Sunday, October 31, 2010

fwd: call for submissions, jobbers


Ladies and Gentlemen this call for submission is scheduled for one fall and it is for inclusion in the most electrifying anthology in the history of CanLit...

In professional wrestling slang, the term "job" describes a losing performance in a wrestling match. It is derived from the euphemism "doing one's job", which was employed to protect kayfabe (in other words, the portrayal of events in the wrestling industry as real). As professional wrestling is scripted, inevitably a wrestler will be required to lose to an opponent ...

Inspired by Michael Holmes' 2004 collection of poetry Parts Unknown: Wrestling, Gimmicks and Other Works and Nicholas Sammond's 2005 collection of essays Steel Chair to the Head: The Pleasure and Pain of Professional Wrestling, comes Jobbers: A Can-Lit Wrestling Reader.

Jobbers wants your best non-fiction, fiction, and poetry that reviles, reflects, or revels in the art of professional wrestling. Capture the steroidal zaniness of the cartoon rock and wrestling mid 1980s or the over-gimmicked dark ages of the early 1990s. Recall with nostalgia the glory days of pre-McMahon black and white regional integrity.

Explore the exhausted locker rooms of your local small-time wrestling league. Write erotic love poems to your favourite bespandexed hero or villain. Give us a "hell yeah" as you investigate the middle-finger-in-the-air screwjobs of the Attitude Era. Give us humour or heartbreak, caustic wit or hyperbolic fandom.

So whether you're a local hero, heel or not quite sure, send us your best wrasslin'-inspired literature.
No limits, no restrictions, and no rules, but remember to do your "job". Edited by Toronto Literary Tag Team jobbers Spencer Gordon and Nathaniel G. Moore.

Deadline May 15, 2011.

For more info email NGM at bowlbrawl [at] gmail dot com

Friday, October 29, 2010

(another) very short story;

Every city constructed out of a series of markers, of landmarks, but what happens to a city when it is constantly in danger of losing? What happens to memory when a city is constantly new? There is nothing to hold on to, there are no regulars to keep the rent in your restaurant. There is no heart, no soul, no loyalty. When a city is constantly new, it runs the risk of losing all meaning.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Rob Winger, The Chimney Stone, ghazals

Ghazal for the Birthday Hotel

Why insist on records? Better build
an eavestrough, discover brick, sleep.

Let’s get this straight: does setting the chimney stone
promise fire?

Ordered calendars and icing:
why shuck the grave’s nightdress?

The ice buckles under a hot stream
in the urinal.

Takhallus; suit yourself;
get to the bloody point.

Listen, idiot wind, the body won’t serve
until you forget it.
Long an admirer of the North American ghazal, Rob Winger, with his second poetry collection, The Chimney Stone (Gibsons BC: Nightwood Editions, 2010), adds his own voice to the storm. It’s not always easy to construct a collection out of such a form, admittedly not as overused or loaded as the sonnet; still, the Canadian ghazal, brought into prominence by John Thompson through his posthumous Stilt jack (1976), inevitably brought just about everyone along for the ride, with notable works by Phyllis Webb, D.G. Jones, Douglas Barbour, Catherine Owen, Andy Weaver and even my own attempt, a compact of words (2009). 

There were many others who attempted, but did little or nothing to propel the form. Moving from the documentary long poem of his first collection, Muybridge's Horse (Gibsons BC: Nightwood Editions, 2007), what can Winger bring to the ghazal?
I’m tired of lyrics;
what else is there? (“Ghazal for Empty Nests”)
It has been known for a while that Winger was heading into the ghazal, including through his participation in “White Salt Mountain: A Gathering of Poets for John Thompson,” a conference that happened in Sackville, New Brunswick in November 2008, later appearing as a section in Arc Poetry Magazine #62 [see my review of such here], a section that included an extended essay by Winger on the Canadian/North American ghazal form. Structurally, Winger’s ghazals are more conservative than Thompson, something closer to Webb’s, Owen’s or Adrienne Rich’s, say, than Barbour’s pieces, and riff off a network of references, enough to fill three pages at the end of the collection in small type. His is a thoughtful form, speaking to an entire list of previous practitioners, from Rimbaud, Dionne Brand, Al Purdy, Michael Ondaatje, Christopher Dewdney, Dennis Lee and innumerable musical references. Why notes at all, I’d wonder? Still, what Winger brings is a collage effect to his pieces, tight lines that allow a breath of flexibility, scattered but held together, but not tight enough to confine, or choke.
Ghazal for Pas

Eadweard’s dead. He’s dead.
Chuck another lump on the fire, Scrooge.

The moon rose for you, too. I know that.
We’ve lost your bread crumbs in the undergrowth.

That’s not it. River; spring weed;
not the fossils.

It’s not Yasgur’s farm we’re after;
we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden.

On the screen: bombs in Algiers, that torso torque;
each suitcase holds a thousand pixels.

(The difference between a sign and a song is
an I.)

Who’s anxious? John’s dead as a doornail, isn’t he?
Why am I paging apophrades?

Turn the band-saw teeth into your thumb.
I’ll keep piling blood.

Pearl, what are you waiting for, blinking that eye?
A burning thing, your cursor.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Translating Pessoa: Winnett, Taddle, Garrison,

another fragment of my creative non-fiction work-in-progress, 'sleeping in toronto,' on Erin Moure, Taddle Creek, Garrison Creek, etcetera, now up at Open Book Toronto;

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Ongoing notes, some journals: Grain magazine + Open Letter

