Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Olive Reading Series: season eleven

I’ve long been a fan of Edmonton’s Olive Reading Series, possibly even being the author most featured in its first five years, a series now well into its eleventh season. Running the course of the school year, each of the monthly readings usually features a single poet, and a publication produced as give-away at the event. Still, after years of wondering, why don’t they offer subscriptions to those of us who can’t actually attend the readings? I’m sure there are individuals and even institutions who would love to get their hands on copies. Here are a couple of these I recently received.

September 14, 2010: There can only be incredible envy, knowing that Edmonton was treated to Robert Kroetsch’s poem “All the Dead Husbands,” a thirteen-part sequence that ends with:
13 Seniors’ Residence
All the dead husbands partake
of the ache they once were.
Their widows make love to them daily,
just after three, over coffee and cake.
How many poets these days are writing pieces about living in a senior’s home? It’s no secret that Kroetsch has been, for at least a year or two, returning from Winnipeg to his hometown of Leduc, just south of Edmonton. This is classic Kroetsch, a lovely sequence easing his slow way through thinking, with echoes of the poem “After Paradise” that currently ends his Completed Field Notes (1989; reissued 2001), a poem that originally appeared very quietly at the back of an issue of Prairie Fire. With his most recent poetry collection less than a year old—his Too Bad: Sketches Toward a Self-Portrait (Edmonton AB: University of Alberta Press, 2010)—he seems to be returning to the habits of publishing, with the dual-chapbook publication The Lost Narrative of Mrs. David Thompson (Edited by Robert Kroetsch) (2009) and Ten Simple Questions for David Thompson (Recorded by Robert Kroetsch) (2009) [see my review of such here] produced through Nicole Markotić’s Windsor, Ontario Wrinkle Press, as well as the rumours of another manuscript recently deposited at Jason Dewinetz’ Greenboathouse [he refers to such here, in his “12 or 20 (small press) questions” interview]. Can another full trade collection be far behind?

October 12, 2010: A couple of years back, poet Rachel Zolf put out a call for something she called “The Tolerance Project.” As she explains at the beginning of her small chapbook:
Eighty-six writers, artists and thinkers have donated their poetic DNA to what could be the first collaborative MFA in Creative Writing ever, The Tolerance Project.

Each piece of poetic DNA donated to The Tolerance Project is assigned a barcode. Each poem written for the MFA employs traces from the donated traces. The MFA poems are restricted to The Tolerance Project Archive ( of poetic DNA for their content. MFA poems and donor barcodes are posted on The Tolerance Project blog (

Based on cumulative feedback received within and without the institution, the MFA poems posted on The Tolerance Project blog will be scrupulously revised toward the creation of The Writing Thesis.

The poems that follow employ poetic DNA traces from Tolerance Project donors Emily Beall, Joel Bettridge, Christian Bök, Jules Boykoff, Di Brandt, Angela Carr, Jen Currin, Sarah Dowling, Laura Elrick, Rob Fitterman, Lyn Hejinian, Dorothy Trujillo Lusk, Nicole Markotić, Dawn Lundy Martin, Erica Meiners, Erín Moure, The Office of Institutional Research, Bob Perelman, Tim Peterson, Vanessa Place, Kristin Prevallet, Arlo Quint, Rob Read, Kit Robinson, Susan Schultz, Juliana Spahr, John Stout, Lola Lemire Tostevin, Aaron Tucker and Rachel Zolf.
Is this truly a collaboration, or a donated series of items collaged? And how does such become writing, become poetry (I was asked to participate in the project as well, but other distractions wouldn’t allow for it, which I am currently regretting even more than before)? The author of a number of poetry collections, her third, Human Resources (Toronto ON: Coach House Books, 2007), reworked dehumanized language often used in business offices, and reworking such to explore the human aspects hidden within. I’m intrigued by such a project, wondering where such might be leading her exploration into the boundaries of reworking language from one system into another, in this case, reworking a number of other systems into another number of systems.
A limit laid down

Intercommunity of various sentiments

Na persoun sould intromet thairwith

Satisfied the curiosity of the astonished black

And Naked shaking to shew his indulgence

Flourishing despite infection with the sleeping sick

Capacity of a tree to endure cartholicity of spirit

Tamarack, Poplar, Bird Cherry, White and Black

Ash borne without producing gastric symptoms

To decorate with all the splendor of panegyric

Trees give way as water drops below standard fineness

Throwing a veil over the deformities of a product parameter

Imperfection with the instrumentality of Perfection

Under control, or to use a more Christian word, charity

How the metal cools and can be withdrawn

To what extent “dancing girls” forbears euphemism

No such thing as a literally harmless dose of radiation
February 8, 2011: I’m always interested when I see poetry by Winnipeg poet, teacher and editor Dennis Cooley, including the three poems that make up his chapbook His Vernacular Prairie. The two poems—“as for me & my id” and “others are”—sound as though they might possibly be part of his ongoing and extensive “love in a dry land” works, riffing off Sinclair Ross’ classic prairie novel, As for Me and My House (1941). Cooley’s poetic has always relied on the breath, the endless prairie line stretching and riffing across the page, and lyric pun and wordplay, furthering more than most could even be able to conceive. Is it any wonder his poetry manuscripts end up in their hundreds of pages, boiled down or excerpted for the sake of trade publication? If this is from his long-awaited project, it would join other previously-published pieces including poems from Sunfall: new and selected poems (Toronto ON: House of Anansi, 1996), the “Dennis Cooley issue” of Prairie Fire (1998) and the trade volumes Country Music: New Poems (Vernon BC: Kalamalka Press, 2004) and The Bentleys (Edmonton AB: University of Alberta Press, 2006). Just how does a work get so big?

And as an added bonus, the bio to his chapbook mentions that he is “working on several manuscripts, including a collection of essays on Robert Kroetsch,” which will certainly be worth the wait; but why must we wait?

For more information on any of their publications or the series itself, check them out at:

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