Monday, April 11, 2005

somebody stole my bicycle. reading the new issue of The Chicago Review, & new Coach House poetry collections by Stephen Cain & Shannon Bramer, & Cooling Time: An American Poetry Vigil by C.D. Wright. not that any of that is really related. i miss my bike.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

a note on the poetry of Monty Reid

from Six Songs for the Mammoth Steppe


At the farthest margin of my life
lies the ice of pure simplicity.

Where the hunger of the glacier
with its unfillable crevasses turns me into somebody else.

Where each cold stone beneath the milky water that
runs green from the glacier’s foot

is as smooth as a skull pawed by thought
then discarded.

I am not missing. There is no one
who would know what missing means.

At night, a sharp wind sweeps the cries
of something that has fallen into the ice towards us.

It has the clarity of a single vanished thing
briefly reappearing.

In April 1999, Alberta poet Monty Reid moved from Drumheller, where he worked at the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology for almost 17 years, to Luskville (just beside Aylmer, just beside Hull), Quebec, just over the river from Ottawa, to work at the Museum of Nature. As I joked at the time, moving from Badlands Alberta to Badlands Quebec.

The shadow of the 1960s poets of Canada is very long, and Reid’s work seems not to get the attention it deserves, along with so many other poets who came of age in Canada throughout the 1970s, including Douglas Barbour, Andrew Suknaski, Dennis Cooley, Barry McKinnon, Sharon Thesen and Artie Gold.

The author of a number of books, almost exclusively poetry collections (with a non-fiction book or to thrown in), Reid is the author of Fridays (Sidereal, 1979), karst means stone (NeWest Press, 1979), A Nature Guide to Alberta (Hurtig Publishers, 1980), The Life of Ryley (Thistledown Press, 1981), The Dream of Snowy Owls (Longspoon, 1983), The Alternate Guide (Red Deer College Press, 1985), These Lawns (Writing West / Red Deer College Press, 1990), Crawlspace: New and Selected Poems (House of Anansi Press, 1993), Dog Sleeps: Irritated Texts (NeWest Press, 1993) and flat side (Red Deer Press, 1998), as well as the small chapbook Six Songs for the Mammoth Steppe (above/ground press, 2000). One of the most genuine poets I know, Reid is humble in the same way that Winnipeg poet Dennis Cooley is, almost self-depreciating.

One of my favorite poems from his collection flat side was the poem "Burning the Back Issues," a poem literally on burning old literary journals that he no longer needed. The poem begins:

There is no way to distinguish what one has chosen to remember
from what one has chosen to forget.

It is the first day of 94 and to take the chill from this old house
I am burning the back issues of American Poetry Review.

I didn’t have that many. Maybe two dozen, an old
subscription, and all the faces on the cover have become famous

and mildewed. It is not the first time
I have tried to give up some words. Everyone eventually does

no matter how carefully preserved and through
how many inconvenient moves, but one cannot be responsible

for the words forever.

When I first read Monty Reid’s poems, I didn’t know what I was looking at, and dismissed them too quickly. It took me a while to realize what they were doing (like reading a new language, it sometimes takes time to get into the space and breathing of an author’s work). Monty Reid’s poems have the ability, through long, slow movement, to get immediately at the heart of things. His poems have the ability to forget what a poem is supposed to be, moving instead into what a poem is. Reid’s lines pull at the image and extend it, and somehow get to the point as quickly as anything could.

Even his short poems feel like long poems, and his long poems are made out of small fragments, each one a single step toward something larger and continuous. In his work-in-progress, The Luskville Reductions, Reid extends it while managing to reduce it even further, as in this fragment that appeared in the on-line journal ottawater:

Does the weather
move to some kind of resolution?

Not by itself.

