Monday, October 31, 2011

Our Hallowe'en costumes: Doctor Who and Idris

Strange, isn't it? This is possibly only the second year I've dressed up in nearly thirty years, when I used to take my younger sister around Maxville to trick-or-treat, our mother waiting for us in the car. We walked the village with pillowcases, most often to houses our mother knew, my sister dressed as whatever she was that year, and myself, borrowing one of my father's caps, achieving perhaps the laziest costume-making possible. I'm a feed salesman, I'd tell them. And then I'd empty my pillowcase in the car after every third or fourth house, so people might think we had only begun, and perhaps offer more. Terrible.

I don't even want to get into my ill-fated Morpheus (a la Neil Gaiman's The Sandman) costume from the mid-1990s.

This year, Christine and I went to a house-party as Matt Smith's Doctor Who and the TARDIS-in-human-form, Idris (from that episode written by Gaiman; are we noticing a theme, anyone?). Here's a picture of the two of us [by Cathy McDonald-Zytveld] in costume in front of our new residence, the third floor of a century-old house on McLeod Street. And yes, we actually live in the turret. During our outside photo shoot, we even managed to finally meet our downstairs neighbours, as they came outside to admire Christine's costume, and show off their own (“Bride-zilla” and “Rogue,” from X-Men)

Christine spent three days putting the costume together from an array of material, and I'm impressed at just how much she looked like Idris herself; damned sexy.

Still, one of the few people at the party who understood our costume was a young twentysomething, Anna, dressed in Ukrainian garb. She even had, in her purse, sonic screwdrivers for both Doctors ten and eleven, as well as a Doctor Who sound effects hand-held device. All of these carried completely unrelated to Hallowe'en and the party (apparently she doesn't often tell folk she carries these things around with her). Hilarious!

Part of what I always find entertaining about making public declarations of any of my particular interests—my collection of some 6,000 comic books (almost exclusively Marvel, with some Vertigo thrown in as well), or my adoration of the Doctor Who reboot six seasons ago—is in seeing just who ends up responding, whether Rusty Priske mentioning his appreciation of the work of Brian Michael Bendis, or this Doctor Who/Silence fan video that Adeena Karasick sent, made by her daughter, Safia. My favourite, still, a comic book conversation with Thomas Wharton while over for dinner; we knew it was bad when we realized even his then-five and ten year old sons looked bored by it. And any conversation I've had with Toronto YA author Leslie Livingston is enough to drive anyone away with a roll of their eyes.

Still, questions remain: will we ever figure out, who was piloting the TARDIS at the end of Matt Smith's first season? That whole damned season was set up as a trap for the Doctor, far more complex than the other, smaller trap of the Pandoricum; the things in Amy's room set the trap for the Pandoricum by the Daleks, Cybermen, etc., but the crack in the wall was the result of the explosion, which was done by someone else. Who was it pulling the strings to make the TARDIS explode in the first place? The whole plotline feels as though it's been set aside. Yes, the “Let's Kill Hitler” episode wrapped up a few too many other threads up too quickly, but the season's final episode was quite magnificent.

Will the next season finally bring Doctor number eleven back to the mystery of who took control of the TARDIS? I suspect the only one who might hate the Doctor that much could only be himself (was the dream episode a clue?); is it a fragment of the Doctor himself, whether internal or external, working some large multiple-season plot? Why all these loose ends? Why does every new Doctor since the reboot then become my new favourite?

Bowties are cool.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

span-o presents: the pre-small press book fair reading, November 4, 2011

span-o (the small press action network - ottawa) presents:
The Factory Reading Series'
pre-small press book fair reading

with readings/launches by:

Leo Brent Robillard (Lake Eloida ON)
Nicholas Lea (Ottawa)
+ Lillian Necakov (Toronto)
lovingly hosted by rob mclennan
Friday, November 4, 2011;
doors 7pm; reading 7:30pm
The Carleton Tavern,
223 Armstrong Street (at Parkdale; upstairs)

Leo Brent Robillard’s most recent novel is entitled, Drift. Set in South Africa during the Second Boer War, it raises questions about why and how we come to fight wars in far flung places – be it in defense of ideals or in quest for economic gain. These issues – all too relevant today -- are handled intimately through the journey of two prairie boys, an Australian nurse, and a South African balloonist, as they drift together in the blast furnace of the Great Karoo. Robillard is also the author of Leaving Wyoming and Houdini’s Shadow. The former was listed in Bartley’s Top Five in the Globe & Mail for Best First Fiction of 2005. The latter was eventually translated into Spanish. His work has appeared in numerous magazines, journals and anthologies at home and abroad, including CV2, The Fiddlehead, Grain, Prairie Fire, Queen’s Quarterly, and Verge. He lives on Lake Eloida in south-eastern Ontario with his wife and two children.

Nicholas Lea published his first book Everything is movies (Chaudiere Books, Ottawa) to acclaim in 2007. Reviews of his work have appeared in the Ottawa Xpress, Matrix Magazine, Prairie Fire and The Globe & Mail Online. He has served as a poetry reader for as well as The Fiddlehead. He lives in Ottawa where he is currently working on his second collection of poetry. He launches a new chapbook with Andrew Faulkner and Leigh Nash's The Emergency Response Unit.

Lillian Necakov has been writing and publishing for over 30 years. Her work has appeared in publications in Canada, the United States, China and Serbia. She is the author of Sickbed of Dogs, Wolsak and Wynn, 1989, Polaroids, Coach House Books, 1997, Hat Trick, Exile Editions, 1998 and The Bone Broker, Mansfield Press, 2007. She was the editor of the very small press Surrealist Poets Gardening Assoc. for a bunch of years. During the 80’s she sold her books on the streets of Toronto and was one of the subjects of the documentary film “Street Writers, Lucky to be Here”. Lillian runs the Boneshaker Reading Series. She lives and works in Toronto. She launches a new poetry collection, published by Mansfield Press.

and don't forget the ottawa small press book fair, which happens the following day at the Jack Purcell Community Centre!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

A lecture by Marvin Sackner in Buffalo: "jw curry's Exemplary Archive," November 17, 2011

Very much worth noting, a conference/exhibit on concrete and visual poetry, and a talk on Ottawa poet, publisher and bookseller jwcurry; check the website for other details:
"LANGUAGE TO COVER A WALL: Visual Poetry Through Its Changing Media" is the name of the exhibition that will be presented from Nov. 17 to Feb. 18 by the University at Buffalo Art Gallery in Center for the Arts on the North Campus.

The opening is on Nov. 17 with a free public reception from 5-7 p.m.
An opening address by Marvin Sackner, "jw curry's Exemplary Archive," Nov. 17 at 5:45 p.m. in the UB Art Gallery, Center for the Arts. Sackner is co-founder with his wife, Ruth, of the Sackner Archive of Visual and Concrete Poetry, which holds collections of visual poetry from more than 50 countries, including an archive of work produced and collected by avant-garde Canadian poet, publisher and bookseller jw curry.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Leigh Kotsilidis, Hypotheticals

By Any Name

When jackals' baying is both backdrop
and foreground, when forest

is conifers and impenetrable
fence, when mongoose predator

equals mongoose prey, which truth
will the brain feign?

A lyrebird's call appropriates
any sound it fancies. Above us,

shithawks flock
to mock us. Featherbrained,

we agree bullshit is the best
decoy. The average vocabulary

is 10,000 words, and one
easily stands in for another.

