Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The House That Jack Built: The Collected Lectures of Jack Spicer

Lately I've been going through The House That Jack Built: The Collected Lectures of Jack Spicer, edited and with an afterword by Peter Gizzi (Hanover NH: Wesleyan University Press, 1998) [see my note on Gizzi's most recent poetry collection here]. For those who might not know, Jack Spicer (1925-1965) was one of the three poets that made up the San Francisco Renaissance in the 1950s and 60s, alongside Robin Blaser (who eventually moved north to teach at the then-new Simon Fraser University in 1966) and Robert Duncan. There isn’t that much Spicer material out there, but it's essential material, and I'm glad to finally get a copy of the Collected Lectures; the other main book is The Collected Books of Jack Spicer, edited by Blaser, and published by Black Sparrow Press in 1975. I know there's a biography of Spicer out there somewhere, and I'm hoping to get a copy of it in a few months when Lisa Jarnot's biography of Duncan finally comes out with University of California Press. I'm even wondering, too, since University of California Press is willing to give us a new edition of Blaser's essential The Holy Forest and put out a book of his essays [see my review of same here], as well as the Duncan biography, would they, perhaps, be interested in reissuing the long out-of-print classic The Collected Books of Jack Spicer?

There's a whole slew of writing and writers influenced still by what happened originally down in that San Francisco Bay area, with Vancouver poet Meredith Quartermain's collaborations with Robin Blaser, the Duncan conference a few years ago in Vancouver that talked about his influence on the writers there, and other Vancouver-types creating their "Runcible Mountain" chapbook series out of the Spicer poem "Seven Poems for the Vancouver Festival," or what Toronto poet Stan Rogal [see my note on him here] has done with his own sense of the "serial poem" via Spicer. Even now-Toronto poet Andy Weaver had his own Duncan collusions, creating his cut-up sequence "were the bees" from an interview that George Bowering and Robert Hogg did with him in the 1960s [see my review of Weaver's first poetry collection here].

Start with a baseball diamond high
In the Runcible Mountain wilderness. Blocked everywhere by
stubborn lumber. Where even the ocean cannot reach its
coastline for the lumber of islands or the river its mouth.
A perfect diamond with a right field, center field, left field of
felled logs spreading vaguely outward. Four sides each
Faced of the diamond.
We shall a build our city backwards from each baseline
extending like a square ray from each distance—you from
the first-base line, you from behind the second baseman,
you from behind the short stop, you from the third-baseline.
We shall clear the trees back, the lumber of our pasts and
futures back, because we are on a diamond, because it is our
Pushed forward from.
And our city shall stand as the lumber rots and Runcible
mountain crumbles, and the ocean, eating all of islands,
comes to meet us. (Jack Spicer, from "Seven Poems for the Vancouver Festival")

His open lectures, which he insisted on being recorded for posterity, move like strange conversations about his own work, three of which happened in Vancouver, and a fourth in California (all taking place within the time-frame of June 13 to July 14, 1965), bare weeks before his body gave out from drink. Part of what is entertaining is just who was in the room as Spicer gave his talks, with the first three happening in the house of UBC professor and critic Warren Tallman, with audience that included George Bowering, Jamie Reid, Gladys (Maria) Hindmarch, Angela Bowering, Dorothy Livesay, Peter Auxier and Stan Persky. Just how magnificent it must have been in Vancouver in those days, one must imagine, with options that included not only the infamous Vancouver Poetry Conference, but extra visits, readings and courses by Spicer, Blaser and Duncan, as well as Robert Creeley, among others. As editor Gizzi writes in his introduction to the Collected Lectures:
The four lectures took place within a thirty-day period from June 13 to July 14, 1965. The casual seriousness of these talks is typical of Spicer's public style and should not be interpreted as offhand; they are the only authoritative account of his poetics outside of his poems and letters. Although Spicer was noticeably intoxicated and disheveled, he took these events seriously and made sure that they were being taped. As transcriptions of oral texts recorded at the end of the poet's life, the lectures gain a certain oracular power and finality: Spicer's statements are not prophetic but contrary, allusive, and purposeful. His humor or "wicked wit," as Warren Tallman put it, is charismatic. He has that particular gift of being both irreverent and to the point. As a public speaker he is not the "roman candle" type, as he disarmingly claims in the second lecture; instead, he says, he simply wants to be honest, and this struggle sometimes ties his sentences in knots. He writes to Graham Mackintosh before giving a lecture in 1954: "There's a big difference between talking as a teacher, which is easy, and talking as a poet, which is heartbreakingly difficult if you want to talk honestly." Because of the difficult honesty of their pitch, these talks are also riddled with disappointment and uncertainty about the future of the poet—that is, the poet as a cultural figure in general and the poet as Jack Spicer in particular, a highly intelligent, lonely, middle-aged, gay, baseball-loving alcoholic, one of the great poets of his time, recently unemployed, dying, and at the height of his poetic powers.
Part of what makes Spicer worth returning to is how he helped instill into a thread of literature the thing he called the "serial poem," giving name and form to what was happening as a thread through his work, Duncan's and Blaser's, and moving further into the future in poems by many of Vancouver's TISH poets (Bowering, Wah, Marlatt, etcetera), and even further into Canadian and American post-modernism. Or even the fact that Spicer considered the "poet" a mere conduit to some outside force that spoke through the poet; there were other, earlier poets that thought the same thing, but Spicer was the only one to name it "Martian." Imagine: Jack Spicer in the 1960s, talking about how the voice of the Martian channeled through him and wrote all of his poems. Talking about the serial poem, here is the beginning of the second Vancouver lecture:
JACK SPICER: Tonight I'll say a few words about the serial poem, read an example of the serial poem, we'll talk about it for a while, and then if you want particular sections repeated we can do it, but I'm going to try to do this thing straight through.

The whole business about the serial poem was sort of a joke to begin with. Not the fact of what I think it is but the name of it. Essentially it came from when I was talking with Robin Blaser. If you went to the New Design Gallery reading you heard three of his poems, all serial poems, what I could call that. And we were saying that, in spite of the fact we had absolutely different poetics in almost every way, that Duncan, he, and I had a kind of a similarity, and what was it? And it occurred to me that it was a serial poem. Now with Duncan this isn’t entirely true, but what I consider Duncan's two best poems—Medieval Scenes, which was published separately and is in Duncan's Selected Poems, and The Opening of the Field—are both pure honest-to-God serial poems.

