Tuesday, February 21, 2006

call it a warehouse sale:

I just got a couple of boxes of my two publications from Windsor, Ontario's Black Moss Press, and until the end of March (2006), am offering them at a discount. $10 each if you see me (maybe at my TREE Reading on March 14th?), or $13 each if you want them mailed (outside Canada, $13 US).

The first is my eighth poetry collection, red earth (Black Moss Press, 2003). This is what poet and critic Harold Rhenisch was nice enough to say about it in Ottawa's own Arc magazine:

"What sets it apart […] is not its reliance on travel, imagery, and its civic sense of poetry, but that it gets its kick of this Bank Street roast straight from the source, from Whitman, Stein, and Kerouac, and from George Bowering, King of TISH. mclennan is better than the lot, a kind of Canadian Robert Creeley, presenting us with moments to move into, like museum dioramas, incomplete until we stand in them. In mclennan, a whole tradition that has been underground in Canada for almost half a century has found a new champion."

The second is an anthology I edited, evergreen: six new poets (Black Moss Press, 2002), featuring the work of six poets who hadn't published full trade collections yet (but for one contributor), including Laurie Fuhr (then, Ottawa; now Calgary), Jon Paul Fiorentino (Montreal), Meghan Jackson (outside of Toronto; watch for her first collection out this fall with Ottawa's Chaudiere Books), Andy Weaver (Edmonton), Susan Elmslie (Montreal; watch for her first collection this year with Brick Books) and ryan fitzpatrick (Calgary).

Also, above/ground press recently released Lea Graham's poetry chapbook Calendar Girls; Lea Graham was born in Memphis, Tennessee and grew up in Northwest Arkansas. She has lived in Missouri, New Jersey, Chicago, the Dominican Republic and Costa Rica. Her work has been published in the Notre Dame Review, the Worcester Review, Near South, and through Kalamalka Press in British Columbia. She has poems forthcoming in Mudlark and Moira. Her interview with the poet Michael Anania is forthcoming this spring through Paper Streets. She currently teaches Creative Writing, Literature and Travel Writing at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts. Still available, as well, is Shifting Landscapes by "mid-Atlantic" poet Jessica Smith. Send $5 each (CDN; outside Canada, $5 US) to get copies.

As usual, make all cheques payable to rob mclennan c/o 858 Somerset Street West, main floor, Ottawa Ontario Canada K1R 6R7

Sunday, February 19, 2006

The Collected Poems of Ted Berrigan

I've been scouring used bookstores for years to find poetry collections of the late second generation New York school poet Ted Berrigan (1934-1983), with very little luck; two years ago, the only thing I was able to find was a new edition of his collection The Sonnets (New York NY: Penguin, 2000), in the Book City on Bloor Street in Toronto. Thanks to University of California Press, there probably aren't any poetry collections by Berrigan I'll ever need again, with the publication of The Collected Poems of Ted Berrigan (Berkeley CA: The University of California Press, 2005), edited by his widow, the poet Alice Notley, and their two children (also poets), Anselm Berrigan and Edmund Berrigan. Looking as well, over the years, for pieces on Berrigan and his contemporaries have been something difficult (apart from Ron Padgett's magnificent Ted, A Personal Memoir of Ted Berrigan, published by The Figures in 1993), as Notley writes about in the preface to her recent book of essays, Coming After, Essays on Poetry (Ann Arbor MI: The University of Michigan Press, 2005), writing:

Second-generation New York School figures, and certain poets connected to them through friendship, interests, publication outlets, were neglected, partly because they tended to disdain criticism as a form, thereby not creating a way of talking about their work (as others were doing); partly because they could seem anti-intellectual (as if a poet weren't by definition an intellectual); partly because their work was often humorous, ergo seemed "light"; partly because they tended to practice unsanctioned lifestyles; sometimes simply because they were humble or distracted, "non-careerist," which is not the same as not professional. (p v)

Listed in this Collected as part of Berrigan's chronology are two collections on his work that I have yet to find copies of, Talking in Tranquility: Interviews with Ted Berrigan (edited by Stephen Ratcliffe and Leslie Scalapino, published by Avenue B and O Books in 1991), and On the Level Everyday: Selected Talks on Poetry and the Art of Living (edited by Joel Lewis, published by Talisman House, Publishers in 1997). [If anyone can find copies, remember that my birthday is coming up…] From what little I understand of the original New York School of the 1950s, it included the poets Frank O'Hara (a big influence on Canadian poets David W. McFadden and Ken Norris) and John Ashbery (who I know was a big influence on Edmonton-born Michael Londry), writing a kind of plainer speech of what was happening to them, and around them. As in O'Hara, certainly, the "I did this, I did that" kind of poem that was central to his collection Lunch Poems (San Francisco CA: City Lights). The second generation would include poets such as Berrigan, Notley, Kenward Elmslie, Kenneth Koch and Ron Padgett, with the suggestion I've heard of a third generation that includes Anselm Berrigan and Brian Kim Stefans (although I admit I might just have no idea what the hell I'm talking about). A beautiful hardcover and massive edition at seven hundred and fifty pages, The Collected Poems of Ted Berrigan works through a massive amount of material for a poet not only known as one who made things happen for other poets around him, but also for getting into lots of trouble (some of the later pieces reference small battles that often became larger). Part of the process of collecting such works in a linear fashion, as Notley writes in her introduction, was problematic, as Berrigan didn't produce book-length works separately, but often simultaneously, as she writes:

I heard Ted say more than once that his collected poems should be like a collected books. But he didn't always work in sequences, and he wasn't always consciously in the process of writing a book. He wrote many individual poems, and he sometimes seemed to write purely for fun. As for publication, publishers would approach him for a book without knowing exactly what he had, and sometimes it didn't seem to him as if he had that much. If there was a sequence ready, or a book in a unified style like Many Happy Returns, certainly he published that. If he had a stack of dissimilar works or if he didn't even know what he had, he still set about the process of constructing a "book." He loved to make things out of pieces, often ones that didn't fit together conventionally. A book was like a larger poem that could be as much "made" out of what was at hand, as "written" in a continuous way out of a driving idea.

This volume is an attempt to be a collected books, but it can't be that precisely and so isn't called The Collected Books. Though Ted wrote sequences and constructed books, he didn't produce a linear succession of discrete, tidy volumes. He perceived time as overlapping and circular; the past was always alive and relevant, and a particular poem might be as repeatable as an individual line or phrase was for him from the time of the composition of The Sonnets onward. How were we, the editors, to deal with repetitions of poems from book to book? Most especially, what were we to do about the book-length sequence Easter Monday? (p 1)

His collection The Sonnets, for example, was an influential collection of pieces made up of, often, failed poems he had written years earlier, as well as lines and phrases borrowed from other poets, many of which were in his circle of friends, creating poems cut up to resonate into a sharper image of fourteen line pieces (and one of the reasons why it becomes even more common to see bad sonnets; why can't poets learn from experiments like these?).


In Joe Brainard's collage its white arrow
He is not in it, the hungry dead doctor.
Of Marilyn Monroe, her white teeth white-
I am truly horribly upset because Marilyn
and ate King Korn popcorn," he wrote in his
of glass in Joe Brainard's collage
Doctor, but they say "I LOVE YOU"
and the sonnet is not dead.
takes the eyes away from the gray words,
Diary. The black heart beside the fifteen pieces
Monroe died, so I went to a matinee B-movie
washed by Joe's throbbing hands. "Today
What is in it is sixteen ripped pictures
does not point to William Carlos Williams. (p 37)

Berrigan was said to have read enormously of everyone, taking influence wherever he could find it, as Ron Padgett writes in his memoir:

Everyone who knew Ted knew that he read enormously, all kinds of books. When I first met him I thought it was attractive, but after ten or fifteen years the thought occurred to me that it might be compulsive.

"I can't be not in the process of reading some book," he once told me.

He read the way he smoked: chain.

He had started going to the library with his mother when he was little. He told me he was one of those kids who checks out ten books every Saturday and reads them all. The reason for this might be obvious: he liked to read. And maybe there was a sort of comfort in the routine of reading, of knowing you have another book waiting for you, another world waiting for you to climb into, where you'll be safe. I think the act of reading meant more to him than what he read, though of course his reading was not accidental or gratuitous. Look at some of his book lists, with titles such as "The Ten Best Books of 1965," and you'll see that 1) he always listed more than ten, and 2) the lists function like a diary entry, telling us what was going through his mind at the time. (p 35, Ron Padgett, Ted, A Personal Memoir of Ted Berrigan)

What I like about this selection/collection is that it not only includes published books, but a selection of poems that didn’t appear in collections, left floating either in journals or in unpublished manuscripts. Part of Berrigan's strength comes from the quick and deceptively simple poem, some of which read as though written in a short burst, as in the poems from the collection Red Wagon (1975):


If I don't love you I
Won't let it show. But I'll
Make it clear, by
Never letting you know.

& if I love you, I will
Love you true: insofar
As Love, itself,
Will do.

& while I live, I'll be
Whatever I am, whose
Constant, impure, fire
Is outwardly only a man. (p 385, from the collection Red Wagon)

I wonder if the lack of critical material on Berrigan was the reason for Notley focusing very clearly on the poems in her introduction on the poems and not as much on the poet (or at least, less than I would have expected, for someone who knew him so intimately). What is interesting is how intimately she writes about the poems, and how personally, as well as critically, as an exploration of material that she has known deeply for many years. As for Berrigan's ear and quick composition, Notley writes:

Ted Berrigan's poems are very deliberate. They have a graven quality as if they were drawn on the page, word by word. He often wrote in unlined notebooks with a black felt-tip pen, and one might also say they have a black-felt-tip-pen-quality. You feel that no words have been crossed out and replaced.

