Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Watermarks, Joanne Page

Saved By

In BC four hundred and something he sets forth
from Thurium with the notebook that will become
his little-known tenth History. He goes upriver
to a confusion of stopped tributary streams, and people,
a dwarf race dressed in skins who walk on crytal.
Their ways, he reports, are cloaked, their worship
hidden. From the sky white dust falls without end.
Herodotus is not amazed, merely cold. He leaves,
a struck bell peals in the valley. He will send
no word to Pericles of such bleakness. (A Brief History of Snow)

In her third poetry collection, Watermarks (Pedlar Press, 2008), Kingston writer Joanne Page seems to be working at a far higher rate than the gap between her first, The River & The Lake (Quarry Press, 1993), and her second, Persuasion for a Mathematician (Pedlar Press, 2003). Watermarks works a continuation of some of the themes brought out in her previous, writing out "dialogues" and "codex" in her Persuasion, again working through other voices, journal entries, lyrics histories and long expanses of sequential works, from pieces such as "A Brief History of Snow," "Sir John A. Macdonald's Last Season," or the entire section, "From the Hitherto Unpublished Journals of Miss Byrdie T., Inveterate Traveller and Champion of Lost Causes." Usually a poetry that plays with historical characters falls quickly and easily into a remarkable tedium, reworking and repeating what has already been said, but Page's poems reveal a wonderful freshness, as the exception that almost proves the rule.

The Cellular Memory
of Paint:

a painter's hand,
the painter's touch.

Brush breath on the pear
burns it gold

advancing the glowing shapes
by saturation,

laying white into the lily
tiny furrows of luster

through the underpainting
oyster shells, burrs of light.

Sipped edge of stone
point, point, weight and heft.

Behind, beneath
the many varnished layers

darker deeper
richest hyacinth.

Its assertion:
immortal bose and stone
and flower outlive us,
pigment's ever after.

There is something about Page's poetry that comes quietly and unexpectedly out of left field, a grace and maturity that can only come from a patience borne through years of experience. A watermark is what remains hidden, woven invisible in the sheet of what else, and Page's poetry seems exactly that, hidden below the layers of other poetries currently being written in Canada, unable to exist without, but unable to be seen by the untrained eye.

The long winter arrives early and stays late.
For weeks no one remembers seeing the sun.
Or stars at night. Hail or sleet or driving snow
Obscures the sky. Snow lays itself down in
Archaeological layers over the mica mines
Near Sydenham and lockmaster's house
At Kingston Mills. Near Jones Falls it stops up
the blacksmith's stack filling the forge with smoke.
The lake freezes to unusual depth giving off
Detonations in the dark. Ice throws up its glittering
Wall along the waterfront. Snow heaps itself
Halfway up doors and first floor windows
Until the city seems to sink into the white earth,
The spires of St. Mary's and St. George's last to go. (Sir John A. Macdonald's Last Season)

Monday, September 29, 2008

new from above/ground press: Peter F. Yacht Club #12

Fifth Anniversary Issue: Anarchy, Apocalypse and Madness

Lovingly compiled and designed by Amanda Earl

featuring poetry, fiction, comics, visual poetry and art by

Cristian S. Aluas;
Cameron Anstee;
Jamie Bradley;
Caleb JW Brasset;
Stephen Brockwell;
Patrick Edwards-Daugherty;
Anita Dolman;
Amanda Earl;
F.C. Estrella;
Jesse Patrick Ferguson;
Jose Fernandez;
Warren Dean Fulton;
John Gillies;
Csaba A. Kertéz;
Joseph Kuchar;
Ben Ladouceur;
Marcus McCann;
rob mclennan;
Pearl Pirie;
Roland Prevost;
Monty Reid;
Sandra Ridley;
Stephen Rowntree;
Janice Tokar;
Robert Williams;

$5 / +$2 for postage/shipping
above/ground press subscribers rec' a complimentary copy; mail all your money to:
rob mclennan, c/o 858 Somerset Street West, main floor, Ottawa Ontario Canada K1R 6R7

2009 above/ground press subscriptions now available;

Sunday, September 28, 2008

ongoing notes: late September, 2008

[Wedding cake, etcetera, from the wedding I was at yesterday; more pictures here] By now, you've probably see that magnificent piece that Margaret Atwood published in the Globe & Mail, the same day as my own blog write-up on same, responding to Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Sigh. If it ain't one thing, it's something else. In happier news, plenty of upcoming events in Ottawa and even in Edmonton on the sidebar (look slightly to the right to check them out), including two small press book fairs happening in the capital this fall, including the ottawa international writers festival, starting October 18th with a mini-small press book fair. What the?

Armstrong BC: It's always good to see new things by kevin mcpherson eckhoff's bytheskinofmeteeth, producing short hand-bound runs of poetry chapbooks, most recently Calgary writer Helen Hajnoczky's tea cosy (2008). She's been publishing in journals for some time, so it's about time something larger, albeit only slightly, appears in print. Will there be something further down that there road?

A Portrait of Gertrude Stein

I find her incredibly irritating.
I've read her before in other
classes and I just find her so
annoying, and I think that if I
understood better what she was
trying to do or why she writes
this way that maybe I would find
her less annoying, but she is so
irritating because I really just
don't understand what she is
doing, and if I just understood
her intentionality then I think I
would like her more, but I find
her really irritating because I
don’t understand what she's
doing and so it's just really
annoying, which I think I would
not feel as much if I knew what
she was doing, but it's just so

St. Catharine's ON: For some time, poet Gregory Betts has been on about plunderverse [see his essay on such here, at poetics.ca], and written a number of projects based on the idea of using only the words of someone else's work, and only in the order in which the original author has used. A project of selection, his most recent example of such is the chapbook The Others Raisd in Me (St John's NL: Trainwreck Press, 2008), produced by the same enterprise that also produces the online Ditch Poetry.


what power this we
in my art.

make me sigh
swear that
grace is of things.

in my mind -
how to make and see

the others
raised in me.

In this project, Betts has taken only from one piece, writing that "All of the poems in this book were uncovered by crossing out words or letters in William Shakespeare's Sonnet 150." How many pieces can you get out of a single text?


For Bök

to how to
do north of
to stroll to

how to
hold worth

to loot

Madison WI: The third issue of Cannot Exist came into my mailbox, edited by Andy Gricevich, with poems by Alex Burford, Mark Cunningham, Carrie Etter, Lawrence Giffin, William Gillespie, Kevin Killian, Mark Lamoureux, Bonnie Jean Michalski, Sheila E. Murphy, Andy Nicholson and Dirk Stratton. I've always been a fan of what Sheila E. Murphy has done, but what really jumped out at me from this issue are the pieces by Kevin Killian, a healthy section of his poems that seems to be titled "Cannot Exist." How can I get to see more?

Five Years In

to a war that never ends,
I heard telephones, opera house, favorite melodies

US 30 million dollars an acre they say
of liberating a solid gold mine,
and the sold trinkets of the astor ray
Slither up from the eagle's nest, sold

Nemo, with your wet leather suit tugged,
I kiss you, I want you to walk
there are two great factors that you can see,


For further information, write c/o Andy Gricevich, 3417 Stevens Street, Madison WI 53705, or check out http://www.cannotexist.blogspot.com/

Antigonish NS: It's not that often that a poem in a journal really jumps out at me and refuses to let go, but there was just something about Helen Guri's poem "Self-Portrait of my Brain as Five Raccoons" from The Antigonish Review #154. Just who is this Helen Guri? According to her contributor bio at the end of the issue, she's working on a novel-in-verse, lives in Toronto, and has published in a series of other journals, including Arc, Grain and Room of One's Own. Who is this Helen Guri?


In each
blown hollow

of the skull
an idea

preens. Turns,
sinks, unravels

as cornsilk,
damp corrugate.

