Friday, July 29, 2005

Ongoing notes, late July 2005

Victoria, British Columbia: I recently got copies of the two chapbooka produced by Maleea Acker’s LA MANO IZQUIERDA IMPRESSORA out of Victoria: Bren Simmers’ Fire Lookout and Fred Wah’s Isadora Blue.

Produced in a numbered edition of seventy-five, Fire Lookout is a collection of ten ghazals by Bren Simmers. A young poet who actually works as a Fire Lookout in the Rocky Mountains, Simmers has published poems in journals across Canada, and attended the 2003 Sage Hill Fall Poetry Colloquium, but this is her first solo collection. Since John Thompson’s Stilt Jack from 1976, pretty much every poet in Canada has tried ghazals, with varying degrees of success (with some of the most interesting produced by Phyllis Webb, Douglas Barbour, Eric Folsom and Andy Weaver, for example). Still, sometimes its best to go right to the source: Thompson’s own ghazals have been put into a Collected Poems published by Goose Lane Editions in 1995 that everyone should own.


This valley bears no water.
Pine trees, thin columns of thirst.

Mountains, the dry hips of women.
Your letters, blessings in golden envelopes.

Sweet Vetch blooming in the meadow.
Kinnikinick on the south trail.

Your voice muffled with distance.
Another bad reception.

Wax of old candle stubs, engine oil, ink;
all my hands have touched.

Produced in a lovely edition of two hundred copies with french flaps, Isadora Blue is the first Fred Wah publication in a while, since he retired from the University of Calgary and returned to Vancouver (check out the two issue Open Letter tribute Alley Alley Home Free that published selected contributions from the Poetry Conference and Festival for Pauline Butling and Fred Wah at the University of Calgary, May 15-18, 2003). At least it’s something else to tide the reader over, after he announced a forthcoming new poetry collection from Talon during a reading he did as part of the Vancouver Writers Festival a few years back.


Like white silk
Forget the world

White-headed crows

Only dew,
Therefore grass

Moon, the sound of branches, rivers, pines

Dynasty, official, garden, scholar, temple
Meticulous, like ten thousand

The radical
In heaven’s refrigerator

Late spring
Diving or pissing into the moon
A watchman
And bowl of wine
Silence as music
Ratio of axe to handle
Too far off

I like the slight reference to W.C. Williams’ plums, and the way the references become linked but not linked, like stringing beads beside other objects into something further than a straight narrative line. One of the original Tish kids running around Vancouver and UBC in the early 1960s, Wah has really been moving in interesting directions since the early 1980s, with his writing becoming both more aware of issues around race, as well as subverting narratives (my current favourite of his collection is So Far). He has also been more open to collaborative works with visual artists, including a recent piece presented as part of Spatial Poetics in Vancouver in early July. Even these pieces exist as one half of a collaboration, as Wah writes in the acknowledgments, “Most of these texts were written during the Canada-México Photography/Writing Exchange 2002-2003 in Mérida and in Banff.” And who better to explore such exchanges?

Acker, in an email, says that the press has a whole bunch of stuff by Mexican poets in the works, and possibly some larger collaborative art/writing publications as well. For information on this or any other titles, you can either check out the website, write c/o 733 Connaught, Victoria British Columbia Canada V9A 2Z1 or email

Montreal, Quebec: Young poet Ben Kalman has been making small chapbooks for a couple of years now, out of his home in Montreal, where he has been a student at Concordia, focusing on publishing the work of newer poets (with some fiction as well), such as Denis Robillard, Shane Plante, J.J. Steinfeld, Zach Wells, Matthew Tierney, myself and Michelle Tracy..

One of his most recent chapbooks is Sporting In New Scotland, by east coast poet Jeanette Lynes, the author of three trade collections and a previous chapbook, published by above/ground press. As in many of Kalman’s productions, the type is far too small, as he seems convinced that the only way to produce a chapbook is to put two 8 ½ x 11 sheets of paper side by side and reduce them in a photocopier. When mine was produced a few years back, I suggested the type was too small (it would have been fine had he kept it the same size), but he said that the machine did that. I keep hoping he will realize the difference between machines and the people who operate them, but so far, he hasn’t. Otherwise, I quite like this little production of poems on Scottish immigration. As a Scot myself (Glengarry County, thank you very much; where we have the largest Highland Games in North America, happening this weekend), I appreciate the references and bone dry humour Lynes puts in her poems.

a brief history of the celts in the old
world & the new (in five moveable parts)

[old] they board a boat; they suffer.

