Ongoing notes: late March 2006
I think I'm almost recovered from Lea Graham's visit to our fine country + city; are you? (& then there's this blog entry by Joe Blades, that makes only her look good) Apparently beloved Canadian author & Hamilton, Ontario resident Gary Barwin has just started a blog, as has Toronto poet/publisher Jennifer LoveGrove; does that officially mean that everyone is now? & then there's Canadian writer John Stiles, over there in England, his. Even though my spring book from Stride is barely out (just got my extra copies today), the page for my fall book with Broken Jaw Press is up, here; & note I've a new chapbook, generations, with Jonathan Ball's Martian Review, over to the west; those two readings I did earlier, at the Atwater Library in Montreal in February & here with the TREE Reading Series in March (the first 2/3 of the reading at least, sans fiction) are up as podcast (& newly up on sidebar, too); due to the response to my "warehouse sale" I'm extending it for a while; god knows until when (catch it before I change my mind…). Just because we haven't posted a new issue of Poetics.ca in a while doesn't mean we've given up on it; Stephen Brockwell has been interviewing web designers for some time, & the fall 2005 issue is ready to go, with the next one right behind.
Ottawa ON: When Ottawa poet Stephen Brockwell recently opened for Lea Graham & Nicholas Lea at The Mercury Lounge, he read pieces from a small chapbook he had just self-published, Karikura (Ottawa ON: The Rideau Review Press, 2006). Quiet for a number of years, his Rideau Review Press published a small poetry journal in Ottawa in the late 1980s, as well as a few chapbooks, before reappearing a couple of years ago to produce limited edition poetry broadsides for The TREE Reading Series (available through them), as well as a couple of chapbooks, including Brockwell's infamous sonnet collaboration with Peter Norman. Subtitled "Original Poems and Translations by Stephen Brockwell," his Karikura is a collection of eight small poems.
Karikura on Poetry
I walked up to Karikura and asked
'Karikura, how can I write a poem
that touches people's hearts?' Karikura said,
'You cannot write a poem that touches people's hearts.
People touch a poem with their fingers when
they pick up a book. If it is not bad they
might read it. If it is better, they might
mumble one or two words to savour it.
If it is good, maybe they will remember
the day they first read it when they read it again.
Perhaps they will recollect the taste
of the apple they were eating that day
or they might remember
the breath of the wind in their mother's hair.' (p 1)
I like the way Brockwell deliberately holds back in his poems, works to understate & underscore; the way his poems work almost as children's stories or folk tales, entertaining & teaching at the same time.
Karikura and a Loaf of Bread
Karikura came to me and asked for bread.
I said, 'Karikura, I have ten dollars. Take it
and buy yourself a decent breakfast.'
Karikura scolded me. 'I do not want your money.
I asked you for bread because the bread you make
is not very good. If you do not make more,
you will never make a loaf that anyone will eat.' (p 2)
To find out how to get a copy, write him c/o 157 Geoffrey Street, Ottawa Ontario K1Z 7A7 (or send me an email & I can forward it to him…)
Vancouver BC: From Vancouver poet Jen Currin, born & raised in Portland, Oregon, comes her first trade poetry collection, The Sleep of Four Cities (Vancouver BC: Anvil Press, 2005). Broken up into four city-sections — Mirror City, Embrace of The Blue Gardens, A Town Called Orphan & A Shell on The Bridge — Currin's poems work through the magic & real elements of cities. There is something about the narrative forms & folds in Currin's poems, working a kind of surreal/abstract magic that I respond to, feeling & knowing at the same time.
BOTANICA: THE PENCILED DRAFTS
On the battlefield I buttered bread, whistling
as the sun broke its promise.
An egg landed in my lap.
I had to cross the table to help myself.
I made alliances. The ants
wore me and I wore
red sandals. I carved
a tree stump with our initials.
All was calm, until I noticed
the slippery fins of the flower bucking
just beyond my reach.
My reverie ground to a halt
with a dinner fork grimace.
I found what I thought to be night,
a black billboard
propped up by static.
Here I had been courting the petals of silence,
praising the motives of pencils—
as if I had hands!
