Thursday, December 31, 2009

Gregory Betts, The Others Raisd in Me

1. ReadMe Doc

what powre this we

in my art.

make me sigh

swere that

grace is of things.

in my mind –

how to make and see

the others

raisd in me.

For St. Catharine’s, Ontario, poet Gregory Betts, The Others Raisd in Me, 150 Readings of Sonnet 150 (Toronto ON: Pedlar Press, 2009), comes out of his ongoing interest in “plunderverse,” writing new and original works from the texts of others, such as in his If Language (Toronto ON: BookThug, 2005). As he writes at the beginning of the collection, “All of the poems in this book were uncovered by crossing out words or letters in William Shakespeare’s Sonnet 150.

THIS BOOK, APPEARING exactly four hundred years after the publication of Shakespeare’s infamous sonnets, creatively misreads his Sonnet 150 as a prophetic program for the centuries of Western culture from his time through to our future doom. The rise of modern individualism in the sixteenth century has provoked a rush of arts, science and technology; consecutive waves of idealistic revolutions that pushed humanity beyond the limits of the body. The mechanical evolution of the human experience builds from the “I” within us to its projection and animation in cybernetic form. The Others that rise are the self and its metal shadow.

This is a project built out of excess, a project that requires excess before it can be properly realized, much like Christian Bök’s award-winning Eunoia (Coach House Books, 2001). In fourteen sections, each corresponding to the original poem’s fourteen lines, one wonders, can you even see the trees for the forest? The cover image showing row upon row of managed forest, like wooden soldiers, not yet made, waiting and standing attention. As much as this is a book of poems (and even, a breakdown/book of “poem”), Betts’ work is a treatise on the project itself, using quotes to work through the argument for its own creation, working through Thomas Paine, Benjamin Franklin, Charles Baudelaire, Jean Jacques Rousseau, Voltaire, John Donne and John Milton, among others.


make me lie



becomes ill

my worst

exceeds hate

abhor abhor

my unworthiness

raise me

to be bled

How does one craft the contemporary world, or even the future, from a four-hundred-year-old verse? One can say it might be easy to write ten, even fifty poems out of such a project, but the real challenge, as Betts knows, through his arbitrary baffle of 150 original works, is to push the idea as far as it can go, and see what comes out of it. The challenge, to work the trick (so called) and produce a worthy work, which, as a unified whole, he certainly has. Again, such a project can only really succeed through such excesses, breaking a project down and rearranging its (component) parts; another in a series of “plunderverse” projects Betts has been working over the past near-decade, plundering Hamilton, Toronto and now St. Catharine’s, Ontario. As he even says himself, through his poem “83”:

if worth is raisd

more worth to love

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

12 or 20 questions: with Natalee Caple

Natalee Caple is the author of four books of fiction and poetry. She is co-editor with Michelle Berry of an anthology, The Notebooks: Interviews and New Fiction from Contemporary Writers (Doubleday Canada). Her short story collection, The Heart is its Own Reason (Insomniac), was reviewed by the New York Times. Her first novel, The Plight of the Happy People in an Ordinary World (Anansi), has been optioned for film, and her first book of poetry, A More Tender Ocean (Coach House), was nominated for a Gerald Lampert Award. Her second novel, Mackerel Sky (Thomas Allen), was published in Canada, and in the United States (St. Martin’s). Forthcoming in Fall 2010 is a book of poetry titled The Semi-conducting Dictionary: Our Strindberg, and in Spring 2011 an as-yet untitled novel about Calamity Jane. Caple is pursuing a PhD in English at the University of Calgary. She lives in Calgary with her husband and their two children.

1. How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?

It’s not really true that I came to poetry first, although I wrote poetry when I was an adult getting serious about writing before I wrote fiction for publication. I read a lot of poetry as a child and copied out poems I liked into notebooks. I wrote a “novel” (fourteen pages and fourteen chapters long) when I was nine. It involved a lot of people being chased by sharks. My teacher called my parents because she didn't believe I could have written it myself. I was furious. At eleven I had my mother show me how to use the word processor so I could type up a story about a monster in a lab and send it out to publishers. I didn't understand that book publishers wouldn't take a short story so I mailed it to Penguin, Random House, all the presses that published the books on my parents' shelves. I got back a lot of very nice and encouraging letters, which I promptly destroyed (to my great regret now). I don't think I even have that book of all the stories I wrote anymore, and it was quite thick. At twelve I wrote a musical about a slow girl who wants to commit suicide after her dog dies. It's terribly funny to think about now -- I so wish I still had those early texts, but they became unbearable to me before I understood that one day I would want them.

