Monday, November 07, 2005

Ongoing notes, early November 2005: some journals & a few unexplored issues

By now you probably know the news about Ottawa poet Marianne Bluger, who died at home on October 29, 2005, after a lengthy illness. A note here with a link to her own obituary.

Otherwise, have you seen the new poems online by Anita Dolman, or this website with pieces by Meredith Quartermain and others? These poems by Steve Ross Smith and others? My friends David Scrimshaw & David Taylor had a Hallowe'en party (I dressed up as a bee; apparently my lovely daughter dressed up as an assassin). Check out Scrimshaw's Scribbles. Super-blogger John W. MacDonald did a piece (with piles of photos) on our one and only (so far) Peter F. Yacht Club reading / regatta (aren't you sorry you missed it?). The TREE Reading Series anthology, Twenty-Five Years of Tree, edited by James Moran and Jennifer Mulligan (BuschekBooks) is finally out. My cousin Lori Anne has a blog now, as does the Toronto writer (moved to Chicago) Kate. Toronto writer Stuart Ross seems to think I have a book out this year Is there something he knows that I don't? And I'm very much this song these days. And maybe this one too. And this one. And my lovely daughter lately has been telling me to listen to Ok-Go.

And did you know that Saturday, November 5th was the 400th anniversary of the gunpowder plot? It was Carmel Purkis' birthday, too (we don't have photos of that), and we never did get around to burning anything in effigy, but we did acknowledge Guy Fawkes Day. Shouldn't we in Canada have a Paul Chartier Day too? Shouldn't we be burning him in effigy on Parliament Hill? We're so polite and unaware in Canada.

Some Canadian online journals worth reading, just so you know, are W (out of the Kootenay School of Writing in Vancouver), Michael Bryson's The Danforth Review (Toronto), Rob Budde's stonestone (Prince George BC), It's Still Winter (Prince George), the late PHU online (Calgary), Meredith Quartermain and Jacqueline Turner's The News, and of course, my own ottawater (a second issue due in January) and There are probably a bunch more, but who can keep track? (hint hint: send links: send emails to me c/o az421 (at) freenet (dot) carleton (dot) ca.) Here are a few of the Canadian literary journals that I (somehow) feel the need to own every issue of.

Calgary AB: I've been a big fan of the new dANDelionmagazine since it was formed from the ashes of the old, phoenix-like, just a few years ago. Originally, the magazine spent about twenty-five or so years publishing more formally conservative work, and for whatever reason, couldn't quite make the sales, and folded (probably not even how it happened). Somehow, a bunch of grad students that then-professor Fred Wah oversaw took over the journal, and all hell broke loose, turning it from Dandelion into the current incarnation of dANDelion (see how with each issue, the type fades on either side, revealing only AND…).

Publishing regularly the work of parts of the ongoing "Calgary Renaissance" (as George Bowering once called it, in his anthology And Other Stories), he past few issues they've been exploring theme issues, including a large issue on the late artist, writer and teacher Roy Kiyooka, and another on "Disaster," pairing it up with not only an art opening or two, but with a series of clever readings. The most recent two issues are the "absurd" issue (Volume 30, issue 2) and the "science fiction" issue (Volume 31, issue 1).

Call it my own geeky weakness, but the best part of the "science fiction" issue has to be Jon Paul Fiorentino's "Sonnet of R2-D2," that reads:

Tweet blip blip doot tweet blip blip doot beewoo
Deep vree wop vreet; vree waap deep beep vreet woo
Twoo beep dee vroop dee vroot vroop vreep buurwaap
Doop deep beewoo burrwaap vreet doop - beewoo!
Beewoo whoot wop eeeet oooo burrwaap burrwaap.
Bwop bwoop blip breeet bip bop beep breeoo, breeoo
breeoo blip doot. Vreet tweet burr waap deep doop
burr waap breeeet vroot vroot beewoo beep braap woo.
Vreet deep! Vreet deep! Vroot bap beewoo breeoo!
Oooo breeet deep. Oooo breeet deep. Beewoo bip bip.
Vroot bap! Vroot beep! Vreet beewoo bap breeoo!
Oooo bip whoot vroot whoot dee tweet waap bip bip.

Whoot whirr eeeet bip tweet blip woo beep breeoo?
Wop woo vreet oooo vroot beewoo braap burrwaap!

