Thursday, September 30, 2010

How Should A Person Be? Sheila Heti

Do you remember the puer aeternus – the eternal child – Peter Pan – the boy who never grows up, who never becomes a man? Or it’s like in The Little Prince. When the narrator asks him to draw him a sheep, the Prince tries and tries again, but each time he fails to do it as well as he wishes. He believes himself to be a great artist and can’t understand why it’s not working. In a fit of frustration, he instead draws a box – something he can do well. When the narrator asks how this is a picture of a sheep, the Prince replies that it is a picture of a sheep in a box. He is arrogantly proud of this solution and satisfied with his efforts. This response is typical of all puers. Such people will suddenly tell you they have another plan, and they always do it the moment things start getting difficult. But it’s their everlasting switching that is the dangerous thing, not what they choose.

Sheila’s heart speeds up in her chest…
Why is their everlasting switching dangerous?

Because people who live their lives this way can look forward to a single destiny, shared with others of this type – though such people do not believe they represent a type but feel themselves distinguished from the common run of man, who they see as held down by the banal anchors of the world. But while other people actually build a life in which things gain in meaning and significance, this is not true of the puer. Such a person inevitably looks back on life as it nears its end with a feeling of emptiness and sadness, aware of what they have built: nothing. In the quest for a life without suffering, failure, or doubt, that is what they achieve: a life empty of all those things that make a human life meaningful. And yet they started off believing themselves too special for this world!

I recently finished reading Toronto writer Sheila Heti’s second novel and third book of fiction How Should A Person Be? (Toronto ON: Anansi, 2010), continuing a line of unforgettable books that include her Ticknor (Anansi, 2005) and The Middle Stories (Anansi, 2001). Funny and strange and straightforward and confusing, Heti’s novel writes from the point of view of first-person “Sheila Heti,” who spends the entire book not writing a play, and simply moving around through her immediate world. We witness the character Sheila meeting friends and building a relationship with a painter, Margeaux, made complicated through “Sheila” beginning to record conversations between them. Part of what is so interesting about this novel is Heti’s examinations on how the self is written, using the real names of her friends as characters, yet saying in at least one interview how this book is no more autobiographical than her previous. “How should a person be?” she asks, in the first line of the novel, and the further the question gets explored, the more complex it becomes, even as the exploration doesn’t appear immediately obvious. This book is exploratory, in turns self-delusional and exceptionally aware, and unfailingly honest for managing to allow the contradiction.
I had spent the past few years putting off what I knew I had to do – leave the world for my room and emerge with the moon, something upon which the reflected light of my experience and knowledge could be seen: a true work of art, a real play. I had been avoiding the theatre’s calls and felt ashamed – my distress only growing as the time I spent on the play expanded, as the good work I had done represented an ever smaller percentage of the time I had done applied to it.

A feminist theatre company had commissioned me to write it during the first year of my marriage, and my only question had been, “Does it have to be a feminist play?”

“No,” they said, “but it has to be about women.”

I didn’t know anything about women! And yet I hoped I could do it, being a woman myself. I had never taken a commission, but I needed the money, and thought I could just as easily lead the people out of bondage writing a commissioned play as a play that originated with me. So I accepted the job, but the whole time I was married, I thought only about men – my husband in particular. What women might say to each other, or how one woman might affect another, I did not know. I put off handing in the play and put it off until I thought the theatre would forget and stop calling me, but they did not.
Still, there are stretches here supposedly transcriped from the character “Sheila” having conversations with “Margeaux,” which, some interviews have suggested, might have been real interviews between the author and the painter, as opposed to the fictional characters; does this part even matter? Either way, the blend somehow adds a layer to the novel as opposed to taking anything away. Heti’s How Should A Person Be?, in the end, manages to write out the ordinary and even mundane world without being either, showing how simply living and existing in the world is no less virtuous for one than any other, and certainly no less confusing. The novel appears to exist as an argument between creating something that is perfect against something that has deeper meaning, moving back and forth from the genius artist to the craftsman, from an ugly painting competition, working in a hair salon and the perfect blowjob, and how simply to exist. Heti’s magnificent novel is an expansive treatise on life and how to live it, simply through wandering and meandering passages that appear sometimes to be aimless, but are precisely not. Heti’s novel works hard to figure out the title question even as it avoids such for a stretch, even as her main character avoids the play she’s supposed to be writing which might be, in the end, the novel itself, possibly meant to exist as a novel by “Sheila Heti,” the failed play fully realized in another form.
I walked home by myself. Had anyone suggested at the time that it would not be the Egypt of the pharaohs that would survive and change the moral landscape of the world, but instead a group of Hebrew slaves, it would have seemed the ultimate absurdity.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

(another) very short story;

I am writing a novel called 'James Joyce in Montreal,' to accompany the drawing you left. How long ago was that? Ten chapters each featuring an entirely different character, but all sharing the same, ordinary name. There are no coincidences. In Labyrinths, Borges repeated, what we seek, is often nearby.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

12 or 20 questions: with Sarah Leavitt

Sarah Leavitt writes both prose and comics. Her writing has appeared in Geist, The Globe and Mail, Vancouver Review, The Georgia Straight, and Xtra West. Leavitt has written short documentaries for Definitely Not the Opera on CBC Radio, and her non-fiction has appeared in a number of anthologies, including Nobody’s Mother (Heritage 2006) and Beyond Forgetting: Poetry and Prose about Alzheimer’s Disease (Kent State University Press 2009). She has an MFA in Creative Writing from UBC. Tangles is her first book.
1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different? This is my first book, and it just came out this month, so not totally sure yet how it will change my life. I am starting to get emails from people who have read it and who laughed and cried their way through it, including people who have their own experience with Alzheimer’s, and that is the most wonderful, moving thing — to get that kind of response.

