Thursday, December 30, 2004

ongoing notes, December 2004

Hamilton ON: I think by the time I knew who or what Gary Barwin was, he was no longer making regular publications through his serif of nottingham editions, usually self-published chapbooks of poetry and/or fiction for the semi-annual Toronto Small Press Book Fair. One of the "Toronto surrealists," Barwin could uneasily be explained if Stuart Ross and David W. McFadden could ever have offspring.

When we read together in September (at an event with at least 2,000,000 readers, he being the first & me being one of the last), he handed me a publication of his strange visuals, the chapbook a periodic table of the alphabet (serif of nottingham editions, 2003). Ranging from clever tricks of formatting to drawings and altered images, Barwin seems to be one of the few Canadians working with concrete and visuals over the years that has really kept with it for some time; somewhere between the work of derek beaulieu and jwcurry.

A prolific writer, he is also included in Stuart Ross’ lovely anthology of Toronto surrealist poets, Surreal Estate: 13 Canadian poets under the influence, newly out from Toronto’s Mercury Press. As Victor Coleman wrote of Barwin in "An Eglected: Writing Toronto in the Eighties" (Open Letter, Eighth Series, Number 9: Summer 1994),

"His work represents a tradition of Southwestern Ontario pixilation that includes David McFadden, Robert Fones, Kurt Swinghammer, Dennis Tourbin, John B. Boyle, the late Greg Curnoe and, stretching it a bit, James Reaney. There’s something significant in his keeping literary company with the aforementioned because, with the exception of McFadden and Reaney, all are interdisciplinary aritsts. In Barwin’s case the other discipline is music (he’s currently working on a music degree from SUNY/Buffalo where he, surprisingly, doesn’t spend much time with the New Poetics/Black Mountain II crowd)."

Other recent works include Frogments from the Frag Pool (poetry with derek beaulieu; The Mercury Press, forthcoming), Doctor Weep and Other Strange Teeth (fiction; The Mercury Press, 2004), Raising Eyebrows (poetry; Coach House Books, 2002), and Outside the Hat (poetry; Coach House Books, 1998). If you want to find out what the hell he’s done lately through his little press, email him at

Mt. Pleasant ON: kemeny babineau, it seems, has been around for some time, even though he hasn’t, really. His most recent package included two of his own chapbooks, Winter’s End and A Collection of Water, as well as his The Theory of Half Truths, and Harold Rhenisch’s Snow. So far, most of what he has produced has been his own work, but he has been branching out into other areas. His small publication, HUE MANITEE (forGer ryGil bert) is pretty fun, and includes this piece:

Trojan Condoms

for when its got
the false gift
inside the walls

and the horse
cock is spilling men
blood and pillage laud

to steal a king’s
daughter for the king
dong, king-
dom cum, for

At least, if nothing else, the boy is reading Gerry Gilbert and Erin Moure poems. His chapbook A Collection of Water has some interesting moments in it too, and it’s fun to watch Babineau try out different things, to see how they fit, and watching him evolve as a writer as he does. Besides, I think it’s been a while since we’ve seen a poet write about that part of the country, between Hamilton and London and Buffalo. History always manages to come back again.

What I want to know is

(what was Simcoe
on his head
when he was paddled
up the Thames
toward where London
Colonel Talbot
at his sleeve
The shore
an unbroken
growing darker
by the hour, what
sort of song
did the paddle sing
as Simcoe concocted
his scheme to defeat)

the american’s Dream

Try him, c/o Laurel Reed Books, 206 Maple Avenue, Mt. Pleasant Ontario N0E 1K0 or via His catalog says that "current titles are available for trade sale barter or beg – send chapbooks, small donations, stamps or good wishes." Done.

Another item in the same package was the first issue of a magazine he’s editing/publishing called The New Chief Tongue, a simple 8 ½ x 11 stapled on the side (reminiscent of two other newer publications, Daniel f. Bradley’s fhole and John Barlow’s Kenetic, but Babineau’s TNCT not as well designed), with some interesting contributions by quite a range of writers, including David Fujino, Penn Kemp, Anne Onimous, Jason Christie, John B. Lee, Brian Babineau, Kathryn Carter, Nelson Ball, Rob Read, Harold Rhenisch, Shane Plante, Mike Clancy, Barbara Caruso, Mary J. Williams and Malcolm Randall. Subtitled "Brantford’s Own Literary Way," I do like the fact that he distributes these for free. How can he afford to do that?

Ottawa ON: Even though she’s only recently moved here, why not call it here. Erin Bidlake, who recently arrived from the west, with her chapbook, SEEDS. Published by JackPine Press in November 2003, the relatively young Saskatoon chapbook press produces limited edition runs of books in unusual formats, whether in cloth bags, or in the case of this one, a seed bag. As she begins, in the poem "INSTRUCTIONS FOR GARDENING," writing:

You must begin with tools,
anything wooden
or older than
your oldest fencepost

Gather seeds.
Look under any bush or tree,
slip your fingers
into the mouth of a lily,
remove its tongue,

plant it.

I’m still new to her work, but am interested to hear her read as part of a new season of the Factory Reading Series at Gallery 101 on Thursday, February 17th, reading with Shane Rhodes and Rob Winger.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004


The review I wrote of Vancouver poet Mari-Lou Rowley’s last two poetry collections for The Danforth Review. The updated web page for Open Letter: A Canadian Journal of Writing and Theory. The review I wrote of Di Brandt’s Now You Care, Suzanne Zelazo’s Parlance & nathalie stephens’ Paper City (all Coach House Books) for The Antigonish Review. Some of the photos Max Middle took for the fall 2004 edition of the Ottawa International Writers Festival here. My friend Tom Fowler takes over the artwork of DC’s monthly Green Arrow title here. Robert Kroetsch has a great new poetry collection here. The piece I wrote on John Newlove’s last poem here. The return of William Hawkins, Ottawa’s most dangerous poet. A neat piece by Louis Cabri on hole magazine that he and Rob Manery used to run in Ottawa. Some poems by Jon Paul Fiorentino + others. Some poems by Rachel Zucker. Poems and listings of Ottawa literary events. My Ploughshares author page. Paste magazine, that has amazing compilation cds of new music with every issue. Two older reviews, one of Gerry Shikatani’s First Book, 3 Gardens of Andalucia (The Capilano Review) and Jacqueline Turner’s Careful (ECW Press). Some very odd things involving The Prize Budget for Boys. I recently discovered the work of Ottawa artist Christopher Griffin, that I quite like. I’m working to edit an issue of Australia’s Jacket magazine on George Bowering, but it isn’t finished yet. Have you heard who replaced him as Canada’s second Parlimentary Poet Laureate? Michael Winter’s blog. Mark Truscott’s blog. Ron Silliman’s blog. Some funny cartoons. Happy Decemberwe’en, everybody.
Rachel Zucker

The past few months I’ve been getting more and more into the poetry of New York poet Rachel Zucker, after discovering her work in the first issue of the annual Xantippe (Oakland, California), the absolutely brilliant long poem "The Squirrel in the Palm." A poem in twenty-five parts, apparently written from December 27 to 30, 2001 from "New York – Savannah – New York," and opening line, "a mother without her children is everywhere a woman in a foreign country."

11. consider the body’s aptitude for salvage

cage of regret, nostalgia, ideas, description leaking in trivial half-lives

and technology an even greater failure : the silver-small camera is so compact it lacks the heft for seeing. Think of your skull that holds the eyes the brain that must make sense and them remember. Film is a flimsy predator for trees.

and words?

the palm escapes my everything but wonder

Perhaps the only poet I would consider comparing to Toronto writer Margaret Christakos, talking sensually through language about mothering and children, letting it wrap around long lines and lively action. I’ve not seen anyone use line lengths and spacing so well, her lines almost a counterpoint to the way Saskatoon poet Sylvia Legris uses short lines and spacing. There seem few poets who really acknowledge and understand the use of blank space on a page, and Zucker does it well, especially in the sixth section, that reads only, "6. the opposite of freedom is intimacy / [. . .] / travel is the collision of both." Written during a short trip, the New York resident and mother of two, at the end of "12. alone, the room gets smaller despite there being fewer people," writes:

so drag myself to watchfulness with a stab of catastrophic thinking and so tired, delighted I’ve half a mind to leave them and no mind left to do it and nothing to spare of this utter love incongruous

mother in a foreign

There is so much here to quote, that I could end up repeating the whole poem, written out of the divisions we end up making for ourselves, from mother to lover to woman writing, from the fragment "15. [birthing, ––]" that includes "the child becomes a wedge between her actions and self like a cyclone of gauze wraps himself / around her mothering and makes a hollow form," to "16. night alone, Savannah," the narrator talking of her son, writing, "Sleep with me he says. I like the other sheets, he says. Lime in my sippy cup? anything to keep / me. // Object of desires, I never satisfy because my very body is impractical, boundaried, impermanent." Is there a way to bridge the gaps we end up making?

19. coffee shop, fire in the hearth, a room of men

newspapers, garish paintings, poor lighting. the room hums with indifference and steaming milk. the foam is a perfect companion.

the man/boy with the black rimmed glasses and comics a condiment for some lightly-battered in-the-basket feast.

and me with my undercover stretch marks, I am almost leaving. although the focal point, deep vortex that demands me calls it, "returning"

I am total incognito: I’ve already never been here.

A chapbook, Annunciation, won the Center for Book Arts competition and was published in 2000. The author of Eating in the Underworld (Wesleyan University Press, 2001), I’m hoping this piece is included in her new collection The Last Clear Narrative (Wesleyan University Press) (I’m still waiting for a review copy).

