Sunday, September 30, 2007

some brief poetry (book) reviews

I know I’ve been way behind on my reviewing; what is it about Alberta that’s kicking my ass? Here are some brief reviews to make up for my (relative) silence on the matter lately.

1. Christopher Janke's Structure of the Embryonic Rat Brain
In the beginning was the rat and the rat was with god and the rat was god and the rat layed itself down to be picked at by onions. For the end or there is no end, or for the man with no description for he is not a bear and is not lipstick and is not the regularity of nature nor the fundamental pillar of all creation swinging from the stars or shaped like a curlicue.

Deeply prejudiced but gentle rat. Legislative rat. Rat beginning and ending with a bang. The lord rat running from our eating of him as he hurls all things towards their inestimable nothings, towards miracle somethings, into miracle peristalsis, miracle throat, towards Sam Dordoni in the belly of a rat. Glory be to the graviton, to the rubber-slinged and soulful. Glory to the beard. We've come here to contemplate one life, with the Lord our rat sitting in his own stomach chasing his tail, in a hall of mirrors in tactile 3D where you can fall into the mouth of a reflection and find deep inside another one to fall into. At the bottom of the mouth is another mouth.

For the word that changes one life. (pp 35-6)
One of the oddest poetry collections I've seen in a while is Turners Falls, Massachusetts' poet and editor Christopher Janke's Structure of the Embryonic Rat Brain (New York NY: Fence Books, 2007), winner of the Fence Modern Poets Series. Very striking in his use of language, the collusions in the ten prose-poem structured pieces that make up this collection provide an extremely compelling mix of texture, and read as though something that is meant to be heard (or read aloud) much more than simply seen on the page. How do you contemplate a poem written from the point of view of a rat brain that has not yet fully formed?

2. Jonathon Wilcke’s pornograph

Returning to Canada after three years in Japan, Calgarian (now a resident of Vancouver) Jonathon Wilcke released his first trade collection of poetry, pornograph (2004), published by Red Deer Press. It makes me wonder about Red Deer, with rumours after Wilcke’s collection was published, that the press isn’t publishing poetry anymore. Considering only this and Ian Samuels’ premiere collection (to my knowledge), Cabra (2000) have appeared from the press over the past seven years, I become unsure as to what the difference is.

An impressive first collection, pornograph is made up of breaks and fragments, chunks and clusters of prose and overlapping texts as a single unit, woven together nearly seamlessly through seven sections: heads of senate; boeuf (for Fred Wah); fits all’ parfum; jaw; debut; and jackbooty.

Insert tab A into slot B. English teeth. Removable ass-fangled seat for
sitting. Forgot my ass at home. Front stoop escalators. A pregnant pause.
What’s the weather like. New York nostril for sitting. Jean jacket from
the suburbs. Tennis shoes don’t date Oxfords. Martha your wrist is
showing. Virtual beefsteak, sperm bank and perm.

[. . .]

Pauses pregnancy. My other car is a chassis. Bill Cosby appears in my
living room making him okay, just like me. Easy chair, easy peasy. Steel
toes. First it’s a pet and then it’s guts. A pet gut. A gut rot. Morning
make-up, two-faced at the office. The breast is a miracle of modern scientists.
Populace as diverse as soup. (pp 17, 19, boeuf (for Fred Wah)

viagra offers depression a flag pole.a flag pole
a pole vault an obsolete computer called “WANG.”
(sorry). i can’t say anything beyond mentioning two wheels
and racing back. an ergy desk. a yuppie rake. myself i have a
bouche a terminal a carpal tunnel a syndrome. you should wear
that signifying chain more often. (p 66, jackbooty)

And did you know he’s been shopping around a second manuscript as well?

(-apologies to Wilcke for letting this sit in my draft pile for so long…)

3. Nicole Brossard’s Notebook of Roses and Civilization, trans. by Robert Majzels and Erin Moure

Recently, Montreal author Nicole Brossard [see my previous note on her here] was in Calgary to launch her most recent book of poetry translated into English, Notebook of Roses and Civilization (Toronto ON: Coach House Books, 2007). Originally published in 2003 as Cahier de roses et de civilization, Brossard remains one of Canada’s most important innovators through the movement of language and gender through language, and the lyric abstract (and in both “official” languages, no less). What is it about her language that overcomes, like a slow wave, sweeping in and drowning you? What is it about her language that makes you welcome the process of being overcome?
once again the exact time the street
the cigarette we don’t light
again the time the sex of lips
existence silence that deafens
another metamorphosis
arms open

sudden taste of the sea around the arms
with one toss of the lasso
a scent of life and sweetened peanuts (p 21)
4. Sheila E. Murphy’s The Case of the Lost Objective (Case)

When she read in Edmonton recently [see the write-up here], Phoenix, Arizona poet Sheila E. Murphy read from her most recent poetry collection, The Case of the Lost Objective (Case), published by Australian-based Otoliths. There is something about the quickness, quick turns and seemingly random deftness of her poems that I quite like, moving from short poems to prose pieces and even full-colour visuals (which almost never happen in trade poetry books). Although, being an American poet, they’re probably full-color visuals.
all of his indifference turned to her

and she, a shell, filled with what void
he could afford, that she could
barely hold or re(f)use,
midway through the coup if
it was that, e(r)go the summary
included not a shred of judgment,
and his candor flopped
during the delivery, which
exercise emitted revelation
after revelation pointed else-
where she could disassociate
in fewer words than he
5. Noah Eli Gordon’s Novel Pictorial Noise

Noah Eli Gordon’s newest poetry collection, Novel Pictorial Noise (HarperCollins, 2007), was chosen by John Ashbery as a winner of the 2006 National Poetry Series Open Competition, and combines prose poetry with small epigraphs that exist almost as a binary reminiscent of the Greek chorus, and almost in the way Lisa Robertson slipped her own version of binary texts in The Weather (New Star Books, 2001). There is something about the way Gordon works a “perfect stillness,” while at the same time writing through a flurry of activity that can never be contained. How can one compose stillness and unsettled movement into the same series of lines?
Somewhere, a garage door goes down. Thus, a fiction begins. Clouds gather, disperse. Let this suffice as a working formula for working a formula; what I’m coming to terms with—repetition’s liberating constraint. What occurs in the courtly world has little currency to those taking up arms against it. What I’m coming to terms with builds what which contains the components to construct an evolving sense of entropy. The grand narrative the end of narratives had had had had no grandiose ending. It is as though in removing its mask the landscape shows on its face an expression one recognizes but is unable to immediately place.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

A Long Continual Argument: The Selected Poems of John Newlove

edited by Robert McTavish

with an afterword by Jeff Derksen

published by Chaudiere Books


As if human beings only lived one moment at a time!
– no past, no future; as if a part of the pain
of receiving that simple act of kindness
were not the memory of it occurring before –

as if there were nothing to hope for
when a stranger woman smiles and kisses you
at someone else’s kitchen door, as if
that tree of gratitude for humans would not bloom again –

which will:
silver in the silver sun.