The same piece also appears in his chapbook Selected Losses (BookThug, 2005), which I talked about in my "Ongoing notes, late late October" piece. Other highlights include writing by Jason Christie, Steve Venright, paulo da costa and Sharon Harris, as well as a number of other people I've never heard of (which is always interesting). There is also a full colour section in the centre of the magazine showcasing work from Calgary's The New Gallery, including artwork by Clint Wilson, Blair Brennan, Les Newman, Paméla Landry, Jason Christie, Christian Kuras, Ted Hiebert, Robyn Moody, Kay Burns, Sara Graham, Mark Clintberg, Liz Nowatschin and Gem Salsberg.

Montreal QC: Founded way back in 1975, Matrix magazine, currently edited by poet and Concordia professor R.E.N. (Robert) Allen the past few years, and associated with the university, regularly publishes the work of some of the more interesting Montreal-based writers, including Jon Paul Fiorentino (now managing editor), David McGimpsey, Stephanie Bolster, Andy Brown (editor/publisher of Conundrum Press, and also the current Matrix designer) and Corey Frost, among so many others that have emerged over the past decade or so (see also the anthology Brown and I edited, YOU & YOUR BRIGHT IDEAS: NEW MONTREAL WRITING that Vehicule Press was nice enough to publish in 2001).

To acknowledge some of the ongoing work that Matrix has been doing in regards to the author interview, Montreal's DC Books (formerly Delta Can Books, founded by Louis Dudek) even published The Matrix Interviews in 2001 as their annual Moosehead Anthology #8, edited by R.E.N. Allen and Angela Carr. The anthology featured interviews going back a number of years, as far back as 1979 and as late as 2000, with Robert Allen, Martin Amis, Nick Bantock, Neil Bissoondath, Marie-Claire Blais, Stephanie Bolster, Anne Carson, Michael Crummey, David Fennario, Amitav Ghosh, Michael Harris, D.G. Jones, Irving Layton, Robert Majzels, Erin Mouré and Gail Scott.

The most recent issue, number 71, is a special "comics" issue, that also includes a baseball supplement (remember the Expos?). The issue features the comic work of Joe Ollman (a regular to the magazine), Jason Lutes, Howard Chackowicz, the comic genius (so says I) of Billy Mavreas (another regular), among others, and writing by Elizabeth Bachinsky, a. rawlings, derek beaulieu, Andy Brown, Brian Joseph Davis and Elisabeth Belliveau, and an interview with Danzy Senna by Wayde Compton. One of the highlights has to be Montreal writer David McGimpsey's piece "Baseball 2005: Who's Your Daddy Now?" McGimpsey, a gifted poet and fiction writer, has been writing about and loving sports for years (you should read his regular travel pieces in EnRoute magazine), and his knowledge shows, as the piece begins:

"I love the traditions in Major League ballparks: when they sing "Sweet Caroline" at Fenway, the thrilling sausage-mascot races in Milwaukee, hanging out in the parking lot at Dodger Stadium late into the night because you've forgotten where your car is. But, of all the current traditions, the best is at Yankee Stadium, where, when the Yanks win, Frank Sinatra's version of "New York, New York" is played over the loudspeakers and when the Yanks lose they still play "New York, New York" but the version by Liza Minelli."

Another highlight has to be the essay by Patrick R. Burger, "They Say You Never Forget Your First Love: The Avengers #165," on the first comic book he ever owned when he was a kid, and just what the whole thing meant. Who doesn't remember their first comic? (Mine was an early issue of Fantastic Four, with Dragon Man on the cover, bare days before I picked up Amazing Spider-Man #156 and got hooked… arm in arm in arm in arm in arm in arm in arm in arm with Doctor Octopus!) And of course, how could you not love the "Drunken e-mails!" by Jon Paul Fiorentino?

She Is Blond Sin
(On His Blindness)

Dim, nephritic, yet single (whoosh!)
She's a dandy kid. Why film her drear wilt and
Tease the wanton hidden clit? Oh had I that
Molten loadstone rebel--gum my thighs. She is down
To her panties. Revere her knees. Tada my
Darling! In time he ruts her cunt. My curt
Deus ex machina goads both girl and Delt. Today
Only I partake in neither--devout--but
Soon that rumour (not greed) plies me. Don't
Fight. She's a Norse beast. Now I stroke her.
Baby my every limb seeks this state…hide, eh? His
Deep kiss taunts singly. Ding! Had I shod a bi
Dancer (post Streisand) taut and low--oh
Woo! What a dish! And to yell nasty verse!