It is all the same.
For example, you, me

and the Cecropia moth,
born speechless, wriggling

free, only to flop atop
the first moth we see.
There is a wry and formal parlance to the poems of Montreal poet and graphic designer Leigh Kotsilidis' first trade poetry collection, Hypotheticals (Toronto ON: Coach House Books, 2011), that intrigues, that begs the questions of 'how does one arrive at this point,' and 'where does one continue from here?' For Kotsilidis, the theory she writes about is science (as the back cover explains) as “a useful metaphor to explain the world,” and the fallibility and limitations inherent in such metaphors. Still, formal competency by itself does not make for great writing, and the strengths here are, for the most part, quietly understated. The collection as a whole exists almost as a scientific study, with poems etched out into four sections—Evidence, Variables, Falsifications and Conclusions—echoing scientific method in her larger thesis. I understand full well the idea of approaching writing as a kind of ongoing study, but, in Kotsilidis' poems of what may or might be, what, I wonder, does she consider her conclusions, or is the structure of thesis a distraction away from what her individual poems might be actually accomplishing?
Flight School

Which scientifically feasible theory alleviates
this, that or the other pang, the hang

and hunker of this or that man, the folly
of falling repeatedly off the lone horse,

the Morse of you, then you, then you and me?
That you or I are lonely or that this is only fling

would be no consolation to those known
as wingmen, the dartboard-hearted,

the dashed-hope guarded. That you or I
want more than less is not earth-shattering,

nor will it guarantee you or me the bee's
knees. No, one of us always buckles

and bucks beneath the spousal 'we,' needs
the other to believe there is no theory,

wants more then less, and more often
that and then another.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

fwd; The Puritan's Sequel to Summer!]

The Puritan is proud to announce a bodacious bonus to its blockbuster Summer Issue!

The Puritan has added supplemental new work so jaw-droppingly awesome that if we'd tried to fit it in last season, the whole thing would have burst at the seams. By visiting the CURRENT ISSUE section of the site, you will see three new pieces. Check out Eric Sasson's wonderful short story "Getting There" as well as an in-depth interview with Trevor Cole by The Puritan's own Spencer Gordon. Finally, Jesse Eckerlin follows up his Zach Wells interview with a great review of Jon Paul Fiorentino's Indexical Elegies from Coach House Books.

On top of all this wonderful new material, The Puritan reveals its newest wonder. Our humble journal now offers you, its eager readers, the chance to weigh in on the magazine's content as well as literature at large ...

Our blog, THE TOWN CRYER is now up and running. It's the perfect place to find out what past and present Puritan contributors are up to, and it's also a great venue to voice your compliments, queries, criticism, and concerns about all things Puritanical. It's easy to find; look for it on the main logo anywhere on the site. Read what our editors and dedicated team of bloggers have been posting, and please feel free to comment yourselves. Literature is a collective enterprise. The next contributor to the CanLit collective could (should) be you!

Thanks again for your continued support.

Lots of love,

Tyler, Spencer, Andrew

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

12 or 20 questions (second series) with Richard Krech

Richard Krech [photo credit: Stephen Loewinsohn] was born in 1946 and grew up in Berkeley, California. He became involved in civil rights activities in 1963 and started writing soon thereafter. Krech published a poetry magazine [the Avalanche] and organized a series of poetry readings at a bookstore on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley for several years.  He had a half dozen books and many periodical appearances before he stopped writing poetry in the mid-70’s.  In 1971 Krech traveled around the world [overland across Europe, north Africa and Asia] and subsequently has made frequent trips to Asia, Africa, Latin America and Europe.

In 1976 Krech went to law school and has been practicing criminal defense in Oakland, California since 1980. His practice has included everything from murder to shoplifting as well as the pro bono representation of anti-war demonstrators and others similarly situated. He now has a primarily appellate practice.

After a 25-year line break, Krech began writing poetry again early this century. He has had about ten books and chapbooks and numerous periodical appearances since then as well as a volume of collected works, At the End of Time, culled from this second writing period and a bibliography of all his work came out in 2010.  He has three children, three grandchildren and lives with his wife Mary Holbrook in Albany, California. Today is his sixty-fifth birthday.

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 published when I was 20 years old.  I grew up in Berkeley, California, and started writing around 17 years of age.  I had been corresponding with d.a. levy in Cleveland, Ohio, and sent him a bunch of poems in 1967.  Next thing I heard, he sent me 25 [out of 250] copies of a chap he turned one 6-page poem into, we are on the verge of ecstacy, under his 7 flowers press imprint.  It had hand painted covers by mara, was the size of a standard sheet of mimeo paper, stapled and had a very “assembled” look w/ brown paper wrappers, etc.

After this book, levy’s old friend, D.R. Wagner published two books of mine, How Easily Your Mind Can Slip Off and the Hashish Scarab, in rapid succession, and other book requests and periodical and anthology appearances followed.

My latest book, At the End of Time, is different in almost every way.  I stopped writing poetry in the early seventies, went to law school, and have practiced criminal defense in Oakland, California for over thirty years.  I started writing poetry again in 2001.  The full title to my latest book is At the End of Time, the Incomplete Works of Richard Krech, Volume II, poems 2001-2009, and, as the full title implies this is basically a collection of a decade of poems from my second period.  It comprises the work from about ten chapbooks.  Although I selected all of the poems and chose their sequencing, David McNamara of sunnyoutsidepress in Buffalo, New York, the publisher/editor, worked closely with me on editing.  Artistic and content decisions were mine but he offered much useful editorial assistance in clarifying what I wanted to say.  The book is perfect bound, with a limited edition of 26 hardbound copies lettered A to Z.

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

When I first started writing I just did it in note books and I wrote about things that happened in my world.  Berkeley in the early sixties was quite interesting, the civil rights movement had repercussions in my high school and home town.  I first wrote about demonstrations and “sit ins” in which I participated. 

As a young person I had known and liked “The Raven” by Poe, but was not really acquainted with poetry until I read Ginsberg’s “Howl” in about 1963.  That did it for me.  I would go to City Lights Book Store in North Beach in San Francisco, just across the bridge from Berkeley.  I went to New York in 1965 and found the Bowery Poets Co-Op and read poetry with a bunch of anarchists drinking red wine in a seedy loft on 2nd Avenue in lower Manhattan.  Poetry was immediate.  It was now.  I was hooked.  I have written some prose, both fiction and non-fiction.  I have a piece of “flash fiction” coming out in September

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 used to go w/ Ginsberg’s dictum “First thought, best thought” and felt rewriting was somehow cheating because it didn’t reflect “the moment.”  In fact, couldn’t reflect the  moment because it was written in at least two moments.  I soon abandoned that concept and do re-write, but I don’t really use notes or outlines for my poetry.

Sometimes, I will get up in the middle of the night and start writing because I “have to” right then, right now!  Sometimes, a vision or a phrase will sit in my head and just roll around in there for days or months, and then all of a sudden burst out full blown.  My poem “Approaching the City from the Ten Directions” was like that.  I had this image of a crack addict recycler pushing his tied-together shopping carts of bottles and cans down San Pablo Avenue to the recycling center, the twin towers of the Federal Building and other landmarks of Oakland’s skyline far away in the distance; and I saw this as a modern version of some medieval scene of poor people bringing goods to the City.  I had this visual image in my mind for several months time and then one summer night I just sat down and wrote the poem.
Approaching the City
from the Ten Directions

We stand on the shoulders of others.
Through generations

the City rising
out of the dust.

