Tuesday, January 25, 2005

ottawater: a city of romantics & optimists

Published to help celebrate the 150th anniversary of the City of Ottawa, Canada’s glorious capital city, "ottawater," and its chemical formula/logo "O2(H2O)," is a brand new poetry annual produced exclusively on-line, in both readable and printable pdf formats. An anthology focusing on Ottawa poets and poetics, its first issue appears in January 2005, 150 years after old Bytown became the City of Ottawa. Long seen as a town made only of bureaucrats and technocrats, and a more conservative poetics, "ottawater" simply wants to remind us of what work is happening, and has been happening for years, despite government types announcing every few years that the arts in Ottawa is about to begin. We say instead: we have always been here.

Edited by Ottawa writer rob mclennan, the first issue features work by various residents current and former, in both readable and printable pdf formats, including: Stephen Brockwell, George Elliott Clarke, Anita Dolman, Tamara Fairchild, Laurie Fuhr, Gwendolyn Guth, William Hawkins, Matthew Holmes, Clare Latremouille, rob mclennan, Max Middle, Peter Norman, Monty Reid, Chris Turnbull and Ewan Whyte, interviews with poets John Barton and Max Middle, and reviews of work by Stephen Brockwell, Peter Norman and Shane Rhodes, as well as artwork by Derrick Lacelle, Don Monet, Jeremy Reid, Jennifer Kwong, Sarah Dobbin, Juan Carlos Noria and designer Tanya Sprowl.

The launch party will be happening on Thursday, February 3rd at the Mercury Lounge, 56 Byword Street, Ottawa, from 8pm to 10pm, lovingly hosted by rob mclennan, who David Gladstone called "the poet laureate of Centretown Ottawa" in 1996 in The Centretown Buzz. There will be short readings by various of the contributors, including Gwendolyn Guth, Max Middle, Anita Dolman, Chris Turnbull and Peter Norman. After the readings, stick around and have a drink, as the program to follow is resident dj Trevor Walker hosting Mui Afro Funke, playing latin and African influenced musics, jazz funk, and house music later on into the night.

You can find the first issue here.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

span-o, poetry 101 & The Factory Reading Series

It was in 1996, I think, when I first started hosting poetry readings at Gallery 101 on Lisgar Street, under the title "poetry 101," suggested by Fredericton poet Joe Blades. The idea was simple enough: regular readings by writers who probably wouldn’t have opportunities to read in Ottawa otherwise, whether local writers or those from further abroad. Despite the amount of activity in & around Ottawa over the past fifteen years or so that I’ve been paying attention, the bulk of activity has always been irregular, with very few actual regular events, whether the readings at the Manx Pub (focusing on out-of-towners), The TREE Reading Series (twice a month since 1980), or the Dusty Owl Series, which recently returned after a break of eight years.

Now under the umbrella of the small press action network - ottawa (which also hosts irregular readings at Mother Tongue Books & Collected Works, as well as the semi-annual ottawa small press book fair), some of the readers that have come through the doors of 101 to read for the series have been Joe Rosenblatt, R.M. Vaughan, Deanna Young, Sheri-D Wilson, Monty Reid, Robin Hannah, jwcurry, nathalie stephens, Stuart Ross, Chris Turnbull, Robert Priest, Jacqueline Turner, Gil Adamson, Joe Blades, Jill Hartman, derek beaulieu, maria erskine, Grant Shipway, Peter Norman & Stephen Brockwell. Now held at Gallery 101's Nepean Street location, this next season will include three readings, on Thursday nights starting at 7:30pm, starting with February 17th (Erin Bidlake, Shane Rhodes & Rob Winger, Ottawa), March 24th (Anita Dolman & Max Middle, Ottawa) & April 7th (Stephen Cain, Rachel Zolf & Mark Truscott, Toronto). More information can eventually be found here.

As well, span-o is hosting a chapbook launch by Eric Folsom (Kingston) & gregory betts (Hamilton) on Friday, February 25th at mother tongue books, 1067 Bank Street (at Sunnyside), starting at 7:30pm.

All events are lovingly hosted by rob mclennan.

Monday, January 17, 2005

maria erskine

2-1: nothing rhymes with purple, either

‘One word’ is two words - and to ... send you
‘a word’, an instant failure,
overreaching, the re-aching
over, and yet. yes.

you don’t need the quot. marks,
read unlettered signs - oh: in the market,
saw a piece of cardboard sticking up out of a
big bushel of carrots:
it read CARRUS; made me smile, think of
you again, for some.