“Every book is a quotation; and every house is a quotation out of all forests and mines and stone-quarries; and every man is a quotation from all his ancestors.” This is the epigraph to the Riverside edition of Emerson’s essay “Quotation and Originality.” (Susan Howe, The Midnight)
Saskatoon SK: I’ve been admiring poet Sylvia Legris' run over the past number of issues as editor of Saskatoon’s Grain magazine, crafting issues as full units, as opposed to the usual structure that literary journals seem to have. Recently, the summer 2010 issue, Vol. 37.4, “All over the place,” arrived, with highlights by Moez Surani, Chuqiao Yang, Jeramy Dodds, Audrea Lim and photography by featured artist Dianne Bos. There’s a unity to Legris’ issues that come out of careful attention to the writing, careful attention to what work is selected and how it is arranged, blending something between the usual option of “theme” or “non-themed” issues that so many others have simply continued out of, what, habit? Far too often, I’m either finding the idea of the “theme” issue rather tiresome (and somewhat arbitrary), or frustrated that every issue of any particular trade poetry and fiction journal feels almost exactly the same. Kudos to Legris for adding some freshness, thought and sheer attention to the process of literary journals, seamlessly blending poetry, fiction and non-fiction in a way that puts the writing itself first and foremost while creating each issue. How does such a thing become a rarity, I ask?
I am back from the Expo. I saw a woman club another woman in the lineup for the German pavilion. Her bra was sliding off. Two old men started to hit each other. The sweat on my body did not belong to me. I went home and drank four or five giant bottles of beer and sang a really bad rendition of a Chinese song. I think my relatives hate me. (Chuqiao Yang, “Beijing Notes”)
Strathroy ON: Had situations been different, I would have certainly submitted to the most recent issue of the critical journal Open Letter (Fourteenth Series, Number 4, Fall 2010), “George Bowering: Bridges to Elsewhere.” I think you already know why. Between my natural interest in Bowering’s writing, editing of a section on his work for Jacket, furthering the same into a soon-to-be-completed George Bowering: Essays on His Works for Guernica Editions. Constructed as a thesis, I’m wildly impressed at how guest-editor Ian Rae constructed his issue on the work of the Vancouver writer, editor and general troublemaker, George Bowering, very much created to explore his work other than the usual pieces on his Tish and post-Tish poetry-specific exploits, all without diminishing or dismissing that essential part of Bowering history. As he writes in his introduction:
The positive aspects of this post-Tish activity are that 1) as poets they continued to inspire each other to produce daring new works; 2) as colleagues they became each other’s most trusted editors and interpreters; 3) as critics they became experts in their fields and obtained prestigious positions as university professors or writers-in-residence; and 4) the importance of the Tish movement has been effectively enshrined in Canadian literary history. The negative aspects of this activity are that 1) the focus on Tish as a particular West Coast group, publication, and moment has diverted critical attention away from the projects of the individual poets once they had left Vancouver to pursue careers across the continent; 2) they journals to which the poets dedicated longer periods of their life – such as Bowering’s Imago (1964-1974), the subject of Shearer’s essay – are little studied; 3) the Tish poet-critics have now entered retirement and it is uncertain how the group fits into the research projects of younger scholars; and 4) while Jonathan Ball’s parody of Bowering’s A Short Sad Book (1977) in this issue highlights continuities between younger and older generations of experimental writers, new waves of Canadian poets, such as the Kootenay School of Writing, have seized upon the poet-critic model as a means of advancing their own distinct status in the book market. For such avant-garde writers, the first imperative is always to make a break with the literary past, even if this break exaggerates differences and conceals debts. For example, a recent issue of Open Letter demonstrates how hard KSW struggles to distance itself from its Tish predecessors.
The eleven pieces in the journal include works on Bowering’s long poem journal Imago by Karis Shearer, and pieces connecting Bowering to Al Purdy, Nicole Brossard, hockey, Bowering as historian, Earle Birney and the Okanagan itself, as well as a long-lost poem by Bowering on Birney. This might be the shortest and most expansive work on his considerably broad ouvre, and highlights, too, what other work there is that could be done. There could be a piece on Bowering’s reviewing and otherwise critical writing alone, for example. For anyone interested in the work of George Bowering, this is an essential text.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The end of history: Frederick Campbell (1873-1963)

[Fred Campbell, daughter Harriet, my great-aunt] Since my mother went, digging through the house, through family archives, attempting to articulate the end of history. Digging through shelves, cupboards, boxes of papers and discovering photos, most of which I never knew existed, from both sides of the family: McLennan (and Campbell, Aird) and Page (and Swain, Cassidy). Scanning hundreds of photographs, hoping for what relatives remain to tell their stories, add clarification, confirmation. Almost every picture unlabelled, and some, possibly, completely lost, unknown. Who are some of these?

My great-grandfather, Frederick Campbell, born 1873 in Athol, just north of the village of Maxville, who married Jane Aird of Sandringham. Both are buried in Maxville, he in 1963, and she, seven years later. In most pictures, suspenders, white shirt, as though the range of pictures were from very few days. Sets of shots as opposed to set singles. In one, on his front step with daughter Harriet, he looking in hat and dark jacket very much like Pa Kettle. Already, just there, how I have dated myself. 1940s films replayed thirty, forty years later on Sunday mornings, American Public Television. These people, these events and these tokens help make up who we are, long before we had even existed. According to R.B. Campbell’s expansive The Campbells and other Glengarry-Stormont and Harrington Pioneers (1983), “Fred and Janie farmed on Lots 12 & 13 in the 21st Concession Indian Lands for a number of years before retiring and moving to Maxville. They had two daughters. Fred was a member of municipal council for a period during his residence in Maxville.” Their house in Maxville, the only residence these photos know. In the book itself, a photo of the same couple my pictures call elderly, younger. A young couple, unknown to my infant father.

[Fred on our front porch, my father the boy in the back] Fred Campbell,1873-1963. The Campbells and other Glengarry-Stormont and Harrington Pioneers provides three generations beyond, from Angus Finlay Campbell (1830-1887) and wife Elizabeth Bennett (1836-1914) to Finlay Campbell (1795-1872) and wife Harriet McKay (1800-1845) to Duncan Campbell, known by name and little more. Only that he arrived in Canada with four sons to western Quebec, two of whom eventually headed further into Glengarry, into what would become the small corner Athol, just north of not-yet-Maxville. Where generations further would come, down to my father’s own mother, the last generation of their line born there. Before the small hamlet disappeared, barely there even in name. A lingering sign on dirt road.

The Village of Maxville a product of rail, incorporated 1891, for the line that first came through between Ottawa and Coteau Landing, a point just prior to Montreal. Maxville, so named for the concentration of Scots in this, Glengarry County, largest concentration of Scottish immigration in Canada, founded as the oldest county in Ontario. The rail, that also drew away from the outer edges, drew out hamlets and corners, some into non-existence, a circle of Dominionville, Dunvegan, Athol, Tayside. When Rev. Charles W. Gordon, the author Ralph Connor, was young, the nearest rail was, he wrote, “25 miles.” Born in the manse house at St. Elmo, between bare miles of Athol and not-yet-Maxville. What would that have been? The Prescott line, a rail from Bytown to what once Caledonia Springs. Another line disappeared, where Royalty and heads of state vacationed, heading first by steamboat, then by rail, the water’s healing properties. The only evidence, bare stone in a farmer’s back forty. From his Postscript to Adventure: The Autobiography of Ralph Connor (1975):
I met my mother first in the Indian Lands Presbyterian manse, Glengarry, to which my father took her after two years or so in Lingwick. I often wonder at his nerve. Indian Lands, settled by Scotia crofters dispossessed from the Highlands and Islands by poverty-stricken lairds and dukes to make room for deer forests, poor, crude in their manner of life, passionate in their hates and loyalties, grand friends but desperate enemies. It was Lingwick over again, but more remote from civilization. The nearest railway was twenty five miles distant. There for eighteen years she lived on a glebe of twenty-four acres, cut from the bush and the deep pine forest, out of which the people had cut their little farms. How desperately lonely she was no one ever knew. She hardly knew herself, she was too busy. Her babies, arriving with biennial regularity, the women and girls of her husband’s congregation, the men and boys too, all demanded her care and got it. She was far too busy for self-pity.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Joshua Harmon, Scape