The porter in Istanbul
in 1963
carrying an armoire on his back;
the men pushing bullock carts of grain
outside the mud walls
of the medieval city state
a millennium ago;
the crack addict
pushing his shopping cart
full of bottles to the recycling
center.  The business district
gleaming in the distance.

A few years after the end of the century
when the town came to the city:
and we are all
trying to find our way
in a new place
w/ technological changes
not even yet contemplated
approaching the horizon.
Religious and ethnic intolerance
still holding us back.

standing on the shoulders of others
can only stand so
For we stand on our own

It is our choice to act or react,
or to refrain from acting.

We walk down the road
from the town towards the City.
the City always beckoning ahead;
pass thru the high gates
the outer perimeter,
some signs appear over establishments
pictures, then writing;
we drive down the avenue
past the recycler w/ his huge load
towards the office buildings,

towards the center of a City
which has no center.

and on out
to the other side.
[photo credit: Harold Adler; Richard Krech at Shakespeare & Co. Bookstore, 1966] 

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?

Mostly I just write poems.  I have a few books with themes, two examples are In Chambers: the Bodhisattva of the Public Defender’s Office which are poems with legal themes and Rumors of Electricity, travel poems.  I worked on In Chambers for several years.  My second period of writing started in 2001 and within a week or two I knew I had a series of poems concerning legal issues.  But I wrote poems on other topics, published books on other topics or simply collections of poems.  It wasn’t until 2007 when I wrote a particular poem that I suddenly knew when I wrote it that the book or series was finished.  My latest book, for example, is a collection of my writing, most of it previously published in periodicals or chaps, from my second period.  

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

I greatly enjoyed my first exposure to poets reading their works in the loft on 2nd Avenue in lower Manhattan in 1965.  I started a series of open sign-up-sheet based poetry readings at Shakespeare & Company bookstore on Telegraph Avenue in 1966 which ran for the rest of the decade.  During that time I read almost every Sunday afternoon.  With such regular oration of my poems I got to know them very well so I could put more attention on delivery and less focus on “reading” the “words” because I knew them well and just skimmed the page to sort of keep my place.

No public reading, or not even reading out loud to myself, for about 35 years has changed things.  I have only given about a half dozen readings since I started writing again.  My first reading in 35 years or so was in 2005 at the Modern Times Bookstore in San Francisco for poets who had poems in the fourth issue of Van Gogh’s Ear, an English language poetry magazine from Paris.  I spent more energy “reading” than I liked and had difficulty flowing with the poem.

I have since had more experience giving readings this century and the last public reading I gave, about a week ago at Art House in Berkeley, was a benefit for the infamous underground cartoonist S. Clay Wilson who is facing some serious health challenges.  I feel some of that “groove” came back, that ability to be a conduit for the poem and let it flow out through me without “reading” the words letter by letter.  When the audience applauds you can tell they liked the poem.  When they figit and go towards the exits you can tell the poem didn’t make it.  Instant reaction.  I like doing readings.

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?

Most of my poems try to convey some type of message, some information beyond the words just sounding good together, or being funny or something pleasant to pass the time.  I have always tried to accomplish something that improved the human situation, at least for the last 50 years or so.  When I was involved in civil rights and anti-war and other political action back in the day, part of what I did was write.  Write an article for a newsletter or the newspaper, write a leaflet, etc.  In my legal work, I wrote more motions and took more writs than most criminal defense lawyers because I can write and I like to.  I use my writing to try to advance and better the human condition.  It’s the same whether its “poetry” or an essay or a legal motion or even a “letter to the editor.”  An attempt to improve things with the written word.

The “questions” remain the same, but the day-to-day “facts” and precise situations change.

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?

A writer writes about what she or he thinks is important or will be important.  In my poetry my goal [or role?] is to communicate truths to the reader.  In my legal writing my goal [and definitely my role] is to benefit my client.  If the truth helps in that regard, wonderful.  If truth hurts my goal in legal writing, it becomes an obstacle to surmount without lying. 

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

Not essential, as I still put out books where the publisher does little or no editing [other than proofing for misspellings, etc] and not too difficult.  I have been fortunate in that no editors have tried to overcome my stated preference after we really discuss an issue.  I had one editor who just tried to “change” things instead of discussing with me.  We soon abandoned that practice.

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

“Sea Biscuit” in the sixth.

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

They are really two different activities.  Writing poetry is, for me, an attempt to explain some truths about what I perceive in the world.  Writing a legal brief or motion is an attempt to improve the legal situation of my client.  However, the form is the same: language.  I find that my ability to write well, to be interesting, to be able to explain complex concepts clearly, to be able to insinuate bias by subtle choice of words, etc. helps me in my legal work as it does in my poetry. 

They are two different activities, but I do use my writing skills to influence my representation of clients and, conversely, some of my poems benefit from my knowledge of the law and legal situations. 

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?

No writing routine.  Sometimes I start writing before breakfast and even before getting dressed, sometimes I don’t write at all but then suddenly get the urge at 11 at night or 3 in the morning.  Legal writing is often influenced by the calendar.  No days are typical.  I am semi-retired and so my days are more under my control than they’ve been for over 30 years.

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

I do something else for awhile or a few days, depending.  Or I go to sleep and hope I have a drive to write when I awake.  Often an image or concept will rattle around in my head for awhile before I know what I do with it or how to deal with it.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?

The smell of some kind of bush that grew near my house when I was a little boy.  I don’t know its name or how to describe it.  Earthy.

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?

All of the above have influenced me.  I suppose in my younger days I was considered a “drug poet” by some [the Hashish Scarab was published by D.R. Wagner in 1968] but drugs are not really an influence in themself.  They just work on other things.  The first time I smoked pot the next morning I told my parents about the Indian music I had heard the night before played on a sitar which was very intricate and had seven levels; and at the Berkeley Poetry Conference Gary Snyder said if you put LSD in a cardboard box the box wouldn’t write any poetry.  Its not the drug that creates it’s the musician or the poet.  So I am influenced by all the things I write about: the beauty of the world, the terrors of it, everything.

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

Albert Camus, Allen Ginsberg, Amiri Baraka, Bob Dylan, Ed Sanders, Elias Canetti, Franz Fanon, John Lennon, Mikhail Bakunin, Sun Tzu to name a very few

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

Travel on a boat around the world by coastline.  It used to be that the only pirates were in the Straits of Malacca and relatively easy to avoid, but now they are all over the north-western part of the Indian Ocean.  It is something that’s not going to happen in this lifetime.

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?

A less successful lawyer?  I suppose if I had any talent I would love to be a musician.  Both creating the “music” i.e. “the sounds” and also singing “the meaning.”

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

I can’t carry a tune or play a musical instrument.

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
I recently finished reading 40th Century Man by Andy Clausen.  It is a poetical autobiography, but in reverse chronological order from the recent poems in this century to the beginning in the mid-sixties.  I knew Andy back in the day and read it from back to front.  It is a 180-page book and I had a hard time not reading it all in one sitting it was so gripping - not usual for poetry.  I don’t know if it was a “great book” but I had a great time reading it and it was difficult to put down.  

20 - What are you currently working on?