I'm impressed by this graven-ness in The Sonnets and Many Happy Returns, in Easter Monday, but then, too, in most of the later work. It doesn't go away if the feeling in the poem is more autobiographical or intimate, as in A Certain Slant of Sunlight. The latter poems read as if written with the black felt-tip pen, on the postcard. They have a primary physical reality.

Two more things from this: first, a continuous interaction with art and artists gave Ted an active visual and tactile sense. He is often painting, or collaging, or drawing his way through a poem. On the other hand, he agreed with Jack Spicer's notion of the other voice that dictates one's poems, and his poems have a "dictated" quality, even the ones that are made from other people's words. These two notions aren't incompatible. "Dictation" suggests aurality rather than plastic qualities, but there isn't any reason why all the senses shouldn't be working, and Ted had a very fine ear: "Their lives are as fragile as The Glass Menagerie." Listen. (p 15-6)

Given its size and range, The Collected Poems of Ted Berrigan is certainly a book that I'll be dipping into for months to come; who can read seven hundred and fifty pages of poems in one sitting?


The Nature of the Commonwealth
the whole body of the People
flexed her toes and
breathed in pine.

I'm the one that's so
radical, 'cause all I do is pine. Oh I just
can't think of anything —
No politics. No music. Nobody. Nothing but sweet

Romance. Per se. De gustibus non disputandum est.
Flutters eyelashes. Francis, my house is falling down.
Repair it. Merry Christmas. (p 616, from the collection A Certain Slant of Sunlight)

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Comparing apples to oranges to lemons: Robert Kroetsch’s The Snowbird Poems as continuing Field Notes

Still Life: First day as Markin-Flanagan
visiting writer

I left the last two sections of the orange
on the brushed steel counter top
in the kitchen.

They will,
in the morning,
surprise us with their beauty.

This is a sketch
for a beginning.
Good night, love, sleep tight.
― Lines Written in the John Snow House, The Snowbird Poems

When Robert Kroetsch’s Completed Field Notes (Toronto ON: McClelland & Stewart, 1989; Edmonton AB: University of Alberta Press, 2001), written of so many other times and ways, appeared with a new introduction by Fred Wah, the long running joke the author was having on us was in the title. You can almost boil down the humour between poets Robert Kroetsch and George Bowering this way: the jokes Bowering has on the reader are in the poems, and the joke Kroetsch has on the reader is (predominantly) in his ongoing title; how this poem is about as "completed" as Book 6 ended bpNichol's The Martyrology (Toronto ON: Coach House Books, 1987). The inherent poetics the both of them wrote and write, a poem as long as a life, with new sections seeping continuously through into the world as chapbooks and journal selections. As he wrote in the previous edition of the Completed, "Russell Brown, over a drink in a hotel on a Sicilian beach, suggested that the poems be published under one cover, with a title to include the dreaded 'c' word of postmodernism -- completed." Kroetsch's poetry all broken down into the completed and the uncompleted, long prairie lines of a love poem. Long prairie lines of an unfinished love. I’ve heard others suggest that Kroetsch’s lines, since he moved from fiction into poetry, is no more than broken prose instead of a poetic line, but I don't believe it for a second.

The “field notes,” Kroetsch’s continuing poem, started in 1973 with his Stone Hammer Poems (Victoria BC: Oolichan Books, 1975). Considered one of the most important postmodern works in Canada (they tell me), this is poetry that shows a body how it is done. Impressive for the range of poetic styles and the break of the line that Kroetsch works with, in the extended piece(s), from note taking, letter writing, ledgers, each recording and making a record of what has happened, out in the Field, standing, out in the field, outstanding. With each movement out away from what the poem is, he extends the range of the piece.

Of the first collection, only the “Stone Hammer Poem” remains, as prologue to the Completed Field Notes:

This stone
became a hammer
of stone, this maul

is the colour
of bone (no,
bone is the colour
of this stone maul
― Stone Hammer Poems

Well known in circles literary and critical, the Field Notes, Completed or otherwise, have been around for years, but out of print, from the first edition of Completed Field Notes, published by McClelland and Steward in 1989, or the various sections published as earlier editions, such as Field Notes (Toronto ON: General Publishing, 1981) and Advice to My Friends (Toronto ON: Stoddart Publishing, 1985), both of which appear in the Collected under their earlier titles as section headers. It makes me wonder if these works have possibly appeared in more single author forms than any in Canadian poetry, each time with another section or as, added. In both editions of Completed Field Notes, identical but for Wah's introduction, Kroetsch keeps a thread going, of the geographic and thematic continuities of the poem(s), starting at the beginning and moving out from the author/narrator's local to the beyond, with one foot still on Alberta soil. Still, even this second edition existed with rumours of incompleteness, and talk of the newer sections not included, those poems Fred Wah waited for, in his brilliant introduction (alone worth the price of admission), near the end, writing:

"I waited all winter for the new poems; he told me, he would add to what had earlier been complete. I waited for these additions to the edition. He intended to include them, he told me when we met in the folds of the foothills last fall. I believed him, but they never showed up. Has he out-faked my own grand design for his book? What comes after the last poem in this book, "After Paradise," is (finally?) more silence, the newly silenced poems I waited for. They have become rumours and cul-de-sacs. Wasn't that one of the new ones I heard at his reading? What about the limited edition chapbook you can only find on an island? Is the ongoing hush a clue?"

From an island, as Wah says. The point of publishing origin for the poem The New World And Finding It (Salt Spring Island BC : mother tongue press, 1999), originally in an Australian magazine (one island), and then as chapbook, on Saltspring (another island). Is that what Wah refers to? One can only presume. Or ask.

Kroetsch’s poetry, his Field Notes, Completed or Completing, have ever been concerned with visioning and revisioning, seeing the world around him, and the shifting perspectives of, in a constant re-evaluation. Kroetsch the Field reporter, looking without and within. As he writes from his limited edition chapbook:

The violation begins with the naming. We say the tree is a tree. / It resists its diminishment by coming into blossom. The stone blossoms in the garden. / The garden is the violent undoing of the name.
The New World And Finding It

Was it a violation to claim that this was Completed? Or is that simply part of the game, knowing that it is simply completed so far, at least for now. This is what it is and remains, until something new is added. In his essay "For Play and Entrance: The Contemporary Canadian Long Poem," from The Lovely Treachery of Words (Toronto ON: Oxford University Press, 1989), he talks about the long poem as tantric, as delay, delay, delay; pushing the ending as far away as possible, as the essay begins, writing:

"In love-making, in writing the long poem–delay is both–delay is both technique and content. Narrative has an elaborate grammar of delay. The poets of the twentieth century, in moving away from narrative, abandoned (some willingly, some reluctantly) their inherited grammar. Poets, like lovers, were driven back to the moment of creation; the question, then: not how to end, but how to begin. Not the quest for ending, but the dwelling at and in the beginning himself."

Has he pushed the ending of the Field Notes so far ahead of him that it's unreachable? Has he pushed it so far that he has permission to go on forever?

Was the publication of a second Completed Field Notes simply a precursor, a teaser, for something further, a continued Field Notes? In summer 2001, another University of Alberta release, The Hornbooks of Rita K. (Edmonton AB: University of Alberta Press, 2001) was published, as poetry within a fiction; as Kroetsch the writer wrote the archivist Raymond sitting as the collector and questioner of a pseudonymous (and lost) poet and her work (found). Was this another clue for us to follow, or a whole other direction? Where do the two long poems, published as the chapbooks The New World And Finding It and Revisions of Letters Already Sent (Calgary AB: disOrientation chapbooks, 1993), fit in? A joke is being told, somewhere. At the time I wondered, would I argue the continuation of the Field Notes, only to have Kroetsch read what I have written, and decide to never reprint them, sly smile on his face?

please delete, where indicated

if I understand you correctly you are saying that you

catastrophe is a shade of blue. Or is it merely the name
of a perfume that once

the crispness of the celery, so to speak, somehow
reminded me

The distortion of the poem by the image is endemic
to analysis, or at least your analysis suggests

If your heart isn't in it, why eat the goulash, comma

perhaps the occasion will present itself later, just
as did the clay ― was it tablets or feet? ― of your

the title should have read, Flight From Lisbon to
, as you suggested on the phone, when you
phoned from Madrid to tell me about the nude photos
your new acquaintance

masquerade, not Methuselah

tenebrous and tenebrific are both perfectly good
words, darkly majestic, perhaps, even verging, perhaps,
on the pretentious, as you so aptly

the usual, a boiled egg, and, of all things, sourdough

cookbooks, not books, cookbooks
― "(1) LATE APRIL? 1991," Revisions of Letters Already Sent

“I AM A SIMPLE POET / I wrote in the dust / on the police car hood.” Kroetsch wrote in “Mile Zero,” believing and belieing his own confoundings. Like George Bowering's poetry, nothing is as simple as it appears, how the joke has become infused with the serious work of the poem, but somehow become the title itself, the work, and the quiet continuation of it. When Robert Kroetsch tells you he's not writing poems, or never will again, that's when you know he's about to start.


Periodic fits of paradise exhaust him.

For instance. There is, he either knows or imagines,
in the midst of her body a tropical island.

For instance. He sits on a bench in Old Market Square,
his bottle of sugary wine concealed in a Gucci bag.

He cannot decide which text to take with him on the
long read, and therefore consults the patterned flight
of her painted toenails.

He is trying to pretend he didn't receive her letter.