I'll try to get to what a serial poem is in a minute. Robin kept asking me all the way, when we went to the radio station. I talked about serial poems. He kept looking sort of at me and said, "But you promised to tell me what a serial poem was." And I said I didn’t really know. But I think I do now. I think in a way you have to get exactly what a serial poem isn’t first, and then you get some idea of it.

A serial poem, in the first place, has the book as its unit—as an individual poem (a dictated poem, say, as we were talking about on Sunday night) has a poem as its unit, the actual poem that you write at the actual time, the single poem. And there is a dictation of form as well as a dictation of the individual form of an individual poem.

And you have to go into a serial poem not knowing what the hell you're doing. That's the first thing. You have to be tricked into it. It has to be some path that you've never seen on a map before and so forth. You can't say—now to give some examples of what it isn’t—you can't say to yourself, as Lawrence did in Birds, Beasts, and Flowers, which is a beautiful book, but is not a serial poem, "I am going to write poems about birds, beasts, and flowers," or else say, "Well, gee, I've been writing poems about birds, beasts, and flowers, and so let's put it in a book and call it Birds, Beasts, and Flowers, and separate the poems out by way of birds, beasts, and flowers."

A serial poem, in its essence, has to be chronological. In other words, the book, which is a unit like a poem is, has to be absolutely chronological. It has to be chronological in the writing of the poems. You can't just say, "well, I wrote a lot about birds and I wrote a lot about animals and I wrote a lot about flowers, so all my poems for the last five years which I'd like to get published, some of which have been published in magazines, I'll distinguish in three parts." That's not the kind of thing. (VANCOUVER LECTURE 2: The Serial Poem and The Holy Grail, June 15, 1965)

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Ongoing notes: late July, 2007

An online memorial has been created for the late Ottawa poet Maureen Glaude, who died recently.

Why have I been so quiet lately? There's far too much to get done; deadlines, and such. The Glengarry Highland Games are coming up; will you be there? I'll be at my sister's wedding, so probably missing it myself (although I'll be but a few miles away). Did you see the notice I put up for the upcoming above/ground press Factory special? Did you see this brand-new website by John C. Goodman on experimental Canadian poetry? Did you see that Eric Barstad's Poetry Reviews website is in need of reviewers? And don't forget to check regular updates at the ottawa poetry newsletter, the Chaudiere Books blog and, soon, the Alberta writing blog.

Lake Country BC: I don’t know why Kevin McPherson Eckhoff has left Calgary to return to British Columbia (it will be harder for me to visit with him there), but he has; at least he's started producing chapbooks to keep himself in the game. The first two chapbooks in his bytheskinofmeteeth are ryan fitzpatrick's BAD SHIT! and derek beaulieu's FLATLAND 25-35. Produced in lovely editions of 52 copies, both have books forthcoming, including fitzpatrick's first trade collection this fall with Montreal's Snare Books (after all of these chapbooks of his, I am very looking forward to seeing what he can do within the boundaries of "book"), and beaulieu's third trade collection of visuals, FLATLAND, out with a press in the UK. Although, really, if you go through my blog over the years, haven’t I talked about the two of them quite enough?

My Trigger Has All The Answers!

Rough with rifle, I key me to my spine
The fascial adaptor for radar with safe side intensed,
But then irked a period in my decline
To stir a digit when digit's twin evidenced;
For then my infection, from far where I sighed,
State a built-in inflection to thee,
And purchase my twining mind open wide,
Counting on results from hypnotherapy;
Save that my officer's cornerstone audio
Presents thy sound to my basement apartment,
Which like an orgasm intensed in trigger-point Fabio,
Proved patient brain deviant and my own instinct spent.
Lo, thus, by flat my mouth, by flint my sun,
For thee, and for load, no firing done. (ryan fitzpatrick)

beaulieu's recent works in conceptual visuals have been extremely interesting lately, and this work relates somewhat to a recent series of paintings he was working after the text of a particular newspaper, replacing texts with colours (I know he's shown parts of the series in more than a couple shows around Calgary). As beaulieu writes at the back of his small chap:

Flatland is a page-by-page response to E.A. Abbott's Flatland, a satirical Victorian science-fiction novel that posits a two-dimensional universe inhabited entirely by polygons.

For each page of Abbott's novel, I trace, by hand, a representation of each letter's occurrence across every page of text. The generated text is a series of superimposed seismographic images that reduce the text in question into a two-dimensional schematic reminiscent of EKG results or stock reports.

This manuscript builds upon my previous work in concrete poetry, and a theorizing of a briefly non-signifying poetic, where the graphic mark of text becomes fore-grounded both as a rhizomatic map of possibility and as a record of authorial movement.

Much as the Victorian novel, A Human Document, gave rise to Tom Phillips's ongoing graphic interpretation, A Humument, Flatland yields a book-length interpretation of the graphic possibilities of a text without text.

Derrida, on Blanchot, asked, "How can one text, assuming its unity, give or present another to be read, without touching it, without saying anything about it, practically without referring to it?" Each page of my graphically-realized Flatland is a completely unique, diagrammatic representation of the occurrences of letters. By reducing, reading and language into a paragrammatical statistical analysis, content is subsumed into graphical representation of how language covers a page.

Flatland attempts - much like Simon Morris's Re-writing Freud (2006), Vito Acconci's "Transference" (1969) and other texts of conceptual literature - to flatten the plane of text.

For more information on these and hopefully further publications, check out the blog he's built for such at bytheskinofmeteeth.blogspot.com

Lantzville BC: Anyone involved in poetry publishing in Canada remembers Lantzville, British Columbia as where Oolichan Books came out of, how many years ago, publishing John Newlove and Robert Kroetsch books, among others. These days, it's also the home of Leaf Press, known for doing their "Monday Poems," and even a series of chapbooks along the way. The most recent chapbooks to hit my mailbox are And Roll from Me like Water, The Erotic Tanka Suite by Rhonda Batchelor (2006), Halo of Morning by Glen Sorestad (2006) and Travelogue by Tom Reynolds (2006).

