Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Ongoing notes: late May, 2007

Will I see you at the ottawa small press book fair, or the reading on the night before at the Carleton Tavern (upstairs), 7pm? Chaudiere Books just put out our seventh title (without funding or investors, I might add; purchase our books so we can afford to make more!), the collection Decalogue 2: ten Ottawa fiction writers; see here for Amanda Earl's report on such, as well as photos of the readers by Charles Earl here, here and here. If you were on facebook, you'd not only be able to already see them all, but the pictures Jennifer Mulligan took from her recent trip to France. Did you see that Nath. G. Moore apparently liked my review of his book, my named dropped by Brian Campbell, or this enormously sweet posting by Sharon Harris? Did you read Pearl Pirie's report on the recent Haiku Canada weekend, or this recent review in The Ottawa X-Press of my new book and Nicholas Lea's new book? Decalogue 2 contributor Matthew Firth even reads at this year's WESTFEST, along with Montreal writer/publisher Andy Brown and a whole bunch of others; check out the Chaudiere Books blog for further information on upcoming author readings, new publications, where to get them and submission calls.

My book Ottawa: The Unknown City is in its final stages [see my previous note on such here]; if you know of anything in the city I might be missing, tell me now [Amanda Earl even makes reference to the project...]! I've been working 24/7 for the past few weeks, desperately wanting this done and out of my house, finally… I've been useless for just about anything else for quite some time now...

Ottawa ON: Grant Wilkins has been producing his small chapbook magazine Murderous Signs for a few years now, and has just put out the 15th issue of his small semi-annual (you do the math), with a short essay by Toronto writer Edward McDermott and poems by Tim Conley, author of the most magnificent book of short fiction, published last fall.

Reflections in an Imaginary Snow Globe

There is a thing in my eye. When you hold it, just in that
certain way, it looks like the place where you were born.
Seldom is the journey uninteresting,

but the reward is never posted. Did you hear, in my eye,
how do you say fish it out, is it because it is swimming?
You hardly look. When she asks whether this or that outfit
looks good how can the answer go naked, that was the
reply, ripe I thought at the time,

but then no one sees the point.

At the end of the issue is series of pieces that translate an Archibald Lampman poem with structures borrowed from bpNichol's Translating Translating Apollinare (Milwaukee: Membrane Press, 1979), "an experiment in the application of various forms of translation/transformation to a sonnet." Wilkins' magazine has always shown his interest in the Confederation Poets as well as more current strains of avant-garde, whether Max Middle or jwcurry (and he's been doing an informal study on concrete/visual poetry now for years), so it's entertaining to watch him blend the two ideas. Here he takes the poem "Voices of Earth" and replaces each of the words with ones that rhyme with the originals:

Be calve lot furred be few sick dove fee shears,
Flea gong glove bar dew bar, cut bare mar bounds
Fore keep fan bedpan soy band divan beers,
Chat creature fuses bin fur bonbon founds;
See gall love beams, glee buy shove grins fat bane
Key folk, lee boaring dove me pea's dirge, fight
Shove blunder caking sitar doff, for sane
Gnat balls cry spinets din see drummer flight.

Breeze far sea choices love berth's chic vet hole,
Buttering she agony bomb ditch tea fame.
Clue dim flew shears gem beef abscond enscroll
Nor toy conveyable myth rout ma came,
Bakes sin quiz mart lots dreaded fair, uncurled,
Restore we dearth land faking shove me hurled.

Unfortunately, this is the last issue of his free little magazine; as he writes in his editorial:

Changing personal interests and priorities are also a contributing factor. I've recently found myself becoming more and more interested in the physical elements of literary production, and have been moving towards "book arts" orientation for The Grunge Papers (the business entity through which Murderous Signs is published), actively exploring letterpress printing, hand papermaking, hand binding & notions of fine printing.
For copies of this or other of his publications, either go through his website, or come directly to the ottawa small press book fair.

Chicago IL: Canadian expat Suzanne Buffam read at the TREE Reading Series recently [see my review here of her magnificent first poetry collection], bringing some new poems as well as copies of her chapbook Interiors (Montreal QC: Delirium Press, 2006) with her. There is just something about her poems that I don’t seem to find in anyone else's writing, with a combination of heartfelt wondering with the right amount of distance, a pondering without being pondering, and a ghazal-like leap from line to line that seems almost unbelievable for the way the poems hold themselves together, and so well.


Low cirrocumulus clouds in the west.
War in the east.

Lift teabag from cup.
Add milk. Ask if it is happiness

or pleasure you prefer.
Watch the storm churn to the surface.

Shadows gather in the valley below.
To count them is to know their many shapes

cannot be counted.
They must be numbered among.

A writer we have to wait and wait and wait for, apparently she's also in a new anthology of Chicago poets that just came out, which I have yet to find. See photos of her reading by Charles Earl and John W. MacDonald, Ottawa's own literary paparazzi.

Oakland CA: I swear, someday I'm going to get myself into an issue of Xantippe [see where I saw my first and discovered Rachel Zucker here; see my subsequent interview with Zucker], but so far, it just hasn’t happened. Recently the combined 4/5 double issue arrived in my mailbox, featuring poetry, biography (a fragment of that perpetually-forthcoming Robert Duncan biography Lisa Jarnot is working on) and a swath of poetry book reviews.

The Port of Seattle

Teetering free of grating vanes
Fall hand-sized flakes of rust

The signal yet unsounded
Nestled in bright life vests

The rigging sprinkled with rot
A nautical sign for rest

Better now than never
Better never say

None of your physics persist
For long, none

Of your bromides cut
The air where

Once our lichen bloomed
The sea where

Twice the riptide blitzed
The sand where

Once a drifting splinter lay
Guttered, culled & grey

Two long, one short:
A warning unrequited. (Chris Pusateri)

I'm not entirely sure why they did a double issue as opposed to two singles, but I almost wish every issue was this large, with this much poetry and this many reviews, and the Lisa Jarnot stuff on Robert Duncan makes me very much want to read the final book, supposedly out this fall with the University of California Press.

Montreal QC: Anyone paying attention to the late Montreal poet Robert Allen[1946-2006; see my note on him here]'s poetry over the past twenty years has certainly been aware of his ongoing project, "The Encantadas," collected into a single volume by Andy Brown's Conundrum Press. Published in 2006, soon before Allen died, his continuing sequence of poems on the Galapagos Island (The Enchanted Isles) have been appearing in various of his poetry collections over the years, including Magellan's Clouds, New and Selected Poems (1990), Ricky Ricardo Suites (2000) and Standing Wave (2005), his last three poetry collections. Twisting like an adventure novel, Allen's The Encantadas read almost like a life's work in a single volume, rushing and burning like a standing wave of its own.


fourteen hundred and ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue ― do you
see him springing from the serpent's teeth you sowed? Yes, you. Are you
happy up there in the top hat of America? Can you sail clear

of the white, ice-jammed straits, find shade from a predatory
sun? / One morning I awoke at the crosshairs of a dream,
ascending a green beanstalk into a land of solid cloud. Child-

hood things lay strewn everywhere, a chicken laying opal eggs, a steam
train sadly chugging, the ruins of a petrol station, nosed by a three-wheeled Cooper
in British Racing Green. Some giant kid was bawling

It's not that often that the great poem of an authors life is published just before the author dies; as sick as he was, it was great that he was able to not only oversee the final part of the project, but see it come to bear as a publication, and Conundrum Press has done extremely well by producing a graceful book, a "collected poem."