Scrap-weary, licked
inky, belly heavy

in the ivy.
Even a raccoon

must sleep
must sleep.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

three upcoming events/launches;

1) *PROGRAM ANNOUNCEMENT* *Falling into Words* The Ottawa Public Library (OPL) welcomes local Ottawa Poets Ian Roy, Paul Tyler and Brenda Fleet to the Main Library on Wednesday, Oct. 1 at 7:30 p.m. They will read recent poems and other materials from published works. Ian Roy's published works include Red Bird (poetry), People Leaving (short stories) and The Longest Winter. His poems have appeared in numerous periodicals, including Arc, Descant and Geist. Paul Tyler's poetry has appeared in such periodicals as Arc, Prairie Fire, Grain, The Antigonish Review and the anthology Listening with the Ear of the Heart. Brenda Fleet is the author of numerous books of poetry including Some Wild Gypsy and Woman is Goddess: Montage Poems. The Main Library is located at 120 Metcalfe St.

For more information please call InfoService at 613-580-2940 or visit www.BiblioOttawaLibrary.ca
For more Information: Michael Murphy,
Coordinator, Adult & Readers' Advisory Services
Main Library
Ottawa Public Library
613-580-2424, ext. 32115

2) Ottawa poet and song writer William Hawkins' new CD Dancing Alone will be released on September 30th with the artist appearing for a signing at Compact Music, the Glebe store, on October 4th at 2 in the PM. At the heart of Dancing Alone are 22 songs by William Hawkins. This two-CD set, released by True North Records, mobilizes a wealth of musical talent to interpret Hawkins' music. Production and co-ordination of the project done by Ian Tamblyn with the support of Harvey Glatt. In conjunction with release of the CD, William Hawkins is launching a new website at www.wmhawkins.com

3) Please join Ottawa-area author Mike Blouin at Nicholas Hoare on Thursday, October 16th, as he celebrates the launch of his moving first novel, Chase and Haven (Coach House Books). Blouin, a finalist for the 2008 Lampman- Scott Award for poetry, will read from his inventive debut. Host rob mclennan will interview Blouin after the reading and lead a short Q&A. We hope to see you there! For more information, see here. Chase and Haven Book Launch featuring Mike Blouin and hosted by rob mclennan

Thursday, October 16, 2008
Nicholas Hoare Books, 419 Sussex Drive
Ottawa, ON
7:00 p.m.Free

And for review copies and media requests, please contact Evan Munday at 416.979.2217 or evan@chbooks.com

Thursday, September 25, 2008

an open letter to Stephen Harper

I find it quite terrifying that, throughout an election campaign, Canadian artists have been described by our own Prime Minister as "subsidized whiners," a statement that is unbelievably rude, dismissive and completely insulting, as well as being factually incorrect. Despite the fact that he presumes arts funding to be a "fringe issue," I'm unclear what Mr. Harper is working to accomplish with such statements, on the heels of further upon further cuts, other than to galvanize a segment of the Canadian population who simply don’t have enough information to realize that this is simply wrong. What made him think we wouldn’t work to contradict?

The Conservatives, historically, have worked (to my understanding) under the idea of "fiscal responsibility," and, historically as well, every single arts study has confirmed that every dollar given to the arts comes back ten-fold. This, to me, seems a discrepancy. Ottawa as a capital city has ignored such studies for years in their arts funding, and now it seems that the Conservatives, nationally, have reminded us that they also ignore such studies. A billion dollars was spent in Ottawa by tourists in 2004; how many of those tourists were coming to see Nortel, I wonder? How many of them, perhaps, instead went to a show at the National Arts Centre, saw Canadian art at the National Gallery, the Ottawa Art Gallery or perhaps went to one of the local Ottawa theatres and/or artist-run centres, purchased a cd by a Canadian artist, or went into one of the city's fine bookstores to purchase a book by a Canadian writer? Must we look, again, at the example of Flint, Michigan, a dying factory town completely revitalized through the arts? Is Mr. Harper just a bad economist, not comprehending the idea of cultural investment?

Why does Mr. Harper presume, automatically, that "ordinary Canadians" aren’t interested in the arts? What makes him so sure of the fact that the arts, whether music, theatre, writing, visual art, music, spoken word or any number of other cultural creations, are the concern of such a small segment of the population that he doesn’t have to take any of these concerns seriously? Even my mother goes to the National Arts Centre to see Canadian plays.

The government keeps telling us, Canadian artists, that we have to treat what we do like a business, as though we are being irresponsible somehow and therefore frittering away our time and our resources. Instead, the government continues, instead, to treat Canadian artists as though we are receiving some kind of arts welfare that we waste on irrelevancies, despite all evidence of the amount of cultural workers often struggling to create our art and take it out into the world, and participate in the communities around us at large. Have there been any studies to see, for example, just how much money is generated by the ottawa international writers festival, including hotel stays, bookstore sales, meals in restaurants, cab fares, bus fares, airfare and train tickets, etcetera, by both festival participants and members of the audience, not even to mention those who work directly for the festival itself or the sponsor bookstore, Nicholas Hoare Books. And that is but the tip of the iceberg. A good economy is one in which money moves throughout a broader system. Mr. Harper, we can see where our money goes. Why can't you?

Every dollar given to the arts through funding comes back into the economy tenfold. This is an important statement. Even the British Tories, from whom you once took your name, understand that arts funding is an essential service, Mr. Harper. Unless you are employing a tactic of deliberately lying to a population for the sake of playing on their own fears and mis-information, then perhaps you don’t properly understand fiscal responsibility. Short term gain means nothing more than working to get re-elected, and only creates further problems down the road. Boiled down, Mr. Harper reads either as a bad economist, or presumes his base isn’t smart enough to know the difference.

Or he was counting on us to respond. And he is using us to obscure something other.

Stephen Harper's email: pm@pm.gc.ca

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

the ottawa small press book fair

will be happening this fall on Saturday, November 15, noon to 5pm at the Jack Purcell Community Centre, Elgin Street [check here for further information]. Can't wait that long? Why not come to the mini-(Ottawa-specific) book fair happening as part of the ottawa international writers festival on October 18, co-hosted by the small press action network - ottawa [check here for further information]?

Saturday, September 20, 2008

WELCOME TO EARTH, poems for alien(s) by Amanda Earl

for those whom the first is water

what they know they know from swimming & from rain

this is how to learn to continue

this is how to find quench drip

lips of downpour of throat & reaches touch

the sounds of

falling heavy in the body a flood

Ottawa poet, editor, blogger and publisher Amanda Earl [see her 12 or 20 questions here] have really been coming into her own as a writer over the past couple of years, and perhaps the best example of her writing so far has to be her new chapbook WELCOME TO EARTH, poems for alien(s) (Toronto ON: BookThug, 2008), on the heels of such publications as the poems Eleanor (above/ground press, 2007) and The Sad Phoenician's Other Woman (above/ground press, 2008), as well as a series of chapbooks self-published through her own AngelHousePress, including deadstreet Gallery presents (2007), 8 planets speaking in tongues (2007) and postcards from the museum of the broken (2007).

first language light

the shape of words

the dreams you hold behind your eyes

light you swallow light you drown in

suffocate you in light

light touches brings

you life to learn

your body through

the soft light of dawn

you learn time through

light sustains you

light finds

you in the dark

Earl, co-editor and co-publisher, along with her husband, Charles Earl, of Bywords.ca and the Bywords Quarterly Journal, is part of a group of Ottawa poets that have been developing over the past few years slowly working on writing, and some of which have also been getting attention for their works, whether Pearl Pirie starting to publish in little magazines here and there, Roland Prevost's forthcoming chapbooks with Dusty Owl Press, Marcus McCann's forthcoming chapbook with Edmonton's Rubicon Press, Rhonda Douglas' first trade collection newly out from Signature Editions, Max Middle as the only Ottawa contributor in the Shift & Switch: New Canadian Poetry anthology from The Mercury Press, Ottawa ex-pat Jesse Patrick Ferguson's first trade collection out next year with Freehand Books, or even some of the work happening with Chaudiere Books (both Marcus McCann and Max Middle have first trade collections forthcoming with the press in 2009).