The First Yellow Leaf

I was not ready for it. Before me the elm leaf,
unwanted harbinger, lay on the cement walk.

I glared up as if to chastise the offending tree
and that's when I noticed there were more,

many more, an abundant gliding of what was
so lately green. Precursor, this lone leaf,

as much as I am unprepared; as much as I
may huff and get my back up against the fact;

as much as I may decry the sudden way I was
blind-sided, oblivious to the obvious; without

my recognition and as surely whether I
appeal or not, the seasons fly, the seasons fly. (Glen Sorestad)

Small, classy productions, my favourite of the three has to be the third, from Windsor, Ontario writer Reynolds, writing a travel poem that echoes some of what has already been worked by such writers as Joe Blades and Andrew Suknaski, but still manages a clean line and a clear thread to work through.

In this country
the roads
are temperamental
varying suddenly
from super-efficient
super highways
country tracks
more like dried-up
creek beds
than roads

service stations
can be few and far between

might be murderers

are dead animals everywhere

maybe you should
have stayed where you were.

Apparently they're looking for book manuscripts these days too. Check them out either through their website, or drop them a line at Leaf Press, pobox 416, Lantzville BC, V0R 2H0

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

above/ground press: what happens at fourteen

Everybody knows it: I'm infamously late on various chapbooks over the past couple of years, including now-legendary lateness on perpetually-forthcoming chapbooks by Karen Clavelle (Winnipeg), Cath Morris (Vancouver) and Barry McKinnon (Prince George), as well as a corrected publication by Phil Hall (Toronto) and Margaret Christakos' (Toronto) STANZAS, and proper runs of those recent chapbooks by Kate Greenstreet and Rhonda Douglas [see my note on her here]. Oh my. Sadly, the only thing in the way has been financial; once I get to Edmonton, I'm hoping my increase in salary (going from "nothing" to "something") can allow me to not only clear out this massive backlog, but move into getting some new things published.

That being said, I'm still getting subscribers there and here (and have wayward packages for a couple of dozen other subscribers sitting in my little apartment), and am planning an above/ground press reading, chapbook launch and fourteenth anniversary party at The Ottawa Art Gallery on Thursday, August 23, 7:30pm as part of the Factory Reading Series (the last one before I head west). The evening will include readings and new publications by Ottawa poets William Hawkins, Amanda Earl and Marcus McCann, and can hopefully be the starting point for a return to above/ground productivity. For a few months now, I've even been working on an above/ground press "ALBERTA SERIES" that I won't say anything about yet, but watch for it in September; it'll be monthly, limited (for now), and available to very few but for various Albertans in the right place, and above/ground press subscribers (but widely available much later on). I will say nothing else.

I've even been wondering about doing a second volume of "best of," after Joe Blades let me do Groundswell: best of above/ground press 1993-2003 (2003), wondering if it's worth doing another one at twenty? I don’t even know how the first volume has sold…

here are the event details:

span-o (the small press action network - ottawa) & The Ottawa Art Gallery present:

The Factory Reading Series, lovingly hosted by rob mclennan

as a 14th anniversary above/ground press reading & chapbook launch

with new publications & readings by:
Amanda Earl (Ottawa), launching Eleanor
Marcus McCann (Ottawa), launching Heteroskeptical
& William Hawkins (Ottawa), launching the black prince of bank street

Thursday, August 23, 2007; readings at 7:30pm, doors at 7
The Ottawa Art Gallery in the Arts Court Building (Nicholas & Daly Streets)

author bios:

Marcus McCann is an editor and writer at Capital Xtra. His poetry debuted in the The Antigonish Review at age 18. He is the editor of theonionunion.com, a selector for Bywords and a former selector for Yawp. With Nicholas Lea and Andrew Faulkner, he is the author-translator of Basement Tapes (The Onion Union, 2007), a chapbook of homolinguistic translations. As winner of the 2005 University of Ottawa 48-Hour Novella Writing Contest, his So Long, Derrida (UESA, 2006) was published by the university. Heteroskeptical (above/ground press, 2007) is his first solo poetry chapbook.

Amanda Earl's poems appear most recently in ottawater.com 3.0, listenlight.net and the Ottawa Arts Review. Amanda is the managing editor of Bywords.ca and the Bywords Quarterly Journal. She blogs about literary stuff on amandaearl.blogspot.com and ottawapoetry.blogspot.com. She also writes fiction and has been published in anthologies with the word sex in them. She will be launching her poetry chapbook Eleanor (above/groundpress).

William Hawkins was born in Ottawa. After side trips to the west coast and Mexico, he resides in the capital, pursuing enlightenment or a reasonable alternative thereto. Hawkins has worked as a truck driver, cook, journalist and musician before settling on the taxi profession as a means of preserving integrity and ensuring near-poverty. His poetry has appeared in eight collections, including Shoot Low, Sheriff, Theyre Riding Shetland Ponies (with Roy MacSkimming, Ottawa ON: privately printed, 1964), Two longer poems: The Seasons of Miss Nicky, by Harry Howith; and Louis Riel, by William Hawkins (Toronto ON: Patrician Press, 1965), Hawkins (Ottawa ON: Nil Press, 1966), Ottawa Poems (Kitchener ON: weed/flower press, 1966), The Gift of Space (Toronto ON: New Press, 1970), The Madmans War (Ottawa ON: S.A.W. Publications, 1974) and his second volume of selected poems, Dancing Alone: Selected Poems 1960-1990 (Fredericton NB: Broken Jaw Press / cauldron books, 2005), as well as various anthologies and many other public places. He has recorded a CD of his best songs, also titled Dancing Alone.

the small press action network - ottawa (cleaning out yr literary clogs since 1996); thanks to The Ottawa Art Gallery for providing space and much love.

next factory reading: December

related notes: new (finally, slowly) from above/ground press; above/ground press: the angry teen years;

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Poetry Reading « The Muses »

Friday, July 20, 2007, 8 - 10 pm
696 Bronson Avenue, Ottawa

Poetry: rob mclennan, Michelle Desbarats,
Amanda Earl, Mike Buckthought

Music: Tanya Janca, Earth*tones
$7 ($5 advance)

Benefit for: Imagine Ottawa & Peace and Environment News.
More information : 613.567.7244 /

Monday, July 16, 2007

jwcurry doing bpNichol in Calgary

Kudos to those in Calgary, working to raise money for jwcurry's bpNichol bibliographic project. They're even flying curry out! (here's hoping they let him on the plane today...) Here are some of the details...

