Ongoing notes etc, late August 2004
Toronto, Ontario: After her first collection made so much noise (her 2001 collection from Brick Books, Short Haul Engine was nominated for the Griffin Prize), it’s good to see something new from Toronto-based Karen Solie, in her chapbook The Shooter’s Bible (2004, Junction Books). A beautifully-designed chapbook in an edition of 150, The Shooter’s Bible includes three sections of poems on geometry, Walter Benjamin, birds, weapons, small arms & chance.
Designed with hunting images across the cover, the chapbook is built in three sections along the same lines – Range, The Shooter’s Bible and Open Season. There is a practical edge to Solie’s poems, mixed with a casual toughness, with an undercurrent of rougher stuff, a darkness. Listen to the end of the poem "AN ARGUMENT FOR SMALL ARMS" (p 21) that reads, "Extension / of the arm, the eye, the mind’s / follow-through to an end / in shards. The clap and recoil / of continuity, cracked. Air torn / like a letter through the middle / of before and after." Or the piece "ONE NIGHT STAND," that I’ve included in full:
ONE NIGHT STAND
I could say it’s a wash
in a border town where even the border
is at sea, a floater. On a clear day,
America bellies up in plain sight
across the blameless strait. I could say
constancy’s a wobbly topic,
though I’ve been years in a house
that suits me well enough,
with its doorknobs and its doors,
and I’m known in certain corners
as a real live wire, tireless booster
of the last one standing. That night,
nothing but good legs to go on. The bar
shucked bass into the street, an unknown
band from way down east. He saw me
from the stage in my next-best
dress. I was neither here nor there.
Sometimes, we fold. He drove
through 2000 miles of rain, he said,
only to find me at the continent’s
end. His gift to me. And mine to him
that I would not think of him again.
Someone should really interview Solie at some point. I’d love to hear what she has to say about writing. Why hasn’t that happened?
Unfortunately, due to ill health, editor/publisher Carleton Wilson made only two chapbooks this spring – Solie’s, & David Seymour’s HEAD ARRANGEMENTS: Twelve-String Poems for Huddie Ledbetter – as well as a great t-shirt with a Walter Benjamin quote (I wear mine all the time), & has cancelled &/or postponed the remaining books for 2004. Hopefully he will be feeling better soon & can, among other things, make more books. For more information on these or his backlist, check out his clever website at www.junctionbooks.com
Edmonton, Alberta: To be launched in October by Extra Virgin Press / Olive Reading Series are their first two chapbooks separate from the Olive reading series chapbooks, one by Shani Mootoo (that I haven’t seen yet) and Don McKay’s Varves. A lovely chapbook of eight pieces, half of which are prose, Varves reads as an interesting counterpoint to McKay’s Camber, selected poems (McClelland & Stewart: Toronto) that appeared in April, 2004, especially considering the collection didn’t include any "new" pieces (& ignored the first ten years of his publishing as well, leaving out, among other things, his Long Sault). Even though the chapbook appeared in fall 2003, the publishers wanted to wait until McKay could go to Edmonton to launch the book before they released any but the sparsest number of copies.
In both poems and prose pieces, McKay moves from pastoral to stone (he has long been called a "pastoral" poet. I haven’t decided what I think of that yet), writing "Precambian Shield," and Scottish standing stones in "Gneiss," ending the piece with:
Think instead of Munch’s The Scream with its contour lines of terror;
then subtract the face. Or you could turn on the weather
channel to observe those irresponsible isobars scrawling across
the planet. Imagine our ancestors tracing those surfaces, whorled
fingertip to gnarled rock, reading the earth-energy they had
levered into the air. They had locked the fury into the fugue
and the car crash into the high school prom. They engineered
this dangerous dance. Better stop here. Better spend more time.
(p 2-3, Gneiss)
By now, he and his partner, Jan Zwicky, are probably at the family cabin the McKays still have near Williamstown, Ontario (in Glengarry county, by the Raisin River), where the two of them write in seclusion a few weeks or months out of every year, usually in the late summer & fall. (Envy, envy, envy.)
For copies of this or the Olive chapbooks they’ve produced, or to get on their email list for the monthly Olive readings, bother any of the boys at firstname.lastname@example.org
Victoria, British Columbia: Another one of those letterpress publishers out there in the world is Caryl Wise Peters’ Frog Hollow Press, publishing chapbooks by various authors including John Barton, Shane Neilson and others. More formal than my usual taste allows, one book I did get recently was tracery & interplay, by Fredericton, New Brunswick poet (and President of the League of Canadian Poets) matt robinson. An absolutely lovely book, the grey flannel cover (as the colophon says, a wool and cotton paper from India) makes the book feel better than almost any I’ve held. I like to hold it.
His third collection, after two trade books, tracery & interplay is a collection of eleven hockey poems, from "zamboni driver’s lament" and "why we wrap our wrists the same each time" to "the lost art of waving." My favorite in the collection has to be "to montreal, by bus, for the game" that reads (in part):
the widening eyes’ competing vices, stretched rubberband’s
near-limit taut, of the rain. all of – a sea now
un-parted after years – a sudden. the instant biblical,
or near. the sky a headlong torrent tear; like
what we imagine must be the theatrical
interior of a drain just after a plug’s grudging acquiescence;
I like the rhythm of the poems in this collection, feeling as though robinson is more & more comfortable in his own voice. For more information, check out their website at www.froghollowpress.com
Toronto, Ontario: I’ve been reading various poetry collections by Toronto poet Phil Hall, & realizing that he deserves much more of my attention than I’ve previously given him. Called a ‘language’ poet with the concerns of a work poet, Jay MillAr’s BookThug recently published a small chapbook of Hall’s called The Bad Sequence. Originally performed by the author as part of MillAr’s series, The Speakeasy, "a series of informal talks" on March 7, 2004, The Bad Sequence is a series of lines making swipes at bad writing, & the things that many of us might still do, even though perhaps we shouldn’t, starting:
This is a bad sequence.
The Bad Sequence is ready for its interview about
A strange and hilarious sequence built out of a series of lines, some parts of it seem too familiar, making his own criticism of the art through an over-the-top sequence.
The Bad Sequence is overly sub-title-proud.
The Bad Sequence knows that the self-sufficient
line does not a book make.
The Bad Sequence has chosen erudite, funny, and
campy quotes as epigraphs to suggest that it is eru-
dite, funny, campy. This is like sticking your head
through a hole in a painted wall at a carnival so
that in the resultant photograph it looks as if you
were having tea with the Queen.
The Bad Sequence has been too busy waiting for
the mailman to water its plants.
The Bad Sequence has read something you have-
n’t, and in that advantage mistakenly hears poetry.
According to his bio at the back of a recent issue of Event, Phil Hall celebrates 20 years with Brick Books with the publication of his next collection, An Oak Hunch, in 2005.
The Bad Sequence is published and distributed by Jay MillAr’s BookThug. Other current BookThug titles include limited-run chapbooks by Daniel f. Bradley, Alice Burdick, Christopher Dewdney, Jason Dickson, Gerry Gilbert, Jesse Huisken, Karen Mac Cormack, David W. McFadden, Jay MillAr, nathalie stephens and rob mclennan. check out his website at www.bookthug.ca. & check out the interview I did with Jay MillAr on his BookThug in the fall issue of Broken Pencil, due out in October.