Each time he takes a drink he watches with his tongue
for a message.
― "After Paradise," Completed Field Notes

In the interview with Kroetsch in the collection Poets talk: Conversations with Robert Kroetsch, Daphne Marlatt, Erin Mouré, Marie Annharte Baker, Jeff Derksen and Fred Wah (Butling, Pauline and Susan Rudy, "Historicizing Postmodernism, with Robert Kroetsch," Edmonton AB: University of Alberta Press, 2005), talking about the piece "Poem for My Dead Sister" (originally published in his memoir/essay collection A Likely Story: the writing life (Red Deer AB: Red Deer College Press, 1995), and later reprinted in The Snowbird Poems (Edmonton AB: University of Alberta Press, 2004)), he said:

When I announced at the end of Completed Field Notes that I was finished writing poetry, I felt I had run out of ways to subvert myself. And the irony of this poem is, I was under incredible stress, and (this was in California) I had never used a computer. My sister lived with a woman [Eleanor] very close to us and I was sitting at her computer, trying to figure out how to use it. And I tried by writing a poem about my sister.

Susan: This poem?

Robert: No not this, but I wrote a couple of lines, and it was coming out as just jumble. And the phone rang, and said "Rush to the hospital, your sister's dying." And I had to actually write later to Eleanor and say, "could you give me a copy of what I wrote on your computer." Isn't this awful in the presence of death? I had to say to her, "I was playing on the computer. Would you send me what that was?" So she sent me a copy. And I said, "There's a possibility in that…." It gave me a way to start. (p 17)

In the introduction Susan Rudy writes to the interview with Kroetsch, she even writes of him contradicting himself in his completeness, writing:

Completed Field Notes (1989) collects the poetry from 1973-88 when Kroetsch claims to have come to "a poet's silence": "I like to believe that the sequence of poems, announced in medias res as continuing, is, in its acceptance of its own impossibilities, completed" (Completed Field Notes 269). Throughout the 1990s he continued to publish suspiciously poetic-looking texts under the title "The Poetics of Rita Kleinhart" in little magazines (including Open Letter, West Coast Line, Prairie Fire), many of which appear in The Hornbooks of Rita K (2001), nominated for the Goveror General's Award for Poetry. These "hornbooks," ostensibly written by Kroetsch's alter-ego, a prairie woman writer named Rita Kleinhart, are introduced to readers through the voice of her lover and editor, Raymond, who simultaneously addresses her: "Rita, you are wont to write a crabbed and stubborn / sentence, but this beats all. Without so much as a word / you point straight through the dark and past the bend in / the highway to the sign on the restaurant roof that, / glowingly, says // EATS" (104). A second edition of the Completed Field Notes appeared in 2000 with an introduction by Fred Wah. Kroetsch was honoured with the Manitoba Arts Council Award of Distinction in 2004. In Kroetsch's latest book, The Snowbird Poems (2004), the main character, travelling with the mysterious Henrietta , heads south for the winter and reflects on life: "We fly south to forget winter and instead / we remember the long colour of snow" (57). (p 2-3)

A completed, finished text, even as parts, including the poem written for his sister, aren't included in the Completed. How can it be completed, complete if we know what is missing? If we know what is deliberately missed? The only answer can be that it wasn't complete, even to Kroetsch himself. He was waiting for the next section to appear, complete. A complete other section. As Dennis Cooley wrote in his introduction to the new edition of Kroetsch's Seed Catalogue: a poem (Calgary AB: Red Deer Press, 2004):

"Kroetsch claims also to work with a strange muse–forgetfulness. The lack is cause for lamentation. It is even more cause for celebration and for acts of bravado: to hell with the past and its high art."

A new edition of an old poem, even though it already still exists in print, inside the Completed. Is this forgetfulness or deception? Or is this something else entirely?

When his collection The Hornbooks of Rita K. appeared, mere months after the new edition of Completed Field Notes, it felt outside the realm of everything he had done before in his poems. Contrary to everything he had written before, the book didn't feel as though it was a part of his Field Notes but was instead something other. It was poetry as both archive and archivist, moving through a narrative of beginnings and eventual endings (admittedly, a Kroetsch theme-standard, one that can be traced, too, to bpNichol: writing the endless departure). How could he create such a project that included everything in it, and still manage to subsequently work outside of it?

And how appropriate is the cover image for this collection, part of Michael Snow’s walking woman series endlessly overlapping in all directions, a detail from his "Venus Simultaneous" (1962), as reference to the lost Rita Kleinhart herself. Obviously more fragmented than much of his previous poetry, Kroetsch's The Hornbooks of Rita K. is one of the more obviously narrative collections as well, moving through multiple variations of the endless departure and arrival. Writing a poem through writing its absence. The character Rita by not writing her at all. The Field Notes by writing it as a complete separation. An incomplete completeness to both.

[hornbook #31]

To you, dear reader, frequenter of airport lounges–
even a stand-by poem should tell you where you are.

And what of the hornbook numbers, appearing as they do out of sequence, the reader asks. Are the hornbook numbers for the poems the archivist talks about real numbers, or part of his own fractured narratives? Should we be reading the numbers in the order of their appearance or through the sequence of the numbers instead, roving back and forth throughout the collection?

When the poetry collection The Hornbooks of Rita K. appeared, it fell outside of the field notes, the completed field notes, the unending field. Somehow, with his more recent collection, The Snowbird Poems, Kroetsch has managed to not only bring his Field Notes back, but through various plays, somehow bring The Hornbooks of Rita K. in with it, as part of this ongoing poem. Bringing in both collections like a long arm sweeping in, forging impossible links between both projects. Completed, he repeated, even as he would have been proofreading Rita K.

In the new collection, the main character, Snowbird, travels south for the winter (very Canadian, one might say, of the old bird), and the first four sections, under the header “The Snowbird Poems,” exists as an ongoing dialogue between “Snowbird,” various literatures, and his travelling companion, “Henrietta.”

conversation 7

The end, Henrietta said, is nowhere in sight. She laughed.

I like you in your bikini, Snowbird said. His voice was low,
awkward in his throat. Would you consider turning around?

You are ever, Henrietta observed, the teleological thinker. You
should buy yourself a telescope. For closer observation.

Henrietta, Snowbird responded, it could be said I spent my
whole life repairing chips in my windshield. Give me a break.

Poor dear, she said, turning around as if to look away.

Later, on the same page, he adds:


She said, Snowbird, if nothing else, learn something from the
past. Consider Ponce de Leon, seeking the Fountain of Youth.
He was sure he knew where it was. So he got himself a
commission from the Spanish crown: colonize the “isle of
Florida.” In the hurricane month of July in the year 1521 he was
mortally wounded–struck by an arrow shot from the bow of a
native of the isle that was not an isle. And so he is remembered.
If nothing else.
― The Footprint Episode, The Snowbird Poems

The footprint, a note in the field, allowing evidence of the past in the present tense. Think of this as archival material. Perhaps left by Rita K. herself? And how different is this than "After Paradise," the poem that ends the Field Notes, solicited by Andris Taskans at Prairie Fire, writing paradise before, during and after; writing paradise a footprint left in a grassy field, a sandy beach; a long love poem to and from the self. The reader asks, who are you, Snowbird? Are you the woman you have always been? Are you the face of the female other that Kroetsch is always talking to, when he talks to himself? Smaro, his sister, his mother, his daughters, Snowbird?


Honeyman, she say, you ain't nothing but a phase of
the moon. And you is waning.

Even if words are words, and they well might be.

Even if after precedes before, and in a way it must.

The Nairn Overpass has been under repair since before
it was completed. Railway engineers, passing beneath
its uncertain arch, speak wisely of the decline of
empires. One of the winos who sleeps in its shade
has added a sundeck to his shopping bags.

The horses, every Sunday morning at Assiniboia Downs,
draw straws to see who will lose.

I guess this is par for the course.
― "After Paradise," Completed Field Notes

The final three sections of The Snowbird Poems are simply under the header “and others,” being “Lines Written in the John Snow Louse,” “Poem for My Dead Sister” and “This Part of the Country.” In the seven pieces in “Poem for My Dead Sister,” there are echoes of the poem he wrote for his mother, simply titled “The Poet’s Mother,” included originally in the collection Advice to My Friends (1985), that includes:


I have sought my mother
on the shores of a dozen islands.

I have sought my mother
inside the covers
of ten thousand books.

I have sought my mother
in the bars of a hundred cities.

I have sought my mother
on the head of a pin.

I have sought my mother
in the arms of younger women.

I have sought my mother
in the spaces between
the clouds.

I have sought my mother
under the typewriter keys.
― Advice to My Friends, Completed Field Notes

The poems for his sister are more broken, but there are still the echoes, from the middle of the four-part poem “Visibility” that reads:


close the reminder, closeted book
choose, the closed book, clapping

clam and gentian reprobate, crotchety
steal at last look, asphodel, remain

sputter, and win and winnowed
rue is rue, unrailed, unravel ravel


bust and the lunatic spinner span
travel a stillness, travailed home

the kiss of breathing, teeth, tongue
toddle of losses, laughter laughed

and the holed mouth, mouthing
mouthed, mothermouth, unmurmured
― Poem for My Dead Sister, The Snowbird Poems

So much of Kroetsch’s poetry includes echoes of his other work, reading his “Excerpts from the Real World” from the first few sections of The Snowbird Poems; reading “Advice to my Friends” from “This Part of the Country;” reading so much else from “Lines Written in the John Snow House” (originally published as a chapbook by derek beaulieu's housepress in 2002). Is this what Cooley means by forgetfulness?

There has been an idea presented in the past that every poet writes the same poem over and over throughout their career, but for Kroetsch, this doesn’t even begin to describe it. He is writing new sides to the same poem, adding sides as though to a diamond. Illuminating different aspects as he goes. His poems twist into each other and echo off each other. He has already told us, through the Completed Field Notes that what came before is all one project; what is the difference of two more? If it is even the matter of what, the matter of why. Elsewhere in his Seed Catalogue: a poem introduction, Dennis Cooley writes:

"It is not a matter of whether you should write a poem, or even of why you should. Of course you write poems. Kroetsch pushes on in an exuberant troubled belief that a poem could be written."