The sky fidgeting above me
for years as I read
to butterflies, knowing
I'd never see straight again—
I envied the sky fish
their miniature castles;
the serpent, its fan.
I wanted my tongue to split
on the bridge
so that I could spit without rehearsal.
Of course you know all of this
is now irreversible. (p 74-5)
Still, as much as there is an element of very good in this collection, & in these poems, there is the hint of great, further on, that makes me aware very much that the next collection could push & push so much further; why do I feel as though she is still holding back?
THE CAPTAIN OF LOVE IN THE TOWN
OF LAS LUNAS
Farewell to the violin lessons.
Their heroes were too young to get inside
the lime and salt establishments.
In homage to them,
elders stand out on the sidewalk
begging and borrowing rhythm
from the roses.
The piano player's checkerboard teeth match his songs.
He masters three: A Bluesman, Not Blind;
The Dreamland Blues; Blue Sunset Reminiscences.
Wild garden sessions follow
closely behind drugstore buzzes,
games of Follow The Leader.
He always wanted to play the loudest instrument.
His music flies under bridges, over canyons,
so alive only the dead recognize the raw material
of his voice.
He ingests royal meals,
books on tape, various mahogany liquids.
He knows the words to every song in the world.
They come out from between his teeth
ivory-warped, beautifully blackened.
How quickly grandeur crashes,
a flash in the pan
of quick highs, steady lows.
The drumming pervades our dreams,
changes the tempo to get up and go.
The wind blows ahead
and gives no details on the ditty.
It has a mind of its own. (p 14-5)
As much as I like the poems in Jen Currin's collection, there is just something about her poems that make me long for a second collection by Rachel Rose, after her giving my body to science (Montreal QC: The Hugh MacLennan Poetry Series, McGill-Queen's University Press, 1999). Do you remember her poems? The strongest had to be the poem "What We Heard About the Japanese" & its sister poem, "What The Japanese Perhaps Heard"; whatever happened to Montreal poet Rachel Rose?
WHAT THE JAPANESE PERHAPS HEARD
Perhaps they heard we don't understand them
very well. Perhaps this made them
Pleased. Perhaps they heard we shoot
Japanese students who ring the wrong
Bell at Hallowe'en. That we shoot
at the slightest provocation: a low mark
On an exam, a lovers' spat, an excess
of guilt. Perhaps they wondered
If it was guilt we felt at the sight of that student
bleeding out among our lawn flamingos,
Or something recognizable to them,
something like grief. Perhaps
They heard that our culture
has its roots in desperate immigration
And lone men. Perhaps they observed
our skill at raising serial killers,
That we value good teeth above
good minds and have no festivals
To remember the dead. Perhaps they heard
that our grey lakes are deep enough to swallow cities,
That our landscape is vast wheat and loneliness.
Perhaps they ask themselves if, when grief
Wraps its wet arms around Montana, we would not prefer
the community of archipelagos
Upon which persimmons are harvested
and black fingers or rock uncurl their digits
In the mist. Perhaps their abacus echoes
the shape that grief takes,
bleeding into the next,
And for us grief is an endless cornfield,
silken and ripe with poison. (p 52-3)
Boulder CO: Isn't that the city where the television series Mork & Mindy was supposed to be located? I got a package a few days ago from the kind folk there who run Hot Whiskey Press, & the chapbooks Bramble (2005) by Joseph Massey, The Squalicum Harbor Suite (2005) by Anselm Parlatore (with introduction by James Bertolino), and Carrington (2006) by Elizabeth Robinson. Produced in editions of 250 copies, these chapbooks are extremely attractive, simply packaged with printed covers and sewn binding.