Ottawa launch: Sunday, October 21, 2pm as part of the ottawa international writers festival
other launches (Edmonton, Vanouver, Regina, etc): tba

A Long Continual Argument is the comprehensive statement of an acknowledged poetic master craftsman. It includes all the poems John Newlove chose for his previous Selected Poems with substantial additions from all his major collections. All of his later poetry has been included, as well as integral, critically-acclaimed works such as the long poem Notes From And Among the Wars, and many of the cynically lyric poems that established his early reputation as a black romantic. From his first chapbook in 1961 to his final epigrammatic poems of the late 1990s, Newlove's has always been a quiet poetry dealing with unquiet themes. A poetry that, in the words of Phyllis Webb, "doesn't struggle for meaning. It emerges out of his thinking."

To call him "the voice of prairie poetry" misses the target by as broad a margin as if you called John Milton "the voice of Cromwell's London." ...This was the voice of a man who knew what it was like to almost drown, to gasp for air, to almost drown again. His poetry delivered a blow to the head then, and it does now. ...It will be seen again for what it was, and is: major in its time and place. - Margaret Atwood (from John Newlove: Essays on His Works, forthcoming)
selected links for John Newlove:; University of Toronto's John Newlove page; The Canadian Encyclopedia; Dooney's Cafe obituary for John Newlove; wikipedia entry; OneZeroZero entry; Judith Fitzgerald entry; ECW Press author page; The Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan; John Newlove Poetry Award; ABCBookworld entry; Parliamentary Poet Laurate, Poem of the Week; John Newlove's "Ottawa poems" by rob mclennan
$22.00 CAN/$20.00 US
isbn 978-0-9781601-9-7
available to bookstores through the literary press group
or directly through the publishers at

Friday, September 28, 2007

above/ground press

In my attempts to sweep through the backlog of publications (I'm working through such now; even as we speak, a mailout of new broadsides by myself, Carla Milo + Sandra Ridley is about to go out to subscribers), above/ground press now has a facebook group. Immediately forthcoming publications by myself + Margaret Christakos (STANZAS) as well as Andy Weaver, and another issue of The Peter F. Yacht Club (Edmonton issue). Watch for details...

Thanks to Charles and Amanda Earl for providing the photograph.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Sarah Lang’s The Work of Days
It is 4 a.m. It is early morning. It is summer and so it is
already light. And it is warm. You have everything. (part one)
Former Edmonton resident (now two years into her PhD in Chicago) Sarah Lang’s first poetry collection, The Work of Days (Toronto ON: Coach House Books, 2007), is a single poem, a long poem in three parts. Built as an extension of moments, the poem is less an accumulation than it is a single moment stretched, explored and endlessly pulled apart. And, using spare language and the page itself, The Work of Days is a poem carved and crafted with as much blank space in her poem as text. As the copy on the back cover writes, it uses the phrase “pure light” and the word “refracts.” This is a poetry of mounting and surmounting light.
This that outpouring of colour.
This that body broken.
This that stretched.
This that phosphorescence.
This that even now.
This that lie.
This that smooth floor.
This that crude pleasure.

Your arm around a white, plastic chair. (part one)
What kind of portrait does Sarah Lang paint? Listen to this refrain that sits at the end of part one:
The process of not having remembered differs greatly from that
of forgetting: there is no record to misplace. Of light or of light

filtered. What is necessity. Today a slow sequence. A pale cheek
to pale tide. Today green. White. White. White. Green. In slips,
lists. By rote. Today I slept. A movie slips. What is real, what is

hallucinated. The motion of a line opening. What I must look like. Today
I took it easy, which doesn’t mean there is nothing to be done.
What I admire about this book is the smallness, the closeness, the precision. Constructed far more by scalpel than out of bare bone, Lang’s poem cuts down beyond the heart of the matter and into the essence itself of the heart. This is an enviable poetry, an enviable poem.
We have no curtains. On the twenty-seventh floor,
I roll my knuckles along your jaw. I was once
inelegant. You knew what you taught. A red vase
with modern arrangement. The view. Desipramine,
lithium carbonate. I don’t know if I’m polite. I have lost
perspective. The labels are scratched off; your eyes
are closed. I’m sure there are trees. That there is wind.

Sarah Lang launches The Work of Days in Edmonton on Thursday, September 27 at 7:00 at Greenwoods Bookstore, 7925-104 Street, and in Ottawa [the same day as the ottawa small press book fair & only a block or so away] on Saturday, October 27, 5pm, at The Manx Pub, 370 Elgin Street (as part of the Plan 99 Reading Series) with Jessica Westhead, Cara Hedley and David McGimpsey. Check out other parts of her North American tour here or even here.

Monday, September 24, 2007

12 or 20 questions: with Christine Stewart
CHRISTINE ANNE STEWART is from Vancouver and currently writes and teaches experimental poetry and poetics in the English and Film Department at the University of Alberta. She is researching the work of experimental women poets in Western and Eastern Canada, and exploring alternative forms of scholarly analysis. She is interested in poetics and philosophies of agency and identity, and the production of previously unexpressed subjectivities in contemporary poetry, film, fiction, and non-fiction. PhD. English—Aroused by unreadable questions: Vico, Spinoza and the Poetry of Lisa Robertson and Catriona Strang. University of British Columbia. 2005, MA. English. Thesis. "Nightwood: Nightwood—metonymy and melancholy in Djuna Barnes' Nightwood." University of British Columbia.1996. Fellowships & Awards, Gilean Douglas Award— 2003-2004. SSHRC Fellowship—2001-2002. University Graduate Fellowship—1998-2001. Gertrude Stein Award in Innovative American Poetry—1993-1994. Burnaby Writers Society Fellowship—1990. Publications: "Sounding Some Poems: Derek Beaulieu's Fractal Economies, Sharon Thesen's The Good Bacteria and Ken Babstock's Airstream Land Yacht." Canadian Literature. 2007. "We Lunch Nevertheless among Reinvention." Chicago Review. 51:4 & 52:1. Spring 2006. 65-70. " Particularizing, Historicizing and Ideologizing: A Review of Megan Simpson’s Poetic Epistemologies: Gender and Knowing in Women’s Language Oriented Writing and Peter Jaeger’s ABC of reading TRG." Canadian Literature 176 (2003): 188-189. "Busted (Inc.) 2001: In Which a New Civic is Guided—An Afterword." Busted. By Nancy Shaw and Catriona Strang. Toronto: Coach House, 2001. 108-111. "Au Coeur du Litige." liner notes for Francois Houle's CD, Au Coeur du Litige (Spool, 2000). Chapbooks: Pessoa's July: or the months of astonishments.Vancouver, B.C.: Nomados Press. 2006. From Taxonomy. Sheffield, England: West House Press, 2003. Daddy Clean Head. Vancouver, B.C.: Lumpe Presse, 2000. A Travel Narrative. Hamilton, Ontario: Berkeley Horse, 1994. The Barscheit Horse [with Lisa Robertson and Catriona Strang]. Hamilton, Ontario: Berkeley Horse, 1993. Selected Poetry in Periodicals."State Sentences." ONSETS: a breviary (synopticon) of poems. Toronto, Ontario. The Gig Press. Spring, 2004. (np). "Trees of Periphery." The Gig 17 (2004). 7-14. "St. Augustine." How2 (2003). "Taxonomy (2000)." How2 (2001): "Jack." (Letters to Jack Spicer). Raddle Moon 18. (1999). 65-80. "Biographia." Raddle Moon 17. (1998). 5-16. "Primativera." [with Lisa Robertson]. Big Allis 8 (1998). 71-72. "Clamorous." Raddle Moon 17 (1998). 5-16. "St. Augustine." Matrix 50. (1997). 53. "Barscheit Nation." [with Lisa Robertson and Catriona Strang]. Exact Change Yearbook 1. Ed. Peter Gizzi. Boston: Exact Change, 1995. [Published in the UK by Carcanet, 1995). 123. "Taxonomy" [excerpt]. Exact Change Yearbook 1. Ed. Peter Gizzi. Boston: Exact Change, 1995. [Published in the UK by Carcanet], 1995. 127-128. "Taxonomy" [excerpt]. Gertrude Stein Awards in Innovative Poetry 1993-1994. Ed. Douglas Messerli. Los Angeles: Sun and Moon Press, 1995. 157. "Barscheit Nation." [with Lisa Robertson and Catriona Strang]. Semiotext(e) Canadas. Ed. Jordon Zinovich. NewYork: Autonmedia,1994. 90.

