Thursday, August 25, 2005

Ongoing notes, August 2005

Where the hell did summer go? It was just here a minute ago. There’s too much happening (almost) to keep track. My lovely daughter enters high school. Wanda O’Connor is moving to Montreal to take creative writing at Concordia. Melanie Little is gone to be writer in residence at the University of Calgary. I just found out I’ve got a poetry collection out next year with Stride (UK), I have selections of “the true eventual story of buffalo bill” in the current issue of Buffalo’s P-Queue, & apparently I’m an honourary Prince George poet (extremely cool). The George Bowering section I’ve been building on Australia’s Jacket has been coming along nicely. The date for the toronto small press book fair (Saturday, October 29) has been booked, as has the one for the next ottawa small press book fair (the one I run: Saturday, October 15), and there’s even a new fair starting up in Hamilton, Ontario, for Sunday November 6th. For more info, you can email them at:

Otherwise, this is when we start preparing for new books to appear in the catalogs, the big Christmas novels and the festivals, including the ottawa international writers festival, starting at the tail end of September. I really think you should drop all your plans and go this year. I know I will. And then of course, span-o hosts former Ottawa resident and Arc editor John Barton (he now runs The Malahat) and current Arc editor Anita Lahey on September 8th at Collected Works, 7:30pm (watch for the reading October 14th that features Jay MillAr, Kristy McKay + others). You know you want to. Why do you spend so much time lying to yourself? And as always, any other Ottawa-area literary events can be found at Bywords.

Ottawa, Ontario: Grant Wilkins and I frequent the same Second Cup coffeeshop at Bank and Somerset Streets, so recently he slipped me a piece of ephemera made through his little press, The Grunge Papers (also responsible for the Murderous Signs zine), a little bit called 2ND H&, Reused words on rescued paper. Letterpress on paper salvaged from the Coach House Printing’s recycling bin (there’s a fine tradition in Canadian Literature of publications made from Coach House throwaways – just ask jwcurry), the piece was written using “Words & text fragments taken from Studies in Canadian Literature, Vol. 28, No. 2”):

As an intersubjective encounter
of cultural identification
New decentralizing global culture
of insignificance as a function
[. . .]
In the narrative configuration
imperatives to rethink identity
the objectivity of reproduction
neutralizes the nascent opportunity

There’s a fine tradition, too, of recombinative literature in Canada, including the recent George Bowering chapbook Rewriting My Grandfather (2005, Nomados), in which he uses various methods to rewrite his infamous “Grandfather” poem, as well as the recent essay on by Gregory Betts on his own particular form of revision, called “Plunder Verse,” giving specific rules to build a poem out of another poem (my own the true eventual story of buffalo bill is another recent variation on the recombinative, as are my variations: plunder verse poems, which are based directly on Betts’ essay). Since Wilkins only made thirty copies of the piece, there probably aren’t any left, but he usually frequents the toronto small press fair and ottawa small press fair, so there are always opportunities to catch his next little bits of ephemera, including the single-page limited edition pieces he produces of poems by some of the Confederation Poets.

Vancouver, British Columbia: For some reason, I’ve seen fewer copies of new issues of West Coast Line in stores over the past few years, but finally got a copy of a recent issue in the mail, dedicated to the work of Calgary writer Larissa Lai, author of the novels When Fox Is a Thousand (1995, Press Gang) and Salt Fish Girl (2002, Thomas Allen). The special issue includes a number of essays on Lai’s writing by a number of critics including Robyn Morris, Tara Lee, Cathy Stonehouse and Joanna Mansbridge as well as an interview with Larissa Lai conducted by Morris, selections of some of Lai’s poetry from a couple of self-published chapbooks, and a collaboration, “sybil unrest,” that she did with Rita Wong. Other parts of the issue include writing by Ashok Mathur, a. rawlings, Jason Christie, Richard Harrison, Rachel Zolf (from her incredible work-in-progress “Human Rescources,” part of which she read from this past spring at The Factory Reading Series at Gallery 101), derek beaulieu and Cindy Mochizuki, as well as interviews with Nicole Brossard (by Suzanne Zelazo) and Lola Lemire Tostevin (by Rachel Zolf) that occurred last May in Toronto at the This Is Not A Reading Series / Mercury Press launch of their two new titles.