Saskatoon SK: It's not that often that a particular project will take up more than one volume of poetry in Canadian writing, and even less often that the volumes occur with different poetry publishers, so for that reason alone, the publication of Saskatoon poet Steven Ross Smith's fluttertongue 4: adagio for the pressured surround (Edmonton AB: NeWest Press, 2007) is worth noting. The only other project I can think of could be the four-volume bpNichol project that included love: a book of remembrances (Vancouver BC: Talonbooks, 1974), Zygal: a Book of Mysteries and Translations (Toronto ON: Coach House Press, 1980) and Truth: A Book of Fictions (Stratford ON: The Mercury Press, 1993). Long a student of the work of bpNichol and the Four Horsemen, Smith is the author of a number of volumes of poetry and fiction over the years, as well as one of the founding members of the 1970s and 80s sound poetry group Owen Sound (which came from, ironically, Owen Sound, Ontario). fluttertongue is a project that Smith has been working on for some time, and include the volumes Fluttertongue Book 1: The Book of Games (Saskatoon SK: Thistledown Press, 98), Fluttertongue Book 2: The Book of Emmett (Regina SK: Hagios Press, 99) and Fluttertongue 3: disarray (Winnipeg MB: Turnstone Press, 2005); why would he deliberately work his project through different publishers? It's as though the project, although a unit, is less about the structural considerations of being a specific single unit, but one instead meant to spread out across the page.

A poem of 1078 numbered stanzas/lines, Smith works through his relation and relating through language with his father, one of Smith's constant themes, there are even parts of word-play that have echoes of Toronto poet Phil Hall, working his word combinations and twists into something about birds, and something that rattles and shakes into something so much further, more.

A mossfringed grove. above, an eagle circles. stretches a talon to
scratch her underwing, plucks, from her body, settling adrift, a
single white feather.

feather floats, as she thermals up. away.

feather, current-borne, hollow-shafted — cleft, wordless.

utterance is loss.

my (Father, a roil of words.

loss unutterable.

a crumbling shore. breaking sky.

forage for words. store them in cloth pockets, in satchels, in every
room of my house. they fall away. from every stitch and seam.
from every clasp.

on the verge of
a phrasing of birds awing in the grove. wrentit chatter-rattles.
chickadee, warbler, towhee. scuffle and trill.

ears atingle with chitter and chat. i sit still.

Prince George BC: For some reason, Prince George poet Rob Budde, who I'm almost always a fan of [see a previous note on him here, and another here], has produced poem's poem (Prince George BC: wink books, 2007), a small chapbook of poems that don’t quite do it for me. What's happened? I know he has a book or two out this year that I'm very much looking forward to. He still works the longer line, almost prose-poemy, and working the self-reference (check out the "pizza guy" reference that works into his 1999 collection traffick, for example), but for some reason these aren’t really doing anything for me; is this part of a larger project or structure I'm just not seeing? Otherwise, these poems about poems, which are difficult enough, and load themselves already just through their structure, seem aimless, and not exactly formless, but moving for the sheer sake perhaps of only moving. What are these poems all about?

Poem in the Overcode

Poem is a good boy, disturbs
the flow of pedestrians as little
as possible, mixes oil-based paint in
prescribed ways, eats the fictional
food groups, redeems his air
miles, watches hockey, thinks
about mutual funds and international
security, gets hopped up on
caffeine and sugar, has a full
medicine cabinet, frets over
fuel prices, is curious
about porn, submits regularly
to established magazines, finds
unique ways to create
vivid description and surprising
but comforting comparisons, breaks
the line right where it should, hears
screams at night, has a mellifluous
reading voice, is suspicious of
postmodern pomposity, dreams of the city
falling apart, demons
fouling the internet, resists discussing
the trivialities of language indeterminacy,
knows where he is going, tries
to get there on a straight straight overpass

Ottawa ON: With it's sixteenth issue, I've finally seen a copy of Matthew Firth's Front & Centre magazine, filled with "hard-hitting new fiction" by Tony O'Neill, Ian Colford, Carrie-May Siggins, Jeffrey Griffiths and Tom Leins, as well as a slew of fiction reviews. Published through his Black Bile Press, which he started out of Hamilton, Ontario about ten years ago to publish the poetry and fiction journal Black Cat 115, he has even produced some single-author chapbooks along the way, these days focusing on fiction, and leaving the poetry behind.

In many ways, Firth is a roughneck version of John Metcalf, kicking against as many pricks as he can in his search for not only good writing, but great writing. The guest editorial by Salvatore Difalco even echoes classic Metcalf (but with more swearing), writing:

Okay, so we all know the Giller Prize is bullshit. We just know. Nothing they tell us or show us will alter that opinion in the near future. But this year's Giller's took the cake. Now, I don’t mean this as a slur to a fellow writer. He's a patsy from the looks of it. But the word astonishing kept creeping up on me these past few months, indeed kept hitting me over the head, and I want to take a moment now to express my astonishment, because I really am astonished.

I read, or tried to read, Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures before it made the shortlist for the Giller. My wife had bought it for herself, and after she started it and dropped it abruptly with no comment, I had a look at it. I liked the cover; it was cool, blood red, with this pencil sketch of a human heart. I hate grandiose blurbs and the back cover had the best: "Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures is an astonishing literary debut…" Stop. There was that word again. I read the acknowledgments and found it interesting that Margaret Atwood and Michael Winter and a few other prominent writer types were mentioned. The guy had connections. Good for him.
If you're a fan of any kind of fiction, I would certainly recommend going through the rest of this editorial, and even the rest of the fiction in the magazine. There aren’t that many people left working to be great instead of merely passable. To get a copy, go through his website.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

M.A.C. Farrant's the breakdown so far


For George Bowering

I had a baby but it refused me, was not interested in nursing, made no demands. I put it in a closet, in its carrying cot, and when I went to get it, it was gone. The baby was a girl. Briefly, I was upset, panicked, ran looking for help, someone to report to. Ultimately it was to my sister-in-law. She'd moved the baby to another cupboard. "I need that cupboard for towels," she said. It was her cupboard, her towels. Soon after I left my sister-in-law's house. Put the baby into the back seat of the station wagon. Even though the baby still made no demands, I worried she might be hungry and stopped to nurse. She turned her head away. Clearly we were not bonding though I had tried. At home my husband said, "It's hormones, or you're a klutz, or who knows?" Then he lit my right nipple. My right nipple was a candle wick. In fact, I had five nipples located down my right front like a dog's. My husband lit all five. "Got to celebrate something," he said. But what? Then I remembered. Your birthday! Now I am back in the station wagon driving around with five burning nipples, your Happy Birthday song still sweet on my lips, and a baby who won't give me the time of day. But here's the thing: because of those nipples you get to make one birthday wish.
If you didn’t hear BC fiction writer M.A.C. Farrant launching her most recent collection of stories the breakdown so far (Vancouver BC: Talonbooks, 2007) at the ottawa international writers festival a few weeks back, then you really missed out on something important. The author of a number of other collections of fiction as well as a memoir (that she's currently adapting into a stage piece), Farrant's fictions are quick, quirky and wonderfully lively. Reminiscent of shorter fictions by such Ontario writers as Gary Barwin and Stuart Ross for their quick style and surreal movements, these seem more like little fictions than little stories, and read far stronger than anything I've read in the genre of very short stories. These are not stories she tells that fictionalize aspects of her own day to day, but instead work as compact little fictions almost like little myths, and far more compact than most. If you like Sheila Heti's The Middle Stories (Toronto ON: Anansi, 2001) or either of John Lavery's collections of short stories with ECW Press, then you'll certainly like the short bursts of M.A.C. Farrant.