Earl has made some interesting forays the past year or two into the long poem/sequence, with her work in such far stronger than many of her individual poems, able to stretch an otherwise ordinary piece, phrase or idea into something far wider, and far more expansive and subtle through extended movement. Part of what I find interesting with Earl's writing is her willingness to be open to new ideas and new influences, based on her own reading. For example, she spent part of last winter writing a long poem influenced by Alberta writer Robert Kroetsch's The Sad Phoenician (Coach House Press, 1983; included in full in his Completed Field Notes, University of Alberta Press, 2002), published a few months later as The Sad Phoenician's Other Woman. This new publication, WELCOME TO EARTH, poems for alien(s), is made up of fragments that are held together through the links that tenuously hold, through "every molecule passed between / the sea dirt pearl shale stone sighs shaped" (p 9), and one of a series of chapbooks that have come out of the press over the past few years, in editions of one hundred copies. But I wonder, why doesn’t this graceful little chapbook include an author bio?

Friday, September 19, 2008

from the centre to the periphery: an interview with Barry McKinnon

this interview was conducted over email from January 2005 to January 2006
Barry McKinnon was born in 1944 in Calgary, Alberta where he grew up. In 1965, after two years of college, he went to Sir George Williams University (now Concordia) in Montreal and took poetry courses with Irving Layton. He graduated in 1967 with a BA and in 1969 with an MA from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, and was hired that same year to teach English at The College of New Caledonia in Prince George, British Columbia, where he has lived ever since.

McKinnon primarily works in the form of the long poem/serial, and most of what he has published fits in the collection The Centre: 1970-2000 (Vancouver BC: Talonbooks, 2004), which includes the books and chapbooks The Death of a Lyric Poet (Prince George BC: Caledonia Writing Series, 1975), The the. (Toronto ON: Coach House Press, 1979), Pulp Log (Prince George BC: Caitlin Press, 1991) and The Centre (Prince George BC: Caitlin Press, 1995). Some of his other collections include I Wanted to Say Something (Prince George BC: Caledonia Writing Series, 1975; Red Deer AB: Red Deer College Press, 1990), STAMP COLLECTION (Vancouver BC: blewointmentpress, 1973), a walk (Prince George BC: Gorse Press, 1998), in the millennium (Ottawa ON: above/ground press, 2000), BOLIVIA / PERU (Prince George BC: Gorse Press, 2004), and it cant/ be said (Ottawa ON: above/ground press, 2008). Finalist for the Governor General's Award for Poetry for The the., he won the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Award (BC Book Awards), and has twice won the bpNichol Chapbook Award for the best chapbook published in Canada in English. In 2006, McKinnon finally retired from The College of New Caledonia, and was awarded an honourary degree from the University of Northern British Columbia for all of his work as a writer, publisher and promoter in Prince George.

Of The Centre, Robert Creeley wrote: This tender self-exploration can move us all to a wiser and more receptive recognition of the world we live in daily, inside and out. Barry McKinnon's great skills as a poet make substantial all the living meets with and defines, and must finally accept willy-nilly: 'a centre to hold to when the/mind goes out of the heart, heart out of the mind…" As they used to say, he cares.

rob mclennan: What was the selection process for your selected/collected poems, The Centre: 1970-2000 (Talonbooks)? It seems very deliberately built, starting around your arrival north to Prince George, B.C. from Vancouver, and leaves I Wanted to Say Something as a noticeable absence. Was it a difficult process to leave certain things out, or was it relatively simple?

Barry McKinnon: I Wanted to Say Something was written circa 1970 in Prince George – the first long poem that appeared for me (prompted out of my grandfather’s photos wch I was given sometime before that; they were pioneer family photos, for the most part, taken around the turn of the century (19 to 20th)). The answer to yr question is simple: the poem for me didn’t fit the collection. I wanted to start with a northern “thematic” – that then moves me forward into the other various sections that pretty much place me here, Prince George north – (tho I think the questions abt “place” in poetry are often mistaken, or presumed confined to physical landscape. The body is a place, love is, arrhythmia (ha) etc. language and the imagination, for the poet, are the big ones. etc. so, the prairie poem seems to stand out/ in its own singularity tho I might be wrong. Karl Siegler wondered why I didn’t include it, and also George Stanley. So this is a/the short answer. All other sections starting with “death of a lyric poet” move chronologically; nothing that I’ve written and kept was edited out. If you feel that “I Wanted” shld have been left in, I’d be curious to hear yr take. Also, if this interview – written fast in lower case etc., appears as it is, I want to say that you made the push for “the centre” selected; otherwise I seemed stalled or not as interested in seeing these books in print via a larger publisher with distribution. Tho god knows, the various small press self-publishing runs, & eventually caitlin printings, didn’t go out too far. Is there an audience of readers more than 100 or so might be interested anyway? A bit sardonic but, you know the story. Ha.

The short intro to the talonbook gives more context/intention. Anyway, I can come back to this question if you want.

rm: Do you feel any differently about the work collected in The Centre: 1970-2000 after spending time compiling the manuscript, or now that the collection is out? It almost sounds as though, once the work is out, you’re happy enough to only have your immediate audience see the books, and don’t worry too much beyond that. Is that a fair assessment?

BM: Feel differently? Yes: I joked that seeing it all together with a beginning and ending date creates a tombstone effect. I don’t know abt you, but going back this far to re read “death of a lyric poet” and its world, feels anachronistic (to see time, place, and experience and a particular use of language that seems far behind me). Writers talk abt taking risks in poetry etc. I think the big risk is when the poet decides that what he/she’s written is a poem – and at that point decides that it stands as poetry. I believe the early work stands moving from its various particulars, but I don’t need to read it, knowing on so many and various levels what’s there, etc., knowing what I learned from each sequence, presumably in order to go onward. So, to edit the whole thing was tough and tedious – that attempt to review, edit and adjust each comma, space, decide to use upper/lower case for certain words, to test the “meaning” etc. Egad. even at that, the copy editors at talon sent me 10 pages of corrections showing inconsistencies that I missed. For eg. the two spellings/meanings of florescent, and “which one do you want here?” etc. Good eyes, those kids, and bless them for it. So: the book came out with the happy sense that anyone who didn’t know what I was up to for 30 years wld now have a chance to see the body of work. Important to know the book is out there for a larger audience and for me to move on, – and into the next poem. For me, in terms of the vast readership, ha, this means a chapbook usually self-published in 126 copies. When I have 100 pages or so (sometimes 10 years to get there), I’ll send the ms. out to a larger publisher (as with The the., so many years ago). Simple answer: I’m happy enough moving and publishing in this way.

rm: Is it really that simple? I mean, waiting to have 100 pages as a compositional unit seems odd and somewhat arbitrary (but I suppose everything, essentially, is arbitrary when it comes to compositional process). Obviously I Wanted to Say Something was a much different project; but still, when we read together in St. Catharines, Ontario to launch our Talonbooks [2004], you made a comment about my writing being one long line, and it seems as though all of your work can be considered in the same way. It makes me think, too, of the poetry of Robert Kroetsch, bpNichol and Gerry Gilbert: the lifelong poem. Are you conscious of that as you write, as all of your work being part of one large ongoing process?

BK: Was it Pound who sd much of writing was waiting/patience – but in whatever way, to be ready when the poem “arrives”. I used to get frustrated when “not writing” while others seemed, with certain ease, to write everyday, and publish a book every year etc etc. I had to learn to accept the long stretches, to wait for whatever condition/experience prompted the poem for me. At those points, it was an urge, as I think Williams sd: to easy my mind. Ha. So there is/was a certain sociology/psychology/physiology context. Some of the so-called long poems were written quite quickly over days or weeks. One piece unpublished “surety disappears” took abt a year for 7 pages or so. As I sd to Kroetsch one time, that the long poem didn’t necessarily have to be physically long; a year to write 7 pages is a long time: thus, a long poem – long to write etc. Ok. The life long poem bit: for me I see distinct times, periods and poems that run a kind of range in several circumstances/several muses. Lately, and this is to say, I’m coming more now to the sense of one long poem that I’ll keep adding sections to; each section might present itself via singular big concerns, but it’s all one thing: the title gives me the range: “in the millennium”. Ie. What millennium? Ha. If it’s this one, I’ve got lots of years ahead. Oh ya. I just turned 60, so please see the humour and irony in that. This a quick note amidst work pressures. I’ll add and edit at some point. These are good physical questions you give me, and much more to say.

rm: You seem to juggle a lot between writing and teaching, but would your writing process be any different if you were to spend less time working? What I’m wondering is: is the length of time a Barry McKinnon poem sits essential to its completion?

