Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Ongoing notes, late late October

Finally, now that the George Bowering feature I've been editing in Jacket is all finished, I can focus on putting them final touches on the book of the same for Guernica Editions, George Bowering: Essays on His Works (I'm also doing similar on the works of Andrew Suknaski and John Newlove, but I'm sure you already knew that). Did you see the nice note that Sina Queyras wrote on what I had so far? Did you see these new poems of mine in Shampoo, or that I'm in the new fhole? Watch for me as the November feature in the UK journal Sentinel. Did you see this new magazine that Vancouver writer Aaron Peck is doing, or the minimalist poems online by Toronto poet/photographer Sharon Harris? Did you see all the attention Jay MillAr is getting for that new poetry collection, including a review by Ron Silliman (and resulting commentary by Daniel f. Bradley)? Did you see that my counter made 10,000 hits (since Jennifer Mulligan put the counter in on May 1, 2005) sometime last Thursday night (while I was out drinking with poets Nicholas Lea and Jesse Ferguson)? Did you see that Sylvia Adams (she ran the TREE Reading Series before I did) just won the Diana Brebner Prize (named after our late lamented Ottawa poet, who was loved by all)? What do you know about this? What is it with all the questions?

Note, too, that there will be a Peter F. Yacht Club reading / regatta on Thursday, November 3rd, 8pm at the Carleton Tavern (hosted by span-o) in Ottawa (Parkdale @ Armstrong). A list of readers, with links + bios here.

Toronto ON: Years after the original, comes a rewrite Phil Hall did of his first collection, also titled Eighteen Poems (Beautiful Outlaw, 2005), right on the heels of his collection, An Oak Hunch (Brick Books, 2005). I am wishing I had a copy of the original Eighteen Poems, Hall's first collection, published in Mexico City by Cyanamid in 1973, to compare the differences between the texts, and to see where he originated, but (so far) I don't. Twenty-three years after the original, his new version of Eighteen Poems (I have copy "R") is published much further north, in Cabbagetown, Toronto, in a lettered edition of twenty-six copies. There is something about the mix of more language-centred writing to the emotionally raw lyric that I admire about a Phil Hall poem, writing about as far away from any other Brick Books author as possible, even while writing right alongside them. He uses all the same tools but twists, knows both how to use them and not use them, doing marvelous things inside the space of a few lines, such as the beginning of the piece "Suicide Day -- after much whining -- was quiet / & had to be renamed Chicken-Out Day," that writes:

Dear Lorna Crozier

perhaps you will remember that we first met in Saskatoon in 1980
I was 27 -- wet -- green -- my thoughts already sludging to grey

I had just hitched -- pie-eyed on potato champagne -- from BC
You were still (or almost still) a Uher -- swung high off the dance floor

then bowing to your corner -- I met Patrick then also
I was wearing a Brewer's Retail shirt with someone else's name on it

& white painter's pants -- I must have looked like an employee of the hotel
When Pat handed me a bucket & sent me for ice -- I just went

Ice has never been delivered with more respect
This year I turned 50 & got a 10-year medallion -- dry grey

For years I've been tinkering with an essay about Pat's The Weight
trying to grow down through this bitter swirling thirst for -- what?

Each copy, too, has a found photograph slipped inside, as Hall a collector of all things possible, including found photographs, found playing cards (he has nearly four complete sets), and just about everything else you can imagine (in the shed by their cabin in Perth, he has a drawer full of doorknobs). It is this collecting spirit that Hall brings to his poems, dropping in important pieces and moments here and there almost like a collage-work through his version of Ontario pastoral, haibun and small, essential discoveries hidden between the bushes, or on a Cabbagetown sidewalk.

No one remembered it was Balcony Day

In this pity-blizzard of old photo-corners
& their leached-beak shadows

arrowhead-hats & their bleached shadows
aimed into & out of memory every lost once

the trick is to build no lean-to in a tiny corner
wear no point's shadow but risk chemical drift

As you curve an Ur- out of phonemes & squelches
turn into no curator but the hobo of recall

For more information on Beautiful Outlaw (even though this is probably already out of print), email them at

Ottawa ON: You might not have been there, but every year the University of Ottawa does a conference during the month of May. This past year was a conference (roughly) around the works of Margaret Atwood, titled "The animals in her Country," and next year is around the works of the late poet Al Purdy. Always a couple of years behind (them accydemics can take forever, sometimes), the University of Ottawa Press publishes the papers from each conference in a single volume, and this year is no different, with the publication of The Canadian Modernists Meet, edited by Dean Irvine, from the Modernist conference of May 2003. Irvine, one of the founders of Calgary's filling Station magazine, has long been working to establish himself as a young modernist, editing both the collections Archive for Our Times: Previously Uncollected and Unpublished Poems of Dorothy Livesay (Arsenal Pulp Press, 1998) and Heresies: The Complete Poems of Anne Wilkinson, 1924-1961 (Vehicule Press / Signal Editions, 2003), as well as working on a book about Canadian women modernist poets and little-magazine editors, a scholarly edition of the complete poems and translations of F.R. Scott, and a study of scholarly editing and editions in Canada. It's interesting work, and strangely, most of what Irvine has been doing should have been done decades ago, so it's good that he is slowly filling up the gap in scholarship, including the work he's been doing on so many overlooked Canadian women modernist writers and editors.

