Sunday, May 31, 2009

Arielle Greenberg, My Kafka Century

My Kafka Century

By which I mean I have come to this dark country a carpetbagger,
and left it in the body of a woman.

That I am a good friend to dogs;
that my father’s thumping love for me churns me and makes me race the road.

That I spit under my tongue against childhood enemy;
that I wear a grudge like a brass star locket on a chain.

That my life is a kind of flag for Life in General;
that I am hateful and boastful and chosen enough to make such a claim.

That if this Life we speak about can be shared—
that it is full of black enamel typewriter keys and empty boats and things slither-
ing in corners.

but also pirate’s treasure, wrongfully acquired,
but occasionally spent in the service of some miniscule, temporary good

like shining in the earlobe of the one you love,
or tethering the cloth playhouse with its immeasurable weight.

After going through her first poetry collection recently, it was good to discover that Arielle Greenberg was already author of a second, My Kafka Century (Tuscaloosa Alabama: Action Books, 2005). Compared to her first poetry collection, Given (Verse, 2002), the poems here are more subtle, quieter; the movements smaller than those in her previous.

Center Field

I sure hope the aliens come and get me
from their dear place out in the corn.
We can play when they do: baseball, a game
with diamonds in it, and sing
a song with birds in it and nests in it,
and amidst all those twigs,
an icon among icons.
The aliens don’t know these rules
as they creep along, wrestling asunder
from its neighboring verbs,
little baby bird with stretched tongues
prying out the backs of their linear throats.
Come and get it, says the mama to her kin.
The mothership has made a yummy supper.
I live on this planet, I say again.
And do hope to be the shortstop
when the aliens on their streamlined spindles,
all spooky in their foreign whirring accents,
lob a fast one over to center field?
I sure don’t. I want to keep living here.
I want to be married to an earthling,
curled inside the homing device of an egg.

Sometimes when artists release albums, it’s the second one that gets them down, after a brilliant first; if they make it to three, they’re usually okay, with the third bringing the strength and maturity that the first exploded, and the second flailed, in usual growing pains. This second collection of Greenberg’s has stronger poems than the first, but the mix of things make it somewhat uneven, with various attempts that glow through the pages, and others that don’t quite make it. A wiser and smarter book, but less sure of itself, sometimes, for the unexplored places she goes. Greenberg tries a number of structural things with her poems to expand her repertoire, not all of which works, but I want to see where it is she goes next, writing transcendent lines and poems that almost shock for where it is they end up. But what does this have to do with Kafka?

Kafka’s Letter to His Father

There isn’t much you need to know about the story.
It was given to a mother.
The mother gave it back.
The mother came from an odd people.
One sister took over a gypsy farm.
Kafka once stayed at the sister’s farm when he was ill.
This sister, and two others, died in the camps or out of them.
The man who lies down with dogs awakens in fleas.
Each page has thirty-four lines.
A long balcony stretched the inner courtyard of Austrian homes.
The letter is long and “has an undertone of despair.”
“Sterben” is apparently German for dying.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Nathalie Stephens' Absence Where As (Claude Cahun and the Unopened Book)

In Absence Where As (Claude Cahun and the Unopened Book) (New York NY: NightBoat Books, 2009) by Nathaniël (Nathalie Stephens), we are presented with an argument wrapped around the ongoing threads of her/his own writings. Is this the book that will contain parts of all her other books? Is Nathaniël (Nathalie Stephens), arguably, writing out this absence through the presence of all that had come before?

In order to locate myself : otherwise. To make of dislocation the very place, not only of annihilation, but of survival, yoked to what, of itself, is most fragile : the uncontestable breakage that comprises it, the rupture with normative temporality. A suffocation that determines breathing. The aberration of an uncontested a priori of existence. (p 7)
Where is it Nathaniel places her/himself? Where does the text place itself as well? I’m intrigued by an essay that wraps around itself; takes the ideas of many, including previous of the author’s own works, to further the conversation. Does this book, then, continue Stephens’ writing as a single entity or as simply exploring the highlight of a single bare thread?

Last summer, I set my study up in a room I have since abandoned. With each move, the books find new placements. With several exceptions, one of which is the subject of this essay.

The constitution of the shelf visible from my work table is determining. There are those books whose selection is governed by an affective consideration – my attachment to an author, a period of time, a place, encounter, a sensibility – without neglecting the importance of a text in my trajectory, the impulses that formulate it. Mourning, melancholy, languor, desires, perversions and languages find themselves juxtaposed without any reason other than that which I grant them, capriciously, intentionally. (p 10)
Exploring a philosophy of abstract, of intellectual feeling, of thinking, itself, Stephens’ work explores those spaces in between place and placelessness, confusing place, whether geographical, philosophical, gender or language, and even the gender of language. Is it as simple as wondering what an opening photograph means, and represents, beginning with (as the press release tells us) “the author’s encounter with a photograph by Surrealist artist and writer Claude Cahun”?

Through this essay, the questions might be essentially more important than the answers, but the point of the exploration isn’t to fix to a point, but to weave through the nuances of a series of fluid ideas that can never be fixed. It’s in the exploration itself that answers are found, won and discovered, even if the responses to each might confuse or contradict. Writing of the work of Simone Weil, Stephens later writes of:

The void’s malleability, its fluidity, are consistent with water’s suppleness, its vigorous, even obliterative capacity. It enrapts and submerges, batters and engulfs. Its surface, a surface of longing and discord – disagreement – is saturated with the absence of the thing, once present, anticipated, whose trace, stolen away, subsists; not visible, nor altogether disappeared: the thing, precisely, that provokes a kind of madness that language is certainly incapable of accounting for. (pp 60-1)

Friday, May 29, 2009

Sawako Nakayasu’s hurry home honey

It’s easy to look upon love poems with suspicion, but there’s something different in Sawako Nakayasu’s hurry home honey: Love Poems 1994-2004 (Anyart, Providence: Burning Deck, 2009). I have to admit I’ve never heard of Nakayasu before, but apparently she is the author of a number of previous trade books, including So we have been given time Or (Verse Press, 2004), Nothing fictional but the accuracy or arrangement (she (Quale Press, 2005) and Texture Notes (Letter Machine, 2009), as well as a series of translations from Japanese into English. Who is this Sawako Nakayasu?

Hard balcony on the pleasure continuum

falls off the fallen off

with a slightly bounding architecture

gives way to a pleased to be loneliness

fallen neck, out

between given off by a difference to difference

a truce between
here and there

pleased to be trailing a length of red

light jumpiness of tongue

it’s getting to be yes
it’s getting

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Elizabeth Bachinsky’s god of missed connections


It was 1933. Twenty-five thousand kulaks a day
were starving in the streets of Eastern Ukraine
and children had begun to go missing. In a market
in Poltava, meat appeared where none had been
before. Mothers forbade their little ones to leave
the house. But they perished so quickly, some
slew their weakest and fed the flesh to other,
stronger, children. Better to serve your own
than have them hunted in the streets and sold
in place of bread.