BM: Time and poetry. I think it was wc williams who sd the poem must sum the poet’s life to the point of writing; this idea leaves much room for the second, the day, the years etc. I think I’ve experienced the whole range: pulp log was a daily log in 50 parts. A little poem called “bushed,” a compressed and depressed lyric, summed a 2 year sabbatical – again, daily writing over a period of months. I don’t think this poem cld have been written while teaching. I needed the time/space for the concentration this piece was demanding. Pulp log, written between classes on a little mac in my living room with lots of distractions. At one point in a busy life as they say, I had to work by the seat of my pants. At another point I felt that poetry required periods without work distraction. Bolivia/Peru: I had a month or 2 free of work to write this piece; again, it required time to puzzle thru and discard the seat of the pants bullshit, to get down to the poems fundament. I sat on the last few lines for a week or so - stared it down, wldnt let it to into a false conclusion. A painful, necessary process - the waiting. Right now I have 120 students, 5 classes, essays to mark etc & therefore (forgive the whining) feel drained by its consumation. Poetry and writing feel a long way away. On the other hand, I have to reject the notion of leisure as a requirement; you know, real author supported by universities and governments, sits in smoking jacket with pipe staring profoundly into space. Egad. You gotta live in the mess of experience but still, no matter what way, contemplate whatever dimensions it presents. You gotta write when it demands you do/give it precedence. Writing prose or novel etc., the temporal requirement is more set and obvious. Poetry is both slow and spontaneous.

rm: I find it interesting that the piece Bolivia/Peru works geography in much the same ways your work from Prince George has over the years, using geography as merely an anchor, or starting point, to go somewhere further. How aware are you, generally, of writing geography? I know a number of the Tish poets learned to write their local from Williams, who you’ve mentioned as well. Is writing the local a beginning or an end for your work?

BM: When I went to Bolivia – really on a whim because John Harris and Viv Lougheed invited us to join them (they were writing a travel book etc.) – I had no literary intentions. I used to suspect all of those Canadian poets from the 60s & on who went to alien geographies “to write” or “write about a place” etc. Again, my sense is that the poem chooses you – some unexpected context that prompts the need to speak and write – make a map, a shape. Anyway, I’d read these poems (many I know and like etc.) and noticed that their journals, poems, stories and references occasionally made references like: saw Bob in Paris, got drunk with so and so in Tangier etc. Their paths were crossing; sometimes whole big groups would go to China or South America – sent by the Canada Council. Jesus, here I am in Prince George marking papers breathing in the stink with sour grapes and envy of “the real” writers etc. And ha. I mean, yes, this was/is my “local” and place, tho these terms seem out of date and too large to fill. The poem works with particulars – and abstractions if need be – I hope, so the words/fragments add to a sense of a participant and observer in it both in a small and big way – taking self and place to its boundaries via the poem. Etc. I’m off the topic a bit, but to say geo graph, write the place which had 3 dimensions. I also believe, to extend the metaphor that all of what we call the big emotions are shifting fluxes, geographies and places. Rain, wind, and earthquake. Ha. Our tendency in poetry is to view place mostly as a physical, and/or a physical geography, don’t you think? Ok. We arrive in Bolivia. Joy, John, and Viv – at some point every day take out their big journals; Viv has to keep thorough notes, obviously, for the travel book. John, I think was keeping notes for a novel; Joy, moreso, a daily travel journal: places, prices, how many hours on this or that bus etc. I’d usually at the end of day snap a litre of pilsen or pasena beer, take out a little ring bound book and “write” ha ha. Things like: “hot”, “cool” “vomited” “I like the weather here”. “scared shitless in achicatchi” etc. etc. So, this to say I’m not a writer (wch is a contradictory but freeing notion in some ways) – not a writer with any conscious intention of “describing” the 3rd world with western middle class & liberal judgements. Leave that for the social workers and the poets I mentioned earlier. But I started to feel guilt – that I had no power to get to an incredible and beautiful and frightening complex social and political and human GEOGRAPHY. Well, I was scribbling in s.a., but if I thot I was observing this, to me, strange world, as a poet – egad: what pretension etc. I think the poet should be there and not be there, if you know what I mean. Yr travel/writing exists as object/observation – a mind naturally in whatever it’s in. This is its “drama” ha. It’s what has to be done. So, as they say: 5 weeks bandied about in every emotion one might imagine. Colours, swirls, smells, conundrums, perplexities, sentiments, sentimentalities, fear and loathing. As I’ve sd, on the last day getting mugged in Lima was good for the poem – a kind of violence and a prompt to take the whole damn thing on in a poem, when I got back to pg, I had a stretch of time, and started to write, using my journal notes as literal shift points when the poem seemed to get stuck or ended itself on some part of the page. The poem traces the trip’s chronology, of being here, here and here etc. one of the first lines, ironically enough, and leads me to some aspect of your questions is that Bolivia is not a place. I wanted to get rid of that notion right away; ha., and then proceed to make it a place, or have the poem reveal it to me, make me sweat it out, create it for what it was, or seemed to be – to become a poem that makes an accuracy of detail, and falls apart when it has to. Here’s what I wrote in the afterword: cut and poast.

I think your question is really, and what I try to get to in Bolivia is that you start with one word, word as place to begin: Bolivia sd in a tone that sets it big and sad. To say it’s a measure. We know we’ll end up getting mugged in the end. I’d like to dream that a life’s geography is as Bolivia ends: maps and places, muds and shapes and colours of a peopled earth – poignancy’s, complexities of mind and place.

rm: The selection of The Centre: Poems 1970-2000 is very deliberately shaped around the geography of Prince George, from the year you arrived, and started producing work there. In many ways, I Wanted to Say Something seems to extend the prairie thread from Carcasses of Spring. Do you think this is a thread you might ever return to? Are either of these (in your mind) worth putting back into print? If Bolivia is the next step after Prince George, where else will your geographies extend?

BM: Where will the geographies extend? Your question creates an interesting circle for me. Just now finished a piece called "sixty." As I sd to Ken Belford, it was more of a wrestling match than "writing." If we ended in a draw it was for me to get a few lines I needed -- some sense of the words to "match" the experience of turning this age. To get to yr question: the geography in "sixty" is personal chronology: age and time as invisibility -- & to take this on as a place/context/geography/ (non of these words work anymore. Bowering's Autobiology?) -- to let me meander in 5 pages for 5 months to image and thought -- to wrestle the words for what is otherwise wordless. Geography of blank page. What I had to learn was to throw half of it out, and in a way, make the gaps as big as I cld -- to resist story and narrative detail. Sparse, condensed -- almost nothing there. Ha. Yet this oddly seems to match the condition I found myself in. Now I'm 61 so can move on. Ha.

Bolivia: that writing was partly to express the large relief of seeing & experiencing it and feeling brave arriving home alive etc. But ya, Bolivia a huge geography of mind and place, and likewise the prairie poem of so long ago. It seems odd yet human that the mind can contain such big things -- feel them as a whole & that a language can bring parts of it over. I think the poet -- a huge part of the job, is just to look out at whatever is in front of him or her, but unlike the lyric practice, to also see the political dimension, and then risk to let the poem see if you know anything about "it" (poem and all outside it) -- or anything. Otherwise, one is stupefied and mostly stupid. Poetry maybe rescues us in the midst of what seems formless. Otherwise. Etc. I always liked David Phillips' title and poem "the coherence" -- what the poet is sometimes impossibly after. I don't know where to go or what will prompt the poem. Lately in Tumbler Ridge it's the evidence all over again of what happens in the Canadian north. It's the fast track and grab for wood, coal, gas and oil. How can poetry get to this world without seeming sentimental for an impossible utopia? Pound I think really wanted coherence. Maybe he's the first modern example of the attempt.

You do good research. I'm trying to hide Carcasses of Spring, tho it's useful to see a young man's struggle to make poetry. I don't know what can be retrieved. It's hard to go back that far. What's ahead? Geographies? Prince George part 2 may never happen but I feel now just like the young poet I was: to head out in every sense.

rm: To perhaps fully form that circle, how has the artistic landscape of Prince George, in your mind, changed since you arrived in 1970? And how does it feel, being offered an honourary PhD by the University of Northern British Columbia?

