Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Open Text: Canadian Poetry in the 21st Century, volume 2, ed. Roger Farr

Is language


Is the body the mind


The idea of

Malleability before

Material itself became


Formed for every toxic thought

We wanted a soft world

For it to conform to the hand

As if exchangeable


Cheap and throwaway

Not thinking of decay

Of a throwaway world

Shaped to our hand

Hurling everything

Its soft objectivity and

Currency over the walls of

Our mortal enclosures (Stephen Collis, from “The History of Plastic”)

Newly out from Vancouver’s Capilano University Editions is the second volume of Open Text: Canadian Poetry in the 21st Century, edited by Roger Farr. The second of three planned collections, the first two feature poetry, and the forthcoming third, will feature poetic statements by writers featured in the first two volumes, all of whom have appeared as part of the ongoing Open Text Reading Series hosted by the Creative Writing Program at Capilano University (nee Capilano College) in Vancouver between “September 2008 and October 2009.” As editor Farr writes in his introduction:

The most interesting poetry being written today makes no secret of its desire to recalibrate the spatial and temporal instruments we use to navigate the world—this is the “opening” promised by the open text. In the cramped discursive space of twentieth century poetics, the poem has been productively imagined as a “place” (Olson), a “field” (Duncan), a “room” (Webb), a “baseball diamond” (Spicer), a “zone” (Watten), a “body” (Brossard), a “scale” (Derksen), and a “border” (Toscano), to name just a few of the more compelling formulations.

Continuing from the first volume [see my review of such here], this collection includes work by some sixteen contributors, including Ken Belford, Clint Burnham, Christine Leclerc, Fred Wah, Reg Johanson, Angela Carr, Kim Duff, Edward Byrne, Stephen Collis, Shirley Bear, Emily Fedoruk and Phinder Dulai. What makes a collection such as this is not only (obviously) the quality, but the range of the writing and writers included, as well as some obvious stylistic and regional opportunities that readers in other parts of the country aren’t always allowed, skirting across considerations that include those of some of the current incarnations of the Kootenay School of Writing.

like a growth of worldliness on the skin

I set the car in the camera

of my thinking in Paris

settle it on fire

over the face of the water

the War Between Terrors

inflates heaven

out of the unsettled


of wing-thinking,

thousands of blur-born

worlds above centring (Wayde Compton, from “The radical organs of passage”)

Despite the many linkages that exist across the country, its good to be reminded about the frustrations of a divided regionalism; if the publisher hadn’t sent this book along directly into my mailbox, would many of these writers make their way this far east in a trade publication? If there are no connections made between such, what is the point in an increasing book-industry sense of “region”? As Farr continues in his piece:

Not surprisingly, many of the writers here work in extended, book-length and serial forms that provide the optimal formal conditions in which to pursue “multiple histories” synchronically, and in so doing they avoid that literary trap in which the poet starts and stops the historical clock, an authoritarian and colonizing gesture to be avoided at all costs. Similarly, the intent here is not to announce that something has arrived or that something has passed, or worse, to put on display a number of “finely wrought” or “best of” curiosities; rather the collection aims only to pause the hyper-accelerated production of Canadian literary culture just for a second, so we might get a better look at it, and then to move on. like the serial poem, the Open Text anthology, in the words of Jack Spicer, is a “book, which is a unit like a poem.” It is “an ongoing process of accumulation” (Conte), a “narrative which refuses to adopt an imposed story line, and completes itself only in the sequence of poems, if, in fact, a reader insists upon a definition of completion which is separate from the activity of the poems themselves” (Blaser).

Is this, then, a series of collections or a series of gestures? Is this an unfinished, or even an ongoing accumulation we have to see all the way through to the end?

1. hip to be swear

new year a new west state of mind of rest and illusions solution she says, at

the level of the word.

for those who sling it in all the right type



see me in the city

sitting pretty

tongues slip; the space among those teeth

stiff parts of paper stacked silence, so

do you wanna write this

off or just fuck it

found text, lost my page

okay, emily, walk away (Emily Fedoruk, from “cirrus”)

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