couldn’t kill her
because of me
“my lover’s lover’s alibi”
differences blood in this
deadly circus
her eyes and mine
grown from the same sad stare
our hair sprouts from the same source
our flesh pours from the same vat
o bone of my bone
confused and parched by longing
when did you know what you were?
when did you choose
a lover like yourself?
i went to the other side
false identification
internalized racism
loving the alien
clothed as the same
what does a woman want?
i doll my rage this original
apple too hot for my hands
its red burns me

An excerpt from her poem Rachel, this poem (according to the liner notes) “is a meditation on cyborg subjectivity and the character Rachel in the Ridley Scott film Blade Runner, based on the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick. Rachel was initially printed in a limited edition of 50 copies in Calgary, Alberta.” I’m impressed that West Coast Line has taken it upon themselves to focus an issue on a younger writer, and they’ve picked a good one. Back in the 1970s etc there were special issues on writers all over the place, with issues of The Fiddlehead on John Metcalf and The Capilano Review on George Bowering and Roy Kiyooka. Hopefully more of the work being done by younger writers coming up can get some of the same kinds of attention.

Canary Islands, Spain: Just from looking at the books that come out of this press, it appears that there sure is a lot of activity on the Canary Islands. I’ve been very intrigued with the three collections I’ve so far seen in Manuel Brito’s Zasterle poetry series. Soon after picking up a copy of Steve McCaffery’s Bouma Shapes, Shorter Poems 1974-2002 (2002) at Toronto’s This Ain’t The Rosedale Library Bookstore, a more recent collection, Bernadette Mayer’s Indigo Bunting (2004) arrived in my little mailbox. I admit I don’t know much about Mayer, but I get the impression that she’s one of them important American poets who has been around for some time. Produced in an edition of three hundred copies, these books probably get out so far and wide to become extremely rare. A strange little collection, with larger type and only forty-five pages, as well as intentional typos, I think I like this collection; it certainly makes me want to see more of her work, to see where it is she’s going.

A man on a tractor hayed the fields today
he said the guy who owns them moved from
queens to maryland

questionable poem: (practice poem)
the hayed field is like a scooped-up ocean
sudden impotence, a different view
now there are waves, we can walk on water
neat rows of alfalfa, clover, timothy
are laughing at me, a new background
for photography, stilled stagefright
just as you’re about to go on
(poem filled with twisty thought)

better poem:
it’s still the queen’s hay
red clover toasting in the fields
ownership is half-assed

I very much would like to own more of what this fellow produces, although I did find that the production values of the McCaffery collection were more interesting than the other two. Still, an enviable series, to be sure. I sure wish I had one of these...

Toronto, Ontario: Much the way Montreal’s Andy Brown moved his Conundrum Books a few years ago from chapbooks into trade editions, so too has Toronto’s Jay MillAr done the same for his BookThug. After years of producing limited edition chapbooks (producing “important books,” Stuart Ross once said) by himself, derek beaulieu, Margaret Christakos, Karen Mac Cormack, Christopher Dewdney, Jason Dickson, Gerry Gilbert, Phil Hall, Paul Hegedus, Lisa Jarnot, Hugh Thomas, Steve Venright, myself and others, BookThug has produced Daniel f. Bradley’s A Boy’s First Book of Chlamydia (2005), and as the colophon says, “Manufactured in an edition of 300 copies in / in the spring of 2005 without assistance” (the smallest run allowable by Canada Council for it to be considered a “real book”). And it’s a pretty funny thing to have beside you, sitting face up in the pub.

Bradley has been lurking around Toronto’s writing scene for years, producing small bits here and there through various small and smaller presses, including his Pangen Subway Ritual, and his recent forays into fhole, both as zine and blog, and publications including an issue of STANZAS, an interview in Open Letter conducted by Jay MillAr, and poems in Stuart Ross’ Toronto surrealist anthology, surreal estate: 13 canadian poets under the influence (The Mercury Press, 2003). Preferring otherwise to exist on the margins, along with a number of other writers, such as Peggy Lefler, Nick Power, John Barlow, jwcurry and maria erskine (could any of those be next?), I almost wonder where he will start appearing next, now that he’s been convinced to publish outside his usual borders.