BM: Prince George came alive with poetry in the late 60s and remained so for about 10 years, so much so that Earle Birney once called Prince George, "the poetry capital of BC." We were bringing in everybody we could: Atwood, Ondaatje, bpNichol, Phyllis Webb, Bowering, Dorothy Livesay, etc etc. Charlie Boylan and I started the readings at the college when we found out that the Canada Council would sponsor poets and writers, so this program made it easier when we pitched the idea of a reading series to the college. It wasn't, as they say, going to cost the institution money. In 1969 we had our first reading: Al Purdy. To his amazement, we got 500 people to Vanier Hall for the event, the biggest audience he'd ever had. It's kind of a duplicitous story though, because Charlie figured no one in PG would come to a poetry reading, so he put the popular folksinger Tom Hawkin as top billing to draw the biggest possible crowd. Hawkin never showed up, so Purdy had to go on solo. The crowd, as I remember, were damn disappointed that Hawkin didn't show, but Purdy got their attention fast with his humour and general manner and appearance. He didn't fit the stereotype. At any rate, no one left the reading.

Charlie got fired at the end of the first year (these are long stories I'm now writing in more detail) -- and I continued as an organizer until the early 80s. After the major creative writing conference with Robert Creeley in 81, the political and educational shifts at the college tired me out. The new principal had a mandate to reduce the arts in favour of technical and vocational training. We lost creative writing, art, drama, music etc. This is also a long story that involved a serious battle that we never won. The long story also includes my layoff. I was, I guess, a kind of visible "symbol" of what they might have thought specious, arty, useless. Dangerous? Earlier on the first principal did want "the arts" in the highest sense -- string quartets and iambic colonial poetry -- but he was nervous and not in total agreement with our politics or aesthetics, the college would constantly get complaints about the poets we were bringing in. I often heard comments like these: "they use bad language", "it's pornographic" and the overall comment from the administration: "this is not quite what we had in mind." So it's more complex than I'm giving it here, but in general, those who run the show didn't value the activity enough to fight for it. My feeling was pretty simple: that the very thing that the community needed in the largest sense got hacked out; those who did the hacking and who allowed it, had a cynical and narrow view of the world by reinforcing the same stereotypes I experienced in the real work of the world, so what's with this other shit. Well, I'm being a bit sardonic here myself, but the students and many people in the community did support us and protested with great energy, but we never did get much back.

So I went dormant and scaled down the series. Teaching loads were increasing and my energy dissipated. I brought in a few readers every year, but was hoping to hell someone else would take over. It's also important to know that the university was launched 12 years ago or so, and that much started to happen again. Rob Budde is presently a key organizer who works hard; he has a reading series, a web journal, organizes conferences and lectures and published chapbooks -- stuff that you, to use the vernacular, gotta do in these up river communities.

Anyway, my layoff in 81 is a big part of the story here. It was obvious that the college was going, to say the least, change direction. I was laid off for "redundancy" based on my creative writing class enrollment. I had 15 students, wch in any other college or university context wld be the right number for a workshop course. I also had 4 other sections of composition, technical writing, and literature that were full. Since we didn't have a seniority clause -- I'd been there the longest, abt 13 years -- anyone's ass was up for grabs. So, it became pretty obvious that I was nailed for political and maybe personal reasons. My teaching record, evaluations and cultural work not measured or taken into account. Irony? This is also the year that I got nominated for the Governor General's Award. When that happened a cheer went up in our division because it gave us visibility beyond the mediocre shithole the place was quickly becoming. At any rate, I didn't get the award and I'm glad I didn't. Frank Scott needed it more than me. Ha ha. I think my fate was to fight and get back on the boat so to speak. Another irony is that mostly what "saved me", was the 50 writers who'd been to the college and who wrote to protest the layoff. I was in pretty bad emotional shape so have to thank Brian Fawcett and Pierre Coupey for starting the protest. John Harris handled the fight here, and twisted the bastards in circles; he kept the fire lit for abt the 3 months it took to rescind the layoff -- so I got back in as a remedial teacher in a new division of the college called "the development centre". During the year of so there -- there was very little to do except worry that if there was very little to do, they'd lay me off again. Everyday in the centre, I wrote "the centre". This poem contains the clearest sense of what I was going thru emotionally and otherwise and that within this context I lost my energy for cultural work. People kept asking why I didn't get out -- go somewhere else. I didn't want to sound paranoid, but will say that one verbal job offer finally didn't come my way. Why? At one point the college president in charge -- ceo's they started to call them & not deans, but managers -- said to me that if I caused any trouble because of the layoff that he'd make sure I never taught again. Hard to believe, but Harris is my witness. I think I was blackballed in the system -- and add to this that the fight went national, and because of its complexity and messiness, probably meant that no one wld take a chance to hire me for fear of an upheaval of sorts. It all spelled trouble. So: it was all good as the kids say today. Ha. In terms of sensibility, I saw the darkness of a public institution gone mad -- and wrote out of knowing what I'd seen and experienced in it. So much for me and the lyric narrative in this world.

I hope this isn't taken as whining, but also our workloads maxed out. I eventually got out of the centre and back into university transfer courses. In the worst semester that followed I had close to 150 students, no days off teaching, and 2 of those days went from early morning until 10 at night. But it's the old story of persistence in the face of it -- I had a family to raise etc. Tho in retrospect because of various forms and levels of damage & for all kinds of reasons I should have quit.

Now it's 2006 -- 36 years later -- and I've "resigned for reasons of retirement" wch in my case I hope doesn't conjure an image of an asshole in white shoes on a golf cart. Ha. Whatever "recognition" I'm getting for whatever it is I did here is coming from the other and wonderful small communities of people that form in these remote places. Rob Budde at UNBC put my name forward for an honourary degree from UNBC and recognizes the work that not just me, but many of us engaged in. Joy, my wife met all of the writers; she should get the degree for keeping me sane most of the time. But as Creeley says, "when I know what others think of me, I'm plunged into my loneliness". Nevertheless: a very full life.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

house: a (tiny) memoir

Every year an airplane low in the sky, and my father knew. Every year, the same man would come farm to farm selling aerial photos of homesteads, that you could even get framed; great pictures to hang over the mantle. The 1974 shot still looms large in the front porch, showing previous open-porch, the machine shop being built, and the red pick-up I loved, before he traded to blue. Wooden building upon building that stood still in the yard from his father’s time and before, including old machine shed where his heated now stands, and the husk of chicken coop, which even, at that point, hadn’t seen more than pigeons for years.

house: a (tiny) memoir

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Crabwise to the Hounds, by Jeramy Dodds

When I read Jeramy Dodd's poems a few months ago in an issue of EnRoute magazine for his CBC Literary Award win in 2007 (he also won the Bronwen Wallace Memorial Award in 2006), it was one of the few times I actually wanted to keep a copy of the issue, to be able to reread them. Finally available in a first trade collection, those poems appear in Crabwise to the Hounds (Toronto ON: Coach House Books, 2008). Still, the only part of this wise little poetry collection by the Orono, Ontario author is the title, otherwise containing short, sharp and surprising small poems that grasp and grapple with the fine-lined restraint of just how the thread of a poem can resonate.

I had come to brush my teeth.
You had been in here for some time,
standing in the corner shower.
Splay of toothpaste speckling the mirror
with constellations, snowpoints.
The water circles above the drain,
brings its buffaloes to the cliffs.
Your toes squint on the lime stains
left from the pouncing of the taps.
I missed you turning to me,
or maybe you didn’t, hands up
on the shower wall as if some water-cops
had you frisked. And me moving in
to interrogate just as they
were beading away.
His preferred structure seems to be the little narrative, bringing in the abstract, but its in the execution, in the leaps and fierce tightness where he creates and sometime excels, writing small, where the shorter the poem, the finer the piece. This is a fine and graceful little book, an impressive first collection. Where do they all come from, these kids with first books that immediately strike? I'm already afraid for where he will go next.