[new] they disembark; they suffer.

[then] they out-migrate; they suffer.

[later] they return; they suffer.

[any time] they pipe their song; they suffer.

One thing I’ve noticed, is that her chapbooks (her previous chapbook inglish prof with her head in a blender. turned on. high. appeared in 2001 with my own above/ground press) always have a poem or two that are formally more challenging and interesting than the rest of her work, relying more on play than the straight narrative line. Somehow these poems never end up appearing in her trade collections. Why is that?

Wicklow, Ireland: I just got a package of Wild Honey Press chapbooks in the mail, including The Richard Nixon Snow Globe by Californian poet Rachel Loden (and doesn’t it just sound like a Richard Brautigan title, somehow?). There’s something about Nixon and the 1960s and 1970s that seems to seep into her poems on a regular basis, something that was also evident in her first collection of poems, Hotel Imperium (University of Georgia Press, 1999). Hotel Imperium, much like the current collection of twenty-four pages, wrote on the complications of history in hindsight, working through the fall of the Soviet Union, Richard Nixon, Woody Allen and Little Richard, blending them all together into both poems and commentaries disguised as each other.


Some ambitions are blonde and impetuous
Like searching Google’s endless manse
For a Richard Nixon snow globe
Letting desire overcome good sense

Because one night under a dappled moon
A man with the requisite supply
Of glitter flakes and plastic
Might have physically needed to make one

So he could see Dick’s head inside a dome
While hoodoo snow is falling
On the baby bush tricked out with lights
In his rancho home sweet ovum

Just what is it about Richard Nixon? Throughout the collection, Loden also touches on Playmates, Leonid Brezhnev and the current American President. There is something about Loden’s light touch of phrase that I’ve always been attracted to, even making the hard turns seem less severe. Still, the collection is predominantly about Richard Nixon, both political and cultural figure, and the only American President that had to leave office in disgrace. And I wonder if she’s written a piece to go along with the recent outing of Deep Throat?

You can find the website for Wild Honey Press (with other titles as well) here.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

I'm thinking of calling myself "publishing darling." I'm thinking of starting a group of volunteers, & calling them the "rob mclennan action rangers." I might even make badges.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

rob budde’s A Sleep of Faith (2005, wink books)

Very much in the vein of his Prince George, British Columbia mentors Barry McKinnon and Ken Belford, former Winnipeg author rob budde has started producing small edition chapbooks in his new northern home, from my american movie (2004) and Software Tracks (2004) to the most recent A Sleep of Faith (2005). The author of a number of poetry collections, as well as two novels, his last collection of poetry was the impressive traffick, published in 1999 by Winnipeg’s Turnstone Press (with another collection, flicker, apparently forthcoming). A collection of long poems / sequences fit under the umbrella title “traffick,” Budde’s long prairie play is both serious and irreverent, following traditions long established by bpNichol, Dennis Cooley, Robert Kroetch and George Bowering.

The notion of play has always been an important element of budde’s poetry, and this piece is no different, working a dart and a hopscotch skill through such reflections as the line “sleep as if sleep exists anyway” (n.p.). As well, in A Sleep of Faith, budde employs the use of grey text in places, highlighting phrases within the text as a motif for alternate readings, as in this section of the poem:

preemptive sleep, just in case

sleep like at a
poetry reading, polite, filled with
linguistic virtuosity, easing your way to the
wheezing cheese platter

staring at white paint and not knowing the

repose via repository

sleep is overcoded; sleep is underfunded

sleep as if shopping for something you already

sleep as if your regular breathing is an integral
part of the elaborate ecological of the entire earth
and its convenience stores

sleep in moss, mushrooms burgeoning from your
eyes, a sphagnum cornea

In her piece “Every Exit Is an Entrance (A Praise of Sleep)” that appeared in Prairie Fire (Vol. 25, No. 3, Autumn 2004), Anne Carson writes, “I want to make a praise of sleep. Not as a practitioner–I admit I have never been what is called ‘a good sleeper’ and perhaps we can return later to that curious concept–but as a reader.” She later goes on to say:

It is in these terms that I wish to praise sleep, as a glimpse of something incognito. Both words are important. Incognito means “unrecognized, hidden, unknown.” Something means not nothing. What is incognito hides from us because it has something worth hiding, or so we judge.

budde does move his sleep as something hidden and unknown, while at the same time, understanding that “faith” is something that can not necessarily be known but can be developed; can be explored but never explained. The whole notion of faith, certainly, is to believe in something that can never be proven.

a court order for order when none will be had,
sleep as a public protest, a concerted civil
disobedience, a police line broken–sleeping off
the chaos, sleeping off the anarchy

Copies (if they are still available) of A Sleep of Faith can probably be wrangled if you write him, & maybe even send him a chapbook or two of your own in exchange, c/o 751 Tay Crescent, Prince George BC, V2M 3V3. Otherwise, check out his online poetry journal stonestone, or the blog that he’s started recently.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

A weblink to Ottawa poet, publisher, bpNichol bibliographer (etc) jwcurry, & another of the ottawa small press book fair, with photos of myself, Jon Paul Fiorentino & Stuart Ross. some new poems of mine with a recent photo. the (finally) new issue of A cartoon I can't get enough of. & has anyone seen the video for this song? What else do you need to know?

Monday, July 18, 2005

West Coast Poetry Festival, Vancouver (coda)

Recently I was part of the West Coast Poetry Festival that happened in Vancouver from July 7th to July 10th. Only their second year of operation, it’s impressive, as Stuart Ross said during his reading, that any festival manages to keep all the events free, and still pay the writers. Called the largest poetry festival in Canada, there were crowds of over two hundred people at some of the events, including at Wayde Compton and Jason DeCouto’s performance at the Vancouver Public Library. Kudos to the organizers, including Sean McGarrigle, Michael Campbell, Inger-Lise and Marianne. An impressive feat, I do think (although a little spoken word heavy for my taste. Whatever.)

Some of the highlights included:

Larissa Lai, Roy Miki and Goh Poh Seng: I have never heard Calgary writer Larissa Lai read before. After this reading, I think I need to spend time looking at her work. Apparently a new issue of West Coast Line has just appeared, dedicated to her writing, but I still haven’t seen it. I haven’t always been a fan of Roy Miki’s poetry, but he read exclusively from new work, most of which I am interested in seeing. He read a long poem in progress that came out of a trip he took to Japan that was quite compelling.

Wayde Compton and Jason DeCouto, Hilary Peach and Alexis O’Hara: After years of hearing about it, it was good to finally hear some of Compton and DeCouto’s collaborative turntable work. Strange, though, the idea of watching two guys spin records, even as their own readings have been put on vinyl and spun as part of their collaborative mix.

Outside the festival but during the same weekend, Spatial Poetics had an evening of poetry and film that included a collaborative film between DeCouto and novelist Hiromi Goto which was quite interesting, and another piece that included Fred Wah, so it caused me to miss an evening of spoken word, that included Calgary writer Sheri-D Wilson, which was too bad.

Hilary Peach, who I’ve heard of but never heard, struck me as one of the strongest spoken word performers I’ve seen in some time. She’s a good writer and doesn’t overdo the whole performance thing. Like anything else, so much called spoken word isn’t interesting, but Peach was interesting. I would highly recommend any of her CDs. I have to admit, this was the first time I’d really enjoyed a performance by Montreal performer Alexis O’Hara, as she moved text and sound through various equipments that repeated and altered sounds. She knew what she was doing, and it was quite impressive. Still, as far as the text itself went, anything cut down by a half or a third, and she would have something quite good and quite dangerous there.

Tish Review: I would have gone to the George Bowering, Fred Wah and Jamie Reid reading on Saturday night (and I did really want to), but I was instead in a brew pub on Water Street with George Elliott Clarke. Clarke can be so elusive that once you have him, you don’t want to let him go, knowing it could be years before you see him again. You know how it is. And besides, Clarke is such a lovely man to spend time with. He has two poetry collections forthcoming, including Black, a follow-up to Blue, and a book of poems written to go with a series of nude photographs, scheduled to be out in November. Otherwise, we talked about kids, mostly. Our own, that is.