There is a wonderfully intuitive flow to a Bradley poem, a quick movement that you know the author trusts, moving through layers of knowing and unknowing. There are few poets in Canada working so well through an intuitive flair; the only other one I can think of is Suzanne Buffam, in her wonderful first collection past imperfect (Anansi, 2005). I don’t always know what they are doing, but I trust where they are going.


where the lilies
breathe a cross
my ears
of living add up to
now is the
let’s go
there is much to do
and dawdle if you

my shoulder is for
you my back
can be straight
blood can move
forward from here
for any other life time like
trees with
some kinda
just by being
for the long long

and when the boat
finally moves into
the love of others always
reminds me to breathe

Another in the same series is Gregory Bett’s If Language, a collection of anagrams based upon a single text. Recently moved into Toronto (to teach at the University of Toronto) from Hamilton, earlier this year he published the chapbook the cult of david thompson (above/ground press, 2005), authored some smaller items through derek beaulieu’s housepress, and edited two collections for Exile Editions.


A manual to interdisciplinary poetry for institutional
funding associations.

Poetry: philosophy filtered through private minds and
lives, entertaining for the pitiful obsessive, anything
that can’t classify itself, hates you for asking, a darkling
thrush, nationalism veiled in art subsidies, proud of
fog, attainable enigma, unread ignored inspired,
thought without influence, possible wor(l)ds, elitist
half manic craft, aconite gaze, beautiful smelling lies.

The eligible poems for high-school, glib accessible
choices, of course, can’t touch, whip magical facts.
Select pages of jewels thrill, cheat schemata, mimic
the hottest scrawl.

According to the introduction, Betts not only reworked the order of words in his base text to create this collection of fifty-six poems, but, instead, “in another equally accurate sense, Betts is not responsible for a single word in this book, having instead re-arranged every letter of a paragraph written by the poet Steve McCaffery into a new order to suit Betts’ poetic ambitions.” And ambitious it is; an impressive text working his own version of what he talks about in his essay, although I would argue that the work is still is, even though the words might not be. It reminds me of the acknowledgment in an earlier collection by Toronto Island poet Lise Downe (paraphrased): the words here have all appeared previously, but their order has been changed, to maintain their innocence.

Santa Barbara, California: I remember being very taken with Yunte Huang’s poetry when I first encountered it in Susan M. Schultz’ impressive Tinfish magazine, and now I’ve got a whole collection of it, the collection Cribs (Tinfish Press, 2005). Picking from other texts, how could you not love a poet that writes “prose is prose is prose is prose” or “poetry is not derivative enough” (both from “The Token Road”)? The collection as a whole could easily be read as a single poem, broken and broken down into innumerable fragments, picking away at both the essentials and otherwise, but knowing enough what the difference is.

sleepless at night, i sat
down with my abacus
to count the smelly feet
of my favorite sonnet
and the number
of Peas and Canned Toes

Perth, Ontario: poet Wanda O’Connor and I got to spend the afternoon recently with Toronto poet Phil Hall and his lovely wife, Ann, at their little cabin just on the other side of Perth, mere days before he gave the most amazing reading at the TREE Reading Series in Ottawa for his new collection, An Oak Hunch (Brick Books, 2005), along with his recent chapbook from Bookthug, The Bad Sequence (2004). His Brick collection not set to be launched until October, this was only the second reading he’d given from it, after a brief launch at Sage Hill a few weeks ago. While we were there, Phil gave me a whole stack of publications from his Flat Singles Press, a press he’s been quietly doing for decades, dedicated to making small runs of chapbooks and other ephemera simply whenever he feels like it. Most of the publications are his, but he has published a bunch of other folk (most of which I haven’t heard of) including (the infamous) Bronwen Wallace, Andrew Vaisius, G. Baillargeon, George Xuereb and Joan Fern Shaw.