And in the end, I'm still waiting for the volume of Field Notes that includes the lost chapbooks, out there in the world, the chapbooks The New World And Finding It and Revisions of Letters Already Sent, especially after Wah's suggestion that one would have already fit. But Kroetsch waits, as he always does. Delay. Waiting.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Roy Kiyooka's letters: Transcanada Letters + Pacific Rim Letters + some other writings

A prolific artist, and considered one of the Canada’s first “multi-disciplinary” artists, the late Roy Kenzie Kiyooka’s (1926-1994) ouvre includes such recent things as: Pacific Windows, Collected Poems by Roy Kiyooka (ed. Roy Miki, Vancouver BC: Talonbooks, 1997), which includes pieces from the poetic and photographic project StoneDGloves (Ottawa ON: The National Gallery of Canada / Toronto ON: Coach House Press, 1970) and the long poem Pear Tree Pomes (Toronto ON: Coach House Press, 1977), which was nominated for a Governor General's Award; Mothertalk, Life Stories of Mary Kiyoshi Kiyooka (ed. Daphne Marlatt, Edmonton AB: NeWest Press, 1997); December 1987 to February 1988 (Toronto ON: Coach House Press, 1995, with art by David Bolduc); inclusion in The New Long Poem Anthology, second edition (ed. Sharon Thesen, Vancouver BC: Talonbooks, 2001); and two critical tribute/acknowledgments to the late poet, artist, photographer, musician, teacher and friend, the collection All Amazed, For Roy Kiyooka (Vancouver BC: Arsenal Pulp Press / Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery / Collapse #7, 2002), edited by John O’Brian, Naomi Sawada and Scott Watson, and more recent issue of Calgary's dANDelion (volume 29, no. 3, 2003). Thanks to editor and critic Smaro Kamboureli, NeWest Press has released two volumes of Kiyooka letters, re-releasing his long out of print Transcanada Letters (2005, with an afterword by Glen Lowry; originally published by Talonbooks in 1974), and the long awaited second volume that Kiyooka himself had attempted to prepare, before his death, the collection Pacific Rim Letters (edited, with an afterword, by Kamboureli, 2005).

Doesn't any poet write a single work all his livelong life? Break it up into measurable units, call each unit a lyric — a stroke of magic or, if you wish, a telltale paragraph. The long or short hiatuses between each word don't matter. Some poems come suddenly like an intrepid November flood while others take years to accumulate the necessary grit. I've been rereading A.B.C. The Alphabetization of the Popular Mind by Ivan Illich and Barry Saunders, a succinct treatise on why we've all become the linguistic / political creatures we are. According to them, the Homeric tradition, which is preliterate, posits an uninterrupted narrative without an actual text. Like it's all covert with actual and stored experiences, and given the time and occasion, it becomes an actual speaking or singing out. What moves me, moves, serpent-wise, through the body of my speech is nothing, if not both the seminal body and the insensate breath's filial bequest.(statement by Kiyooka, The New Long Poem Anthology, Second Edition)

Held together as two volumes of selected correspondence over a period of nearly twenty years, Kiyooka's letters, like his poems, revel in the language, and include both letters and poems dipped in, where part of his ongoing correspondences with various friends, family members, writers, painters, funding bodies and others, all written to in much the same bursts of energy, thought and generous speech (the second volume includes an index at the end, making letters far easier to find, something that would have been nice to include in the first as well).

dear Lawren Harris jr

Y E S i will be in Sackville
March 22nd/23rd. probably the night before.
i am thinking of flying -want to
take pics of the landscape frm 5000 ft.
otherwise will drive thru

- -i dont know how small/large yr classes are.
if they average 12 to 15 i wld prefer to talk with
them as aggregate rather than each group in turn.
i talk to everybody the same way, anyhow.
we could have one long crit that went on til all were
utterly exhausted!
art students shld feel free to come to the reading.
they shld know that poetry is as much for them as for
english students. its something they can also do.
mix of english/ art students is the best possible
audience. even for a séance. (p 248, Transcanada letters)

Each volume also has a generous selection of photographs, held together in a series, a structure that Kiyooka seemed to work in, in both photography and poetry, continually extending and extending and extending the frame.

the last 3 days with
hiro mayumi and rei together
with all their friends on denman island . january '84

and leave-takings
and growing children
all cared for
all held in awe

holding all
your feelings in mind:
holding in
my own feelings for
the sake of a
beneficently light-
hearted occasion
'i' click the
shutter. i am blesst
by the lilt
& tilt of a fine spring light (p 241, Pacific Rim Letters)

The critical attention and appreciation of Kiyooka has been slow coming, with the appearance of the collected poems in 1997 (as much as his work could have been 'collected,' with many pieces that appeared in various places not included), and the collection All Amazed, For Roy Kiyooka, that came out of a major multidisciplinary conference two years later, The Roy Kiyooka Conference, October 1-2, 1999, curated by Daphne Marlatt and Michael Ondaatje, at the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design in Vancouver (where Kiyooka spent most of his last thirty years). The collection includes a transcript of some of the proceedings at the conference, with readings, film and performances by George Bowering, Carole Itter, Sarah Sheard, Gerry Shikatani, Michael de Courcy, David Bolduc and Fumiko Kiyooka, with generous sections of Kiyooka’s own writing, as “read” in the text by some of the participants. As the editors write in their introduction: “Rightly or wrongly, we felt that the worlds Kiyooka inhabited and contributed to did not know enough about each other: the art world does not know so much about poetry, and poets do not know so much about art. We wanted to bring these worlds together as they were together in his work.”

The pieces in All Amazed each give a sense of Kiyooka’s range of interests and output, dealing with different aspects of his work, from the poetry read at the conference, the issues of writing and race from Roy Miki (Kiyooka’s family was displaced as enemy aliens during the second world war from Vancouver to the prairies), the photography work through the eyes of Sheryl Conkelton, and the everything of the teacher by former art student Henry Tsang. As well as a range, the book gives a sense of the importance of Kiyooka’s work to those who might not be familiar with it, still being opened and understood now, years after his death. In the introduction of Mothertalk, Marlatt wrote of Kiyooka being “...well-known in Canadian painting circles of the 1960's and early 70's for his geometric abstract canvases, an artist who subsequently abandoned his painting career to make photography, writing, and music at the intersection of the Asian and Western cultural heritages he found himself living out.” Part of what made Kiyooka interesting as an artist, was the enforced smallness of his work, the extreme detail that came through his writing, photography and painting, that seemed to come so naturally to him, whether through the sense of short play in his poetry, or from the construction photographs that made up StoneDGloves.

all amazed
in the runnels of his
60 winters
the untellable seasons
in a labialcave


full of


(p 60, “All Amazed in the Runnels of His 60 Winters,” All Amazed, For Roy Kiyooka)

All Amazed includes healthy examples of some of his various work, including the photography/text project Pacific Windows that made up a special issue of The Capilano Review in fall 1990 (second series, #3), stills from video/performance work, and a biography and bibliography. Published, among other things, as the 7th issue of Collapse magazine, which included a cd in its second issue of Kiyooka reading from Mothertalk (the book he wrote based on his mother's recollections, translated into English), the collection adds an interesting critical dimension on his serial works in photography and poetry, the latter of which seems less acknowledged critically than the former. As with any collection of this type, its hard to look at any of it as a whole without seeing the limitations placed on it for its size, and just how much more could have been included.

The special issue of dANDelion, subtitled "new writing critical essays photography on the work of Roy Kiyooka," includes pieces by Glen Lowry, Rita Wong, Scott Toguri McFarlane, Matthew Holmes, Douglas Barbour, Jill Hartman, Jay MillAr, Gregory Betts, Tara Lee, Lola Lemire Tostevin, David Fujino, David Mount, Maria Hindmarch, Michael Barnholden, Pete Smith, Lawrence Upton, Roy Miki, Claudia Lapp, as well as a collaboration by Kiyooka and Daphne Marlatt, as well as part of the (then) forthcoming Pacific Rim Letters, introduced by Smaro Kamboureli, and provides an essential counterpoint to the work collected in All Amazed. As Hartman and derek beaulieu write in their editorial to the issue:

In his essay, Michael Barnholden suggests "serious study and review [of Roy Kiyooka's poetry] outside of the attentions of a few friends were rare," due to Kiyooka's penchant for self-publishing. With this issue (the O issue), friends such as Daphne Marlatt, Fred Wah, and Roy Miki offer collaborations, responses, and unpublished Kiyooka poems and prose--the limitations of the chapbook form (accessibility being the main one) mean that much of Kiyooka's work is still unpublished or hard to find. Poets and critical writers share space in this issue in order to collage voices and describe influence. The O issue is itself a part of a larger Kiyooka collage: Kiyooka's collected poems, Pacific Windows: Collected Poems of Roy K. Kiyooka (Talonbooks, 1997, edited by Roy Miki), a forthcoming book of previously unpublished work edited by Smaro Kamboureli, the recently published book of critical essays on Kiyooka, All Amazed for Roy Kiyooka (Arsenal Pulp / Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery / Collapse, 2002), along with some of the tributes to his life and work that were published shortly after his death (the "little Roy Kiyooka section that leads off" West Coast Line 16, 1995, and the 22 page "celebration of Roy Kiyooka" in Brick 48, 1994) together with this special issue of dANDelion begin to constitute not only "serious study" but are also an invaluable resource and continuing dialogue on a most spectacular writer, publisher, and artist. (p 193)

Along with critical essays and tribute poems to Kiyooka, one of the pieces included in the issue is a multiple part poem titled "this side, Victoria Park, Calgary — after Roy Kiyooka" by a friend of Kiyooka's, the Vancouver editor, teacher, poet and critic Roy Miki, that begins:

This is the unspeakable screen where he sought to protect the inquiries
that riddled one's childhood.

He was born in a neighbourhood where the streets, lanes, and foot-
worn paths of the park returned on themselves.