Solitude is not an absolute number, though if I outlast another night counting on my fingers, it may begin to seem that way. The hedge outside grows nearly as fast as I can prune it, though I prefer to rely on the pity of passersby rather than the fickleness of my own sunlit instincts. And my ladder won’t reach the tallest branches. Objects disappear within the foliage for days at a time, then reappear on the lawn when I least expect. Superstitious, I’m just as happy to hide behind my hedge, gathering whatever folklore I can find, as to peer through that alliance of branches and leaves at the road. (“Summer’s Tenants”)
I was taken by this small gesture, this first small collection of poems by American poet Joshua Harmon, Scape (Boston MA: Black Ocean, 2009), recommended to me by Paige Ackerson-Kiely. Wrapping the collection around prose poems, short lyrics and an extended lyric sequence or two, Scape is entirely built from smallness, the subtlety of carefully-considered lyric gestures, gymnastic language and enduring depth.
The landscape remains obedient to previous notions. It is Massachusetts outside my window and Massachusetts in my mind: it is only the site of some larger omission. The landscape an open system of fires, a naïve word’s wound, a trick made of phone wires and a waiting breath. The asphalt taught me as asphalt always teaches, friction and burn, all rough texture. I thought it misfortune, not remedy—a crumpled cardinal’s red feathers in the road. I crammed for hours to learn to predict this weather, to memorize the shape of the overslept-on pillow, to balance my bicycle and my checking account, to locate the surge in my chest, to plot a course even this far. Make it in Massachusetts. (“Landscape”)
Whatever landscapes Harmon writes are linguistic first and geographic second, wrapping around each other in a magnificent way. A follow-up to a first novel, Quinnehtukqut (2007), the book tells me nothing else about the author. What else is there to know? I’m intrigued.
Trepanned: in other words, my mind wanders
no farther than the map I drew from memory,

marking the stone-circled embers memory makes smoke
—wisps to occlude whatever arrow-line I’d draw near.

Next is the legend: asterisk for tree, speck for settlement,
double dagger for ruins, circled star for fallen star,

wave of my hand for broken satellite, exhalation for
exhalation spent climbing the rise step by step

toward the form of the field, the retirement of assent.
Here lake, here site of ambush, here fallen king.

The thistle’s tendency—its bent posture—toward the oracular.
The wolf’s basking ruse.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

span-o presents: Turnbull, Fiorentino + Barwin at the Carleton Tavern, Nov. 12

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

three poets at the carleton tavern
lovingly hosted by rob mclennan

with readings by:

Chris Turnbull (Kemptville)
Jon Paul Fiorentino (Montreal)
+ Gary Barwin (Hamilton)

Friday, November 12, 2010;
doors 7pm; reading 7:30pm

The Carleton Tavern, 223 Armstrong Street (at Parkdale; upstairs)

Chris Turnbull lives in Kemptville, Ontario. Recent pieces of continua have been published in Ottawater, Convergences, How2, ditch, and Dusie. continua is a visual text and multi-voiced performative piece. She will be launching a chapbook with above/ground press.

Jon Paul Fiorentino is the author of the novel Stripmalling, which was shortlisted for the Paragraphe Hugh MacLennan Prize for Fiction, and three poetry collections, including The Theory of the Loser Class, which was shortlisted for the A. M. Klein Prize. He lives in Montreal, where he teaches writing at Concordia University, edits Matrix magazine and runs Snare Books. His most recent poetry collection is Indexical Elegies.

Gary Barwin is a poet, fiction writer, composer and performer. His publications include poetry: Outside the Hat, Raising Eyebrows, Servants of Dust, anus porcupine eyebrow and frogments from the frag pool (with derek beaulieu) ; and fiction: Doctor Weep and other Strange Teeth, Big Red Baby and The Mud Game (a novel with Stuart Ross). Forthcoming books include The Obvious Flap (with Gregory Betts) and Kafka Franzlations: A Guide to the Imaginary Parables (with Hugh Thomas and Craig Conley). He was the co-winner of the 2009 bpNichol chapbook award for Inverting the Deer and was a recipient of the K. M. Hunter Foundation Artist award. Barwin is also the author of several books for kids, including Seeing Stars, which was nominated for a CLA YA Book of the Year and an Arthur Ellis Award. He lives in Hamilton, Ontario, with his wife and three children. His most recent book is The Porcupinity of the Stars.

Monday, October 18, 2010

the ottawa international writers festival 2010 fall edition, october 20-26

The fall edition of our own little writers festival starts Wednesday night, with venues in and around Ottawa South, and authors including Kenneth J. Harvey, Michael Cunningham, A.J. Somerset, Joshua Ferris, Sheila Heti, Ken Sparling, Tariq Ramadan, Lisa Foad, Amber Dawn, Peter Robinson, Charlotte Gray, Roy MacSkimming, Alison Pick, Kate Pullinger, Marcus McCann, Merilyn Simonds, Wayne Grady, John Lavery, Sandra Ridley, George Murray, Peter Norman, Alexander MacLeod, Elizabeth Hay and plenty of others. Check out their website for event and ticket information; see you there!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Saturday, October 16, 2010

the ottawa small press book fair: today,

When James Spyker and I founded the ottawa small press book fair in late 1994, we were patterning our event loosely on what we knew of the Toronto version, co-founded some seven years earlier by Toronto writers and small press enthusiasts Stuart Ross and Nicholas Power as an extension of their monthly ‘Meet the Presses.’ During the early 1990s in Ottawa, there was an emerging, albeit scattered, community of small press, all without a venue to properly display and sell their wares. Those interested in such were forced to look further afield for attention, whether Toronto or Montreal, or even Vancouver, and New York. There were certainly no outlets available to discuss chapbooks, or coherent bookstore space. As well, like little islands of production, most of these producers of poetry, fiction and/or non-fiction books, chapbooks, journals, comics, zines and pamphlets seemed to barely have any awareness of each other. The first thing we wanted was to help develop a community that was at least aware of themselves, even before introducing that community to the larger world. How can anything improve or develop when compared only to itself?

There is sometimes the misconception that small/micro press purely exists as some kind of farm team for larger publishers, as though the step from one to the other inevitable, and step solely in one direction, presumably up. It’s much like the idea, for some, that writing poetry is automatic precursor to fiction, but those inside know the difference (every poodle is a dog, but not every dog, a poodle). Certainly, some of those who have published poetry chapbooks with Leigh Nash and Andrew Faulkner’s The Emergency Response Unit or Cameron Anstee’s Apt. 9 Press might also engage with book publishers, whether currently or down that hopeful road, but jwcurry and the myriad publications that fill his table exist purely and deliberately along the margins of small publishing. His small items might never see the inside of a bookstore, and are predominantly experienced either through direct knowledge of his catalogue, or attending a small press book fair, otherwise his thirty-plus years of publishing become completely invisible.

One of the things that wasn’t really discussed during the whole Toronto Small Press Fair ugliness a couple of years ago was the real function that these fairs play within the community, whether the Toronto fair, Broken Pencil’s Canzine, Montreal’s Expozine or the ottawa small press book fair, going strong at twice a year since fall 1994. Over the years, other fairs have emerged and disappeared, one as suddenly as the other, including an Ottawa zine fair that happened twice in the mid-1990s, and our own Word On The Street that seemed to come and go without too much real fanfare. Other fairs across the country seem to appear and disappear as well, including those organized in Vancouver, Hamilton, Edmonton, Fredericton and St. Catharine’s, Ontario. Those of us who organize these small press fairs are predominantly volunteers, working unpaid positions of love, and do so as caretakers for inherently community-driven events; if the events don’t fulfill and anticipate the needs of the community they serve, what purposes do they actually fill?