2 - How did you come to fiction first, as opposed to, say, poetry or non-fiction? I don’t write fiction, actually. I’ve tried, but it isn’t my thing. Most of my published work has been social commentary or memoir.

3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes? I am a slow, procrastinating, somewhat constipated writer and cartoonist. I collect tons of sketches and drawings and then spend lots of time narrowing them down into something that makes sense. Lots of drafts, rewrites, redraws, gnashing of teeth.

4 - Where does fiction usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings? I love doing readings. At first I hated it, and I realized one day that it was because I didn’t like my writing enough to feel confident that other people would. So honestly, I didn’t like reading until my writing improved to a point that I had a true desire to share it. I love hearing people laugh or seeing them cry when I read. It is such a powerful way to connect.

6 - 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? In my book, Tangles, my main concerns are the nature of love in the face of illness, and the role of memory and language in creating someone’s personality. When Alzheimer’s takes away memory and language, what are we left with? I am also very interested in the role of the artist in the context of a widespread disease like dementia. I think artists (including writers, cartoonists, all artists) must witness and respond artistically to illness, and this is as important as a medical- or research-focused response.

7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be? I am a pessimist. I think our world is being driven rapidly towards extinction by governments and huge corporations. Art is one of the things that makes it all bearable. Ideally, writers and artists are witnesses and interpreters of whatever is going on around them, and sharing their observations and perspectives with others.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)? Both. Editing helps me make my writing understandable to other people — left to my own devices I am very susceptible to self-indulgence, or leaving out essential background information that enables readers to understand what I am trying to say.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)? Kill the puppies/kittens: i.e. Let go of your treasured little favourite bits of writing if they don’t work for your piece. Don’t keep a sentence or line or description just because you think it sounds smart or you like the words you chose. Does it actually help the piece as a whole? If not, kill it.

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (fiction to comics)? What do you see as the appeal? Moving from memoir in prose to memoir in graphic form (comics) is easy in that it feels like the best way for me to express myself, and is an extension of the note-taking and sketching I do all the time. However, it is super hard work to write comics! Takes a lot of fiddling and determination and patience.

11 - 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 wish I had a routine, but I don’t. I work sporadically and am a bit tortured. If I don’t have a deadline, I’m lost.

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration? Old sketches, ideas;  fellow writers; favourite books.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home? Hay.

14 - 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 would say music and visual art.

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work? Favourite and inspirational cartoonists include: Lynda Barry, Aline Kominsky, Miriam Engleberg, Kim Deitch. I love the prose of Alice Munro and Anne Carson’s poetry.

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done? Travel and study in Europe, do a headstand.

17 - 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 would love to be physically coordinated and fit enough to do something like leading adventure tours, but I would have had to be a completely different person. I also wish that I was successful enough to just write full time and not have a day job.

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else? I like writing, and I like expressing my ideas.

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film? Cruddy, by Lynda Barry. A Serious Man, by the Cohen brothers.

20 - What are you currently working on? Preparing to start my next book, still figuring out the focus. It’s historical fiction, I think, in comics form. Working on short comics too.
12 or 20 (second series) questions;

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Sasha Fletcher, when all our days are numbered…

When I made dinner I made dinner with my eyes open.
A bird flew past the window while waiting to become electric.

We were all of us waiting to become electric.

We were all of us waiting to become something.

We were all of us waiting.

I am waiting for my dinner she said. I told her I knew. She said Good. She came up close behind me & put her chin on my shoulder. Hey she said. When’s dinner.
When I met Toronto author Ken Sparling a couple of months ago, he recommended a first novel(la) by American writer Sasha Fletcher, a book with the loveliest of titles, his when all our days are numbered marching bands will fill the streets & we will not hear them because we will be upstairs in the clouds (mud luscious press, 2010), informally known, it would seem, as when all our days are numbered. Fletcher’s first little novel is a long lyric sentence written as a first book, a sweet, sentence-driven abstract that feels enormously young but no less knowing or smart, slowly learning how to ask all the right questions. What else can I tell you?
A fireman walked down the street. I watched him from the roof. He stopped the fire using his hands. He said What are you doing. The fire didn’t say anything. He asked the fire if the fire heard him. The fire said No I didn’t & then he covered it in water like a sheet & said Go to sleep & it did & everything was okay.

Later the fireman cut his own throat open with an axe. He had been crying. Out of his neck flew a bird & the bird flew up into the sky.

He had been a good fireman & a good father & a pretty good cook. He had several children. All of them lived in different rooms. He would walk through the alley each day & they would all gather & he would say I love you very much & they would register that he loved them & weep.

Every night he would read them bedtime stories until reading to each of them individually became very tiring.

Every night he would read to a different child. Every night he would record the readings on a cassette player & on the nights when he wasn’t reading to them they would play the cassette & look at a big cardboard cut-out of their fireman daddy who loved them & who put out fires all the time and saved everyone.

Friday, September 24, 2010

fwd: call for submissions, hospital

Anthology editor Julie Devaney and Tightrope Books editor Shirarose Wilensky are seeking submissions for an anthology of stories about our relationships to hospitals, medicine, and healthcare to be published
in spring 2012 by Tightrope Books.

This book will be composed of true stories and reflections from patients, healthcare providers, and loved ones where they meet at the nexus of the hospital, the clinic, or any other site of healthcare provision. Our focus is real-life experiences of these places and their impact on our perceptions of ourselves, our health, our bodies, and the lives of those we love and care for. We’re looking for tales of birth, death, and all the messy vulnerability of health and illness in between. Stories can be serious and sad, or light and funny, or all these things at once. The key is that these pieces of writing be visceral—experiences that affected you at your core and resonated with you for days, months, or years after you lived through them.


Form is flexible: stories, poems, scripts from performance pieces, and narrative essays are welcome. Length is also flexible—anywhere from short poems to longer pieces up to 2,000 words. Submissions may be purely literary, with no particular analysis but a strong personal perspective. They may also contain analysis of the politics of healthcare and/or disability as long as philosophical points and political opinions fit naturally into the flow of your narrative, rather than purely academic points.

