferred the tv show). Note the clever t-shirt I picked up while there (got one for my kid, too). More pics to follow, probably.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

another christmas in old glengarry

Very little blogging lately, since I’m full-time finishing Ottawa: The Unknown City for Arsenal Pulp Press [see my previous post on such here]; the book is scheduled for fall 2007, so I actually have to be finishing the thing in January or February. Anything you might know out there that I should be putting in?

Saw the coolest documentary last night, "the real intrepid,"about the Winnipeg native (yes!) who became the most important spy between Britain, Canada and the United States, working during the Second World War (Churchill code-named him "Intrepid"), saving Igor Gouzenko when no one else would, and finally retiring to the Bahamas, where his neighbour Ian Fleming used him as the basis and influence for the James Bond novels. What the hell? A guy from Winnipeg? Also saw our regular routine, my mother & I, of watching Jay Thomas knock (or try to; Dave actually got it this year) the meat ball off the Eiffel Tower at the top of David Letterman’s Christmas tree (after the Lone Ranger story & Paul’s bad Cher impression). It’s been at least five years now, watching that with my mother. This is probably the first year I remembered in advance.

I recently found my copy of the certificate from The Ottawa Citizen, proof that I survived the record snow-fall in Ottawa (etcetera) on March 21, 1971 (I was a year & a week old at the time). Apparely my mother’s father got a stack of them for us, since he was celebrating his 25th year as a line type operator & mechanic at the paper around then. I don’t remember the snow (but I do remember the ice we had a few years later for Christmas: 1974, maybe?), but I’ve had this thing around (obviously) for years (& haven’t even lost it yet). Working to find out more information from the newspaper on such; was there an equivalent from the ice storm? Also, apparently, my book needs more "wierd murders"and other such that you’d never find in newspapers or other more polite city-related materials; something the other books have that mine so far lacks. Suggestions?

I’m not entirely sure why Sina Queyras is talking about shutting down her blog, but I feel a loss at the idea. I would not like her to stop it; one of the few I read regularly & get plenty out of. But how to respond otherwise? & did you see this neat bit that a rawlings wrote, responding to a poem of mine?

Today dropped some copies of Clare’s novel at Second Time Around Books in Alexandria; hopefully we can get some sold that way. Apparently they’ve been selling a few of my poetry books since I was there last! What the?

Stephen Brockwell recently gave me a cd of a pile of photographs from our various trips over the past couple of years (I'll post some soon, when I'm not on my father's eastern Ontario dial-up), including of some of our (more polite, ahem) adventures in New York City with Clare Latremouille launching groundswell: the best of above/ground press 1993-2003 (why only the one photo from such?) [see my post from such here], Toronto in 2004 (the second of two combined ECW/Talon launches we were involved in), England & Wales in August/September of this year, & Prince George in early November. Why are so many of them blurry? I would be terrible at filming porn with this unsteady hand...

Before I left Ottawa, a visit briefly with Priscila Uppal & Chris Doda (Toronto); when I get back, Kate Van Dusen (Toronto) & possibly even Jason Wiens (Calgary). Hopefully back to regularly scheduled programming in a couple of weeks; going through the new Dennis Cooley, for example...

& then at the end of the day today, Kate & I saved Christmas again.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Primer on the hereafter, Steve McOrmond

In his second poetry collection, Primer on the hereafter (Toronto ON: Wolsak & Wynn, 2006), Toronto poet Steve McOrmond follows the craft established in his first, Lean Days (Toronto ON: Wolsak & Wynn, ), carving out a collection of clean and precise poems. One of the original group of editors of QWERTY magazine out of the University of New Brunswick in the late 1990s, I like very much that the group of them from the first couple of years (very different than the current group) not only socialize with each other, but that their poems interact with each other as well, with Primer on the hereafter references (whether poem or acknowledgment) to Eric Hill, Matthew Tierney, Dave Seymour, Adam Dickinson and Andy Weaver.

(for Matthew & Charmaine Tierney)

To dwell between the snowy fastness
and the ice-locked sea, in a city of blondes.

One must have heard the existential scream,
hands over ears, the huge Os of mouth and eyes.

Know it can begin with nothing more extreme
than the flat's creaky floors, the old radiator ticking.