Someone has cut off an old woman's legs and it wasn’t a man. It was another legless old woman, one of many who live like rats in the basements of department stores. They're a dangerous group, always on the prowl for recruits and replacement legs. They pull themselves along on their elbows. Once, when they had legs, they were agile and hopped like monkeys onto dinner tables to serve the family meal. Or scurried up flights of stairs carrying baskets full of children, amazing everyone. Now their hacked off stumps are feared. And the sight of their hair which is worn entwined with snakes and wreaths of blood. No one wants to join their party, but you can't avoid them. Each day they commandeer the public airwaves and broadcast their savage music, a discordant clashing of cymbals, horns, accordions, and drums. This means one or more of them has become a legless corpse and the hunt for replacement is on. We put on our steel pants then, wait for the all clear…

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Anne Stone's Delible

Very different from her first two novels is Anne Stone's third, Delible (Toronto ON: Insomniac Press, 2007). A Montreal author working the boundaries between fiction, poetry and performance, Stone's first two novels appeared nearly back-to-back, with her first small novel, Jacks (Montreal QC: DC Books, 1998) published just a few months before her second book, Hush (Toronto ON: Insomniac Press, 1999). After moving to Vancouver a few years ago, she started working on her large novel about missing children, and has been quietly working for quite some time, releasing fragments in side/lines: a new Canadian poetics (2002) and in The Capilano Review, among other venues. Compared to the language from the first two books, the language of Delible is far less lush, less lyric, moving the story through the story itself, predominantly of how a fifteen-year-old girl in the town of Streetsville in the 1980s copes with the disappearance of her sister, barely a year older than she is. How does a teenage girl cope? The main character, Melora (known as "Lora"), for all of her teenaged reactions and hormones, is a girl who sees the bad but manages to find the good in just about everyone, eventually. It's a quality that comes even further out after the strange disappearance of her sister Melanie (known as "Mel"), which her single mother and almost everyone else immediately presumes is simply the "troubled" teenage girl Mel running away from home, yet again.
Melissa Anne Sprague and Melora Ann Sprague. Melora and Melissa. Our mom named us so that we would sound alike. Of course, people were always shortening our names. I would’ve liked it if they shortened me to Mel too, but they always called me Lora and called Melissa Mel, as if they wanted to distinguish us more than we would ourselves. Mel was the first born, and so, was supposed to be named for our grandmother, Penny, but Mom didn’t want to name her for so little money. "Why don’t we just call her Chintzy and be done with it?" she said. And so, my sister was named Melissa. Melissa Ann Sprague.
Delible works from that singular point and holds there, moving through the rest of the book in a strange kind of pattern that isn’t holding and isn’t really furthering, moving from that singular point of Mel's disappearance. Essentially, Delible is a book about forgiveness; working back and forth through the time following Mel's disappearance and flashbacking to the events that might have led up to her "leaving," the main focus of the book comes through the voice of Lora (with others, such as the girls' mother and their paternal grandmother as well), trying to figure out the now-empty space where her sister used to be. Not entirely suburb or urban or rural, the family lives on the edges of 1980s Toronto in the now-defunct Streetsville, a city that only seems to be referenced as the place where the subway is, and where Mel's belongings are eventually discovered, leaving Lora convinced that her sister hasn’t left, but has been taken; to her deepening frustration, it takes longer for anyone else to either realize or admit this, leaving Lora lost in her own spreading and singular darkness, with very little for her to turn to. Originally from Streetsville herself (Anne Stone even attended Streetsville High School, the same alma mater as Red Green creator/counterpart Steve Smith), the place itself has long since been overcome by Mississauga, once a suburb outside of Toronto, which itself fell prey to the Toronto Supercity.
In some ways, it wasn’t Mel who was gone, it was everyone who hadn’t loved her
that was gone. After Mel, my field of vision became unstable. I became prone to drift. In all things. It was an effort, a real effort, to focus in and talk to people. The ones I clung to were Mom and Uncle Dave, Val and the Woodsman.

The world that went on without Mel in it became dim. I could list the things that were real to me on one hand. Mel's old glasses were real, and so were the people I could see with the glasses, the signs of hurt eaten into, made soft, by her powerful lens.

Nobody and nothing else mattered.

When I missed her badly enough, I could put on the glasses and we could look out at the world together. I could sense her, the moment I stopped seeing everything clearly and my world clouded up like hers would when she would take her glasses off each night before slipping into bed.

After she was gone, my sister and I were more alike than ever. We shared the same lens and we shared the same language. My experiences did not happen apart from her. My experiences did not happen apart from her. I could not, in my head, split off from Mel because she was gone. To think about Mel meant my experiences, even those without her, were bound up with her still.
For all of the beautiful lush language of her earlier works, Stone's writing has always embraced a particular kind of darkness, writing about illness, insanity, suicide and other dark threads throughout almost everything she has written, but always with a particular kind of light somehow seeing its own way through it, no matter how dark it might get. How does an author or a character find light, in such a darkness?

With all the media attention given to the horrors of the Pickton trial, the west coast is overwrought with the issue these days, and apparently Stone is co-editing an issue of West Coast Line dealing with some of these same issues of disappearing women that is due out any day now.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Why doesn’t Ottawa have a Poet Laureate (anymore)?

It seems to be all the rage over the past near-decade in Canada, for various geographies across the country to start up with their own Poet Laureate. Why a poet laureate? What does it all mean? Apparently England has considered it important enough that the position was created there for a national Poet Laureate in 1668; ours are much more recent. But what does it all mean? According to the website for the Toronto version, "Toronto's Poet Laureate serves as the City's literary ambassador. As an advocate for poetry, language and the arts, the Poet Laureate attends events across the city to promote and attract people to the literary world. The Poet Laureate's mandate also includes the creation of a legacy project that will be unique to the individual." According to Victoria, British Columbia, "The main goal of the Poet Laureate is to raise awareness of literary arts and the positive impact literature and poetry can have on the community. The Poet Laureate will produce three new poems each year and recite poems at seven City events annually; including the Mayor's Annual Address, the Butler Book Prize Gala and at least one City Council meeting." In Prince Edward Island, the duties are written that the "Poet Laureate shall undertake such activities to promote the objectives of the office as may be appropriate, including, but not limited to, composing poetry related to legislative or state occasions and events of significance, visiting schools, presenting or arranging poetry readings and assisting with writing workshops or other activities."

But what does it all mean? A lot more than simple cheerleader for the art, but at the same time, that seems to be exactly what it is. In the late 1990s I was on national council of the League of Canadian Poets when we decided to start bothering the federal government to start up a national poet laureate, and there was plenty of discussion on what the position entailed, and why the position was needed (and not needed); our pestering eventually became the Parliamentary Poet Laureate position, which was founded in 2002 for a posting of two years, and included Vancouver troublemaker George Bowering as its first (2002-2004), Quebecois poet Pauline Michel (2004-2006) and current Montreal poet John Steffler (2006-2008). According to the Senate of Canada Bill S-10 (passed February 8, 2001), "An Act to amend the Parliament of Canada Act (Parliamentary Poet Laureate)," the job of the Parliamentary Poet Laureate was to:
(a) write poetry, especially for use in Parliament on occasions of state;

(b) sponsor poetry readings;

(c) give advice to the Parliamentary Librarian regarding the collection of the Library and acquisitions to enrich its cultural holdings; and

(d) perform such other related duties as are requested by either Speaker or the Parliamentary Librarian.
What made George Bowering interesting as our first in the national position was the fact that he started putting poetry on the website (which doesn’t always seem to work; I hope they're archiving what he collected as editor for such), collecting weekly poems by various writers across the country (making it less about him and more about the actual writers that exist across Canada); part cheerleader, part craftsman, part media-savvy workhorse. Even during his tenure, he talked about he wasn’t terribly interested in writing poems about state visits, or if a Prime Minister or member of the Royal Family died, but instead brought poems more into public view by, among other things, writing a piece for the opening of a baseball game, and another that was turned into a music video for television.