Friday, December 17, 2004

Diana Brebner’s The Ishtar Gate: Last and Selected Poems

When Ottawa poet Diana Brebner died of cancer in 2001, bare weeks before her 45th birthday, it left holes in almost everyone that knew her. The author of three award-winning poetry collections, Radiant Life Forms (1990), The Golden Lotus (1993) and Flora & Fauna (1996) [all published by the now-defunct Netherlandic Press], she had been living with and through cancer for some time, even as she never took her attentions away from her family, friends and her writing. While raising two daughters, working for her husband’s business, and even running for public office, she still managed to win the League of Canadian Poets’ National Poetry Competition (1990), the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award (1990), the CBC Literary Competition (1992), the Pat Lowther Memorial Award (1993), and the Archibald Lampman Award (1997). When I met Diana, probably around 1992, she was eager to become a mentor to a younger writer, but we soon realized that she didn’t know what I was doing or working from, so instead we would meet for coffee, and talk about various subjects, whether writing, gossip or our kids. It was only in 1996 when Stephanie Bolster moved east from Vancouver that Diana found the kind of writer she was looking to help, and afterward, when she started teaching poetry workshops at Collected Works Bookstore. Becoming both mentor and friend to younger writers such as Anita Lahey (current editor of Arc), Lesley Buxton and Una McDonnell, it was much more an atmosphere of generosity and a kind of mothering than any teacher-student relationship. Soon after she died, a tribute was included in an issue of The New Quarterly (Volume XXI, No. 1, spring/summer 2001), that included pieces by Kim Jernigan, Bolster, Lahey, Buxton, Miriam Maust, John Vardon, Carol Shields, McDonnell and myself. Once you were part of her circle, it became both easy and essential to stay.

Thanks to the persistence of Stephanie Bolster, McGill-Queen’s University Press has just released The Ishtar Gate: Last and Selected Poems of Diana Brebner through their Hugh MacLennan Poetry Series (which has been very quite of late), edited with an introduction by Bolster. This is where all the current poets working within more conservative forms should be looking, from a poet who worked through more formal structures when they were less in favour than they seem now. Still, one of the poems that struck me from the "last poems" section is this one, a take-off of the last of Thompson’s ghazals from the posthumous collection Stilt Jack (Anansi, 1976); his brilliant collection of thirty-eight ghazals, published after he died at the age of thirty-eight. A break from much of her other work, it still works through the constraint, and the fine line between what she holds back, and what she gives.


"Should it be passion or grief" – John Thompson

Both come
unasked for. Grief
(not that I have)
has a sweetness to ist

that cuts
as fine as any knife.
Sweet edge
to the blade, you say.

I am being
followed by grief
(and it skulks
as I turn

unbidden) just
a sense of being.
Passion, as well,
is overwhelming

the air that
a knife cuts through.
Should it be
passion or grief

that we release?
What did you hold
by nerve, or a string?
Hands. Fingers. Fist.

Another of the pieces in the "last poems" section that struck, was this one, that read very much as a response to a review that Montreal poet and critic Carmine Starnino did for Arc #37 (Autumn 1996), "Style at Odds with Passion: Seven Ottawa Poets" that wrote:

"Diana Brebner’s poems also sequester themselves emotionally from their subjects. In Flora & Fauna, we see the suppression of any kind of personal disclosure and the adoption of a voice that has been thoroughly stripped of its introspective abilities. She wants no sentimental slippage. But often it is the heightened concentration that only emotion can allow that helps discipline oneself against phoniness. Brebner’s poetry, in its uncompromising suspicion of feeling, regularly outwits itself into artificiality." Hmmmmmmmm. Diana’s was certainly a dark humour, and it was hard to get on her bad side, but I wouldn’t want to be there. I’m not even going to bother disagreeing with the review, and instead let Diana’s words speak on behalf of both of us.


I will not assume that you
are an expert about feeling.

Nor will I believe that the
quiet & orderly among us have

not been thrown against walls,
that they write from imagination

and not from experience. If
I have not shed tears onto

your pages perhaps it is only
because I would not hurt you

with your indifference. When
you saw me, and asked how I

was doing, the kindest thing
I could do was to say

I was fine. I think of all
the women with bad teeth,

the ones who walk into doors,
the women with holes in

their walls and their lives
where pictures & memory

hung in the balance and how
that empty square on the wall

is a target for good intentions
that have become holy banners.

I will not assume that you
think less of me, nor will I.

After Diana died, Arc magazine founded the Diana Brebner Prize, now in its third year. Named for a poet "who fostered local literary talent, the Prize is awarded annually to an emerging National Capital Region poet who has yet to publish in book form. Run as a blind-submission competition, $500 is awarded to a single poet, based on the adjudication of an established poet living in the National Capital Region. One honorable mention is also chosen," with both prize-winning poem and honorable mention published in the most recent issue of Arc (#53, Winter 2004). This year the award was given to Betty Warrington-Kearsley, with an honorable mention going to Vivian Vavassis. Previous winners include Mary Trafford (2002) and Michael Blouin (2003). Information on future deadlines for the award can be found on the Arc magazine website.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

some notes on narrative & the long poem: a sequence of sequences

In the sequence "death & trauma: a deliberate play of births & endings" (forthcoming, Yard Press: Calgary), I wrote a long poem as a very loose translation of fragments of an essay by Robert Kroetsch, "For Play and Entrance: The Contemporary Canadian Long Poem" (The Lovely Treachery of Words, Oxford University Press, 1989), while over-writing the story of the Frank Slide (Alberta, near Crowsnest Pass) disaster of 1903. Written during the spring of 2001 (in Edmonton, actually, at the Second Cup at 104th Street and Whyte Avenue), the idea was that the poem itself would talk about delay, delay, delay; the tantric nature of the Canadian long poem that Kroetsch both wrote about, and writes in his own work. As the story itself, still there but hidden (and relatively well-known, so why repeat it in the poem?) of the landslide that erased the town of Frank, Alberta (and in hindsight: Kroetsch + Frank + Edmonton = a very "Alberta" composition). As the story goes, three days later, as the remaining men dug themselves out of the mine (where the initial slide had trapped them) to discover that their wives, children, parents and friends were gone, buried under tons of rubble. The town of Frank was rebuilt a mile or so down the road, but the original town remains, as Frank Slide, buried under the mountain. It was considered for years to be Canada’s worst national disaster. The sixteen-part piece ends an unpublished manuscript called "aubade," and begins:

to un-name the silence back into name

survival of so few the thing,
three days & a man
rockslide the face, & whole town
wiped clean

who else
knows what was once there
surviving as testimony
more to make over
than could ever be recalled
or rebuilt

invisible tracks
running through the thread of these mountains

In writing classes and other places, they keep saying, show, don’t tell. If you want to read a story, go read fiction. A poem needs, I think, to be doing something other. Why tell a story if you aren’t going to tell it, you ask. Why would a reader presume there are no reasons. There has to be a reason, the poem working on and on and on. Perhaps the strongest tool a writer of poetry has is the allusion; not to say but to suggest. The delay. In an essay on David Arnason’s long poem Marsh Burning (Turnstone, 1980), Winnipeg poet and critic Karen Clavelle wrote, "David Arnason is a writer / poet whose involvement in the telling of stories is both a focus and preoccupation. Arnason operates in full awareness of the fact that absence is a form of presence, and that all does not need to be revealed, indeed, that it is impossible to reveal all. And this understanding opens the crux of a narrative problem." (p 116, "David Arnason’s Marsh Burning: Beginnings," Bolder Flights: Essays on the Canadian Long Poem, University of Ottawa Press, 1998).

There was such a joy in production, I remember; of flipping through the essay from a second-hand copy of Kroetsch’s collection (found a few days earlier in Calgary), and picking out lines to shift and alter, seeing how far the series could extend. The poem "death & trauma: a deliberate play of births & endings" is but part of a series of compositions built while in Edmonton, Alberta; built during my annual (or so) touring through the western provinces that bring me to stay with poet Andy Weaver; now-familiar haunts, with the drive down to Calgary with Weaver to read, just before or after a similar event in his city, and a few days spent with him before the next train arrives, to take me either further east or west. Almost every trip, a self-contained project written at the Second Cup and/or the University of Alberta grad lounge, waiting for the inevitable delay. Drinks at the Strathcona Hotel. "The Strath."

The way I prefer to build is through the fragment, writing piece by piece, leaping from line to line, instead of composing from beginning to end, although even two words side by side presume a narrative thread. Through any of this, unless you are willing to put words on top of each other to produce a concurrent work, with all seen at the same time, there is no way to completely erase narrative and meaning. Unless you begin to work with created, nonsensical words, words can’t help but mean.

& all those fucking tombstones

w/out clamour or blush, the lean-long,
at east w/ space & spacing, intruding
on the potential

in search instead of in vision

revisions of a father, grand

a miltonic scorn for economy
inside the longness, the long
rock slide

the model of the short

its offer of apprehensibility

So much of this craft comes from reading, from the "open form" writings of Jack Spicer and Robin Blaser. From the book-length pieces by George Bowering, a mentor by example. From the lifelong poems of Robert Kroetsch and Fred Wah. So much of this from their influence; their fault.

The delay and the inevitable. The long poem and the story of Frank Slide, of knowing how the story will end. With my first girlfriend, years ago, we would have sex in her apartment before going out, so we wouldn’t be distracted during the film, and could properly absorb what we were watching. Putting the end at the beginning. Distracted for what was to come. The inevitable.