A fragile ecosystem: the furless, burrowing heart
and the Allen key of the mind.

Eventually, one might acquire a taste for hardcore
pornography and cod roe paste in squeeze tubes.

Held hostage in the bank vault of winter,
the captive will identify with the captor.

However peacefully it seems to fall,
there is suppressed violence in the snow. (p 46)

Based on what McOrmond seems to be working toward, structurally, with his poems, he has created himself a series of difficult goals, needing to make the poems so tight that quarters bounce off them, yet not all of them do. There is a looseness to the line that McOrmond doesn’t seem comfortable with (which could be an interesting direction to play with), causing his poems, half the time, to not yet get to that tighter place he aims toward. Still, when they do, they sing, and many of them work the ghazal-like feature that so many of the QWERTY kids have been known to work, including Andy Weaver, from his collection Were The Bees (Edmonton AB: NeWest Press, 2005)[see my review of same here]. While I was in Toronto in November, I was fortunate enough to hear McOrmond read not once but twice, including this poem, another example of his tight twists and turns, without an extraneous line or gesture:

Self-portrait as the middle-aged fool

You've come a long way
past quotidian drunkenness, past caring
whether you left the stove on, the whereabouts
of your father's deer rifle, loaded
with one in the chamber. No reason to hurry home
now that everyone but the dog has gone, and yet
where else would you go? Past last call,
throwing up in the back of the cab, and later
the dry heaves, you arrive at this clarity
like lucid dreaming. You have reached a place
where Heidegger makes sense, and stumbling
across the lawn, you can smell it: first snow,
not the end, but how an ending
is supposed to feel. In the yard, the maples
have made their arrangements, scattering
sepia photographs of themselves
on the sidewalk, and the only
suitable gesture is to weep. (p 14)

Thursday, December 14, 2006

shipbuilding (foundation
from The Ottawa City Project

you were writing a paper on marriage
& wherein lies the question

, a question of lies

i was working on a poem
on the ottawa river

how you cant step into
the same truth twice

arriving too early for dinner, i read
an essay on homemade beer

by paul quarrington

you couldnt work with me in the room
i tried not to laugh out loud

at the essay, not at you,
half a glass of merlot

i could tell that you
were not impressed

i pictured a lemon, the shape
of an hour

Monday, December 11, 2006

Under That Silky Roof, Elizabeth Robinson

The most recent poetry collection from American poet and editor Elizabeth Robinson is Under That Silky Roof (Providence RI: Burning Deck, 2006), after various other poetry collections including Apostrophe (Apogee, 2006), Apprehend (Apogee / Fence / Saturnalia, 2003), Pure Descent (Sun & Moon, 2003), Harrow (Omnidawn, 2001) and House Made of Silver (Kelsey St. Press, 2000). The editor of EtherDome Press and the magazine 26, she teaches at the University of Colorado. A collection of sequences, Robinson's Under That Silky Roof feels less a collection of individual pieces and more a single work, along the same lines of the accumulations of works by Fanny Howe, working all of her pieces as fragments of a much larger whole.

This late, single knowledge
clad in warmth

Suffusing the end
he drops off

The study required
in similarities

The pleasure of how


due the reflection it is (part v, RESERVOIR)

Part of the allusion, Robinson's light touch moving from point to point to point through her steady accumulations reminds of Quebec poet D.G. Jones, in a number of his long poems, or even selections from Prince George, British Columbia poet Barry McKinnon, but working less a series of reminders or touchstones upon subject, but lighter as she moves. Robinson's poems are abstracts that don’t feel abstract, working their slowness down the page, writing:

Where the ones who recount

and blend their
sparse red
and green

I hesitate to stutter

For down there

it's foam
or tiny pieces of it

Its interned softness
much else

Lichen, inhaling
sparse grainy nerves (part ii, INTERRUPTING THE GOWN)