Opening Day
for George Stanley

On opening day
you can open your stance,
you can open a book,

take a good look, yeah,
take a liking, like
to a Viking.

Take a swing at a thing
like a sinker, ahuh,
be a thinker,

think of getting down to second,
take a second.
take a look.
take a lead-off,
read a book.

Rounding third, like a bird,
read the sign
from your coach,
your approach

to the plate,
isn’t late,
isn’t great,
but okay, okay, okay,

okay, you're safe,
safe at home,

read a poem,
read this poem,

read about base,
read about ball,
read about baseball.

I mean don’t delay it.
Get down and play it. (George Bowering, Vermeer's Light)

Since those original arguments during League of Canadian Poets AGMs, there seem to have a whole slew of Poet Laureates across the country, both city and provincial. In Toronto, Dennis Lee was the first to hold the three year position (2001-2004), and its current held by Pier Giorgio Di Cicco (2004-2007). In Halifax, first city Poet Laureate was Sue MacLeod (2001-2005), who even edited an anthology as a legacy project, To Find Us: Words and Images of Halifax (2005), including work by more than fifty Halifax-area writers and photographers; the second poet to hold the post is Lorri Neilson Glenn (2005-2009). In June 2005, Alice Major was named Edmonton's first Poet Laureate. Victoria, BC announced poet Carla Funk as their first city Poet Laureate for a two and a half year term starting June 30, 2006. In 2007, Agnes Walsh became the first Poet Laureate for St. John's, Newfoundland, which holds a four year position and pays $5,000 a year. More recently, Vancouver announced poet and Professor Emeritus of UBC's Creative Writing Program George McWhirter as their inaugural Poet Laureate in March 2007, with an annual stipend of $5,000. Saskatoon poet and publisher Glen Sorestad (2000-2004) was the first provincial Poet Laureate when Saskatchewan named him in 2000, with subsequent Laureates Louise B. Halfe (2005-2006) and Robert Currie (2007-2008). Frank Ledwell became the first for Prince Edward Island in 2004 (2004-2007). Where is all this money for poetry coming from? St John's, Edmonton and Vancouver (for example) each pay their Poet Laureates $5,000 a year, with the national getting $12,000 (as well as office space and a secretary, of all things). In Sackville, New Brunswick, poet Douglas Lochhead takes his position as an honorary one, without stipend. It's an impressive list of not only writers getting attention by elected officials, the media and perspective readers (and getting some money, which this art almost never sees), but poetry and literary works as a whole getting acknowledgment in various corners of the country; to help one, therefore, helps many.

for Bill & Mim Maust

In this world the swans exist
on one axis; no need for y
for those who only feed and float
and send up dreams to the watchers

in air. All the time you were
gone they remained: invisible,
hypothetical, and I thought: They
are creatures of bread and water,

the things we believe in, sight
unseen. So I sat, silently each
morning as the geese dropped down
like questions from the y-axis world.

I always imagined the place with
the answers would be complicated,
impenetrable. But the swans dip in
and out of the one line that exists,

like a river, undulating, ancient,
the straight road bending itself into
a perfect world. Can you feel the
earth, on its axis, stop for a moment

and then everything, including us,
cease hurtling? So briefly space extends
between eternal cedars and the swans
and we are written on the waters

before why, and how, and where,
and who, in the one place we all will
remember, in our numbered perils,
as pure and clear. And the swans?

Black or white, they float in their
quiet mathematics, still points
in the Irvine or imaginary stream:
slow, steady arrows of creation. (Diana Brebner, The Ishtar Gate)

What not everyone knows is that the City of Ottawa (then, the Regional Municipality of Ottawa-Carleton) actually had three city poet laureates in the 1980s. Conceived by Ottawa poet, Dr. Catherine Ahearn in 1981 to "help promote the City of Ottawa as well as enrich the lives of its citizens," she promoted the idea to then-Ottawa Mayor Marion Dewar, who made the position official in 1982, and named Ahearn herself the first Ottawa poet laureate, who, for her three year, dollar a year position, was to write six poems a year, and attend various civic and community group functions across the city. Through this, she wrote poems that seem exactly the kind Bowering was wise enough to steer clear of, penning small pieces on the Ottawa River, or on Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer in her self-published Poet Laureate poems, 1982-1984 (1984). The position was later held by poet, fiction writer and University of Ottawa professor Cyril Dabydeen (1984-1987), and poet and former Anthos magazine and Anthos Books editor/publisher Patrick White (1987-1990), who moved out to Perth, Ontario in February, 1988, not five months after Mayor Jim Durrell had named him Laureate. Around the same time, some of the French-speaking poets in town were wondering why all three Ottawa Poet Laureates had been English? If you can imagine it, Ottawa with its own city-sponsored Poet Laureate a decade or more earlier than most cities across Canada that currently have the position. Why did they stop the program? Apparently the position was more honorary than anything else, and paid a stipend of but $1 a year. Apparently, after White's tenure as Laureate was finished, the position was quietly eliminated. As Dabydeen wrote in a piece in The Ottawa Citizen on November 15, 1986:
While no one has expected me to pen verses in the manner of a D.C. Scott or an Archibald Lampman (the two best poets who ever lived here), I've been tempted to justify the honour of being Ottawa's poet laureate by churning out heroic couplets on some epochal or historical event. Why not, for instance, trace the history of Ottawa as a burgeoning small lumber town, ringing with the cries of the Glengarry men on the Ottawa River on its way to becoming a bureaucracy-crazed nation's capital?
What is it this city has against the arts? It seems to be forgotten that (whatever else you thought about the writing) Ottawa and Fredericton were the seats of poetry in Canada in the late 1800s and early 1900s, before being replaced a few decades later by Toronto and Montreal. It seems to be forgotten simply how much writing exists and has existed in this city over the past one hundred and fifty years [see also: my "living the arts in ottawa: an open letter" entry]. As editor John Bell wrote of Confederation poet Archibald Lampman as introduction to his book, Ottawa, A Literary Portrait (Halifax NS: Pottersfield Press, 1992), "Writing in the February 4, 1893 installment of the Toronto Globe column 'At the Mermaid Inn,' Lampman argued that while Ottawa could not be expected to ever surpass Toronto or Montreal as a commercial centre, the capital would eventually overtake its rivals in the cultural sphere, becoming 'in the course of the ages the Florence of Canada, if not of America, and the plain of the Ottawa its Val d’Arno.'" We might not have become what Lampman might have hoped, but still have a history that somehow the official line doesn’t seem to be terribly interested in, even as acknowledging its own history.


The streets are full of overweight corporals,
of sad grey computer captains, the impedimentia
of a capital city, struggling through the snow.

There is a cold gel on my belly, an instrument
is stroking it incisively, the machine
in the half-lit room is scribbling my future.

It is not illegal to be unhappy.
A shadowy technician says alternately,
Breathe, and, You may stop now.
It is not illegal to be unhappy. (John Newlove, Groundswell: best of above/ground press 1993-2003)

Much of the question, I would think, has to do with much of Ottawa's official self-dismissal; there was even a recent piece in The Ottawa Citizen by Andrew Cohen, complaining that Ottawa isn’t a world class city. At least it's refreshing to see the amount of angry letters that poured in, to contradict his dismissal and insults against the City of Ottawa, but how are we continually stuck in the same story? I have to say I was even disturbed to watch then-Mayor Bob Chiarelli pretty much ignore the 150th anniversary of the City of Ottawa in 2005, and now have our current Mayor seemingly ignoring this year's 150th anniversary as the seat of Parliament. Even Canada Post knows well enough that this is an event, and the National Capital Commission is (as they should very well be) in on it. Why do the Mayors keep ignoring this?