Earlier the same day, I had lunch with the lovely Vancouver writer and publisher Meredith Quartermain, who I hadn’t previously met, and we traded all sorts of chapbooks, between mine, and the ones she and her husband Peter Quartermain make as Nomados, including new publications by George Bowering, Lisa Robertson, Nicole Markotic, Sharon Thesen, Daphne Marlatt and Susan Holbrook, but I will talk about them more fully later on.

Christian Bök, who now teaches at the University of Calgary, performed exclusively sound material. His was a performance that had to be seen and heard, to be believed. Moving from a selection of Kurt Schwitter’s Ursonata (a 45 minute sound poem), Christian performed a section of a work-in-progress, The Cyborg Opera, writing out a score of language to correspond with the sounds of a computer game. As he said afterward, he often gets audience who recognize certain “screens” in his performance. Perhaps the only truly conceptual artist in Canada working within the range of text, after the success of Eunoia, this is easily the work that will surpass it.

Stuart Ross: It’s always a delight to hear Toronto writer Stuart Ross, even if we somehow can’t have conversations. As usual, he had his small poem handout for the festival, that he read as part of his time on stage.

Because One Thing Bumped Into Another

I was just a young hamburger, a hamburger
wandering from bun to bun, I did not care,
reading Proust and Beckett and Eluard,
dreaming of a tiny apartment in Paris,

while the other burgers played football and
fought in the alleys with switchblades, spilling
their condiments in their reckless wake.
At night, I nestled beneath a bed

of sautéed onions and shivered,
an orphan of ground flesh whose
visceral nightmares made sleep a world
of terror. Someone once told me

of a thing called love, and also
a thing called lightning, and I
watched the skies for both,
peered longingly through the frail wisps

of cloud that drifted amidst
the airplanes. I was a young hamburger,
and Paris was just a page in a book
that was wrenched from my grasp

by a dark-suited man with a red necktie
who said that the world had changed.

Ross also wrote about the Festival on his blog, some of which is pretty entertaining.

Apparently during the first of his two readings, George Bowering read the entirety of the poem “Do Sink,” which I would have loved to have heard. The second, on the final night of the festival (promoted as “The Three Georges,” with Bowering, Stanley and Elliott Clarke), he read new pieces for his lovely fiancé, Jean Baird, and the poem “Lost in the Library,” a multiple part poem that originally appeared as a chaplet (Chaplet Series #84) in 2004 in the Backwoods Broadsides from Maine. Only a few nights earlier, Toronto spoken word performer Evalyn Parry also read a poem with the same name, saying it had been a commission for CBC Radio. I could only presume that CBC asked George the same, when he was still Canada’s first Parliamentary Poet Laureate.

I’m lost in the library,
stranded in the stacks.

I’m a standing huckleberry
wearing stained slacks.

I’m simply ordinary
and I’m loaded down with facts,

looking for myself
on the shelf.


I’m looking at my name
on a couple dozen spines.

I’m contemplating fame
in a field that’s full of mines.

I’m dressed up for the game
and I’m sweating out some lines,

knocking off a poem
far from home.

Of all the readings, I was most excited to hear Sharon Thesen and George Stanley, only because I had never heard them before. Unfortunately, Thesen had to cancel, but I was able to hear Stanley read. I’m still trying to get my hands on the selected poems that was published in the US two years ago, but so far haven’t been able to. There is such a precision to what Stanley is doing. Working in the lyric confessional, there is still much to be gained from working within such a form, and Stanley is one of the few who still makes it interesting.

While in Vancouver, I met with Brian Lam, publisher of Arsenal Pulp Press to discuss a book project I thought I should do as part of their Unknown City series, and am now confirmed to be working on Ottawa: The Unknown City. A non-fiction book for tourists and locals alike, they’ve already done titles on Montreal, Victoria, Vancouver, Toronto, New York, San Francisco, Edmonton and Calgary, so why not Ottawa? We only had a billion dollars spent by tourists in our fair city in 2004. Now that I’ve seen the contract and will soon be getting an advance, I’m very much looking forward to working on the project, one I think will be pretty entertaining to work on. Remember the Stony Monday riots? Paul Chartier, who attempted to blow up Parliament and only succeeded in killing himself? The story of Elizabeth Smart? The whispering wall behind the Library at the Parliament Buildings? Etc. The story of an old Victorian city working lumber and rail that became government and high tech. And it might even make me some money...