With Elizabeth Bachinsky’s third trade poetry collection, god of missed connections (Gibsons BC: Nightwood Editions, 2009), the Vancouver poet returns to some of the structural concerns of her previous Nightwood collection, Home of Sudden Service (2006). In this new collection, Bachinsky writes lyric poems that explore a series of small stories, moving from her earlier collection of small-town suburban teenage struggles to a series of threads that include her immediate British Columbia, Ukrainian histories and the histories of Ukrainian-Canadians, from Robert’s Creek to Chernobyl to work camps. Much like some of the poems in Home of Sudden Service, why do her small-town poems of working class people have so much anger in them? Where does this anger come from?


Seven years. Fuck you, paper or plastic.
I see some girl come through the doors.
We went to high school together.
I don’t want to see her
seeing me in my smock. Is this a smock?
I don’t care. I stock the milk.
I hate working at the supermarket.
I hate the people. All of them buying stuff
they’re going to eat. I’m never hungry.
I make some money, I go home.
I like to drink. I don’t care what you think.
Last week the manager sent out an email
that said get happy or go home, more or less.
Did he mean me? What if I just went home?
On a hot day, I stand in the backroom
in the fridge where it’s really cold,
where the butchers keep the beef
and the chicken.

At the core of this collection is the author working through Ukrainian stories, from an author with her own Ukrainian ancestry. As Bachinksy writes in her postscript:
The history of Ukraine and of Ukrainians in Canada is fraught with tragedy, warfare, ethnic conflicts, racism, anti-Semitism, political intrigue, ecological disasters. There are stories of great bravery and bloodthirsty conquests, esoteric practices, and strange, strange rituals. It’s a history that goes back thousands of years and begins somewhere on horseback on the Pontic steppe, guzzling blood from the skulls of its enemies. Dig deep enough through the midden and you’ll hit burial chambers the size, shape and vintage of Egyptian pyramids. Cross the Atlantic and you see it through the barbed wire of internment camps in what is now Canada’s national parks system.

By now, it is impossible to encapsulate all that is Ukrainian. It is an ethnicity that is, by its very nature, fractured, diasporic, transient; there is no one definition of what it is to be Ukrainian. It’s not a new story, nor an unknown one, but there are over one million persons who claim Ukrainian heritage living in Canada today, and I suspect many of them, particularly people of my generation, are unaware of some basic history about both the Old Country and the New.

I can say this because I was one of them.
Part of what makes this collection work is the series of loose threads that weave their way through, writing her stories and writing out histories, but has she gone far enough? Will there be a further book by Bachinsky to properly tell some of these basic histories that she touches upon, skims, references, telling stories out of context sometimes, and without any more information than a poem can provide? Where will she tell these stories that she, herself, says her people need to listen to, and to know?

[Elizabeth Bachinksy is currently touring, and reads Friday night at the Carleton Tavern in Ottawa]

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

rob's talonlaunches in toronto, calgary, vancouver;

Further readings around for my new poetry collection out with Talonbooks, in Toronto at the Pivot Reading Series, in Calgary and in Vancouver as well; hopefully see some of you there!

Toronto ON: Wednesday, June 3, 2009; 8:00-11:00pm, The Press Club, 850 Dundas Street West. Readings by rob mclennan, writer Marianne Apostolides and fiction writer Steven Mayoff. Info:

Calgary AB: Tuesday, June 9, 2009; 7:30-9pm, Pages Books on Kensington, 1135 Kensington Road NW. Readings by rob mclennan, bill bissett, Adeena Karasick and Garry Thomas Morse. Info:

Vancouver BC: Wednesday, June 10, 2009; 7:30pm, Anza Club, 3 West 8th Avenue. Readings by rob mclennan, bill bissett, Adeena Karasick and Garry Thomas Morse. Info:

Monday, May 25, 2009

Song of the wooden hearts

a margin you smoothed
with your hand

territorial drifts; we would recluse
all serious, fragment

in the rafters a voice

breaking down into thirds, a tree
branches mud & a nest

the second straw-cut

the city you realize
, a primacy, bare

successful, so cold
& explosive

question you
& you are

a horizon you smoothed

from boiled your blood

who have given up every
, reconciled a house

a small wooden breath
through a break

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Saving Salt Publishing: Just One Book

A note from Chris Emery, publisher of Salt in Britain:

As many of you will know, Jen and I have been struggling to keep Salt moving since June last year when the economic downturn began to affect our press. Our three year funding ends this year: we've £4,000 due from Arts Council England in a final payment, but cannot apply through Grants for the Arts for further funding for Salt's operations. Spring sales were down nearly 80% on the previous year, and despite April's much improved trading, the past twelve months has left us with a budget deficit of over £55,000. It's proving to be a very big hole and we're having to take some drastic measures to save our business.

Here's how you can help us to save Salt and all our work with hundreds of authors around the world. JUST ONE BOOK:

1. Please buy just one book, right now. We don't mind from where, you can buy it from us or from Amazon, your local shop or megastore, online or offline. If you buy just one book now, you'll help to save Salt. Timing is absolutely everything here. We need cash now to stay afloat. If you love literature, help keep it alive. All it takes is just one book sale. Go to our online store and help us keep going.

2. Share this note on your profile. Tell your friends. If we can spread the word about our cash crisis, we can hopefully find more sales and save our literary publishing. Remember it's just one book, that's all it takes to save us. Please do it now. With my best wishes to everyone

Chris Emery
Salt Publishing

Here's the internet site:

A day later:

Salt campaigns for survival
22.05.09 Catherine Neilan in the UK

Poetry press Salt has launched a viral marketing campaign in a bid to stave off closure, in the wake of the publisher’s "financial difficulties". The publisher has asked for customers to "buy just one Salt book". Director Chris Hamilton-Emery said the first day of his company’s 'Just One Book’ campaign had "swept the web", leading to more than 400 orders within 24 hours.

He said: "The response has been astonishing and heart-warming. Since June last year our family business has faced severe financial difficulties - the recession hit us hard. We're almost at the end, it's terrifically sad. Nine years of our lives has gone into developing this literary business."

Salt's campaign began on Facebook and has now extended to include a "cheeky" video based on the WWF's 'Adopt a Polar Bear’ advertisements seen frequently on children's television. "We knew there was terrific support for Salt and our authors, but it's all been amazing," said Hamilton-Emery. "These new customers, hundreds of them around the world from Canada to Australia, Japan to the UK, are saving our business one book at a time."

The publisher, which was set up after Oxford University Press closed its poetry list 10 years ago, had been funded by the Arts Council England until the last financial year. During the last year of ACE support, the company had increased turnover by 70%.

But, in the wake of the recession, Salt experienced "a shortfall of £55,000". Hamilton-Emery said: "It's a very big hole, and the Arts Council, who have been terrifically supportive, can no longer help us. They've done everything they can. We're on our own now."

Salt Publishing Chris Hamilton-Emery Catherine Neilan

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Poetics of Numerousness: Singularities, Movements, Idealities

From May 14 to 16, 2009, I participated in Poetics of Numerousness: Singularities, Movements, Idealities: An International Conference on Contemporary Poetry and Poetics at Grant MacEwen in Edmonton, with readings and papers presented by the likes of Rachel Blau DuPlessis, Andy Weaver, Adam Dickinson, Steve McCaffery, Jason Wiens, T.L. Cowan and plenty of others, organized by Roger Davis and J. Mark Smith. Here are a few (selected) highlights:

Emily Carr. Finally good to meet Calgary poet Carr, author of a forthcoming title through above/ground press. Talking of Daphne Marlatt and Lyn Hejinian’s “mother tongue” and “making it strange,” “our public tug of war with private need.” In her paper she asked, “does being part of a community presume that someone is listening?” She talked about the innovative approach to the problem of female voice in the lyric, writing that in the new lyric, speech is “inadequate head-on,” and that “the self is no longer the self but a series of associations.”