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Avatar by Sharon Harris

Working for years now on her i love you galleries, and author of a series of chapbooks from BookThug, above/ground press and In Case of Emergency Press, Toronto writer and artist Sharon Harris finally has that first trade poetry collection under her belt, the collection Avatar (Toronto ON: The Mercury Press, 2006). Built out of various text and visual pieces, her poems riff and bounce off various works that have come before her, referencing bpNichol, Alfred Jarry, Darren Wershler-Henry, Steve Venright, Stephen Cain, Christian Bök and Natalee Caple, while even working Braille and Morse Code translations/transelations of their works. Harris writes "translation," but I would instead write "transelation," as her Braille piece, for example, works far more than a straight re-creation of the bpNichol piece, "Blues," from his love: a book of remembrances (Vancouver BC: Talonbooks, 1974), and instead works more along the lines of the shifts seen in Montreal poet and translator Eirin Moure's own Sheep's Vigil by a Fervent Person (Toronto ON: House of Anansi Press, 2001).

on world w/ arrow keys


insert home

tabulation delete


shift shift




Filled with a great sense of fun (one thing missing from so many of the writers that have come after bpNichol), and a whole slew of visuals, Harris' Avatar also includes pieces from her "FUN W/ 'PATAPHYSICS" series, which have appeared in Word magazine and as an issue of STANZAS. As the back cover writes, "'Pataphysics is a fictional science: the science of imaginary solutions. Sharon Harris proposes a problem for poetry to solve: how to unfold a book if the book is a lotus; how to unfold a word at the centre of that book?" As the Toronto Research Group (bpNichol and Steve McCaffery) began their introduction to the Canadian "Pataphysics issue of Open Letter, Fourth Series, Numbers 6 & 7, Winter 1980-81:

'What is 'Pataphysics?' shouted the cover of the Evergreen Review for May 1960. It has continued to shout the question ever since from the dusty racks of second hand bookstores as one of the more eagerly sought after old issues dreams, screams, and moulders.

So what, you might ask, would constitute a Canadian 'Pataphysics? Not a 'pataphysics at all but rather a perinducement of the superinducement, nothing less than a Canadian '"Pataphysics." Is this term, to begin with then, self-contradictory and/or, in its self-contraditoriness, self-explanatory?

The distinction is subtle: from elision to quotation through a superinducement on elision. Within the ordinarities of elision the apostrophe places 'pataphysics outside the domain of the Origin the four letters' roots (the nature of pata according to one Canadian scholar, and literary agent to Dr. R.W. Sanderson), is to be detected in the port-manteau confluence of "meta" (beyond) and "para" (beside) -- beside and beyond, beyond and beside the topography of its telos. Hence, its neighbourliness to several zones of 'potential genesis: a clinical history of 'patanoia; the exact locate of 'patadise; the literary ontogenesis of the 'patadox. But the status of the elision? For the beginnings of the 'pataphysics are in that slide into and beside and beyond the incontrovertible assertion that 'it' commences nowhere.

Now here (in there) are the parameters (perhaps we might risk the 'parameters) of a science inscribed within the property of the apostrophe, of the comma inverted and announcing itself as the science of the general inversion and the non-art of the absent.

In the Canadian contribution is that erasure of 'this' elision and the institution of a science of the perpetually open. A shift from/to quotation in the doubling of the elide, a doubled inversion and an inverted doubling.

Canadian "pataphysics gives us then quotation, and quotation (as Science always is) of the given we do not understand with emendations that constitute our explanation. If "Pataphysics is 'the science of imaginary solutions' and the source of answers to questions never to be posed, then "Pataphysics (the open quotation of a double elision) will be 'the literature of all imaginary sciences.' As such it will constitute the "patasignificant advance of a field of non-signification, moving us closer to (and hence by the transcendental law of the "patadox further away from) its origin(s). Hence the Science of the never-ending, never-commencing discourse. Perhaps the "parole? Hence. Nichol's early terminology 'PROBABLE SYSTEMS' or McCaffery's acronymic NRT. (pp 7-8)

How, from then, does Sharon Harris work her own "Pataphysical inquiries? How did she get to a point where she is asking the questions almost no one else can remember? In her "NOTES ON THE TEXT," she writes that "Fun W/ 'Pataphysics gives definite answers to your unanswerable poetic questions and offers all the unsolicited writing advice you will never follow. For ages zero to aethernity." Based on the Toronto Research Group text, there have probably been few that have even moved since to explore such considerations, with the most obvious researcher being Toronto writer Steve Venright; as much as I like Harris' 'Pataphysical inquiries (notice she uses only the single instead of the suggestion of Canadian double), and I do like them very much, why do I want her to go so much further? Will she go further?