Yank your habit from the hat,
temper-up it on the rump, tell it,
naughty little bastard. There he is
at the tail of a trail of look-alike
chocolate-covered raisins, that's him,
the effin' ticker of his clock pounding,
teasing Alice through a haze, just to dry-hump
her shiny shoe. Near dawn he's at a cabbage grab
in your English garden. Tell him what we do
to thieves in this town: lop off that unlucky foot,
that sawdust-filled necromancer, perpetually on point,
teeth tocking to his jackalope cousin while wolves
tear through the kitchen, he jigs in the tall grass
when St. Jean's head is lopped into a whisker basket.
In your child's room, Bunnicula sits fanged
in a chicken-wire cage. Not a good idea
to set him on your lap, heavy-pet his ears back,
better let him drown in the well of a hat,
next to the tricks we've done
when we're all thumbs.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Pathologies: A Life in Essays, by Susan Olding

My father is a pathologist. The origin of the word contains clues to our riddled relationship. Pathos, meaning pity, desolation, suffering. Logos, meaning reason. The word.

Once, when I was fifteen, I asked him to describe his work. My friends had started to wonder what he did for a living. "Tell them a pathologist is a guy who uses big words and pisses in the sink," he said.
Part of the first season of Calgary's new Freehand Books, an imprint of Broadview Press edited by Melanie Little [see my interview with her on such here] is Kingston author Susan Olding's first book, Pathologies: A Life in Essays (2008). A series of personal essays working through various aspects of the author's life, from her relationship with her father, her sister's cancer and her own work as a counsellor and teacher, her essays move through her own infertility and finally adopting her daughter Maia from an orphanage in China. Olding's essays display a clear warmth and intelligence, and she can tell a story and work through the personal essay in such a way that the personal doesn’t turn into either sentiment, or matter-of-fact emotional dismissals. How does she manage to write pieces with such force, talking about the small essential moments with her daughter, wrapped up in the politic and social aspects of adopting a daughter, let alone a daughter that doesn’t look like her? The piece "At Lingyin Si," where she writes about where her daughter was born, begins:
At Lingyin Si in the city of Hangzhou, women come to pray for fertility. Although the name, translated variously as "Palace of the Hidden Immortals," "Temple of Inner Seclusion," and "Temple of the Soul's Retreat," suggests an oasis of tranquility and calm, the place is wildly popular with Chinese and Westerners alike, and all day long its crimson halls echo with the snap, gaggle, and stomp of tourists. Zen monks remain in residence, but the clink of cash registers louder than the chime of prayer bells.

That does not deter the hopeful. On a hot September morning, I stood inside the temple gates with a friend and our newly adopted infant daughters. Together we watched as one young woman paid her respects to Guanhin, Goddess of Mercy. Dropping coins into a wrought iron urn, she gathered sticks of incense and laid them, smoking, at the altar. There they lay against a hill of fruit, flowers, and two- and
ten-yuan notes deposited by other supplicants. The girl's sharp-edged haircut, fashionable clothes, and vivid makeup announced a modern sensibility, but the look on her face expressed reverence and fervent desire. Ignoring the pushing crowds, ignoring our prying eyes, she bowed and whispered her prayers.
Part of what appeals in her pieces is the play of structure, such as the interplay of sections in the essay "Mama's Voices," back and forth from "play," "stop" and "rewind," writing out her daughter's Fisher-Price tape recorder. Still, one of many of the fragments that strike comes out of a piece called "The Easy Way" (in that other mothers have said, because she adopted, she had her daughter "the easy way"), that writes:
I ask Mark for his perspective. He's lived with me a long time; he ought to know. How has becoming a mother changed me? "You're more patient," he says. "And less. More patient with Maia. And less patient with the world."
[Susan Olding reads from Pathologies as part of a four-author Freehand Books launch in Ottawa on September 18]

Monday, September 15, 2008

poem written in eden mills

A fact is brutal it stands over a hole.
— Karen Houle, during
a curious balance of cars
& camouflage ushers

how full the hand curves

rain striates sudden damp paths
of what once was a house

& what might be again

a landscape of giants
& the violence

of ontario small towns

sadder than rock,
settled loyalist stone

& parceling bookshelves, tables
white surface of wet

amid these distractions, how easy
they change size & shape, how fully

embody a break
in the language of river, sound

nestled in, bulrushes

Sunday, September 14, 2008

an old poem embedded in thoughts on the ottawa river

You can't step into the same river twice, they say, or at least Heraclitus. Saskatchewan poet John Newlove made a reference to such in one of his poems, "You Cannot Step Twice" from Black Night Window (1968), and I've sprinkled it, somehow, into pieces of mine every couple of years since. It's a powerful idea, different thoughts on the difference of same. In one poem, I even went as far as to say that it might be a different river, but your shoe and sock still get equally wet. It might as well be the same.
shipbuilding (foundation

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

, a question of lies

i was working on a poem
on the ottawa river

how you cant step into
the same truth twice

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

by paul quarrington

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

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

i could tell that you
were not impressed

i pictured a lemon, the shape
of an hour
The lemon is another sly theft from Alberta writer Robert Kroetsch, riffing off Wallace Stevens' infamous poem about blackbirds, another line leading directly to another line. Can literature ever exist on its own? No matter how hard we try, we can no easier create art out of nothing than become our own parents; there is always a place where we begin, outside and before ourselves. The woman I was spending time with during this poem was far more trouble than she was worth, and has long since been excised, although she still has a couple of my books that I want back. I really should have learned long ago not to loan anything to anyone.

This piece is a part of The Ottawa City Project (Chaudiere Books, 2007), the book on the city I managed to somehow return to at nineteen, and this section on Ottawa's old lumber-town history from the Victorian era, making fortunes for lumber barons Booth, Eddy. A foundation of ships long since taken down, once the British no longer needed our Ottawa Valley timber for masts. This is the river the English called Ottawa and the French called les Outouais, originally called Grand by the European influx, not figuring to ask what the locals still knew it as. Champlain and others who navigated its shores, what we swam ourselves in under Canada Day fireworks in 1996, perhaps troubling our still-future health for the filth of the Ottawa River, ash floating down on our floating heads.

Around the same time, I was reading Robert Legget's Ottawa Waterway: Gateway to a Continent (University of Toronto Press, 1975) for the sake of research on my travel book, Ottawa: The Unknown City (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2008), working through the Outaouais, the Algonquin, Samuel de Champlain, and the steam ships and the advent of rail that took out the steam ships, and even the advent of cars that took out the rail.

For a couple of decades before and just at the turn of the 20th century, there was a hot springs in eastern Ontario, downriver some, just before the Quebec border, as the Bytown & Prescott Railway Company making regular trips to Caledonia Hot Springs, where heads of state and even royalty would visit for the spring's healing powers. What is it about history? It's difficult to even find references to such, and there are barely stones in the field to mark where the buildings once sat, completely erased, it seems, despite the trains and the steam ships that took important passenger cargo to visit, including British royalty and various heads of state. How does something so grand disappear so completely, so quickly? So far, the only book on the Caledonia Hot Springs was written and published in French; I await the translation, so I don’t have to write the same thing myself. Will it ever happen?

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Cypress by Barbara Klar

Insomnia, Fear of Rain

In the high sleep, half sleep, unfinished business
booms in the west like the speed of blue horses
faster than running, forests knock me down.
I fear the gods, their rain drowning air,
the liquid flesh of thunder in the dirt road
out, impassible, impossible. When it rains
in the Cypress Hills there is no leaving,
dawn to its axles in mud, hills circling
like a posse of silence. I will fight them.
My fear of heights and death and dentists
and mistakes and love and water
will fight them, my fallen fears,
their black cones flowering the bone
across my chest with the fear
of never being found, the fear
of hills forever, the fear
in my throad:

Cypress (London ON: Brick Books, 2008) is a third poetry collection by Saskatoon-area author Barbara Klar, after The Night You Called Me a Shadow (1993) and The Blue Field (1999), both published by Regina's Coteau Books. If you ask anyone in Saskatchewan, I'm sure they'll tell you that the prairie isn’t as flat as all that, perhaps even telling you of the Cypress Hills, site of the infamous massacre, and how it the highest point between Labrador and the Rocky Mountains, but you might already know that. This collection is almost like a collage, poems working on different angles of the small point of earth known as the Cypress Hills, an expression of the range of movement through the author's own pilgrimages through the area, writing poems on the trees, on rocks and flowers and various local histories, and poems written as letters to a writer or two, whether to the late writer Wallace Stegner, who wrote the book Wolf Willow (his house is also currently a writers' retreat, where Klar once held residence), or this one, to the late poet John Newlove, who considered himself (despite his final seventeen years in Ottawa) a Saskatchewan poet:

A Letter for Newlove

You probably don’t remember me. We met
when I was twenty-two on an ugly couch
in a roomful of people in Regina in November,
people talking about your words and the end
of birds. I'd like to live a slower live too,
I think I said. You were an awkward comrade
referring to yourself in the third person, your demons
rustling in the scotch-guarded flowers,
in your snow-haired wing, your open ear.