Calgary’s dANDelion published five fragments of the poem (Volume 28, No 2, January 2003), just before editorial board member Jason Christie accepted the whole series for publication through his Yard Press. In angela rawlings’ essay on micropress, Christie talks briefly of the series:

"Rob McLennan’s longpoem about the rockslide which buried the town of Frank, Alberta made sense to publish because I’m currently living in Calgary and could easily get to Frank. The reason I wanted to get to Frank is that I wanted to publish Rob’s poem in a bag of dirt and since I was so close to Frank... Well, it just made sense." It hasn’t appeared yet (I’ve been anxiously waiting for some time), but there’s something both marvelous and ghoulish about a chapbook on Frank Slide including a small amount of the Frank Slide soil. The delay. The inevitable.

In a recent review of my collection red earth (Black Moss, 2003), Harold Rhenisch wrote of the title sequence, a poem on travels east to the Atlantic Provinces, saying that "The concept of a poem which is really an anti-poem, a poem which exists on the edges, in fragments, parentheses, lacunae, jottings scribbled on the back of the hand or the inside of the skull, even notes chiseled into the brain stem with a dental pick, is liberating [. . .] mclennan is better than the lot, a kind of Canadian Robert Creeley, presenting us with moments to move into, like museum dioramas, incomplete until we stand in them." (Arc magazine, Volume 1, No. 53, winter 2004). Another key to the supposed puzzle, incomplete until we stand in them; exactly in keeping with my own ideas of composition, how half of any poem what the reader brings. If you don’t know, you must ask yourself. What does that mean.

The poem the true eventual story of buffalo bill had a number of initial sources. There is always something fun (and even liberating) about continuing a line, and it’s something I’ve attempted before, more overtly here than in the Frank Slide piece, whether working my own "Sex at 31" piece (at Barry McKinnon’s suggestion), after the work he and Brian Fawcett started, or the novel I never finished, A Short Fake Novel about Richard Brautigan, which was started to continue the line begun with Jack Spicer’s "A Fake Novel about the Life of Arthur Rimbaud" (as part of The Heads of the Town Up to the Aether, The Auerhahn Society, 1962), to arthur craven’s "A Short Fake Novel about Spicer" (which, admittedly, I’ve heard of but never seen). the true eventual story of buffalo bill follows from the thread of the true eventual story of billy the kid (Weed/Flower Press, 1970; reprinted as part of Craft Dinner: Stories and Texts, Aya Press, 1978), bp Nichol’s eight-page chapbook that co-won the Governor General’s Award with Michael Ondaatje’s The Collected Works of Billy the Kid (Anansi, 1970). What is it with Canadian poets and American outlaws? (See also: Paulette Jiles and Jessie James). According to the back cover of the most recent edition of the Ondaatje piece (Anansi, 2003), "When Michael Ondaatje won the Governor General’s Award for Poetry in 1970 for The Collected Works of Billy the Kid, Prime Minister John Diefenbaker was publicly outraged by the work, and stated that it wasn’t even about a Canadian." As far as Ondaatje’s structure in The Collected Works of Billy the Kid is concerned, Winnipeg poet Dennis Cooley was hugely influenced by Ondaatje’s book, and took the form even further for his own wild and expansive Bloody Jack. Written on the myth and life and myth again of Manitoban outlaw John Krafchenko, Cooley’s Bloody Jack is perhaps the best example of expansiveness and multiple (even opposing) narratives in the Canadian long poem, and was originally published by Turnstone Press (1984), and later reissued with various revisions and new pages by Cooley by the University of Alberta Press (2002).

And I see, too, that Spicer wrote a book called Billy The Kid (Enkidu Surrogate, 1959). Is that where Ondaatje got the idea?

Built entirely different than the original two, my own interest in Buffalo Bill Cody was in the fact that he played an active role in the creation of his own myth, eventually playing a caricature of himself in the touring "Wild West Shows." From two individual articles on Cody’s life found on the internet, I used the language of the articles as my base for how I would write about Cody, reworking the same language over and over, whether through baffles (taking every second word of the article, and creating line-breaks where there were paragraph breaks) or by simple randomization (each piece writing from and through all the previous pieces), the poem writes through the man, and the myth of the man, while still writing the piece in a particular order of events throughout his life, from his participation in the American Civil War to his tours headlining Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show:

hurts, the civil war

the united states army, continuously employed
by uncertain scouting. a hazard

across the ambush. a plain scout,
when born a new name kansas

given nickname, buffalo bill, when
he only twenty two. no single eye

a riding view of thieves deserving green,
recruiting army. the high breeze,

a peak of endorsement sales. firearms
and the glory of the regiment. considered lucky.

considered a head wound and his life
his only badge. buried everything

in gyrations. even a mountain
must preserve.

Published in its entirety by Xpress(ed) in Finland as a pdf file, the twenty-six part piece eventually breaks down, leaving the whole of a man’s life and myth in but a handful of words:

cody, coda

buffalo bill
wife louisa
a wagon train
army thieves
spectacular view
still a child
the wild west
pawnee east
lookout mountain
pony express
sitting bull
a ranch hand
cowboys and indians

What is narrative, really? Is it the story that is told, or as simple as the two words placed side by side. My own concerns of writing narrative in the long poem fall under the umbrella of the title, whether idea or simply the words themselves, and writing as far and as much underneath the umbrella as I can. Does every poem have to fit together in a straight line? Does every poem have to be about what the piece is about, or reference it at all? And if not, should there even be a reason why?

A good example of breaking the narrative is this brief fragment from bp Nichol, published both as an individual piece by jwcurry’s 1cent / Curvd H&z (1982) under the title "THE MARTYROLOGY, BOOK V: Chain 10," and as part of The Martyrology Book V (Coach House Press, 1982), that reads:

every (all at (toge (forever) ther) once) thing

So much of this is concerned with pieces that aren’t (necessarily) built to work on their own, but to work together as a larger unit. A fragment of a novel might be interesting to read, but it’s not giving you the whole story. Using the word as a metaphor. Why does this always have to come back to story. Too many people have been suggesting to me lately that poems are made out of individual moments, of individual things, inferring the absolute need for the poem to live on its own. As Michael Ondaatje wrote in the introduction to The Long Poem Anthology (Coach House Press, 1970), "Poems should echo and re-echo against each other. They should create resonances. They cannot live alone any more than we can ..." (p 14). Earlier in the same essay, he also says, "The stories within the poems don’t matter, the grand themes don’t matter. The movement of the mind and language is what is important –" (p 12).

In his statement on his Seed Catalogue for the same anthology, Robert Kroetsch wrote:

The continuing poem: not the having written, but the writing. The poem as long as a life. The lifelost poem.
The poem as big as a continent. Roy Kiyooka’s Transcanada Letters. (How do you like them apples, Roy?)
And speaking of silence: see Phyllis Webb’s ‘Naked Poems.’ It’ll give you the shivers. The heebie-jeebies. Love is like.
See David Jones’ The Anathemata. I go on coming back to that book. Trying to read the poem. A curse, so much like heaven.
And maybe Blown Figures, by Audrey Thomas, is a long poem disguised as a novel. The (at)venturing [in]to Africa. To neverywhere. Shore enough.
The writing the writing the writing. Fundamentally, I mean. The having written excludes the reader. We are left with our
as critics. We want to be readers. The continuing poem makes
(p 311-2).

Writing poetry is not fundamentally about. Even to say it is "about language." It is language.

In an interview conducted by Ken Norris in the George Bowering issue of Essays on Canadian Writing (1989), Bowering had this to say about poetry and meaning:

Poetry, as far as I am concerned, is not interesting insofar as it is "about" anything, though I may out of curiosity read some poem about baseball or about Mexican food. I am not sure that poetry is interesting insofar as it is "about" poetry, then. But I do believe that when a novelist is making a novel, his intent is on the shape of the novel, not on the shape of life. If it were on the latter, why wouldnt he write an essay, or a letter to the paper, or anything else that is more often encountered than a novel?
[. . .]
I will tell you what art, what poetry is separated from life. It is the poetry that is written by somebody who has decided to use it to express herself. You do that by crying, or by hitting someone, or by wearing some stupid thing – three earrings in each ear. As soon as you start expressing yourself in a poem, the resources of the whole language, and the response of the reader are both infibulated.

Another sequence, monopoly/antiques (a number of which were first published in Jacket, later appearing as a whole in chapbook form through above/ground press), the most deliberately lyric of these three sequences, is a twenty-one-part piece working from the loose tradition of the English-Canadian ghazal, brought into being from the late John Thompson’s brilliant Stilt Jack (Anansi, 1976). Called the anti-sonnet, the ghazal (an ancient Persian form) works deliberately from the breaks that exist between couplets, constructing a poem that only fits under the title very peripherally. How does one work that peripheral, especially in a longer sequence of ghazals, as Thompson did, and later, Phyllis Webb, Douglas Barbour, and almost every poet in the book (but so few done so well as these)? The poem, although working from the reference to a break-up, a weekend of travel, the game of Monopoly, and visits to various antique stores around the Rideau Lakes, it also works against the referencing, writing so much around them as well:


fifteen hundred dollars each, & i
the milk bottle

wood replaces metal, or then
replaces glass

the rust comes over thru the rain

the implication is clear, if
your parents owned, nostalgia

anything earlier, an antique

she winds the victrola, & builds it

speeds up to 78, until the belt
slips up

a hole where the rain

& from a young boys window, the eyes
then fill

Not built to exist in any particular order, the order still exists, whether arbitrary or otherwise, in a series of individual pieces, each with the same title. Does that make these twenty-one individual poems, or simply one? Is this a serial poem or a sequence? I’ve always been relatively unclear on the precise distinctions of the "serial poem," but don’t mind borrowing from the example of its imprecise ways. Is the "serial poem" simply "ongoing," the poem built out of many poems, extending sometimes throughout the whole of the author’s life, whether Spicer, Blaser, Robert Duncan, Fanny Howe, bp Nichol or Fred Wah?