If you have dry, frizzy hair, wear glasses and have a pine tree you
can lean against the next time the Northern Lights are in the
sky, you might hear some Canadian sound poetry.

How? Your hair and the needles of the pine tree vibrate to the
very low frequency sounds given off by the lights. With luck,
your ears will turn these vibrations into sound poems. Your
glasses help boost the sound as they transfer the vibrations
directly to the bones in your head.

Not that she hasn’t attempted that further push, as I think even her poetry underestimates itself; how can anyone not love any collection of anything where the page numbers are listed in binary code? I must say I very like this book, and Harris seems one of the few writers existing in the Toronto poetic that seems to be interested in exploring the line between the conceptual art practices of Christian Bök (perhaps the only conceptual artist in Canada working with poetry), and more "traditional" avant-garde writers such as Stephen Cain and angela rawlings. The only equivalent I could see also working that line would be Steve Venright himself; Darren Wershler-Henry, on the other hand, crosses that line regularly, to work his various projects, but doesn’t seem to explore the line itself in the same kind of way. Is there a difference?

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Ongoing notes, early December 2006

Okay, so I'm home again, and glad for it. It's nice to be home, you know? Here's a Heidi Greco post I'm mentioned in (we missed each other in that west); good old John W. MacDonald wrote a nice post on David Cation artwork; Ariel Gordon was apparently nervous for our Winnipeg reading; she managed not only to figure herself out, but did a fine fine job (see her post-reading note here). And did you know my Perth Flowers chapbook from Nomados is now in the University of Alberta library? Be sure to take a copy out for your own reading enjoyment! And did you see this poem Rob Budde wrote for me, after Brockwell and I visited? Did you see the nice thing that Sharon Harris said about me (with attached photo), after my Toronto visit? And have you heard that John Steffler is apparently our new (and third) Parliamentary Poet Laureate?

Note that I'm doing another run of poetry workshops in January... spaces are still available... (so far)... also doing a reading in January at Capital Slam, on January 11th... Watch for those two Chaudiere Books readings over the next week & a half (Max wants you to know about them too); watch for Monty Reid & Meghan Jackson reading in Toronto at the Art Bar in March of next year; watch for the third issue launch of ottawater to happen at The Mercury Lounge sometime in January, or the next reading of the Factory Reading Series…

Or that mother tongue books (the bookstore not the press) now has a website? But enough about that...

Edmonton AB: I've been thinking for years that those kids at the Olive Reading Series (now in their new location; check out Sharon Thesen reading for them on December 12 at Hulbert's Cafe, 7601-115 Street) should offer subscriptions or something. Now in their seventh year, the Olive Reading Series runs (during the school year) a monthly reading series, publishing a chapbook by the featured reader in a handout edition of 100 copies. While I was there (reading from my own new chapbook, October), I got a small stack of recent Olive titles, including Alice Major's Mazama Ash (September 13, 2005), Shawna Lemay's Forest of Disappearances (October 11, 2005) and Jason Christie's Like Wolves (April 11, 2006). How else can those of us on the outside get copies?

Cub Babble

River and smoke, crisp mist floats from our mouths, and
then hangs suspended in mid-air, an emblem of what we
said; the edges are necessarily foggy. Our eyes pierce any
cloud or darkness. Our call reveals any distance. We grow
into our warmth. We shed the river and run through smoke
the same colour as our fur. We disappear in the fall. Our
eyes loll periphery into a uniform blankness. We've become
wolves. Our words have become like wolves. (Jason Christie)

To find out more about the Olive Reading and/or chapbook series, email T.L. Cowan at

Winnipeg MB: While in Winnipeg, Karen Clavelle gave me a copy of three days in Spain (Winnipeg MB: Atelier 78, 2005), a small chapbook she produced. As the colophon reads, "A Collectors Edition of one hundred books created to commemorate celebratory meetings of surrounding Canadays at the University of Lleida, Catalunya, Spain, 26, 27, 28 May, 2005."