At any rate I have always written in several genres but I didn’t take writing seriously – it was something I did to entertain myself and to keep myself company. I was very much a loner and a bookworm. When I did get serious about writing it is certainly true that I came to poetry first. That happened because I took a poetry course at York with Chris Dewdney as part of my BA. I was involved with the man who became my first husband and he saw himself as a writer and I was five years younger than him and wanted to have something to talk about with him and it looked like an easy course. I certainly knew that I could write twenty pages in an eight-month period. I saw myself then as maybe a visual artist or involved in film somehow – I had trouble picturing myself in the future. I was taking a screenwriting course and I remember I used to try to imagine a film being made and where in the room I would be. Would I be in front of the camera, acting, behind the camera, directing – where could I see myself? I was always standing off in the corner, by the donuts, just watching everything and being enthralled.

But when I started writing poetry this time, something caught fire in me and writing quickly became so important I had to keep it a secret. At that time I wrote pretending that I was trying to help my boyfriend/then-husband/now ex-husband and I was, but I was also gathering experience for myself. I remember his mother saying on the phone that I should send out his work and me thinking about my own work. It took a long time for me to get up the nerve to be myself.

2 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?

To be completely honest I am not a very good public person. I love people and I struggle with the paradox of that love and severe social anxiety. I used to have about ten minutes when I was giving a reading before my hands began to shake so I made sure I read quickly and I practiced for a week beforehand so that when I started to blush and shake I would be almost done. At some point I did get used to public appearances enough that now I don’t blush and shake. And then I really enjoyed going to parties and going out with writers and talking about writing and giving readings and meeting people. But then I developed stalkers, some more innocent than others. This, I have learned, is very, very common for women in the media (even when their presence is minimal). So I slid backwards and found it almost unbearable to be in public. I remember when I was promoting Mackerel Sky I would get back to my hotel room – feeling lonely – and someone would have left a very personal message on the phone saying how much we were alike, how much we had in common. These were (I think) the innocent contacts. And I would think, really? Are you in your pajamas eating really expensive peanuts watching Anchorman for the third time? I had friends at those festivals and I didn’t feel like I could join them. But, anyway, I lost all sense of where I began and ended and nothing about me seemed okay and I didn’t know what I wanted out of writing and I needed to retreat and find a private life that felt healthy and good. So when I moved to Calgary to be the writer-in-residence, in some ways I was looking to withdraw from the writing life which had become somewhat poisonous for me.

Then I got a puppy and I met my husband and had my children and I felt safe and I was happy again. I can’t write when I am unhappy. Long story short I am enjoying writing again – it feels fun and it is going extremely well. My life feels healthy and my writing is once again a part of my happy everyday life and I am producing poetry, fiction, and for the first time a dramatic adaptation of someone else’s work. I think or I hope that when the next three books (the ones that are in the pipeline now) come out I will really enjoy readings.

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

The biggest question I struggle with is how to be a feminist writer now.

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

Well, I think I am easier to work with now than I was in the beginning. But I think all my editors have been invaluable in the development of my books. I enjoy editing now and I didn’t in the beginning. I think someone would tell me something was wrong and I would get defensive because I didn’t know how to fix it. Now, the editing process is a joy, a renewal of the work for me. I am always excited to hear someone else’s take on my work.

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

Ken Wiwa once told me that when he was struggling to write his book about his father (Nigerian playwright and activist against Shell and chief of the Ogoni people) that Alberto Manguel told him that for a writer the writing of the book is the book – it is important to experience the writing of the book and not to try to overcome it. For Ken this was particularly difficult because the book chronicles his relationship with his activist/public hero father and his unsuccessful bid to save him from execution. A major project has the benefit of being with you over a long period of time and can reflect changes in your own attitudes/style/affections. The drawback of major projects (books) is the anxiety you feel about their completion. The desire to know your work will come to something. That’s why I like shifting gears and writing a short story or a poem to feel something get finished when I am still working over the long term on something else. Poems and stories get rewritten and crafted into larger projects but there is a sense of relief about their initial limits. Letting go of the book in some ways always means letting go of a period in your life and the anchors you used then (I remember many times feeling in a tough spot and asking myself what my ballsy counterfeiter character Martine would do or say if it were her instead of me dealing with my life and there were times when she did comfort me greatly). But it is important to remember that what the reader sees as the book is only part of, the end product of, your book, which is actually more like a journey than a destination; more like a map than a place.

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

It is extremely easy for me to move between genres because it that is my most natural mode of writing. I usually have several projects on the go and when I get stuck with one I move over to another until I get unstuck. It’s how I relax to let new ideas in and it’s how I prevent myself from stopping. Also, I find working across genres to be a valuable way of checking that I am doing enough with each work. Poetry, for example, reminds me to think about the interaction of form with content and fiction reminds me to make sure I have content.