Other parts of my time in the west included going over to Saltspring Island for a few days to spend time with filmmaker Robert McTavish, who has been working on a documentary on the late poet John Newlove for about eight years. Currently in the final stages, he will also be editing a new and larger Selected Poems of John’s (now that Apology for Absence is finally out of print) for a press I’m starting next year in Ottawa with Anita Dolman and Jennifer Mulligan: Chaudiere Books. Target date for publication: fall 2007. Also, Robert is working on material for the book I’m editing for Guernica Editions, John Newlove: Essays on His Works. Mainly, though, we drank at the Legion where he works, and I got a cool ribbon that says: I was an honoured guest at the 92nd Legion, Saltspring Island. I think I’ll frame it.

Monday, July 04, 2005


One hand tests the waters.
The other hand traces a name across the waves.
– Suzanne Buffam

am i escape
or am i a dream of escape

this retro
isnt quite retro yet

a full day climbs
over the dashboard of early evening

the day is no longer the day
the wind has blown gaps around

think of an umbrella
think of the bicycle you once had

recently stolen

there is an apartment fire on gladstone
at the pit of my stomach

my eyes are dark & dark

broad daylight stings

above/ground press broadside # 237, published for the 2005 west coast poetry festival

Even though they haven't updated their website yet, I'm reading this weekend at the Vancouver West Coast Poetry Festival (other info here), which starts Thursday night at the Vancouver Public Library and The Lamplighter Pub, and goes through Sunday between those venues and the SFU Harbour Centre. Readers include Stuart Ross, George Bowering, George Stanley, George Elliot Clarke, Susan Musgrave, Daphne Marlatt, Sharon Thesen, Di Brandt, Fred Wah, Larissa Lai, Wayde Compton, Mari-Lou Rowley and plenty of others.

Apparently I'm reading on Sunday, July 10th at 1pm at SFU's Harbour Centre with Tim Bowling and Matt Radar. If you find me, I've published above/ground press poem broadsides by myself, Fred Wah and Mari-Lou Rowley, just for the event. Maybe see you there?

Otherwise, send me a s.a.s.e. to get copies, c/o 858 Somerset Street West, main floor, Ottawa Ontario Canada K1R 6R7 (Americans! don't send American stamps! send International Reply Coupons!)
Corey Frost

This is in no way a review of Corey Frost’s second book of fiction, The Worthwhile Flux. I was sitting in my local pub last night, a Sunday, reading his remarkable book of stories. I was in the mood for a drink, and in the mood for some reading, so grabbed it off my shelf. You have to admire any book of stories that includes the line, “Does the name Pavlov ring a bell?” Or what about the line, “I broke my leg in two places so the doctor told me to stop going to those places.” There are parts of this book that make me laugh out loud, and other parts that make me wish there was more, so I could continue reading. Here is a section from the story “Summer Plum (Winter Version)” that begins:

I was about seven years old, and it was summer. Our rabbits had miraculously survived another winter. I gave them some carrots to munch on, and then I went back inside. My mother was making squares for fellowship group at the church. On the table there was an open bag of shredded coconut, which I had never seen before. What’s this? I asked. It’s coconut, she said. Can I have some? Yes, she said, but it won’t make you fly. Apparently when she was a kid her older sister had convinced her that if you ate enough coconut you would be able to fly, but it hadn’t worked. She had eaten so much she got sick, and then she got her head stuck in a milkcan. Her skepticism didn’t deter me from trying, though, so I took the bag out on the front steps and started eating it. I can’t believe how lucky I am, I thought to myself. Soon I’ll be flying.

Corey Frost used to live in Montreal but then he moved to New York, but he claims he goes back and forth. For a while, he was touring, but you probably didn’t see him. Do you remember when he used to be a creative writing student at Concordia University? Do you remember when he and Colin Christie used to publish items as Ga Press? Do you remember when he and Anne Stone used to take turns doing the layout for Matrix?

Right after they called last call and gave me another drink, being the only one left in the pub, they shut everything down. They turned lights off, and locked the doors. I was still reading the book. I don’t know why they even gave me the other drink. I couldn’t stop reading. I don’t know why I had to pay for that other drink, if I couldn’t sit there and enjoy it, reading Frost’s remarkable stories. The last time I saw Corey Frost he bought me the drink he owed me from the time before, when he forgot to pay for that other one. Is there a connection?