All pieces must be from personal experience—written in first person. Can be events that happened to you personally or events that you have witnessed but must be written from your perspective (i.e., You can
tell the story of what happened to your sister, but not from your sister’s perspective, only from your standpoint as a witness—and what the experience meant for you). You may also choose to include more
than one experience. Submissions do not have to be about actually being in hospital, they can also be about your ongoing relationship to any healthcare site as a patient, family member, provider, researcher, or any combination thereof. They may also reflect on the ubiquity of the hospital in our collective imagination. For example, while an essay about someone’s choice to die at home is not situated within a clinical context, it reveals strong perspectives on hospitals and our last days. Or, for someone with Alzheimer’s the threat of being permanently hospitalized may shape the experience of diagnosis from the beginning, long before institutionalization becomes necessary.

We’re looking for Canadian writers, but it’s not necessary for the stories to be geographically situated in Canada. We welcome submissions from individuals with marginalized and oppressed identities and are also interested in stories of being racialized, experiences of disablement, sexism, transphobia and homophobia.
Writers may be unpublished or established, and previously published pieces are welcome.

Abstracts of 100–300 words are due Dec 1, 2010 and should be submitted via email to

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Infinite Difference: Other Poetries by U.K. Women Poets, ed. Carrie Etter

This anthology gathers not readily found in the pages of Britain’s broadsheets or larger-circulation literary journals. More implicitly, Infinite Difference makes the case that Britain’s tendency to divide poetry into the categories of “Mainstream” and “Experimental” or “Avant Garde” undermines our sense of the rich array of poetries being written. While this range might place at one end of a linear narrative poem, and at the other end a fragmented, associative one, the land between us is rich and various. The expanse might be further evidenced by suggesting different extremes as points of reference, such as the degree of engagement with the natural environment. The poetries being written in Britain today might in fact be regarded as being on a spectrum holding infinite points of difference, and this anthology as bringing to a larger audience work on that spectrum that has had limited, if not quite ultraviolet, visibility.
As most anthologies must, Infinite Difference: Other Poetries by U.K. Women Poets (Exeter England: Shearsman Books, 2010), edited by Carrie Etter, responds to a particular need, that of, as her rich introduction explains in some detail, the particular absence of more experimental writing in British journals, and even further absent, the work of the wide array of women writing in same. 

Publishing the works of twenty-five poets ranging from relatively new to established, Etter showcases a magnificent array of writing, from former Calgary poet Frances Kruk to Andrea Brady, Denise Riley, Redell Olsen, Anne Blonstein, Anna Reckin, Elisabeth Bletsoe and Caroline Bergvall.

I-Body 5

I can’t read
what I have somewhere

not written anywhere

but in this space of virtual

I can only find with click

mind spewing. (Sascha Akhtar)

Admittedly, most of the names here are unknown to me, but a couple I am aware of, and Etter’s anthology can only provide a further jumping-off point, allowing each a small sampling of writing, and a poetics statement, something I’ve always appreciated. Kruk, known predominantly on this side of the ocean for her involvement in visual poetry as well as her association with Calgary’s small press community over the past decade, begins her statement, writing:
With coat hangers and live wires in hand, Frankenstein’s secret girl bastards run through these poems spitting blood and oozing their calculated poisons. While each poem stems from different serial projects undertaken between 2004-2007, the sciatic pathway connecting them is rooted in the uneasy pathology addressed in my work as a whole. By uneasy pathology I refer to my recurring engagement with themes that cause tension or disquiet for myself or for others, from the exposition of viscera to the committing, witnessing, or experiencing of psychic, physical, or political violence that shapes alienated human existence. Confronting cultural malaises requires the recognition of poetry as a locus of resistance, of soothsaying. It is a revelator of raw forms and textures and realities that mean. There must be a material to realize this: in my case it is the body, in one form or another.
Given the wealth of experimental writing I’ve become aware of over the past decade in the United Kingdom, the argument of a lack of opportunities seems surprising, in this day and age, but is difficult to argue for or against, given this distance. Who am I to say, or even know, otherwise? I am barely aware of what the print journals are in the UK, and what I am aware of, seem less interested in this kind of writing, certainly. On the other hand, much of this work has also been readily available through alternate venues, such as Australia’s Jacket magazine, Switzerland’s Dusie or even England’s own Shearsman, among other places, but the strength of the book remains the same, putting the work of some worthy writers into a single volume. This is a magnificent anthology. Will someone, perhaps, create a follow-up that allows boys inside as well?

a man wishes musical must know
tunes or how contingencies chose

in good steel or sharp towards no
proper control avoids too hollow

bodies cut off an inch above part
plant in wing remove feather I

I say marrow the cut should be
made away from the groove fork

formed thumb index then pare
down to beak of ploughshare

or sparrow symmetrical cut on
inner angle to point tiny piece

angles not on right bevels flow
freely divisible two more than

properly tempered whetted keen
thimble against colour to skin (“from A Newe Booke of Copies,” Redell Olsen)

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

today's horoscope, the globe & mail,

PISCES (Feb. 20 - Mar. 20): Hopefully you have dealt with a relationship issue that was holding you back, because in a matter of days, your new rapport will be put to the test. Emotionally and financially you'll do great things.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Ongoing notes: West Coast Line + The New Quarterly

Vancouver BC: I’ve been recently going through West Coast Line 63 (vol. 43, no. 3, fall 2009), and focusing on the work of a few, from Vancouver writer and critic Donato Mancini’s “If Violence (Hey You),” Toronto poet Andy Weaver’s “Gangson” and Vancouver writer and critic Kim Minkus’ “Billboards.” Minkus’ series continues a thread of city-specific works that Vancouver poets have been producing for years, from writers such as George Bowering, Daphne Marlatt, George Stanley and Michael Turner to Stephen Collis, Oana Avasilichioaei, Sachiko Murakami, Wayde Compton and so many more. I don’t know any other Canadian city so richly and deeply explored through language poetry and other experimental forms of writing than Vancouver. Just what is it about Vacouver?