Shelf Life.  It’s a collection of poems about my life where I have lived most of my time on the planet; on the eastern edge of the San Francisco Bay, west of the Berkeley-Oakland Hills on a “shelf” of land.  Hence the title.  Mostly newer poems, two or three previously appeared in periodicals.  Jason Davis of Verdant Press in San Francisco is going to letterpress it.

August 31, 2011
Albany, CA

12 or 20 questions (second series);

Monday, October 24, 2011

rob wins the 2011 John Newlove Poetry Award

On Saturday night [here's Charles Earl's photo of same], Amanda Earl announced that I won the 2011 John Newlove Poetry Award for the piece "Poem after a line or two by Sylvia Legris." Thanks much to the whole Bywords team, judge a rawlings and the ottawa international writers festival. Part of the award is a chapbook out with Bywords the following year, to launch as part of the fall 2012 writers festival (previous winners include Roland Prevost, Sean Moreland, Marcus McCann, etc).

Thrilled, and honoured. It's a strange thing to win an award named for a late friend. And I'm the first they couldn't give the selected poems to as part of the prize, since I'm the publisher of it. Ah, well.

from the site:
This year's judge was a.rawlings.

"From the department of curious Canadiana arrives a poem in conversation with the ecopoetic and disjunctive narrative fixations of writers countrywide. The poet nods to Legris nods to MacEwen. Left-aligned stanzas are interwoven with indented asides – or perhaps a poem within a poem. Both. Drenched and stretched, aurality translates what is not quite read. The text itself finishes mid-thought, or does not finish, or does not. Any. Either. All."

The annual John Newlove Poetry award, launched in the fall of 2004, commemorates the honest, poignant and well-written poetry of John Newlove, an Ottawa resident for almost twenty years and poet who died in 2003.

The 2 poems receiving honourable mention in 2011 are

rolling over forwards - Brigette de Pape
my mother’s piano - Benjamin Lancaster

Each year the winner will receive a certificate, A Long Continual Argument: The Selected Poems of John Newlove, Edited by Robert McTavish (Chaudiere Books, 2007) and the opportunity to publish a chapbook through Bywords.
Poems published on from September 2011 to August 2012 will be eligible for consideration for next year's Newlove award. The judge for the 2012 award will be Gary Barwin.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Ongoing notes: the dusie kollektiv,

After a small handful of Dusie chapbook posts (click on the Dusie link at the bottom of this post), I think I'm slowly running to the end. How long, I wonder, before the next run begins...?

Wallisellen, Switzerland: From Dusie founder, editor and publisher Susana Gardner comes the small chapbook from IDYLLS & RUSHES (2011), a collection of short koan-like individual stanza-fragments. What are her fragments working their accumulative way towards?

Freedom others bitter tonic
subtle certainties proof reflection
idiosyncratic looking-glass woman
among nuances class
rhythmical language, thought.
Moving through this small fragment of (apparently) a longer work-in-progress, as well as her trade collection, HERSO, An Heirship in Waves (Black Radish Books, 2011), Gardner seems to work her poems in longer swaths, writing sequences out as accumulations, waves. Given the amount she has published so far, I'd be interested in seeing some kind of poetics statement on what she's been working on, some kind of essay on how her poems move, and some potential, future targets. I would like to hear her take on some of this, perhaps.

Tétè-à-têtes platform our ironical
caresses-love, perhaps through
tea-stained swathing. Oh, irritable
rushes—come now, come.
France: Jennifer K. Dick's Tracery (2011) is a small study in textures, from the wallpaper collage that helps hold the cover to the twists of the texts, even citing images from Historic New England, “History of Wallpaper 1845-70: Changing Technology & Increasing Production,” writing: “In the couplets of shadows she could emerge // From the layers of ink printed or be stencilled.” Produced in a numbered edition of two hundred copies, every page is a strip shorn from another disperate pattern, collaged into something parcelled, and traced into this small unit. Does it matter where such a poem might begin, might end?
Where is here, besides? What is she? What is what is where and when does she come to, to gather, a farthing, a farther thing, into being? When is she beginning whereto or for, flax and flummoxed? Lost to grab the back of horsehair spirals, dyed plinth and borderlands, hinter- . To hinder her passage, she shielded or shedding. This wall willing. This was a willing wall, a wishing well, or, to speak of, in that other language, or, as in ornate. Captivate, will she? Or winter the wanderlust wanton wanting? Spelled. She is a die cast, a cast of. Or, ornate, Ariadna-esque lines drowning her back. Trace on her wrist of the Ille. Cup to read her palm, the deep rivulets, moats, canals, then trace the Rhine backwards, upstream, source to be sourcing. Haute, higher still, to speak in tongues, triturate.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

12 or 20 questions (second series) with Rob Benvie

Rob Benvie was born and raised in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and has since split his time between Toronto and Montreal. His writing has appeared in many print and online publications, including McSweeney’s, Joyland, Matrix and Broken Pencil. In his musical life he has recorded and toured internationally with such endeavours as Thrush Hermit, The Dears, Camouflage Nights and Tigre Benvie. He is the author of Safety of War and Maintenance, both with Coach House Books.

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

Boy oh boy. Right out the gates you’re asking some tough questions. My first book Safety of War was a bit of a fluke. I’d been writing semi-‘seriously’ for a while, and had completed a few crappy novels with dismal results, and they now sit safely tucked away in boxes/hard drives. After trying to write really darkly and grittily for a while, I consciously decided that writing fiction had to be at some level a pleasurable and/or cathartic process, and for lack of a better word, ‘fun,’ or it would just be a hollow exercise in half-imagined attempts at credibility. To my elation, Coach House picked up on the manuscript, and suddenly I had a book out. It changed my life mainly in that, at least some level, I had a ‘career’ as a writer that wasn’t simply imaginary. The book wasn’t a huge seller by any means, but it definitely confirmed some impulses I’d harboured that writing fiction, and hoping to have it published, wasn’t going to be a complete waste of effort. There are many things I’d change about that book, but most things I stand behind. I fantasize that eventually I’ll revisit and improve it, but maybe that would be sort of a 21st century George Lucas move. The new book is overall less silly, and probably speaks to more universal notions than the first one. It also has a cooler cover.

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

I always wanted to be a poet. I have hundreds upon hundreds of pages of dreadful poetry stashed away. And from an early age I was an extremely ambitious and prolific songwriter, and still am, though now that I’m in my mid-thirties my faith in the viability of a rocker’s life currently teeters by the day. But re: poetry: in most ways I consider it the highest art, when done well. But it’s a form worn with many treads, and over time my disposition has led more to narrative and character rather than abstraction or experimental forms. When younger I fantasized about breaking new ground, in terms of conceptual/non-narrative writing, but I think I’m too sentimental to commit myself to those arenas. I like stories about people in panic and people in love. As far as writing a non-fiction books, I have ideas in that department, but they’re too embryonic to mention.    

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?

Hm. Right now it’s been a cumulative process of bursts and yields. This book, Maintenance, was really a coming-together of a number of projects I’d started separately, then found links within. I tend to write quickly and edit slowly, but I’m finding that’s a shitty way to work. Both of my novels appeared on my editor Alana’s desk with a significant amount of trimming to be done, which I then did; the motivation of it actually being publishing tends to terrify one into finding that necessary economy. But we had some fights about what should have stayed in, some fights which I still feel I lost. But having worked on a few others’ books, I know the task of an editor is to think of the book first and the writer second, so I’ve tended to believe whatever I’ve been told. My problem is I’m extremely impatient, whether in writing or music or even just going to the bank or whatever, so I find revisions a necessary but wearying stage. So: long story short, barfing out writing comes relatively easily, but the follow-through is tough.