The provisions of memory, always on alert for the anomalous register,
cloaked the bone rushes of his awakened tensile regions with a
notorious green thumb.

It resembled a casual photo seen years later in the multitudinous
chamber of a lexicon in crisis.

What it incarnated then, the spooks removed from the tongues in
check, came across the divide as a designer storefront for ripe but
modified melons.

In what was described as a salamander like manoeuvre, even after
prolonged decades, the resonance, or call it the abrasive whiskers,
would sneak up on his reveries at the most anticipated of times. Dub it
then the installation of the so-called syllabic entourage.

What tissues assumed the audible signed on as compensation for the
displaced get out of childhood free card. Each album cushioning the
aerated passage of family matters dispersed in the alleys of his peregrinations.

The patron saint of lease
the tanginess of elsewhere
routes the dog days of slumber (p 110-1, dANDelion)

Still, my favourite of any of the Kiyooka tribute poems has to be by Sharon Thesen, included in her collection aurora (Toronto ON: Coach House Press, 1995):


I take a kitchen chair out to the front porch
and stand on it to reach the light.
Encased in amber bubbled
glass, which has to be unscrewed
in three small places. The screws are brass,
stiff, unused to suffering. Then the
40 watt bulb comes out and in goes
a 100 watt bulb. The amber casing
back on, with its old cheap bracing
screws. Now
my visitors. Now the path
is lit farther out—and
the way in brighter,
bigger. (p 45, aurora)

The pieces that make up the two volumes of his selected letters (and they are very much selected, as Kamboureli states), Transcanada Letters and Pacific Rim Letters, also show off Kiyooka's broad range of interest, and include letters official and personal, poems written for particular friends and other writings, all of which were copied by Kiyooka before he sent, and even rewritten afterwards (some weren't sent at all), all with the consideration that some day the letters would be published. The second collection even opens with a note/poem concerning the letters themselves, writing:

some thoughts concerning
a 2nd Book of Letters titled
The Pacific Rim Letters

'76/'85: the hive of those years:
the erstwhile politics as it veers in on
one man's life in art inside the
maelstrom of these covert ideological times.
together with (a matrix of) yes
love letters rooted in one man's touches
'eros' and both touch 'art' is to
say the least where you find me. follow
the precincts of a chronology as posited
by the dated letters: enfold blocks
of other writings, obsessions truculent
thoughts from other contexts to bear
in upon callit a weaving/ wavering narrative.
ah! my mid-winter thoughts—you too
shall sieve a frost-bite thought through
the fecund seasons resounding inside
a prolix pagination. these hibernating words
want to plant a spring vowel inside
that endless processional of words they are
a humble heir of….perhaps all the
letters i've ever written are addressed to
a fearful mute i carry around inside
my mundane self

Part of the consideration of the second volume, well after Kiyooka had moved beyond painting, after disappointments with what would become the Regina 5 (the show "announcing" his five compatriots occurred without him, almost immediately after he had moved west), included talking about his increasing amounts of work in photograph, text and music, and a manuscript called "WHEELS" that he was working to shop to Michael Ondaatje at Coach House Press (it never appeared with Coach House, but was included in Pacific Windows: Collected Poems of Roy K. Kiyooka). What makes Kiyooka's letters most interesting is the way he uses the language and knows how to use the language, far more vibrant than any English-born (he seemed constantly aware of English not being his mother tongue), and more poetic than most other people's poems.

noon. 13. 3. '83
Dear Mike:

We're into spring here. The callit 'balm' is in the air. All the cherry blossoms in town tincture the grey ah lengthening days & dwindling nights. Methinks I'm becoming more & more a wind & weather man: not that I think I can read 'their' signatures any better than I can read my own. No, nothing like that. It's more the way I ride the currents of my feelings than it is like 'knowing.' Anyhow, spring's here and already my own ah stiff bod is beginning to limber up. I don't need any more 'grease' in my life (fuck O.P.E.C.): what my bod wants is more S-U-N-N-E! Ah Hawaii!

…emerging like a seedling from a long winter compost, the dream of a summer in Japan begins to shape itself. One thing I know about the forthcoming trip is that I'll be taking my old mother. W-H-E-E-L-S

Otherwise. I just want to say that WHEELS is in your hands to see thru the ol' Coach House Press. For what it's worth I've spent the whole of the past month going thru it with the proverbial fine tooth comb. Re-addressing the Text again, I sd to myself, this time it's really had it. In other words, dear Mike, what remains awkward will have to stay that way. I mean I can't belabor it any longer. There's too much of a thronging in the wings: callit the unvoiced cry of the hirsute future, whatever. After 14 springs, it's time to go on with the show, etc. Whatever else I'm about as an erstwhile 'writer,' I know within myself that the whole quest has been to claim some small portion of, callit, the verities of English which is, among a host of other things, not my mother tongue. One thing seems certain & that's how 'language' will go right on shaping us, some actual part of our very substance, for the rest of our days. One day I would like to wake up with the feeling that I could walk away from it without a tinge of fear, let alone remorse. Ah the horseless carriage, a forlorn love & a mouth fill'd with the rarities of simple breath . (p 195, Pacific Rim Letters)

One of the pieces I have always liked, from Transcanada letters, was learning how close he got to where I was, a preschooler in eastern Ontario, as Kiyooka references both county and Robert Creeley in the same breath, to Angela Bowering in 1974, starting:

Dear Angela

- -among a heap of papers the confused litter
of 49 yrs these bits and pie-eyed pieces of that
lovely summer afternoon in Glengarry County…
before any one of us thot 'I'm not young any more
etcetera." Bob's Pieces echo thru these leavings-
w-o-r-d-s at least, for you (p 353, Transcanada letters)

Of any such artist as vibrant and essential as Kiyooka, there is always that hope that there is "more," of works unseen or lost, that simply haven’t seen the light (yet) of day. I keep hoping that there might be another collection of poems, the uncollected, picking up pieces from old issues of Arts Canada, scattered throughout his archives (wherever they are), or in various editions of his own self-published Blue Mule chapbooks. Will there be more? I keep hoping there will be more.


sun/light over
my left shoulder spills

a precise triangle
on the polisht wood floor
to live in
the presence of

these words
this breath enables…


fuck Marcel Duchamp's Descartean Ploys I'll take
W.C. Field's crooked billiard cue any day


Libidinous Dreams shall destroy
All yr IBM D-A-T-A

Theres gonna be a Reign-of-Shit over
Everything till Kingdom Cometh

I remember Virgin Country
No surrealist nude ever steppt onto

Visions of hell-flowers clutcht
In the hands of a Beatrice Claudia or Monique

High embankments of primary colours
The Red Yellow and Blue 'stains' of Paradise


to eat/ sleep/ love/ work/ and sing
what else is there

Orpheus? i believe in my feelings when
i feel like 'a song' (p 178-9, Pacific Rim Letters)

Monday, February 13, 2006

David Cation's angels on bank street + Jessica Smith

Thanks to literary starlet John W. MacDonald, I finally have the cover photos of the artwork I wanted for my 12th trade poetry collection, aubade, out this fall from Broken Jaw Press. They're two paintings by ex-pat Ottawa artist David Cation that hang over Wilde's on Bank Street just at Gilmour. A collection built as a sequence of sequences, it includes pieces such as my "sex at 31" poem (an extension of the series started by McKinnon & Fawcett, & originally published as a chapbook by above/ground press), "a translation: stones & ice" (published as a chapbook by Greenboathouse Books), "irregular heartbeats" (originally published as an issue of STANZAS), and "death & trauma: a deliberate play of births & endings" (perpetually "forthcoming" as a chapbook by Jason Christie's Yard Press). Composed in 2000-2001, I've been looking forward to this collection appearing for some time.

Apparently copies of my Stride book, name , an errant appear in my mailbox in a few weeks. You can either order copies through here, or send me a $20 (outside Canada, $20 US) & I'll make sure you get a copy.

On another note, Jessica Smith's above/ground press chapbook Shifting Landscapes is finally out. Send me the usual, $5 (payable to me), & I'll send you a copy. Originally from Alabama, Jessica Smith received her M.A. in Comparative Literature from SUNY Buffalo, where she participated in the Poetics Program and started the poetry magazine name. She is now a Ph.D. student in English at UBA. These poems are from her first book, Organic Furniture Cellar, which will be available from Outside Voices in April 2006.

& did you know that Oberon Press publisher/founder Michael Macklem is getting the Order of Canada, or that his Ottawa publishing house (which, in this city, seems mostly invisible) turns 40 this year? & check out the photoblog by b stephen harding; remember him? he had a chapbook published by Friday Circle, used to run The TREE Reading Series with me, & used to run graffito: the poetry poster...

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Running Into Poets at the Toronto Airport by Sharon Thesen

Running Into Poets at the Toronto Airport

Travelling Air Canada, dark morning, middle of January, a thick layer
of icy white mist over Lake Ontario & drowsy heat of the Greyhound
out to the airport–& there’s Tom Wayman in the waiting room at
Gate 79! We talk about the general wear & tear of poetry readings
and teaching jobs (on board later the Filipino lady next to me wants
to know who owns the college I am “professor” at. Owns it? I briefly
explain public funding, the mandate of community colleges. Her
estimation of me sinks with every sentence.)

There’s a story that poets are always running into each other at the
Toronto airport & now it’s true. One other time I sat with four poets
and two of them were quite famous and we all smoked cigarettes.
Eventually we rose to catch our respective planes. Soon everyone was
gone and someone came and wiped the table off. She had a lot on her
mind such as how to afford a college education. She had no idea that
the people who had been sitting there were Canadian poets as she
dumped their cigarette ashes into a metal container and the airplanes
the poets were on were leaping in all directions off the earth.