cities are about theatre
and their crooked additions
she counts cracks and thinks about her current coordinates. of money and needles
on her way down she trips over refuse

he said he would meet me here

he has chosen an impossible location and when he calls out each name
magnolia forsythia hyacinth
he is reminded of something
they have been caught up in stalled identities for decades
products, clothes, dishes

where the fuck is he

she rambles herself into a store
fondling merchandise
touching bills in her wallet
fingering furs
she fuels her frustration in circular disputes
then continues to drown herself

Waterloo ON: For The New Quarterly 115 (summer 2010), Stan Dragland’s essay on the work of the late Margaret Avison, “Unsettled With Margaret Avison,” is worth the price of admission alone, and compares favourably to the absolute best of his writing over the years. Does this mean we might not have much longer to wait for a new book to follow the work he started in Journeys Through Bookland (Toronto ON: Coach House Press, 1984) and continued through Apocrypha: Further Journeys (Edmonton AB: NeWest/writer as critic: IX, 2003)? What has drawn me increasingly to The New Quarterly over the past few years, apart from the immediacy of the relatively new format, has been the captivating and insightful quality of the non-fiction pieces. This issue also featuring an essay by Douglas Glover on his great-grandfather, John Brock, and the events that led up to his death, and the impossibilities that history sometimes provides, as well as unanswerable questions. His piece begins:
My great-grandfather John Brock killed himself with an overdose of laudanum in St. Williams on the North Shore of Lake Erie in March, 1914, the day before he was to appear in court to answer a charge of alienation of affection and criminal conversation. This was in an era when marital rights yet bore the flavour of property rights. Alienation of affection and criminal conversation referred to actions that deprived someone of his spousal relationship. In practice, the phrases meant anything from merely counseling a wife to leave her husband to seduction and adultery.
Another highlight comes from the features on particular authors, introducing relatively new writers to a larger audience, with new fiction and an interview each. This issue introduces us to the clever, wise and brash work of writer Mariko Tamaki, and Leesa Dean, author of the short story, “Hotel Paris.” As much as I like what Dean might be attempting, why does so much fiction about and by twentysomethings sound so much the same?
Jess pumped up the volume on her iPod to drown out the din of a Greyhound night bus nightmare. The Ramones sang The KKK took my baby away and Jess wished they’d take away the kid screaming behind her, too. he was the token bus brat, and judging by his Mom’s overnight bag and pillow, they’d be stuck with him all the way to Montreal.

Monday, September 20, 2010

fiction: from "boy and girl and man and woman," a novel-in-progress;

A real book is where something happens. A great book when nothing does. Boy read through his years, and floated through grades, entering double-digits. He faltered at math, and stared weeks out bay windows. He registered seasons.
Leaves pluck and they bloom and they fallow and fall, slick and sleek, a sweet-smelling musky mash. The snows come, and he counts out the flakes, easing into the thousands, the tens of thousands. Wonders just what might happen if they remained apart, suspended in space.

It started to rain and that mattered, too. He could see that. Anyone could.
Do doctors feel any different than sculptors, than accountants, than writers, than farmers? We all just put our pants on, one leg at a time. When might that be happening, the television asks.
Everything else smelled like water. The lake. It obscured the two coffees he'd picked, like twin flowers. She'd gone home to salvage her cowboy hat. Something about a woman in a cowboy hat, he said. I know, she smiled. She was always smiling. She went home for the hat; he stared at the lake, sometimes reading his book.
She returned with, and pigtails, her blue summer sundress. We really have to get you out of those clothes. He was already breathless; pigtails, her dress of deep blue, her endlessly expressive eyes. How did he get here?
Afraid to question, afraid to even try; just leave it, enjoy, take the whole of it in. Thank whomever or whatever might need to be thanked. They went home.

I am not a bad man. I am not a bad man but I have made some poor choices. I have some good choices too, but that's to be expected, I'm told. I've made some poor choices. The hair on her head. I can see the police boat, I can see the waves on the lake float across, its wake. I am not a bad man. Where does the day end?
The sun makes its chariot-way down to horizon, and steams the lake dry, flaming ball into black, charcoal lump of yet-sun. Burning dry and horizon. At the bottom of lake, where the charcoal retrieved and, by morning, re-lit by a service of men who then send back across its bare path, repeated.

Friday, September 17, 2010

the ottawa small press book fair, fall 2010;

span-o (the small press action network - ottawa) presents:

the ottawa
small press
book fair
fall 2010 edition
will be happening Saturday, October 16, 2010
in room 203 of the Jack Purcell Community Centre (on Elgin, at 320 Jack Purcell Lane).

contact rob at to sign up for a table, etc.

"once upon a time, way way back in October 1994, rob mclennan & James Spyker invented a two-day event called the ottawa small press book fair, and held the first one at the National Archives of Canada..." Spyker moved to Toronto soon after the first one, but the fair continues, thanks in part to the help of generous volunteers, various writers and publishers, and the public for coming out to participate with alla their love and their dollars.

General info: the ottawa small press book fair
noon to 5pm (opens at 11:00 for exhibitors)
admission free to the public.
$20 for exhibitors, full tables
$10 for half-tables
(payable to rob mclennan, c/o 858 Somerset St W, main floor, Ottawa Ontario K1R 6R7; send by October 11 if you would like to appear in the exhibitor catalogue).

note: for the sake of increased demand, we are now offering half tables. for catalog, exhibitors should send (on paper, not email name of press, address, email, web address, contact person, type of publications, list of publications (with price), if submissions are being considered & any other pertinent info, including upcoming ottawa-area events (if any).