Jessica Lewis Luck. Writing about New York poet Lisa Jarnot’s work, specifically Night Scene (2008), Luck talked about her use of the ballad metre, about “the absence of the lyric ‘I’,” and about her use of sound and rhythm, reading a couple of Jarnot’s poems out loud, proving to the audience just how much these poems need to be heard. With poems leaping from high point to high point, ignoring plot details, as she said, “her poems help us ‘learn our parts phoenetically.’”

Thricemost Field Mouse Song

Thricemost Field most fidelitous mice of men
mice most field toast rebellion riven gunned
of rice mice most field glow of the one
christ mass field task resting mice and run
run most field roast, mossy mice of one
arm’s length mouse flank, felicitious and sunned
tan glow field row mouse is underdone
cooked roe built of field greens overrun
run mouse field house tent inside the sun
love paste arm’s haste mouse toes moon and hum
shaped wave, spare pace, mouse face dusted on
under taken leaves all raken, golden fur begun
open out the field of mouse, the field of mouse begun. (Lisa Jarnot)

Carmen Derksen. Writing on Jen Bervin’s Nets, which writes her own poems through sixty of Shakespeare’s love poems, “as ghostly power points.”


Against my love shall be as I am now
With Time’s injurious hand crushed and o’er worn;
When hours have drained his blood and filled his brow
With lines and wrinkles; when his youthful morn
Hath travelled on to age’s steepy night,
And all those beauties whereof now he’s king
Are vanishing or vanished out of sight,
Stealing away the measure of his spring;
For such a time do I now fortify
Against confounding age’s cruel knife,
That he shall never cut from memory
My sweet love’s beauty, though my lover’s life:
His beauty shall in these black lines be seen,
And they shall live, and he in them still green.

Listening to her piece, I did wonder if she was aware of Gregory Betts’ work on “plunder,” writing poems out of the same kind of erasure, the same kind of pulling one text out of another; the difference seems to be that plunder doesn’t leave in what is being erased, thus leaving only the extractions. Plunderverse doesn’t seem to highlight this inherent and even collaborative “doubling” of the original text with the new. Could this even be a form of translation?

Panel 5, J.C. Peters, Jessica Ruzek & T.L. Cowan [photo of Peters with McCaffery and Rachel Blau DuPlessis in the front row, listening]. This is the panel I got to moderate, with Vancouver-based independent scholar J.C. Peter’s paper (best title of the conference, I’d think), “Making Love to the Words and Getting Jilted: My Textual Affair with Steve McCaffery,” talking about how McCaffery’s work “set free the polyphonic meaning of each letter,” and her relationship with his work existed “less a reading than a relationship,” writing about “new neural pathways of engagement” necessary for what he had accomplished with his work. Not about sex, but exploring McCaffery’s work “through libidinal ways.” Apart from the fact that it was a great paper well delivered, it was magnificent to watch McCaffery himself in the first row, enjoying it as much as the rest of us. Her paper focused on McCaffery’s essays, and how he was often doing exactly what he called others on, expecting a kind of consideration that he wasn’t presenting when talking about the work of others. As in her handout (a review she did of North of Intention), “Why does Steve use to many big words?” or “Excuse me. but it is spelled bill bissett, not Bill Bissett. Talk about disrespect. Who does this guy think he is?” I very much liked this smart, informed, thoughtful and tongue-in-cheek paper. What else has this woman done, I would certainly like to know.

The Olive Reading Series (special): Andy Weaver, Adam Dickinson, Rachel Blau DuPlessis [photo of Dickinson, looking modestly sincere]. A special edition of the reading series, it was good to have Weaver and Dickinson return to the reading series that they (along with Jonathan Meakin and Paul Pearson) founded some nine school years earlier, back when all were grad students at the University of Alberta. I’ve heard Weaver read a number of times, and it’s good to know, too, that a second poetry collection is forthcoming from NeWest Press, finally, despite being another two years off. It’s getting harder to make fun of Adam Dickinson for being a “nature poet,” reading from new work as well as his second collection from Brick Books. There are some really interesting things happening within his poems, subversive, subtle things. Calling his second collection a box on “taxonomy,” and reworking lines from Darwin, Dickinson appears to be working poems on how the world is or how it is has been previously explained, bringing his own thinking into the twisting mix.

Steve McCaffery was a treat; “the rain in spain falls mainly on mark twain,” he read in one piece, moving into a sound poem, reading much the way I’ve heard Ottawa poet Max Middle read text as sound over the past few years (Middle’s work existing without the conceptual and intellectual framing that McCaffery brings to his pieces, existing more as “pure sound” in the form of spoken/performed text). All four even had new chapbook/broadside publications from Olive, each made in a limited edition of fifty copies and available for $10 from the series; if you would like copies, email the series through their website to see if they have any left.

Cocktails with the Pope

Catholic families hate genocide to bits
even when the bloodshed’s from Beowulf
transposed by a Lecturer in one of the Wehrmacht’s

smaller gymnasia “blow it up” and
“it tickles you to death”
from mundane to sublime

look how all the troubles in Northern Ireland
weren’t repaired in teacups
one redundant miner notes

the random neurological patterning
in an Anglo-Saxon vision poem
quite protestant in its simplicity

a mind in the moving cool between
struggle and intercultural vendettas
resigned to a safe suburban neo-classicism

in April all the gigolos
perspire from Fra Angelicos
cast in a discourse that must be

doubted. But how to
when nowadays the muse is but
the proverbial wet poodle drying in a microwave

thus night arrives
the rag trade sweatshops settle sweetly
into their detached cosmopolitan compounds

and God’s in His Heaven
knitting fake rubber hands
for all the non-existent shop-lifters. (Steve McCaffery, Shadowland)

[photo of McCaffery at the Olive, coming directly at me] The next afternoon, he gave the most amazing lecture on Kenneth Goldsmith, “The Mundane End of Unoriginality,” that “uncreative writing is profoundly gravitational,” and of Goldsmith’s ability “to be uncreative and unengaging” being the central point of his writing, completely removing any idea of creative or the literary. Does this still exist as art, as writing? For Goldsmith’s project, Day, where the whole of a particular issue of The New York Times is copied out, McCaffery asks and answers, “Why is reading Day different than reading The New York Times?”

Despite the fact that Audrey’s Books had the titles (but weren’t there), McCaffery apparently has new titles out with American publisher Chax Press and BookThug, the second being a first trade edition of an early 1970s publication made for a University of Alberta class reading for Douglas Barbour in an edition of one hundred copies (of course, being neighbour to jwcurry, I went through a copy of such years ago), both of which I would love to get my hands on.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Marianne Apostolides’ Swim: a novel

Toronto writer Marianne Apostolides’ Swim: a novel (Toronto ON: BookThug, 2009) is a lovely movement of the lyric through water, through the framing of swimming in a public pool, working from the point of view of Kat, her daughter Melina, and even Achilles, back and forth, a frame from each that overlaps, scene after individual scene.
Melina’s finger stops. She contemplates the phrase.