1,2 ... and nowt rhymes with silver

in this subdivision,
raise the Zenophilic yamfry
stakes -
carve this
whittle conversation
[there’s some sauce left]
niblets, veegers, Whaanh?
... silver-y x-z lines
still two quiet
knots -
ellipses ease

When Toronto poet maria erskine read with jwcurry at the Factory Reading Series in Ottawa last year, it marked the first reading she had done anywhere in thirteen years. Always on the sidelines & secretly in the game, maria has been writing & publishing so quietly for years, in the little places where you might not otherwise see. It would be difficult to be at a reading in Toronto & not see maria there, somewhere, in the background, lurking in a corner with John Barlow or Daniel f. Bradley, perhaps.

For a time, around when she ran the Toronto Small Press Fair with Maggie Helwig, she self-produced lovely little chapbooks and broadsides that she would slip into the hands of friends, her gaddisflypapers. Sometimes a piece produced by jwcurry, sometimes a slip of paper by above/ground press (reprinted in Groundswell: best of above/ground press, 1993-2003), her published poems are like rare birds. We keep trying to convince her to release more but it moves so slowly. How does one get a poem or two out of maria erskine? I really don’t know; I only wish I did. I’ve been hoping for a chapbook manuscript for years of her poems, but so far nothing has come of it.

There’s a story told of one of Vancouver poet Maxine Gadd’s books from the 1960s, that bill bissett had to break into her house & steal a stack of poems to turn them into a book; telling Gadd’s reluctance to release work. Was it Westerns? The Hippies of Kitsilano? I wish I could remember. In the end, I guess she forgave him. It was what nearly had to happen around 1996 to get a poetry manuscript out of Ottawa poet Robin Hannah (now she doesn’t tell us where she lives). & I wonder if this might have to happen to maria.

The exciting result of her reading in Ottawa was that it pushed maria to want to read again, & she recently did a reading with daniel f. bradley for Toronto’s solsquinox series. We can only hope she might do more.

I would very much like to see a grouping of her lovely little graceful poems, quirky & completely original flecks of sound & language. If you ever have the chance to hear maria erskine read, take it. You might not have another.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

some photos from a party at Clare Latremouille's house in Ottawaon December 18, 2004, including Priscilla Uppal, Suzannah Showler, Tom Fowler, Christopher Doda, Sean Wilson, Clare Latremouile, Jennifer Mulligan, Wanda O'Connor, Bryan McDonell, Melanie Little, Peter Norman, Stephen Brockwell etc.

aren't you sorry you missed it?

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Spent the last few days sitting with a borrowed laptop in the Ottawa Room at the Public Library, looking up genealogical data. Until I re-emerge, an interview I did with Vancouver poet Meredith Quartermain should soon be up at Alterran Poetry Assemblage (on her forthcoming NeWest book, Vancouver Walking, among others), & an interview Arizona poet Sheila E. Murphy did with me at Stride magazine, UK. A very strange cartoon my daughter found, as an advertisement for soy sauce, & another that Susan Elmslie found, called bubblesoap. What odd distractions I do have.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Parts Unknown, Michael Holmes
2004, Insomniac Press, 88 pages
isbn 1-894663-59-4

His first trade collection of new poems since James I Wanted To Ask You (ECW Press) was published in 1994, is Parts Unknown, edited by Paul Vermeersch and published by Insomniac Press. With his work since as editor for ECW Press (a position he took in 1995, to replace outgoing poetry editor Bruce Whiteman), very little of his poetry and fiction has appeared in print over the past decade, with a chapbook published by above/ground press, 21 Hotels in 1998 (later reprinted in Groundswell: best of above/ground press, 1993-2003) and the "Hate Sonnets" in 2005 as an issue of STANZAS (some of which appeared earlier in an issue of Queen Street Quarterly), among other stray pieces, as well as the novel Watermelon Row (2000, Arsenal Pulp).

A collection of "wrestling poems," subtitled "Wrestling, Gimmicks and Other Work," the collection is built in five sections: Parts Unknown, Battle Royal, 10 Bell Salute, Finishing Moves and Parts Unknown: A Selected Professional Wrestling Glossary. Parts Unknown is a celebration of the sport of professional wrestling, as the pleading earnestness of James I Wanted To Ask You replaced with a carny’s sense of irony; the "Battle Royal" section including titles such as "The Godlike Genius of Scotty Too Hotty," "It’s True, It’s Damn True," and "Eat Your Hart Out, Rick Springfield." I don’t know of any other Canadian writer this much into wrestling, with the possible exception of Nathaniel g. Moore, or unoffical poet laureate of pop culture, David McGimpsey. There does seem to be a McGimpsey influence, from a poet Holmes has edited three books for so far, through ECW Press.