Mid-March, and the river-ice undoes itself
the ideology of water
lifts it

slow groan in the limbs, deep
in the run

faults tromped into the structure

directly under your feet

although they sound as if they
were miles away

and they are.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

ottawa fire report:

for those who have emailed & asked, i wasnt affected by them 2 big fires last night on somerset street west. the first, around 11:15pm or so, was directly beside the window of jwcurry, & we were quite worried for a while (john the owner of the 3rd largest collection of small press in the country & bpNichol bibliographer, 20,000 items so far; john & jen running out with armloads of books & prints, slipping a few times through police lines until they were finally stopped), but it was pretty obvious after a while that the fire was contained (john now lives abt 4 buildings to the west of me, one past the first fire).

the other fire hit around 1:30am or so, & was a block to the east of me, where (apparently) a family of five died. the street was still blocked off when i left home. because of the first fire, power was cut around midnight or so, & wasnt back on until 4:40am, roughly. but curry & i are okay. the street still a mess. thanks again for those who have sent along emails.
Mark Truscott, Said Like Reeds Or Things
2004, Coach House Books, $14.95 CDN / $10.95 US
90 pages, isbn 1 55245 145 3


Air: alone:
you are


the dust

the window


moment, airily

as this
pen, these


The precision of the poems in Mark Truscott’s first collection of poems, Said Like Reeds Or Things, is quite lovely. The sparseness that doesn’t read sparse. Truscott is probably one of the only poets I’ve seen who really seems to have learned and understood the precision in the poems of Paris, Ontario poet and bookseller Nelson Ball. Even more perhaps than jwcurry.


Knowing he’s dead, Glenn Gould plays Schoenberg.
Knowing he’s dead, Glenn Gould plays Schoenberg.

It’s the ease he brings to the poems that really impresses, putting so much in so little, and an ease that makes the poems appear so deceptively simple on the surface, until you fall deeper in. There are so few Canadian poets who really understand the use of spacing and physical space on the page (Saskatoon’s Sylvia Legris being one of them). In his Said Like Reeds Or Things, Truscott is our poet of the infinite moment.


It’s true, air conditioning
makes you feel more in control.
The grass between tents at the picnic
is getting worn down. Prepositions
pass the muster. Lisa
passes the salt. Who
will tip the waiter?
Bush speaks urgently in the Rose Garden.
Misunderstanding is its own reward.

Mark reads in Ottawa at The Factory Reading Series (7pm, Gallery 101, 236 Nepean Street) on Friday, April 8th (his 35th birthday) with Toronto poet Rachel Zolf & Ottawa poet Wanda O’Connor.

Friday, April 01, 2005

ongoing notes, April Fool’s Day 2005

Is there anything more foolish than to write about small press? (I really should be working on my novel.) Speaking of which, Montreal poet-maven Jon Paul Fiorentino has started a blog (worth reading solely for his critique of Carmine Starnino’s most recent collection of essays), as has Calgary poet Laurie Fuhr (we would like her to return to Ottawa someday, but understand her need to travel). I’ve been working on my own response to Starnino, and the result should (hopefully) be up in a few weeks when Stephen Brockwell, Anita Dolman and I (with the help of Paul Dechene) release the fifth issue of our

Calgary AB: After Calgary poet / publisher / editor derek beaulieu shut down his years of publishing chapbooks and other ephemera through his housepress (and the amount of coverage he got claiming lack of coverage), as well as his years with dANDelion, filling Station and endnote (a small publication dedicated to more critical inquiry, I’ve always been disappointed that endnote didn’t go further than it did), I had been hoping he would get back to it after a break. Recently returned to filling Station, it’s entirely possible he has, with the appearance of the chapbook fractals in my mailbox today. The first chapbook (it seems) published in a lettered edition of twenty-six copies by Calgary’s No press, with hand-stitching, lettered copies and hand-cut pages, it feels like a derek production.

Of all the visual poetry happening in Canada, beaulieu’s is perhaps the most persistent, appearing in journals, chapbooks, books and ephemera more often than anyone else’s (not that there are many journals in Canada that would consider publishing them), and is often some of the most interesting. Collecting two sequences, "andor 1-5" and "portrait 1-4" ("portrait 4" appeared a long time ago as above/ground press poem broadside #101), the pieces in fractals seem to work more from photocopy manipulation than his previous series. And he does seem to favour the series, his "Calcite gours 1-19," that appeared in part in his Coach House trade collection with wax, and later in full, as an issue of STANZAS. The visuals lately have seemed rougher, even lighter, something the clean and very lovely production of the chapbook almost contradicts. Still, the evolution of beaulieu’s visuals is an interesting thing to follow, to see where he ends up going next. At some point, I think, I would be very interested to see how beaulieu tackles a trade collection of visual poetry (equally interesting would be a trade collection of visuals by Jason Le Heup, the Vancouver-born member of the Toronto group Prize Budget for Boys).