Kat is gazing at the mountainside. The landscape, when viewed from below, is a canvas of browns, muted and various. From her position in the pool, Kat can’t detect the caves or streams that flow toward the waterfalls; she can’t see the wildflowers, either, with their spray of colour. These mountains seem inert, though she knows this is untrue, if only because of a story her father told her once, years ago.

The symbolism of the rose depends on its thorns.

This village is called Loutra or ‘Baths,’ an appropriate name, given its most distinctive characteristic: the pools of water that gather beneath six small waterfalls whose progression forms the perimeter of the village. At the outskirts of Loutra, the mountain’s underground waters breach the rock’s surface; these disparate streams rapidly merge, tumbling together in the first fall. As that water pounds into the rock bed, it forms a natural pool whose boundaries can’t contain the liquid, which ceaselessly overflows, spilling into the next stream that runs toward the next fall, where it tumbles, and so on. The large, man-made pool is filled with water siphoned from these streams. The water is said to be healing, due to its specific, naturally occurring combination of minerals.

“The symbolism of the rose,” Melina whispers.
Divided up in layers, this is less a novel as such than a flow of lyric prose, a beginning and a series of endings that simply open again, a nearly-single scene from multiple points. Apostolides’ novel is one that beautifully wraps itself around language, writing, language theory; that opens itself up as both threads of narrative and threads of narrative thinking, threads of an essay, articulating itself through the self-same pool of water. This is a passionate, longing prose of elemental heartbreak, a physical and pounding prose of the body and heart, with echoes sweeping through of the late Elizabeth Smart’s groundbreaking By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept (1945), with an ending that glows. As Apostolides writes “Attuned to a body in motion…”
Her indifference, then, was swept away – the sheets pulled off, exposing her anger, her energy toward. She wanted, she thinks. She wanted – like the goring of her cunt by his cock – she wanted some confrontation: some grapple within the covered known. She wanted to shout the problem – her betrayal, his depression, her hatred of this, her loss (complete) of belief and trust and faith in him/ her/ them – and love and honour and family/ vows. Her loss of self as she’d defined: a woman/ mother/ wife, not tainted by the lingering smell of want.

She swims.
[Apostolides and I read with Steven Mayoff in Toronto on June 3, 2009]

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Graham Foust’s Necessary Stranger

After Aretha Franklin

Baby, I know

but not much,

We are two
breathing people in
a room.

The rest, the rest

is as emphatic,
scratched out.

The meaning of a cruelty
is its hurry,
its use.

In Graham Foust’s third trade collection of poetry, Necessary Stranger (Chicago Il: Flood Editions, 2007), he works poems without endings, poems that end before they end. Where do they go? What intrigues about Foust’s poems is the way his transient leaps and transcendent shifts, his breaks in where meaning lies, turning meaning into a series of fragments, turning meaning into something far larger and far smaller both, in such a compact space. Why do so many small poems with short phrases, line breaks and more, domestic poems on the small built out of ordinary language yet doing larger and larger things still get compared to Robert Creeley? This simple collections of poems by Faust works a series of narrative and logical jumps as much as twists, taking expectation through the mind and through the subsequent wringer.

Why I Am Not A Painter

The most difficult beautiful

thing I think
to paint would be

a close-up, a close-up

of a single square
of toilet tissue


in a bowl.
Or so I’m told.

No matter. My bad.

There is no genuine thinking
without a sense

of indignity.

This heart of earth of mine
can only hear

is only yours.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Broken Arrow: Why must a Scottish Presbyterian Canadian write about sex?

Was that how I wanted to end up, I asked myself. The question was a variation of the one that still nagged at me: Why did I come to New York? In one of my somber, soul-searching talks with Paul Goodman, I phrased it still another way: “I don’t know what I want to do with my life.” This made him pull on his pipe. “That is one of the most beautiful problems you can have,” he said, portentiously. Easy for him to say, I thought, since it was a problem he doubtless never had...
— Joe LeSeur, Digressions on Some Poems by Frank O’Hara
I sit on the airplane to Edmonton, toward a woman I’ve seen but twice in the space of ten months. Third time the charm. A bag filled with paper, optimism, quiet desperation. The beginnings of one thing. In my carry-on, Elizabeth Smart’s The Assumption of the Rogues & Rascals, Dany Laferrière’s Why must a black writer write about sex? Two completely different novels, writing the lyric from real experience, writing novels that weren’t novels. Novels that were other kinds of books in disguise. Essays, each a treatise on how we treat each other, how exactly we should.

Both writing books about sex, the halting essentialness of coupling, physical and emotional. How does the Presbyterian “I” manage to keep self together through such talk?

Walking from my daybreak empty street to the bus stop, a grey hush illuminating downtown Ottawa. This part of the city is barely awake, array of crows and pigeons and Canada geese criss-crossing sky between here and what clouds. The steps of my waiting, longing, my hurt. My restraint.

This is a story that keeps telling. I originally began in Edmonton with Elizabeth Smart and I end here, with her. Ending one journey by starting another. If there were endings. There seem only beginnings. This woman of breeding, good grace and refinement from my same certain capital, some six decades before me, who came to resent and revile the provincialism of her home country. Making good her escape. How can one run away from what is bred in the bone? Did she ever manage it? Still. This is a woman who knew about borders. She was constantly fighting to cross them. Returning finally a senior to Canada, a country she was still so ahead of.

To keep, what is held. To hold what is kept, saved. A continued vision of restraint. How to explain what is best kept, only comes through release, through letting go? My own parents, as I used to joke, that I had no evidence they had even consummated their marriage, my sister and I adopted. The unthinkable. We never want to admit that our parents, or even our children, have sex. Perhaps less so our friends. What our house never discussed. My own daughter, old enough now to drink in Quebec and to vote, and I, still waiting for my father to give me “the talk.” Good thing I’m no longer waiting.

Reading Dany Laferrière and Elizabeth Smart, flipping through pages and paragraphs as I wait to board, expectantly. How do I read two at once? Practice. “Let’s each write down what we’d like to do,” Smart writes in her piece, “and draw lots out of a hat.”
A ripple of festivity went round.

We all wrote down what we wanted most to do.

‘Go to a nightclub.’

‘Drive to the next town.’

‘Go to the casino.’



Then, there was a pause. The one who was drawing the papers out of the hat blushed, and handed it on. No one knew where to look. What is it? What is it? Uncle Amos reached across and looked. He turned away. The little bit of love was drained from his cardboard face. He got up and went out. The doctors paid the bill. It was all hushed and strained.
Haven’t I talked enough about these myths of the west? Perhaps this has nothing to do with that. How the west was won and, as Michael Stipe sang, where it got us. Where did it get us? At least not like the Americans, we tell ourselves, who stood facing west from the thirteen colonies with rifles, firing as they walked a straight line. Manifest destiny. Not as bad, we tell ourselves. I’m sure there are those who would beg to differ. Plead, and insist. Myths of the west and the north, and these tales we would tell to abscond, pillage, plunder. Trading manifest destiny for family compact.