There are still rumours of problems at the Toronto fair, despite a few coordinator shifts since the “struggles,” and despite everything the current organizers have accomplished. Meet the Presses, the original 1984 pre-cursor to the Toronto fair, has even returned, thanks to founders Ross and Power, along with a board of other small press creators. Ebbs and flows, any community knows. Things slow down as one others rise to fill their place, but it can take as many threads of consistency to hold a community together. The landscape was certainly different when we started our little fair in the capital. There were no Chapters, General Distribution still existed, Coach House was still known as “Press,” and we still enjoyed independent booksellers such as The Double Hook in Montreal, Books Canada and Food for Thought Books in Ottawa, and all those west coast Duthie’s locations. The next wave of small press hadn’t yet taken hold, still sullen from the hangovers of the past. Presses have since come and gone and others begun, and yet we are still here, working to support those that insist and persist, including AngelHousePress, Room 302 Books, BuschekBooks, the Ottawa Arts Review and other local ventures, as well as those who travel a bit further to engage in that conversation called literature. We have not only persevered, but thrived, a room of our own twice a year in Jack Purcell Community Centre on Elgin Street, a room we invite the whole world to be part of.

Friday, October 15, 2010

12 or 20 questions: with Marilyn Irwin

A graduate of the winter 2010 edition of rob mclennan's seasonal poetry workshops and forthcoming graduate of Algonquin's Creative Writing program, Marilyn Irwin [photo by John W. MacDonald] can be seen (mostly) and heard (less) in and around the multi-faceted poetry scene of Ottawa, with work appearing in ottawater and Bywords, and recently, above/ground press reissued her little self-published chapbook, for when you pick daisies (2010).
1 - How did your first chapbook change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
As my self-published chapbook (for when you pick daisies) just hit the book table in July of this year and the above/ground re-issue- August, I don’t yet know fully how it will change my life. Up to now, though, I think it has given me a concrete glimpse into the life of a writer and, admittedly, I like what I’ve seen. Self-publishing was an adventure unto its own and the desire to repeat the process is lingering, for sure. Because of the small batch made, the re-issue brought exposure to a wider audience which can only be a good thing.
My most recent work seems to be a reflection of the honing of the style I’ve been writing in, in recent years. I almost always write in free verse although I do dabble in westernized Haiku. I used to write a lot of ballads when I first started out but, since taking up the guitar, and having read more modern and experimental poetry in recent years, I feel the ballads a bit grey for the wide spectrum of possibility within poetry.
2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
Growing up, I wasn’t surrounded by much poetry other than your standard nursery rhymes, The Cremation of Sam McGee and the like. I reserved writing for short stories but could never persevere. When I discovered poetry in high school, a light turned on or a door shut or a butterfly flew and I haven’t strayed since.
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’ve never timed myself but it can take anywhere from the listening length of a song to an album or two, depending on what I’m attempting to do and what the piece demands.
I usually write when I have an idea; a word, a phrase, a concept that distracts me from whatever I might be doing at the time and then revisit and work through it later that day when I do have time to give it the attention it deserves.
Depending on the piece, one draft may be all that seems necessary where another may be more jumbley on the way out and requires a bit more love, often carrying only a single concept or word from its original form. I always write by hand and, so, some drafts might seem unbearably illegible to some but, at times, the messiness is inherent to the creative process.
4 - Where does a poem 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?
When I write a poem, I don’t consciously set out with a beginning, a middle part and an ending; I sketch down, up and sideways until an image appears and then smudge until the image becomes recognizable and congruous.
I never set out to write a collective to string them as a whole as I feel they are whole, individually. That being said, it was tremendous fun pushing them all together to form a different kind of meaning in my chapbook and that thought now follows me around.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I’m generally conflicted between my nervosity towards public speaking and my strong desire to share my work and hear how it sounds aloud, experience how it’s received. I find it a very useful tool in the editing stages of the creative process and find reading my work aloud much easier once the objective of each poem and, subsequently, each reading becomes clear in my mind.
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?
As a living, breathing organism constantly in flux, adapting to change within me and my surroundings; I, too, am constantly in flux within my work; seeking the boundaries of words (and wordplay) and the way they fit together to form meaning. Not all would agree all poetry has to have meaning and they’re probably right: art can be art for the sake of being art, but I purposefully inject a healthy dose of subtext in everything I do in the hopes that a question or an answer lies between the lines of my work for someone, somewhere.
I think I raise as many questions as I provide answers to questions yet asked.
I think the current questions are the same as the archived questions with modern wording. One might question: why are we still posing them?
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?
Like any artist, the role of the writer, aware or not, is to provide insight or bring a sense of understanding of the reader’s surroundings, their darkest fears, their loveliest highs and everything in between. The writer, aware or not, is here to make sense out of things that often have no sense at all, through simple sense, non-sense and any other sense capable of being described and portrayed through the use of words.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
I’ve not had the pleasure/adventure but imagine it would be fun and useful- as it has been in workshopping, to gain some objectivity on my work (always a good and valuable thing!).
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
Write. Just write.
10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to songwriting)? What do you see as the difference?
I don’t know if it’s a question of ease that dictates if one feels successful at one genre or medium over another but I do seem to perceive when a piece requires music and when it’s this fully-clothed body unto its own. With writing music, the words generally come after the chording, so it’s never really been a question or of any inconvenience.
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?
Typically, I wake up too early and work my 9-5, so my time for writing is limited to lunch time, after work and, depending, during or after school. I carry writing tools and a notebook on me at all times and this truly makes the difference between writing down a fleeting thought and forgetting about it. I also keep pen and paper by my bedside which has proved valuable for those bed-time clearing-of-the-mind-thoughts and those waking-up-at-3 am-for-no-reason-thoughts. For fun, I keep small, random scraps of ideas in a candy jar if I ever feel the need to write but haven’t a single thought in my head (although, I’ve only ever added to it).
12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
If I’m stuck, I tend to take pause from the work itself and whatever else I’m doing at the time. Sometimes, getting up to wash the dishes helps take away the sensory overload my mind is experiencing to sort out a line. Others, a good night’s sleep or, others still; a change in soundtrack or a flip through a thesaurus can be the key.
13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Lilacs. Freshly combined fields.
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?
Most definitely; anything that has someone else’s imprint of creativity and sounds appealing to my ears, catches my eyes, rolls over tongue; I consider an influence. It’s hard to separate and label everything that my mind processes and filters in a day but it could be as simple as a ray of sun peeking through the yellow and brown leaves of the tree in my backyard and speckling onto my arm as I type this response to the sounds of Radiohead wailing in the background, after having read your blog and glancing at photos of steampunk art.
15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
The vibrant multitude of writers and readers and artists in Ottawa plays a heavy role in this seemingly one-act play. I believe no writer stands alone in the things s/he brings to the stage or the page and no civilian is complete without being exposed to the things these gracious and talented people do and offer; some, daily. In no particular order, current and livewire writers such as one notorious rob mclennan, the bright and descriptive Frances Boyle, the word-twirling Christine McNair, the word-smithing Pearl Pirie, the word-throttling Marcus McCann, the elusive Joe Blades, the rural treasure-trove that is Phil Hall, the endearing, echoing Cameron Anstee (and the list does go on) have all had an impact on the various perspectives I carry with me and bring to my writing, whether conscious or otherwise. The same goes for the perhaps more notorious Robert Service, E. A. Poe, P. K. Page, Kerouac, cummings, and on. If these elements or foresights are in my writing, it means, by extension, they’ve become a part of my life outside of my work and, for that, I am ever-grateful, ever-enriched. Like a good and sifted flour.
16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
In terms of printed word, I think I have much more to learn and accomplish. A lot more. I would like to more closely explore the art of self-publishing and its various offerings; I’d like to have enough poetry to fill a real, live trade book; I’d like to write more fiction and non-fiction in varying lengths and styles and forms;
Aside from that, I’d like to keep on experiencing this vast and misunderstood thing we call life and all that entails. Spaceship Captain, Inventor, and organic vegetable farmer are all viable, future titles, some kidding aside.
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?
As it is, I do not write full-time (gosh, that would be great!), and currently work for a local not-for-profit organization while schooling in the evening towards becoming a Library and/or Information Technician. If I had to throw that list in the recycling bin, though, I’d probably become an organic vegetable farmer, some kidding aside.
18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
The written word and the understanding of it made me write. I’ve always written (with | intermittent | pauses). Reading, hearing good writing, and that little voice inside my head that tells me to write keep me writing.
19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
I’ve been digesting a lot of smaller stuff one wouldn’t necessarily classify as “book”, with an even taller pile at the ready. I had an aversion for the longest time towards “classics” but finally bit the bullet and read some, like 1984 and Jonathan Livingston Seagull in recent months and was forced to re-evaluate some things- always a good thing. I suppose “The Best of Robert Service” would count as a book and, so, that might be the end of the beginning of this answer. As for the last great film I saw..whatever it was, it was probably something amazing, profound or extremely interesting on the National Film Board of Canada’s website (
20 - What are you currently working on?
I’m currently working on writing more. Period. I’m interested in the weight of mini-short (short-short?) fiction/non-fiction as a direct result of the wonderful things Sheila Heti (and others) have graced pages with. Perhaps another chappy might surface as a result of all this and that but, for the immediate future, writing more- period, is the most foreseeable and attainable goal. Period.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Cara Benson, (made)