1 - How did your first book change your life?

I don't know.

2 - How long have you lived in Edmonton, and how does geography, if at all,impact on your writing? Does race or gender make any impact on your work?

Almost 2 months.
The light is very different.

3 - Where does a poem usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?

It depends. It’s always different.

4 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process?


5 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?

I usually like it.

6 - When was the last time you ate a pear?

This afternoon.

7 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?

Don't assume they can see you.

8 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to non-fiction)? What do you see as the appeal?

Not so difficult. It’s good to drift.

9 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?

I often write when I have deadlines for other work.

10 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?

Other texts.

11 - How does your most recent book compare to your previous work? How does it feel different?

I'm not sure. It is less comfortable somehow.

12 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?

? Oh yes..

13 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?

Stand on South Georgia Island in the Antarctic. Watch the albatross.

14 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?


15 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?

Maybe my grandfather. He wrote me poems.

16 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?

book: One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.

film: Pier Paolo Pasolini's Decameron, II

17 - What are you currently working on?

Many, many things.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Report: The (second annual) Edmonton Poetry Festival

Part of the fun of being in a new place is learning the context, whether culturally through food, television, newspapers or language, and part of what I've been participating in over the last few days has been the second annual Edmonton Poetry Festival. Originally created by then-city poet laureate Alice Major, her baby has grown into the "terrible twos" into an impressive array of performance and creation over the space of near-a full week. Still: one major frustration; why is the website so difficult to navigate? Why does it mention that Christian Bök is reading/performing, but not mention anywhere the event he's actually at? Extremely frustrating. Anyway, here are some notes I took along the way:

Tuesday, September 18, 2007; CORTEX: a multidisciplinary event

According to the flier they handed out at the event (held at Latitude 53), "CORTEX brings together poets, visual artists, video/media artists, musicians, and dancers for an evening of collaborative creation. The participants of CORTEX have spent the last several months working on their own and together to create new work that explores the inspiration that can come from art in another discipline. Poets will work with dancers and musicians; visual aritsts will work with media artists and poets ... and more." Catherine Owen, for example, was performing text she'd written influenced by artwork in the same show, and then Don Ross performed music influenced by Owen's text, providing, over the space of a few hours, dozens of interweavings between Edmonton artists such as T.L. Cowan, Gerry Morita, Paul Saturley, Rebecca Traquair, Theresa Dextrase, Thom Golub and Kelley Bolen. One of the real highlights was the dance piece by The Occupants, a trio including one on upright bass, using, as they were introduced, a movement style based on shifting weight. I don't think I've seen anyone use the bass so physically (as though it was dancing as part of a quartet); one even crawled her way over the audience, shifting their way around the room (and audience, here and there, even moved seats to get a better view, almost as though they were part of the piece they were trying to watch).

The Latitude 53 space, as well, is just lovely; I must make a note of getting back in there for an opening.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007; Hip-Hop Night

I couldn't go (a dinner party), but former QWERTY guy/fiction writer/U of Alberta grad student Joel Katelnikoff reported that it was an amazing event, including actual rappers and breakdancers, as well as two poets (this is where Christian Bök performed) at Grant MacEwen College. And now Christian is gone again, off to York University in Toronto to read. I've missed him again.

Thursday, September 20, 2007; Douglas Barbour, Sheila E. Murphy and Jonathan Meakin

After knowing Meakin for years (he was one of the inventors of the Olive Reading Series, along with Andy Weaver, Adam Dickinson and Paul Pearson), I had no idea he wrote poetry, so it was good to finally have an opportunity to hear him perform a few pieces, opening for Barbour and Murphy. What intrigued me, too, was the long poem about an eighteenth-century theme park near where he grew up in England. The long poem he didn't read. Is this worth getting a peek at, sir? The crowd at Hulbert's Cafe (where Olive happens now) was quite impressive, with poet (and new kid at the University of Alberta Press) Jeff Carpenter hosting a packed house of friends, readers, writers and otherwise admirers including T.L. Cowan, Jenna Butler, Bert Almon and Olga Costopoulos, kath macLean, photographer Danielle Schaub and Richard Stevenson (in town for the poetry festival).

Mixing the reading up between their own collaborative book, Continuations (University of Alberta Press) and their individual works, Barbour and Murphy read from parts 14, 18 and 25 of their ongoing project (the book holds the first twenty-five parts; they're apparently already over sixty parts so far).

conceptual stone then stone
a colour then some human formal
fraction meant to be
a whole immobile say-so
ambiguous though featuring
a fall not yet discerned a fall

chipped wing ground rubble
carved by bombs or
bullets / yet blank
marble eyes still stare up
to strain toward some
concept beyond beyond
(from XXV)

The difference between Edmonton poet Douglas Barbour and Phoenix, Arizona poet Sheila E. Murphy, almost erased during their collaborations, becomes more evident during their individual readings. Murphy seems more aware of the breaks and her breath; the extended breath and the uninterrupted flow, reading the title poem from her selected poems Falling in Love, Falling in Love with you Syntax (Potes and Poets), and the Canadian-produced pure mental breath, published in the 1980s by Nick Power's Gesture Press out of Toronto (Ottawa-born Power was also co-inventor with Stuart Ross of the Toronto Small Press Book Fair), as well as from her most recent collection, The Case of the Lost Objective (Case), published by Otoliths. Barbour's poems, on the other hand, seem almost a matter of broken and even held breath; more about a series of accumulations, with a poem for the late Syd Barrett, and another for Robert Creeley ("in the presence / of what measure spoke").