I head west to see her again, my lover who waits for me, weeks before our Toronto begins, preparing herself for a Master’s Degree in Literature at Ryerson. Where are the myths she might hold? The oldest daughter of Lebanese immigrants who escaped into Ontario just in time for her arrival. As she emerged, head first, in factory-laden Windsor, far away from her new father, working to provide them a home and a future, Toronto. What were the stories they told themselves as her parents left behind origins, their home country, and moved another continent, into Trudeau’s multicultural dream? As John Ralston Saul wrote, multicultural stories coming out of the stories that had long formed by the beginnings of European occupation, our Canada made out a Metis foundation. They myths of the two founding cultures since appended, corrected, pointing out English and French and Aboriginal, writing Canada at the source a Metis nation.

No sex please, we’re Canadian. A country they tell as invented by Scots. Scotland’s revenge on the English. There are stories we tell ourselves and keep telling, and go no further. In the United States under Bush, the best defence a head buried in sand, teaching abstinence and the dangers of condoms, and the new slate of teen pregnancies that quickly respond. How could they think that informing a population is therefore allowing permission for wild, wanton ways? The bunkers we hide ourselves in, hide ourselves under.

Mirimachi novelist David Adams Richards, who once wrote an essay referencing his son, then a year old. That he’d rather his son watch adult movies when old enough, than the Canadian classic Porky’s. How sex shouldn’t be hidden, or stolen. An open, shared experience, and not something tricked through a hole in the wall of the girl’s showers.

Sex as hidden, furtive. What my house never discussed. The “talk” my father never gave. In my grandmother’s house, the Playboy calendar all the boys snuck upstairs to our uncle’s bedroom to peek, Dorothy Stratten, 1980. What month was she? I remember Dorothy Stratten, the beautiful blonde model from Vancouver, brutally murdered by her jealous boyfriend. Where did that Hemingway woman fit in?

Elizabeth Smart, who wrote her mother and her father and her Canadian childhood behind her from England. She, who could never completely leave. And Laferrière, who could never completely enter. Laferrière, who knows of and writes his America, but is better suited to Canadianism.

There is the Ottawa Valley, and what I learned while back on the farm. There is Ottawa, where the naive farm boy adapted, and became something else. Learned a few things. And then there is Edmonton, where the layers of eastern Ontario self melted back and furthered. And then there was her.

When I was twenty-six, it was my first foreign destination, leaving Ottawa Valley for the wilds of Toronto. Do I even count the day I spent there at eighteen, a failed exam writing for Ryerson in the computer department? What was I thinking? Our American city, they say, although Calgary could be that close second, more Americans per capita than anywhere in the country. What does it matter now, in these days of bled borders, and cultural internationalism. The man on the airplane beside me watching Slumdog Millionaire, with time enough on this flight to add Baz Luhrmann’s Australia as well. Here we are, made up of us and of them; here they are, made up of themselves and of everyone else.

I have begun to leave my own books in airports. I wonder what might happen to them there. In Toronto, where I used to leave poems on the subway, on the seat just beside. Do they ever get picked up, or do they fall to the floor, tramped on and swept up at the end of another long endless commuter day?

Dany Laferrière, perpetual outsider. A journalist who escaped Haiti during Papa Doc’s brutal regime, twenty-four hours after a friend of his murdered, to end up in Montreal. His first novel, How to make love to a negro (without getting tired), was so brilliant because everyone in Montreal feels an outsider, whether English, French, Cree, Haitian, Mohawk, European, black, white. The Jewish population. Everyone is a minority. There is no majority in Montreal, even if there is. How perfect, for him to emigrate to a country where so many feel lost, as though they don’t even belong, the 1970s and 80s of Trudeau’s multiculturalism, the echoes of the same simple (yet complicated) question, of just who we are. Who are we? Laferrière writing the same “America” that Don Delillo does in his Underworld, the abject wealth of an expanding myth, the overwhelmingness of such, but writing out of that essential same question.

Everyone who read that first novel (if they read it at all, able to get past the provocative title) could see themselves reflected, there. How are the rest of us to compete? Not that this is a competition, one might say. No, it isn’t. Not when you’re winning. Not that anyone would mistake this for winning.

I am no longer here, I have already entered her Toronto. Ours.

In an hour or so I will land. I will tell her the books I am reading.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

the new quarterly #110

I’ve been reading through the most recent issue of The New Quarterly lately, another in the shortlist of Canadian literary journals I’ve become rather fond of, with the benefit of the fact that my girlfriend is a subscriber, featuring impressive new works by Elizabeth Hay, Soraya Peerbaye and Asher Ghaffar. I’m always amazed at just how much I like in each issue, reminded of just how much many literary journals don’t really appeal to me these days. There was even this poem by Patricia Young, in the midst of six others of her works.

Over Lunch I Ask Three Friends What Their
Mothers Said To them About Sex

It was a funny way for God to arrange things.

Would you like to see my diaphragm?

Here’s the book on chickens. (Patricia Young)

Ottawa writer Elizabeth Hay has an interview in this issue, conducted by Hannah Albert, alongside two creative non-fiction pieces, a form I’ve longed for her to return to. Her “city as redhead” essay on Ottawa is one I’ve been fortunate enough to already read, submitted to Chaudiere Books some time ago for an anthology of Ottawa writers writing on parts of their city (the book is still building, currently). In the interview, she talks further on her part of our shared city:
My children hate Ottawa. I defend it, sometimes tepidly. I’ve never fallen in love with Ottawa. I am fond of it. One longs to fall in love with a place. My children would say I’m settling for too little and they may be right. I am comfortable here and there are views that soothe and delight me. If you stand on Pretoria Bridge and look down the canal in the winter, you could be in a painting by Breughel. Close to Ottawa, very accessible, are lovely woods and fabulous swimming lakes. And the city itself is fairly slow-paced and relatively quiet, which suits me. Also, history-filled.
A few years ago, before she relocated to Toronto, poet Soraya Peerbaye took a poetry workshop I was running at Collected Works. She was already well-developed in her craft, and needed (I thought) someone outside of her immediate circle to tell her how good she already was.

You are sure of nothing except lunar phases, and rainfall.

The transcript ends at the edge of the eelgrass meadow:
you measure the exact salinity; the mineral composition,
from the water you take from her, against

a thin white line hemming a girl’s jacket.

Everything resists interpretation.

You read silt, how it accumulates on the green blade,
the side sheltered from the current. (Soraya Peerbaye)

It’s very good to see her moving out into further publishing, with already a few significant publications, from TNQ to Red Silk, as well as a first poetry collection forthcoming from Goose Lane Editions. When might this book finally appear? She is included in the current issue alongside Joan MacLeod and Heather Spears, each writing about the murder of BC teen Reena Virk, from Heather Spears’ poems, a section of the play The Shape of a Girl by MacLeod, and excerpts from Peerbaye’s “Tell.” As she writes in her part of Grace Johnstone’s interview/article “Writing Against Absence”:

Soraya: I am reading other writers who have responded to that question [of witnessing and the artist’s responsibility to the historical record] through their life’s work, and I don’t feel I can add to their profound insight. The only thing I can say is that the “historical record” is a tricky concept. It is not neutral; it comes from a particular morality. In [relation to the story of Reena Virk’s death], I feel a responsibility to the transcript—to the record of the witnesses’ words—whether they lied or told the truth, whether they remained silent.
I won’t write out the whole piece, but Asher Ghaffar’s poem “The Master Bedroom” is magnificent, and worth the price of the issue alone. Listen to this, stanza four of five:

He is getting married, so the painters
arrived, or his mother is getting married
because she is arranging his marriage.
He is already married to the walls
they’re scraping. His mother is getting
married without his consent and he is being
scraped without the wall’s consent.