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 tend to think in longer streams, simply because I read novels more than I read short stories or poetry or plays. This isn’t necessarily a conscious decision. Both an asset and shortcoming of mine is that I’m very competitive and envious and flighty, so when I read a book I love, or hear a song that blows me away, or watch a movie that kills me, I simultaneously think ‘I wish I’d done that – I’m such a loser,’ and ‘I could do better than that – I’m such a genius.’ So a lot of things are attempted, and a lot of things are abandoned. I start many things, and rarely feel things are finished. The only recipe for me is: work on stuff every day, don’t slack off, and eventually you end up with a lot of material. Wade through it well, work with smart people, keep it enjoyable at some level, and ignore the voice in your head that says you’re a schmuck. You are, but so is everyone else. This doesn’t really answer your question. I guess it’s a combo of spontaneity or “vibe” and having some sort of vision for how things might end up. This new book did begin in separate sections, though I had an idea that they would interplay at some point, just not as intermeshedly as they ended up. 

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

Mixed feelings, mostly because I have sort of mumbly speech patterns and not the most commanding voice, but I’m working on it. Having grown up playing in rock bands, and being pretty egomaniacal in general, I like performing and being on stage. I get a lot of joy out of being applauded, and if I can get a laugh it feels pretty good. But I’m not a natural orator; I tend to talk too fast and annunciate in weird ways. Coupled with that: reading, to me, is a solitary, contemplative activity, so being read to by others usually drives me nuts. As a person who is easily bored, I loathe the idea of boring others. I understand the necessity of doing readings to help people know about your work, but they’re too often a drag. The fun at such events happens afterward. I’m always thinking about the afterparty. I’m hoping every reading I do for this book ends up in either skinnydipping and/or terrorism.

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?

Do you mean ‘theoretical’ in terms of literary theory, or ‘theoretical’ in terms of just intentions beyond ‘story’? I think I might have too many theoretical concerns about my own writing, and that might be what restrains it most. I think writing should assert its own utility, though ‘usefulness’ naturally acquires many forms. I wrote my MA thesis on Frederic Jameson, so I can’t help but always think of historicity as a lurking consideration in cultural production, and then by extension question how anything I write fits into that framework—even though, on a mechanical level, when writing a novel I usually have less weighty things on my mind, like: is this thing funny/sad/interesting. This novel, Maintenance, was meant to bring up some real-world, hopefully unexpected treatments of real concerns (not necessarily ‘issues’), but I knew from the get-go any such considerations would always be secondary to character, and, really, enjoyability. It’s a made-up story, but it has a purpose. So: yes, I do have theoretical concerns in my writing, but I am a strong believer that fiction and novels should ease off on didacticism and be more about finding more sneaky ways of seizing the reader by the figurative lapels.

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?

Yikes. I don’t know. Like many, I have studied and admired the eras of Milton or Orwell or Mishima or Baudrillard, moments when writers seemed to actually have a direct impact on culture in a broader and more useful sense. That is the aspirational ideal. But in a practical sense, authors in our day are typically those who achieve notoriety by way of quotability or timeliness, not necessarily those who write stirring fiction. So, knowing this, you pick your battles. People are reading and writing more than ever; they just aren’t caring as much about proposed authorial supremacy in terms of books. In the long run, that’s a good thing, I’d wager. But it doesn’t help those who still admire those past exemplars. I’m sort of stuck in the middle between embracing new models and championing the grace and power of those I’ve admired. Time will tell.  

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

To me, it’s been essential. But it really means having a good editor. Alana Wilcox at Coach House has edited both of my books so far, and we’ve become good enough pals that we can argue about things in a healthy way. She respects the intentions of authors, and has edited so many books by dickheads that she knows what to fight for. Both of my novels initially arrived on her desk several hundred pages longer than the final published version, so I clearly need, and appreciate, a good editor. If you write long meandering novels, you inevitably overlook things and, in many case, bite off more than you can chew. 

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

I was once told that if you want to learn to play rock guitar, you must first reckon with AC/DC. Sort of great and terrible advice.

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (fiction to essays to song lyrics)? What do you see as the appeal?

As I write prose more, I feel less driven to write songs/lyrics than I used to. I’d like to think it’s because what I hope to accomplish is so profound and amazing that it can’t be confined by a song, but the reality is probably more that I’m getting older and slightly mellower, and I’m less torn apart by the kind of angst and doubt and despair that drives good songwriting. My pain is more concrete and boring.

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?

My routine revolves around solitude. I need to be alone to write well. Nothing makes me happier than a sluice of free time with a clear mind and the hope of writing. But I also love people, I love my girlfriend, I love socializing. Sometimes these things come into conflict. Typically, I write late at night, when the rest of the world is asleep. Writing at 3am when the world as we know it slows into shadows is the best time to think freely. It drives my girlfriend crazy, because I’m often underslept and cranky, but ever since I’ve been typing I’ve been a nocturnal human. Daytime is for logistics; nighttimes are for possibilities. 

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

I really like television. I don’t have a TV right now, and I miss it. Aside from that, mostly when I’m tapped I talk to my closest pals, none of whom do the kind of writing of this arena I’ve entered, but are all writers/artists/musicians/thinkers with much more talent and smarts than me. I’ve been very blessed with a great and longstanding circle of friends. And this is like the ultimate cliché, but a good, contemplative walk often does wonders. Even if it’s just to the Beer Store.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?

My home is Halifax, Nova Scotia. But my childhood summers were spent at our family’s cottage on the beachy shores of King’s Head, in Pictou, a county on the province’s north side, facing PEI. I’m not much of a beachgoer, but the smell of fresh, clean sand reminds me of Melmerby Beach: jellyfish, waterskiing, sunburns, drunk adults.  

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?

Yeah, as far as things go for me, I’d say it all goes in. Writing productively is an equal combination of discipline and inspiration; you can muster up the former, but the latter is hard to come by, and must be recognized when it strikes. Nothing jazzes me up for writing than enjoyable reading, but the trick really is to filter and refine everything you do and see. The best stuff I’ve written found origins in stuff I’ve done or anecdotes I’ve heard or people I’ve met, the weirdness of real life—but then the author’s mandate, I think, is to take it further, make it crazier. I am a strong proponent of Making Things Up. So, you know, you soak up as much as you can. I get pumped by music and visual art, and I’m sure it helps shape what ends up on the page, but I’m at a loss to explain how. I do listen to a lot of shitty rap on headphones while writing, so maybe the flow or length of my sentences is influenced by that, maybe? Though that sounds pretty weak.

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

That’s hard to address, for two reasons: one, in that my answers will be unoriginal and quite typical of youngish men who meet my demographic; and two, in that I’ve been constantly trying to shed such influences and not be another regurgitator of stuff that’s already been done by those more capable than me.  