In her thesis on the Canadian long poem, critic Smaro Kamboureli wrote, "Dislocation, a theme consistently used in the long poem, declares a yearning that exceeds the lyric’s potentiality to locate the self. It is not that dislocation produces impediments not conductive to the prolongation of lyric intensity or that narrative can better accomodate what the lyric’s brevity leaves untold; rather, the absence of epic nostos becomes a nostalgia for the lyric." (p 71, On the Edge of Genre: The Contemporary Canadian Long Poem, University of Toronto Press, 1991).


the last weekend we will ever
spend, looking

at old tractor parts

the rusted metal palm
of john deere model six

indented into memory
& flesh

the treat out of the old car

the carriage-house, a box
of doll-heads

brown couch left out
the rain, & suffered

& a technology of dogs
& darker bone

Written quickly, in May 2002 in Ottawa, unlike the other two sequences, it was written with no specific starting point or end point in mind, but was written simply until the sequence felt as though it ran out of steam. The lyric or anti-lyric as it bustled forth. Both delay and inevitable. In the construction of each of these three sequences, I was not as interested in the individual as compositional unit, but a series of larger frameworks, with each sequence, too, fitting inside a much larger, book-length work. Although, in probably all that I do, working the book (and even, the multiple book) as the "unit of composition." Where is the lyric and meaning there. Where is the story.

The long poem (as I see it) what’s left (Talonbooks, 2004) is part of a trilogy of works that started with paper hotel (Broken Jaw Press, 2002) and ends with ruins: a book of absences (Black Moss Press, 2005). Reviewing the collection what’s left on his blog, Calgary poet ryan fitzpatrick said, "Effectively extending Paper Hotel’s project of sifting the fragments of self, What’s Left - a title invoking both the picaresque beauty of a ruin and the faint trace left by something moving - leaves us with detail of history and geography, interested in the shift of people across the land. Vikings and settlers meet pop detritus and road trips, inviting slips between them, forming constellations of meaning. For mclennan, borders fracture like water freezing in rock cracks; we are left with rubble - narrative unanswerable in its native state - that can only be combined and not fixed (repaired or made static). mclennan daftly employs family history, ancient history, and recent event to enact an archaeology of self."


do not pass go, do not collect
the extra inning

a three day weekend, despite
the fact

a board game made, & opens
a range of contradiction

the way things work

how does the poet win, he wipes
the board

clear of competition

picking away, like a scab
until the blood flows

till there is nothing left
within collapsing veins

a thin light left
on the opposite bank

Writing of Robert Kroetsch’s poems, Robert Lecker wrote, "in [Kroetsch’s] long poems, as in the best verse in Stone Hammer Poems, we note several points of tangency and ongoing concern: an involvement with establishing through poetic language and a particularly Canadian and western sense of place, a desire to represent a peculiarly double sense of Canadian experience, and a need to find a sense of personal and public origins that may be dreamed by the poet whose task it is to write his world into existence." (Robert Kroetsch, Twayne, 1986). And there, at the end, is the part I understand best: to write his world into existence.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Ian Samuels, The Ubiquitous Big
2004, Coach House Books, $16.95 CAN / $13.95 US
96 pages, isbn 1 55245 135 6

If there’s a little truth in truth it’s this drop of rain
searching for an umbrella.

p 13, Whiching

For his second poetry collection, Calgary writer Ian Samuels has chosen to write about film noir, in The Ubiquitous Big, published by Coach House Books. In what seem to be a series of thematic poetry collections, his first, Cabra (Red Deer Press, 2000), explored "the mythification of 19th-century Brazil," while the current, works in blocks of found text and film noir, 40s/50s mythification and the birth of atomic power, writing big subjects of hard-hitting strength and irony. Much as Cabra, this collection feels as though it is much closer to the book as "unit of composition," structurally more a collection of parts than a grouping of individual pieces.

Working in blocks of poetic prose, it makes me wonder if this is becoming a specific tic to younger poets in Calgary, as others such as derek beaulieu, jason christie, Jonathon Wilcke (who has collaborated with Samuels, such as in the piece "COPPING: The Double Voice and Jazz Ethics" from side/lines: a new canadian poetics, published by Insomniac Press in 2002) and Julia Williams have done the same. Is it then, too, a coincidence that beaulieu’s first collection, with wax, and Williams’ The Sink House, also appeared with Coach House Books?

Samuels writes a series of evocative, descriptive blocks, both emotional and physical, that move to further the collection as a whole.

The gods gather for a swill of sake in the last
volcanic breath of an island yearning for a
descent beneath the waves, away from the
demands of cellphones and rat-race lifestyles
that tear into its face.

The gods smile at each other with poison-
slicked knives secret behind their backs and stir
to the rhythm of a Geiger counter’s memory of
Trinity and the walls coming down.

p 25, Arrivals

There was good coffee and fresh rolls steaming
just like a kill on the savannah, except with
more butter churned up by refugees walking to
shore and climbing into thousands of forgotten

p 31, Morning

Samuels’ plays a series of standards, playing off them, playing them against themselves.

The hacienda

A cup of coffee, that’s what a man needs. An
apple, a place I can feel, a growth that looks like
chicken. Dinner with the family lasted seven
months, but why not? In the bonds of matri-
mony that’s how the Feds weigh cellophane off a
cigarette pack. They tell the core stuck between
my teeth how it’s a crummy finger joint, but a
nickel gets a piece of the ‘haves’ and a drink
keeps murder heavy on my soul until the bunga-
low sags right to its floorboards.

p 63

I would be very interested to see what Samuels could do with a sustained longer prose, whether novel or short fiction. The Ubiquitous Big exists in three sections of prose blocks, from "Personality," "Arcana" and "The Ubiquitous Big," each writing from what you think you know of old stories, icons and standards. Through all of this, though, what does it mean and where is it going? From the Kenneth Patchen quote that opens the first section, Samuels’ interests in his explorations aren’t fixed in any time or place, but I wonder what it all means, and where he will be going next:

They invented the printing press out on the plain
this morning; Constantinople fell in the afternoon.
I suppose they’ll discover America tomorrow. What
a lot of running around they do.

Kenneth Patchen, The Journal of Albion Moonlight

Samuels writes contemporary poems that belong to another age, but hold quite firm to this one.

Friday, November 26, 2004

It feels so good when they pay attention

Recently, Ottawa writer Melanie Little wrote a neat little piece about the website that Stephen Brockwell and I edit (, for a local newspaper, The Centretown Buzz ( Absolutely lovely, Melanie published her first collection of stories last year with Thomas Allan, the highly-praised Confidence ( that everyone in the world should read, or at least own (it helps increase her royalties).

As she writes in the online version, "Some pieces focus on the work of other poets, like Jon Paul Fiorentino’s provocative essay on the work of George Elliott Clarke in Issue No. 2 (June 2003), or are more general, like Peter van Toorn’s brilliant meditation on the sonnet, "A Goose in the Caboose," in No. 3 (Fall 2003). There’s also a healthy handful of interviews, more like full-fledged conversations than the clippy, predictable Q&As favoured by most publications. There is an obvious desire here to encourage actual exchange between and among writers in lieu of plain old pontification. Writers can get on their soapboxes if they want to, but they have to share the park.

You’d think, given the quality of the result, poets and writers would be banging on’s virtual doors to join its ranks, but, according to Steven Brockwell, not so. "It’s like pulling teeth," he says. Though the journal has already attracted a multitude of readers from around the world, contributors are harder to come by. He and mclennan speculate that part of the problem might be a dearth of contemporary models. Writers just don’t seem to know how to talk about their work anymore, at least not intelligently or usefully."

Unfortunately, we in Ottawa lose Melanie and her husband, the writer Peter Norman, for at least a year to Calgary, where she is the writer-in-residence at the University of Calgary starting fall 2005. They also recently edited the third issue of The Peter F. Yacht Club, our own little writers group magazine. To order a copy ($5 CDN, or outside, $5 US), send me an email ( To read her article in full, go to

Another nice moment was by Nathaniel G. Moore, gadabout, now living in Toronto (he was previously in Montreal and New York), who wrote this in the most recent issue of Broken Pencil ( about the anthology Groundswell: best of above/ground press, 1993-2003 (Broken Jaw Press) (

"If you only buy one Canadian poetry anthology culled from broadsides andchapbooks, created by the most dangerous (in a good way) and hardest workingpoet in Canada, let it be Groundswell. An eclectic buffet of Canadian poetry with too many stars to list, Groundswell also includes a lengthy bibliography that fascinates, plus a superlative introduction by Stephen Cain."

Nathaniel G. Moore, Broken Pencil, issue 26 (Nov 2004)

Superlative? Hmmmm. Anyway, everyone is waiting for Moore to have a first book published, whether poetry or fiction, both of which he is trying to find homes for, including his novel on the poet Catallus (strange). But enough about me, what are you doing?