The issue also begins with an appeal to write to the Minister of Canadian Heritage, Hon. James Moore, to keep literary journal funding going, and journals themselves alive. Even if you don’t care for some of these magazines specifically, you should do this.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

another old poem embedded in thoughts of sex and discovery

l. is for ______

texts or pastures further hope
of one through step

a life of lonely, net
we safety caught

distangled lines
& awkward

what could we regard; you sweetly,

pouring out what left
of our hearts

set into; twin suns

the fire escape; a city
we went nowhere

between intermissions
, intolerable


the rain that marked
the length of jasper ave

blue in your tights

Over the past few years, my poetry has become less interested in the large sweeping gesture, working out rhythms and flow of the piece as a whole, focusing instead on the minutae of what is possible with the individual, accumulated line. Even as some older writing only recently in print in book form is focused more on quick rhythms, line breaks, collage and where sound can go through a sequence constructed out of a series of extended single breaths, those same sweeps have given way to shorter bursts that stack up against themselves. Perhaps this shift in consideration came out of my interest in the Canadian ghazal, from American ex-pat John Thompson, starting to influence my writing around the end of the previous century. I finally wrote a collection of same myself, a year or two into the new millennium, appearing in Ireland as a compact of words (Salmon Poetry, 2009). It may have been completed some six years earlier, when I simply presumed the push for the ghazal form was put to bed, but apparently the form somehow still quickens, out from under my collection of ball-points.

Much of what my poetry has been interested in has been caught up in “the logic of the fragment,” a phrase borrowed from the Ottawa poet and critic Gwendolyn Guth, as the poems work their way into seeing just what is possible with what can be placed side by side into a writing that makes sense somehow because of that disconnect, that sequence of fragments.

Still, exploring individual lines has become more important, through reading the works of American poets such as Lisa Jarnot, Fanny Howe, Juliana Spahr and Sarah Manguso. Whether long, shorter or in fragment, just what can a series or sequence of words hold on a single straight line? In 2008, I wrote a one hundred and forty page poetry manuscript for the beginning of a relationship that came together as “Poems for Lainna,” much of which works this disconnect, and works what the lines can individually do, titling a number of the pieces inside “another (short) history of l.” This small piece, part of a further manuscript working up to our time together in Toronto, extends some of those considerations, and includes a number of poems that work the long, and not the short. But still. One word after another word, and where, in the end, it can’t help but go. Where will it take us?

a much earlier version of this piece appeared originally on the globe & mail book blog;

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Extended, Sequential, Serial, Lengthy, Longish or Otherwise Self-Limiting Poems

Sad stories should be short,
but I don’t know how to cut corners.

When I cut a corner
it makes two
more (Krista A. Murchison, “Shorthand”)

Is the long / extended poem a dead form? It’s an argument I’ve been having lately, and Stephanie Bolster’s class project at least claims that the conversation is ongoing, but where is it all going? I recently got a copy of the publication Extended, Sequential, Serial, Lengthy, Longish or Otherwise Self-Limiting Poems, a limited edition bound anthology from two Concordia University Creative Writing Department classes conducted by Stephanie Bolster, cited as “The Poems of ENGL 429E / ENGL 672B” (April 2009).
1. Definition

A mustache is hair on a labium. A mustache is a broken nose waiting to be set, a mustache beneath it. A mustache is a must and an ache. A mustache covers a smirk at the corners of a lip. A mustache is shocked beside an ocelot and cane. A mustache is a fascism and a defiance of it. A mustache is a philologist in bifocals. A mustache and a unibrow are equal. A mustache is wax, brushes, scissors and snoods. A mustache is a flippered mammal. A mustache is an indication of villainy. A mustache is what you make it, and you make it a mustache. You don’t see a mustache but you see a mustache, and a mustache, and a mustache, a mustache. A mustache is a father, a rug, a patch of hair on a face.

For the Swedish heavy metal band, see Mustasch. (Hillary Rexe, “Parts of a Mustache”)
There are some interesting moments here and there in the explorations of the long poem; too often, journals and class projects, for the sake of limited space and/or interest, focus on the lyric “finely wrought,” and miss out any explorations of other forms, including the longer ones, with notable exceptions, including The Malahat Review running a long poem contest, fragments of The Capilano Review and Prairie Fire, and an issue of Verse, for example. Of the sixteen pieces inside this publication, many exist as lyric narratives stretched, extended; where does the poem go? Will any of these authors further themselves, their explorations of the form, or is this it? I’m reminded of the amount of first books as extended / long poems that come out of Winnipeg’s Turnstone Press, from projects either directly or indirectly influenced by, say, Dennis Cooley, David Arnason and Robert Kroetsch, et al, out of the University of Winnipeg. For the poems in this collection, where are they coming from?

Pathology I

At 5 a.m., I let you in,
drunk, but it’s
all of you touching
all of me and then (oh
yes) the silence
of your weight
on mine.

I think please could it
be (that you love)
just like this:
all of you touching
all of me. (Linda Doan)

It’s interesting that Bolster is teaching a long poem class; whatever else her poems have worked with and from, it seems to be a form that has brought about her strongest works, from the chapbook of fairy tale poems, Three Bloody Words (above/ground press, 1996) and her third trade collection, Pavilion (McClelland & Stewart, 2002). Still, in a title borrowed from Sharon Thesen, editor of two of the long poem anthologies, is the long / extended poem any more “self-limiting” than any other form? One of the highlights in this collection was the sequence of poems by Linda Doan, small narrative bursts that move from sequences of “Anatomy,” “History,” “Pathology” and “Histology” and a few others, wrapping around each other into something that has the potential to be quite interesting. I like the structures already of her imagined whole.

History I

46 y.o. female
presents with
shortness of breath

married with 3 sons
Dennis is never around

here to test new treatment
for pulmonary hypertension.
a complication
of underlying disease:

scleroderma (skleros: hard,
derma: skin)

pitted scars on hands
tight around bone

body attacks its own


At what point does a surplus of poems become serial, sequence, extended, long? Some of these pieces aren’t really clear about telling the reader if they even know the difference. Another highlight had to be Krista A. Murchison’s sequence “Homefront,” especially the first poem, “Shorthand” (quoted at the beginning of this post), a grouping of pieces perhaps along the lines of Stephanie Bolster’s White Stone: The Alice Poems (1998), say, than Robert Kroetsch’s Completed Field Notes (1989; 2002) or Cooley’s Bloody Jack (1984; 2000). She seems capable of the most magnificent small moments, and graceful turns, and I would like to see where she ends up going with these. But why are so many long poems/sequences on family histories?