On July 18: Broken Reels film night feat. bpNichol: Pushing the Boundaries, a documentary about the poet featuring jwcurry. 7:30 p.m., free. Broken City,613-11th Ave SW

July 20: Holy Beep is a multi-genre benefit for a jwcurry's book on Canadian poet bpNichol, plus the launch of filling Station Magazine #39! Feat. poets jwcurry, Christian Bok, Derek Beaulieu and Natalie Walschots. Musical guests include Axis of Conversation, Jon McKiel (Halifax), Jagatha Christies, lonely hunters, Charlie Hase, Chris Ewart & Travis Murphy. $8 min donation. Broken City, 613-11th Ave SW

related posts: jwcurry & Richmond Landing: The Martyrology Books 4 and 5; a bpNichol cerebration: jwcurry reading the entirety of The Martyrology in Toronto; jwcurry reading The Martyrology; an all-weather event

Saturday, July 14, 2007

ongoing notes (some literary magazines): early July, 2007

Shouldn’t I be somewhere else by now? Oh, right, that doesn’t happen until September (so please stop asking if I'm in Alberta yet!). At least you know about that reading I'm doing with Nicholas Lea on July 28, or "the last Factory Reading before rob leaves," marked as an above/ground press fourteenth anniversary reading and chapbook launch on August 23? So many things to do before I even begin to look west…

And did you see what John W. MacDonald was nice enough to post, not only once but twice? And apparently they've built (after folk asked) a tribute page to the late Montreal poet Henry Moscovitch.

St. Catharines ON: You might not recognize it, but the old Harpweaver has gone through a format change, turning from the old familiar Harpweaver into the new PRECIPICe with their Volume 14, issue 1, much in the way Dandelion turned into dANDelion a few years back, working to distinguish its current self from what has come before.

White Gift White Garden White Wound

I hold this
held barely
fairly in the soft
of your chest
so dear
this morning
the sun
is cold
how dreary
the page
year by year
not the thought
but the body
of the thought
I revere
in the dark
we see things
more clearly
be here
near me
ink smears
and no one
hears me (Shane Rhodes)

Edited by Brock University profs Gregory Betts and Adam Dickinson (with editorial board including another new St. Catharines resident, Tim Conley), the new format includes poetry from a good cross-section of the known and unknown, both locally and nationally, bringing poetry (and some fiction) from the rest of the country to their University doorstep, including work by David Seymour, Andy Weaver, Erin McKnight, Gary Barwin, Jesse Ferguson, bill bissett, Margaret Christakos, Mark Farrell, Michael B. Callaghan, Nathalie Stephens, Shane Rhodes, Susan McCaslin and myself.


Something ungulate was slain somehow, stumbled
in the tangled brome and popped a knee, tried climbing
higher ground to lick an entry wound too late,

run down by early hominids who'd come trampled through
the kill-site, threatened, ill-fed. Or, untagged, unowned,
picked off by joyless locals from the road and left for dead.

Carcass gone, a pulse of nutrient for the soil, lying long
enough for bones to string a necklace in the overgrowth,
their own cairn, until we humped up the farmed ridge

and they detonated underfoot. What with my spurned
hips and joints, there's no justifying stooping low,
near to fours, to investigate and learn, unclasp one pearl:

size a fist, heft a hand-grenade. Now it haunches
specimen on the desk, like a plaster counterfeit beside
the Zippo, a few ballpoints, and doesn’t do a thing

while I adjust the lumbar cant of my office
chair. That’s fine, as far as I'm concerned. (David Seymour)

Send all your correspondence to PRECIPICe, c/o English Language and Literature, 500 Glenridge Avenue, St. Catharines, Ontario L2K 2E4 or email harpweaver@brocku.ca (electronic submissions preferred).

Montreal QC: One of the interesting points of what Ottawa writer Stephen Brockwell works on in his poetry is featured in the new issue of Matrix, "Science Poetry," exploring that point where the two forms meet, with pieces by Christian Bök, Jim F. Johnstone, Kate Eichhorn, Sylvia Legris, Ken Babstock, Mari-Lou Rowley, Julia Williams, derek beaulieu, Jay Millar, Kathleen Miller, Karen Solie and a.rawlings. I found this piece, with works reprinted from books by Bök and Solie, along with new pieces, almost a short essay of sorts on "Science Poetry," making me wonder if perhaps section editor Gillian Savigny might not have had more to say on the subject, writing:
As science is less and less seen as something that stands outside culture and becomes more incorporated into it, more and more poets have begun exploring science in their work. Likewise, more and more scientists have begun exploring the expressive potential of poetry. In the pages that follow, you will find a wide range of scientific and poetic approaches from cosmic sonnets to forensic prose poems. No field of science or form of poetry appears to be exempt from this trend of cross-pollination. Read through the next few pages with both sides of your brain. Whether you usually count yourself as a scientist or a poet you are bound to come through the Matrix SCIENCE POETRY DOSSIER with a better appreciation of both sides of the argument and a better understanding of the potential for resolution.
One could argue, still, that a magazine that publishes poetry can only really present from a particular side of the argument; would Scientific American publishing poetry be the only way to see the other? And couldn’t one say that science is far more prevalent in English-language western culture than poetry could ever be? Still, some of the poems are pretty amazing.

Mari-Lou Rowley


Everything sprung from a red giant's desire
overblown, burnt out, way beyond prime
he hangs out at the super bowl, watching
the universe recede, a suicidal supernovae's
last gasp for greatness, yearning to go down
in time, rival the brightness of galaxies,
be something else. Cosmic demise spews
fragments of matter, solar systems, humans
all begotten by the giant's collapse, final inhale
of space-time until nothing but neutrons
huddle together in the quinzhee of heaven.
Occasionally a pulsar's lonely song
an echo of the giant's last breath, caught
in a black hole's dragnet of gravity.