Friday, September 21; Word! Symposium: talk, poetry and performance

Session one: page to stage, with Anne Simpson (Nova Scotia), Kris Demeanor (Calgary) and Jack McCarthy (Washington)

As part of the Edmonton poetry festival, I got to participate in the Word! Symposium at Grant MacEwan, Alberta College Campus on Friday and Saturday; I got completely lost trying to find my way there on Friday morning (an hour walk, lost coffee, angerangeranger). The first speaker, Anne Simpson, talked about "poetry and difference," saying that "poetry is difference," about how poetry brings us to the threshold of silence and then into silence, and that the value of poetry is "to challenge sameness and otherness." As much as I found this interesting, predominantly what she talked about was metaphor-driven poetry (which makes sense, since that's what she works in), but it seemed almost contradictory that she talked about all of this differences, and all her examples had variations on a particular method of construction; it came out further when she said things like "we need specifics, not abstractions," and quoted from some computer-generated semi-erotic verse she found on the internet, saying that it wasn't poetry because of what had been removed from it, through construction. I wonder if she ever read Erin Moure's book of computer-generated lesbian love poems? It gave the inference that poems and the authors of them have variations on the same goals, and the "everything" didn't take into account other forms of language writing, etcetera. Am I being nit-picky? It felt very much that her talk was instead on metaphor and (un)knowing, reminding me of that anthology of essays on poety and poetics, Poetry & Knowing, that came out a few years ago, edited by Tim Lilburn (he was even one of Simpson's examples). A good book, and one I'd recommend, but it ain't the whole world; but honestly, what is? It felt like her talk presumed that all poets worked with the consideration of writing pieces with "something to say."

Calgary singer-songwriter Kris Demeanor was utterly charming; why haven't I heard of this guy before? He sang a couple very clever songs he'd written, introducing them with a charming story of what was going on in his head to get the songs built, and other things. He told some lovely stories, including one of sunflowers, and how they can't grow in the Yukon. In the weight of summer, when the sun never leaves the horizon, he said, sunflowers constantly turn to face the light until their heads twist off. Another was about his travels and loves while a young man venturing across Europe; Canadian men aren't the best at romance, he said, and how to pursue it. They treat it like the Olympics; "we're just happy to be there."

American stand-up poet, Jack McCarthy is perhaps the oldest and one of the most effective slam poets that I've heard in a very long time; his poems are well crafted, and sometimes venture into the sentimental, but don't linger there for too long. He had a story about the former-American poet laureate Donald Hall that was interesting, and disappointing, about him dismissing slam poets and the structure of how the system works; why bother trashing something just because you don't work within it?

I thought the question and answer portion particularly interesting. Simpson talked about the difference (since she was asked) of poetry and fiction, saying that fiction is "a long narrative line," whereas poetry is an "illumination of a moment." I don't know if I agree, but who cares. Perhaps I make too much out of these little differences...

Session two: hear this! live and personal, with Heather Haley (Vancouver), James Carson (Edmonton) and Chris Craddock (Edmonton)

Creator of various videopoem festivals, series and events in and around Vancouver, Haley gave a talk on the history of the videopoem in Canada that I'd love to see as a non-fiction piece; worth getting her to work on to consider for a future issue of James Carson, on the other hand, was a very interesting speaker; extremely quiet, the poet and musician focused his talk on zen (getting very abstract); I'm glad this guy hasn't started a religion. His manner of speaking was slow and almost hypnotic; I could easily see myself giving him all of my money and possessions.

There's a story of Leonard Cohen at the Monteray Pop Festival in the late 1960s, after hours and hours of performance and crowds screaming to the point that most bands on stage couldn't even hear themselves. Apparently Cohen got on stage around 4am for his set, and spent about 20 minutes tuning his guitar; there was something about his presence that calmed the crowd down, and they hung on his every sound; that's what Carson reminded me of (at least one other writer in the audience I suggested this to didn't agree with me). I don't know if this guy has published a book (it appears not), but he studied with Robert Creeley in Boston (we took long walks and got lost, he said. Creeley always got lost...), and is currently building a cabin in the woods so he can practice his piano more, and be able to play whole concerts off the cuff (he played a portion of a recording of an improvised piano piece, and it was magnificent). He talked about how poetry saved his life, and that music allows him to express what the poetry means to him. He talked about travel, and the experience of travel (all very abstract). "A new idea," he said, "is only new once."

Chris Craddock, playwright, talked about working on things like a gay rap opera, and educational theatre for the school systems (which the Catholic school system doesn't just not like but deliberately works against so they can misinform through fear...), a system run on religious belief and the one-letter system (stopping just before they start getting that one letter of complaint from the angry parent; that extreme point of view holding back an entire structure).

Should I mention the later afternoon drinks with Heather Haley, Jeff Carpenter, Richard Stevenson, and what the drunk guy tried to use to talk to Heather? Probably not.

Friday, September 21, 2007; The Roar!

As far as the Friday evening events went, there were eleven mostly-concurrent group poetry events in eight venues, including a large blow-out at 10pm as a final, in the basement of the AXIS Cafe, with the Raving Poets Band, Heather Haley, Jack McCarthy, Phil Jagger, Garth Lee, Mary Pinkoski, Shima Robertson, Richard Stevenson and myself, as well as an opening by SWYC - the Spoken Word Youth Choir. With Stevenson and I (with Jeff Carpenter) tearing from hourly venue to hourly venue from 7pm on, the two highlights (apart from the shirtless kid in the green hat who went on about penises during most of his reading; I thought most of the writing wasn't very good, but he was so enthusiastic...) were easily Sarah Lang reading from her first poetry collection from Coach House Press (I very look forward to going through it), and fucking awesome spoken word by Laura Crawford (with musical assistance by Marco Katz). Apparently Elizabeth Phillips read somewhere, but god knows where; and why did Jannie Edwards disappear from the bill? At the end of the night, drinks drinks and plenty of drinks, and then the woman at the end of the evening who offered me a ride home; we got lost looking for her car, and then even lost-er driving me back to where I've been staying. A ten minute drive turned into a little more than an hour (although I have to admit I had plenty of fun); and I know I saw parts of Edmonton I'll never see again (since we had no idea where we were).

My part of the reading was plenty fun, but the crowd almost turned when I introduced my hockey (read: Ottawa Senators) poem; will this be the thing that'll make Edmonton trade me to LA?