The mud dancers expatriate themselves. Shoveling and sticks. There is mold on the crafts in the sky. Satellite collision no bleach will rectify. If the long table can seat ten, why not thirteen? No feathers found. No cakey reminder. The unpleasant and uncomfortable fact of matter. Do not pause onscreen. Wander, but delete, too. Standby. Shed skins of inhabitants, some rustic relic. The eyes alone cannot see. Hold one in your hand as proof.

How can you aim a fire?
Whose stone is this? (“quo jure?”)
Lately I’ve been reminded of conversations around the American prose-poem and all its variations, intrigued by what American poet Cara Benson and others have been working with, and working from. What else to call what Benson is doing? Perhaps labelling is outside the point. But why does Canadian poetry not seem to be part of the same conversation of the prose poem as Eric Baus, Lydia Davis, Juliana Spahr, Sarah Manguso, sentence: a journal of prose poetics, Sheila E. Murphy and so many others? With Sina Queyras, Rob Budde, Nathalie Stephens and a few other exceptions, of course. What is it about the long line wrapped beyond line-break appeals to them that doesn’t to us? Part of what appeals in Cara Benson’s first trade collection, (made) (Toronto ON: BookThug, 2010), is in the length, a sideways binding and design allowing the perfect form for her extensions, not blocked into little squares but like banners, letting them strafe across the page. There is such a lovely surreal shift and ebb and flow in Benson’s lines, turning in on themselves or stopping full on a dime, in a book with few answers and questions staggered across a breath between, but not limited, by parenthesis. Still, what is (made)? What is created and what simply exists?
To steal a hole one must first have desire. Night is how we picture this usually, though day will do. Brown in the ground, and loosely piled beside the fillings displaced. Take whatever was forgotten now found in all the coat pockets of the world into your cupped hands which act as conduits into the hole. Sticky coins, shredded tissues, lots of lint, keys, paperclips, frayed grocery lists, probably buttons. The hole of course will overflow with such obfuscation. An absconding to return to.

From whom do you? (“Hooligans”)

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

12 or 20 questions: with Steven Heighton

Steven Heighton's most recent books are the novel Every Lost Country (May 2010) and the poetry collection Patient Frame (April 2010). He is also the author of the novel Afterlands, which appeared in six countries, was a New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice, and was a "best of year" selection in ten publications in Canada, the USA, and the UK. The book has recently been optioned for film. He has also published The Shadow Boxer—a Canadian bestseller and a Publishers’ Weekly Book of the Year for 2002—which appeared in five countries. His other fiction books are the story collections Flight Paths of the Emperor and On earth as it is, while his poetry collections include The Ecstasy of Skeptics and The Address Book.

His fiction and poetry have been translated into ten languages, have appeared in London Review of Books, Tin House, Poetry, Brick, The Independent, London Magazine, Malahat Review, Agni, The Walrus, Poetry London and Revue Europe, have been internationally anthologised (Best English Stories, Best of Best English Stories, The Minerva Book of Stories and others) and have been nominated for the Governor General’s Award, the Trillium Award, a Pushcart Prize, the Journey Prize, and Britain’s W.H. Smith Award. Heighton has received the Gerald Lampert Award, the 2010 K.M. Hunter Award (literature), The Petra Kenney Prize, the Air Canada Award, and gold medals for fiction and for poetry in the National Magazine Awards. He has been the writer-in-residence at Concordia University; at Massey College, U of T; at McArthur College, Queen's University; at the University of Ottawa; and at CMR/RMC. He has also taught at the Summer Literary Seminars in St. Petersburg, Russia, and in the writing program of the Banff School of Fine Arts. He lives with his family in Kingston, Ontario.

1 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I didn't. I've written poetry and fiction concurrently all along. Both felt necessary from the start and both still do.

2 - 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?
It takes a while to start, and then it spills out fast, and then, in the final stages, things slow down again. As for my first drafts, they're a catastrophe.

3 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
The first book ratified something, for sure, but it didn't change my life. I already considered myself a writer. Maybe that was arrogant, but if so, who cares? Sometimes it's useful for a young writer to be a touch arrogant, if only to drown out the voice of self-doubt--to coach and coax and goad oneself on, to keep writing.

I'm not sure how my recent work compares to my earlier work--it would take a reader or a critic to say for sure.

