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)

1 comment:

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