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

I write all the time now. I write while I watch television. I’m not a very good television watcher though and I can really annoy my husband by asking what just happened? Sometimes I start by reading something that seems related in some way, sometimes I start by watching a movie in the genre I am working in or that contains an actor I used to model a character. I try to think of different stimuli that will work for the individual project. So, for the i-ROBOT adaptation (the play based on Jason Christie’s I-ROBOT) when I started to think about how to write dialogue for robots I looked up some chatbots on the Internet and had conversations with them about poetry. The first chatbot was a teenage girl and she wasn’t much help. She gave really short answers or didn’t answer at all and once in a while she just freaked out. But I found some therapist bots and an ESL conversation bot and some bots that use random algorithms and they worked really well with the material. I pretended to be a robot and I just talked to them and then typed up what we said.

8. - Betty or Veronica or Archie or Reggie? Drive or fly (or sail)? Laptop or desktop?

As a kid I liked both Betty and Veronica but thought Archie was pathetic. Now I really can’t stand the women’s roles in that comic. I don’t know how to drive but I like being driven. I like to fly and I like to sail. I like to see things from different angles, from above, or away from shore. I use a laptop now. I had to make some decisions about space when I moved into a condo in Toronto and didn’t have any office space or a room of my own (my partner then had the office and it was not a good idea for us to share) so I bought my first laptop. It was a hard adjustment for quite a while but now I really like the portability – it allows me to write wherever I am in the small gaps in my day. That is what I am doing now, writing this while the actors (for the i-ROBOT play) review their homework.

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

I draw from film and theatre a lot. I wrote one short story that was influenced by a series of photographs by a wonderful pinhole photographer, Dianne Bos. As I said, I talk to chatbots. Books come when they come from wherever – you have to be open regarding material. However, writing often enables you to think in a way that lends itself to writing more – to see narrative, characters, dialogue, lineation all around you. So writing comes from writing.

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

I haven’t written a screenplay. I am enjoying working on a play for the first time. I’d like to try some creative non-fiction but I would have to really get a handle on how I could do it in a way that felt new to me and it would have to be a subject I was passionate about. The other problem is that I wouldn’t like to write about myself – but maybe about my family, or Wales????

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

I’m pretty sure I’d be too sad to work. It seems most likely that I would become a professor or some other sort of teacher since that is the other thing I am doing now (I’m in the last leg of my PhD in English). I do enjoy teaching very much. But I don’t think I would enjoy any of the other things I do now if I wasn’t also writing. It seems inevitable to me now that I would be a writer. Annie Lennox once said that if she didn’t have music she thinks she would be a very violent person. When I am writing I am negotiating myself, moving different parts of myself into the world. My writing is where I put things that I would never bring into my real life. It is where I put my anger, my hurt and fear, the things I believe in and the things I don’t; and then I make something that won’t hurt anyone but will make them think and feel. I make something that can represent my thinking, feeling self and can engage with a community or communities (even if I construct those communities only in my mind/work).

12 or 20 questions (second series);

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”)

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Ongoing notes; late December, 2009

[rob & Lainna at the Toronto Small Press Fair, December 12, 2009] It’s been a while since I’ve done a notes. Will you be taking my January-March 2010 poetry workshop in Ottawa, or signing up for a 2010 above/ground press subscription? I can barely keep track of anything else. Watch for the sixth annual issue of ottawater in January. I recently spent time at the Toronto small press book fair, the ottawa small press fair and Canzine; where have all the small presses gone? Michael Bryson’s new collection of short stories, The Lizard, is now available from Chaudiere Books, and above/ground press has some new titles from myself and Emily Carr, working up to a number of new titles in the new year, including one by Ken Norris.

Cobourg ON: I’m not sure what happened to his previous chapbook journals Syd & Shirley (named after his late parents) or Peter O’Toole: a magazine of one-line poems, but November 2009 saw the first issue of Stuart Ross’ Hardscrabble: a little magazine of poetry, produced through his ongoing Proper Tales Press.





in the air


the strong wind


there (Nelson Ball)

Featuring work by Nelson Ball, Alice Burdick, Loren Goodman, Susan Kernohan, David W. McFadden and Hugh Thomas, most of whom Ross has been publishing and encouraging for years through various of his editorial/publishing ventures, and becomes the first little journal produced from his new home in his recently-relocated home in Cobourg, Ontario. But still, why is Ross still one of the main homes for most of the writers featured here? Has small publishing pulled back that much, that we don’t really see writing by many of these but for appearances through one of Ross’ editorial movements through This magazine, Mansfield Press or The Mercury Press (especially now that David W. McFadden has been up for the Griffin Poetry Prize)? For further information on this little venture of his, email

Launch Party

When I arrive

the party is already in orbit.

Someone hands me a glass of wine

which hangs in mid-air,

as do the poems

when they are released from the book.

They shimmer like soap bubbles.

How lucky we are

to be a part of this experiment.

You drift back from the forward porthole.