Saturday, September 22, 2007; Word! Symposium; talk, poetry and performance

Session one: the wider world, with Roald Hoffmann (New York), Jalal Barzanji (Iraq/Edmonton) and Michelle Brandt, Devona Stevenson and Andreana Brochu (Video Poem Project)

Not as many notes on these events as on some of the others; who knows why? Chemist Roald Hoffmann (while searching for info online I discovered something interesting; why didn't any of the promo for the event talk about how this guy won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1981? Holy geez!) talked about the place where poetry and science meet, starting his long talk with "There was a time when they were together, poetry and science..." and about how natural philosophers once worked through science and poetry together as a way to understand the beautiful and terrible world around us and within us. The language of the theoretical sciences, he said, is "a natural language under stress, and therefore poetic." He read a number of his poems, many of which were okay enough poems but had amazing lines throughout:

we can’t pass through


are always

It reminds me of Da Vinci, the last individual who perhaps understood the whole world because he didn't divide it, sectioning off knowledge to focus on, instead working the whole range of study, therefore able to see the connections that no-one else could. He ended his talk by showing both the final and earlier scribbly drafts of the poem "Tyger" and the Periodic Table; what, as he showed us, is the difference between trying to figure out the world in one arena as opposed to another?

In the end, we have only words, he said.

Continuing on that theme, Edmonton's first writer-in-exile, Jalal Barzanji [we do a reading together on October 3rd] talked about his escape from Irac to Canada in 1998, and said that we have all a common language; a language of the heart.

The third piece was the showing of two short video poems that came out of a program/workshop run by filmmaker Devona Stevenson (who apparently leaves on Thursday to intern at Vancouver's infamous Western Front) and poet Catherine Owen. The program focuses on what could otherwise be called troubled youth, and one of the participaints even said that the workshop saved her life, as a young single mother who felt very little need to do anything with her day, with her life. Now she has a job, plans, ideas, and things that she wants to accomplish; how can there be any better advertisement for the program than that?

Session two: Learning the Art of..., with George McWhirter (Vancouver), Douglas Barbour (Edmonton) and Sheila E. Murphy (Phoenix AZ) and Morningstar Mercredi (Edmonton), with the last-minute inclusion of Jack McCarthy (Washington)

I've heard of George McWhirter for years now, poet and professor (now retired) at the University of British Columbia; a beloved teacher, former students such as Stephanie Bolster speaks very highly of him. Once I saw him talk about making poetry more specific, I could easily see the attraction of him as a professor (he must have been great at it). He started with a New Yorker cartoon with a man saying "I love you" to a woman, and the woman responding with, "Can you be more specific?"

How does one get more specific than that? What would the purpose be?

He talked about lightening, about poetry and inspiration and the effect it has on the body, like "the girl from Abbotsford," who wondered why her feet were suddenly warm, not understanding (yet) that she'd been struck by lightening. He talked about wanting his poem to be from that effect, and the cause of that upon others (another inference of all writers having similar goals, but anyway). A poetry of diffused light upon the senses.

Next up was Douglas Barbour and Sheila E. Murphy again, talking about the process of collaborating on a project over email; I hadn't realized until after the talk that this was only the second time (after the reading the other day) that the two had even read from the poem together publicly. I thought it interesting that they composed through a series of alternating six-line stanzas, but read instead longer sections, taking turns after a half dozen stanzas or so. It was good, in fact, to have moderator Jannie Edwards introduce Barbour as the "quintessential student" and being "endlessly curious." There is much about Barbour that seems to get overlooked, and even taken for granted, so any attention he gets is certainly long-deserved. They talked about the third voice, and Murphy talked about taking it down to the daily level, as their ongoing project had elements of a day book but exists as a shared thing.

The sequence was something suggested by Barbour to Murphy, after seeing that she had collaborated with others, as a way for him to get back into writing. As Barbour said, "language generates language; reading generates writing," and that "language is the way in which we know the world."

Author, blogger and actress Morningstar Mercredi talked about being an aboriginal woman in Canada, giving homage, as she said, to the women of the world who are beaten, killed and raped because of their gender. Working with women over the years who are living high-risk lifestyles, she worked, as she said, her "humble efforts to shed some light on some sensitive issues" while being aware of "not wanting to traumatize the reader." The result of that became poetry, she said, and talked about child sexual abuse, and how on any given night in Saskatoon, for example, twenty to thirty girls between the age of nine and seventeen would be out selling their bodies. "I can not afford to feel fear."

Jack McCarthy followed briefly (which I thought odd, since he was on a panel the day before), and managed to do what he does very well after Morningstar's very passionate and raw presentation. How does one follow, he suggested, without feeling a lightweight? I would love to be able to do what she does, he said, working as an advocate for an important and essential cause; as writers we don't choose our material, he said, the material chooses us. He also had another great line that I think applies to almost anyone: "If you haven't embarrassed yourself, you haven't taken enough chances."

Saturday, September 22, 2007; Word! Gala

The event ended with a gala evening in two parts; the first part was a music/dance piece performed by Karly Coleman, Marilyn Dumont, Tanya Lukin Linklater, Melissa-jo Belcourt Moses, Anna Marie Sewell and Kirstin Smith. As the program wrote, "Honour Songs is a suite in six parts; selected poems by ensemble members, edited, arranged and directed for performance by Marilyn Dumont, Tanya Lukin Linklater and Anna Marie Sewell." Also from the program:

the land she came in by Marilyn Dumont
“If men had wings and bore black feathers, few of them would be clever enough to be crows.”

Elizabeth Brass Donald, Cree/Saulteaux, was in born 1836, a member of the Key Reserve in southeastern Saskatchewan. At the age of 17, she married George Donald, Metis, carpenter and blacksmith for the Hudson Bay Company, and raised 11 children. Later she became a member of the Papaschase Band, but extinguished her Indian status by taking Metis Scrip in July 1885, likely under duress of starvation.

In two surviving photographs of Elizabeth Brass Donald (Betsy Brass), she is diminutive, with rounded shoulders, and she wears a dress of crisp black fabric and a black shawl. In one photograph she stands defiant in front of Frank Oliver’s house, the founder/owner of The Bulletin, Alberta’s first newspaper.

Oliver, was opposed to the establishment of the Papaschase Reserve in what is now South Edmonton, and he was amongst a vociferous group of Edmontonians who advocated that the Papaschase Band ‘be sent back to the country they originally came from.’

The line in the poem, “Where it all went wrong” is a derivation of “Where it went wrong.” This is an English translation of the Cree word e-mayikamikahk, which refers to the tragic events of the so-called Northwest Resistance of 1885.

The piece was not only quite beautiful, but it was an interesting (and essential) counterpoint to all the Alberta/Edmonton history I've been reading lately. It's always easy to forget that there are more stories than the ones that get told.