Five Minutes

Though we all sink together
for the same extra five minutes

our dreams eager to graze against us
uninfected by duty

soon we will rise
like fish to the sound of an aspirin

snowing loudly somewhere in the lake
near a hook with its barb filed off

One of my favourites is the broadsheet made for the publication of his blewointment book, A Minor Operation (1983), with a drawing of a map of the United States on its side on a hook, looking like a slab of beef:


The sides
of beef on display
at Windsor Meats & Co.

look like maps of the U.S.

each meat hook
shoved through Disneyworld,

In the documentary

wrapped in hosed-down cheese-cloth
swing in a graceful procession
through steam

to the music
of a small transistor radio
one of the workers has brought in:

“Why don’t you love me
like you used to do?”

and a Viennese waltz
to its ankles in blood.

At the end

political prisoners
who do not exist
are being driven through the city
in a truck
that says: Meat

A dead weight
on a hook
shoved through Disneyworld.

I’m not entirely sure how you can get copies of more recent of his publications, apart from perhaps getting lucky at the toronto small press fair or going to one of his readings (he’s apparently touring his new collection next spring). Witnessing a Phil Hall reading is a special thing: I’ve never seen anyone take possession in such a warm way before. You couldn’t even hear anyone breathe between his soft voice. Not only a uniquely gifted and overlooked poet, he’s also about the nicest fella you could ever meet.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Interview with Stan Rogal
This interview was conducted over email from June 2002 to May 2003.

rob mclennan: How long have you been writing?

Stan Rogal: I’ve been writing ‘seriously’ (meaning that I was doing some writing in my early twenties and published a prose piece or two, took a couple of creative writing courses), I guess, since I went to SFU and began a few classes, say 29 or 30 — so depending on your outlook — 22 or 32 years. Self-published first book of poems Penumbras in 1981 and first book by a known publisher in 1992.

rm: Despite self-publishing that book, Penumbras, so early, you seem to have come to publishing later than some, with Sweet Betsy from Pike not appearing till you were 42 years old. Considering the rate at which books have appeared since, what was happening to you, and your writing, during those intervening years?

SR: OK, so I graduated from SFU in 1982 and began working at a hotel doing maintenance, first part time then full time so I was basically just trying to pay the bills. Of course I continued writing a bit, sending stuff out to small mags and getting poems and short prose pieces published here and there, while no one appeared interested in printing an entire book. I was also involved in theatre (and continue to be), acting in various pieces, usually in alternative spaces and Festivals, plus writing plays (again, the shorter works sometimes being staged while longer pieces were ignored). It was in these years that I wrote In search of the Emerald City poems.

I moved to Toronto in 1988, completed The Imaginary Museum ms, then went to York U for a year to obtain my Masters. During this time I was so busy with assignments that I wrote very little. Graduating, I went to work with Pollution Probe as a door-to-door canvasser. It was this experience that led me to writing Sweet Betsy from Pike. I was also working on more theatre pieces, putting together some radio plays as well as stuff for Festivals. Eventually I got together with a couple of folks that would soon become Bald Ego theatre where we did some of my work plus more established writings. My first major main stage play was performed at Theatre Passe Muraille in 1996 with BE (Threepenny EPIC Cabaret).

During these years I also began doing readings at the various venues in the city and got to know a large group of writers, most of whom have since gone in different directions, some ‘making’ it as writers of note. I took over as host of the Idler Pub reading series in 1990 and did it until 2000.

Generally, then, between poetry, prose, theatre and ‘the scene’ I remained pretty active, creatively. This year I have a play in each of the Toronto summer Festivals (I wrote and am directing), a novel-in-short-stories coming out in the Fall with Insomniac, part of a new anthol with you, two books of poetry in the spring.

Meanwhile, very little money coming in as a writer and working as a Standardized Patient to pay the bills. The money thing (or the fact that I haven’t been able to garner an audience despite normally getting good reviews) often weighs me down and I wonder ‘why bother?’, but for some strange reason, I continue, whether out of sheer stubborness or maybe from the fact that I’ve painted myself into a corner and can’t get out or more likely having accepted my situation and writing for myself anyway, so... what the hell? Better than sitting in front of the tube, waiting for the inevitable ambulance. Plus, the people around me make it worthwhile. All of this as an aside to your original question.

rm: With working in these various genres that don’t necessarily overlap - poetry, fiction and theatre - do these forms interact for you, or are they completely separate? Are there things that you do, or can do in one genre, because of what is happening in another?