Where your prairie climbs the Cypress Hills
the flickers hunt in little armies and the living
finally talk to the dead. I am talking, talking,
sorrow in the soft grey chests of the armies,
their brother's wing breaking by a ranchyard
somewhere, a flicker in the dust from the school bus
on the first day of school, the children wiser
than they'll ever be, the coral-red crescent
leaving the nape of the year. A girl gets off
the bus and wants to save him when he needs
a club to smash him into the afterlife
and the summer I was twelve I found
a knocked-out pigeon under the railroad bridge,
made him live in a cage until he loved me. I don’t
know how to be unless it gets me something.
The flicker knows the only perfect word,
a war cry, and it leaves a grave more beautiful
than any of your poems, not by much,
just a bit, dear John: I'm leaving
the world. Is there anything you need
up there? I'll bring it the last time I leave here,
the long trucks carrying the cattle to slaughter
and the school bus going home.

This isn’t necessarily the kind of poetry that I gravitate toward, but I find her poems around both the geography of the place and even the idea of the place rather interesting. Apart from the letters, which are somewhat intriguing, the poems I find most compelling aren’t the ones broken into couplets or stanzas, holding the break between lines and other spaces, but the ones that exist as a kind of accumulation, written in a kind of long continuous flow, such as "Insomnia, Fear of Rain" or this one:

Gravity, The First Tower Road

I am born into the sound for hills,
the weighted singing. The bird
was my mother, her feathers are stone
and bones are hollow rattles. The bird
was my father, soon he will be flying
up the steep road that leads to a tower.
I climb, mostly lung, breathing and breathing
our song of constant air. I am the bird who walks
on feathers, early animal, syllable, seed
of the strong race of deer. When I fly
it is a running, the wings of grass is a family
for my hooves. My song is not a sigh
but a remembering: left, my heavy wing
before the right one, the sun pressing blood
from the grasses. I walk and walk until
tomorrow and tomorrow. I curl
at the feet of pines.
I wait.

Friday, September 12, 2008

an old poem embedded in thoughts of airports and found materials

According to my notes, this poem, hidden in my little chapbook search & rescue (Mercutio Press, 2003), was written around 6am from the Ottawa International Airport, Macdonald-Cartier, on July 20, 2001. Where would I have been going? I might have been going out to that West Coast Poetry Festival in Vancouver, but I'm really not sure, usually wanting to keep my summers open for the sake of my child. Where did the lines all come from? I know I'd received a copy of the new filling Station but days before from derek beaulieu, travelling with such as reading material, reading distraction. I know the Coke and Pepsi line from George Bowering, a little poem he had in the same issue. I'm sure if you looked, you could probably find the rest, which is why I was so open about where the lines came from. Is it still theft if you give such credit?

lazy poem written using
borrowed lines from filling station,
issue #21

alone in a rich cloud; we smoked
our last cigarette.

i dont care whether i get coke or pepsi.

he mentioned nothing about the german streets.

the harder i try to chuckle,
the sun forgets to close.

dont you know sirens end w/ punches.

in the meantime, i couldn’t care less,
why & when.
I've since worked to be more sly about where I steal lines, and twist lines and phrases into such unrecognizable forms that you would simply never know where they might have originated. Sometimes, even, a phrase causing another to appear in my head, and the point-of-origin irrevocably lost. I even admit that this poem is lazy; should I even take credit? Does this matter at all?

As Gregory Betts has already written, the idea of plunder is one of working through found material, writing already there, reworking out of what has been written into something else. It's what the character in Barbara Gowdy's novel Mister Sandman (1995) did at the end of the book, turning her home recordings of her family's voices back on themselves. Or poet Lise Downe, writing in the acknowledgements of her poetry collection, the soft signature (ECW Press, 1997): "All of these words have appeared elsewhere. Only their order has been changed, to maintain their innocence." Is there still such a thing?

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Eden Mills Writers' Festival, September 2008

On Sunday, Christine McNair and I wandered around the 20th anniversary Eden Mills Writers' Festival, just near Guelph, Ontario. McNair (I produced "poem" handouts by myself and McNair for the event) was heading there anyway, and let me tag along with her and friends Amy Dennis (we picked her up in Burlington) and Abby Whidden (who was reading in the Fringe category, and we picked up in Toronto). I had never been to Eden Mills before, despite many years of wanting to go, and it was raining when we got there. Eden Mills is such a pretty little town. Apparently the whole town loves Leon Rooke. In front of "Jenny's House," which was also used as the festival "hospitality suite" for the various authors, there was a banner that said "We Love Leon Rooke." I mean, who doesn’t?
[David McGimpsey & Paul Quarrington, above] Some of the participants in this years festival included writer Amatoritsero Ede, Nigerian poet/editor, who was also the PEN Canada writer in exile at Carleton University a few years ago, David Chariandy, Patricia Claxton, Karen Houle, David McGimpsey, Rebecca Rosenblum, Leon Rooke, Alistair MacLeod, Janice Kulyk Keefer, Lawrence Hill, Paul Quarrington, Anita Rau Badami and Nadine McInnis. Some of the others wandering around included Kitty Lewis, working the Brick Books table, Stephen Henighan, Shane Neilson and Paul Vermeersh. I think I want to read at this event next year; maybe with my new poetry collection from Talon?

Sunday, September 07, 2008

colonel by drive: a rideau collapse

the struggle to be real and not merely adaptive
suffers utterly.
— Meredith Quartermain, Matter

something abt the river

you are tide, where
you are sleep into the bodys beach

risky, & more hopeful

on her bruised cheek where indirect

rivers lead to smaller rooms

the red lines get the girls

a stone upon your hollow


sweeps, into the slip of water

a realistic now, & then

arranged into a velvet spire

the worth of noise a fingernail

draining dows swamp into lake

an ecology of beer & irish

strata of pure produce

an observation figures on a ledge


an engineering feat, of tall & thin

blur the hands that feed

intention like a halter

I see three animals in turn, a clot

the list of species fall

go down again; that stone, that path

what feeds jaw dropping mouth

a total sum of relation, unearthed


or during what, combines

endures against the width, a question

I cant say I love you

a bag of useless flesh; erasure

from one of the outside

erodes a path of progress, stress

or grouped in whereabouts, in turn

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Alberta Dispatch: interviews & writing from Edmonton

rob mclennan

table of contents:



On (not) Being an Alberta Writer: or, anticipating UofA

sexing the prairie

from Missing Persons

wild horses: poems

Alberta dispatch: West Edmonton Mall

: an interview with rob mclennan by Sheila Murphy

John Stiles questions for Contemporary Verse 2

Haas Bianchi questions, Chicago Postmodern Poetry

The Swift & a Heft: An Interview with rob mclennan by Lea Graham

This could be a very long answer: an interview with rob mclennan by The Puritan
rob mclennan bibliography:

$25; published by above/ground press [note: this item is NOT part of the regular above/ground press annual subscription] & produced in an ongoing edition on the University of Alberta Bookstore's Espresso Book Machine;

The University of Alberta Bookstore will have copies in store & on website soon, but until then, to order a copy, send $25 + $3 (for postage; in US, send in American dollars) to:

rob mclennan
858 Somerset Street West, main floor
Ottawa ON Canada K1R 6R7

Friday, September 05, 2008

ART THAT FLOWS: How to Get Your Creative Work Done

with Alison Gresik

Writers and artists know all about obstacles to creativity, from our own fear and procrastination to the practical challenges of finding time and space to work. Led by an Ottawa writer, this eight-week interactive workshop will give you a toolbox of techniques for overcoming these obstacles so you can get more done on your artistic projects.