We touch our foreheads together

so we can hear ourselves think.

“I think we just passed David McFadden

in a lawn chair,

held up by a hundred helium balloons.” (Hugh Thomas)

Toronto ON: In Ottawa poet Cameron Anstee’s new chapbook, Water Upsets Stone (Toronto ON: The Emergency Response Unit, 2009), he seems to be working a poetry of increasingly sequential gestures, akin to the poetry of Monty Reid or Barry McKinnon, gesturing a sequence of moments that accumulate into something other. This is a poetry that carves and works to carve out its own essence, as his writing slowly begins to mature, and achieve, with each subsequent publication.

we have been standing this whole time

branches refuse leaves

carry less weight in to winter

but lengthen in ground to upset foundations

poured for brick, how water upsets stone

I am not sure where to locate the tree

or when

In this poem carved out of three parts—First Law, Second Law and Third Law—just what is it about stone? Is this stone in the Reid or Don McKay sense, or in the McKinnon sense? Is this ecology or human history or something else entirely?

in the beginning there is


Einstein’s equation makes it possible

to calculate the huge amounts of energy

that would be released

if the whole of an available mass

could be converted into

pure energy

in the beginning there is


it can move, & it may

Friday, December 25, 2009

another christmas in old glengarry (sick);

And my sister's kids certainly seem happy. The oldest, Emma, just turned six, which she sang a little bit, even, when she was reminded; I'm six, she sang. Rory is three, and Duncan is about eighteen months. My lovely daughter Kate bought them all animal hats that they didn't really take off for most of the afternoon (Kate has one too, but hers have devil horns; of course). Family and dinner and gifts and all that.

Except I'm sick, and barely able to function. Barely able to sleep, but can't keep myself awake. High fever, can't eat. My Kate here a day and barely able to interact, and now, might be trapped here another day, with the threat of freezing rain coming down on eastern Ontario tomorrow?

Ah, what the hell. With all the stress I've had lately, perhaps this is the best thing I can do. Sit around my parents' house taking tylonol and orange juice and feeling generally hazy. I don't have pills or orange juice (or internet) at home. But at least I have better tv.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Kim Minkus, thresh

Published through the second season of LINEbooks produced through Vancouver’s West Coast Line magazine, former Ottawa and current Vancouver poet Kim Minkus’ first trade poetry collection 9 Freight (Vancouver BC: LINEbooks, 2008), was built out of four sequences—CONDO, SAGA, GAME and title-sequence FREIGHT—her “CONDO” opens with a fragment that seems to give a sense of the sequence as a whole, writing:

I want to enter realty.

I want luxury without limit.

I want to be above it.

to live in the sultry sexy thick of it.

I want to be sold.

In much of this collection, Minkus writes poems that work as a binary, whether the text and italicized “chorus” (much like the Greeks) of “CONDO” and “SAGA,” or the back and forth of “GAME,” that work between threads that compete and eventually combine into a larger framework.

I want everything designer. I want everyone to be jealous. I want green with want. I want an overwhelming bedroom. with tassels. I want beautiful designer wallpaper. I want the bed. I want alone and overwhelming. I want cole and son. I want to cover the room. I want morning eye candy. I want to see him. I want a sneak peek. I want new covers. I want the images. I want the glass grapes hanging from the candelabra. I want ownership. I want to splurge. I want the dough for a gorgeous chair. I want him on the chair. I want everything cool. I want lust-after. I want vivid red. I want simple but sleek. I want full-sized photo slide show. I want mirrors and glass. I want great new work from the companies we already know and love. I want so sweet. I want so psyched. I want more to come.

A second collection, this one published out of Montreal’s Snare Books (an imprint of Matrix magazine) is thresh (Montreal QC: Snare books, 2009). Again, Minkus works through sections, writing five parts that seem to weave a narrative of intent—Thresh, Station, Girl, Salt and Rapture—working as a linear walk from gesture to gesture, “to beat mechanically,” the back cover tells us, writing out her “thrash.”

bracing herself in long lines. condemned. narcissus blooms in hollow forms. single file flowers. orangerie, larkspur. stilting segments. controlled release. is that you. so yellow so blue. gun-metal gilding. each a flowering cross. thorns around our heads. dormant cuttings scattered among our pillows. initial slits for grafting, lay down lay down let it cover you.

One wonders, how does one move through from flagellation to rapture? Is this stations along the path to destinations still-unseen, or a series of crosses to bear? Endlessly searching, Minkusthresh is a book of many openings, opposing directions, and questions turning often on themselves; who is this girl? Who is this rapture between Biblical quotes?

she in waves

submerged again and again

breaking in the heat

she broken crest

limits are too rapid

everything complicated in shape

she surface rolling unknown turns

torn in the interface

may exist

may move away

she indefinable born as ripples

leaving faint

histories of motion