& don't forget the pre-fair reading usually held the night before, info tba!

also, due to the increased demand for table space, exhibitors are asked to confirm far earlier than usual. i.e. -- before, say, the day of the fair.the fair usually contains exhibitors with poetry books, novels, cookbooks, posters, t-shirts, graphic novels, comic books, magazines, scraps of paper, gum-ball machines with poems, 2x4s with text, etc, including (at previous events) Bywords, Dusty Owl, Chaudiere Books, above/ground press, Room 302 Books, The Puritan, The Ottawa Arts Review, Buschek Books, The Grunge Papers, Broken Jaw Press, BookThug, Proper Tales Press, and others.

happens twice a year, founded in 1994 by rob mclennan & James Spyker.
now run by rob mclennan thru span-o.questions,

free things can be mailed for fair distribution to the same address. we will not be selling things for folk who cant make it, sorry. also, always looking for volunteers to poster, move tables, that sort of thing. let me know if anyone able to do anything. thanks.

for more information, bother rob mclennan.if you're able/willing to distribute posters/fliers for the fair, send me an email at

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Book by Ken Sparling

Three brothers sat on the sidewalk. They were wearing hats and mitts. They had finished their jobs. It was early afternoon. The sun was weak and watery. One brother rubbed another brother’s face in slush. The third brother raised his hand. Listen, he said. The two brothers stopped fighting. Listened. The brother who had raised his hand was wearing a hat. The hat had earflaps. The brother pulled the earflaps away from his ears. He tipped his ear. Moved it like an antennae. You hear that, he said. The older brothers heard nothing. The brother with the earflaps had just come from watching the sun set through the back window of a green car. A beautiful girl, who was an actor, had been in the car with him. They had argued. They had argued about the beautiful actor’s daughter. The daughter was at home with the babysitter. The daughter was a fire-breathing dragon. Terribly beautiful, like her mother. But terribly dangerous. But terribly friendly, too. Smiling all the time. You couldn’t help but love her. The actor lived with her many sisters in a house shaped like a triangle. Some heavy white clouds, shaped like cotton balls, glued themselves to the sky above the brothers. The clouds, which looked like cotton balls pushed together on construction paper by kindergartners, cut the sun away from over the three boys. They looked up to watch. The clouds passed over. The clouds continued on. They shifted. Dissipated. Soon, they were completely gone. But, by this time, they were far, far away from the boys, over a town many miles away.
How to describe the novel Book (Toronto ON: Pedlar Press, 2010) by Toronto author Ken Sparling, author of the previous novels novels Dad Says He Saw You at the Mall (New York NY: Knopf, 1996), Hush Up and Listen Stinky Poo Butt (1996; self-made by author upon request), [A novel by Ken Sparling] (Pedlar Press, 2003) and For Those Whom God Has Blessed with Fingers (Pedlar Press, 2005). Made up of what could otherwise be seen as a random scattering of notes, Book moves so descriptively thick and sure-paced that the story of the novel can only be contained in the reader’s actual head. There is no story in Book, simply due to the fact that there is so much of it, accumulated on every page in an entirely human way, making other novels appear shatteringly thin and narratively false. How does Sparling manage such a range of activity (even slipping in a couple of characters from his self-published (and soon to be reissued) novel, Hush Up and Listen Stinky Poo Butt, along the way)? How does Sparling seem to understand the nuance of human activity so precisely that he can articulate all the unimportant movements and imaginings of various characters throughout their normal activities?
I started reading your book a while back. I did not continue. Lately I’ve been completely overwhelmed. The last thing that gave me any sense of buoyancy was the moon. Before that, it was a girl in a breeze. Before that it was some strains of music from some bands in subway stops I visited. Once, long ago, it was something I saw by a river.

Friday, September 10, 2010

12 or 20 questions: J.A. Tyler on Mud Luscious Press;

Mud Luscious Press is an online quarterly, a monthly chapbook series, and a novel(la) press. Interested in the most raw and aggressive literature, to date we have published 11 online issues, 50+ chapbooks, 3 novel(la)s, and 1 anthology, with another 6 novel(la)s and 2 anthologies already on deck through 2012. Visit for more details or to purchase one of our titles.

J. A. Tyler is the author of seven novel(la)s including the recently released INCONCEIVABLE WILSON (Scrambler Books, 2009) and the forthcoming A MAN OF GLASS & ALL THE WAYS WE HAVE FAILED (Fugue State Press, 2011). He is founding editor of Mud Luscious Press and is also on the editorial staffs of Dzanc Books, Rumble, BigOther, and Tarpaulin Sky. For more, visit:

1 – When did Mud Luscious Press first start? How have your original goals as a publisher shifted since you started, if at all? And what have you learned through the process?

Mud Luscious Press started as an online quarterly in fall 2008 and in winter 2008 we leapt into the chapbook industry, hand-making tiny 4x4 chapbooks of 1000 words or less and distributing three per month for $2 each. We collected all of those first 43 chapbooks into our first perfect-bound book FIRST YEAR { an mlp anthology} and once that title took off, we opened up our novel(la) series, which has produced three titles to date and has another six slated through 2012 alongside another two anthologies, one of our Stamp Stories project and another of the Lamination Colony archives.

Most importantly, what we have learned is that literature can be whatever you like. We didn’t know if people wanted another online quarterly, but then the submissions started piling up and the visitor stats grew. We didn’t know if people wanted to buy a handmade chapbook for even a mere $2, but they did and continue to. And we didn’t know if producing perfect-bound books was something we could tackle with finesse or success and believe now that we have done both. All of Mud Luscious Press started at my kitchen table, and I think about that any day that the editing schedule is a little thick or hectic or maybe I’m not seeing the usual 2-3 orders a day. Lit is what we make it, and it can be anything.

