Friday, September 09, 2005

Ongoing notes: September 2005

More music I can’t get out of my head. Has anyone else heard of this Rilo Kiley? I just spent part of a day in August in a tattoo parlour with my lovely daughter, watching her get her nose pierced. Does that mean I’m an old guy? In Toronto, WORD: the literary calendar – the monthly listing of readings and other literary happenings, as well as reviews, and articles (originally published by Insomniac Press but now under the wing of The Mercury Press) – has gone completely on-line, foregoing its printed version. Apparently columnist Stuart Ross has already decided he doesn’t want part, which is too bad. I hope that other irregulars such as Nathaniel G. Moore and the collaborative Stephen Cain/Jay MillAr continue to write for the on-line version. So far, Toronto gadfly and bowling fanatic Moore is scheduled to read on October 14th at mother tongue books (7:30pm) with Jay MillAr and Kristy McKay as part of an ottawa small press book fair teaser; to tempt you to arrive the next morning at the fair (noon to five pm, Jack Purcell Community Centre) with all of your money.

Ottawa’s own Arc poetry magazine has taken on a second run (finally!) of Transpoetry, the Ottawa version of poems on buses that happened back in 1999; they just put out a submission call. Brave kudos to Arc for re-starting what (seemingly) everyone else has had for years, including Toronto, Montreal, Calgary, Edmonton and British Columbia. Apparently both Sharon Harris and Stephen Cain now have blogs, and there are a number of new small concrete poems online by Calgary’s derek beaulieu. There are new pieces on the ottawa poetry newsletter by Colin Morton and Max Middle, as well as my piece on Judith Fitzgerald’s poem “ottawa.” And here are some new poems of mine. When did this get to be all about me?

KEEP IN MIND: I’m still running my ongoing editing service. $25 to go through 10 pages or so of poetry. Email me to find out about that: az421 (at) freenet (dot) carleton (dot) ca. I’m also about to start a new set of my seasonal poetry workshops at Collected Works Bookstore. $200 for eight weeks. Another session will be starting in January; space, as always, is limited.

Calgary, Alberta: Producing an increasing number of important works is Meredith and Peter Quartermain’s Nomados, publishing works by such writers as George Bowering, Sharon Thesen, Kathleen Fraser, Susan Holbrook, and Quartermain herself. One of her more recent publications is Calgary writer Nicole Markotic’s Widows & Orphans (2004). Part of the Calgary renaissance of the past decade or more, Nicole Markotic has been producing work (quietly) for years, from her poetry collections Minotaurs & Other Alphabets (Wolsak & Wynn, 1998) and Connect the Dots (Wolsak & Wynn, 1994) to her novel steeped in silences, Yellow Pages: A Catalogue of Intentions (Red Deer College Press, 1995). The last time I saw her in Calgary in spring 2004, she claimed she was working on a number of projects, including poetry and fiction, but said she wasn’t in any hurry. Sometimes I wish she was in a hurry. Hers is a poetry I feel I am always learning from. Her unusual leaps and musical breaks.

“This country is universal.”

lengthwise the basic question is a vernacular zero. originally
my background was what I’d moved away from. mostly the
long answers come right before question period. DNA
explorations take a body farther north. how do feminist
utopias subvert anyone else? every dot on the map

please sin

notice the family as stand-in for television. note the identity
metaphors for green ketchup

plus four times four the cross lands in the airport while we
grapple with slotted spoons and line endings. subtly leaving
out her scalp rub. but I was going to explain about feminist
utopias ... stories change

ensure the “make way for plot” plot. the road plan plan

new words harbour words. show shows

Markotic seems keen on the quote, using titles from other places, and exploring the margins, doing so more obviously using a printer’s term for her title, writing the bits that otherwise would fall off the page. Bouncing off each title into her own abstract directions, Markotic writes a hard music, bouncing notes off notes into near cacophonic phrasings.