My grandmother was a stenographer
during the second world war; she always knows
which corners can be cut,

which plosives are superfluous,
how to make a dress with only nine buttons
and no cuffs. (Krista A. Murchison, “Shorthand”)

There is N.S. Worsley, who writes a relatively straightforward travel poem with some interesting moments and lines, there and here, but with one of my favourite titles in some time: “A book bought to soak in a country / through a bus window / to fly down the road with me.” And Wanda O’Connor, of course. Hers is one of the few pieces in this collection that feels like a single poem more than any of the rest, her “sub rosa” (I wonder if she knows that Toronto writer Stan Rogal has a collection of the same name), extending further out some of the explorations of physical space on the page that she’s been working on for the past five or seven years. Larissa Andrusyshyn, a Montreal poet who has been around for over a decade, does some interesting things in a series of poems on mammoths, but only really start to shine when she breaks out of storytelling into really writing.

The Mammoth Sequences the Ivan Andrusyshyn Genome

Claustrophobia was his first obstacle,
then the heat. The mammoth’s coat became
somewhat matted (the lab had very poor ventilation),
but he mapped the Andrusyshyn genome in eighteen months.

The trunk is surprisingly nubile so he was able to handle
data, microscopes and test tubes like any other geneticist.
The traceable graphs are ordered like dental records,
base pairs identified, a collection of letters and mutations:


The mammoth is optimistic, sends a letter
to Ivan’s daughter, says
we are very close.

Ivan Andrusyshyn was the only known specimen.
When the mammoth presents his findings
he brings a small crowd of lab techs to its feet.

Are these even publicly available? I am hoping so, there are certainly some pieces here worth reading, and an enviable publication, for those of us over the years who have taken creative writing classes and not seen a publication after. If they are, I’d recommend either getting a hold of the English Department directly, or floating over to The Word bookstore, just at McGill. Of course they’d have copies.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Poem for Jasper Avenue

the wind cut cold
a diamond from this pulse

of coffee, patience

north of

a month
of years

my missing piece

let me tell you
, the moons surface cool

a pinnacle of houses
, of swimming, pools

grey-yellow with sun

paper takes hold
, reminisces, with some

remembers what we could not

this is Edmonton,
we are not here

already else,
but together

of the distance time travels
and what’s happened since

holding on
to what finally will keep

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Mobility of Light: The Poetry of Nicole Brossard, ed. Louise H. Forsyth

On the heels of a new novel translated into English through Coach House Books comes Mobility of Light: The Poetry of Nicole Brossard, selected with an introduction by Louise H. Forsyth (Waterloo ON: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, Laurier Poetry Series, 2009). As the editor writes in her introduction:
In the effervescent 1960s, when Brossard published her first volumes of poetry and co-founded La Barre du Jour, many in Quebec were angrily turning their backs on debilitating monolithic structures of traditional ideologies, throwing open doors on the modern world and shouting their legitimacy in claiming language for themselves, affirming their own sexuality, their autonomous presence in the world, and their right to unencumbered agency. It was a revolutionary time of passionate and erotic creativity in poetry and song. Brossard, like most poets of this generation, was committed to Quebec’s independence and preservation of its unique language and culture. This commitment led many poets to write on themes of secular nationalism and produce images of Terre Québec. Others, with Brossard, were poets of the modern city, poets of modernity choosing to use language reflectively rather than referentially. For them, language was an inexhaustible source of words to challenge powerful ideologically determined linguistic codes that control perceptions and behaviours: “the code struts / the code analyses the code dictates” (Suite logic). Brossard was quickly seen to be a bold leader of these formalist poets, who have since been recognized as having breathed new life and vision into Quebec’s language and literature.
One of the largest collections in the Wilfrid Laurier Poetry Series of some dozen collections, this bilingual work collects itself out of her works translated into English, with the original French texts included as well, and I am glad for the inclusion (but it would have been nice to include a far better publishing history of Brossard’s at the back of the collection, if only for her translated works). As Brossard herself writes in her “Postface / Afterword”:
I am touched when I read Mobility of Light because this anthology shows me in a few pages how I have traversed personal and collective space. It allows me to take an overview of what I am calling, in contrast to biography, my biosemiology, as well as what makes up the nodes of fervour in a life of writing. In addition, it allows me to hear the grain of the voice which resembles mine.
It’s impressive how someone writing in French in Canada has a publishing history large enough that a selected poems can even be created from her English translations alone. Or does this, by itself, serve as a reminder of just how much Canadian writing English-speaking audiences might just be completely unaware of? How different might her ouvre read, perhaps, if a selected poems were to be built out of her entire published works, translated or otherwise, and built from such, translated, for the sake of the English reader? How to the shapes and the shadows of her lines and lessons differ, between one language and the next?

my continent woman of all the spaces
cortex and flood: a sense of gravity
bringing me into the world
my different matter into existence which
fills and drains this singular tension
like the ultimate vitality and
wisdom where intelligence and breasts, thighs
one after the other sleeping and agitation
breasts get the better of breath
we find there / writing

Friday, May 08, 2009

Arielle Greenberg’s Given

Afterwards, There Will Be a Hallway

The sky is violet like no other hypnosis.

Out the night window, the moon is a slip of coin over the skyscraperscape,
gold and red grids of night windows.

We (the clown, the doll, the murderer and I) are in love.
With the moon.

She ascends: the sky purples, clouds, she rises, now grinning,
becoming a burning door. We love her still.

So that when she begins the medusa eclipse,
we do not look away. We are sweetened.
We are sweetened out of sight.

The apocalypse afterwards is muddy and bound to our apartment.
Someone, one of us, takes advantage and is after. The rest of us collapse
in corners. Am I waiting for the soft thump or for administering it?
In the dark, our bodies are rag. We belong to the group. There is a limp,
and a dizzy.

Afterwards, there will be a hallway. I am anxious at both ends.

Recently, I got a copy of American poet Arielle Greenberg’s first trade poetry collection, Given (Seattle WA: Verse Press, 2002). Hers is a name I’d only heard before, aware of her predominantly through some anthologies and journals, as well as the book she co-edited with her friend Rachel Zucker, Women Poets on Mentorship: Efforts & Affections (Iowa City IA; University of Iowa Press, 2008). Given is quite a lovely little collection, and best in how she wraps each of her poems up at the ends, the final phrases often a twisting off, and making what could have been otherwise ordinary into something more. Where else has Greenberg gone since this? Did she ever have that anticipated second, third?


backwoods of New England, a new Dixie
fortnight ice, zero visibility,
we are the old South, slick invisible
passengers, a taste for miles, or four,
more gas, more patriarchs, everyone zoomed,
an atom out of the City where God
himself was born, chains on the tires, snow
in the treads, there’s no roadmap or any
advice, Q: my savior, my mechanic, who
are you to tell me my fortune?, A: a white storm,

I like very much the pinball effect of the small group of small poems in the second section, “(caveshow),” such as “Tennessee,” above, with lines bouncing off coloured lights and bumpers. The book as a whole, with opening poem “Afterwards, There Will Be a Hallway” and three sections—Waterfall, (caveshow) and gaslight—almost as a poem with the ending already in mind, working into the dark and into, towards, the smallest glimmer of light. And in that light comes knowledge, comes that essential wisdom of a poem done right, done with illumination and inspired thought.

Nostalgia, Cheryl, is the Best Heroin

The house knows this and the kitchen knows this.