2 – What first brought you to publishing?

We started the online quarterly because I wanted to force myself to read more online literature. So if people were submitting work and wanting publication, I would have to read those works and judge their merit based on my own aesthetic biases. We started the chapbook series because Ken Baumann said on his blog that he had a long poem to read and would anyone like to read it and I said yes and read it and knew it needed to be in print in some vibrant but little form. We started the novel(la) series because Molly Gaudry submitted a chapbook to our series and I told her that if she made it into a book-length piece I would publish it. She did and we did. And here we are now, loving all that has happened.

3 – What do you consider the role and responsibilities, if any, of small publishing?

I believe that small publishing needs to grow authors as well as catalogs, which is why you see Ben Brooks’ novel(la) AN ISLAND OF FIFTY just released but another of his books coming in 2012. We hope to keep our authors with Mud Luscious Press just like any major-house publisher would look to keep theirs. We want to be just as aggressive as our authors and their literature.

4 – What do you see your press doing that no one else is?

Mud Luscious Press is in line with only a few other presses in terms of pushing the novel(la) form to its greatest extent. We are also currently conducting our Stamp Stories project – 50-word stories printed on 1x1 cardstock and distributed with various participating indie presses. We also like to think that we are at the forefront of aggressive literature, language that is unafraid to break itself open and sift through the entrails.

5 – What do you see as the most effective way to get new books out into the world?

Quite simply: find them, edit them, craft them into a book form, publish them, and make readers want and need to read them.

6 – How involved an editor are you? Do you dig deep into line edits, or do you prefer more of a light touch?

We do both the general sweeping edits during the rough draft stage (content, structure, organization, etc.) and line-edits of all varieties in the final draft stages (grammar, phrasing, rhythm, etc.)

7 – How do your books get distributed? What are your usual print runs?

Our books are distributed publisher direct at and online at The typical initial print runs are anywhere from 100 to 300 copies with second and third runs usually printed within the first year of a title’s existence.

8 – How many other people are involved with editing or production? Do you work with other editors, and if so, how effective do you find it? What are the benefits, drawbacks?

We have just recently brought on board an Associate Editor Andrew Borgstrom and there are absolutely no drawbacks to having another staff member. My burden is lessened, freeing me up to take on more projects and our quality is greater, with two sets of eyes to look at everything that is going up or out.

9– How has being an editor/publisher changed the way you think about your own writing?

I am so much more careful now when I write. I take more time to hone my phrasing. I watch my words more closely. I know the mistakes too to avoid in terms of cover letters, solicitations, and all the other aspects of online and print publication.

10– How do you approach the idea of publishing your own writing? Some, such as Gary Geddes when he still ran Cormorant, refused such, yet various Coach House Press’ editors had titles during their tenures as editors for the press, including Victor Coleman and Nichol. What do you think of the arguments for or against, or do you see the whole question as irrelevant?

I refuse to publish my own writing via Mud Luscious Press. Our press is for others, my writing needs to be elsewhere. I see how it works for someone like James Chapman, whose Fugue State Press is enormous and glorious and whose own writing is also enormous and glorious – but for me, I need a much more objective stance than what this would allow.

11– How do you see Mud Luscious Press evolving?

It is already happening I believe – we are re-issuing Ken Sparling’s DAD SAYS HE SAW YOU AT THE MALL in 2012 (originally published with Knopf) and Norman Lock’s GRIM TALES (originally published in TRIO with Ravenna Books). We have also recently acquired the print archives of Pindeldyboz and will soon house the remains of Lamination Colony. This kind of sprawl is where I believe Mud Luscious Press is heading, touching literature in all the places we possibly can.

12– What, as a publisher, are you most proud of accomplishing? What do you think people have overlooked about your publications? What is your biggest frustration?

We are most proud of all our titles – they look good, they feel nice in your hands, and they are literature that needs to be read. We’re not sure if people have overlooked them, but if they have, they need to look again. My biggest frustration: not enough money in the coffers or time in the day for all we want to do.

13– Who were your early publishing models when starting out?

We looked (and still do) to Calamari, Fugue State Press, and Dzanc books among others – all of these small presses are aggressive and forthright, know what they like and what they want, publicize as they see fit and under their own terms – these are presses that go to their passions like light – publishing work that always captures and holds our attention.

14– How does Mud Luscious Press work to engage with your immediate literary community, and community at large? What journals or presses do you see Mud Luscious Press in dialogue with? How important do you see those dialogues, those conversations?

We have a news feed for anyone who wants to follow the happenings, make contact with us, etc. and we also try to have an open dialogue with as many other journals and presses as we can – our current Stamp Stories project (discussed above in #4) is a great example of this, something that has allowed us to cross-promote with a variety of presses and to tap into some of their great authors, a kind of snowball effect for both the immediate and the at-large community. We learn by what other presses are doing, we push because other presses are pushing, so I cannot say enough about how important this conversations within the literature are.

15– Do you hold regular or occasional readings or launches? How important do you see public readings and other events?

Our first official reading was in tandem with the FlatmanCrooked crew at Denver’s 2010 AWP – its was a puppet vs. author reading and one that we’ll do again very soon – also at AWP in DC 2011 we’ll be joining up with Pank, Annalemma, The Collagist, and Ampersand Books for various readings in and around the center of AWP. But other than those yearly kinds of readings / launches, we let our authors field their own reading schedules – we hook them up with as many reviews and interviews as we can, help publicize their scheduled readings, and otherwise make it a team effort to get knowledge of the books out there for all to see and hear.

16– How do you utilize the internet, if at all, to further your goals?

The internet is where we are. The internet is our bookstore, our reading library, our archive, our newsfeed, our promotional guru, our sounding board, our relationship builder, and all the other things that go into making a press a press.

17– Do you take submissions? If so, what aren’t you looking for?