say it: this time the cross won’t shape shift into costume
jewellery. your blood leaks from the inside out; try burning
sugar when it’s already in the candy. you must know how to
fake laughter to make the slap convincing. go easy on the
tattoes, she’s flaming tonight. they wanted so much more
than a winnebago in the grand canyon. no, only giant pandas
and a rusty rollercoaster

rhyme the lilt of your tongue pronouncing the labial L

like catholicism isn’t nasty enough for you

Providence, Rhode Island: Not just the state of The Family Guy, Rhode Island is also home to one of the finest writers in the United States, the poet C.D. Wright. After multiple poetry collections over the years including a selected, Steal Away: Selected and New Poems (Copper Canyon Press, 2002) that was up for the Griffin Prize, and the more recent collaborative One Big Self: Prisoners of Louisiana with long-time friend and collaborator Deborah Luster, Wright has collected her thoughts from years of essays and other fragments to produce Cooling Time: An American Poetry Vigil (Copper Canyon Press, 2005).

It is important to keep moving

It is all too fair to assume most of us are poets or we wouldn’t
be reading this, not when we could be watching the Redskins
or be down in the den, cleaning the guns, or communicating
something tangibly effective that we could either sell or other-wise have the opportunity to make available to crowds such as
porn stars and evangelists routinely reach.

“I think poetry must / I think it must / Stay open all night /
in beautiful cellars,” Merton insisted. And so do I. And why
doesn’t it? And where and when and how does our awareness
of its shrunken territory – that of the specialized cult – abjure
further separation and negation and seek to reverse direction?

What is troublesome about poets sequestered at the university
is that unless we go to trade school or are exempt as trust-fund
cases, in the sight of potential employers we might as well
bear the mark of the beast. As a result, the university is virtu-
ally the only place for us. In the nation at large being a poet is
suspect at best. “Read? I don’t read. Readin’s for queers,” said
one respondent to a recent poll on literacy. What a country.

Because this is constructed almost as a single piece, in train of thought fragments, you can dip into and out of sections at random, reading her thoughts on creative writing classes, American poetry, friends and influences, op-ed pieces, George Oppen, and her own long stretch of American south. What I like about her wonderful, thinking prose is the poetry of it; and her poetry, the beautiful, graceful prose. I’ve heard said you can tell when prose is written by a poet, and this is prose written by one of the finest poets, and recent recipient of an award named after late poet Robert Creeley.

The links between poetic strategies, tactical maneuvers
including gamesmanship, and social stratification clank
through time, across channels and oceans to be sure. The
poetry of the white shirt does not gladly speak to the poetry
of the blue. The audience, the constituency, or if you will, the
allegiance of the cultural elite belongs to the cultural elite.
One would show little thought to expect otherwise.

Nevertheless poets have periodically formed belligerent sub-
classes, and entered into the ranks of honourees in extremely
limited numbers, usually as sole, acceptable representatives
for the entire subclass. Even these ruptures cast the phantas-
mata of quality and value into temporary disarray. If the
numbers continue to push at the limits of the established
order, further subdivisions might arise at a near invisible
remove from the original hierarchy. Only those whose mimicry
of the elite is outstanding – though ostensibly oppositional –
succeed in gaining a competing footing.

Calgary, Alberta: Calgary’s No Press has anonymously (for me, at least) been making lovely little limited edition chapbooks for a few months now, running editions of twenty-six copies of chapbooks by various Calgary and other alumni, including Jason Christie, derek beaulieu, ryan fitzpatrick, nathalie stephens and this new one, blert, by Jordan Scott. On the heels of his first trade collection, Silt (New Star Books, 2005), is blert (No Press, 2005); calling itself “The Poetics of Stutter,” is a montage referencing sleep, a staggering staccato text; a collection of indiscrete pieces barely disguised as a single text. As he writes in the poem “chomp sets,” “if you must have an idea, have a short term idea”

Jaw flex slate, tip crabs, techno as a Turret tide spaz. A Labyrinth, a
game. Calcites glut. Cheliped sounds lattice. A single storey of an L
shape with one leg ending in a large glass conservatory. Antennas prod
the purple porphyry, licking the brickwork in a scuttling fever. Teem
Telsun’s glide in tides fabric burr. Parade pediment with each cartilage
dip, the aorta massage, a small podium, the mauve cushion saddling
testes. Pillars to the down slope facade.