SR: This is a question frequently asked of me and I’m never sure how to answer. Often I think that the three genres are quite distinct in that my poetry tends more toward cut-and-paste, collage, allusional, break with narrative while fiction is more storytelling with plot and subplot and theatre makes more use of other conventions such as light, sound, props, visual cues as opposed to ‘the word’ plus knowing that directors and actors will have a hand in molding interpretation.

That said, I believe that theatre influences the tone if not the voice of my writing in that I tend to offer a variety, from soft, gentle, meditative to harsh opinionated, love to sex etc, in order to colour the work, in order not to lull the reader to sleep over the long haul, plus make it interesting to myself. Also the use of verb to keep the action moving, the voice active and tending way from the much-used adjective. I rarely use simile in my poetry but will use it freely in fiction, mainly as a character trait. Toss in the use of minimal and maximal in the use of language to put across an idea or feeling or mood, that is, a very slim poem next to a very fat poem, a rather talky (as talky as I get, at any rate, which is not much according to some people) play beside a stripped down broken language play.

Again, in terms of subject matter, there is the most cross-over with things like relationships, identity, memory, environmental issues, personal issues, mind/body problem, some politics (in other words, mainly metaphysics but enough — I hope — tangible material for an audience to sink their mental teeth into). Further, my work is definitely autobiographically influenced, though I beg, borrow and steal from any and every available source.

Somehow through it all I do feel that I know when something is a poem, something is a story and something is a play as I’ve rarely transcribed one form to another. Meaning that there must be enough ‘real’ difference to know. My novel The Long Drive Home was written with filmic qualities in mind, but not ‘as a film’ which is why I’d like someone else to do the screenplay if there was interest.

Again, through it all, even with the differences between genres trying (and I think succeeding judging by the fact that my work is often tossed aside as ‘obviously Rogal’ so forget it) managing to arrive at work that carries my stamp, my signature and no mistaking, which I have strived for and worked at and for better or worse...

rm: The more I read your work, one of the things I admire is the differences between books, the subtle leaps in style from collection to collection. Is this deliberate or do you simply shift naturally when a project is completed?

SR: Yeah, I do think things out a fair amount and try to make each book different in some way. In fact, within the books themselves I consciously try to offer variations, whether in style or voice, though clinging somewhat to a particular theme. Part of this is because I read too many books that sound the same all the way through or read like the same poem or story and this tends to bore me. I tend to play with voices in the poems as well as with line length. My short stories tend to genre-jump, moving from naturalism to noir to magic realism and so on. I like ‘playing’ and it keeps me — the writer — interested. I trust that others find it interesting, though the mainstream generally likes (prefers, demands) a quick easy label. My first novel was filmic/noir, my second a pseudo writer’s journal with a thin narrative (which no reviewer seemed to pick up on), my third (unpublished) is an epistolary novel in female voice, I have a collection of linked short stories coming out in the Fall, the novel I’m working on now is much more loose and stream-of-consciousness but around a specific plot line. New short stories are much more absurd/magic realism and poems around the themes of freaks and monsters.

A lot of this has to do with what I’m reading or watching at a particular time or simply an accumulation. Plays this year run from performance of a noir piece about a serial killer to a comedy with songs about Bertolt Brecht to a Beckett-like piece and will end in August with a frenetic dark comedy in a Futurist vein. The whole shift to keep me amused more than anything else, but also wanting to try certain established things and re-work them into something else. I guess, the whole collage metaphor (more obvious in the poems and plays) is a big thing for me.

Also thinking about a Country-Western play. We’ll see if I can keep it up amid the lack of notoriety and funds. Great reviews for recent play, which is nice and tends to keep me pumped.

rm: Poet and critic Judith Fitzgerald has praised your work a number of times in print, and I know you’re a big fan of her writing. What other writers excite you, and (perhaps) inform what you do?

SR: Yeah, please make sure you say that I’m a big fan of Judith’s work, this more for her benefit than anyone else. In other words, I don’t hate her.

For the question, are you talking dead or living or both writers? There are many writers that I read and enjoy, several who inform my work and a select few who have influenced or do influence me radically.