There have already been poems written on the city for decades; the work of the poet laureate has been already happening by various individuals in the city for years, with poems on the city over the past thirty years by poets such as David O'Meara, Colin Morton, John Newlove [see my note on his "Ottawa poems" here], Amanda Earl, Michelle Desbarats [see my note on her here], Seymour Mayne, Stephen Brockwell [see my note on him here], Michael Dennis, Dennis Tourbin, William Hawkins [see my interview with him here] and George Elliott Clarke (see his recent book Black for some magnificent Ottawa poems; some of them were previously published in ottawater…), just to name a few. Or what of the poems written by residents, past and present, during their tenure here, such as Matthew Holmes [see my review of his book here], Shane Rhodes [see my review of his third book here], K.I. Press, Christian Bök, Nadine McInnis, John Barton, Stephanie Bolster, Monty Reid, Louis Cabri, jwcurry, Max Middle [see my note on him here], Anita Lahey, Nicholas Lea, Laura Farina [see my review of her book here], Rob Manery or Robert Hogg? Perhaps the 1980s were too early, too soon for what has become a national idea; is it time to reopen the debates of our own Ottawa laureate, during our second anniversary year over the past few? Why do city heads and officials keep passing us over for what is it we have done, are doing, have already started? What else do we need to do?

Monday, May 14, 2007

Nathaniel G. Moore's Let's Pretend We Never Met
TWELVE YEARS ON, Catullus was a poet on whom I had no intention of giving up. He was someone I didn’t particularly want to lose to another. By any means necessary I would be his and he would be mine. That's the thread of this storyline. So when I finally met up with his literary agent in late 2005 do discuss a new project, I felt like things were going to work out between us. The meeting was legendary, conducted at The Chelsea Room on Dundas Street West. The whisky sours, poured in front of low watt bulb cleavage, were anointed with spearmint, which particularly cocooned the ice, creating an addictive residue. I reviewed all the letters I'd sent Catullus over the years. They were neatly tied up in a red silk scarf. Harvey Mandolini, Catullus's agent, showed me photographs of him on a ski trip, as well as some at his office. In one, Catullus was petting a black goat. "He sneezed on Catallus," Harvey recalled. "Catullus was terrified for months."

Next to him on the table were several letters Catullus had written to me but never mailed. I told Harvey about the project, and his eyes lit up. When I revealed the plan, which involved moving the bawdy bard into a house with some of his old friends, Harvey explained how as of late Catullus really "needed to interact with others," and how it seemed as if the poet were "in a real rut."

It could be said that Catullus devoted his life to eroticizing pain rather than exorcising it. Have I read too deeply into his romantic crime-scene after-gashes? Perhaps. Upon hearing I was into Catallus, my grandfather wrote me in 1997: "And what is your interest in Catallus? I read his poetry in 1932 and thought little of it."

IDENTIDEM means again and again, and is found in Catullus's landmark piece in which he reveals a secret and married lover, Clodia Metelli, as Lesbia. (Carmen LI) In this word (identidem) I hear the word tandem, identity and of course dent. I also hear the word identical, as it identical acts: I feel this again and again, I see this happening again and again. I picture someone saying softly 'I dented him.' This takes my breath away. An obsessed congregation of one, talking in tongues. Perhaps two tongues. In Catullus's work, duality is a theme, the voice simultaneously loving and hating, expressing remorse and detachment, curiosity and apathy, without commitment to remain in either field, without commitment to an absolute.
And so begins the newest story of Catullus, as told by Nathaniel G. Moore. There's just something to the way Toronto (or Montreal, depending on what kind of week he's having) writer Nathaniel G. Moore treats his subject, in his own version of Catullus in Let's Pretend We Never Met (Toronto ON: Pedlar Press, 2007). As the back cover says, "Catallus, renowned Roman poet who wrote lyrical love poems for his secret mistress Lesbia (Clodia Metelli), died in 54 BC, heartbroken, at the age of thirty." Moore moves Catullus into modern times as a vehicle for a story of his own broken hearted obsessions in what becomes part poem, part essay and part fiction, blending the two in a twisted narrative that could be compared, structurally, to Michael Ondaatje's The Collected Works of Billy the Kid (Toronto ON: House of Anansi, 1970). Certainly, Moore isn’t the first contemporary Canadian poet to deal with the image or figure of Roman Catullus; Canadian poet and essayist Anne Carson has referenced Catullus in various places, and Toronto poet and translator Ewan Whyte even did his own bilingual Latin/English edition of Catullus a few years ago, publishing Catullus: Lyric Rude & Erotic (Oakville ON: Mosaic Press, 2004). As Whyte wrote in the introduction to his edition,
The Roman poet Catullus wrote with a sensibility so close to our own that sometimes it is hard to believe he was an ancient writer. He did not write about legendary wars, the Roman Empire, or its founding myths. He wrote mostly about people he knew and either loved or hated. He drew upon a tradition that was originally Greek and he transformed that older tradition into something modern and graceful.
Just based on that, how could someone like Moore, known previously for a fictional documentary novel about the life of a bowler, the novel Bowlbrawl (Montreal QC: Conundrum Press, 2005) not want to work through the familiar strains of Catullus' writing and life? Both books share the same initial premise: starting from the point of an argued combination of fact and fiction, and twisting them into Moore's version of what could easily be either, or both, but completely making it his own. Making it his own to the point that it becomes hard to tell where the fictional character ends and Nathaniel G. Moore begins.

Temporary Lust Supplement

Treasure the wound; cherish its cohesive state, its topical status.
Envy red puffy synergy, its vulnerable theatre, as odorous

cure-alls clog nose of room, it was like the poem to a napkin thief
Catallus wrote, a rotten dinner guest who made off with—

Perhaps someone sat on it, disappeared in a pocket or curve.
Cherish its cohesive state, topical status,

ache over the missing napkin, in our daily lives.
Each moment we breathe, "pass me a napkin,"

our inner Catallus does inventory, forever domestic,
nostalgic, hung up on all the wrong things.

Envy the red puffy synergy, sopped-up sleeve of red wine.

Is this Catullus or is this Moore? As Whyte continues,
Catullus tells us that his book was not popular in Rome. That is understandable; it was too new. Cicero read his poems, and Catallus' friend, the poet Calvus, had a correspondence with Cicero that filled two volumes, but it is now lost. We do not know what Cicero thought of Catullus and his literary circle but there was one poem addressed to him from Catullus. It seems it was just the type of poem Cicero would have liked:

The highest praise of the sons of Romulus
who have come before, and those yet to come,
is yours for eloquence Marcus Tullius.
Catullus, worst of poets, offers you his gratitude.
The worst of poets as you are the greatest of Orators.
Based on the outsider status that Moore, self-titled "literary superstar" has been cultivating (with echoes of Montreal writer Jon Paul Fiorentino's "beta male") over the past few years, Catullus would seem an almost perfect fit. When he edited the poetry and fiction anthology Desire, Doom and Vice: A Canadian Collection (Stratford ON: Wingate Press, 2005) a few years ago, in his "Editor's Note," he wrote that:
People will always say something, but it is not always written down or fettered into record. No, society leaves that up to the neurotic, the twitchy, the falsely nostalgic, or the magicians of words who blur lines between emotionally-intellectual vexing and the everyday vapid lust exorcisms of primal urges. Yes, writers, or those suspected of being writers.