We are always open to submissions, have never closed that window since our inception – 1000 words or less for our online quarterly, 1000 words or less for our chapbook series, 15-35K for our novel(la) series – we always want aggressive and raw – we are not fond of straight narrative, genre writing, heavy dialogue, or thick exposition.

18– Tell me about three of your most recent titles, and why they’re special.

Molly Gaudry’s WE TAKE ME APART, Ben Brooks’ AN ISLAND OF FIFTY, and Sasha Fletcher’s WHEN ALL OUR DAYS ARE NUMBERED are the first three titles in our novel(la) series and are all special in their own ways: Guadry’s book is a novel(la) in verse, playing off of fairy-tales and the words of Gertrude Stein; Brooks’ book is a mountain of political disintegration, surrounded in a jacket of Derrick Jensen; Fletcher’s book is a surreal clanging of one person against another, how our relationships become cops in the backyard, building us oceans of clouds and glass.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Melanie Siebert, Deepwater Vee

What is it about 18th-century explorer Alexander Mackenzie that still holds the imagination of writers? In Melanie Siebert’s first trade poetry collection, Deepwater Vee (Toronto ON: McClelland & Stewart, 2010), she writes the “vee” of two rivers, where they flow and even intersect, writing traces of where Mackenzie still lingers. Her collection reads like a love song to the two rivers; cities might forget, but the land remembers. The collection even opens with an explanation of the title, writing:
deepwater vee

A tongue of dark, glassy water that points downstream, indicating a deep channel, a way through whitewater thrown up by riverbed rocks. When running a rapid, these fast, sometimes narrow chutes can be hard to see and tricky to navigate. Threading from V to V is often part instinct, part gamble, part yielding to the water.
Explorers explored through poems certainly aren’t new in Canadian writing, from George Bowering’s George, Vancouver (1970) to Gregory Betts’ The Cult of David Thompsonmy own sequence “my life as a dead north-west explorer” in wild horses (2005), or even (2010). What is it about reworking, even revisiting the past that compels?

Scanning all night, nor could he bend it,
calculations, fully unpardonable, land looms by trick light,
fractal islands or shore, boiling, skittish
magnetic variation, boots worn through in a day.
Brewed 24-hour sun, cold-cocked,
cursed thistle,
augurs the 360-
degree swing, indiscriminate, owing rotgut,
pitch pressed into the split,
stone in a sling, never solvent.
Wind bronchials the same
quarter. Past a hundred cold cook fires.
Lat/long skewed, volatile, nerve-knots hissing in the armpits.
Needle grinds into the ground’s swell.
The poem begins, working in with what is new, and the explorer, arguably, is always new, even through repetition; not re-covering the same ground, but always reapproached, much like Robert Kroetsch’s perpetually begin, begun, begin again. Through such, and letters back to his wife back home, Siebert’s Mackenzie becomes trapped in his newness, as in amber; a victim (is, as Cohen once suggested, a kite the only victim we’re sure of?). Not just where it begins, but where will this perpetually-begun ever end? As in the poem “The Limit of Travels in this Direction” that begins:
The dream that’s not a dream stings in the teeth
of Mackenzie’s momentum, fish-oiled hair, double-or-nothing
quad burn going shaky. Doused fires limp the shores.
Thick fog descends, flesh of boiled trout, a bone ladle.
All bullets sunk in the river,
every direction, no direction.
Or further on in the collection, the six poems to Mackenzie’s wife all titled, “Letter to Kitty, Never Written,” and the final that reads (in full):
I drowned long ago. I drowned in that country.
And so her collection begins, a narrative lyric wrapped around the depths of the waters, and a remoteness where the most distant can’t help but be felt, from echoes of Mackenzie’s Journals to echoes of what Don McKay’s own exploration of a corner of rural British Columbia, the short-term of immediate that became The Muskwa Assemblage (Kentville NS: Gaspereau Press, 2008) could have been, had McKay spent more time out there, in the British Columbia wilds. Siebert moves through the Athabasca and North Saskatchewan rivers, through Mackenzie, and through living the loss of the narrator’s grandmother; is it only through these deep waters that Siebert’s narrator comes face to face with herself, forced to confront what she can no longer distract? Siebert’s poems write a staggering silence, and of those things left behind, from the four poems titled “Grandmother” to all that the seven poems titled “Busker” suggest, of a lost musician brother (but why be so literal, reviewer?). Is discovering a country simply a way to highlight all else left behind?

We said the dead were flown, lifted to a sure life,
the body sloughed off, and we went on
measuring parts per million, underwater
grease rags still throatsinging river’s crankshafts,
ruffed grouse drumming in our lower backs,
bent to water, waving a hydrophone wired to pick up
the mythic toothed gears, the signal now frying
static, funnel clouds mounting stolen goods and letting loose.
We went on far-flung, we went on washed-out bridges.
Silence silted on—sand-seep from the walls of a cold house,
our religion, the forgetting we have had to profess,
ghost forest in the reservoir, poor insulation,
red inner lining of my wet eiderdown.
A bee will chew a hole in the side of a closed flower.
Cribbed well, a hotbed made with storm windows,
the human heart can be cradled in a metal device
that keeps it warm and beating. And we went on
100,000 pounds of river bottom dredged, intercoastal
muscles heaving damped sound, slurried underwater
sound, pillowed mounds, dredged
and still slumping in.
These are poems that wrap themselves up over each other in layers, adding to and creating a depth to the collection, giving the book a resonance that so few have. This is a collection that understands the importance of how poems interact with each other, and add to the experience of each, side by side by slow sidled-up side.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

carleton university writer’s workshop + writing contest

WORKSHOP: Improve your poetry or short stories—sign up for our writer’s workshop that includes both a short story and poetry section

Date: Sunday, October 3, 2010
Cost: $40 or $30 for students
Location: Carleton University Bookstore
Instructors: Author Mary Borsky & poet, editor + critic rob mclennan [for longer poetry workshop potentials, check out here]

For the registration form, go to, click on the link for the writing competition and then the link for the workshop.