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

McLennan, Alberta

I’ve been working over ten years on a genealogy of McLennan, MacLennan and MacLellan lines throughout Stormont and Glengarry counties, eastern Ontario (Canada). I’ve been working toward point of arrival from Scotland (even if that might take me to, say, New York State or northern Ontario or Quebec first). I’ve found a number of really interesting directions, which force me to do further research in Montreal (the McLennan library at McGill is named for a feller from Glengarry county), Boston (where his family eventually moved), California, Vancouver and plenty of other places.

A few months ago, I found these references to the origins of McLennan, Alberta, a little spot on the map invented for the sake of the rail line. The book The Story Behind Alberta Names, How Cities, Towns, Villages and Hamlets Got their Names by Harry M. Sanders (2003, Red Deer Press) writes:

Town on Highway 2, approximately 135 kilometres northeast of Grande Prairie

... The town was named for Dr. John K. McLennan, an executive (and future vice-president) of this railway.

In 1915, as its rails approached the Peace River country, the Edmonton, Dunvegan and British Columbia Railway (EC&BC) reached the shore of Round Lake (now Lake Kimiwan). Bypassing the existing settlements of Grouard and Round Lake, the ED&BC established the new divisional point of McLennan. Round Lake residents quickly packed up and resettled in McLennan. Despite its Scottish name, many of McLennan’s residents were French Canadian. The townsite was named for Dr. John K. McLennan, the railway company’s secretary-treasurer, purchasing agent and future vice-president. After earning a medical degree in Winnipeg, McLennan moved to California where he practiced until J.D. McArthur recruited him for the administration of the EC&BC. When the Canadian Pacific Railway took over the line in 1920, McLennan and his family returned to California. McLennan was incorporated as a village in 1944 and as a town in 1948.
(p 211-212)

Another reference I found in the book Back Roads of Northern Alberta by Joan Donaldson-Yarmey (1992, Lone Pine Publishing), that writes:

Continue west on Highway #679 to Highway #49 then turn north to McLennan, home of Hollandia Bakery, the largest, privately owned bakery in northern Alberta. Besides supplying baked goods in Alberta, they also cover the North West Territories and the Yukon. Tours can be arranged by phoning 342-3582.

Kimiwan Lake is the intersection of three major bird flyways: the Mississippi, Pacific, and Central. 27,000 shorebirds rest here on their yearly migrations. Many beautiful waterfowl nest on its shores and the lake is a protected wildlife breeding area. Visit the interpretive centre or wander along the boardwalk and see how many species you can recognize of the more than 200 that frequent the area. Especially watch for snowy owls, bald eagles, and whistling swans. Kimiwan is shallow, but has good fishing for perch, walleye, and pike.

The Cost of Ingenuity

McLennan owes its existence to the "ingenuity" of an Edmonton, Dunvegan, and British Columbia (ED&BC) Railway employee, Hughie Hunter. the railroad was searching for a source of pure water for their steam locomotives and Hunter was sent from Grouard to Winagami Lake and Round Lake (Lake Kimiwan) to collect water for testing in Edmonton. When he arrived back at Lesser Slave Lake, the water container was empty and rather than retrace his steps for another sample, he dipped the vessel into these waters. The water received high marks from the chemist in Edmonton. Thanks to his resourcefulness, the railway spent years hauling water from Lesser Slave Lake to McLennan, because the actual water from Winagami and Round Lakes ultimately proved unsuitable.
(p 67)

What I’m interested in is, who is this doctor fella, Dr. John K. McLennan, and where did he not only come from, but where did he go? So far, I’ve not been able to find anything.

Monday, November 15, 2004

-- blatant advertisements --

above/ground press chapbook subscriptions -

starting January 1st, $30 percalendar year for STANZAS, chapbooks, asides + broadsheets. (in Canada,$30 Can, outside, $30 US)

Current & forthcoming publications by Julia Williams (Calgary), rob mclennan (Ottawa), donato mancini (Vancouver), Andy Weaver (Edmonton), Barry McKinnon (Prince George), Michael Holmes (Toronto), Jan Allen (Kingston),Rachel Zolf (Toronto), Matthew Holmes (Sackville), Jason Dewinetz (Victoria),William Hawkins (Ottawa), Lori Emerson (Buffalo), Gregory Betts (Hamilton), Karen Clavelle (Winnipeg), Alessandro Porco (Montreal), Stan Rogal (Toronto), derek beaulieu (Calgary), Max Middle (Ottawa), Peter Norman (Ottawa), Anita Dolman (Ottawa), Patrick Lane (Victoria), George Bowering (Vancouver) + others.

send all your money
payable to rob mclennan,c/o 858 Somerset Street West, main floor, Ottawa Ontario Canada K1R 6R7

for more information on above/ground press & STANZAS magazine (for longpoems/sequences) (since 1993)
check out

for information on my own most recent titles, check out my own website or (for what's left), or (for stone, book one)

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

the duke of somerset
an elegy

edward seymour, the duke of somerset,
for a secret marriage

over edward vi

the corner of bank,
where the banks were

the duke of somerset pub,
sixty-eight years

in the same family

not a tavern licence new in this city
for decades

now one less more
where less

is exactly that

where will our old men go,
to smoke treason

of cigarettes

or warden
the scottish marches

one more disappointment

at tower hill

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Eckhart Cars, Peter Jaegar
2004, Salt Publishing, 132 pages
isbn 1-844710-37-8, $15.95 US

can place their eyes
against the pieces

p 1, Eckhart Cars

The most recent collection by Canadian poet Peter Jaegar, now living and teaching in London, England, is Eckhart Cars, after the collections Sub-Twang Mustard (poetry, chapbook, housepress, Calgary, 2000), ABC of Reading TRG [on the Toronto Research Group] (criticism, Talonbooks, Vancouver, 1999) and Power Lawn (poetry, Coach House Books, 1999).

A diverse collection of pieces under the banner of Eckhart Cars, the collection is filled with jagged lyric: "all ear / but never long without the heart / all her twinkling stars." (p 87, A Black Tooth In Front). The strongest section has to be the first, the multi-part title poem, as he writes:

Faced with a careful selection
of chemical stews, commonly found
plastered to walls or pouring
over heaths, dunes, and stony places,
we should buck up, for perfection
equals normalcy, and we assume
a human power to exceed
the less heroic traits most valued
in our culture...

p 2, Eckhart Cars

Each section, each piece follows its own constructional path and stretch, from the fugue of couplets that make up "Sitting" (p 67-71), the back and forth of lyric and choice in "Bibliodoppler" (p 72-77), to the ongoing length of the final piece, "A Black Tooth In Front" (p 87-129). The second piece, "Pollen," reads like a series of slogans or maxims, writing "As long as we stay with specifics we can only accumulate" (p 3) or "All theory constantly aspires toward the condition of example." (p 14). The piece "Buoyant" wipes all across the page, reading as a scatter: "ballast spreads // in tunes / waves // in the diner takes // a bath birth // twists // the water breaks –" (p 61).

Or, as in the jagged breaks of the poem "Midwest" (p 22-8), the text reads as a string of electrical starts, and breaks that read as both ends and expectations, taking the next instead to a different place, the poem existing there within the collisions:

strings of animal families
are at last. Slaking a penny
on my banking, as the
clanly faces seed
asleep–I grow
a back-up blameless: I
bark, the place a
bleached-out driver

p 23, Midwest

It’s as though the words are building up the text and at the same time destroying it.

the author of a dream, awake
to basic pretence–

p 33, A Book I Am Dreaming

The collection reads as though Jaegar worked through as many "baffles" as he could find (as Bowering has called individual constraints) and collected them into a book. Even on the back cover, the book describs itself as "not unlike a collage which samples and modifies other pieces of writing." And with Jaegar’s background, working on the Toronto Research Group (made up of bpNichol and Steve McCaffery), as well as both references in the book and on the back cover, he certainly knows his way around various kinds of non-linear writings (anyone who reads the collection can find plenty of references and games in the material), managing to take that ball and go so much further. I mean, should we be reading John Newlove into "So They Say" or bpNichol into the prose piece "Martyrologies," that begins:

He admitted that this was so, and after a short imprisonment he
was beheaded. He was broken limb by limb. She was burned to
death on an islet in the river. Whereupon they were buried alive.
But eventually she died from her sufferings. For the insubordina-
tion they were twice decimated. She was executed by being stabbed
in the throat (a common Roman form of execution). He was
himself arrested and put to death amongst supernatural happen-
ings. In a drunken fury they set on him, pelting him with bones,
and although one of them tried to save him, he was killed by a
blow on the head with an axe.

– p 52, Martyrologies

With the small size of his previous trade collection, Power Lawn, I’ve heard suggestions that Eckhart Cars is Jaegar’s first full-length poetry collection. Either way, Coach House Books should certainly put Power Lawn back in print; or someone should. Eckhart Cars is an impressive collection of pieces by a writer who knows the difference between reference and repetition, and knows how to write it close to the bone. It’s only unfortunate that, as a Canadian writer, Salt Publishing doesn’t have Canadian distribution (they distribute, I believe, in the US, UK and Australia). It would be good for more Canadians to be able to read one of their own.

What I like best is the smell. I don’t know what kinds of ink you folk use over there in England, but I could spend my whole day smelling this. Do you remember that part of Fast Times at Ridgemont High where the whole class smelled the gestetner copies?

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

ongoing notes, November 2004

Buffalo NY: During a reading I did recently in Buffalo, I was given a small chapbook by SUNY Buffalo student Jessica Smith, a collection of six short pieces published in early summer, 2004, titled blueberries. As she writes at the back of the collection, blueberries was published as "an invitation to my work. These poems are an experiment to record the vast and shifting visual architecture of memory in the space of very small pages. The spatiality of memory is further explored on larger sites in my recently completed manuscript, Organic Furniture Cellar: Works on Paper 2002-2004."