4 - Where does a poem or prose 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?
In general, both poems and fiction start with a strong, clear impulse, or image, or line, or scene, then flow off into the unknown while I try to follow. In other words, I have a beginning, but I never have an end. I have to write my way towards the end, and create/discover it in the act of writing.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I like doing readings in the same way I love teaching: once in a while but not constantly. Like most writers (I guess) I'm an introvert and used to spending my days alone, writing. Reading or teaching are exciting and stimulating, yes, but ultimately they're draining, so before long I want to retreat to my bomb-shelter and get on with the work.

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?

The problem with allowing theories or ideologies to understrap your creative work is that they prescribe answers that you unconsciously (or consciously) write towards. Which is death, I think, for any creative enterprise. But of course there are ideological, or at least moral, questions I'm posing to myself when I write. (Questions but no clear answers.) These days as a writer I seem to be circling issues of ethical intervention: when is it right to intervene in a situation and when does it make matters worse? Can you even tell beforehand? I guess basically now I'm writing to try to understand how to be a good person. That sounds banal, I know, but there it is.

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?
Same as ever: speaking truth to power on the one hand, celebrating what's good in the world on the other, and making art out of the effort.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
No, I love it. And a good editor is only "outside" initially. Before long, he or she slips into the text and inhabits it with you--which makes the process a touch less lonely in the latter stages. A good editor can always help you make a book better; I have no patience with divo and diva writers who won't let editors touch their work.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
"Locate your material" (Norman Levine). In other words, stop drilling for oil in the seabed when you're the sort of writer who should be mining mica in the woods. It's awful to think how many good books have never been written because the writers were writing the wrong stuff--trying to be something they weren't. And who knows? Maybe that's what I'm doing myself. It's so hard to know, from inside a life.

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to fiction to non-fiction)? What do you see as the appeal?
My poetry and fiction are really distinct--I feed my lyric impulses into poetry and my narrative into fiction, without a lot of overlap--and one reason I like moving between genres is that each provides a true refuge, or break, from the other. Like a musician switching between instruments, or a visual artist moving between media, the change refreshes me, shakes things up, keeps me from going into default mode and repeating myself--always a danger for a writer who has been doing it for over twenty years.

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've got a family now and so I follow a more conventional schedule than I once did. My average writing day now runs from 9 or 10 till 4 or 5. But it's not all writing, unfortunately. There's a lot of clerical/secretarial work mixed in there--email, above all.

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

I just keep hacking away at the problem till it yields, or until I can convince myself it has.

13 - What was your most recent Hallowe'en costume?
I tried to dress up as James Dean, or as Marlon Brando in The Wild One--you know, jeans with the hems rolled, black leather jacket, a black leather cap--but everyone thought I was supposed to be one of the Village People.

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?

Yes, absolutely, all of the above. But McFadden is right too. There's a sort of layered template of other books behind every book you write. We're all apprentices--as were our masters.

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
I couldn't begin to answer this one. I can tell you, though, that these days I read more newspapers and news blogs (and the commenting posts) than anything else. In fact, the poem I'm working on right now is a response to a news story I encountered online.

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Learn to dance salsa and sing harmony onstage with Emmy Lou Harris (not at the same time).

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?

Maybe a doctor with MSF or some other outfit of that kind. Yes, I think so (see above, answer # 6).

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

I liked it, I was good at it, and there were no other things I could think of doing for the rest of my life that I liked enough and was also good at. Plus, I never wanted to have a boss. I wanted to be able to work at home, in my boxer shorts or pyjamas, with my dog on the rug beside me. And I'm lucky to be doing that.

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

George Orwell's HOMAGE TO CATALONIA (or maybe Paul Celan's SELECTED POEMS, translated by Michael Hamburger).

Paul Thomas Anderson's THERE WILL BE BLOOD (or maybe Theodore Dreyer's THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC).

20 - What are you currently working on?
A book of stories, which Knopf will publish next year or the year after. It's two-thirds (I think) done. Most of the stories are from the POV of women. I'm loving the change and the challenge.

Thanks for your questions.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Thirty Books

I received this book challenge from Mark McCawley recently over facebook, to compile a list of my own, which I have finally got around to doing only yesterday, so thought I should repeat here; why not? This is my list, a list of books that seem to stick; I’ve done lists like this before, so there might be some repeats, and other things that have stuck in my head for more recent reasons. But perhaps not? Not done in any particular order and done (as suggested) without thinking “too much.” Still. Will thirty even be enough?

THE RULES: Don't take too long to think about it. Thirty books (providing you've read 30 or more!) you've read that will always stick with you. List the first 30 you can recall in no more than thirty minutes. Tag thirty friends (providing you have 30 friends who read) including me, because I'm a little curious to see what books my friends choose.

1. Milan Kundera, Immortality
2. Michael Ondaatje, Coming Through Slaughter
3. George Bowering, Delayed Mercy
4. John Newlove, The Night the Dog Smiled
5. Barry McKinnon, The Centre: Poems 1970-2000
6. Elizabeth Smart, By Grand Central Station I Sat Down And Wept
7. Paige Ackerson-Kiely, In No One's Land
8. Lynn Crosbie, Queen Rat: New and Selected Poems
9. Artie Gold, The Beautiful Chemical Waltz
10. Sarah Manguso, The Captain Lands in Paradise
11. Sheila Watson, The Double Hook
12. Rob Budde, traffick
13. Robert Kroetsch, Completed Field Notes
14. Michael Redhill, Lake Nora Arms
15. Suzanne Buffam, Past Imperfect
16. Dany Laferriere, How to Make Love to a Negro (without getting tired)
17. Steve McCaffery, Seven Pages Missing, Volume One
18. Dennis Cooley, Sunfall
19. D.G. Jones, Wild Asterisks in Cloud
20. Anik See, Saudade: The Possibilities of Place
21. Eirin Moure, Sheep's Vigil by a Fervent Person
22. Ken Sparling, For Those Whom God Has Blessed with Fingers
23. Lisa Robertson, Lisa Robertson’s Magenta Soul Whip
24. Andy Weaver, Were The Bees
25. Richard Brautigan, The Abortion: An Historical Romance 1966
26. Elizabeth Hay, The Only Snow in Havana
27. Robert Kroetsch, A Likely Story
28. Sarah Manguso, Two Kinds of Decay
29. Roy Kiyooka, Transcanada Letters
30. Cole Swensen, Such Rich Hour

Friday, October 08, 2010

Ottawa’s Chinatown Gateway

Yesterday, the arch that we’ve seen slowly building up over Somerset Street West at Cambridge was finally unveiled in a ceremony that included John Baird, Ottawa Mayor Larry O’Brien, and the Chinese Ambassador to Canada, Lan Lijun. Said to be the most beautiful arch of its kind in Canada (alongside pre-existing arches in Edmonton, Montreal and Vancouver), it was built to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Canada-China Diplomatic Relations, and called a “twin-city project between the Cities of Ottawa and Beijing.” My photos of the royal style arch simply don’t do it justice, and really needs to be seen to be believed, such as in late afternoon, as the setting sun breezes through the glazed tiles and layers of gold leaf. For further pictures, there was a blog created to showcase the construction, which took six months and included a dozen green-uniformed artisans from China’s Hunan province who arrived in April to construct the 12-metre arch. What will the other communities around Ottawa do in response? Is this why we’ve seen, over the past few weeks, that series of fifteen statues appearing along the stretch of Preston Street, or those white sculptures that have mysteriously grown up around Parkdale along Wellington Street West?