In terms of fiction, my initial reading was SF and loved Ray Bradbury and Jose Farmer. The first novel I recall hitting me over the head was Leonard Cohen’s Beautiful Losers. Edgar Allen Poe, of course. Anais Nin and Marguerite Duras. Moby Dick for its metaphysical slant, and Don Quixote for its form and fun. Next biggest hit was Julio Cortazar’s Hopscotch and short stories. Toss in some post-modernists (Robbe-Grillet, Nathalie Saurraulte) plus Beats (Jack Kerouac) and Raymond Carver, Robert Coover, Italo Calvino, Richard Brautigan, John Hawkes, Don de Lillo, Donald Barthelme... The list goes on.

For plays it was the Dadaists, the Futurists, the Absurdists but specifically Harold Pinter, Sam Shepard, Eugene Ionesco, Bertolt Brecht, Edward Albee, Samuel Beckett, David Mamet, Tennessee Williams, film noir...

Poetry biggies were Jack Spicer, John Berryman, Arthur Rimbaud, Richard Brautigan, Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, Anne Sexton, Marjorie Welish, Judith Fitzgerald...

These are folks who actually influenced my work in grand ways and who I can say I enjoy their total work. Others I pick out things here and there. I loved Sheila Watson’s The Double Hook and Graeme Gibson’s Five Legs. Certainly I’ve learned that if a book bores me, put it down early and find another ‘cause there’s lots of choice. I try to read my friend’s books but the problem is — so many of them are now being published that it’s impossible to keep up.

I’ve missed lots, but this is an overview. If you want to know who I think is the new up and coming, I have no idea as my taste seems to differ from the population large and small.

rm: You ran the Idler Pub reading series for ten years, three readers every Sunday night. Between hearing the best and worst literature had to offer, on a regular basis, how did that affect your writing considerations?

SR: As to the question, are you asking how it affected which projects I worked on or my style or in terms of time to write? I suppose there were things that affected me in general but I can’t think of anything specific where I went, wow, after hearing that writer I should sit down and write such&such. In fact, even though I did run the series for ten years, once done it was like it never happened. I seem to have been born in the fortunate position of being able to move on without even thinking about it. I guess the other things is that I always have projects on the go and others in mind. I often decide which project to work on depending on what i think can be published more easily or what I think I can do quickest. Other times it’s strictly fortuitous. One woman liked a short story and asked me to write it as a play for her to perform in. I was working on a series of poems when J sent me a photo of a painting and asked for a poem. It ended as a ms with eight pix and 43 poems to be published next year. Someone wants to write a TV script treatment so I switch gears and go OK.

For me the series was always about the readers. I wanted a place for people to gather, have a drink and have a social time around a literary event. More often than not, when the quality was low, the audience was high whereas a writer that I enjoyed drew next to no grown and so me fretting about that as I was the host and took on some of the blame. As well, I’d be into the red wine and often hiding behind a wall going “Please don’t go past twenty minutes, I don’t care if you did bring fifty friends and relatives.”

rm: What is your relationship with visual art?

SR: While not an expert on Art, I have a definite appreciation and while I have had some training in Art history at University, most of my ideas around likes and dislikes seem to come from "inside" myself, whatever that means. As well, I'm pretty inclusive in terms of Art, meaning that I appreciate film, music, literature along with the plastic Arts.

One of my books of poetry is titled The Imaginary Museum and I created poems around various pieces of Art. Sweet Betsy From Pike used imagery heavily influenced by Bosch paintings. Film Noir enters in The Long Drive Home as well as in many short stories and (obviously) for stories in two noir anthologies.

Further to this, most of my book covers use original art created by artist friends. My short story collections contain original paintings, sketches and collages. My next book of poems, sub rosa will contain 8 original full-colour paintings by Jacquie Jacobs and 43 poems based on these prints. My current collection of poems in progress, "Fabulous Freaks" will also contain several of my own original collages.

Of course, I also incorporate allusions to Art pieces and music in my work as a way of layering moods or meanings and which allows the reader to bring more of their own experience to the pieces. It's also a way of promoting people and work to a larger audience (if, indeed, the literary community can be considered a larger audience...)