When one is kicked down the stairs, whether it is carpeted or not, whether there is an echo or silence, one picks up a few souvenirs on the way. The same occurs when
one walks up the stairs without a tumble.

Conceptually and historically, objects such as a burning farmhouse or a volcanic shopping mall have represented Doom, but it originated from the human mind, and remains a word beyond a singular or collective image, and therefore—to those who choose to use it—the word can be as subjective as sock colours, fruit textures, cut of
underwear or even yes, bus fumes. I mean, if one really hates money for example; and works in a bank, but is paid well, can support their family, pay the bills, then in a very narrow way, according to their own discrepancy, that person is doomed. It's with that annoying and exacting nature that I have formed my attachment to the three veins Desire, Doom and Vice.
It's an argument that, easily, could apply to Catullus as well, or at least Moore's treatment of him.

Beta Love

tweaks a brilliant tracking problem
with some Scotch Tape and brandy

consumed with talcum lips,
charmed in prickling cactus tears,

cures hunger with rich salad,
strawberries and my special vinaigrette,

drowns a sentimental rain forest
does stroke and your face glides

in regrettable forecasts; from the ghost
of the sun to the lotion the wind wears,

panic lovingly then insane
over the price of soap


knot up anxious at the fear of gums
being massaged by human bristles

scalded by your callousness,
I am so afraid I run away

to the mountains and feed my body
to the famine mascot birds until I crawl

back into your cave streaked with cranberry
tears, mouth rimmed in wet sand.

I should visit
I can always run away

if you try to chainsaw my limbs off
but you know I need love.

Everybody loves a lost-love story; lyric poetry, as they call it, seems to be filled with all sorts of love lost, love neared, love betrayed and love achieved, in whatever order or combination an author might see fit, depending on their circumstance. Even the late John Newlove said that all of his poems were about "desire." What is it about the story of Catallus and his Clodia that appealed specifically to Nathaniel G. Moore? As American author and translator Peter Green wrote in the introduction to his own comprehensive volume of Catullus translations, The Poems of Catullus: A Bilingual Edition (Berkeley CA: University of California Press, 2005):
I therefore accept, in broad outline, what is in fact the old and traditional account of Catullus' famous, intense, and (despite its brief moments of happiness) essentially ill-starred infatuation, together with its long-accepted chronology (with some variations, Schwabe's version [1862- 358-61]; for recent criticisms and corrections see Holzberg 2002, 19-21; Skinner 2003, xix-xxii). His inamorata was Clodia, second (?) daughter of Appius Claudius Pulcher, the wife of Q. Metellus Celer. They probably met for the first time in 62/1, during her husband's tour of duty as propraetor of Cisalpine Gaul. Clodia was then about thirty-three. We do not know how long she and Metellus had been married, but it may have been as much as fifteen years (her one child, her daughter Metella, could by then have been nearly nubile). Catallus was probably twenty-two or twenty-three—a good decade younger. Where did the meeting take place? Verona is a possibility. Even if governors' wives normally stayed in Rome, a woman like Clodia made her own rules, and as Caesar later stayed with Catullus's father when en poste, it is very likely that Metellus did so too.
There is a fresh quality (and a strange humour) that Moore brings to the voice of Catallus, and channeling that voice through Catullus and into something else, that previous versions of the same character just seem to miss, as he mixes high art with low art, emotional highs and lows with pop culture references and in-betweens and all the nonsense of the every day into something it already was: the real.

All The Gory Sadness Is Over
I told you we would howl

from this proximity it's not stalking
we share a large pint of malt Viagra
sipped through bendy straw
tofu or not we sparrow fast forever

all the cycles have sickened
all the gory sadness is over
we will heckle Jupiter all night
without science or scholars
knot the telescope
in our shadowed boxers
dripping dry

I have executed the congregation
finish your conjunctions
meet me in
isolation chamber C
with the safeguard carpeting

spectre never
you a double you
me a double me
on my knees gregarious,
gargling laryngitis tea

evaluate like encourage
joy valve
resolve like revolver
release single, "Roll Over, Catullus"

life diced
lies diced

lice combed
tombs toned
shafts shackled

now that you’ve relived it
relieve it; release its
caustic imprint
all the gory sadness is over
all is known, everything is nouned

overdose on pain variables
creates verb recollection
debt absolved, love solvent
become solved

Sunday, May 13, 2007

new (finally, slowly) from above/ground press


When Cassandra awakes the sun
is already in the room, so too
the salted riverbank smell,
dampness infecting the sheets.

This wave of blood has flowed
from her body, the white cotton
nightdress dyed red makes her
a target, the mattress beneath
drenched. Called for, Hecuba
takes the stairs in twos, places
her hands on Cassandra's warm
cheeks, raves about the moon.
Now who's crazy, thinks Cassandra
and pulls away, Hecuba sitting
on the drowned bed, both their hands
stained red. (Rhonda Douglas)

Anyone paying attention to any of these things will know that I'm infamously late with some of these above/ground press subscription mailings, & that I've barely made anything since last summer; I've been working to correct that for months (& once I'm in Alberta, not only will mailing be better & more regular, but the backlog of publications & previous mailings will be completely caught up; watch too for a secret (still) above/ground project that starts when I arrive!), including perpetually-forthcoming chapbooks by Karen Clavelle (Winnipeg), Cath Morris (Vancouver) & Barry McKinnon (Prince George), as well as a corrected publication by Phil Hall (Toronto) & Margaret Christakos' (Toronto) STANZAS… (oh, why can't photocopying just be free or something…); for a reading as part of The Factory Reading Series a few days ago [see Amanda Earl's report on the reading here], there were two new little publications that came out, including:

by Kate Greenstreet (New Jersey)


Time, If It Exists, The Cassandra Poems
by Rhonda Douglas (Ottawa)

For more information on American poet Kate Greenstreet, see my review of her first poetry collection case sensitive here; for more information on Ottawa poet Rhonda Douglas, check out my note on her poetry here. To order either of these little books, add $1 for postage, & in Canadian currency; if sending from outside Canada, send in American, payable to rob mclennan, c/o 858 Somerset Street West, main floor, Ottawa, Ontario Canada K1R 6R7; above/ground press subscribers receive (honest!) a complimentary copy; calendar year subscriptions available for $40, & include chapbooks, broadsides, STANZAS magazine & The Peter F. Yacht Club.

Saturday, May 12, 2007


Said to be the third-longest-running-continuing reading series in the country (after Harbourfront in Toronto and The Yellow Door in Montreal), The TREE Reading Series happens twice a month at the Royal Oak on Laurier Avenue East (at the University of Ottawa) at 8pm on the second and fourth Tuesday of every month with an open set and featured reader. Constantly evolving, the current directors, Rhonda Douglas [see my note on her here; see Amanda Earl's note on Rhonda's recent reading with Kate Greenstreet] and Dean Steadman are moving the series from the basement of the Royal Oak II to the Ottawa Public Library an hour earlier. Upcoming readers include poets Suzanne Buffam, Max Middle, Sue Elmslie and Monty Reid, and an evening of up-and-coming Ottawa writers; you can find out more about their current and upcoming readers here.