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

Jeez. You’re killing me – I don’t like writing about myself too much, so this interview feels like writing my own memorial service. There are so many things. I always wanted to be an actor, but when I’ve been given the brief chance to do stuff on camera, I’m terrible at it. Plus I’m too pimply. I spent some time in Kenya a while back and fantasize about returning to do something in the realm of international development, but I’m too lazy and cynical. I really want to improve my piano playing, but my piano is at my sister’s place back in Nova Scotia and a MIDI controller isn’t quite the same. I also always wondered about trying to invent a board game. I tried to convince Coach House we would make Maintenance: The Board Game, but it would be too expensive and/or funless.

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?

Probably learned Arabic or other languages with geopolitical/espionage applications—I’ve applied for a job at CSIS like five times, but they never respond. My qualifications are pretty shitty.  

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

I guess it comes from my childhood. I was that kid with an overactive imagination who liked to tell crazy lies and boss my friends into acting out stupid narratives I’d conjured up, like epic GI Joe campaigns that went on for weeks. My father was always disappointed that I wasn’t more sporty: he ran marathons and sailed, while I longed to stay at home and read DC Comics and Stephen King books instead of play T-Ball or whatever. My mother bought me an electric typewriter when I was about ten and I was sold. Weirdly, she actually taught typing (“keyboarding”), and can crank out a blistering number of words/minute, but I am a dreadful typist. Like most people, everything I do is probably either to defy or please my parents. Sorta bluesy, actually.

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

My current tastes are leaning toward really plotty stuff; I want to read all the LeCarre and Deighton novels my father kept on his shelf when I was younger. Along such lines, I’m reading some Paul Bowles right now that I’m digging. Afar as movies, I really liked Attack The Block.

20 - What are you currently working on?

I have another novel that I’m far into, but if precedent holds, I expect it’ll be a long time in gestation. Picking at some screenplays. Some new rock band concepts. I started eating meat again and have been hitting the gym, so I’m getting really muscular. You know, regular stuff.

Rob Benvie reads in Ottawa as part of a spotlight on Coach House Books at the ottawa international writers festival on Monday, October 23, 2011, with the incomparable David McGimpsey.

12 or 20 questions (second series);

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Penultimate Long Poem Anthology, edited by rob mclennan (unpublished)

note: Given the innumerable problems I had with the third version of The Long Poem Anthology, I'd been thinking about the project for nearly a decade when, in February, 2007, Talonbooks editor/publisher Karl Siegler told me to go ahead and put together a rudimentary manuscript to consider. Sitting at more than three hundred pages (including visuals), it was something I worked to build not as a replacement of previous volumes, but as an extension (presuming all previous are available more now than they would have been, say, twenty years ago, given things as ABE, etc), and using not the 1960s as my base, but, instead, 1985. After years of queries, it doesn't seem as though this project will ever see the light of day, so here is my introduction.
In love-making, in writing the long poem – delay is both – delay is both technique and content. Narrative has an elaborate grammar of delay. The poets of the 20th century, in moving away from narrative, abandoned (some willingly, some reluctantly) their inherited grammar. Poets, like lovers, were driven back to the moment of creation; the question, then: not how to end, but how to begin. Not the quest for ending, but the dwelling at and in the beginning itself.
- Robert Kroetsch
What do we call this new exploration of form, that encapsulates the ongoing field, the closed and the open form, the long(er) poem? Even The Waste Land was composed with an ending in mind. Are we okay with a poem that has an ending without lyric closure? Is this in itself contradictory? Does the reader, the writer or critic much care?

Here we fall into an argument of definition. Jack Spicer termed “serial poem”as a joke, and see what happened, back in the middle of the previous century. A poem that moves from room to succeeding room. Dorothy Livesay talked about the “documentary poem” and George Bowering invented a semi-annual journal that lasted a decade, Imago, for the publication of long poems. Somehow, along the way, Michael Ondaatje worked his late 1970s project, The Long Poem Anthology, with the definition that the poems included would be life-long, open-ended, unfinished. What happens to a long poem with not an ending but a place where it purposefully closes? Are these no longer long poems?

As early as the Long-Liners conference at York University in 1984, poet and critic Eli Mandel was announcing the death of the long poem. All the old definitions fall away. Are we to re-tern “the Canadian long poem” out of the definition Ondaatje worked, and push it further? Into that same opening of the field, Bowering subtitled his George, Vancouver (1970) “a discovery poem.”

The long poem, as it has been presented in three different and distinct long poem anthologies by Michael Ondaatje and Sharon Thesen, exist in the incomplete, the open form, projects that could never be or were never complelted, including Blaser’s The Holy Forest. This is not the fourth iteration of the long poem anthology, a book exploring the open as opposed to the closed form. Extended, and otherwise long, a quote taken from Jack Spicer and borrowed by Stephanie Bolster for a recent student publication she oversaw, from a creative writing “long poem” course she taught at Montreal’s Concordia University. The conversation remains, and the work continues, but where has the argument gone?

In his infamous essay on the long poem, “For Play and Entrance: The Contemporary Canadian Long Poem,” Robert Kroetsch talks about the form of “the long poem” in a number of ways, including tantric, writing the end as far away from the beginning, writing “delay, delay, delay.” How can one have an open-ended, unfinished delay? Even he wrote about the long poem as potentially having an ending, a creation. The money shot.

So where does the form move now? Not as a watered-down version, but a new form, that includes the two sides, from the open-ended, life-long poem, unfinished or simply abandoned to the closed form, as long as long can be, but written with an eventual ending. This is the difference between such projects as bpNichol’s The Martyrology, Robert Kroetsch’s Completed Field Notes, John Thompson’s Stilt jack, Fred Wah’s Music at the Heart of Thinking, Andrew Suknaski’s Diving West, Rob Allen’s The Encantadas, Barry McKinnon’s “sex at 31” and Gil McElroy’s “Julian Days” to poems such as Daphne Marlatt’s Steveston, George Bowering’s “Do Sink” and “Kerrisdale Elegies” and Lynn Crosbie’s “Alphabet City.” Is one any more or less a “long poem”?

Even a coin has three distinct sides, not only the obvious two. Where else does this creature previously known as “the Canadian long poem” go? Do the arguments of the open-ended, life-long work still exist, or have they become obsolete? There are many poems that exist that are called long poems but, according to previous distinctions, are certainly not. Does this lessen the works, poems with ending? Can everything Dennis Cooley has written be considered part of a single, open-ended and unfinishable project? Has the definition expanded so far that it’s become impossible?

As the “Epi(pro)longue” to the Long Liners conference, Barbara Godard writes that “The fundamental assumptions of this discursive order made it possible to hold such a conference as Long-liners, devoted to the classification of a specific category of literary order, the ‘long poem.’” An ending that works to open up into something further. She says this, but she doesn’t explain what this category entails. Are they made only of poems that are simply “long”?

Since 1979, when Coach House Press published the first Canadian long poem anthology and Michael Ondaatje in his introduction was perplexed by the lack of recognition accorded the long poem ― "the most interesting writing being done by poets today" ― the form has become so well-established that to include even a sample of the best long poems written in the last decade would require many more volumes. So I begin by stating that this anthology is not meant as an encyclopedia of the Canadian long poem but rather as a continuation of Ondaatje's work in 1979 and a record of my own pleasure in reading poems that in many different ways, occasions and structures are "long."
- Sharon Thesen, The New Long Poem Anthology (1992)
Not to have the last word, but perhaps, the second last word; the long poem in Canadian poetry has become so prevalent over the past twenty years that it simply might not be possible to have an anthology like this as a follow-up, unless working in the multiple volume. I would presume that's the same reason some brave editor hasn’t taken up the mantle of what may never follow in the steps of the McClelland & Stewart "generational" series behind Dennis Lee's Poets of Contemporary Canada 1970-1985 (1985) and Eli Mandel's Poets of Contemporary Canada 1960-1970 (1972), etcetera. For those who might not already know, The Penultimate Long Poem Anthology follows very much in the footsteps of three earlier collections starting with Michael Ondaatje's The Long Poem Anthology (1979), and continuing with the two edited by Sharon Thesen, from The New Long Poem Anthology (1992) to The New Long Poem Anthology, Second Edition (2001). This collection, hopefully, is not meant to sum up or replace what the previous books have already accomplished, but to see the process further: what and where else has the long poem been, since the previous editors made their selections? Where else has it still to go? What early threads might they have missed?