The poems in blueberries work from associations and disassocations, with patches of words, phrases and parts of words scattered across each page. Part of the point of each piece is working through the difficulties of following the lines, working through "e / b / dewy patches / grow blue" (p 2, Wolf Lake), as well as working through multiple kinds of readings of each piece, depending on which thread the eye decides to follow.

As she writes, "These blueberries are for tasting, not for selling. Please share them with your friends." These blueberries never hold to the same flavour, and the brief taste certainly makes me crave another helping. I would like to have some more.

Information on how to get a copy, or for anything else about Jessica Smith, contact 547 Franklin St., #1, Buffalo NY 14202 or email her at

Mount Pleasant / Paris ON: Any new publication by Paris, Ontario resident Nelson Ball is an event, and the chapbook WITH HELD is no exception. Published in an edition of fifty copies by Kemeny Babineau’s relatively new chapbook press, Laurel Reed Books. As the acknowledgments tell us at the back of the small chapbook, "The title of this collection is in part a reference to their history as they were withheld from the following books: With Issa, Bird Tracks on Hard Snow, Concrete Air, Almost Spring, At the Edge of the Frog Pond."







As publisher/editor of Weed/Flower Press in the 1960s and early 70s, Ball published early and important books by writers on both sides of the border, including George Bowering, Clayton Eshleman, William Hawkins, David McFadden, Victor Coleman, Anselm Hollo, John Newlove, David Cull, Brad Robinson, Gerry Gilbert, David Rosenberg, bpNichol and David UU, and more recently, edited the new edition of bpNichol’s Konfessions of an Elizabethan Fan Dancer (Toronto: Coach House Books, 2004). As well, Ball is, as both collector and bookseller, the holder of the largest collection of small press in Canada.

That being said, through his own writing over the years, Ball has become our most essential minimalist. In twenty-four short poems, there is nothing left but the essence. Here are a few of the smaller examples:






the words spark



Everyone should read the work of Nelson Ball. To see how his influence over the years has shaped others, go to the work of Toronto writer Stuart Ross, Ottawa resident jwcurry, or Mark Truscott’s first collection, newly out from Coach House Books, Said Like Reeds or Things.

For information, contact Laurel Reed Books at 206 Maple Ave., Mt. Pleasant, Ontario, N0E 1K0. Also, watch for his most recent trade collection of poems, At the Edge of the Frog Pond, newly out from Toronto’s Mercury Press.

Ottawa ON: Grant Wilkins has been doing some very interesting things lately with his semi-annual ‘zine, Murderous Signs, usually available for free at various of the small press fairs around these parts. As he writes, "dedicated to presenting comment, prose, poetry and perspective on subjects literary and cultural, and to the notion that the printed word, well crafted and aimed, can be used as a weapon." I just remember the piece he published, a few years ago, by jwcurry; a letter he had sent to the rare books librarian at McMaster University, explaining at length why it was so foolish for librarians to not be purchasing small literature new, waiting instead for out-of-print prices. How price tag does not equate value.

The 10th issue of Murderous Signs is in three sections that both collide and compliment: A Note On Modernism & two poems by Charles G.D. Roberts, five poems by George Elliott Clarke and the poem "Guernica" by Stephen Collis. From three sides of literature, Roberts was considered one of the Confederation poets, and the essay is reprinted from the anthology Open House, edited by W.A. Deacon and W. Reeves (Ottawa: Graphic Publishers Ldt, 1931), back in the days when poetry and poetics were argued in the daily news.

The poems included by George Elliott Clarke are probably my favorite of what I’ve read of his. Before moving to teach at the University of Toronto via teaching in the Carolinas, Clarke spent a number of years living in Ottawa. Listen to this, a section from the middle of the poem "La Verite a Ottawa," writing:

                                      Crossing the Eddy Street Bridge,
Into drab, bureaucratized Hull, its fat, grey edifices,
And Tijuana-raucous bars, you’d see, on your left,
The frothing falls of the E.B. Eddy factory, the clean
White energy of the water charging into channels
To electrify turbines and generators, with the Peace
Tower behind you, in the rear-view mirror, thrusting,
Marvelously erect despite all the eunuchs droning
In its bowels.

                    You’d absorb all this beauty, but also
A marriage fraying because of your unreconciled
And unrequited desire, that acidic love that seeped
Into all the sutures and silences of the marriage
And corrupted it.

                    In Ottawa, you were never able
To forget a one-sided, wasteful, self-hating love,
A record of cold kisses, unhealthy, and so you
Tumbled out of love with a body, the Arctic cold
Axing your lungs, while the barren, spindly trees
Before the Chateau Laurier put on stalactites or daggers,
And you fell between wedding and divorce into
A warm nest of treasons.

The seven-page "Guernica" piece by Stephen Collis includes some interesting surprises, from a poet about to publish his 2nd collection with Vancouver’s New Star, as well as working on a book on the west coast poet Phyllis Webb. Listen to this fragment of the sequence:

Crouches on the ground
Just stands there
Flaps its wings
Are lying around
Picks herself up
Falls or is hurled through the air
Swoops down
Emits rays of light

Hangs down lifeless
Is twisted upward
Is turned back abruptly
Has been severed from the body
Is torn back violently
Are outstretched
Has almost been snapped off
Is isolated from her breasts

To order copies, send $5 for 2 issues or $8 for four issues. Payable in US outside of Canada or add %50 CDN. Make cheques or money orders payable to The Grunge Papers, c/o PO BOX 20517, 390 Rideau Street, Ottawa Ontario K1N 1A3. Otherwise, just come to either the ottawa small press book fair or the Toronto Small Press Book Fair, and you should be able to get copies from him there.
my time as writer-in-residence at the 2004 ottawa international writers festival

The "writer-in-residence" position at the ottawa international writers festival was made official a couple of years ago, created specifically for Toronto writer and publisher Stuart Ross. No wads of Canada Council money, when it came to my turn, I was quite unclear as to what exactly my role in the festival was. Not that I would ever complain. Simply to be able to participate in any part of the festival is thrilling enough, with a week of readings that wouldn’t happen in Ottawa otherwise, giving me access to writers whose work I very much know and admire, and an introduction to other work that I wasn’t previously aware of. The joy of discovery. I’ve known for some time how brilliant David McGimpsey, Cordelia Strube and Jon Paul Fiorentino are, but its quite another thing to be introduced to the work of Gatineau author John Lavery, someone I only know, and know of, through the existence of the ottawa international writers festival.

Since the festival started, in October 1997, I’ve made a point of staying in Ottawa to be able to participate, even if just as audience. A couple of years ago, we realized that, apart from the organizers, Stuart Ross and I had been to more festival events than anyone else. To be called "writer in residence" seemed an extension of our ongoing associations with the festival, and the generosity of the people who make the festival happen, year after year. Since the festival started, fewer readings exist in Ottawa during the rest of the year, making the festival almost the only game in town. A week every fall where we gorge ourselves on literature, and the long hangover, where those of us left feel packed with sweets.

During a stay in London in 2002, I walked through a British bookstore to discover that most of the titles featured were by authors I had heard and met at the Ottawa festival. It’s one thing to know the reputation of a Canadian author from here, whether Michael Redhill or Jane Urquhart, but quite another to be able to know to invite Glenn Patterson, Robert McLiam Wilson or A. L. Kennedy, all of whom, when they were through town, were spectacular.

Two years ago, jwcurry held the smoking room as publisher, during one of Stuart Ross’ tenures, and produced a publication on the gestetner, allowing anyone willing to mark up a stencil to be part of the festival "instant anthology." Instant, but for the hours upon hours that curry would remain in the room after the rest of us had long crashed, and hand-feed paper into a machine older than the stock market crash.

The job felt important as one of witness, able to greet the authors as the came through, and seeing and doing those things that articles should never tell, as well as the 3 a.m. moments of turning the living room of the hospitality suite into a fort, flipping over chairs and cushions with David McGimpsey, Jon Paul Fiorentino and Max Middle (led by Clare Latremouille), or trading Middle Eastern and Australian film titles with Paul William Roberts, and what didn’t get thrown off the balcony of the 20th floor. As Robert Kroetsch has said, literature is a conversation, and able to enter into a whole new range of speaking, just by being there.

From the 20th floor: the city noises, nosing up into the stratosphere like spotlights from the street, the pale streams of light merging once they cleared the buildings.

After the first couple of nights, I realized that the job itself was to go to as many of the events as possible, answer questions when authors asked, host the hospitality suite, and clean up all the empty bottles (etcetera) between the authors leaving and housekeeping coming in. Late nights of sundry talk and drunken ramblings by writers from various corners of the globe. Things I would be doing anyway.

I’ve read at other festivals, at the Winnipeg International Readers Festival in 1999, as well as the Windsor Festival of the Book in late October, 2004, and was able to crash a few nights of the hospitality suite at the Vancouver Writers Festival in 2001, who, along with Winnipeg, both closed their hospitality suites down around midnight. And then there’s Ottawa, whose suite never closes, for the entire seven or eight days of the festival. I’ve seen too many mornings from a hotel room in Ottawa, thanks to Sean Wilson and Kira Harris, far more than I will ever see otherwise.

At the ottawa international writers festival in 2001, Toronto writer Sheila Heti and I pitched muffins off the 22nd floor balcony of the hotel, multiple hours after she read from her first short story collection, The Middle Stories. Well after midnight, trying to hit the opposite roof. Hearing them hit, but never seeing. We hadn’t met before. I had only heard her name.