Every time I’m in an airport, since I found this poem in Sharon Thesen’s News & Smoke: Selected Poems (Vancouver BC: Talonbooks, 1999), I think of her. It’s a strange thing, I know. Previously published in her collection The Beginning of the Long Dash (Toronto ON: Coach House Press, 1987), the piece reads as though this was a story Thesen had heard herself over and over but hadn’t witnessed first-hand, not believing it until finally she did. Characterized by halting sentences and ampersands, its composition suggests the poem itself is built out of waiting too long; waiting in an airport lounge, smoking cigarette after cigarette. The destination and delay in what is actually quite simple; that this poem only exists on its way to something else.

Perhaps I’ve not spent enough time in the Toronto airport, but I’ve never met any other writers at all while travelling through airports, let alone poets. I once met Sean Wilson and Kira Harris, organizers of the ottawa international writers festival, at the Ottawa airport. I was flying west to a reading, and they were flying to Greece for vacation. I sat with them in the smoking lounge until I finally had to catch my plane. Can writers even afford to fly anymore? I once met poet Gerry Shikatani at the Greyhound bus terminal in Victoria. I think we had both just taken the same bus from Vancouver, but only noticed the other once we had arrived. On another occasion, I took a greyhound bus from Ottawa to Toronto to do a reading with Michael Holmes, as the girl beside me was reading his novel, Watermelon Row. Does that even count? Do any comparisons hold between travel then and travel now? Composed back in the days, perhaps, of fewer poets and more funding for literary readings, when such accidents would probably happen pretty regularly. Back in the days when the Toronto airport was smaller than it is now.

And what do poets talk about when they get together? Gossip, work (or lack thereof), and general other things that most people talk about, I suppose. One of the last things might actually be writing. And I wonder, if the poem makes me consider how often I run into poets in airports, what does the non-poet reader make of all of this? What does someone like the woman, wiping off tables in the poem, perhaps, make of it all? From Sesame Street programs of the 1970s that I grew up with, the “people in your neighbourhood” segments always involved firemen, the grocer, policeman. Designed to represent the world that we live in, the writer and artist doesn’t even register in the public imagination. Do readers even know the difference if they were sitting beside a poet in the airport? Would they care? But perhaps this is the question Thesen is raising, the question of whether it matters that poets are hovering unnoticed in airport food courts, drinking coffee and talking about the elements of fantastic, but predominantly mundane, life.

So much of the working class is referred to in this piece, from Ontario-born poet Tom Wayman, west coast poet of the working class, to community college professors, the girl who wipes off the table while saving money for university (possibly to study literature, as is the inference), and having no idea that the people who had been there had been part of the business of literature.

There are two ways to take this: the underlying pessimism of the secondary nature of the author to the work, or the way I prefer it, leading me nonetheless to an underlying optimism in Thesen’s poem, to believe that “Running Into Poets at the Toronto Airport” references both the invisibility and abundance of not only the writing, but the writers, moving from point to point, leaving ripples in their wake. How you don’t need to see the boat to feel the shift on the shore.

Friday, February 10, 2006

transpoetry, part 2

Sponsored by Arc magazine and the Canada Council for the Arts (and a few other places), the new edition of transpoetry was finally launched on Thursday, February 9 at 1:30pm at Ottawa City Hall, 110 Laurier Avenue West, as today, twelve poems by twelve local authors will be appearing (two poems per bus) on OC Transpo's fleet of more than eight hundred buses. Picked blind (as they say) from submissions of over six hundred poems by local authors, this is the second edition of Ottawa's transpoetry, with the first run launched in 1999, with pieces by two dozen Ottawa poets (a piece of mine was even in the first round, a list of which is, disappointingly, nowhere to be found on the internet), almost half of which were French, highlighting the two solitudes that still exist in this old government town. Still, don't let the literature the City of Ottawa gives out with the transpoetry package fool you: Ottawa isn't the third city in Canada (in 1999) to launch poetry on buses, after Toronto and Vancouver (better to have said the third happening at that time in the country). The first poems to be put on city transit in Canada happened in Montreal, orchestrated by Vehicule Poet Tom Konyves (who has since moved to Vancouver). Launched December 13, 1979, with Louis Dudek the consultant for the English poems and Claude Beausoleil the consultant for the French, they even produced a limited edition of 50 copies of postcard versions that talk about the project:

"Poetry in Motion

Ten English poems and ten French poems were selected from among the poets of Montreal. Fifty copies of each poem were published on 11" x 28" styrene panels. The project was launched on Thursday, December 13, 1979 with all major media present in a bus provided by the MUCTC in front of the old bus terminal on St. Antoine St. The controversy regarding the posting of the English poems was alleviated by MUCTC and Trans-Public Ad Co. officials who allocated 70% of the space to French poems and 30% of the space to English poems."

After the Montreal version, a Toronto version was launched about ten years later, and is still ongoing, producing wave after wave of pieces by local Toronto writers and national writers, including the first English language poem produced in Canada (by a Newfoundlander in the 1600s), to late Ottawa resident and Saskatchewan poet John Newlove, with the British Columbia version doing the same, producing wave upon wave. After the launch of the original Ottawa transpoetry, there were versions launched in Calgary and Edmonton, as well as many other places, but my favourite has to be the British Columbia version. At least ten years old, what impresses me about the BC poetry on the public transit is that the transit system in BC is provincial, and not just city, which means a poem on the bus or Skytrain means a poem on transit in Vancouver, Victoria, Prince George, Kamloops, Kelowna and anywhere in the province where bus system exists, instead of leaving it exclusively in major city centres, making it far more interesting. According to the Canada Council website, they are currently funding programs in Calgary (Poetry In Motion), Edmonton (Take The Poetry Route), Vancouver (Poetry in Transit), Winnipeg (Poetry In Motion), St. John's NFLD (Metroverse), Toronto (Poetry On The Way), Ottawa (Transpoetry), Regina (Moving Write Along), Whitehorse (Moving Words), Montreal (La Poésie Prend Le Métro) and Trois Rivières (Poémes D'Autobus), which makes poetry on the buses, as Canada Council's Melanie Routledge suggested yesterday, the largest poetry publishing program in the country. That's pretty damn impressive, I'd say. When my daughter saw my poem on the OC Transpo buses a few years ago, she actually thought I was famous for about five minutes (she quickly got over that).


It only happens rarely that the line between
fall and winter is a single sheet
snap frozen on the lake no snow or
wind to mar the surface. Trees black-feather
the low border of grey sky. The ice a clear glass
and the shallow pebbled bottom of the
lake passing below me as if I'm flying.
The sudden darkness of this land dropping away,
my breath catching, and fish appearing beneath my feet,
a muscled brightness that I begin to follow. (Michelle Desbarats)

Unfortunately, I'm hearing grumblings about the new version, in that the folk who had poems turned down for the project weren't told anything, but were invited to the launch of the project. I say, bad form; I don't care if it says that on the applications or not, you should tell someone when you don't want their piece, and not leave them hanging. It just seems a matter of respect.

The second run of Ottawa's transpoetry features English poems by Stephen Brockwell (Westboro), John Cloutier (Côte-de-Sable), Heather Cullen (Westboro), Michelle Desbarats (Glebe), Christine Dickson (Westboro), Susan Robertson (Alta Vista) and Anita Utas (Katata), with French poems by Margaret Michèle Cook (Glebe), Nicole Champeau (Lower Town), Jacques Flamand (Lower Town), Myriam Legault (old Ottawa South) and Denyse B. Mercier (Alta Vista). They even handed out these great media packages at the launch yesterday, with reproductions of all the pieces to appear on city buses, and there were suggestions that there could be a new run of poems appearing every two or so years. Check out literary starlet John W. MacDonald's version of the events here.


Re-glaze the frame's cracked putty;
keep the heat in and our socks off.

Tape it up with plastic. Cut the draught
and let us sleep in less than sweaters.

But save the old glass; its pocks
and ridges make an accidental

prism for the winter sunlight
and spread its colours on our bed. (Stephen Brockwell)

One of the strange accidents of the event was a conversation with Ottawa Citizen writer Kelly Egan (who is not only an extremely nice fella, and not related to any of those Egans who invented Eganville, but shorter than I would have imagined), finding out that his brother-in-law was the late Ottawa poet Louis Fagan, who appeared in just about every little publication in town throughout the 1980s, including The Carleton Literary Review (which became The Carleton Arts Review), and Arc magazine, before he moved west, where he died in Vancouver in 1997 (another thing I didn't know). Fagan was part of a group that hung around Michael Dennis and Dennis Tourbin, just before I arrived in the city. Does anyone else out there remember him?

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

David Livingstone by Stephen Scobie

David Livingstone

He is the one who was found, although he was not lost.

It was the others who had lost him: the Victorian Missionary Societies at their afternoon teas, who sat on gracious lawns in England and plotted the boundaries of Empire. He was lost to them, all right. He had taken his stubborn Scottish morality out of the mills of Blantyre and set it loose in the African jungles, saying to all the God-fearing slavers: “Enough–these men are free.” And then he went deeper in, the explorer, looking for a famous waterfall, looking for the source of Nile, looking for a living stone.

So they sent Stanley after him, believing he was lost: and Stanley, believing he had found him, found also the legendary words to say: “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?”

And like a fool (a polite, Presbyterian fool), David said Yes.
And was lost.

Taken from his The Spaces in Between, Selected Poems 1965-2001 (Edmonton AB: NeWest Press, 2003), the prose-piece “David Livingstone” originally appeared (in trade form) in his collection Ghosts: A Glossary of the Intertext (Toronto ON: Wolsak and Wynn, 1990), a book I have yet to find. Part of a series of prose pieces that made up Scobie’s 1990 collection, at least of the ones reprinted in the selected, this served as the most effective, telling the essence of the story of the exchange between Stanley and Dr. Livingstone, without saying too much more.