At the reading series' twenty-fifth anniversary, outgoing directors James Moran and Jennifer Mulligan even edited a celebratory anthology, Twenty-Five Years of Tree (Ottawa ON: BuschekBooks, 2005), highlighting some past readers, and giving a listing of all events over the years (I even ran the series for a while, from June 1994 to January 1999).
Here's a photo taken by audience member Tom Grace from the reading that Ottawa poet David O'Meara did on this past Tuesday, with myself, Rhonda Douglas, O'Meara and Dean Steadman.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Seminal: The Anthology of Canada's Gay Male Poets, eds. John Barton and Billeh Nickerson

One of the books launched at this spring's ottawa international writers festival was Seminal: The Anthology of Canada's Gay Male Poets, eds. John Barton and Billeh Nickerson (Vancouver BC: Arsenal Pulp Press, 2007). Featuring the work of fifty-seven Canadian poets, the list of contributors moves from Frank Oliver Call, Émile Nelligan, Douglas LePan and Edward A. Lacey [see the piece on him in the new issue of here] to Ian Stephens, Clint Burnham, bill bissett, Michael V. Smith, Sky Gilbert and Todd Bruce. Going through the list of contributors, predominantly in English but a few in translation from French, there does seem something strange in realizing that this is the first poetry anthology of its kind (which makes one wonder why there weren’t any attempts to do so previously), as Barton writes in the introduction:
This first anthology of Canadian gay male poetry takes its place in a line of similar anthologies published elsewhere in the English-speaking world, including Edward Carpenter's Ioläus (1902), Patrick Anderson and Alistair Sutherland's Eros: An Anthology of Friendship (1961), Ian Young's The Male Muse (1973) and The Son of the Male Muse (1983), and Stephen Coote's The Penguin Book of Homosexual Verse (1983). Carpenter, Anderson and Sutherland, and Coote all start with ancient times and work their way up. In the case of the first two, they do not focus on poetry exclusively while, in the third instance, Coote also includes work by women. Only living poets appear in Young's anthologies, with mutually exclusive sets of contributors published in each. In 1995, Michael Holmes and Lynne [sic] Crosbie, two straight Toronto writers, published the much smaller Plush, Canada's first contemporary anthology of gay male poetry, featuring three Canadian and two American poets. Five years later, Timothy Liu published Word of Mouth, collecting into a single volume fifty-eight American poets born in the twentieth century (he did not have to deal with Whitman or Crane, as a consequence), an anthology he affirms in the introduction was conceived in light of the many gay male poetry anthologies that had already been published in the United States; Liu's efforts to map American gay male verse have served as a model for Seminal.
There are those, writers and readers both, who find any sort of labelling before the word "writer" somewhat suspect, whether it be gay, black or woman (I know of at least one author who wasn’t comfortable reading as a "gay writer," instead preferring to read as a "writer," since their work wasn’t specifically "gay"); isn't it about "writing" first and everything else second? Being that I'm white, straight and male, it's an argument others would argue I know absolutely nothing about, and they'd be right. Too many times to call one "writer" is to presume the white, straight and maleness of the art, and more often than not they might be right, but increasingly not.

Part of what I like about this anthology is the sheer range of authors, moving in and out of all sorts of groupings, whether stylistic, geographic or temporal, and through various cliques and otherwise, with, supposedly, nothing these authors have in common but for they are gay Canadian men who write poetry; how arbitrary, one could say, is that? Part of what makes this book interesting is the fact that this could easily be read simply as an anthology of interesting work, moving across all sorts of boundaries between groups and cities, from the poems of Vancouver poet (formerly from Prince George) George Stanley to Toronto writer and filmmaker R.M. Vaughan to Ottawa poet (formerly from Alberta) Shane Rhodes [see my review of his most recent book here] to Toronto/Vancouver poet and performer bill bissett to Winnipeg author Todd Bruce (who, after years of silence, really needs to have a new book out).

Prince Rupert Blues

O Eros, have you finally escaped
me, so that neither in the streets
or the pubs will your prowling, animalistic power,
manifesting itself through the slow smiles,

graceful-awkward demeanor & straightforward talk
of the young guys who are your embodiments,
locate me gladly, on this earth
as if at home, as in a place

where my nature is permitted,
not divided from my behaviour
by abstract precepts & propositions?

Return to me in the night, be
purest sensation, a one night
stand, i won't try to understand.

after Paul Goodman (George Stanley)

Part of what I have noticed about Canadian poetry in general, is the discomfort that CanLit seems to have with any sort of humour in poems at all, as though there is something and somehow less when a poem is funny than when it is so very serious, weighty and oh so cleverly witty. It's something that writers such as Montrealers David McGimpsey and Jon Paul Fiorentino have talked about, as has Toronto writer Stuart Ross. Alternately, the humour in gay male poetry is not only there, but sometimes flamboyantly and over-the-top there, and wonderfully accepted, such as in this piece by co-editor Billeh Nickerson:

Why I Love Wayne Gretzky—An Erotic Fantasy

Because he knows what to do with pucks,
slapshots, wristshots, all that intricate stickwork
as he slips through defencemen,
shoots between the legs
& scores.

Because he likes to pretend
I'm the zamboni & he
the filthy ice.

Because even if he's tired
he'll perk up
whenever I sing O Canada.

Because sometimes my dyslexia makes me see
a giant 69 on his back.

Because he's always ready for overtime—
because he never shoots then snores.

Because he understands the importance of
a good organ player.

Because he calls me his stick boy.

Because he likes to be tied up
with the laces from his skates.

Because behind every great man
it feels good.

In range and feel, in a way, this book reminds me of Wayde Compton's own anthology Bluesprint: Black British Columbian Literature and Orature (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2001); and make me wonder if a particular part of the vision/construction of such a project came directly from Vancouver publisher Arsenal Pulp Press, in moving from the beginnings of such writings to some of the most recent (with contributors born well into the 1970s). In Compton's anthology, the range of contributors is a bit wider, moving from Sir James Douglas (1803-1877) to Sara Singh Parker-Toulson (b. 1977), collecting quite a range of contributions, and giving quite a large amount of weight to the history of black settlers in the province of British Columbia. Slightly smaller, the range of Seminal moves from Frank Oliver Call (1878-1956) to young Sean Horlor, born in 1981; providing, still, its own serious weight of contributors and years, and easily far more than most readers would have been aware of. Books such as these are important and even essential for tracking a particular thread that might not otherwise have been seen, or seen for being so prevalent throughout Canadian writing over the years, no longer hidden through lack of attention or delegated to the sidelines. Apparently there is an anthology edited by Nicole Brossard doing the same in French but for French-Canadian (or French-Quebec, I can't remember) gay and lesbian poets out sometime this year; hopefully someone is capable of speaking both languages (unlike myself) and could possibly write about both in a review, somewhere?


A boy is waiting for me tonight in Santiago.
He does not know he has seen me for the last time.

At nine, under the university clock, I told him:
I'll take you to dinner, and then we'll find a hotel room.

He walks back and forth under the clock, smokes a cigarette,
Stares after the passing buttocks, wonders where the maricón is.

But maricónes are always late, like women,
And, anyhow, where else could I find a man like him?

He has brown eyes, brown skin. He's—let's say—a mechanic.
He was passionate in bed. I think I liked him.

At nine-thirty he decides he'll give me fifteen minutes.
At ten he definitely decides to go, but yet…

I gave him food, I gave him money, I gave him my body.
I even gave—I guess—affection. But I could not give him my time.

He's tired. It's getting cold. He's out fifty pesos.
But he should have known. A maricón is a maricón.