Myth : true and false

the prairies are flat
the prairies are agricultural lands best
suited to the growing of cereal grains
the prairies are a vast drylands that form a landbridge between the
Canadian Shield on the East and the Rockies on the West
there are no trees on the prairies
it is always windy on the prairies
the prairies are somehow younger than the rest of the world
(Karen Clavelle)

Those Winnipeg folk seem very adept at making connections in various parts of Europe, as Dennis Cooley, Robert Kroetsch and others have been spending various summers teaching Canadian literature in Germany for years. A lovely little chapbook, it includes writing various participants of the weekend, such as Nela Bureu Ramos, Karen Clavelle, Dennis Cooley, Dolors Collellmir, Gordon Collier, Allison Funk, Gene Walz, Dawne McCance, Robert Kroetsch and Mertxe Lasierra.


That night a stranger walking down the road
would take her for a woman weeding late—
that's all, she thought, all, all the time
I'm breaking, can't anyone hear my heart?
At that, she snapped a plant off stem and bud
to fling away. Another. Pepper, stalks
of corn. Raked spinach out in handfuls. Crushed
it underfoot. What when the sun rose would
he say to the ruin? Couldn’t know—alone—
far from here by morning—she could only
imagine the look she'd carry like a cameo
inside. Opening to his face long after
this night. She'd leave her lover a keepsake, too,
a tale to tell to bookish friends of his.
A version, they'll think, of one they've known
all along. This garden he'd remember her by
. (Allison Funk)

To inquire about this or any further Atelier 78 publications, email Karen Clavelle at

Tokyo, Japan: On arriving home, I found a contributor copy of NOON: Journal of the Short Poem, issue 4 in my mailbox, with poems by a whole pile of people, including Andrea Strudensky and Geoffrey Hlibchuk, Hirahata Seito, Marlene Mountain, Elizabeth Robinson, Sheila E. Murphy, Christophe Casamassima, Shin Yu Pai, Patrick So, John Parsons and piles of others. A lovely small edition, the poems included exist without names attached (a list with table of contents exists at the end), so each small moment, small gesture can be experienced without the baggage of names. Wrecking that, here are two poems from the collections I'll credit:


We blow the ball
up, sheer,

the breathing
and the rounding
curve, held up.

What would we
preserve, beside
this hidden gust.

To keep in secrecy
and lighter

than the gesture
that lofts it. (Elizabeth Robinson)



Backhand, seersucker, under noon light, reminiscence before
present tense

Locution mimes what is already in the head, or the invasive
sunshine deems a minute of your time to loosen
preconception. If hurting is for fully formed intolerance, then
the elements are fixed as minds can be resistant. Outer edges
once embraced turn thoughtful, or the defining surfaces return
to point of something. High then low as if a flicker of the candle
later on, some gorgeous roan to mean more things are possible. (Sheila E. Murphy)

To find out more about NOON (submissions will be considered between April and July 2007 for issue 5), write Minami Motomachi 4-49-506, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo 160-0012, Japan or email

Providence RI: The only thing good about Janet Inksetter closing her Annex Books store was the fact that I was able to get a whole stack of books I wouldn’t have been able to afford otherwise, including two from Burning Deck: one from David Miller (who co-hosted my reading in London England) and Marjorie Welish's The Windows Flew Open (1991). I know very little about either publisher or author (I think the only other Burning Deck title I have is a Cole Swensen), but I am enjoying this very much. Here's a poem from the collection; hopefully I can get more titles from Burning Deck, and perhaps even see, somehow somewhere, just what else Welish has been up to…


Denied flirting boisterously beyond the window,
here is a page of the abolished view,

figures moving
as if installed in a literary light,

the warm air deceptive,
superimposed on the imperceptibly villainous street

which caused you to accelerate
and skid into a snow bank.

"I dream I see you superimposed"
as quoted space, the lace abolishing the scene

like falsehood seen through frost.
As quoted above

the curtain at flood tide, through which
the idea of the Pyrénées. We see figures moving,

in principle to grasp
an entire range of paraphrases,

a page,
floating over writing.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Richard Brautigan: Essays on the Writings and Life, edited by John F. Barber