Other participants in the rest of the evening were Ted Blodgett, Jack McCarthy, Pierrette Requier, the Spoken Word Youth Choir, Jalal Barzanji, Anne Simpson (who I've been realizing is quite lovely and charming), Heather Haley and finally Alice Major, closing off the evening. Drinks?

Sunday, September 23, 2007; last days & then a day

After seeing the whole event, I'm extremely impressed with what Alice Major is doing here in Edmonton; it certainly does make for a poetry town, and part of the claim for cultural capital. Who else gets a packed house for poetry? I don't think I've seen that in a long time, and the houses all over town were packed for this thing; why haven't I noticed this before?

It seems somehow unlikely that I'm going to make anything today. Moving today (a week displaced), in the office working, and still haven't been home yet from the event last night; oh my. Crashed in Heather Haley's hotel room on her comfortable couch around 6am, after plenty of talk and drink with her and Devona Stevenson and then some pizza by the very end; I wonder how the Whyte Avenue etcetera stroll is going?

Thursday, September 20, 2007

an opening of the plains

closes a door
& a door

how do you solve a problem
like medea

a mountain
what youve never seen

john goodman
in barton fink

the pixies
, saskatoon

that one time

you said it
you said it,


the air
is thick enough

w/ dust

to be afraid
of venus flytraps

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

12 or 20 questions: with Jacob Wren

Jacob Wren is a writer and theatre director who divides his time between Toronto and Montreal. Recent published books include: Unrehearsed Beauty (Coach House Books) and Families Are Formed Through Copulation (Pedlar Press.) As well, he is currently working on a novel entitled Revenge Fantasies of the Politically Dispossessed. Over the next three years, all three of these books will be translated into French and published by Le Quartanier in Quebec. He also writes about contemporary visual art for C Magazine. In theatre, he co-founded Candid Stammer Theatre in Toronto in 1988 and in 2002 became co-artistic director of the Montreal-based theatre company PME. His performance work attempts to find ways of speaking to the audience casually – through both words and movement – that are ironic and sincere in acknowledging the fact that communication is often uncomfortable. In recent years, he has also frequently chosen to work in languages he doesn’t speak or understand (French, Norwegian, German) in order to give the performers a greater degree of autonomy over their own performances. Within PME he has created En français comme en anglais, it's easy to criticize (1998), Unrehearsed Beauty / Le Génie des autres (2002) and Families Are Formed Through Copulation (2005). During the same period he also collaborated with Nadia Ross and her company STO Union. Together they have co-written and co-directed Recent Experiences (2000) and Revolutions in Therapy (2004). In 2007 he was commissioned by Sophiensæle in Berlin to direct his own stage adaptation of the 1954 German novel Der Tod in Rom by Wolfgang Koeppen. Jacob’s performance and theatre works have been seen in Norway, the Czech Republic, Germany, Portugal, France, England, Wales, Scotland, Croatia, Sweden, Austria, Australia, Belgium, Hong Kong, Japan, Ireland and the Netherlands as well as in New York, Los Angeles, Toronto, Calgary, Quebec City, Halifax and Montreal. His theatre texts have been translated into French, Dutch, German, Norwegian and Japanese.

1 - How did your first book change your life?

My first book was My Tongue, My Teeth, Your Voice in 1992. At the time I was 21 and working under the pseudonym Death Waits (a fact I sometimes now regret though I suppose it was all in good fun.) I feel, in some ways, that first book (and the stupid pseudonym that went along with it) got more attention then anything I have done since, or at least a fair bit of attention for a book of poetry at that time. In some ways that book, along with the considerably publicity I got for some of the theatre projects I was also doing at that time, has made me feel that everything I have done since is a bit of a failure. (Perhaps an experience akin to ‘child star syndrome.’) I received a little bit of heat just out of the gate and it’s been a long, cold road ever since. But I suppose all of that might still change…

2 - How long have you lived in Montreal, and how does geography, if at all, impact on your writing? Does race or gender make any impact on your work?

I have been working in Montreal pretty consistently for the past ten years and have been living there more or less full time for the past five or six years. Since I don’t understand or speak French, while at the same time serving as the Co-Artistic Director for the French theatre company PME (it seems I always like to do things the easy way), the language aspect of Montreal has played a considerable role in my recent theatre practice. Working in a language I don’t speak or understand as a method for activating other, more emancipatory, forms of collaboration has been one consistent thematic and theoretical interest over the past ten years, and a question I have continued to explore in Norway and more recently Germany. Montreal is such a warmly charming city and yet it is clear that I will never really feel at home there. In this sense it gives me a tacked-on, artificial - but still somehow convincing - explanation for the deep sense of almost pernicious alienation that I have in fact felt wherever I have lived. An alienation that in many ways is the engine of my practice. I have also worked in Europe a great deal over the past eight years and the more aggressive, critical style they have there when speaking about art has done a great deal to help me overcome some aspects of my gentle Canadian nature. Perhaps the past few overly-Adorno-influenced summers spent in Berlin have also done their part in increasing my life long generalized sense of negativity.

3 - Where does a play or piece of fiction usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?

Each project begins from a question, idea or title. I am always working on a book from the beginning. I find it almost impossible to complete anything if I don’t have a deadline. Usually I will hold a question, idea or title quietly in the back of my mind for several years before actually beginning to work on it. If it is something that stays with me then I figure it is probably worth dedicating a few years of my life towards.

4 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process?

There is something deeply melancholy for me about a public reading. I always feel the audience (which of course mainly consists of other writers) would prefer to be at home watching a DVD, or at the very least be left to their drinking in peace. I don’t see any great benefit for my creative process but it doesn’t really seem to do any harm either. Occasionally I get to meet another writer I don’t already know. Even more rarely I get to meet someone who is not a writer but nonetheless appears to be somewhat interested in literature.

5 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?

I would say my work is mainly about theoretical concerns and there are certainly no shortage of questions. For example… How might it be possible for people to overcome our societies over-emphasis on individualism and work together in order to combat the pernicious and destructive path corporate capitalism is currently jettisoning us along? Is art progressive, reactionary or simply self-absorbed? What would an emancipatory art actually look and feel like? What are the limitations of science and why do we so rarely perceive them? Is science our religion? Where might one find sources for hope or optimism within the strictures of our current global predicament? Why do people apparently take pleasure from mistreating or lording power over others? Is humanity like a cancer on the planet? Why don’t I have a more pleasant or upbeat outlook on life?

6 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?

I have never really worked with an outside editor. I would actually like to give it a try some day.
7 - After having published more than a couple of titles over the years, do you find the process of book-making harder or easier?