Thursday, October 07, 2010

William Hawkins, Apt. 9 Press

William Hawkins’ work is important in Ottawa, as well as more broadly in Canada. The 1960s were fertile, active years in Canadian small press publishing, but discussions of such are largely focused on Toronto and Montreal and Vancouver. In Hawkins, we have an Ottawa-based model deserving of celebration.

The writing, of course, stands up today. His poetic accomplishments were consolidated in the 2005 selected poems, Dancing Alone. However, the details of his publishing intersect with a broad cross section of people and events that made invaluable contributions to the development of Canadian Literature. Shoot Low Sheriff was published in the wake of the famous 1963 UBC conference where Allen Ginsberg, Robert Creeley, Charles Olson and others influenced the next generation of Canadian poets. Ottawa Poems was published by Nelson Ball’s now legendary Weed/Flower press. Hawkins’ inclusion in the Raymond Souster edited New Wave Canada not only saw him published by Contact Press, but also published alongside early work by Michael Ondaatje, bpNichol, Victor Coleman and Daphne Marlatt (then Daphne Buckle) among a long list of others. See Roy MacSkimming's excellent introduction to Dancing Alone for further description, but these details of Hawkins’ publishing life are important. They place him in significant currents and developments in Canadian poetry. Yet, the specific details of this publishing activity have remained scattered. (Cameron Anstee, Wm Hawkins: A Descriptive Bibliography)
After months of work, Cameron Anstee’s Apt. 9 Press has finally released Wm Hawkins: A Descriptive Bibliography (Ottawa ON: Apt. 9 Press, 2010), as well as the simultaneous Sweet & Sour Nothings (2010), a “lost” poem of Hawkins. Held together as a folio, Wm Hawkins: A Descriptive Bibliography lists Hawkins’ work over the years in trade, chapbook, broadside and a few anthologies; being detailed, but not exhaustive; the list doesn’t include journal publications, for example, or that magnificent anthology Northern Comfort, the transcript of a reading in the Byward Market hosted by and dedicated to Hawkins. Instead, the detail comes from the individual titles, compiling small stories to go along with Shoot Low Sheriff, They’re Riding Shetland Ponies! (1964), Hawkins: Poems 1963-1965 (Ottawa ON: Nil Press, 1966), Ottawa Poems (Kitchener ON: Weed/Flower Press, 1966) and The Madman’s War (Ottawa ON: S.A.W. Publications, 1974), and even reprints some of his poster poems from the early 1960s (a magnificent rare treat in of themselves), yet doesn’t delve into the near complete silence from 1974 up to the publication of his second selected poems, Dancing Alone: Selected Poems (Fredericton NB: Broken Jaw Press, 2005). Considered the most dangerous (and one of the most active) poets in Ottawa from 1964 to 1974, what, exactly, happened?

I see an adjectival world.
And I consider all
nouns improper.

In freezing rain—
in March—
in a cold place
filled with diffident people.

There is no antonym for freezing rain I recognize.


Seeing Eagles in the dark—
pathetic hallucinations
suffered by one
out of every three.

One out of three.

Trinity is what is sought—
ill deserved and poorly defined.

One out of three
does not play
with a full deck.
The chapbook Sweet & Sour Nothings, a thirty-five part poem, is, as Anstee writes in the bibliography, originally appeared in Anthos: volume two – numbers one & two – Special/Double Ottawa issue (1980), and “Like the new material printed in The Gift of Space, this since poem represents enough material for a separate, new book relative to the size of his previous titles. In fact, an announcement in the Ottawa Citizen from 1980 states: ‘Bill Hawkins, whose new book, Sweet and Sour Nothings, is coming out this year.’ It is clear that this was intended to be a complete book.” Again, what happened? Was the manuscript itself abandoned, or does it sit somewhere in Hawkins’ archives, perhaps even long lost or thrown away? There are many questions here left unanswered, and the fact that the author is not only alive but available makes the gaps even that much more frustrating.

Still, there is much here to admire, and much to appreciate, and hopefully this will be but the beginning of new and further attention for William Hawkins work. Might it even prod Old Railroad Bill (as he calls himself, sometimes) to start writing anew?

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

the ottawa small press fair; pre-fair reading;

the ottawa small press book fair
pre-fair reading, fall 2010 edition,
lovingly hosted by rob mclennan

with readings by:

Helen Hajnoczky (Calgary/Montreal)
Natasha Nuhanovic (Toronto)
Suzanne Bowness (Ottawa) 
& Peter Gibbon (Ottawa)

Friday, October 15, 2010;
doors 7pm; reading 7:30pm
The Carleton Tavern, 223 Armstrong Street (at Parkdale; upstairs)

Helen Hajnoczky's poetry has appeared in fillingStation, Matrix, NoD, Rampike, and Speechless magazines, as well as in a variety of chapbooks. She has served as assistant editor of NoD magazine, as poetry editor of fillingStation magazine, and is a weekly contributor to the literary blog Lemon Hound. She lives in Montreal where she is working on an MA in Middle English literature. Her first book, Poets and Killers: A Life in Advertising, will be available in November from Snare Books.

Natasha Nuhanovic was born in 1984 in Zagreb, Croatia. At nine, she moved to Germany, and at fourteen, to Canada. Natasha completed an Honours B.A. in English and German Literature at the University of Waterloo and an M.A. in Comparative Literature at the University of Toronto. Her poems have been published in literary journals in Germany, Bosnia and Canada, and in the chapbook Painted Photographs (2005). She has translated poems from and into German, English and Serbo-Croatian. Stray Dog Embassy (Mansfield Press, 2010), is her first full-length book.

Suzanne (Sue) Bowness's first book of poetry, The Days You've Spent, was published in 2010 by Tightrope Books. Her poetry has previously been published in journals including the Literary Review of Canada and Pagitica. Her play The Reading Circle is a past winner of the Ottawa Little Theatre's National One-Act Playwriting Competition (2006). She is a freelance writer and editor online at

Peter Gibbon
has been living and writing in Ottawa for the past seven years. A longtime editor at In/Words Magazine & Press, a former host of the In/Words Monthly Open-mic series, and recent recipient of an M.A. in Canadian Studies, he is plotting a new little magazine, CONDUIT (due out in Spring 2011). Recent chapbooks include eating thistles (Apt. 9 Press 2010) Blizzard: Ottawa City Stories (In/Words 2009, with Jeff Blackman) and three poems (HORSEBROKE 2009).