With pieces on Anne Mariott (Marilyn Rose), Sinclair Ross (Colin Hill), James Joyce (Tim Conley), Ezra Pound, Marshall McLuhan and Louis Dudek (Tony Tremblay) and Sheila Watson (Glenn Willmott), the piece that most interested me was Toronto writer Stephen Cain's "Mapping Raymond Souster's Toronto," that writes:

"For much of the modernist period, this city appears absent from Canadian poetry, and it is not until the rise of postmodernism, post-colonialism, and feminism that sustained and concrete examinations of Toronto and its districts begin to appear: Joe Rosenblatt's Kensington Market, the Annex environs of bpNichol's The Martyrology Book 5, the punk bars and Queen Street watering holes of Lynn Crosbie's "Alphabet City," and the city centre of Dennis Lee's Civil Elegies.

Yet, long before Lee was officially made the poet laureate of Toronto, Raymond Souster was the acknowledged poetic chronicler of Toronto. Indeed, Souster has been represented, in both the popular media and in academic criticism, as the poet of Toronto for much of the twentieth century. While certain other modernist writers have occasionally used Toronto as a subject for their poetry--such as Miriam Waddington, and Dorothy Livesay in her "Queen City" suite--it is only Souster who has consistently returned to Toronto as subject and inspiration for his verse over a lengthy poetic career of nearly half a century. In doing so, Souster has created a significant body of work that explores the site of urban modernism, and an investigation of his work raises questions about aesthetic representations of the city and its functions in the context of Canadian literary modernism."

Montreal QC: Even as his collection of short fiction, Asthmatica (Insomniac Press), moves into a second printing, Winnipeg born / Montreal based author Jon Paul Fiorentino has two new poetry chapbooks out in the world: the limited edition Loss Leaders (No Press, August 2005; 26 lettered copies) and Selected Losses (BookThug, August 2005; 100 copies). A writer who has always written his own way through failure (see my piece "Jon Paul Fiorentino’s Transcona, Winnipeg & the Poetics of Failure" in Open Letter), the movement has shifted slightly from failure into loss, from both titles, obviously, and the first poem in Selected Losses, establishing the mood, writing "I'm not suggesting we're all losers. / I'm insisting upon it."


Nelson refused to bathe.
Romance refused to waver.

Nomadic dementia set in.
Minneapolis drove a dark star north.

The quiet and the restless
afternoon Salversan anti-syphilis raid.

All quiet at the boarding house,
switch off the whipcord evening.

Personation -- hypercognate depersonalization:
when love results in its own undoing, or whatever.

The constable's revolver was drawn at dawn or whenever
and gallows used sometime after.

Earle Nelson's cervical dislocation
was slow, as he bathed in recognition.

Is this Fiorentino moving past his failures while still focusing on them? I'm getting quite fond of these little publications by No Press, and am starting to amass quite a collection (although I'm still missing a few). Publishing anonymously in Calgary, each chapbook is published in a handout edition of twenty-six copies, with lovely little collections by many of the new Calgary crew, including derek beaulieu, Jason Christie, Jordan Scott and ryan fitzpatrick, while also publishing the work of a select group of outsiders, such as nathalie stephens and Fiorentino himself. I have a theory or two as to who the publisher is, but I'm not telling.

The small collection, Loss Leaders, moves through territory much smaller than the poems in Selected Losses. Not that I would put everything Fiorentino does into working the narrative lyric (he would call it post-lyric), the post-Winnipeg poet puts far less of that into these two collections (Selected Losses includes not only "Sonnet of R2-D2" (which I have to hear him read some day) made up of sounds, but a sonnet written in binary code), working further away from lyric in his Loss Leaders, writing more a series of poems of collusion, such as in the poem "THEODORIANS," that includes "adorned features veblenite / hypostatic progress inbuilt / culture short shrift / trifle just capitalist / period means nothing / just flow just fad just" (np).


There's no proper way close up shop.
Don't forget to water the cash registers.

Loss leaders sprawl out on the bathroom floor.
Everyone's so funny now.

My persecution complex is emblem-based.
Say it with a used telecaster.