Not that photocopier manipulation is a new thing, jwcurry has done his versions, as did bpNichol and I believe John Riddell (it would make an interesting essay, I think, to map the use of photocopy manipulation in visual poetry), a history that beaulieu would know far better than I. The quote at the beginning, from the Minolta CF1501 / CF2001 Operation Manual, "The environmental requirements for correct operation of the copier are as follows." reminds me of something Coach House maven Stan Bevington once said of bpNichol, how beep taught him how to use all of the printing equipment by not knowing how to use it properly, and being willing to experiment with what shouldn’t be done.

I can’t say for sure if derek produced this, or if he has any more or if there will be further publications from this No press. Certainly, you should email him and ask:

Prince George BC: Now that Winnipeg poet Rob Budde is all settled up in Prince George, British Columbia in his teaching job and family and such, he has started producing chapbooks under the name wink books, almost an extension to another of his Northern BC publishing ventures, the online journal stonestone. Starting with my american movie (2003), Budde has recently released two other chapbooks, the collection one hour more light, poems by Jeremy Stewart (2004), and another of his own, software tracks (2004), and, as both claim, "published in limited personalized editions sporadically."

I don’t know who Jeremy Stewart is, but I’m intrigued by his one hour more light, a long poem built out of fragments, writing thick physical lines on Prince George and veering off in various directions.

Handing out handbills from the tables, the kids
all want to be there on September 13th. We don’t mind
getting kicked out for soliciting. The waitress is rude, but
she gets our bills right. The Legion show is coming
together. Subversion, Negative Aggression, Dead
Reckoning; I scream and play lead
in Telepathy. We headline. When 300 tickets sell,
we make ourselves sick with the money

Some of the lines in one hour more light have potential, but I think what makes Stewart worth watching is for what he will eventually do, and not necessarily what he is currently doing. A promising poem (with terrible drawings), I can dip into this collection anywhere and not get bored. I would like to see more.

Budde’s software tracks, as he writes in the colophon, "is heavily influenced by Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons. It came about as an attempt to write a cubist CT scan of the american body. It is part of a larger text called declining america." The same project his my american movie is part of, Budde seems to be taking a page from Prince George poet and publisher Barry McKinnon, who has long been publishing chapbooks of his own work that have later been collected into larger trade editions, both through his Caledonia Writing Series and Gorse Press. For years I’ve been enjoying the poetry of Rob Budde, but it was his collection traffick (Turnstone Press, 1999) that made me realize he was onto something real, and atmospheric. Easily one of the most consistently interesting younger poets in the country (I would include Toronto poets Stephen Cain and Margaret Christakos, as well as Vancouver poet Mark Cochrane on that list), Budde is a poet who doesn’t get nearly enough credit.

Written in very long lines, here is the poem "anorexia," that writes:

Doubled, this hedge-like structure should be trimmed unevenly through acupuncture dismissals. Perusing a periphery for a new hegellain bagel metaphor.
A Jacobean development: after-the-fact but so much more cocktails.
Expectantly, custard takes on the spoon, calls for a sudden, an exacting conjunction.
Walking is walking over.
The zipper was.
Window frame spillage, beading, the bones wary even over cotton weave. A relenting. Whoop whoop.
Alibi in stitches.
Litmus lime twist.
A swindle refusing lack. Ignore the next one.

In an unpublished interview, Budde talks of the collection as a whole, saying, "declining america is not polemic and does not so much address America the nation (if such a thing exists), but is rather an exploration of ‘america’ as a linguistic strategy. The book represents ‘american’ language as a habit, a way of life we all (in Canada and throughout much of the world) engage in, it parodies, and offers some alternative language strategies. A long poem called ‘my american movie’ address ‘issues’ most directly but is in the form of performance rants/monologues. This piece was written in response to Beaudrillard’s book America in which he travels philosophically through the American southwest. Another long poem, ‘software tracks’ is subtitled ‘a cubist ct scan of the american body’ and is a series of Stein-like (Tender Buttons) sections each titled with a bodily affliction (‘lung cancer,’ ‘apathy,’ ‘depression,’ ‘obesity,’ etc). It is a book written out of fear but into issues of language politics not overt politics. Chomsky, Roy, Moore, and Nader have done enough in that area–there’s only so much Adbusters can take."