And I might have a bias in this issue, since Jesse Ferguson also reviewed Nicholas Lea's first poetry collection, Everything is movies, in the issue.

St. Paul MN: I've always had a fondness for the little American publication UNARMED JOURNAL, especially since publisher Michael Mann let jwcurry and I produce an issue a few years back. The most recent one that's seen my mailbox is UNARMED 56, with poems text and visual by Alan Halsey, Jesse Freeman, David Baptiste-Chirot, Steve Dalachinsky, kemeny babineau, Steve Venright, Andrew Topel, John Barlow, Reed Altemus and plenty of others, as well as a chapbook by New Orleans poet Joel Dailey, HOW TO WALLPAPER LIKE A PRO.

our footstool of security

here is a fence stretched tightly enough to last through its time
trenched in sturdy winter flowers and wound with
a whispered fascism white under a moonlit sky
the ethics of which is how to get home
or not for the under-seventeens
which mostly we have become

there is a moment here when we might consider
what wisdom there is in the burning of civilians
or what part of possibility is it that we continue to bury
this history that hurries along such proof paths
the undergrit of seeds and souls, footsteps
of an empire ever late for its own eventual conclusions

a distant cough catches on the edge of bare night trees
who is to blame?
we no longer believe with badiou
that whoever lives here and works here belongs here
the lips we read say watch yourself
the history we hear gives necessity to cuauhtemoc's "no bed of roses"
anywhere everywhere
maybe a thrush, though I have never seen one (Michael Mann)

What really impresses me is how Mann has managed (no pun intended) to produce such a range of work in his little mag, and for over fifty issues? To find out more, check out UNARMED through their website, or c/o 1405 Fairmount, St. Paul MN 55105.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Come join in Tree's annual Midsummer Night revelries on Tuesday, July 24, 2007. Ottawa poet, author, essayist, and publisher, rob mclennan will graciously guest-host this special open-set evening of poetry and prose.

Tree Readings are every second and fourth Tuesday of the month at the Royal Oak II Pub at 161 Laurier Avenue East in Sandy Hill. Open-set commences at 8:00 p.m., with (every other reading but this one) featured reader to follow. Admission is free. For more information, please contact Dean Steadman at 749-3773 or
dean.steadman@treereadingseries.ca. The Tree Reading Series gratefully acknowledges the financial support of the City of Ottawa.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Haas Bianchi questions, Chicago Postmodern Poetry, January 2007

note: this interview was originally done for Chicago Postmodern Poetry, but Bianchi hasn't posted it yet (he actually doesn’t seem to have posted anything new for months…); until he does, I put it here so it can at least be read, seen, etcetera; hopefully he can get back to posting interviews on his site again soon?

General Questions

1) Where were you Born and what was your Formation?

rob: I was born at the Grace Hospital (since torn down) in Ottawa in March 1970 on a Sunday morning to a 20-year old woman I have not yet met; apparently she kept me in foster care until I was nearly ten months old, when I was adopted out of Cornwall, Ontario to a childless farming couple near Maxville, just a few miles north (check a map if you don’t know where these places are). I was raised on a sixth generation family dairy farm of 395 acres and raised very much in a Scottish Presbyterian environment (Glengarry County has the highest concentration of Scottish immigration in Canada, predominantly arriving from the highlands between 1770 and 1820, and home not only to many United Empire Loyalists, but a number of the North West Company, after they retired. The area is riddled with history). Through a series of events, I was raised less through direct teaching, but indirectly taught through example. I watched a lot of television, read my comic books, was pretty much left to many of my own devices apart from having to regularly do chores on the farm. There were books all over the house I eventually went through, but they were mostly local histories, Reader's Digest Books, National Geographic or my mother's Agatha Christie and Harlequin Romance (the only ones I didn’t go through), so really nothing literary. The only exception were the Ralph Connor novels circa 1900, scattered throughout the house. Connor was the pseudonym for a Presbyterian minister from my area, who wrote over twenty best selling novels; the ones best known and best remembered, of course, were the ones about my area, Glengarry County, so I at least knew that literary was possible; it planted the seed, I suppose. It was close geographically, but not temporally, which in hindsight seems a strange twist, doesn’t it?

Being that my father was (is) an only child, and my mother dropped out of grade ten to look after her ailing mother, it's been suggested that I might have been raised with considerations that are a bit further back than the considerations of my peers; my parent's considerations echoed those of their own parents, in so many ways, much closer than that of their peers.

I still have a strong relationship with that place out there, even though I've lived in the City of Ottawa almost as long as I lived on the farm. My mother (the one I grew up with) was actually born at the same hospital as I was, so my histories have always been divided, even further than the fact that I actually consider myself having two mothers, two fathers. I just haven’t met everyone yet.

2) What are your Poetic Influences?

rob: Most of my original influences, as far as poetry goes, were the Canadian poets of the 1960s, including George Bowering, Margaret Atwood and Leonard Cohen and John Newlove. Many of those, of course, weren’t influenced themselves simply by Canadian, but by many further afield, including Robert Creeley, William Carlos Williams, Jack Spicer, Frank O'Hara, Richard Brautigan, etcetera. Over the years, my reading has simply expanded.

3) When did you realize you were a poet?

rob: It's a word I've actually preferred not to use when referring to myself. Am I a poet? I write. I am a working writer who happens to have focused on poetry for a number of years. What does this mean, to be a poet? It sounds too floaty and abstract. I think the word is too loaded, and I can do without the pressure of everything everyone thinks a poet is, which seems to have little to do with what is happening in the work. I've also had strange conversations with people over the years who presume that I think about poems all the time, simply because I happen to write; if it was a matter of what I did most during my day that defined me, it would be a toss-up between sleeping and watching television. It wouldn’t even be writing. I find the term too limiting. It does little to define.

But that doesn’t answer your question. I had been writing bad poems and bad short fiction for years during high school, and a little bit here and there after, when I moved up here to follow a girl. It was probably after our daughter Kate was born, about a year and a half after we arrived, that I realized that if I was going to do this writing thing at all, I had better do it properly, or not bother. I don’t remember now why I decided to focus on poetry first, and put fiction (and whatever else) aside for later. Kate was born in January, 1991, so I'll let you do whatever math you need to on that.