Find epiphanic ways out.
Clean it. Jerk it.

I do think any new poetry collection by Jon Paul Fiorentino, post-poet (perhaps), is an event (his Hello Serotonin!, published by Coach House Books is already a minor classic), so I am looking forward to see what he comes out with next. With prairie (legend) poet Robert Kroetsch, Fiorentino recently edited the poetry anthology Post-Prairie: An Anthology of New Poetry, also newly out with Vancouver's Talonbooks. If you haven't seen it yet, find it.

Toronto ON: There are an awful lot of poets in Toronto. Yet another one is Suzanne Hancock (who recently got an MFA in creative writing from the University of Michigan, and was shortlisted for the Bronwen Wallace Award in 2004), with her debut trade collection, Another Name for Bridge (The Mansfield Press, 2005). Produced out of Toronto's Little Italy by publisher Denis De Klerck (one of the nicest fellas around), The Mansfield Press has been around for a little more than half a decade, and publishing lovely looking books by authors such as Margaret Christakos, Matt Santateresa, Pier Giorgio Di Cicco and Ann Shin.

In Hancock's Another Name for Bridge, I appreciate that her poems know how to use physical space, and aren't built the same old ways on the page. Hancock knows about space, and she knows about slowness, even something as simple as a section of poems on the right margin, at the bottom of the page. Writing about slowness and small moments, Hancock also works to explore the final days of Rene Descartes, stepping from an apple orchard to a Dutch slaughterhouse, and up to that moment of diving from a train bridge, as she writes in the poem "DESCARTES AND REMBRANDT AT A DUTCH SLAUGHTERHOUSE IN NINE BRUSHSTROKES":

Descartes comes to the slaughterhouse to drag away bags of bones.
It is late in the day (he never rises from bed before noon) and he will
use the bones to study the body's form. The map beneath skin.
He gets used to the sour smell as his mind warms with the idea of
death. Light strikes his forehead from a high window, the carcasses
glow with a warm orange sheen:
all these bodies severed from the brain.

Hancock's poems are all about the details. Life, they say, as written in the details, from the open form line of some poems (reminiscent of Andrew Suknaski's loping coyote lines, especially when she references, in her own poem, "On Lion's Gate Bridge"; see also, his poem "On First Looking Down from Lion's Gate Bridge"), to the tight lyric of the section of snapshots. It makes the book more interesting that she moves her structures around, not keeping to any single shape on the page. And then she works another favourite, the blank poem under the single title, as in her piece "The Poem As Open Door Facing South," leaving the reader to ponder the page. Is it a cheap ploy? Is it simply a page being filled with nothing? I don't think so. There are some pieces in which there is nothing left to be said.


after Shane Rhodes

because the sky seems to say: my pretty, my hollow one

because a garden in full bloom can be so vulgar in its obviousness

because language can be whittled down to stop and watch

because you have never seen a moose

because light above those wispy pines is bent into a bow

because all we've been listening to since the Manitoba border is
Glenn Gould

because we hurt here and here and here

because next summer in Montréal when the air conditioning refuses
to work we will need a memory that recalls air as cold as this wind

because there must be more to this scene than lonely

because Great stars of white frost / come with the fish of darkness /
that opens the road of dawn

because the sound of soles across frozen ground is as lovely as
polished rosewood

because the sky seems to say: my hollow one

Berkeley CA: Thanks to Ron Silliman's recent birthday note for the poet David Bromige (born in England, educated in Canada and in the US teaching for decades since), it's got me reading Bromige's fine poetry again. I only own three of his collections, and from completely different periods, it seems, so at some point I'm going to have to get something more recent, left to rereading my copies of The Ends Of The Earth (Black Sparrow Press, 1968), Birds of the West (Coach House Press, 1973), and Tiny Courts in a world without scales (Brick Books, 1991) (I've looked for more, but American small press books don't easily cross borders into Canadian second-hand shops). Easily my favourite of the three has to be Birds of the West. Working a very Creeley-esque line and line break, Bromige, in this collection at least, wrote lovely little and long domestics, such as in the piece, "Eternal Image," writing:

The spider's legs
scrabbling on the glass
inside the jar

& the ticking of the kitchen clock

I can't show you the spider
except to say
it's bigger than I knew
spiders grew to be this way

& when I thought it'd escaped
the hair rose
over all of me
it was at least that huge

After I first picked up the collection (at Janet Inksetter's Annex Books a few years ago in Toronto), I wrote this piece, in response:

keats, at 206, is very old
(after bromige

out into that,
wingless view

over annex, &
janets store

of books

true, this only comes
w/ that

or is it time

& then to keep time,
w/ any age

an appreciation
of fact

& this autumn part
of bloor

one loves life
for all the living


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