Elizabeth Robinson's Carrington prefaces briefly with the information that "Dora Carrington, 1893-1932, was a British painter, intimate of the writer Lytton Strachey, and a peripheral member of the Bloomsbury group." Constructed, then, as a short series of poems on the late British painter, Robinson writes small moments of her life, imagined or otherwise I do not know, writing her by saying "I was a descendant / of a lesson of // overmuch dosing / of behavior and quanine" (np). This poem, "Making Signs," is one of the last of the small set of fourteen:
Irony bites my hand
where I recognize the tooth marks
as my own
Gnawer of signs
Whereupon my craft:
I go in
to the inn
and no nourishment there
I avail of myself
Anselm Parlatore's The Squalicum Harbor Suite comes complete with an introduction, framing the work, which seems almost as long as the section of poems themselves. As James Bertolino writes about Parlatore:
Parlatore's poetry, of at least the last decade, has been composed in a Post-Modernist Baroque style. According to the Concise Columbia Encyclopedia (1983), the baroque style emerged in the 17th and 18th centuries, and the "essential characteristic is an emphasis on unity, a balance among diverse parts." The design of Christopher Wren's churches "compelled order upon overwhelming multiple forms." In both architecture and sculpture, the baroque style was often "enhanced by the chiaroscuro (high-contrast) effects of painting." The most significant examples of the baroque offered "…an unequaled sense of drama, energy and mobility of form."
I would return to Charles Olson's seminal essay "Projective Verse," 1950, to locate a generative impulse for Parlatore's work. Olson attended to "the kenetics of the thing." He noted "the poem itself must, at all points, be a high-energy construct and, at all points, an energy discharge." Olson also made this, most essential, observation: "one perception must immediately and directly lead to a further perception." While Parlatore's poems are typically written in stanzas, and thus appear conventional, the actual dynamic is close to Olson's ideal—enclosed within the lyric envelope. (pp vi-vii)
It seems a bit of a stretch, somehow, but I otherwise like the biographical information that he provides in other parts of the essay, & I do even like some of the poems.
Pavilia of the moon's aperture tonight
the veined lineaments of desire to the Bering Strait
beyond. This is jealousy's perfection, the aftermath
of the pack-ice. I only mention it because
reticulated into the stratified, the beatific.
& there are raptors along the high ridges
nomadic Clovis hunters of the Cascade Crest
ostensibly a promenade of phalanxes
for the skulls of ungulates, the bare white plinths
scratches, indentations, scrolls
of predation's delirium, a validation,
the frescoed trellising obviously its grim stain.
& so it goes here in these rainbow archipelagos.
The humped backs & hooked snouts of the dark ones,
invalids of the parapets, the fish ladders…
of the holding ponds. The climax conifers soothe
somewhat, as does the vale & warp of the moon.
But the gaudiness of the death-rattle remains. (p 19)
You can check them out through their website, writing them c/o 1727 Pine Street #1, Boulder CO, 80302 USA, or emailing them at firstname.lastname@example.org
Amherst MA: One book Lea Graham brought for me that I am very much liking is Eric Baus' The To Sound (Verse Press, 2004). Every year, Verse Press (now officially defunct) ran a poetry manuscript contest, & the winners were published as a collection by the press; coincidentally, Baus' manuscript won the contest in 2002, as selected by Forrest Gander, which is the same year my own stone, book one (which was published in 2004 by a different press) was actually shortlisted for the same award (I really should have tried them again). I can see why poet Juliana Spahr would have a blurb on the back cover; there is just something about his long lyric line.
THE SISTERS OF THE BROKEN CANDLE
covered every window in the house with x-rays of my bandaged eye.
"working backwards from the sky" says she follows every fissure
until it's time for the stitches to come out. When something falls
you should pick it up.
"spilled sand and lamplight" has been my sister for a while now.
They say we are slivered glass. Fluttered numbers and milk. Flickers
sutured in skin.
They tried to convince me that half the word filament is night. Every
rattled out lightbulb means a brother's pillow is burning.
We all watch the clock. Eyes running out of aluminum. (p 11)
Going through this collection makes me think I should have been asking for further collections from Verse Press (& now their new offshoot, Wave Books), to see what else they've been up to. Very much shaped as a whole book as unit of composition, the poems resonate off each other with startling result & ease; one that fills me with a small bit of envy, writing birds & sisters & sleep.
DEAR BIRDS, THE RAIN WAS ON TIME.
I couldn't exhale long enough to explain my delays, to spell out
why I'd been watching the clock, waiting for both arms to align.
I couldn't tell you in the smoky corner how the angle of my knife
to your empty glass was like holding dowsing rods over my head.
I'm lost in my own percentages, looking to slake a thirst in the
gradations of your hunger. (p 35)