After years in the works, comes John F. Barber's promised collection of essays on the works of Richard Brautigan, the late lamented last of the American beat writers, Richard Brautigan: Essays on the Writings and Life (Jefferson NC: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2006), most famous for his novel Trout Fishing In America (1967) and/or his selected poems, The Pill Versus the Springhill Mine Disaster (1968). Collecting new and years worth of previously published pieces on Richard Brautigan, Barber, who also administers the definitive online Brautigan resource, Brautigan Bibliography and Archive, this new book includes work by Keith Abbott, Kevin Berger, Robert Creeley, Brad Donovan, Greg Keeler, Michael McClure, Steven Moore, Michael Sexton, Barnard Turner and Erik Weber, as well as some drawings and photographs of Richard Brautigan as a younger man. Considering the amount of work Brautigan did, and the kinds of attention his work got during the 1960s and 1970s, there is both a surprising lack of critical work on his writing, and a surprising amount of hostility from critics over the years. As Barber writes in his preface:
Although he knew the Beats, and they him, Brautigan always insisted he was not a part of their literary movement. Contemporary literary opinion supports this contention, seeing Brautigan, when his writing catapulted him to international fame in the late 1960s and early 1970s, as the writer best representative of the emerging counterculture.
At the time of his death, however, in 1984, Brautigan was largely ignored or, worse, negated by critics and pundits who then trivialized his contribution to American literature. (p 1-2)
Barber's collection works very hard to correct that, collecting numerous pieces from numerous years, including some of the tributes written on Brautigan in the weeks and months following his suicide in 1984, including pieces by the now-themselves-deceased poets Robert Creeley and Edward Dorn, and Dorn's wife, Jennifer Dunbar Dorn, and make this, possibly, the only book on the work of Richard Brautigan but for Marc Chénetier's small book from Methuen's Contemporary Writers series, Richard Brautigan (1983).
Brautigan saw himself and often referred to himself as a humorist. That is a designation not much used about anyone anymore, since everybody in the whole nation has become a comic. But it has been a rare thing when an artist has identified with any tradition in this century. There is a distant similarity between Brautigan and Twain. It consists almost solely in a natural innocence in regarding the evil disposition of mankind. But whereas Twain's treatment of the condition is streaked with acid intelligence, Brautigan's is amazingly tolerant, if not gleeful, and resembles an anthropologist's understanding more than that of a literary man. (Edward Dorn, pp 103-4)
Moving from the critical to the personal and back very easily (sometimes within the same piece), the collection includes pieces such as "I Remember Richard Brautigan," where poet Joanne Kyger writes a series of reminiscences, starting:
I remember meeting Richard Brautigan. It is the spring of 1957. I meet Richard and Ron Loewinsohn at a gallery opening. They tell me they are poets. They are very young, like 19 or 20. Ron likes Keats and I make fun of him. Keats is so old fashioned! I give Richard my address and he comes by the next night so we can go to dinner, only he does not have much money so it means I take him. He shows me his basement in Chinatown on Washington Street where the dishes cost 49 cents each. We have a modest dinner and then go back to Grant Avenue where we run into Mike Nathan, a very young artist who has painted a picture in City Lights Bookstore's front window of a policeman and a priest standing side by side and looking very similar. Mike wants to show me North Beach, but Richard is not happy with this and spends the rest of the evening lurking up and down upper Grant Avenue a half block behind us. He maintains this somewhat moody distance during the next two years when I see him from a distance in North Beach. He marries Ginny [Virginia Alder, 1957] (later Ginny Aste) and after a time I recall her sitting with Jack Spicer in The Place and saying, "The hardest thing I had to do was give Richard back my wedding ring." The relationship was over [they separated in 1962; divorced in 1970] but they had a daughter, Ianthe [Ianthe Elizabeth Brautigan; born 1960].
What this collection accomplishes is a larger portrait of the late American writer, moving from reminiscences of his early life and writings, to explorations and longer, critical essays on various aspects of his writings, as well as a piece by the founder and former curator of The Brautigan Library (a reference from the novel The Abortion). The book even includes pieces that show frustration and even anger at what Brautigan let himself turn into in later years, the "dark Brautigan" that one author refers to, the one who ended up telling his friends around both his residences that he was going to be in the other, before he turned a gun on himself in 1984, to be found in his kitchen weeks later. There aren't that many books on Richard Brautigan out there in the world, and even Keith Abbott's memoir of his experiences with Brautigan, Downstream from Trout Fishing in America has been out of print for so long that it's become a rare collectable; will someone ever think to reprint it? One of the funniest pieces has to be Abbott's own, in his "In the Riffles with Richard: A Profile of Richard Brautigan" (originally published in California Fly Fisher) writing:

After viewing Richard's eccentric collection of trout memorabilia, Price, Richard and I went out on what was to become the first of a long series of adventures in San Francisco. It was fitting that this first afternoon's high point involved the romance and art of fishing.