4) What type of class has proven most useful for your development as a poet/writer?

rob: I have no class; ask anyone. I took about three weeks of first year university at Carleton University in the late 1980s before I got distracted and wandered off (I now do a great deal of what some have called "academic work"). Everything else has been self-taught, self-motivated. Hell, I run poetry workshops now; I refuse to say "teach," because I don’t think you can actually teach writing. All you can do is provide options, listening and conversation. And reading, reading, reading.

Or maybe I heard the question wrong? The working class. Ha.

5) Favorite Team or Sport?

rob: I have to admit, through "local pride," I don’t mind hearing about hockey anymore, thanks to the return of the Ottawa Senators (we didn’t have a professional hockey team for about sixty years). Otherwise I don’t really see the point; why go to all that trouble when it just starts over a few months later? Although there is something grand about experiencing a baseball game on television with George Bowering in his (former) Kerrisdale living room (with poets Ken Norris and Tom Konyves in 2001; as Ken called it, three generations of Canadian postmodernism…), or with Dennis Cooley watching basketball in his Winnipeg basement…

6) Food?

rob: I'm not sure that I have one. I have a terrible and terribly bland diet, even despite the fact that I live in the one-block overlap between Ottawa's Chinatown and Little Italy (sometimes I check out the Vietnamese soup place across the street, which is pretty amazing). My mother used to make a fantastic stew in the overnight cooker, but that was twenty-five years ago. It was also pretty exciting in the mid-1980s when my father (who had the garden) "discovered" spaghetti squash. Cooked up nice with lots of butter, yum. But I've had enough fresh corn on the cob to do me another thirty years without ever having any again.

7) Vacation Spot?

rob: Hey, man, I grew up Scottish Presbyterian, there are no vacations. Damn these work habits I picked up from my father; damn that John Calvin who took the fun out of almost everything. I do like to get a few days or a week on the farm with my lovely daughter over Christmas and the August long weekend; we used to do March Break too, but she's older now, and (apparently) has other things going on in her life which is necessary for her, but a little disappointing for me. I tend not to take time off otherwise, unless I'm hanging out with her.

8) Swear Word?

rob: Old standards, for sure. "Fuck." Although "Jesus Jumpy Christ" can also do in a pinch.

9) Are you working on a book?

rob: I'm always working on a book. Books. Over the past couple of years my writing has really shifted; with the amount of poetry I've already written (various unpublished manuscripts that clog up my computer and writing desk), I've been working harder to focus on prose, whether fiction or non-fiction, as well as doing a heavy amount of book editing, for my new Chaudiere Books, as well as books I'm editing for Guernica Editions (Toronto) and NeWest Press (Edmonton), and an issue of the critical journal Open Letter (London ON). Because of that, as well as my ongoing interest in both the long poem and the book as my unit of composition, poems have been coming at me in bursts, as opposed to a more ongoing composition of individual pieces. Something, somewhere, just "clicks in," and I tend to spend two weeks or however long doing nothing but writing a single unit, from one long poem to a sequence or a series; part of the entertainment, now, is seeing just how far I can push the initial energy before it wears off. Once the burst is over, it is simply over. During my cross-Canada reading tour in November, I wrote fifty pages of notes for a piece on the train from Winnipeg to Toronto; the poem later boiled down to about forty pages, after edit after edit after edit, and has become my "sex at thirty-eight" (a poem about the future).

This is the end of January, 2007, and a snapshot of my work lately includes: putting the final touches on The Ottawa City Project (responding to both editorial suggestions by a few friends, and percolation time), a poetry collection that comes out in April; thinking and rethinking a short manuscript of poems called kate street, that collects disparate pieces from the past year or so (I think it needs another poem, maybe two, but what?) so I can attempt a few American poetry manuscript contests in February; touching up a short story after my fiction writing group went through it two weeks ago; finishing up a non-fiction book for Arsenal Pulp Press on the City of Ottawa so I can get (finally) back into my novel, Missing Persons. I so desperately want to get back into my fiction. There are projects I haven’t dipped into for a few months, such as my four-book "the other side of the mouth" series of response manuscripts; I have to rework the first volume, and the second two are still only half finished each, and the project is going on six years now. Another project, "a day book," consists of keeping a daily log for a full calendar year; now I have to go back into the few hundred pages worth of that and see how I can wrestle the text into a manageable and even publishable poetry collection (I've been sitting on this for a couple of years now). It makes me think of Winnipeg poet Dennis Cooley, who writes poetry manuscripts up to eight hundred pages and then boils them down to a hundred or so, which I find mind blowing on so many levels. Keep in mind, too, that this is during a period when I've got poetry books coming out this year in Canada (Chaudiere Books), Ireland (Salmon Poetry) and possibly in the United States (currently negotiating with Jessica Smith), and might have three more out next year, as well two books of non-fiction this year and another one next. I feel no lack or compelling need to push more poems for the sheer sake of it; I wait for them as they come.

Still, I've been wanting to experiment with a poetry of longer lines, and even shapes of prose, much in the ways of American poets Juliana Spahr and/or Sheila E. Murphy, but it just hasn’t happened yet. It's not only a matter of the right timing, but being able to have the amount of attention that such a project would demand. Books demand so much that they can't be written in halves, which is why some projects have simply taken years to even get back to, let alone finish.

10) Let's talk about Canada. What is going on that makes it so current now?

rob: Who says it wasn’t current before? Current to whom? Perhaps I should be asking you the question, what made some of you folk down there only start paying attention to some of us up here recently? Heh. There's a lot happening up here, and there always has been, especially since the 1960s "small press explosion" that helped invent a whole slew of presses, including Coach House, Talonbooks and House of Anansi Press.