-- Elizabeth Bachinsky

Strathroy ON: Recently moved from London, Ontario (where he recently retired from teaching at the University of Western Ontario) to Strathroy, just a bit out of town, is Frank Davey's Open Letter: A Canadian Journal of Writing and Theory. A constant for writing on writing for decades now, Open Letter has featured issues on various explorations of the avant, including issues on notation and visual poetry, the demise of Coach House Press, little magazines in Canada, the long-liners conference at York University in 1996, and even single-author issues, publishing issues of essays by Robert Kroetsch, Victor Coleman, Louis Dudek and Warren Tallman, an issue by the editors of L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E, an issue of short fiction by Sheila Watson, as well as issues on the work of Kroetsch, Alice Munro, Fred Wah and Pauline Butling, and bpNichol, among so many others. Even the magazine's list of contributing editors reads as a who's who of Canadian non-linear literary theory, including Barbara Godard, Terry Goldie, Smaro Kamboureli, Steve McCaffery, Lola Lemire Tostevin and Fred Wah (previous contributing editors include George Bowering, John Bentley Mays, Stan Persky and bpNichol). Essential reading for anyone interested in ongoing Canadian writing, Davey (every so often) even allows the journal to fall into the hands of guest editors, including recent issues edited by Stephen Cain, derek beaulieu, Jason Christie, Louis Cabri, Susan Rudy, Nicole Markotic, and Jars Balan.

The most recent issue, "New Canadian Fiction," guest-edited by Karis Shearer, focuses on the new slew of fiction writers that have appeared over the past few years, with pieces on Jessica Grant (Jessica Schagerl), Russell Smith (Aaron Schneider), literary awards (Terri Susan Zurbrigg), Lynn Crosbie (Ian Rae), André Alexis (Heather Snell), Lisa Moore (Kaya Fraser), Paul Ficoeur (Marc Morlat) and Gustave Morin (Paul Hegedus), as well as short poems by Rae and Schneider. As editor Shearer writes in the introduction to the issue:

"This special issue of Open Letter was in many ways born out of frustration. It originated in part from my own frustration with what my university-setting considers to be 'contemporary' Canadian fiction: this tends to include work from the 1970s, 80s, and early 90s, but to exclude work by younger writers published in the last fifteen years. Essentially, Canada's 'contemporary' writing continues to be represented by the (often mid-career) work of George Bowering, Margaret Atwood, Timothy Findley, and Michael Ondaatje. […] Our now-canonical writers are of a generation that captured the spotlight in their own youth (in some cases, over forty years ago) and continue to hold it today -- a remarkable longevity. Their early literary success is inevitable. According to the MLA International Bibliography, three years after the publication of their third words of prose fiction, Michael Ondaatje and Margaret Atwood could claim 91 and 82 journal articles on their work, respectively. Applying the same filter to more recent authors (measuring three years after their third prose publication, excluding interviews and book chapters), we find that there are 6 journal articles on Thomas King's work, 5 on Russell Smith's; 4 on Douglas Coupland's; there are 3 articles on the work of Evelyn Lau and Yann Martel, respectively; 2 on M.G. Vassanji; 1 on Lynn Coady; and none on Jane Urquhart. The lack of critical attention has not gone unnoticed by our contemporary writers."

I find it interesting that Open Letter would focus an issue on an issue that is helped further along by journals such as Open Letter, publishing another issue on the writers of the 1960s as recently as two years ago. Such a gesture means volumes, and Shearer is doing important work, highlighting, as one author called it, the "imaginary photograph" taken in 1974: if you weren't in the picture, you got very little (to no) attention as an author for the next few decades. Still, there is much hope for this generation of new writers, as the writers of the 1960s that have worked so hard to shape the landscape of both writing and theory now reach (or already have reached) retirement age (Bowering, Wah, Scobie, Barbour, Davey, Hogg, etcetera). Who do you think will be there, waiting, to take those jobs, and shift the curriculum focus?

Calgary AB: Back to Calgary again, where the ongoing filling Station magazine, founded way back in 1995, has helped the 1990s strain of Calgary renaissance find its own footing, including writers such as Nicole Markotic, Louis Cabri, Larissa Lai, derek beaulieu, Jason Christie and Dean Irvine over the years (many of which appear in the brand new anthology Post-Prairie, published by Talonbooks and edited by Jon Paul Fiorentino and Robert Kroetsch), providing essential links to the more interesting writing coming from other centres such as Vancouver, Winnipeg, Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal. One of the offshoots of the magazine was beaulieu's own work with his now-defunct housepress, and the reformation of dANDelion.

from Wide slumber for lepidopterists
Hypnic twitch

laid in plant tissues or in narrow slits or crevices. Soft curving of the innocent.