Carleton University Writers Workshop
c/o Carleton University Bookstore Carleton University
1125 Colonel By Drive
Ottawa, ON K1S 5B6

Stay tuned for more details

CONTEST: Do you have the “write” stuff? Then send us your original, unpublished works of fiction and poetry. The competition is open to all Carleton University staff, faculty, students, alumni and retirees.

The competition opens September 13 and closes December 17, 2010.

Short story category
Each entry must be typed in English and no more than 2,000 words in length. Maximum of one (1) entry per person.

Poetry category
Entrants may submit up to a maximum of three (3) poems, each not exceeding 60 lines.

Final-round judges: Authors Frances Itani and Mark Frutkin and poets George Bowering and Marilyn Iwama

Prizes (in each category)
1st prize: $500
2nd prize: $350
Honourable mention: $50

There is a C$15 entry fee. No electronic submissions.

Full details and rules at

Carleton University Bookstore
Department of English Language and Literature
Carleton University Library Circle of Friends
Department of University Communications
Graphic Services

Sunday, September 05, 2010

fwd: Launch of the Annual Issue of Arc Poetry Magazine‏

On Saturday, September 18th at 5 pm, come join in the launch of the Annual Issue of Arc Poetry Magazine at The Manx Pub, 370 Elgin Street.  The launch will feature the results of the “Chain of Ottawa Poets and Artists” project, with readings and presentations by David O’Meara, Andrew Farrell, Gillian Wallace, Marisa Gallemit, Barbara Myers, Maria Lezon, Max Middle, Andrea Stokes, Sandra Ridley, and Michelle Desbarats.  The poems and art work will be on display for your viewing

Everyone is welcome and admission is free.  So please mark Saturday, September 18th on your calendar and join Arc and its featured guests at 5 pm at The Manx Pub, 370 Elgin Street.

Friday, September 03, 2010

12 or 20 questions: with Nicholas Ruddock

NICHOLAS RUDDOCK's [photo credit: Koko Bonaparte] writing has been published in The Dalhousie Review, The Antigonish Review, Fiddlehead, Prism International, Grain, sub-Terrain, Event, and Exile. His short story "How Eunice Got Her Baby" was published in the Journey Prize Anthology in 2007, and a short film adaptation, narrated by Gordon Pinsent, has been made by the Canadian Film Centre. Ruddock is a family physician. He lives in Guelph, Ontario.

1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?

My first book was a book of short stories (How Loveta Got Her Baby). It had been accepted for publication when my novel suddenly went into high gear. So I put the short stories away and opted to go first out into the world with the novel (The Parabolist, Doubleday Canada). There was no change in my life, just a step in a different direction. The novel differs in style and location, but it's much the same in theme. It's a bit more serious than the stories, but preserves the same sense of humour.

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

I have never written non-fiction. Reality seems to be off limits for me. I went from one-sentence short stories--published as poems-- to short fiction, then to the novel, the classical progression.

3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?

I start with one simple idea and let it loose. I have no plan. It is not a slow process; I stop if it's a struggle. First drafts can be altered, thrown away, deleted, cut-and-pasted, dragged several paragraphs further, or left entirely intact. I like to compile inventory, in the hope that the light of another day will prove that the spontaneous work hit the mark. I do not work from notes.

4 - Where does fiction usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?

I have worked on my one book as a soon as I recognized it was not a short story.

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

I have always enjoyed public reading. I don't see how they could be counter to any other activity.

6 - 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?

I have not consciously worked from any theoretical concerns. As far as I am aware, I am not trying to answer questions. If there are current questions, they have possibly been approached in dialogue between my characters.

7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?

Some writers serve as the conscience of their generation, others as entertainers, and there's everything in between. S/he should be provocative, not boring.

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

Not difficult. Essential and rewarding.

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

For dialogue, just use "he said" and "she said". No "groaned", "ejaculated", "laughed", "responded", "cried","guffawed" etc etc (Elmore Leonard, I think).

For characters, be inclusive, understanding, sympathetic (Cheryl Ruddock).

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (short stories to the novel)? What do you see as the appeal?

I haven't had much problem moving between genres, though that may just be inexperience. Short stories hit one precise target; novels blow holes out of the ground, and therein lies their different appeal.

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

When not working at the office (medical), I write in the mornings. Some late evenings, briefly, only 10:00-11:00. Some very early mornings, if there's a time crunch editing, 5:30-7:30 AM.

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?

I pick up a different character or point of view. If that doesn't do it, I go and do something else.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?

No fragrance. Maybe wool in winter.

14 - 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 would have a hard time writing without weather, birds, clouds, rain. I have done my best to leave music out as a cultural reference, though I have failed once or twice in that regard. Science exists in my novel only as a backdrop or a curtain. Visual art is importamt, but has not played a role in anything I have written so far except in one short story which has been rejected coast-to-coast.

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?

Canadian: Mordecai Richler, Barbara Gowdy, Guy Vanderhaege, David Adams Richard, Kenneth Harvey, Guy Beauchemin.

Non-Canadian: Nabokov, Celine, Sebald, Bolano, Vollman, David Mitchell, the Russians all, Mario Vargas Llosa; the list could go on and on as there are many.

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

Not a lot. Simple personal things, that's all.

17 - 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 am a medical doctor and feel lucky to be so. Otherwise the usual Canadian list: hockey, Bingo caller, canoeist, tin-whistler, unsuccessful trapper.

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?

I was driven to it by other books, the fictional worlds they created. I wanted to be able to do the same thing.

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?

The Savage Detectives. Cloud Atlas. Film: Mouchette. Cache (no soundtrack).

20 - What are you currently working on?

The next novel and, simultaneously, my short-story collection.

12 or 20 (second series) questions,