I have always found the process of writing books fairly easy (though I do work on them obsessively, off and on, for years on end.) And here I will share something a bit too personal that I should probably have the good sense to keep to myself. All of the books I have written so far have been turned down by many publishers before someone finally said yes. This has resulted in a rather unbecoming pattern in which, when each book is finally published, I experience this accumulated sense of rejection as a kind of bitterness that ever-so-slightly poisons the positive feelings that might normally accompany having a new book out. I would very much like to let go of this bitterness but find I cannot. If anyone has any suggestions as to how I might do so I would absolutely like to hear them. Many of my all time favourite books were rejected many, many times before they were finally published. I feel this fact should give me solace but for some reason it does not. I also feel fairly certain that this particular condition signals a certain lack of maturity on my part. (Upon further consideration, I realize that perhaps the cure for such frustration might be feelings of gratitude, gratitude for the things I actually have received and accomplished, but it seems, so far at least, that gratitude is not really my strong suit.) As well, I often wonder where exactly I find the confidence (or arrogance) to keep sending out a manuscript that is being continuously rejected. I suppose somewhere I must believe that ‘out there’ there is in fact a publisher for everything. I am not sure whether to find such a sentiment reassuring or depressing.

8 - When was the last time you ate a pear?

Some time in the past six months. It was good.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?

When I was in my early twenties I made many attempts to write a first novel. I was deeply dissatisfied with each of them. While the first twenty or thirty pages were often quite strong, afterwards there was a considerable and undeniable drop in quality and it really seemed like I was unable to maintain any narrative momentum. After the fourth or fifth failed attempt I was reading an interview with Milan Kundera in which he said that it was impossible to write a good novel before you were thirty, one simply did not yet have the proper breadth of life experience. Though at the time I hardly ever listened to anyone concerning artistic matters (I like to believe I am a little bit more open nowadays), I was sufficiently frustrated with my novel-writing attempts to stop trying for a while and see if he was right. About three years ago, when I was 33, I once again thought about trying to write a novel and, though I am not yet completely finished, I have to say that it has been much, much easier this time around. I feel, so far, that the energy of the work sustains well over the first hundred pages. (I am knocking on wood as I type this.) I’ll be curious to see if there will be more novels to follow.

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (fiction to theatre to dance)? What do you see as the appeal?

I don’t really see any significant barriers between different genres or forms. I think over-specialization in the arts is killing art. I would like to see the Canada Council for the Arts re-organized into a non-genre specific structure, so that each jury would consist of artists from many different fields and they would also look at applications from many different fields. This would not only relieve the monotony of sitting on a jury, it would force artists of every stripe to expand their knowledge and expertise considerably. If I think only of contemporary literature, or only of contemporary dance, I get very, very depressed. However, if I allow myself to think of art and culture in some larger sense, if I think about all the works that have moved me deeply in literature, dance, music, theory, visual art, performance, etc. then there are moments when I have at least a little bit of hope in the ongoing value of culture and art.

11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?

I don’t really have a routine. I work in relatively short, rather violent bursts of frenetic activity after which I feel drained and exhausted. Some years there is almost no writing at all while other years there is quite a lot. In the morning, if I don’t have to be anywhere, I will lie in bed for several hours and read.

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?

When my writing gets stalled I stop and wait for it to come back. A few times it has taken several years but, for whatever reason, I never try to force it.

13 - How does your most recent book compare to your previous work? How does it feel different?

My most recent book Families Are Formed Through Copulation seems to be the bleakest, darkest thing I have ever written (though some people have also told me that they find it at the same time hopeful and enlivening, I suppose in part because it ‘tells it like it is’.) I attribute this darkening of tone to the current state of global politics, especially the situation in the United States. I think a lot about trying to write something that is not bleak and wonder whether I will ever again find it possible. The novel I am currently working on is equally bleak in its worldview but is somehow more lively in tone with a lot more narrative force that I feel gives it a strange kind of off kilter optimism. But what I think of as optimism might not really pass for most others.

14 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?

I am influenced by almost everything but literature and theatre. Visual art, and more specifically writing about visual art, has been a particularly strong influence on my work over the past ten years. Especially the art writers: Dave Hickey, Boris Groys, Sven Lütticken, David Levi Strauss and David Batchelor.

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?

Just to name a few, I think the literary writers who have influenced me most are Nicholas Mosley, Chris Kraus, Alvaro Mutis, David Markson, Ricardo Piglia, Wolfgang Koeppen, the psychoanalyst Adam Phillips and the literary journalist Lawrence Weschler.

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?

Commit suicide.

17 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?

I’m thinking of trying my hand at curating contemporary art. I often feel I have a kind of ‘visual art envy’. It seems to me that there is so much openness, freedom and criticality in visual art when compared to either theatre or literature. However, at the same time I feel that mainly what I am working towards is how to generate a strong, ongoing sense of freedom for myself in whatever field I happen to be working in.

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?

I believe I began writing because I had very severe insomnia when I was younger and needed to find something to fill the endless empty nights. And I began making theatre because I found writing too lonely and wanted to work with other people. If I were to do it all over again I like to think that I would have the good sense to do something different but most likely I would not.

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?

Book: The Adventures and Misadventures of Maqroll by Alvaro Mutis
Film: Tropical Malady by Apichatpong Weerasethakul

20 - What are you currently working on?

A novel entitled Revenge Fantasies of the Politically Dispossessed, a performance project possibly entitled either Hospitality or Individualism Was A Mistake and a project in Brussels entitled An Anthology of Optimism.

Revenge Fantasies of the Politically Dispossessed is a book about a group of activists who – in the very near future – meet once a week to discuss how the left might re-invent itself. These meetings they attend have one very specific and over-riding rule: they are there only to talk and, both within the meetings and during the rest of their daily lives, they are to do nothing that exceeds the boundaries of dialog for fear that if they were to actually engage in any activism or direct action they would be arrested, tortured and killed. They have collectively agreed that the time for action is not now, and it would be better to take all the time required to re-group in order to be completely prepared for the inevitable moment when the current near-fascist government either starts to crumble or lets down it’s guard.

Hospitality (or Individualism Was A Mistake) might be a series of performances, interventions, events and conferences that will take place in venues as varied as bars, theatres, art galleries, dance festivals, restaurants and perhaps even peoples homes and offices. While the precise nature of individual Hospitality undertakings can vary wildly, all Hospitality activities will focus on questions and strategies surrounding how friends and strangers alike can interact in a manner that is at the same time useful, critical, hospitable and surprising.

An Anthology of Optimism is a collaboration with the Flemish playwright and director Pieter De Buysser.

12 or 20 questions archive

Monday, September 17, 2007

12 or 20 questions: with Gil McElroy

Bio: I was born near Metz, France in 1956. An air force brat, my family moved around a lot between postings throughout Canada and in the United States. I attended McMaster and Queen's universities, studying English literature. I worked for many years as a stagehand doing lighting for concerts and theatre. I've also worked for many years as an independent curator for galleries in Ontario and the Maritimes, as well as a freelance art critic writing for magazines in Canada, the United States, Europe and Australia. I've been publishing poetry in magazines since the late 1970s as well as self-publishing chapbooks, pamphlets and broadsheets of my work. My first trade publication, Dream Pool Essays was published by Talonbooks in 2001, followed by NonZero Definitions in 2004 and Last Scattering Surfaces in 2007. A collection of my writings on visual art - Gravity and Grace: Selected Writings on Art - was published by Gaspereau Press in 2001, the same year in which Heather and I married.