Laid in soft theta tissues or in narrow row innocents.

Laid in narrow tissues or in soft theta curving of the innocence
of narrow tissues; in curves of nonsense lie in no sense in soft curving rows
of tissue curves of innocence narrow soft curves of innocence

laid in soft narrow curves of innocents, of issue,

-- a. rawlings

The current issue, number 33, has a number of interesting pieces in it, including poetry by a. rawlings, Frank Davey, kari Edwards, Natalie Simpson, Natalie Zina Walschots, Tony Tost, Weyman Chan and Jessica Smith, fiction by various folk including Darryl Whetter, Chris Ewart and Jane Chamberlin Grove, and an article by Mark Truscott (the text of his talk from his Speakeasy lecture, curated in Toronto by BookThug editor/publisher Jay MillAr), as well as some visual poetry, visual arts, and the usual stack of book reviews. One of the best parts of this issue has to be the interview between Natalee Caple and Jessica Grant (they both also have fiction in this issue), interviewing each other. Broken in two sections, it moves from "Natalee's Answers to Jessica's Questions" to "Jessica's Answers to Natalee's Questions." (For those who don't know, Calgary fiction writer Jessica Grant is the author of Making Light of Tragedy, published by Porcupine's Quill in 2004, and Toronto author Natalee Caple, last year's writer-in-residence at the University of Calgary, is the author of a collection of poetry, a collection of short fiction and two novels, most recently the novel Mackeral Sky.)

As Natalee's Answers begin:

Jessica: One of my favourite scenes in Mackeral Sky takes place in the lepidopterium. First of all, I loved learning the word lepidopterium. Second of all, I loved the bilingualism of that scene. Science meets poetry, and you make them feel like the same language. Or maybe a new language. Are you aware of poetry informing your fiction? Or perhaps a better question is: Do you think your versatility in other genres (poetry, short fiction, non-fiction) has made you a more daring novelist when it comes to language?

Natalee: Thanks Jessica. Scientific language is very poetic because it is very indulgent. Very, I dub thee! I loved learning the word lepidopterium too. There is no lepidopterium in Montreal. There is an insectarium and it probably has a butterfly section but I just imagined the butterfly world so I could use that word. I wanted the scenes with Jules and Jim to be particularly evocative of films from the French New Wave but with a Canadian twist so "French" becomes French-Canada and I looked through Frommers guides for particularly neat places in and around Montreal to set the killings. I wanted to set the brutal violence against spectacularly beautiful settings to make them more shocking to the sense, but also more surreal. The Upper Laurentians and Eastern townships of my childhood are mysterious and overwhelming in the way that any huge natural landscape is to a child. And my first encounters with that landscape seem very poetic. My young consciousness was absorbing and being absorbed into, the ancient landscape, the mountains and fjords (another word I wrote a scene just to use) and mixed history of French and English Canada. I'm very aware of deliberately incorporating poetry into fiction. I think the two forms inform each other by creating a constant shift in emphasis. Poetry reminds me to stay close to the language and create chaste images that flower in the imagination. And fiction reminds me to keep moving and stay on the action. Poetry is about the fragment for me and fiction is about movement. I went back to Nabakov and his writing on butterflies to find my style for that scene. But I also threw in a few contemporary film references as with the Death's Head Moth, which appears most recently in the film Silence of the Lambs.

Along with dANDelion, filling Station (which also organizes a number of readings and launches throughout Calgary) is one of the anchors of the prairies. Everyone should own copies.

The world is ready to move
on without America

Before this beautiful experiment
that is your face, your eyes,
begins not to see creation--before
you breathe a street in Paris
and send your first postcard back home,
before words break through
liberating the act as it's overtaken,
there will be
sanctioned atrocity behind this walls…

falling plum blossoms in a bamboo flute, listen, like
--just like that.

Fu-sang, the tree of Immortality, burns
celadon Kuan Yin of the navel,
give freely sage tender ming

"the wind brings willow-cotton," he composes
while prepping inkstone dipped tip
heme scepter. "The local poets bore me,"
was another memory, internexus
brushstroke lived, splashed through rice paper
and again visualizes "unrooted water-grass"
sea-saffroning a wide swathe of peace
the dew prevalent in the first aired-out hours
before dark lifts, curved mercy at its post colonial
perestroika, captures the lonely
imbiber, toasting moon-cup-shadow
in rootless hours shadows make of us.

-- Weyman Chan


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