Wednesday nights,
October 1 to November 26 (no class October 29)
7:00 pm to 9:00 pm

Saint Brigid's Centre for the Arts and Humanities, 314 St. Patrick St. (at Cumberland), Ottawa
Limited to 10 participants.

For more information or to register, visit Alison's website at www.gresik.ca/flow

Thursday, September 04, 2008

poem written in sainte-adele

(for christine mcnair

what do we know, against
a sainted list

a crime of produce, power-station
, kids on bikes ride bridgework

why am I always crossed, in love
a saint no longer is

do they think out like a marigold

a line apart a line of clouds
fence-resting at the razors edge

a row of fish, through french doors

a cycle of slow, bleating hearts
& inadequate warnings


the blood of late summer, brown

an intricate of reds
that echo tourists, tourists, skis

through the songs up to the house
through charcoal to black

through bicycle push, shock-pink

rooted in coral, like trees
& some greenery, some flesh

the way to bridges, highways, breath
is never the same route twice

accumulating chairs, slow passage

of three days into many moons,
a complex multitude

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

another old poem embedded in thoughts on old poets

Books come from books; isn’t that what David W. McFadden used to repeat? In Ireland, I watched Stephen Brockwell at Thoor Ballyle, Yeats' infamous tower near Galway, taking photographs and generally being neurotic, in that way only Brockwell can. Did he end up writing a poem about the visit? I don’t recall. I remember he spent ten minutes obsessing over the fact that he couldn’t find the lens cap to his camera, when it was in his jacket pocket the whole time. Or was it still in the car? We were doing a little reading tour around Ireland in 2002, spending a few days in Dublin, and doing three daily readings in Dingle, Galway and Cobh, able to stop our little rental car by Yeats' tower along the way. Unfortunately for his plans, since we were there in February, we were two months early, unable to get inside and tour around. Given that the country had relatively few tourists wandering around but for us, I don’t think either of us minded the trade-off. What has this to do with Keats? Absolutely nothing.

keats, at 206, is very old
(after bromige

out into that,
wingless view

over annex, &
janets store

of books

true, this only comes
w/ that

or is it time

& then to keep time,
w/ any age

an appreciation
of fact

& this autumn part
of bloor

one loves life
for all the living
For years, I've made the joke that Brockwell only reads the dead, and I only read the living. Keats and Yeats. What was that line from John Thompson's Stilt Jack (Anansi, 1976), the first two lines of "Ghazal IX," writing:

Yeats. Yeats. Yeats. Yeats. Yeats. Yeats. Yeats.
Why wouldn’t the man shut up?
But that's beside the point. I'd read a few David Bromige books here and there, including books by Brick Books and Black Sparrow, but it was the one that I picked up from Janet Inksetter's former store location for Annex Books, Birds of the West (Coach House Press, 1974), that really struck me. Struck enough to fall into this little piece, left in the middle of the book that became name , an errant (Stride, 2006). Bromige is one of those Canadian west coast 1960s poets, one of the University of British Columbia student-poets, that participated in the infamous 1963 Vancouver Poetry Conference, despite heading south a year earlier to Berkeley for further studies. Part of a group of Vancouver writers that included George Bowering, Frank Davey, Fred Wah, David Dawson and Jamie Reid, he kept in touch through correspondence with his Canadian friends, as well as publishing books with Talonbooks and Coach House throughout the years, as well as over a dozen by American publisher Black Sparrow. Wasn’t there a story of he and George Bowering sending inappropriate emails back and forth on the SUNY-Buffalo Poetics list-serve a few years ago, and being asked to either leave or tone down?

It was the short lines Bromige used in this particular collection that triggered, working his own kind of references to Keats in one of the pieces. Are all poems simply responses to other poems? Writing from writing, McFadden said, books from books.

Whenever I travel, I like to have a familiar place I return to daily write, whether a particular coffeeshop in Vancouver just by MacLeod's Books, a Second Cup on Whyte Avenue in Edmonton or the Grad Lounge at the University of Alberta, or the Future Bakery on Bloor Street in Toronto's Annex. This particular poem was written at the Future Bakery, close enough to the University of Toronto to be a student hangout, and where, over the years, I've seen, deliberately and accidentally, writers such as Nathaniel G. Moore, Adeena Karasick, Stan Rogal, Steve Venright, Colin Christie, Beth Easton, Rebecca Rosenbaum, Leon Rooke, Catherine Kidd, Dana Bath, Corey Frost, Cary Fagan, Jim Munroe, Andy Brown and various others. Years ago, I would regularly drop in at the Book City location nearby to visit with writers that worked there, including Derek McCormack, Patrick Rawley, Paul Vermeersch, Alana Wilcox, Chris Chambers and John Degen, and to even be near St. George Street and not visit Coach House is simply a crime. The years of Victor Coleman and Darren Wershler-Henry before the advent of Alana Wilcox, with the numerous threads that might never leave: Nicky Drumbolis, Rick/Simon and Stan Bevington.

Toronto writer and editor Michael Holmes even wrote a small book in the same Future Bakery a few years before I started writing there, published by Coach House Printing, predating the new Coach House Books by a couple of years, produced in a cd case as Satellite Dishes from the Future Bakery (Coach House Printing, 1994). I don’t think I've been nearly so overt. Still, I've done enough travel that I like my routine, my comfort, returning daily to a particular locale for the sake of grounding, to be able to sit and to write, take notes. How else to feel like a person during such a displacement?

Tuesday, September 02, 2008


by convention, we name each axis
based upon a weight

knowing nothing of electromagnetics

formed near earth as separate bodies,
no break in system, the gradual resolve

what imprint hovers

flared between miles & constants
, places where orbits lose

designed, a study of motion

to my ear I hear it: the capsule burns
projected travel

against their eyes, a melody

unobservable under normal gravity
a stretch of light that bends

there is no language in egress

a body in motion remains in motion
, even yours

write postcards marked by skin

rob mclennan & Christine McNair,
August 31, 2008
Sainte-Adele, Quebec

Monday, September 01, 2008


Open Letter: A Canadian Journal of Writing & Theory
"New Canadian Poetries," guest-edited by rob mclennan

-- To All the (Cow)Girls I’ve Loved, Before… by Nicole Markotić

-- “The Records Spun My Lonesomeness”: A Short Essay on David McGimpsey’s “Ancient Rock Mythology" by Alessandro Porco

-- interview with Adeena Karasick by rob mclennan

-- TRANSCENDING HYPERSPECIFICITY: Bill Kennedy’s ‘Apostrophe’ (plus Kennedy’s collaboration with Darren Wershler-Henry, Apostrophe, as framed by Gerald Creede’s ‘Résumé’ and Steve Venright’s Spiral Agitator) by Adam Seelig

-- Will You Play? A Discussion of Play-in-Process and Work-in-Progress JA = NINE: Scrabbalah by Jill Hartman

-- Stuttering Continuity (or, Like It's 1999): An Interview with Lisa Robertson at Cambridge by Mark Cochrane

-- You Don’t Adapt to An Avalanche: Gerald Creede’s Ambit as Working Class Writing by Donato Mancini

-- That Which is Called Nothing is Found Only in Women’s Magazines: My Reading of Karen MacCormack’s At Issue by kevin mcpherson eckhoff

-- ‘refusing the prairie: radicality & urbanity in Calgarian poetics’ by derek beaulieu

-- A Body in Flux: Lisa Robertson’s The Weather by Colin Martin

-- Canon Fodder: A Correspondence Between Jay MillAr and Tim Conley

- Here Comes the Violence: Poetry, the Mass Media, and Damian Lopes’s
Sensory Deprivation by Jonathan Ball

- a visual poem by Max Middle

- cover image (above): visual piece by kevin mcpherson eckhoff