Scapulas rippled
struts basin

To add confusion to the process, ryan fitzpatrick’s MODL Press has also published a chapbook (less anonymously) of Jordan Scott’s titled blert (MODL Press, 2005). How obvious is it that clarity is not his intended goal?

breed smelt
gulf’s bulimic kelp
smuggles air sacs
gape to quench thigh
dermis stain
denture watermark
fog. rose.
chorus clast:

drench got pulse

drug sun
each carbon

And which comes first? Which is the definitive noise? Far more broken down than the storied geographies at play in his Silt, I am wondering if there will be other chapbooks produced with the same title. I am interested to see how this all fits together as a larger project, if it ever does. I am interested to see how this all works out.

Ottawa, Ontario: Until poet Sarah Ruffolo took over the reigns of yawp, the literary journal of the Undergraduate English Students’ Association of the University of Ottawa, the magazine wasn’t even on the map. Thanks to Ruffolo, the free little chapbook journal is worth picking up, and hopefully will continue on that way now that she’s moved on to Toronto, leaving the Editor in Chief position open. The last issue she worked on, published in summer 2005 has poems by Gwendolyn Guth, Wanda O’Connor, Stephen Brockwell, Ronnie R. Brown, Nicholas Lea and a host of others. With Arc in so many ways being the only game in town (in print, anyway; see also: ottawater), it’s good to see that there are some other local options for writing to be published, apart from the hidden away journals you have to know about. Gwendolyn Guth, for example, has been writing increasingly interesting work the past few months, now that she has re-emerged somewhat as an active writer, with poems here and in the first issue of ottawater, years after her first chapbook of more conservative work appeared with Ottawa U’s Friday Circle series. And poet Stephen Brockwell, as he claims, is writing less and less these days, so any new poems of his are going to be worth something, as his piece “The Last Eloquence of Uncle John,” the third of his three pieces, continuing the train of rural thought that marks so much of his previous work:

The Last Eloquence of Uncle John

An orifice is a kind affliction
all relief and infection leave and enter. It is a door
revolving until our final breath or defecation-
but of that enough, for let me speak
of the baby for whom all are pleasure:
its, its mother’s, its father’s.
The poor dog has had a few explored.
Of the pleasure older children take
Aunt Rose would have me embarrassed to speak,
but of an old man’s keen nostril
and of the exuberance of my digression
I can speak until my lungs forget to breathe.

Copies of the journal can be found by wandering into the English Department at the University of Ottawa; the journal is published four times a year, and submissions can be sent (up to eight poems or two short stories, 2,500 words max) to yawp@uottawa.ca

Vancouver, British Columbia: How perfect is it to get my copies of The Vancouver Rain Review of Books in the mail while its raining? The envelope streaked wet, and the return address black ink slides all across my desk. Published four times a year, Rain Review is an eight page tabloid publication edited/published by writer/editor Michael Barnholden to publish reviews of recent larger and smaller press books. Barnholden is not only the author of his own collections of poetry and work-history (his Reading the Riot Act is due soon from Anvil Press), but was responsible (with Tom Snyders and Victor Coleman) of the 1996 Conference on Small and Micro Presses in Sechelt, B.C.; involved with the Kootenay School of Writing for years, he was also co-editor (with Andrew Klobucar) of Writing Class: The Kootenay School of Writing Anthology (New Star Books, 1999). This new issue of his Rain Review includes, for example, a full page review of Wayde Compton’s Performance Bond (Arsenal Pulp Press), and shorter reviews of Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter’s The Rebel Self: Why the Culture Can’t be Jammed (HarperCollins), John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge’s The Right Nation: Conservative Power in America (Penguin Press), Stuart Ross’ Confessions of a Small Press Racketeer (Anvil), Meredith Quartermain’s Vancouver Walking (NeWest Press), Lance Blomgren’s Corner Pieces (Conundrum) and even two reviews (side by side) of Frank Davey’s Back to the War (Talonbooks), among others. If you want to get a sense of what one corner of Vancouver is interested in, this is the place; in smart and even lengthy reviews of books that often don’t get the attention they deserve.