Explorers are about exploration, not necessarily discovery, and the discovery of Dr. Livingstone ended his. He had always known where he was. Dr. Livingstone was the explorer he was no longer, by the time Stanley arrived. What Scobie doesn’t talk about, the good Doctor, once they found him, alone and then discovered, he was left behind. He was abandoned to his own discovery. Stanley went back to England and contradicted the death notices that had appeared years earlier, and left Dr. Livingstone there in his bed, where he eventually died some years later, surrounded by the natives.

There is something about this piece that holds me and doesn’t let go, from the familiar rings of Scottish Presbyterian moralities (ah, my Glengarry county) to the idea that he wasn’t “lost” until he admitted to being “found” (Scobie, too, was born in Scotland, before his family emigrated to Canada). It was as though Livingstone was less about wanting to be found then to be completely away from “the boundaries of Empire.” Is that too obvious? Gone “deeper in, the explorer” and even deeper, in the explorer that he was. Until he was found by the world to be “lost,” the good Doctor was all about escape, and re-emerging as something else. He was lost to his own escape. Scobie’s Livingstone had finally broken free of the boundaries of his own Scottishness, and almost like Archie Delaney becoming Grey Owl, Livingstone worked to recreate himself in the wilderness, in the darkest heart of Africa. From roughly the same period, he was the opposite of Joseph Conrad’s Kuntz from The Heart of Darkness.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Ongoing notes: early February 2006

Can you believe this thing has over 20,000 hits? Since Jennifer Mulligan put the counter on, back on May 1st, 2005; it’s a strange thing to think about, that many people floating through whatever it is I'm on about on this thing… Information on the spring conference on Al Purdy at the University of Ottawa is already up, and some of it looks pretty cool. Part of it even includes a reading I'm hosting by various of the participants presenting papers (and two locals): Steven Heighton, George Bowering, Lynn Crosbie, Gwendolyn Guth and Stephen Brockwell. It should be pretty cool (I'll probably end up making some sort of reading handout by the participants for the event); but will Heighton regale us with his Purdy impression? Will I? Should I? After the long poem symposium in 1996, the modernism conference three (four?) years back, and the Margaret Atwood (etcetera) a year ago, this will be my fourth conference at the University of Ottawa (but first as (slight) participant). Will I see anyone at my Montreal reading at the Atwater Library, or my March reading at the TREE series in Ottawa? Check out the photo Joe Blades took when he was here a couple weeks ago, or the ones John MacDonald took during the ottawater launch (should I keep the beard?). Got a nod from Daniel f. Bradley on his blog, and a couple above/ground press nods on ross priddle's blog recently, and a new poem up on Nth Position. And have you been watching any of the cartoons on my sidebar? I highly recommend the 30-second film spoofs; they're brilliant. My lovely daughter originally recommended them, because of their version of The Rocky Horror Picture Show (the only one on their list that she actually cared for). Also, above/ground press recently released winter 2, a chapbook of winter poems for the appearance of this year's Winterlude (with opening temperatures this year, they should have called it "waterlude") by Jesse Ferguson, Lea Graham, Gwendolyn Guth, Meghan Jackson, myself, Jennifer Mulligan and Sandra Ridley. Send me $5 (CDN; outside Canada, $5 US) c/o 858 Somerset Street West, main floor, Ottawa Ontario Canada K1R 6R7 to get a copy (a few copies of last year's winter, with pieces by derek beaulieu, Laurie Fuhr, Gil McElroy, myself, Wanda O'Connor and Adam Seelig are still available, also $5, ppd). Did you know that the Guinness Book of World Records recently (August 2005, actually) proclaimed officially that Ottawa has, with the Rideau Canal, "the world's longest outdoor skating rink" (what we've all known for years and years)? Not that anyone is actually skating on it right now… but today's temperature (here comes winter again) looks good for the coming weekend, at least…

Vancouver BC: Over the years, I really haven’t seen enough of Vancouver poet Betsy Warland's work to give it the attention it deserves, but hopefully that will soon change, now that her Only This Blue (Toronto ON: The Mercury Press, 2005) has appeared. The author of nine previous books, including the poetry collections What Holds Us Here (1998), serpent (w)rite (1987) as well as the memoir, Bloodroot: Tracing the Untelling of Motherloss (2000) and a collection of essays, Proper Deafinitions (1990), the biography on the back of her new collection says that she is also the director of The Writer's Studio at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver (Warland and I are currently in the process of trading books, so I can get a copy of her collection of essays; she also says that she is working on another…). Luckily, Warland was one of the poets I got to hear (and for the first time) while participating in the West Coast Poetry Festival last summer in Vancouver (I hope they do more; it was a very impressive festival), with her work standing out as one of the highlights in a series of highlights throughout the time I was there (Roy Miki very much impressed me as well, and I'd been lukewarm to his poetry for the longest time; rumours have him working on a collection of essays for NeWest Press' "Writer as Critic" series, which should be really interesting…). All I really know of Warland's previous work is the collaboration she did with Daphne Marlatt, the collection Two Women in a Birth (Toronto ON: Guernica Editions, 1994), and at the moment, I can't even seem to find my copy.

Subtitled "A Long Poem with an Essay," her Only This Blue weaves through the page slowly, expanding as it extends as a long line of a long heart, through a sensual language and language theory, with echoes of Daphne Marlatt's poetry as she goes (she lived for a number of years with Marlatt; and going on the page in a way that my limited knowledge of webstuff, leaving me only the left margins of blogspot, could not properly reproduce, but here goes):

the course?

water plummets

— not knowing, not knowing —

, she stands
on viewing platform

not knowing, not

camera expects a casual pose
insisting sameness
in every situation

inside the viewfinder
a green & red light
inform photographer
whether subject (p 63)

It seems an interesting choice for The Mercury Press to publish the poem only on the right side of the page, giving the poem itself space, and pause, forcing the eye to slow down to read, and really absorb what the poem is saying. I like the way Warland writes of an erasing of history (again, you should look at the book, so you can get a sense of how it's supposed to be spaced on the page), writing history and archaeology against each other, in that space where they collide. It's something my own mother has lived through for three different residences over the course of her life (before she got married, to my father and history itself), as Warland writes:

she tells of her kids
in the backseat
wanting to see where she
grew up

the address was right but
the house torn down
, creek filled in
hill gone

the body wants to recognize itself

seeks reassurance even in
familiar flaws

reflective surfaces are everywhere


someone else looks back (p 23)

The piece on the following page begins, "what we call perception / is mostly habit" (p 25); there are some extremely fine moments throughout this collection, and if I were to write them all, I would just end up reproducing the collection. As well, I am very much looking forward to both her collections of essays, whether the previous or the thing that will eventually come next, to see what she can do, how far she can go, and how the pieces resonate off each other, this being but the first piece of her non-fiction I think I've read, writing:

The integrity of poem hinges on its set of specific
circumstances. Just as a composer tends to write
choral music to move through a cathedral's time
and space, or a lullaby to move through domestic
time and space, so the poet composes each poem.
These circumstances invite us in; without them
poem remains obscured, closed.

Within its particular time and space, poem is liber-
ated to gesture toward, hint at. Is a sketch. A note. A
brush stroke.

Poetry arouses us via devotion to articulation sen-
sation, uncoiling perception — not by proof or

Poem is porous. (p 109)

Vancouver BC / Calgary AB: It might seem as though all I've done lately is make mention of former Calgary poet (since moved to Vancouver to go to law school) Natalie Simpson, but I'm going to do it again, since she just sent me a copy of her chapbook Dirty Work (Calgary AB: No Press, 2005). Published in a handout edition of twenty-six copies as No. 14, it follows with the previous chapbooks published anonymously by the No Press publisher, including:

No 1. fractals, derek beaulieu
No 2. 22 Statements about a fear of being alone (or existentialism) in the dark, Jason Christie
No 3. markmallen, frances kruk
No 4. Social Commodities, ryan fitzpatrick
No 5. The Small Body With It Rises From Under, nathalie stephens
No 6. Passion Play, Natalie Zina Walschots
No 7. Lo-Fi, noise poems, Jason Christie
No 8. Lamp, Chris Ewart
No 9. blert, The Poetics of Stutter, Jordan Scott
No 10. chains, an excerpt, derek beaulieu
No 11. Selected Poems, Volume One, Pete Spence
No 12. Loss Leaders, Jon Paul Fiorentino
No 13. (the only one, so far, that I seem to be missing)
No 14. Dirty Work, Natalie Simpson
No 15. Hounds of Love / Loss Leaders, ryan fitzpatrick
No 16. ?

Part of the frustration of such a press (the same argument that jwcurry and I used to have with beaulieu about his housepress) was, that by the time you found a book existed at all, it was produced in such a small run that it was already out of print. Would No Press, perhaps, be interested in producing a collection of what has happened so far (perhaps the first twenty chapbooks) for my series at Broken Jaw Press, through cauldron books? (Get back to me if you are, oh anonymous publisher…)

If you don't recognize the names, most of the came out of or came through Calgary's community of writers/editors around filling Station and/or the new (as opposed to the old) dANDelion magazine, appearing but briefly after the demise of beaulieu's housepress, which had previously published the work of many of these same writers (I wonder who this publisher of No might be?). Why can't other cities around have such a rich chapbook production going through their communities? There are certainly enough writers around, people around. The micropress production in Calgary over the past couple of years has even been more impressive than Toronto, the hole-that-must-be-filled; only Meredith and Peter Quartermain's Nomados in Vancouver or Jay MillAr's book and chapbook press BookThug in Toronto can even compare.

Writing of the oil-rich province she left behind (I read recently about how everyone in the province getting something like a $400.00 bonus from the government; there's even a whole swath of folk moving to Fort McMurray, etcetera, from the east coast for jobs), Simpson writes of and through the oil industry, dirty work, writing "Worker complained of a sever ear ache." (p 30), and the messiness of the real physical and even dangerous work that actually supplies the province with its richness of black gold.