The shingles tastes of lovers, and the little bedroom is
the girl whose lover has bruised her into what he thinks he
knows he wants.

He thinks. He knows. He wants. A dark little house.
The afghan of tenderness.

In front of the bruise, the townspeople have gathered
for the nod-out into plush plush love, so easy and out.
The cabinet wants more. This community of beating.
This neighborhood of oblivion. The cabinet has less
and wants more.

This is a terrible story, Cheryl. It is an instructional
essay for a sweet beating. It is an open letter to linen closets

Where does the girl keep her lust for the past hidden,
in case the punishers come?

The house pushes for its needs. He needs.

The dishtowels, Cheryl, they are all so limp, so
exhausted from the avoidance of sex. The oven is
white with love. The couch is falling in under the
weight of personal memory: too tight, too wired.

An electric horse, this little house addiction.

The mouth of the garage is dry and has no bicycles.

The lover is beat and the lover is over.

Bend over, tender dream. And ready for the smack.
The window-frames are abused of their hunger. And
he forgets. And the house keeps on.

What I like about the poems of Arielle Greenberg is her clarity, the clearness of her lines even through just how much she holds, and holds back. She doesn’t say, she merely suggests, infers, but is so possibly and completely inside, with all of those things that her poems don’t need to tell us, don’t ever once need to speak to the reader out loud.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Arc Magazine's Poem of the Year Contest

*Arc: Canada's National Poetry Magazine*

invites entries to its
International *Poem of the Year Contest*.

*1st Prize: $1500*
*2nd Prize: $1000
3rd Prize: $750*

*Contest Entry*:
Entry fee is $23, in Canadian funds, which entitles you to a one-year subscription of *Arc* mailed to a Canadian address, beginning with the Winter 2010 issue. (If you already have a subscription, you can give your new one-year subscription to a friend. Please include their mailing address.) Alternately, you can choose to have one issue sent to a U.S. or overseas address. You can pay your contest entry fee through the online poetrystand <>where we accept Visa, Mastercard, paypal, and e-cheques. Alternately, you can send a cheque or money order with your mailed contest submission.

*Contest Rules*:
- All contest submissions must be submitted by post mail.
- All cheques or money orders should be in Canadian funds and made out to the Arc Poetry Society.
- *Arc* welcomes Poem of the Year entries from Canada, the United States,and around the world, but if you live outside Canada we still need to receive your entry fee in Canadian funds. It is easiest if you use the PoetryStand <> to submit your contest entry payment. Otherwise, you should be able to obtain a money order in Canadian funds from your post office, if you are not able to write a cheque in Canadian funds.
- Entrants may submit up to *two* unpublished poems with your $23 fee. To include extra poems, add $5 per poem.
- No e-mail submissions accepted.
- Length of each poem must not exceed 100 lines.
- Entrant's name, address, e-mail and phone number must not appear on the poems, but instead on a separate sheet that also lists the titles of the poems entered. Judging is blind.
- No entrants (including winners, honourable mentions, or authors of Editor's Choice poems) may substitute, before, during, or after judging, are vision of any poem already submitted to the contest.
- No poems will be returned.

*Arc* editorial consortium

*Next Deadline:*
Entries must be *postmarked* no later than June 30, 2009. Only winners will be notified by October 15, 2009.

*Privacy Notice:*
Unless you indicate otherwise, *Arc* may share addresses of entrants to the 2008 Poem of the Year Contest with similar literary magazines or related organizations for promotional purposes. If you would like your address information kept private, write *Please don't share my address* near your address information on the sheet you include with your submission. Your request will be honoured.

50 shortlisted poems, pending permission of their authors, will be eligible for the Readers' Choice Award. Visit this site between September 1 and September 30, 2009 to read poems contending for Readers' Choice and *castyour vote!*

Winning poems will be published in *Arc*'s Winter 2010 issue (published December 2009).

*Send entries to:
* Poem of the Year Contest*
Arc: Canada's National Poetry Magazine*
P.O. Box 81060
Ottawa, Ontario
Canada, K1P 1B1

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Headlight anthology #12

Poem for a Frozen February

Out here the earth is warm, where I left it:
in the shed, behind the charcoal stove,

its Save-On sac pliable in the cold comfort.
I remember when we bought the soil, that lump

of silt and clay in our grocery cart, you mugging with hulled-out
cornsilk for hair, me reflective in the vegetable section. Carrots

brought out the natural tint in your cotton shirt. You said “Let’s
make a family,” and pointed to a nearby stroller, which turned out

to be childless. Its contents: potatoes. You didn’t notice.
I said nothing; disappeared down the juice aisle. Tried to

match the ambiguous, flawed experience with labels: “dark
blend”, “100% real”, “concentrated value”. I am reminded of the

colours on those labels now: crimson, brown. Like this earth
that will not freeze, my artless hand kindling in its belly. (Wanda O’Connor)

How much have I already said about the Concordia University’s English Department student annual, headlight anthology, that I haven’t already? Once the best of what was to come, as a whole, this twelfth volume of the series just doesn’t strike the way some of the previous have. Still, there are moments in the poems of Gillian Sze (who reads in Ottawa as part of the pre-ottawa small press book fair reading on June 19th at the Carleton Tavern with a first trade collection) that intrigue, and there are some highlights, including former Ottawa resident Wanda O’Connor and Montreal poet Ilona Martonfi, current organizer of the infamous Yellow Door series, as well as introductory pieces by poets Erin Mouré and Robyn Sarah. But compared to previous issues, can we call this enough? I’m amazed at the unusually-large percentage of poems that don’t quite make it, overloaded in second and first person, overloaded by poems that never make it beyond the immediate of that lyrical “I,” never making it more. These exceptions don’t make for the whole, and the production of a curled cover on thinner stock and the occasional glaring typo doesn’t help, either. headlight, why have you forsaken me?

Urban Feral Pigeons

This morning I stole a nest
scooped it up:

gravel-grey balcony ledge
twigs, stems, pine needles

two small white eggs

later I saw mother hen
watching from the railing

red-orange eyes

mottled charcoal feathers

I threw the eggs
into the garbage can

straw, string, dried leaves

hen cocked its grey head
just watching:

red-orange eyes (Ilona Martonfi)

Monday, May 04, 2009

a call for submissions from derek beaulieu (Calgary)

hey folks;
i'm making a limited edition magazine/ephemeral object entitled "speechless" dedicated to the dissemination and discussion of concrete / visual poetry.

"speechless" will feature new visual poetry and possible historical / rare examples ... the 1st issue (out now) includes 3 new concrete poets here in calgary: eva gonzalez, rachelle pinnow and helen hajnoczky (and an essay on mary ellen solt).

i seek previously unpublished (or if published, then infrequently seen...) colour or B&W concrete / visual poems. email or snail mail submissions are fine. issues are not themed, but an issue on typewriter-based work is planned.

each issue of "speechless" will be between 20 and 28 pages per issue and will feature 3-4 poets -- the submission deadline is open (issues will be published when enough accepted submissions accumulate), and i plan to include both poetry and criticism.

if you have any work for consideration, please send to:
derek beaulieu
2 - 733 2nd avenue nw
calgary alberta
canada T2N 0E4