Part of the process of selection becomes a consideration of availability, as previous works included in the series by Christopher Dewdney, Robert Kroetsch, Robin Blaser, Steve McCaffery, Barry McKinnon and Roy Kiyooka have been reissued in larger single-author collections, with (in order) one by ECW Press, a collected/selected through University of Alberta Press, another by the University of California Press, a two-volume collected by Coach House Books and the remaining two by Talonbooks (all of which I would recommend picking up). There could have been one of a number of pieces by the late Toronto poet bpNichol as well, and not just from his life-long poem The Martyrology, and earlier versions could easily have included Gerry Gilbert's Moby Jane (1978; 2004), John Thompson's Stiltjack (1977) and dozens of other book-length works. This collection, then, becomes not a dictionary of what remains, but an exploration of but a fragment where the long poem has furthered since the previous collections. What I focused on as editor, specifically, was the previous two decades from where I am currently; libraries and the used book market can provide any interested reader with what occurred in the first three anthologies; I shouldn’t have to repeat them. I felt little need to replicate their editorial choices, but instead to continue them with different and/or more recent examples. Certainly the works by George Bowering ("A, You're Adorable," from Vermeer's Light), Barry McKinnon (in the millennium), Victor Coleman (letter drop 2) and Dennis Cooley (Irene and The Bentleys), existing inside of larger and more projects, continue the aesthetic presented in previous books and their own previous works, while extending the range of what they do just that much further. On the other hand, the operatic work by Jill Hartman, A Painted Elephant (2003), or Peter Jaeger's Power Lawn (), unfortunately left out for the sake of length, present us with lovely book-length self-contained works that exist as both narrative and lyric fragment, and the examples from Phil Hall, Erin Mouré and Susan Clark, weaving together both the long poem and the critical essay into realms that push the poem further. Andy Weaver's "were the bees" series provides a magnificent movement ahead of American poet Robert Duncan through George Bowering and Robert Hogg, and using Duncan's own words to do it; and could any of them have ever been able to see works like Christian Bok's Eunoia coming, working the long poem through linguistic constraint out of the Oulipo, completely outside of the realm of traditional long poem narrative, documentary and place, or the visual pieces that make up derek beaulieu's "calcite gours"? Through the persistence of such kinds of structures as those of Robertson, McCaffery, Bok and beaulieu, the past twenty years have seen a particular shimmer and shift in the question of "placing" into "replacing," writing less about a particular kind of geographical or representative placement and into such things that include what Jon Paul Fiorentino termed, for his own geographies, "post-prairie." This is the writing that comes after writing.

Still, books of this kind are known as much for their absences as for what they include, and there are numerous works not included, whether for the sake of length or overlap, including Birk Sproxton's Headframe: (1985) and Headframe: 2 (2006), Steve Ross Smith's four-volume fluttertongue, Bruce Whiteman's six-book The Invisible World Is In Decline (2006), any of Ken Norris' Report at the End of the Twentieth Century, Judith Fitzgerald's Trillium award-nominated The River (1995) or four volume adagios, Stephen Cain and Jay MillAr's collaborative Double Helix (2006), Darren Wershler-Henry's Nicholodeon (1997) or the tapeworm foundry (2000) and various other pieces by Lissa Wolsak, etcetera. But what constitutes long? Not just a poem of length but a poem of breadth, whether sequence or series or suite or ongoing or maybe just simply long (but never so simply). Writing, like just about anything (one could argue), is about a series of patterns; how they exist alongside other patterns, and how they move.

Here in Canada, in the late twentieth century, anyway, the major form of poetry is just about invisible. So why do I keep writing long poems? Well, Barrie did. Bob does. Nicole does. This is how we talk to each other. We are so lonely otherwise. This is how we say our final important stuff to each other.
- George Bowering, The New Long Poem Anthology (1992)
What is the long poem doing in Canada and how has that changed? We've had more than a few conferences asking that question, most of the time answering questions brought up at the previous, including the University of Ottawa Conference on the Canadian long poem in 1996, to the Long-liners Conference at York University in Toronto in 1984; is this a question for every decade? In the question itself are the variants, from 'what is a long poem' to 'what is a Canadian long poem,' bringing in all of the considerations of what our National Literature is compared to other national literatures, aside from the argument of whether or not any such thing can be defined. As Thesen writes in the introduction to the first of her two anthologies:
Long poems belong by practice and definition to what Ezra Pound called the "prose tradition" in poetry; that is, their tendency to a narrative sense of the passage of time drives them by and into history beyond the capacities and preoccupations of the lyric. The long poem in Canada is often a way of handling that distrust of the "poetic" associated with the lyric voice, seen as a falseness, a colonizing wish overlaid upon the real[…].
Even though there were examples going back to the beginning of writing in Canada, the long poem, or as Spicer called the "serial poem," came into Canadian fashion during the small press explosion of the 1960s and into the 70s; whatever else had happened before, and what else might have been happening, pretty much every second poet in Canada was working to "open the field," behind foreign models and counterparts such as Robert Creeley, Jack Spicer, Charles Olson, William Carlos Williams, HD, Eliot, Duncan and even Robin Blaser, who moved north to Vancouver and Simon Fraser University to teach during the same period. In his statement in Thesen's first anthology, contributor George Bowering started with:
Sometimes I agree with Edgar Allan Poe in his famous pronouncement that there is no such thing as a long poem. He said that even Paradise Lost is a number of short poems separated by prose passages.

Sometimes I think that in every long poem there is a short poem, trying to get out. Once in a while I think it goes the other way round.