Richard had cast Price as his hero Lee Mellon in the novel, A Confederate General From Big Sur, and while he retold his adventures with Price, such as silencing a pond full of frogs with two well-placed alligators, my first reaction upon reading the novel was "This is hilarious, but this Richard guy only told a fourth, at best, of the loony tune life of Price."

Here was a guy who ran a moving service called Blue Whale Movers, a guy whose constant need for new phone service (born from a firm belief that utility companies had more than enough money and didn’t need his cash) caused his new phones to be listed under William Bonney, Delmer Dibble, Rufus Flywheel, Jesse James, and Commander Ralph G. Gore, and a guy whose first act upon renting a new house was to chainsaw all the interior walls, "because a man needs space to breathe." (p 17)

After years of nothing new, save the fact that his books, at least, were being kept in print through a series of omnibus collections, 1999 also saw the publication of a collection of Brautigan's writing from his 20s, The Edna Webster Collection of Undiscovered Writings, and a year later, a reissue of his last novel, An Unfortunate Woman, as well as a moving tribute by his daughter Ianthe, the memoir You Can't Catch Death: A Daughter's Memoir, writing about being the only child of a famous writer who killed himself, and discovering not only her place in his life, but finding and meeting his own parents he had cut himself off from so very many years before. With a writer such as Brautigan, it gets far too easily to focus on the man himself, moving further into his own suicide, that it often overlooks not only the earlier versions of who he was, but overshadows the writing; what makes this volume particularly interesting is that it focuses on all of the above, creating a larger overview for future readers and even future critics to move out from. Will there be a selected letters? Will there be a selection of Brautigan's non-fiction pieces? Have the omnibus' run their course? But I'll let Brautigan himself get the last word, from his collection Loading Mercury With A Pitchfork (1976):

Part 6

Yes, that's the table where Captain Martin
sat. Yes, that one. By the window.
He would sit there alone for hours at
a time, staring out at the sea. He always
had one plain doughnut and a cup of coffee.
I don’t know what he was looking at.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Don McKay: Essays on His Works (Toronto ON: Guernica Editions, 2006), edited by Brian Bartlett

One of the more impressive titles in Guernica Editions' Writers Series has to be what poet Brian Bartlett has done with Don McKay: Essays on His Works. Including pieces by Stan Dragland, Robert Bringhurst, John Oughton, Don Coles, Sue Sinclair, Susan Elmslie, Ken Babstock and a whole slew of others, whether new pieces or a combination of reworked and previously published works going three decades back, through the entirety of McKay's publishing career, working from McKay's Air Occupies Space (1973) to Varves (2003) (the collection stops just short of McKay's selected poems and most recent new collection [see my review of recent McKay titles here]). Other titles in the series include recent collections on the works of Barry Callaghan, Mary Di Michele, Mary Melfi, Alden Nowlan, Joe Rosenblatt and Aritha Van Herk. As poet Don Coles begins in his piece, "A Gift for Metaphor," writing:
To put it bluntly: Don McKay has got in Night Field, his seventh poetry collection, some dozens of passages that do for me what I have pictured myself as so greatly desiring and so rarely finding in anybody's craft or sullen art -- anybody's anywhere. There are enough such passages that (and here I come finally to the downside) I wonder why he ever stumbles, weakens, flaws them in the way that he quite often does.

There's hardly a poem without some good news in it, some lyrical moment you want to last for a long while; but often the poet doesn’t seem to trust his own lovely couple of lines, his already-achieving epiphany; we find him trying to nail it down, trying to make apparent to us what was so subtly rendered already. (p 55)
Bartlett's work in compiling pieces scattered over the years should be a primer on how such collections should be built, and the pieces are impressive. The strength of such a series, along with the one Wilfred Laurier University Press is currently working (they also had a McKay title), is that thing that often lacks: real writing on writing. Otherwise, why bother doing any more?