Canada has this strange combination of cheeky and self-conscious, and all of that other stuff that comes with being beside a larger neighbour. Consider that Canada is probably the only country that Penguin has offices in that doesn’t have a poetry contingent; we get Alice Notley books, and whatever faber and faber is doing, but what crosses the border back at you? Small press doesn’t cross borders easily either, and I've noticed that Canada is years behind the US and other countries when it comes to online publishing; we still love the physical book, which is amazing, but hard to export, making your considerations of us much less than our considerations of you. I can print thousands of pages of Robert Creeley off the internet, but it's impossible to do the same for our equivalent writers, whether John Newlove or George Bowering or Steve McCaffery or Anne Carson. How does one get the word out? And unless someone has a BIG NOVEL out internationally, there aren’t a whole lot of American presses who are clamouring to publish Canadian poets living in Canada, you know?

The internet certainly has helped a lot, as well as stronger international presences by presses such as Coach House Books and Talonbooks moving the work further afield. I think we have always been interesting; what made you only notice now?

Certainly I could talk about the Canadian poets currently that excite me, whether Meredith Quartermain, Stephen Cain, Christian Bök (the only conceptual artist in Canada, I think, working with poetry), Jay MillAr and Rob Budde (who have been very much coming into their own lately), Jon Paul Fiorentino, Shane Rhodes, derek beaulieu, Rachel Zolf, Margaret Christakos, Sina Queyras, Sylvia Legris, Max Middle, Mark Cochrane, Stan Rogal, Nicole Markotic, Lisa Robertson or Gil McElroy, or even "older" Canadian poets who are still publishing extremely relevant works, such as Phil Hall, Dennis Cooley, Judith Fitzgerald, Robert Kroetsch, Monty Reid, Barry McKinnon, Maxine Gadd, Douglas Barbour (his last few books, I think, have included some of the most compelling works of his nearly forty years of publishing), George Bowering, Robin Blaser and Fred Wah, just to name a few. The list could be nearly endless. Hell, just look at poetry lists by presses such as Coach House and Talonbooks alone, and you would get a good sense (and a good start) of what you should be paying attention to.

Craft Questions

11) How do you write a poem?

rob: A poem can start as easily as a word, as easily as a shape or a title. The beginnings of any poem is usually some sort of combination of the shapes I want to play with, and the words that end up taking that shape. Some days it's a matter of writing a few poems before the ones begin to happen that really take me where I think I should be going; sometimes it's a matter of a collaboration between where I want to go and where the poem wants to go. I'm a big believer in intuition and trusting oneself. I don’t need to understand what is happening as it is happening to be able to get further inside it. Sometimes you just have to run and keep on running until you stop.

12) Is poetry a synthetic or organic process for you?

rob: I think its pretty organic; I don’t think I set out to write a poem, necessarily, but a matter of something either percolating in my head long enough that I'm ready to start, or something that immediately triggers a response. I read and review a lot, so often it's a matter of something I've read that provokes. All writing is response, I've heard. Books come from books, the Toronto writer David W. McFadden used to say. Obviously that's only a small part of it, but it's a part of the package.

13) Where do you write? Is ambience important for you?

rob: For years I wrote in public, writing six hours a day six days a week in a Dunkin' Donuts in downtown Ottawa, from early April 1994 to the end of May 2000. Much of that came from the fact that I lived with roommates who thought my working at home meant I was waiting to talk to them; part of it too, growing up in a rural environment. I like being around people, and I like working with people around. I spent a few years, every evening or so, writing a novel at The Royal Oak Pub on Bank Street. Most folk knew I was there to work, so I wasn’t bothered that much, but it was as much how I socialized as much as got work done; few called or visited or knew where I lived, but they knew enough to come by where I was working and get me for a few minutes (I've received mail and phone calls at various establishments over the years). I managed to sell a lot of books that way, too. It helped keep me alive for years and years and years.

Since 2000, I've been living alone for the first time ever, and getting twice as much done, although there are a few places around the city I still go out to, with coffee or some other libation, for a few hours of public solitude. I'm solo self-employed in my little apartment (where I still never manage to make "employee of the month"), and deliberately have never lived with internet at home so I'm forced to leave my apartment every day and interact with people. It's not just a matter of physical health (walking the half hour to internet), but emotional health as well. I like having people around.

But I think I can write pretty much anywhere. Whenever I tour, I like having a project that begins when I leave the house, something that is self-contained to however long the tour is, to keep my mind active. During the British and Welsh tour I did with Stephen Brockwell last fall, it was a single short story I worked at every day, adding and adding; during the month-long Canadian tour in November, I tinkered a few weeks with a number of things until that long poem "clicked" on the train heading through the Canadian Shield. I've written poems on buses, airplanes and trains, while waiting for drinks or sitting in my favourite pub. In the most recent issue of The Walrus, I have a poem called "quick ghazal while waiting for kate in the tim hortons, rideau centre, february 11, 2006" because, literally, it was (she was about an hour late). I felt as though I had to give her a copy of the magazine simply because she'd prompted the piece; whether she actually wanted a copy or not, I have no idea. She's a sixteen year old girl; I think I'd be afraid of the answer…

Saturday, July 07, 2007

span-o (the small press action network - ottawa) presents:

an evening of departing Ottawa writers

with readings by:

rob mclennan (leaving for Edmonton)
& Nicholas Lea (leaving for Fredericton)
with special guest-reader Marcus McCann (staying in Ottawa)

Saturday, July 28, 2007; readings at 7:30pm, doors at 7

at The Carleton Tavern (upstairs), 223 Armstrong Street (at Parkdale Market), Ottawa [map here]

author bios:

Marcus McCann currently works for Capital Xtra, and his poetry debuted in The Antigonish Review when he was only 18. His work has recently appeared in a self-published chapbook alongside the work of Andrew Faulkner and Nicholas Lea, and his first solo poetry chapbook is scheduled to appear in August 2007 with above/ground press.

Nicholas Lea was born in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory and grew up in and around the Ottawa area. He now lives and writes and works in Ottawa. He is the author of a previous chapbook entitled, light years (above/ground press) and has published his work in a number of print and online journals. For several years, he has been an active member of Ottawa's poetry community, doing readings, working with journals and participating in workshops, and his first trade poetry collection, Everything is movies, appeared with Chaudiere Books in April 2007. He heads for Fredericton, New Brunswick in August.