In the early 1960s, I started a magazine expressly for long poems and shorter poems, because at that time there weren't (m)any magazines that printed long poems. This is part of poetic history.
In her book On the Edge of Genre: The Contemporary Canadian Long Poem (1991), critic Smaro Kamboureli writes:
[…] how the contemporary long poem, while belonging to the genus of poetry, cannot be fully identified with one of its eidoi. By being both outside and inside the established poetic genres, the long poem participates in the category of poetry while defying its limits, the generic laws of its species. This ambivalent positioning marks the deconstructive activity of the long poem. By challenging the monism of the traditional conception of genre, the long poem invites the reader to rethink its laws. One might even go so far as to consider the contemporary long poem as a mutant form bearing only traces of the genres it derives from, a potentially new species or at least a species engendered by generic shifts. The contemporary long poem deliberately departs from the tradition of readily defined generic categories by positing itself as a multi-encoded text that does not adhere to a single set of conventions; its genericity depends less on a given set of generic codes than on the interrelationships of various embedded genres. (pp 48-9)
After the Long-liners Conference at York University in 1984, collected as an issue of Open Letter (Sixth Series, Nos. 2-3, Summer-Fall 1985), the resulting papers were divided into five categories of discussion on the Canadian long poem: documentary, autobiography, alternatives to narrative, poetics and locality. How do you grow a long poem?
Kroetsch, accurately I think, delineates the ideological intent behind the writing practice of the long poem, but his poetics of failure introduces a deceptive process. Indeed, he defines failure by ironically adopting the values of the cultural system he deconstructs; he also seems to define it, as Davey points out, from a male point of view. The overriding metaphor in his essay is that of a desire held back, desire not quite sublimating itself. 'In love-making, in writing the long poem – delay is both – delay is both technique and content' (117). The poet not so much as lover but as a subject resisting his falling into love, onto the body of otherness; the long poem not as love-making but rather as a machine of desire, an object in perpetual ecstasy – a condition few long poems, not even Kroetsch's own, reflect. (p 100)
As much as George Bowering's little magazine Imago (1964-1974) helped make the long poem not only a form more prevalent in Canada generally, but west coast specifically, poets such as Robert Kroetsch and Eli Mandel, with help from subsequent poets and critics including Dennis Cooley, Barry McKinnon and Jon Paul Fiorentino, have helped establish a whole other sub-strata of the Canadian long poem in the Canadian prairies.
i have read seed catalogue and the wind is our enemy and fielding and still
i will fail to present you with this prairie long poem because if anything
they have taught me to write against this form and to be discursive and
elusive and most of all they have taught me to desire each other and so
to perpetuate an incestuous notion of poetry which is discretely referred
to as intertextuality.

write fragments. not full sentences. but most of all disobey all
instructions toward poetry.
- Jon Paul Fiorentino, prairie long poem, Transcona Fragments
With more recent attempts to subsume even that by Fiorentino, talking his post-prairie, he moved to take place out of place by co-editing Post Prairie: an anthology of new poetry (2005); co-edited with Kroetsch himself, it passed the torch from one generation squarely to the next. But one could even ask: why is so much of the prairie poem lost to the previous editions?

The long poem, I am suggesting, is a necessary formal presence to the radical open-endedness imposed on perception by both presence—the living body, reading and graphing itself in language and space—and by absence—the living body, in contact with the physical and psychic pain of loss, grieving the absent one who simultaneously cannot be reached and cannot be escaped. And its disjunctures re-enact that mapping on another body: the reader, as s/he enters and animates the text, allows the open-endedness to explode in other directions altogether. The reader acts as free radical, as the unknown in an unknowable algebra of the configured self as it emerges from contact with language.
- Charlene Diehl-Jones
How does one attempt to pick through the entirety of the Canadian long poem over the past two decades or so to get a sense of where we've been, where we are now, and potentially where it is we're going? It's a difficult task; the prairie long poem being only a single strand, with earlier points including Robert Kroetsch, Aritha van Herk and Dennis Cooley, spreading out into so many other writers. A number of the poems in this collection have echoes from ones that came before, whether Carla Milo's "A Medical History of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan" taking echoes of Aritha van Herk's "Calgary, this growing graveyard," Jay MillAr's "Sporadic Growth: being a third season of 26 fungal threads" taking echoes from Vancouver poet Gerry Gilbert, or just how much Douglas Barbour's "Fragmenting Body" sequence owes to the work of the late Toronto poet bpNichol. There are the series of prairie long poem groupings that would include Jon Paul Fiorentino, Rob Budde, nicole markotíc and Méira Cook out of the prairie poetic of Dennis Cooley, the more Calgary-based aesthetic that would include Harman, Julia Williams, Jonathan Wilcke, Fred Wah, derek beaulieu and Ian Samuels, or more of the "language" writers exploring long works, whether Suzanne Zelazo, nathalie stephens, Sina Queyras, Bill Kennedy and Darren Wershler-Henry (in their magnificent Apostrophe), and again, Rob Budde. When language and pre-existing forms are worked in more of a so-called "Canadian tradition," we come through poems as those by Stephen Brockwell and Peter Norman, George Elliott Clarke, the late Rob Allen (in his The Encantadas) or Dionne Brand, working through the more conservative forms into something that they never were, in other hands. Or what of the more stand-alone examples, such as Stan Rogal, Phil Hall, Judith Fitzgerald, Sylvia Legris, Erin Mouré and Christian Bök that appear to be working alone in the field, but who each come out of traditions that go back decades, if not hundreds of years. That doesn’t even begin to talk about the late American expatriate John Thompson, bringing the English-language ghazal into Canadian poetry in the early 1970s with his posthumous collection Stilt jack (1976), and influencing each in their own way the poetries of Joe Blades, Di Brandt and Andy Weaver. Writing comes from other writing, and Weaver's own piece, "were the bees," takes directly not only from the ghazal and the cut-up method, but directly from an interview that Robert Hogg and George Bowering did with the American poet Robert Duncan. Even my own piece, riffing off a number of old Canadian standards, but predominantly the "sex at 31" series started in Prince George, British Columbia in the 1970s by Barry McKinnon and Brian Fawcett. Where else can the long poem go?How does the form become so prevalent? How does a book such as this not become so massive as to collapse underneath its own weight? As Michael Ondaatje quoted Jack Spicer in the first version of the long poem anthology, the poems can no better live by themselves than we can.

Works Cited:

Bowering, George. statement, The New Long Poem Anthology. Toronto ON: Coach House Press, 1992.
Davey, Frank and Ann Munton (guest eds.). Open Letter, Sixth Series, Nos. 2-3, Summer-Fall 1985.
Diehl-Jones, Charlene. "Fred Wah and the Radical Long Poem," Bolder Flights: Essays on the Canadian Long Poem. Ottawa ON: University of Ottawa Press, 1998.
Fiorentino, Jon Paul and Robert Kroetsch, Eds. Post Prairie: an anthology of new poetry. Vancouver BC: Talonbooks, 2005.
________. Transcona Fragments. Winnipeg MB: Cyclops Press, 2002.
Kamboureli, Smaro. On the Edge of Genre: The Contemporary Canadian Long Poem. Toronto ON: University of Toronto Press, 1991.
Ondaatje, Michael. The Long Poem Anthology. Toronto ON: Coach House Press, 1979.
Thesen, Sharon. The New Long Poem Anthology. Toronto ON: Coach House Press, 1992.
________. The New Long Poem Anthology, Second Edition. Vancouver BC: Talonbooks, 2001.

TABLE OF CONTENTS (draft, unfinished)
Douglas Barbour, Fragmenting Body
derek beaulieu, calcite gours 1-19
Christian Bök, from Eunoia
Joe Blades, casemate poems
Di Brandt, Dog days in Maribor
Stephen Brockwell and Peter Norman, Wild Honey and the Beehive
Méira Cook, Blue Lines
Margaret Christakos, ________
Lynn Crosbie, Alphabet City
Erin Mouré, ________
Phil Hall, An Oak Hunch: Essay On Purdy
Dennis Lee, from yesno
Gil McElroy, Some Julian Days
rob mclennan, sex at thirty-eight: letters to unfinished g.
Jay MillAr, Sporadic Growth: being a third season of 26 fungal threads
Carla Milo, A Medical History of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
Sina Queyras, Still and Otherwise
Lisa Robertson, The Men
Stan Rogal, _______
Andy Weaver, were the bees