Socko’s hobby? To boost pomo works on non-stops from Oslo
to Moscow or Compton from Toronto; hotshot, gold shod, lord,
Socko’s cold, cooly loots (won’t kow-tow or cop to who jobs
for who). So coy Socko scowls, shoots: fops, fools, tools, boobs–
dolts pop for Holy sock-rot. Socko rocks how Bon Scott shook:

(p 32, Socko’s Bök, for Cowboy Bob Orton)

A lot of my problem with Parts Unknown as a collection (if "problem" is even the right word) comes from the fact that I don’t think I get it; I don’t know the references Holmes is making about specific wrestlers, events or wrestling moves. I don’t know who "Mr. Socko" is, and I don’t think I’m going to. Is this my problem or is it his? The way he has written the collection, for the pieces to work seem dependant on the reader knowing what the references mean. When Lisa Robertson worked her collection, The Weather (New Star Books, 2001), as she wrote in an afterward, the book "took shape when [...] I embarked on an intense yet eccentric research in the rhetorical structure of English meteorological description." Where Robertson wrote around her exploration of the language itself of "English meteorological description," Holmes explores, instead, the meanings and stories of contemporary professional wrestling, which, if you don’t know the stories, works often to alienate.

Nothing beats an education–the Hart school’s
basement and the Red River journalism program
will do–into you, separates everyday jackass from
serious assclown, like the cold. No one fools
or suffers themselves after being stretched by grim

extremes like the Chicago Manual of Style and Stu.

(p 26, The Walls of Jericho)

Certainly, there are enough literary references in the collection, from bpNichol in "The True Eventual Story of Badd Billy Gunn" (merging wrestler Billy Gunn with bpNichol’s Governor Generals’ Award-winning collection, the true eventual story of billy the kid) to Christian Bök in "Socko’s Bök" (merging "Mr. Socko" with a reference to Bök’s Griffin-prize collection, Eunoia, built of chapters written each using a single vowel). But even these aren’t necessarily written with a need to know what the literary references mean, engaging instead the language of the thing, and of the sources. Intended as play, or bonus, instead of necessity.

The bulk of the collection is the strangely uneven "Battle Royal" section, where some of the best pieces lie. A series of individual poems referencing wrestling, as well as a number of other cultural tics, as in this stanza from the poem "What?"that references both a loans commercial involving the over-the-top, carny threats of a wrestler (can’t you see him on your television, shouting into that microphone?), and the South Park movie:

Excuse me, excuse me, Intercontinental Champion here
gonna hit him so hard he’s gonna grow hair
don’t blame Canada, blame yourselves
so, for the benefit of those with flash photography
somebody call my momma, because I’m about to hurt somebody

(p 46, What?)

There is a lot of interesting play going on in Parts Unknown, and a poetry collection on professional wrestling (a sport/entertainment that arguably took much of its theatrics from the late comedian Andy Kaufman), considered an over-the-top entertainment, deserves the same from its literature, and Holmes delivers, for sure.

whosoever believeth in him, should not perish, but have everlasting life.
(I kicked your ass, Jake Roberts. No more
piledrivers, ever, Owen Hart.) The Hollywood Blonde nightmare
always leaves him like this, paralyzed by holy ghosts, whispering
Flying Brian Pillman. Stone Cold, we cannot rebuild him.

(p 19, A Man, Barely Alive)

There is a lot in Parts Unknown that I don’t know about. I’ve never been a fan of the "glossary" in a collection of poetry, especially in one as long as the one Holmes ends the collection with, over five pages of his "Parts Unknown: A Selected Professional Wrestling Glossary." But given the title of the collection, is "unknown" perhaps the point? Is it exactly this not knowing that Holmes is working with, and working against?

You knew wrestlers could be anything or anyone,
even your boys could hail from parts unknown.

(p 13, Parts Unknown)

The section I got the most out of in the collection is the penultimate section, "Finishing Moves," a twelve-part series of wrestling moves collected in groups. The section least dependant on knowing information about wrestling, it focuses on the movement of the words themselves, and as I would suggest, the strongest writing in the collection. Highly entertaining, a merging of meaning and play that both removes meaning, and plays off them.

Jalapeno Roll Sudanese Meat Cleaver Polka Dot Drop
The Shitty Elbow Bolo Punch Tutti Frutti
Flying Burrito Super Frankensteiner Marvelocity
"It’s the Big Foot!" Alabama Slammer Veg-o-matic
Towering Inferno Snake Eyes Niagara Driver
Razor’s Edge Pearl River Plunge Honour Roll
Human Frisbee Northern Lights No Laughing Matter
Shooting Star Press Sky High Seven Year Itch

(p 70, vii. Miscellaneous Phenomena, Condiments and Potables)

For the longest time, Michael Holmes has been one of my favorite poets, but I’m thrown (so to speak) by the writing in Parts Unknown. I recognize it, admire the play of language and the fun being had; I know that much of it is good, even great. But it feels like a joke I’ve been left out of, through the process of telling.

originally appeared in filling station