Born in Ottawa in 1970 at the Grace Hospital on Wellington Street near Parkdale Avenue, rob mclennan currently lives directly between Ottawa's Chinatown and Little Italy neighbourhoods, and was called "Centretown's poet laureate" by David Gladstone in The Centretown Buzz in the mid-1990s. The author of twelve previous trade poetry collections in Canada and England, he has published poetry, fiction, interviews, reviews and columns in over two hundred publications in fourteen countries and in four languages, and done reading tours in five countries on two continents. The editor/publisher of above/ground press and the long poem magazine STANZAS (both founded in 1993), the online critical journal Poetics.ca (with Ottawa poet Stephen Brockwell) and the Ottawa poetry annual ottawater (ottawater.com), he edits the ongoing Cauldron Books series through Broken Jaw Press, edited the anthologies evergreen: six new poets (Black Moss Press), side/lines: a new canadian poetics (Insomniac Press), GROUNDSWELL: the best of above/ground press, 1993-2003 (Broken Jaw Press) and Decalogue: ten Ottawa poets (Chaudiere Books), and runs the semi-annual ottawa small press book fair, which he co-founded in 1994, currently under the umbrella of the small press action network - ottawa (span-o), which he also runs. Fall 2007 sees the appearance of a new poetry collection with Ireland's Salmon Publishing, a collection of literary essays appears with Toronto's ECW Press, a novella with The Mercury Press, and a title for Vancouver publisher Arsenal Pulp Press, Ottawa: The Unknown City. His online home is at www.track0.com/rob_mclennan, and he often posts reviews, essays, rants and other nonsense at www.robmclennan.blogspot.com. His thirteenth trade poetry collection is The Ottawa City Project (Chaudiere Books), and he was recently named writer-in-residence for the University of Alberta for the 2007-8 academic year, and leaves in September for Edmonton. He will be back for good about nine months later.

for more information, contact rob mclennan at az421 (at) freenet (dot) carleton (dot) ca

the small press action network - ottawa (cleaning out yr literary clogs since 1996)

next span-o event: above/ground press 14th anniversary reading/launch at the factory reading series, Thursday, August 23, 2007

Friday, July 06, 2007

canadian small press book fairs

The past few days I've been thinking that all the small press book fairs (etcetera) in the country should be linked in some way, so I've started a communal blog at http://www.smallpressbookfair.blogspot.com/ ; if you know of something I'm missing, please be sure to let me know.

With that, I found out that the Island Writers Association (PEI) are holding the first of what they hope will be an annual Book and Craft Fair, as part of Stratford Days celebrations at the Stratford Town Hall, Prince Edward Island. July 14th, 9-4. No admission. Outside or in, depending on weather. All welcome. For information 902 569-3913 or email: http://by119fd.bay119.hotmail.msn.com/cgi-bin/compose?curmbox=00000000-0000-0000-0000-000000000001&a=63f68b54059974c1a522f6a0d060766b9255efa1808180039f85c87354c64d6e&mailto=1&to=dgamble@isn.net&msg=BF2A5210-1B49-48B4-B65B-732402F662F8&start=0&len=4983&src=&type=x

FYI, PEI being a small place we had to bring in some craft people to make it a viable event - have tied in to the provincial woodcarvers show.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

an untitled novel by Ken Sparling

Getting up in the morning had become a feminist
gesture. Meanwhile, the earth, rotating in the blinking
permanence of the firmament, had become a condem-
nation. One morning Alan got out of bed, did the dishes
quickly, and left. He started to pack a bag. He was going
to take the car. She might need it to take the kids some-
, he thought. Fuck her, he thought. But it didn’t
seem right driving away in a car. It didn’t seem manly.
He needed a horse. (p 67)
I spent my bus ride to Kingston reading Toronto author Ken Sparling's unpublished novel (Toronto ON: Pedlar Press, 2003); Sparling, an author I've heard of but never actually read before, is the author of the previous novels Dad Says He Saw You at the Mall (New York NY: Knopf, 1996) and Hush Up and Listen Stinky Poo Butt (self-made by author upon request). For something as conceptually simple as a novel without a title, I'm sure it threw a whole bunch of people off, including the distributor's sales force, librarians, booksellers and book reviewers. How to deal with such an unruly thing? How does it fall into "books in print," for example? How many authors, for that matter, self-make a book for a reader "upon request"?
The recommendations listed in the summary deal mainly
with new organizational structures, links with the city, the
integration of technology, and the development of new

Becker said: Diderot was already appalled at the volume
of books which was collecting, and he uttered a heartfelt
groan for future ages which would be literally swamped
by the sheer numbers of volumes; he predicted that it
would one day be easier to get facts by going directly
back to nature than by addressing oneself to the library
with its swollen stacks. (p 90)

There is something conceptually interesting about a novel without a title, a novel without a straightforward story or overarcing theme and such to hang the reader's hat upon. What is the purpose of this book? Where is the story going? Is there even a story? For this beautifully-produced (as all Pedlar productions are) hardcover novel, Sparling's novel exists in a series of short fragments, each of which start at the top of a new page. The opening seems simple enough, a series of moments that move and almost accumulate between two main characters, but after about fifty of these, completely switch into a whole other area, making me wonder if this book exists more like a series of compartments, rather than a sequence of individual accumulated moments. One wonders after a while, is the sequence of events even important? Is the sequence of events even a sequence of events, or simple moments written down to appear as such, while moving through the author's own thoughts and other kinds of actions? Is obscurity more to the point of the novel than moving through the beginning to the end?

When two words are put side-by-side, narrative already exists, and simply can't be helped. Somehow Sparling manages to move his novel aside from narrative, throwing in a sequence he knows you'll read in this particular order, but somehow he throws some bones in, as though it isn’t knowing or alluding to but instead obscurity itself the issue for the book. Is there even a story here at all to follow, or simply a series of events, non-events, and questions?
The deeper into the square you go, the closer you'll get
to the present time, but you'll never quite get back. Your
life will continue to get farther ahead of you. The real
trick is to make it look like you're there in present time,
that time travel is something you've never really consid-
ered, let alone practiced, but it's hard when you never
seem to touch down. (p 139)
Does the novel in fact work, or simply work as a question posed about the novel itself? Is the question better asked than read?

related posts: my "untitled" post about poems without titles