& don't forget the actual ottawa small press book fair the following day, at jack purcell community centre, noon-5pm;

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

12 or 20 questions: with Rhonda Douglas

Rhonda Douglas' first book of poetry, Some Days I Think I Know Things: The Cassandra Poems, was published by Signature Editions in 2008. Her writing has won prizes in The Newfoundland and Labrador Arts & Letters Competition, and the Gregory J. Power Poetry Competition. Her poetry has also won the Far Horizons Award from The Malahat Review, Arc Poetry Magazine’s Diana Brebner award, and been short-listed for the John Newlove Award and This Magazine’s Great Canadian Literary Hunt. Her poetry and short fiction has been published in literary journals in Canada and overseas. She is pursuing a MFA in Creative Writing at the University of British Columbia.

Rhonda is originally from Grand Bank, Newfoundland and now lives in Ottawa, Ontario with her daughter Emma.

1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
I’m not sure it did, all that much. When my first book came out I was two weeks into a divorce, so it’s all a bit of a blur. I think that it probably gave me some greater sense of confidence, in terms of my ability to stay with a longer project. My current work is very different. The first book (Some Days I Think I Know Things: The Cassandra Poems) was character-based, and so the voice was not my own – acknowledging the limits within that frame. My current poetry manuscript is a book of dedicated lyric poems – poems written primarily as a gift or offering to someone, or referencing a personal and particular situation. It feels more harrowing – there’s nowhere to hide.

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

I wrote some short stories when I was young (as in 10 or 12) but poetry is the genre that has stayed with me most consistently over time. Even when I find most writing difficult, I can usually find my way back to poetry. I’m not entirely sure how that happened – probably through some great English teachers. In my late teens and early 20s I read an astonishing amount of poetry; I was ravenous for it.

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?
The work doesn’t really start for me as a “project” – that comes later, after enough individual poems have been written so they begin to resonate with one another, a kind of call and response. Then the project begins to show its possible future shape, though it also changes as I go. The process is quite mixed. Some poems come quickly, others from notes and months of thinking, but all of them go through multiple drafts. For my first book, I deleted a lot of poems – this was necessary and good. I still set some poems aside but fewer now. I suppose I feel slightly more confident about the process. (Oh God, I’ve probably just cursed myself!)
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?
Fiction begins with a fascinating character for me, someone I just can’t resist. That person is facing some serious dilemma or just caught in a ridiculously human moment and then things take off from there. Only when I started working on my novel did I begin to think “book-book” from the start, otherwise I prefer to deal with one dilemma at a time.

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

Readings sometimes help, with poetry at least, in that hearing myself speak the work will sometimes reveal a secret I hadn’t seen before and often I will make line corrections after reading a poem aloud. I enjoy some readings, depending on the state of the work. When I bring work out into the open too soon, I sometimes regret it. I mostly enjoy readings for seeing some writing friends – Ottawa has a very supportive literary community and so I like just hanging around and connecting, sometimes hearing a new voice or two. Those moments can be very exciting.

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?
What does it mean to be human? How do we stay grounded and sane in this crazy world? Can poetry (and short fiction) matter anymore? If so, how?
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?
Tell the truth, and tell it well. Name everything that’s wrong and draw large screaming arrows in the direction of all the rightness you can find.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
I LOVE working with a well-read editor. John Barton edited my first book and that was a fabulous experience. I don’t find it difficult at all – I find it stimulating and I enjoy the nature of the conversation. Let’s face it, for most poetry books in this country, that could be the last time anyone other than yourself plays such close attention to your work! What’s not to like?
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
I spent some time a few years ago now obsessed with the “business” or the publishing industry – how it worked, who was involved, how you could be successful within it. The best advice in that regard was from several writer friends I respect. They were subtle about it but it basically amounts to: fuck that shit, just write.
10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to short fiction)? What do you see as the appeal?
It doesn’t feel like a move between for me, though arguably it should. The content sometimes dictates the form, or perhaps at times it is the voice that dictates the form. I like working in multiple genres. I feel like the cross-pollination is healthy.
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?
Ha. Right now I am working full time and then some in the international development world, so my writing routine is suffering a little. I’m trying to get it back. My typical day begins with coffee and email, saying good-bye to my daughter as she heads off to high school, trying to figure out if I have time to shower before the first conference call or Skype meeting...somehow I think that’s not what you mean. I often write on the weekends when I can, or sometimes try to fit some writing into the travelling I do. I am also a big fan of the weekend writing retreat, and grabbing an hour in a coffee shop. Right now the writing time exists in shards, I’m afraid...but it tends to be cyclical so I suspect that will soon expand.
12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
I read poetry, always. Sometimes I will disconnect from everything, so that might look like a visit to the art gallery or a hike in the woods. I go hear other really great writers read their work, or will read interviews with writers that focus on the art itself. Stalling is just fear – it goes away.
13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Yum. I went vegetarian almost a year ago but still love the smell of meat cooking. So blood pudding and eggs frying on the stove, or turkey in the oven. My mother’s an amazing cook so any of her classics would get me....mmmm, macaroni and cheese...toudens and molasses... (Sorry, that may not translate well! Fried bread dough, basically. See? Tastes better as toudens.)
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 find that visual art and choral music, or jazz, open up the space inside me and prepare me to write. Otherwise I just read like the printed word was going out of style. (Should I get an e-reader, what do you think?)
15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
Writers are important to me for different reasons, and at different times. I read a fair number of American poets and short fiction writers. I seem to keep coming back to a number of Canadian poets: several books by Steven Heighton and Don McKay are in the piles by my bed right now. I like the marriage of the open heart to strong form. I tend to read in great fits so one month it will be all the work I have of one writer, and then another month the piles have changed. Amy Hempel and Wells Tower are in the short fiction pile. I won’t mention the novel pile because they’re new and I’ve had trouble getting into them – I’m going through a non-fiction phase so Philip Gourevitch and Lisa J. Shannon are there at the moment.
16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Complete the novel I’ve been working on for a couple of years now. Write a short story that is absolutely necessary. Hike Macchu Pichu. Live in France. Find and be capable of a crazy lifetime love.
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 doing it. My “day job” has always been working in the non-profit sector, mainly international development. I’m very blessed that way. Right now in particular I am working with membership-based organizations of urban informal workers (street vendors, home-based workers and wastepickers) and they are amazing people. I get up every day inspired to be working with them. No doubt I would get more writing work done if I had boring paid work, but it seems like a poor trade-off to me. I’m trying to write more about the issues behind my paid work. This is new (non-fiction) so we’ll see how it goes. I’ve been doing this work now for more than 20 years and never written about it.
18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
I don’t honestly know. Poetry saved me, in some sense, and I just wanted to be part of that. I love language and so spending time swimming around in it feels intrinsic to who I am. Beyond that, making stuff up is just a tonne of fun.
19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
Beatrice and Virgil, by Yann Martel. I don’t know why it got such mixed reviews – I thought it was a masterpiece. I think there’s a tendency towards impatience now with anything that isn’t as immediately accessible as a YouTube video.

Last great film is harder...I don’t go as often as I’d like to. I saw the Italian film Mid-August Lunch at the Bytowne and really enjoyed it. I don’t know if it was “great” but it was a lovely way to spend a couple of hours.

20 - What are you currently working on?

A second poetry manuscript of dedicated lyric poems, and a series of non-fiction articles on the “inclusive city.”