At the 1999 version of the same, I provoked Cape Breton writer Lynn Coady to a wrestling match. Glengarry County vs. Cape Breton, pounding drink after drink, through taunts of "I could take you." Once it began, it was over. I was on the floor in seconds, as she danced around the room in grand triumph, four in the morning.

Stuart Ross has a photo of the event, that I have never seen. Ask him.

I will probably never ask. I want to know it exactly the way I remember.

During the Writing Life panels at the 2001 festival, I was able to hear out loud what already in my head: the solitude of writing, and having to borrow money to pay the rent. How writing is the only (seemingly) art form without apprenticeship, and the only one that seems to thrive on that distinction. The years of quiet work and reading, writing bad poems and short prose before anyone else should interfere, or muddle through.

As a working writer, author of ten published poetry collections, and four unpublished novels (in various states of completion), hearing someone years further ahead of where I am having the same problems with living is a great comfort. With the act of writing such a solitary one, it gets easier to imagine that everyone else has it so well, and that you are the only writer in creation having problems with finishing a manuscript, remembering to eat or talk to friends, or paying any bills at all.

At the 1999 festival, Sean Wilson, one of the festival directors, said that most writers are generally good people. He wondered out loud, if those people behave that way through writing, or if those kinds of people simply gravitate toward the written word.

There was an article recently in The Globe & Mail about writing festivals in Canada, on how it seems a very Canadian thing to have them at all, especially so many. And so important, I find, for me both as writer and reader, the incredible focus of attention on writing and writers giving me renewed energy and fresh ideas to work quietly in solitude for months afterward. A new stack of signed books beside my desk, waiting to be read. Wait, is this all about me?

A shorter festival than previous years, the list of authors for the 2004 ottawa festival was, nonetheless, still impressive: sixty-eight writers that included Stephen Brockwell, Peter Norman, Alberto Manguel, Catherine Bush, Steven Galloway, Colin McAdam, Leo Furey, Patrick Lane, Michael Winter, Bill Gaston, Helen Humphreys, Donna Morrissey, Jon Paul Fiorentino, David McGimpsey, Jon Lavery, Michael Helm, Elyse Friedman, Paul Quarrington, Wayne Grady, Paul William Roberts, Goran Simic, Cordelia Strube, Shane Rhodes, Steven Heighton, Alistair MacLeod, Ian Rankin, Geoffrey Brown, S.E. Hinton and Greg Hollingshead.

It becomes so hard to pick favorites, but Brown probably gave the most charming reading I’ve ever witnessed, from his novel Self-Titled (Toronto: Coach House Books, 2004), and the openers, Stephen Brockwell and Peter Norman, reading from their battle of the sonnets collaboration, were easily the crowd favorite. Near the end of the festival, it was Alistair MacLeod who packed the auditorium of the National Archives, as a whole crowd waiting to hear him, accidentally catching wonderful readings by Strube and Quarrington as well.

During the 2004 festival, after crashing finally at five in the morning, the most I could really do after waking up was bathe, eat, check email, and perhaps do an hour or so of notes before returning at 5:30 or 7:00 for another reading. This is probably the most I was able to scribble during the week:

if my body works at all today,
it works its way against sleep

or its abundant lack

But what a week it was.

Monday, November 01, 2004

ALL AMERICANS: recent works by Rob Budde, Fred Wah & Stephen Cain

It seems interesting, with the argued movement of the United States from Nation to Empire over the years, Canadian poets are making their own comments on ourselves and our neighbours to the south (are we us, still, because we are not them?). In Prince George writer Rob Budde’s chapbook my american movie (Prince George BC: wink books, 2003), Toronto writer Stephen Cain's "A History of Canada" from the anthology Career Suicide (Montreal: Moosehead Anthology IX / DC Books, 2003) and shared Calgary/Vancouver poet Fred Wah’s housepress chapbook, All Americans (Calgary: 2002), the work is thick with references, although very little of it to do with the situations current. The three pieces all work as sequences reacting to other works, in those places where histories overlap, and are forced to interact. The place where cultures collide.

Rob Budde, originally from Winnipeg but now living and teaching in Prince George, British Columbia, has worked the long poem / sequence in most of his previous writing, best exampled in the collection traffick (Winnipeg: Turnstone Press, 1999). Part of a longer work-in-progress of sequences (declining america) the chapbook my american movie is written as a series of eleven film clips – unpaginated blocks of rolling prose – claiming to work in reaction to Jean Baudrillard's America, with, as he says, quotes from Baudrillard’s text scattered throughout (further editions are said to include further clips). A beautifully designed chapbook, it’s also the first in Budde’s new wink books series. Another part of the same work-in-progress has appeared since, Americausal, as an issue of STANZAS, number #37 (Ottawa: above/ground press, 2004).

It’s said that one hundred years ago, the best way to affect culture was through the poem; fifty years ago the novel, and currently the film. Budde's clips understand this, and work as a series of western cultural standards, which some claim, are as much American standards (which George Bowering would call "USAmerican."), writing: "thrumming in alternating neon colours to the rhythm of britney while subjects / gyrate to the soundtrack unaware of the price in terms of narrative agency... a lunar / american with no gravity no conscience" (scene 1), to "taste the richness of north american life as its / incandescent fullest that bratwurst kind of satisfaction of knowing the pop song / will not stray from pop culture storehouse of pop pleasure" (scene 5).

In my american movie, Budde is highly aware of popular culture, and how low it can go, with hints of violence and the appeal of the lowest common denominator. As he writes "drive-through, drive-by, drive-in // and with such standard features as this the interior rich with textures the mirrors / adjusted to read the world in retrospect" (scene 4).

Another poet immersed in the long poem / sequence for many years and books, including Music at the Heart of Thinking (Red Deer AB: Red Deer College Press, 1985), and a longtime Calgary resident recently returned to Vancouver, Fred Wah writes of the execution of thirty-eight Sioux Indians at Mantendo, Minnesota on December 26, 1862, known as the Minnesota Massacre. A two-sided publication produced in 2002 in an edition of 125 by Calgary's housepress, All Americans tells various sides of a narrative in both very straight and peripheral ways, starting: "We are all americans. / We met on the prairie. We hunt. / The point is, we must send a clear and unambiguous message to the world." (n.p.). Another series focusing on differences, it begins with a powerful quote from Nicole Brossard’s "Poetic Politics": "Anyone who encounters insult and hatred because of her or his / differences from a powerful group is bound, sooner or later, to echo a we / through the use of I and to draw the line between us and them, we and / they."

As Fred Wah writes in his acknowledgment for the sequence of seven poems: "All Americans is a text that was serialized for an installation called ‘Storybook Story’ curated by Luanne Martineau for the Art Gallery of Calgary 14 September - 11 November 2001. The text is meant to resonate with the weekly installments of three other writers involved in the same project (Skawennati Tricia Fragnito, Ahasiw Maskegon-Iskwew, and Rosemary Nixon). All of our texts were written in response to two panorama renderings of the Minnesota Massacre of 1862 from the Glenbow Museum's permanent collection. The first installment of our texts was due on Tuesday, September 11, 2001. I've used parts of their texts in my own, as well as some text from Snow Crash by Neal Stephanson."

Written with various contradictory movements, from events around the massacre itself to airplanes and airports, with not-so-subtle references to the events of September 11, 2001 in New York City: "They flew themselves and if they can do that successfully they can do whatever they want perhaps / they’re playing hide and seek had they behaved themselves and remained in possession of this / immense tract of land, they would have been worth twice as much per capita ‘How do you know / they are maintenance workers and not Rife soldiers in costume? Did you check their ID’s?’ they / chanted ‘God is Great’ and handed out candy they said it would be a huge and unprecedented attack / but they did not specify to destroy everything belonging to them and force them out to the plains..." (n.p.).

Wah has written on cultural collisions before, from his own mixed heritage, in books such as Waiting for Saskatchewan (1986), and his collection of essays, Faking It: Poetics & Hybridity (2000), called a long poem in itself. As well, in his ongoing series of "Artknots," Wah has been writing pieces reacting to various visual art pieces, included as an extension of his "music at the heart of thinking," included in its second segment, Alley Alley Home Free (Red Deer College Press, 1992). It is interesting to see so deliberate an overlap of Wah’s own concerns, and an excuse for him to do so.

In "A History of Canada," dedicated to Bill Hutton and George Bowering, Toronto writer Stephen Cain writes a brilliant and funny sequence in his standard working of ten, prose sections referencing various Canadian history touchstones such as "Wolfe & Montcalm," "The 1837-38 Rebellion," "The Last Spike," "Louis Riel," "The King-Byng Affair," "The October Crisis," and "Tom Thomson." After two solo trade collections and the recent completion of a collaborative third, with Jay MillAr, from his forthcoming American Standard / Canada Dry collection (Toronto: Coach House Books, 2005), this is easily one of the strongest of Cain’s works, weaving in references of all kind, merging various literary and historical notes and commentary into compact spaces, regularly mixing absolutes and competing ideas. As he writes in "The King-Byng Affair": "Nobody has confidence in the system anymore. M. T. Kelly is better than Ondaatje?" (p 39).

