Monday, November 28, 2011

Ongoing notes: the ottawa small press book fair

Can you believe another small press fair has come and gone? If you need more, the fall edition of The Toronto Small Press Fair comes up on December 10 at the University of Toronto’s Hart House. Otherwise, you have to wait for spring. Can you wait that long?

Don’t forget the triple-launch on December first at the Carleton Tavern [details here], with Christine McNair launching a chapbook (see Cameron Anstee’s review on the ottawa poetry newsletter here), Matthew Firth launching a collection of short stories and Bardia Sinaee launching a chapbook as well. Might we see you?

Ottawa/Toronto ON: It was great to see Ottawa poet Nicholas Lea participate in the pre-fair reading, especially since he gave perhaps his finest reading so far, to launch the chapbook Actual Girl (Toronto ON: The Emergency Response Unit, 2011), following up his trade collection, Everything is movies (Ottawa ON: Chaudiere Books, 2007). Quiet in the interim, Lea’s poems have deepened, lengthened, and developed a level of maturity. When I say quiet, I mean almost completely silent, with little released into the world in the four years since his trade book appeared, nary a poem appearing in an anthology or journal but for the rare one or two. Just where has he been?
Reading Fanny Howe

It's gotten to the point
where it isn't about an image
but the drug of its self.

Every calamity has
its certainty-music
and by contrast
its unreality.

It's true I've been wanting
to be someone at all.

Wires swing
like skipping ropes, but
I promise
it's not about images.

Sun in the haze
a milky bulb.
I promise.
Nicholas Lea has always been partial to the formalists, existing somewhere between lyric metaphor and more abstract surrealism. Imagine, if you will, somewhere in the scale from David O’Meara to Kevin Connolly to Stuart Ross. I admire his careful poems, quietly reworked as far away as possible before releasing them, carved and ready to an eagerly awaiting audience. The poems take as long as they take, I suppose.
Actual Girl
A vital flower winks
at the gawking boy
holding a candle popsicle.

This was no average savage
bicycle romp. We sat lipless
on a rock with ocean spiders.

I saw you renew,
watched you chew

the mush dark, you,
actual girl.
Ottawa ON: Pearl Pirie released In Air/Air Out: 21 Poets for the Guatemala Stove Project (phafours press, 2011), quietly edited and published by her as a fundraiser for a project that provides stoves for Guatemalan homes (one can find out more information, as well as donate directly at their website, A lovely small chapbook already going into a second printing, it is filled with new text and visuals by Amanda Earl, Allison Armstrong, Shai Ben-Shalom, James DeMers, Rick Kempa, Rhonda Melanson, Mike Montreuil, Nedjo Rogers, Luminita Suse, Robert Swereda, Danielle Susi, Kevin Spenst, Jade Scapillato, Monty Reid, My Name Is Scot, Adrienne Mercer, Phil Hall, Candra, Dawn Corrigan, Jeremy Colangelo and even myself.
Breathe In the Difference
Choose our brand of air. It’s the purest
and each canister lasts a guaranteed eight hours.
Don’t trust what our competitors say.
We begin with pristine elements. Our oxygen
is recovered from pockets in the last of the polar ice.
You don’t want to take any chances
when you’re on a road trip
protected from the choking multitudes only by
your thin membrane of bulletproof glass. (Nedjo Rogers)
Given that the chapbook was produced as a fundraiser for Guatemalan families to be able to breathe cleaner air, as opposed to fire-pits in their homes that filled their lungs and their rooms up with smoke, the “air” theme is quite interesting, a provides for an interesting grouping of poems. What might a group of writers do with such a similar theme or idea?
11. Denver – Mexico City

All air is hard air.

There’s a storm in the Gulf and another
winding itself up in the Pacific
and the continent is squeezed into a funnel
through which we all eventually disappear.

If you put the air into the machine
it will make you anything.

It will make you butterflies. (Monty Reid)

Ottawa ON: Odourless Press, as well as hosting a website of new and reprinted material (sometimes, unfortunately, without permission, which has got them into a speck of trouble), has edged into producing chapbooks, with sealed envelopes holding copies of Jeff Blackman’s Back To My Old Self (2011) and Bardia Sinaee’s Royal Jelly: five poems (2011). Both poets originally came out of CarletonUniversity’s In/Words magazine and press, an informal group that produce a journal, occasional chapbooks and a reading series, and a number of writers have come through their ranks, including Cameron Anstee, Ben Ladouceur, David Currie, jesslyn delia smith and plenty of others.
by fifty, I’ll be great” think myself a natural wonder waiting to be discovered or maybe win the lottery (everyone will eventually) or would I tend to keep my faith in the mirror, scale in proportion to the neighbours, avoid failure, those conversations

(never having been through revolution) a genuine surprise when the rally ends
the pals from the old neighbourhood get real quiet when the lyrics change the song

not what the earnest expect, like the wrongly imprisoned;
muster an excuse that rhymes with dupes

so sing a psalm: everyday I’ll make mistakes tomorrow I’ll make most of them
Ottawa writer Jeff Blackman edits/publishes the journal Moose and Pussy, and was recently the first runner-up for Carleton’s 2011 George Johnston Poetry Prize. His small leaflet/chapbook Back To My Old Self contains a small handful of uneven poems. There are some good moments here, including in the George Johnston-shortlisted “Mario in Koopaland circa Movember,” but are often obscured. His shorter-lined poems, perhaps the constraint of shorter lines themselves, provide more clarity, purpose and strike, such as the end of the poem “Single Player’s Revival,” that reads:
a bliss of gravity
against the centre
Iranian-born and Canadian-raised Bardia Sinaee, author of Royal Jelly: five poems and the broadsheet “Clearing Up the Question of It’s Doing By Us” (Moose and Pussy/In/Words, 2011) has started to have work appear in other venues as well, including Arc poetry magazine and PRISM International.
Four Ways to Eat Your Dandelion
Misanthropes, consider our public parks:
more trees than a hawk’s beard has feathers,
jogging paths to discover spandex
and revel in the names of dogs.

Protestors and false prophets may demonstrate
for themselves within the Free Speech Zone
between the waterfowl preserve
and the experimental farm.

From the roots up under marble shrines
for those late-onset philanthropists
whose descendants today fly coach
for our secular libraries and museums.

For representatives and councillors
at the municipal level, catered affairs
are encouraged, both for the local economy
and as a chance to compare spouses.
Sinaee’s poems are tight, compelling, carved monologues, and, like Blackman’s poems, far tighter when the lines are reigned in, such as in the three part “No Sparrow,” a poem that, by itself, is more than worth the price of admission. Composed, it says “1995: Tehran, Iran,” it begins with:
The prayer calls moaning from the minarets
follow us home from the video store, hanging

like clotheslines between the tenements. This
is how and when we see the thing

wiped on the asphalt: half its wing and the insides’
coral clockwork on the street. We are helplessly young

and the bird still breathing. We lay it by a tulip stem
on a bundle of your father’s briefs.

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