Available free at libraries and independent bookstores across Vancouver, you can also get a subscription; check out RainReview.com for information/listings, or email Barnholden at editor@rainreview.com

Wood Mountain, Saskatchewan: Lately I’ve been reading a pile of poems and essays by Saskatchewan poet Andrew Suknaski, while editing both a new selected poems (due out fall 2006 with Black Moss Press) and a collection of essays on his works (forthcoming from Guernica). What I have been impressed with is the level of information and consideration in his own essays, which I’ve been trying to collect (if you know of any, please let me know). The first visual and concrete poet in the prairies, Suknaski was also a publisher, making chapbooks and magazines on gestetner while wandering around the prairies from his home in Wood Mountain, Saskatchewan, to various points east and west, interacting with poets such as John Newlove, Judith Copithorne, Eli Mandel, Robert Kroetsch, Barry McKinnon, Marty Gervais, bill bissett, bp Nichol, Al Purdy and plenty of others. He was included in the four poet collection of visual pieces Four Parts Sand (Oberon Press, 1970) with Earle Birney, bissett and Copithorne. Purdy went on to include Suknaski in the first volume of his anthology of new poets, Storm Warning (Macmillan, 1971), and both edited and wrote the introduction for his first trade collection, Wood Mountain Poems (Macmillan, 1976; Regina’s Hagios Press is publishing a 30th anniversary edition of the collection next spring). Suknaski kept publishing collections of poetry well into the 1980s, but now doesn’t write at all, and he lives in a group home in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan.

Through his work, Suknaski helped establish that thing now called “prairie poetry,” and that prairie vernacular. Unfortunately, so much that came after him simply falls flat, something that editor Stephen Scobie talks about at the beginning of the previous volume of selected and new poems, The Land They Gave Away (NeWest Press, 1982). Listen to this, the first part of the first poem from his infamous Wood Mountain Poems:

Homestead, 1914 (Sec. 32, TP4, RG2, W3RD, Sask.)

I returning

for the third spring in a row now
i return to visit father in his yorkton shack
the first time i returned to see him
he was a bit spooked
seeing me after eleven years –
a bindertwine held up his pants then
that year he was still a fairly tough little beggar
and we shouted to the storm fighting
to see who would carry my flightbag across the cn tracks
me crying: for chrissake father
lemme carry the damn thing the
train’s already too close!


now in his 83rd year father fails
is merely 110 pounds now and cries while
telling me of a growing pain after the fall
from a cn freightcar
in the yard where he works unofficially as a cleanup man
tells of how the boss that day
slipped a crisp 20 into his pocket and said:
you vill be okay meester shoonatzki
dont tell anyvon about dis
commeh bek in coopleh veek time . . .

father says his left testicle has shriveled
to the size of a shelled walnut
says there’s simply no fucking way
he’ll see another doctor – says:
the last von trried to shine a penlight up myne ass
sohn
no von everr look up myne asshole
an neverr vill
neverr!


while we walk through the spring blizzard to the depot
i note how he is bent even more now
and i think: . . . they will have to break is back
to lay im flat when he dies


in the depot
father guards my bag while i buy two white owl cigars
and return to give him one
and then embrace saying goodbye
and i watch him walk away from me
finally disappearing in the snowflake eddy near a pine
on the street corner
and then remember how he stood beneath a single lightbulb
hanging from a frayed cord in his shack
remember how he said
myne life now moveh to end vit speed of
letrica


coda: Hey! If you think you have something I should look at for potential review, or just want to trade chapbooks, send things to me c/o 858 Somerset Street West, main floor, Ottawa Ontario Canada K1R 6R7. Who doesn’t love getting mail?

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