2. THE WAR OF 1812

It’s one we won. It’s cows versus cowboys and the Flames want to merely march
across the border. Speaking of arson, we got to burn Buffalo and the fires haven’t
stopped since. Every night it’s a five alarm at SUNY and Bernstein can’t absorb
Tecumseh’s techne. Creeley, Duncan, and Spicer move onto the Western Front, but
Bromige and Blaser are already talking with Tallman. Now it’s up to TISH to tamper
with Olson and lead the charge to Kootenay. The project is blackened before it can
be mounted, but no matter what Mathews mitigates it’s a stalemate. Still, it was
important – without it, we’d have no army, no autonomy, no chocolate.

Much like Budde’s text, Cain’s "A History of Canada" works as a series of prose scenes, boiling numerous elements down into singular lines. Even in the piece "THE WAR OF 1812" (a war that arguably started the notion of being "Canadian" as being "not American"), referencing, among other things, The Western Front (a gallery in Vancouver infamous for hosting performances over the years by numerous Canadian and American writers), the early 1960's newsletter TISH (which was lambasted by some for being too influenced by American writing), SUNY-Buffalo (the State University of New York, where Steve McCaffery recently replaced outgoing professor Charles Bernstein, a strong centre in the United States for language writing, with strong ties with various Vancouver and Toronto writers, including those once known as TISH, and The Kootenay School), The Kootenay School of Writing (a loose child of the newsletter TISH), and Robin Mathews, who led the charge that TISH was too influenced by American poetry, and therefore anti-Canadian.

Matthew’s argument came out again when George Bowering won the Governor General’s Award for Poetry in 1969. There was even a group of poets and others who founded the Peoples Poetry Prize at that time, just to award it to Milton Acorn, who many thought should have won the GG instead for his I’ve Tasted My Blood, and not a book of poetry by a "false" American poet.

Leave it to the Canadians to be indirect, and reference as much history as anything else, to make whatever current points. Simply writing as they are writing.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

october 27
from a day book

The start of losing her / was knowing what could be missed:
-- Shane Rhodes

the name for what is left behind,
the curls in my hair if cut too short

what the weight will not hold

my daughters, also, too curly
for its own abundance

on muggy days, when we both
curse our hair from wherever

we are, & she my name too,
the one who gave it to her

as a body never wants
what it already has: spending how much

to get straightened, cut
& coloured

my daughter in red; where we
have come too say, her mother

& i, isnt that just
so much like her

she, who was once so much smaller

she, who was once just us

Friday, September 24, 2004



Her brows crowded together
An unbroken line.

The army advancing
A mile wide

And then her chest cavity collapsed.
They were carrying flags.

Wind occupied the house.
Red flags.

And they became it
And carried them lightly.

Part of a group of seven poems that appeared in Conjunctions: 21 (1983, Bard College, New York), subtitled "the credos issue," is Cole Swensen’s "Ghazal of the Empty Thing." I presume that these poems all subsequently appear in one of her trade collections, but so far, I haven’t seen it. An American poet from Denver, Colorado, Swensen has published over half a dozen trade collections of poetry over the years, although I’ve only managed to get my hands on four: numen (1995), Oh (2000) and Such Rich Hour (2001) and Goest (2004).

There was something about this poem that stuck with me for weeks, after finding a copy of the magazine twenty years after it was first published, in a dollar bin at Octopus Books in Ottawa, in the summer of 2003. Something that brought me back to it, again and again. I like that there isn’t any obvious thread but the "empty" thread, which is the thread itself. An absolutely lovely series of small moments set up against each other.

The ghazal, as played by North American english-speaking types, works with its disconnections, five couplets that don’t necessarily hold together; they hold simply through that refusal instead of despite it. I love the disconnectedness, evoking more of an umbrella feeling and vague image than any one thing. It is never one specific thing that makes a poem work, but the unknowing, the unknowable. Sometimes it is precisely that thing that you can’t explain that makes it.

There are so many moments between the lines that any narrative thread I could suggest would then erase all others. I refuse. I want to hold to all the potentials that this short poem will allow. I want to live in the wide open spaces of this poem forever. I do not want to understand.

Friday, September 17, 2004

an opening, a letter: some notes on Fred Wah & Open Letter’s Alley Alley Home Free

"once carried is also held"

– Fred Wah

Frank Davey’s Open Letter: A Canadian Journal of Writing and Theory just did two issues on Calgary poet/teacher Fred Wah and critic/teacher Pauline Butling, Alley Alley Home Free (Twelfth Series, Number 2, Spring 2004 and Number 3, Summer 2004). Edited by Frank Davey, Nicole Markotic and Susan Rudy, it publishes selected contributions from the Poetry Conference and Festival for Pauline Butling and Fred Wah at the University of Calgary, May 15-18, 2003. Originally organized to celebrate the two as Wah retired from the Creative Writing department of the University of Calgary, and Butling retired from the Alberta College of Art and Design, before they headed off to Vancouver, the two-issue celebration includes essays, an interview, poems, informal talks and other pieces by Maria Hindmarch, Erin Moure, Robert Kroetsch, Rita Wong, Susan Holbrook, Fred Wah, Colin Browne, Susan Knutson, Charlene Deahl-Jones, Peter Quartermain, Aritha Van Herk, Miriam Nichols, Gail Scott, Debra Dudek, Pauline Butling, Charles Bernstein, Louis Cabri, Suzette Mayr, Daphne Marlatt, Frank Davey and Diana Brydon, as well as an introduction by Nicole Markotic.

There are a number of really exciting pieces in the two issues, such as Colin Browne’s piece, "Roland Barthes in the Kootenays," Charlene Deahl-Jones’ "Letters to the Language: Biotext as Correspondence" and Kroetsch’s "Listening into Words: ‘Again only is it in the thing itself.’" It will be interesting to see how the Calgary lit scene, so heavily influenced by Wah and Butling since they arrived in 1989, will evolve, especially with the recent arrival of Christian Bök at the University of Calgary. Since 1989, for example, Calgarians have seen the arrival of the journals filling Station, the new dANDelion, (orange), and a multitude of writers – Suzette Mayr, ryan fitzpatrick, derek beaulieu, Julia Williams, Dean Irvine, paulo de costo, Louis Cabri, Jonathon Wilcke, Ian Samuels, Jill Hartman, nathalie simpson and so many others it’s hard to keep track – almost all of which can claim an influence by either Wah or Butling.

As a reader and a student (for how else can one study writing than by reading), Fred Wah’s writing is probably one of the best Canadian examples of Charles Olson’s line, "One perception must follow immediately on a further perception," placing one word there after another and moving forward. Working race and place and mountain and trees and visual art and the very flow of breath, of the language itself, and all sorts of other concerns. Part of what makes his work so exciting is how he uses such a multitude of forms in his writing. Exploring forms such as the utaniki, a Japanese form used previously by bpNichol, much the way he was exploring his own Chinese quarter. Through the writing.

I only heard Fred Wah read once at the Vancouver Writers Festival and I think the seats in the theatre were distracting me. I want to remember better. I do recall, though, him saying that the poems he was reading were from his future Talonbook (he had spoken to Karl just before he walked on stage). Still looking into the future. Now that he’s retired, does that mean the publication he spoke of, bumped a few times, will finally appear in 2005? And the only bad thing about the tribute, now that I’ve seen the bibliography at the end of the first issue I know what I’m missing. How the hell am I going to find these? Another challenge certainly set. As John Newlove once wrote, "help me not to know." I now have to find them, all.

I’m always amazed at the bad photo reproductions in an issue of Open Letter, including the bad reproductions in the visual poetry issue, Contextualities: Contemporary Visual Poetry in Canada (Tenth Series, Number 6, Summer 1999). Exactly the last place where badly reproduced visuals should appear. For years Open Letter has been setting the standard for writing on writing, talk on what so much is never covered anywhere else, and making the avant the focus, but something happened to the production a few years ago that has yet to be corrected. Such as: the photographs included in these issues look terrible. Little blocks of digitization on Charles Bernstein’s face.

Still, journals of celebration are always fun to read, and manage to bring out such interesting pieces from both expected and unexpected corners, illuminating both the work of celebrated and celebrant, and Canadian Literature has certainly had its share (although never enough), including The Capilano Review on George Bowering (back in the day), The Fiddlehead on John Metcalf, West Coast Line on Phyllis Webb, Essays on Canadian Writing on Eli Mandel, Descant on Dennis Lee, and various Open Letter issues on numerous writers, including bpNichol, Warren Tallman, Sheila Watson, Barbara Caruso (one of my favorites) and so many others. But still so much that hasn’t been covered (someday some brave soul should attempt the same on Ottawa resident jwcurry). Even the current issue of the Chicago Review has an issue on late American poet Ed Dorn, filled with some extremely interesting pieces by and on the late author of Gunslinger, with the issue following focusing on the work and life of the late Louis Zukofsky.

Calgary poet and artist derek beaulieu wrote a piece for Fred Wah, published in July by above/ground press as [Dear Fred], an open letter for his friend, mentor and former University of Calgary professor, a piece that wasn’t included in the Open Letter tribute (although I’m sure you could fill another two volumes with other writers who would have wanted to be included).

I have my own piece on Wah, which was distributed by beaulieu at the conference (I couldn’t afford to fly to Calgary for the Conference, even though I so desperately wanted to). It’s part of a series I’ve been working on for three years now called apertures. Instead of writing poems about other poets, as in George Bowering’s Curious (Coach House Press), I’m writing poems about other poets’ stuff. Is there a difference?

Fred Wah’s breath

a raw exhalation,
w/ pictures

pictographs from the minds

walks along two paths
of colour

& concern

stations a response
from Kootenay jazz, a

mountain gust

a coffee cup that knows
no bounds

his name, that
which is not said

but heard, escaping
slow, a twig

from kissing mouth