1 - How did your first book change your life?

I'd waited so long for it that by the time it happened it was somewhat anti-climactic. I'd been through many years of disappointment and self-doubt (I was 41 when my first book was published) and had finally reached a place where I was a bit more at peace about it all. That beingsaid, I was (and still am) enormously grateful that Talon risked to take it on on the recommendation of an Ottawa-based poet now spending the year in Edmonton.

2 - How long have you lived in Colborne, and how does geography, if at all, impact on your writing? Does race or gender make any impact on your work?

I moved to Colborne in June of 2000; my (now) wife, Heather, had moved here a few months previous to care for her aging mother. While it's the smallest community in which I've lived pop. 2000) since I was a kid, andwhile I've adjusted to and come to love the rhythms of the agricultural world that surrounds us (apple orchards, dairy and cattle farms, and the growing of feed corn, potatoes and soy), the physical landscape doesn't figure in my writing in any overt way. What does fit, however, are the cyclic, seasonal qualities of life, which matter to me a great deal. And the dark skies. I'm a very early riser (3:30 a.m.), so watching the seasonal changes in the constellations, the planets along the ecliptic (Venus is in the morning skies now), and the waxing and waning of the Moon are all vitally important to me in my everyday life and in mywriting as well.

3 - Where does a poem usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?

I begin with a line, maybe an image, and poem grows from that. I don't (or extremely rarely) come to write with some sort of preconceived idea in mind, and when I do the poem usually turns out quite badly - a distortion of what a poem could have been if I'd let it take its own course. The work dictates where it will go. Sometimes that ends with a single poem, sometimes it leads to serial poems and poem sequences.

4 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process?

Neither, really, though Heather tells me that my work means more to her when she hears it me read it aloud. I enjoy doing readings, but I don't do that many so I've never discerned any impact on my writing.

5 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?

I'm quite interested in meaning and metaphor, in the non-referential text that isn't just a template placed against something experiential that is then reported on to the reader.

6 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?

Depends entirely on the editor. Some have been exceptional. I was very badly edited in a poetry magazine years ago that shall remain nameless,where the editor essentially rewrote my work. That was the worst experience. Most others have been extremely positive, both in terms of my poetry and my writings in the visual arts.

7 - After having published more than a couple of titles over the years, do you find the process of book-making harder or easier?

Nothing has changed at all. It remains extremely difficult.

8 - When was the last time you ate a pear?

Back in May. It was terrible.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?

Do the right thing.

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to art writing)? What do you see as the appeal?

I can switch back and forth quite easily - between working on a poem sequence and working, say, on an essay for an exhibition I curated, or exhibition review. The latter are interpretive activities - which I quite enjoy - while the former is not.

11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?

I write everyday, though not necessarily poetry. I don't have a particular routine I follow. My day begins very early, and it usually (though not always) involves writing.

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?

I simply step back and involve myself with other things. With any poem I write, I step away from the text as much as I can, try to forget it, distract myself, and come back to it later with hopefully fresh eyes and try to see it again for the very first time.

13 - How does your most recent book compare to your previous work? How does it feel different?

The internal structure of my books are much the same in that they comprise complete poem sequences, extracts from an open-ended poem sequence (The Julian Days), and a long poem.

14 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?

The early minimalist music of Steve Reich and Philip Glass had a profound effect on my writing in the late 70s that coincided with my discovery of the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poets at the same time. My passion for science - particularly cosmology - has been tremendously influential, as well as the visual arts. I'm an artist as well as a curator and visual arts critic, so visual art and theory have had their way with me.

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?

William Blake, absolutely at the top of the list. Too the French surrealists, Black Mountain, L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E. And I love the writing of critic George Steiner if only for the sheer joy of reading how he puts together a sentence that feels good in the mouth and mind. Beyond my work, the writing of the late German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer is pretty damn important (he was executed by the Nazis just before the end of WWII for his resistance to Hitler), Thomas Merton, Kathleen Norris... bpNichol had a huge impact as both a writer and a person because of the fact he afforded me respect and took me seriously when most others didn't. He treated me like an equal, and I will always be immensely grateful for that - his example kept me going during what were very dark times. I hope I'm able to do the same for others.

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?

Do a retreat at a monastery.

17 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?

Film editor (to answer the first question). I worked as a volunteer at a community accessss cable channel in the mid-1980s, and found that editing together shows was something I like a lot and was pretty good at. Giving or creating structure and rhythm out of a mass of material was very satisfying. Dunno what I would have done if writing hadn't become primary (see below)

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?

I'm not sure I had much say in the matter. It was something necessary - essential, even.

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?

Ron Silliman's The Age of Huts (compleat). I primarily read non-fiction (and primarily writing on cosmology), so I was very taken by Seth Lloyd's Programming the Universe: A Quantum Computer ScientistTakes on the Cosmos as well as Endless Universe: Beyond the Big Bang by Paul J. Steinhardt and Neil Turok, which lays out a new theory for a cyclic universe. I rarely see new films these days. I'm a big fan of old romantic comedies.

20 - What are you currently working on?

A book of poetry with the working title of "The Three Body Problem," and a bunch of essays on visual art.

12 or 20 questions archive

Sunday, September 16, 2007

ongoing (further) notes - mid-September, 2007

A lot going on (I can barely keep track); the second Edmonton Poetry Festival is about to start, Ariel Gordon just told me about the new THIN AIR blog (the official blog of the Winnipeg International Writers Festival); literary entertainer Nathaniel G. Moore has just re-started his Critical Crushes ('bout time); just saw the most amazing interviews with Christian Bok (here) and Nicole Brossard (here); did you know she's reading in Calgary soon? you can find more cool links at the ditch: the poetry that matters site...

In other news, Hammered Out (a reading series/journal in Hamilton, Ontario) has a blog; as does the further south reading series Grey Borders in St. Catharines; and did you know that Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott is set to read in Edmonton soon? Apparently he's just down in Calgary...

I hate reading about stuff that I'm missing (and here and here and here and here and here; okay, not really; would rather read it than not); and don't forget I'm home (Ottawa) in October for the ottawa international writers festival (at least, for the second half, where we (Chaudiere) launch the new John Newlove selected poems) and for the ottawa small press book fair; author Garry Thomas Morse [see my review of his book here] has a website now; and have you been reading them interesting posts by American poet Rachel Loden?

apparently this is the last chance you have to sign up for the slam poetry course presented through the Ottawa School of Speech and Drama; Mondays, 7:00 to 9:00pm, September 24 to December 3, 2007. Course fee: $285.00 + g.s.t.

I would tell you more, but I've been sitting in my office working since around 10am, and have barely seen the outside...