Although there are other energy sources, oil
is essential to our way of life.
Only the drilling of the well can tell
whether oil
and gas are present in quantities.
A reduction in the oil
supply could disrupt our economy.
Cities, farms and industry could not exist in their present state without

What does Integrity Evergreening mean to you?

87% of employees are certain that our business creates something that adds
value to the community; (p 7, from "Rudimentary")

What I like is that Simpson is using language taken from the industry itself, as the notes proclaim that "Some of the phrases in 'Rudimentary' were found in an English & Arabic information book produced for Yemeni worksite employees." or that "'EVENT' takes one-sentence summaries of worksite accidents from a head office health & safety database." I very much like the twisting Simpson has done with essential "found" language, much in the way former Vancouver writer Lisa Robertson worked meteorological language in her collection The Weather (Vancouver BC: New Star Books, 2001), or Toronto poet and editor Michael Holmes wrote wrestling language in his more recent Parts Unknown (Toronto ON: Insomniac Press, 2004). Simpson has been writing long enough that hopefully she should be able to get a book out with someone eventually, with chapbooks out here and there over the years, even including one recently from my own above/ground press; I would very much like to see what she can do within the boundaries and possibilities of a full trade collection.


Truck driver slipped while getting out of truck. Floorhand's hand caught
in blocks. Radiator in cat damaged by stick. Pound cap smashed back
window in digger cab. Truck driver struck by bungee cord. Battery in
idling pick up truck blew up.

Stick struck track hoe, bending cab and busting window.

Fire extinguisher discharged in cab, spraying operator's eyes. Truck
driver twisted his ankle. Trailer broke away from the vacuum truck
towing it.

Unit spun out climbing hill and slid sideways onto snowfill. (p 40)

Vancouver BC: On the heels of the anthology he edited to help celebrate forty years of Simon Fraser University and it's poetry, companions & horizons: An Anthology of Simon Fraser University Poetry (Vancouver BC: a West Coast Line book, 2005), comes Vancouver poet and editor Stephen Collis' second poetry collection, anarchive (Vancouver BC: New Star Books, 2005). As in his first trade poetry collection, Mine (Vancouver BC: New Star Books, 2001), which came out of the coal-mining industry on Vancouver Island, Collis seems very interested in working from documented material and previously unearthed stories in his collection anarchive, which comes out of the Spanish Civil War and the anarchist revolution that came out of it. In long stretches of stanzas of short lines, Collis seems to come out of a working class tradition of language that includes Jeff Dersken and Peter Culley (his Hammertown was published by New Star Books in 2003).

What do you


an imbecile lyre

chamber musician

or even

far far from


the heart

breaking delight

her magics

music image

pigment pyre

how could it

be no interest

to detach

cool indifference

and bring you

so abundantly

to the flourish

of an instrument

of war (p 66, "Kill Lies All (Guernica)")

After all that has come out of the Kootenay School of Writing over the past decade or so, it's often forgotten that the original school in Nelson, British Columbia was founded on a tradition of work writing that included the work of KSW founders Derksen and Tom Wayman (see the in-depth history of KSW in Michael Barnholden's introduction to Writing Class, the Kootenay School of Writing anthology that he and Andrew Klobucar edited for New Star Books). In a recent review of Derksen's third trade collection, Transnational Muscle Cars, (Vancouver BC: Talonbooks) published in West Coast Line 46 (2005), Vancouver poet and critic Donato Mancini wrote:

Traditionally, lyric poets have drawn on the rhetorical concept of "freedom," while formally radical poets are more likely to think in terms of empowerment and to consider how ideology shapes language and users. As Bruce Andrews states,

Ideology & Discourse form a Machinery, an Apparatus with regular rules; a collective reference system made up of social practices which form a body or social structure of meaning, an empowered configuration of forces with its own impositions. Pointing outward, poetry can work or serve as an explanation inside this body of constraints & directives: by deviating from constraints by refashioning the directives.

Collis' anarchive moves almost operatic, a movement progressing in rises and dips throughout, in a strong new voice for a long tradition of writing that merges more progressive language and social forms ("work" writing), as he writes:

What is the form of
verbalizing existence?

you Language, people did
misuse the myth of emptiness (p 59, "A Map of Our Failures")

Winnipeg MB: Another publication I recently got in the mail was Kegan McFadden's everything i heard while not listening to what you had to say… (As We Try & Sleep Press, 2005). Part of the "As We Try & Sleep Collective," including Doug Melnyk and Larry Glawson, McFadden produces writing and art out of his base in Winnipeg (temporarily, he says, displaced in Vancouver, where he is schooling), and has produced a number of small items, including a number of his own small chapbooks, as well as my own chapbook carnage (spring 2005). Only the third or so publication of his I've seen (I met him a couple of years ago while reading to a class he was in at the University of Winnipeg, through poet and professor Catherine Hunter), it has been interesting to watch him progress, and see where it is he's been, and slowly moving toward.

snowdrifting comes cheap and easy.
we waltz through conversations and
between street lamps, waiting for spring
and then summer and more and then
more still. we bite at one another, frosty
and tight to our words, defending
ourselves, our positions, we retire to the
quilts and welcome their suffocating
weight as your thighs warm up ever so

Copies can be purchased for $5, c/o As We Try & Sleep Press, 123 Southmoor Rd., Winnipeg Manitoba R2J 2P3

Ottawa ON: I don't have a clue who this Ken Fox fellow is, but I think everyone should send jwcurry a pile of money to get a subscription to his 1cent series (I don't know if it's $10 or $20 a year…) to find out what it is he's done. On Friday night, curry borrowed my long arm stapler to put together one hundred and forty copies of Fox's (2 from) Zoon's Yliad as 1cent #375, which (as the series contends), he sells for only a penny (see my essay on curry's 1cent publications in Stephen Cain's issue of Open Letter). Quiet in his publishing for a year or so, it's great that he is finally making publications again (I've been waiting moons and moons for another edition of his newsnotes…), and other recent authors in the same series include Max Middle, William Hawkins, Nelson Ball and others. curry is easily doing the cleanest work I've ever seen on gestetner (yes, I said gestetner…), far more cleaner even than most photocopies I've been able to produce.

Everyone should send him cash (and prizes) c/o jwcurry, #302-880 Somerset Street West, Ottawa Ontario Canada K1R 6R7. Otherwise, he usually shows up to the ottawa small press book fair (watch for it in June…), and sometimes the Toronto Small Press Book Fair (but less often).

Winnipeg MB: Recently, Prairie Fire editor and general man-in-charge Andris Taskans sent me a package of old issues of the magazine as well as a few copies of Writers News Manitoba (also him) from twenty-odd years ago to help me with my research on the works of Saskatchewan poet Andrew Suknaski (the selected poems I've been editing for about five years or so is now called There is No Mountain: Selected Poems of Andrew Suknaski, and is scheduled for spring 2007 with Ottawa's Chaudiere Books; watch this spring for the 30th anniversary edition of his Wood Mountain Poems to appear with Regina's Hagios Press). One of the fortunate offshoots of getting this generous package of research materials in the mail was an interview (called "A major interview") with Robert Kroetsch in Volume IV, No. 1 of Writers News Manitoba (February 1982), conducted by poet Brian MacKinnon. Talking about various of Kroetsch's projects, including the novels Studhorse Man (we had to study it in high school, I recall), What The Crow Said, and Gone Indian, the poetry collections The Ledger, Seed Catalogue and The Sad Phoenician, and how they all fit into his larger poetic project, Field Notes ("Most of my poetic work is turning out to be one long poem. Field Notes is really the product of ten years of writing."). (Consequently, as well, I've been re-reading the prairie poetry anthology Ride off any Horizon ("New Poetry West, Volume 1") that NeWest Press published in 1983, going back through Patrick Friesen, Sid Marty, George Morrissette, Charles Noble, Monty Reid, Stephen Scobie and others…) I still haven't decided if I agree with Kroetsch on his statement (somewhere, I can't remember where) that Canadian Literature skipped Modernism, going straight into Post-Modernism, but it's always good to be reminded of just how important his writing is, how much I learn and keep learning every time I pick up any of his writing. Part of what makes the interview interesting, apart from earlier talk on what would eventually become Completed Field Notes (1989; 2002), is the talk on prairie story and storytelling, a near-counterpoint to the Post-Prairie: An Anthology of New Poetry (Vancouver BC: Talonbooks, 2005) anthology he recently edited with Montrealer Jon Paul Fiorentino.

M: Field Notes includes a series of former poems as well as new poems?

K: Yes, The Ledger, Seed Catalogue, The Sad Phoenician are all included as well as two or three new sections. The title itself suggests those notes the scientist keeps when he's working or excavating. So I guess, for me, I'm more interested in the archeological model. In a place like ours, I think that you and I as writers are almost like archeologists on an immense site. We are capturing moments of the past; we capture images, we find a pot, a grave or whatever, we then have to imaginatively reconstruct the site. It's just like an archeologist finding an old Indian camp and then digging for information and then trying to reconstruct from fragments what's happened: from found images he must use his imagination to reinvent. That's the kind of things that we do as artists.

M: Another aspect of your poetry is your search for a voice. You mentioned you've been putting your ear to the prairie, listening to and for prairie voices and that you've been working at capturing a prairie voice in your poetry. Like Wordsworth, you are attempting, among other things, to develop the common (prairie) man in your poetry?

K: That's a good example, because in 1798, Wordsworth was trying to escape from literary models and get back to hearing what we would call speech. I think we're doing the same thing on the prairies, we are trying to hear the exact sense of storytelling.

M: Allowing the prairie to tell its own story?

K: That's right! But one of the things you have to dare to do is to allow the story to tell itself. (pp 13-4)