Saturday, August 30, 2008

ongoing notes: late August, 2008

Did you see my little piece on Shawna Lemay's Capacious Hold-All blog? With clever photos and everything, taken by Charles Earl (I have more in the same series up on facebook); or this photo series, when Kate & I were on the farm for the long weekend. I've been working other series there as well, this one with people and this one with Ottawa stories I think I know. Or various upcoming events here and here and here and here? What else can I tell you?

Ottawa ON: Ottawa poet Sandra Ridley [see my earlier note on her poetry here], originally from Saskatchewan, has finally seen copies of her first poetry chapbook, Lift: Ghazals for C. (Saskatoon SK: JackPine Press, 2008). Beautifully produced with linocut and block prints by Eric Slankis, this tightly-knit twelve-part ghazal is composed for a family member, as she writes in the back, "[…] Carolyn who died in 1958, two weeks before her second birthday."

Falling into the hours of an April morning,
a weakening, a decline toward the expected.

A verbal lament is apology disguised as faith
& what's left of a family remains cause & effect.

Children sit quiet around the table. Listen.
A robin with every note sings only one song.

All that we do is told in minutes.
A kind question is the reason for asking.

Dear C., where have your photos gone?
Who took them away from the album?

Ridley has been quietly publishing for the past couple of years in various places, with one poem there, one poem here, so it's good to finally see something a bit longer, larger. When will someone finally take her poetry manuscript so we can finally see more?

The Ottawa launch for such is scheduled for September 13 at The Carleton Tavern [see the notice here]. Hopefully there will still be copies of the chapbook left by the time it happens.

Cleveland OH: Selected as the 2007-2008 winner of The Pavement Saw Press Chapbook Award is Noah Eli Gordon's Acoustic Experience (Ohio: Pavement Saw, 2008). A poet who predominantly seems to work in longer forms, this small chapbook of prose and poetry sequences that seamlessly blend together into an intriguing small unit of poems, with the occasional single piece included as well.

Scorched Anecdote

What begins an accrual of weak electrical impulses
ends as scales practiced on the library steps

Notes rise. Days rise. I rise, then Sara rises
The carpenter bee understands nothing of helicopters
The helicopter pilot understands bees perfectly

Salvage from declaratives vulnerability
Salvage Monica from Travis, Eric from Juliette
From Mike salvage Julie & Sara from me

Lettuce on paper, blackberry juice on the words:
"we’re this & we're that aren’t we?"

The author of six trade poetry collections, including a collaboration with poet Joshua Marie Wilkinson [see his 12 or 20 questions here] and artist Noah Saterstrom, Denver, Colorado poet Noah Eli Gordon [see his 12 or 20 questions here], what really struck was the little essay he wrote on his own work, that has managed to turn my own writing off into a whole slew of other directions.

An Old Poem Embedded In A Final Thought on the Airplane

About five years ago, I wrote a short poem called "Yesterday I Named a Dead Bird Rebecca". The title came to me while in Florida visiting family. Going for a short walk, I passed the carcass of a crow swarming with small flies. There was something so repugnant about this particular dead animal that, although oddly aware of its lack of any sort of odor, I was, nonetheless, overcome by a strong, debilitating nausea, one which I suspect arose simply from the smell I imagined the bird to have. The poem reads:

were a defused heart
wintering the clock

time kept
by counting birds

I'd call flight
a half-belief in air

a venomous lack
when the ticking is less so

What could be more obvious than that this poem transposes its prepositional way of understanding gravity into the structure of its own identity? Something that lies beyond its lone sentence speaks to me now as the kind of nostalgia one feels upon watching an airplane pass overhead. It means making distance disappear.

Still, it's hard to get a sense of Gordon's work in such a small form, nearly constraining what his poems usually want to do, barely able to get into the full stretch of what they are capable of. Does that mean that Gordon is best seen, instead, in the form of full trade collections?

Vancouver BC: I would have to say that blewointmentbooks (an imprint of Nightwood Editions) is quickly establishing itself as a small publisher producing some of the most important poetry books in the country these days [see my reviews of earlier titles by Matthew Holmes, Jay MillAr and on bill bissett], with poetry titles (unlike some other publishers that I could mention) that aren’t just replicating the same old forms, but instead pushing them further ahead. Along those lines, Rita Wong’s Forage (2007) [see her 12 or 20 questions here] moves through a cultural consideration of her immediate and further out, rippling into the world, commenting on “impassive rants against the abuses of power.” The language of her writing puts her on a list of Canadians such as Donato Mancini, Christine Stewart, Natalie Stephens, ryan fitzpatrick, and Jeff Derksen, working through language itself as a political act.


faith hides in little pockets like the heart
& the throat. born with a serious streak
the width of an altar, i climb the stairs in
that first home, the zhi ma wu, black
sesame childhood sweet, squeeze soya
beans in a rough white cotton bag, hold
my mother’s workworn hands. what do
any of these small gestures mean
except that they have carried me
into now? shadows in the corner.
dust on the shelves & in the blood. an
archival endeavour, let the fragments
stand together, make us larger than the
sum of the individuals. float from
quote to quote, to shore the body of
a man with hairy legs, a mi’kmaq
woman with dark hair who curls into
the sheets like a child, a gay boy who
made the best damn bannock i’ve ever
tasted. there’s no justice for him to die.
ground to push against: red earth,
bloody earth, stolen earth. what the pen
takes, the throat can return.

Unfortunately, it’s difficult to replicate the handwritten script that frames the poem “offering,” including “who wants sludge from the wealthy?” And then there is the first part of the poem “for Lee Kyung Hae / Korean farmer / martyred in Cancun / (1947 - 2003)” that reads:

smashes rice farmers into
the enduring earth

but your sacrifice
invokes capitalism’s fall
so earth resurges

gift economy
socialism’s red fist unclench
open palm stories

It seems interesting, too, that her poems of ruination and “abuses of power” comes framed with a cover photograph of a mound of trash, specifically computer motherboards; American poet Juliana Spahr’s this connection of everyone with lungs (2005) [see my review of such here; see her 12 or 20 here], a collection of 9/11 poems, also features an image of a garbage dump on the cover, thus heightening the suggestion of ruination. Is this what we are doing to ourselves? Is this all we are building, in the end, and will have left?

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