The other thing is, it's just fun to mix and match and hopefully meet folks from other disciplines.

ps: As with other things in the world at large, Art inspires and influences the way I think and behave in creative ways. Often, if I'm feeling kind of lazy and/or bereft of ideas, I can get on a different wavelength by turning on the radio or going to a film or opening an Art book or going to a gallery or to a play (or going to the bar for a drink, but that would be a different question...)

rm: What was the process of working with Jacquie? The press information for sub rosa suggested that the poems were "[s]tructured around the vibrantly sensuous paintings of Jacquie Jacobs." Were they included to illustrate, or were pieces written around them, or a combination of both?

SR: J sent me a photo of a painting from Switzerland and asked me to write a poem to go along with it for use on a postcard. I loved the painting and decided to write two poems for her to choose from. Then she sent another picture and I did the same. Then a third and a fourth and I said -- hey! Why don't we put together a book of pix and poems. In the end, 8 paintings and 43 poems. The poems are basically transformations from the painting and the initial poem in which I tried to set up a thematic and a small vocab of images specific to the painting, then juggling the images around other ideas and so on... So, "Paradise", "Paradise Transformation 1", "Paradise Transformation 2"... you get the picture (haha...).

The book will have the 8 pictures in full colour plus a ninth painting on the cover. The poems will be in black and white (though the language will be colourful).

rm: At a recent reading at the TREE Reading Series in Ottawa, you mentioned the amount of anagram, bad puns and other intricate play in (sub rosa) . Your work is known for never being what it appears. I’ve always been a big fan of “play,” and know you are too, with your interest in the work of Judith Fitzgerald and bpNichol. But was it the idea of collaboration, responding to Jacquie’s paintings, that brought about this heightened sense of it?

SR: Um, it’s possible, simply because I wanted to balance the cerebral/mythical quality of the paintings/poems with the playfulness of taking classical forms and updating/manipulating/transforming them.

On a baser level, I think that the more I write and the more jaded I become with the literary scene and the indifference toward “literature” and “art” from the general public, the government and the press, the more I use humour in order to maintain my sanity, have some fun and take cheap shots at these various cross sections of what we laughingly call a “culture.” Preaching to the converted, I know, but what else can one do when one is too stubborn, too stupid or too possessed to pack up the pen and call it a day?

I’m in the middle of renovation hell at Jacquie’s, but hope to rise again soon like the fucking Phoenix and start enjoying the summer as well as work on a couple of writing projects – GO FIGURE! Want to finish a short story collection. Want to do a re-write on a play. Two novels making the rounds. Applying for OAC grant. What am I thinking?

rm: Given your comment about recent discouragement, what would then have made you go back into the poems from the chapbook In Search of the Emerald City (1997, above/ground press)?

SR: #1: the discouragement isn’t recent, it’s been a long time growing.

#2: just because I’m discouraged about the reception to my work, doesn’t mean I’m down on the work itself. In fact, I enjoy putting pencil to paper and I’m generally pleased with the result. Moving to the plays, it’s always fun getting a few folks together for a reading or even putting something up.

#3: I’ve always been fond of the Emerald City poems and the comparison of the ART journey with the Hollywood journey as well as looking behind the scenes for the tragic Judy Garland/artist as opposed to the idyllic Dorothy/fantasy character. Also wanted to beef up certain things (more Toto) and update. Plus, I’m able to include a few collages inside as well as on the cover. The artist picture is also fun, me dressed up like Van Gogh with candles burning in my hat at night, glass of wine in one hand, pencil in the other.

#4: I’ve also completed the worst part of the reno at J’s so I’m in a brighter mood all round today and look forward to having another book launch in the Fall.

#5: and people like me; they really, really like me (mantra...)

Other recent interviews I've conducted: Gil McElroy, Stephen Cain, Douglas Barbour, Meredith Quartermain...

Tuesday, August 09, 2005


“if you must have an idea, have a short term idea”
– Jordan Scott, blert

who happened then
of cycle


oak plead
of seven pushes

sitting tables
at the second cup

though partway, a


each tear has stretches, mark

speed, or

if he says gone, then
boldly gone

a dead-string from ( ) island


asleep between visions

burning textbooks, confederation poets
in the park

a watermark

of canadian, & how
not to be


looks at her underground
, name

a stone foundation


my memory is peppered
w/ holes

I am the egg that


assem blage


is a city, once
but here

in occupying french

is teaching,


more active settle, along speech or speed
invite pathways

put up the french in this

a rain mottled the subject
of these realities

& left on her bicycle