He stands under the clock in Santiago.
He knows now he will never see me again. (Edward A. Lacey)

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

poem for some
of the closer planets

& being implausible, the mark
at which the mirror

a circle of deep attention
& an edge

of rounded glass; seal now,
in the unbound snow

of starry residue

a clear night clear the language
at the speed of light

& passing cars; the speed of sound,
what whisper

would a pinpoint make

gas giants or a planet stone,
surround moon scars & rocky rings

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Ongoing notes: early May, 2007

Why am I wasting so much of my time on my myspace page? Using it as a jukebox, predominantly (check out some of the Ottawa bands I've got on there; although I have been blogging there, too). And why did I let Jennifer build me a facebook page too? Did you see the article in City Journal misquoting myself and Nicholas Lea? Or this piece on Rachel Zolf that mentions my name? Or this fantastic article in The Ottawa Citizen? Or this interview that mentions my name (why do they keep upper casing me)? Amanda Earl on Ottawa's cultural capital? Did you see how Ron Silliman so kindly keeps mentioning my name on his magnificent blog? Did you see the piece I recently wrote on Sandra Ridley in the ottawa poetry newsletter? And I'm almost completely recovered from our little ottawa international writers festival (spring edition) that we keep insisting on doing over here, and gearing up now for the ottawa small press book fair on June 16th, with readings the night before by secret mystery out-of-towners; my new book and Nicholas Lea's new book seem to be doing pretty well, but could always be doing better; copies are now available in Ottawa at Collected Works, mother tongue books and Octopus Books (with more to follow…). Watch for a reading he and I might be doing with Ottawa poet Marcus McCann later in June at that Carleton Tavern

Will I see any of you at the next Factory Reading on May 10th, featuring Ottawa poet Rhonda Douglas [see my note on her here] and American poet Kate Greenstreet [see my review of her first book here]? They're both launching chapbooks from above/ground press… Will I see any of you when I read in Toronto on May 16th for the DRAFT reading series? Will I see any of you back here in Ottawa when we launch Decalogue 2: ten Ottawa fiction writers (Chaudiere Books) at The Mercury Lounge on May 18th? Did you see this communal blog I've started for my upcoming time in Edmonton? It'll be a few months before it gears up properly… I just found out that Marita Dachsel [see my review of her first book here] will even be there when I am, as her husband is going to be playwright-in-residence there; after publishing her eleven years ago, I'll finally get to meet her… Did you even notice our call for submissions for short short fiction? I need reviewers for the upcoming issue of ottawater; anyone interested?

Former Ottawa resident and current Vancouver writer Susannah M. Smith now has a blog.

Fredericton NB: Joe Blades recently sent me a copy of a small publication he edited and published, the collection UGLY: an instant spoken word chapbook anthology (Fredericton NB: Broken Jaw Press, 2007), produced out of a recent event in Banff. It's great that Blades is still making these small records of events he's participated in, and he's produced a number of them over the years; even to keep track of them is to be amazed in just what Blades has been involved in over the quarter-century he's been writing, producing, editing, publishing and just simply making. So much spoken word gets lost through a lack of permanent record, with readings becoming temporal events; if you weren’t there, you completely missed it, so any record of who did what and where becomes essential for the writing of any history (see also the book of Montreal spoken word produced by Conundrum Press a few years ago…). Collecting pieces by a number of participants to a spoken word conference/festival from across Canada (I'd heard rumours of it recently), including Fortner Anderson (Montreal), Joe Blades (Fredericton), Klyde Broox (Hamilton), T.L. Cowan (Edmonton), Ivan E. Coyote (Vancouver), Drek Daa (Winnipeg), Ian Ferrier (Montreal), cheryl l'hirondelle (Vancouver), D. Kimm (Montreal), Kevin Matthews (Ottawa), Sean McGarragle (Vancouver), Dwayne Morgan (Toronto), Billeh Nickerson (Vancouver), Hilary Peach (Gabriola Island), Andrea Thompson (Toronto), RC Weslowski (Vancouver) and Sheri-D Wilson (Calgary).

You who want nothing

recline your small head, you lovely
duckling. fuzzy fluff of darlingness.

kiting into a new reality, a healthy cigarette dangling,
a bottle of Glenmorangie, a cabin with a hot tub in the mountains.

strong enough to do fifty push-ups, but in that lithe,
limber way. no one wants to look like a Russian on steroids.

quack on over here, rub against my soft skin. glory
in the perfection of everything we have made together.

we are perfect. we are perfection. we are married under
the sunshine of our parents' unconditional love. we feel no cynicism,

not like we've betrayed anyone.

collect the downy comfort of this moment. snuggle into
a cup of cocoa made by our invisible Swiss nanny.

now that you are here, you will never shiver again.
your perfect temperature, body shape, sexual pleasure

is engraved on a tablet at that gate. there is no such thing as
a grouchy day, a bad party, sour grapes, a hangover, a rash.

television is always pleasing: handsome women doing
smart things, exchanging witty dialogue, a banter

you wrote yourself. your mind is a thesaurus, an encyclopedia.
nothing is mispronounced or misplaced. you have read everything.

you are Donna Karan. you are that jeweller from the south of France.
your feet are cushioned in custom-made boots of the softest leather.

rub against me, cluck-cluck-clucking contentedly. (T.L. Cowan)

Calgary AB: Some more No Press publications arrived in the mail recently, including Josh Smith's ALPHABETICA (No. 34), Jane Thompson's Special Occasions (No. 35), Sarah Cullen's Maps (No. 36) and ryan fitzpatrick's Lord, I'm Set to Cry (No. 37). It's hard to see any publication by ryan fitzpatrick without getting a little bit anxious, with his forthcoming trade collection with Montreal's Snare Books; chapbooks by him just aren’t doing it anymore (for me, anyway; I want more). When do we get the good stuff? When do we get to see what he can do with further pages? Still, the pieces in his No Press chapbook are a departure from the poems he's been publishing over the past few years, which recently were starting to move entirely in the same structural directions, so it's good to see him break out of that, and into something further. Where will he go next?

Where is there an escape route? Poison opens
the cheek and the mouth bleeds, linking two
tales. Forest roads open for glands wafting
pheromones. Cloak runs from hand to sleeve.
Cloaking, a game turns to anapest. Phone in to
work. White coat is too symbolic an image.
Compass pillages. (ryan fitzpatrick)

For further information, contact No Press via email at

Ottawa ON: I've always liked the fiction of Ottawa writer Ian Roy [he helps launch the anthology Decalogue 2: ten Ottawa fiction writers on May 18th at the Mercury Lounge], author of the short story collection People Leaving (Ottawa ON: Buschek Books, 2007) and the collaborative book The Longest Winter (Fredericton NB: Broken Jaw Press, 1999), featuring his fiction with photographs by musician Julie Doiron. Recently at the Manx Pub, he launched his first trade poetry collection Red Bird (Ottawa ON: Buschek Books, 2007), one of the more gracefully-produced publications John Buschek has made over the years. More a fiction writer than poet, his poems read like small stories, small fictions, writing their way through a narrative, and writing their way toward an inevitable series of ends. There is a certain kind of expectation that comes from the straightness of his lines, in particularly how straight they are, moving, sometimes, exactly where you expect them to move; his turns are slow, and deliberate, and move out across a slowly opening field.


The first thing you see is a door, seemingly suspended
as if by some illusion—but delicately balanced
against a wall at an awkward angle, teetering.

The scene is lit from an open window
but the light stops at the door, slicing
the room in two, leaving shadows, dark corners.

To the right, a vacant doorway, leading to another room,
more doorways. A pipe runs up the wall beside the first door:
plumbing, an afterthought maybe forty years later

in this building in Providence. The long hardwood
planks of the floor are rough, wax-less,
strewn with plaster from the falling-down walls.

The room is an array of lines and angles, light and shadow.
And of course, beyond the camera's view,
somewhere behind—right where you are looking from, in fact—

stood the photographer. After arranging the door against the wall,
after waiting for the ideal light: the shutter snapped.
There is no way of knowing what happened next.