Saturday, April 15, 2006

Ongoing notes: early April 2006

(photo of myself with distended belly & Rain Taxi t-shirt with Lea Graham at Pubwell's on Preston Street, Ottawa, the first day she & I did all of them collaborations... photo by Melanie McFadden)

"Everything I say cancels itself so I'll have said nothing." (Samuel Beckett)

I know it seems like I mention her all the time now, but here's a new Lea Graham link, to a feature with her at Chicago Postmodern Poetry (note the photograph of her from the Museum of Civilization in Gatineau, with our Parliament Buildings in the background); & an interview our Ama did with Kingston writer Stephen Heighton (who will be here in early May as part of the Al Purdy conference at the University of Ottawa). & don't forget to plan your whole life around this spring's ottawa international writers festival, starting on Monday… other blog bits on the same can be seen on literary starlet John W. MacDonald's blog, or on Nigel Beale's site (with smarmy comments here & there... as well as John's smarmy updated version...)

You probably know all about award season: Edmonton writer and blogger Thomas Wharton is the only Canadian on the IMPAC short list, for his book The Logogryph; the Trillium Award shortlist includes F.T. Flahiff (Always Someone to Kill the Doves), Camilla Gibb (Sweetness in The Belly), David Gilmour (A Perfect Night to Go to China), Sheila Heti (Ticknor) & Alayna Munce (When I Was Young & In My Prime). The only one I've read is Flahiff's book, an amazing biography of the late Canadian writer Sheila Watson (read my review here). & then of course, the Griffin prize, with Canadian shortlist Erin Mouré, Phil Hall & Sylvia Legris; how can I root for anyone when I think all three are brilliant? Damn you, Griffin shortlist. On a whole other note, after a hiatus, The Factory Reading Series (which I've been running on & off for about twelve years or so; earlier known as poetry 101) restarts in June at its new location, the Ottawa Art Gallery, which is extremely exciting (they asked me); upcoming events to be announced, but involve poets Max Middle (Ottawa), bill bissett (Toronto), Stephanie Bolster (Montreal) & Leanne Auerbach (Vancouver), etcetera. Watch for details…

Ottawa ON: Since Alberta poet Monty Reid moved from badlands Alberta (Drumheller) to badlands Quebec (Aylmer) in April 1999, he has barely published at all, with his last trade book out the fall before, Flat Side (Red Deer AB: Red Deer Press, 1998). Now that he has (over the past few months) moved directly into Centretown Ottawa, he has a new book out this fall, an above/ground press title just behind him, pieces in both issues of ottawater, and a chapbook title newly out, Sweetheart of Mine (Toronto ON: BookThug, 2006). In this collection, the poems are short, individual, and even quick. I like the historical element of the poem "John Hardy," that resonates through simple information, in that way that feels almost Creeley-esque.

John Hardy


is a debt to be paid

he shot a man
over 25 cents

and was hung in 1894

in West Virginia (p 16)

In poems that reference music (Reid participates in bluegrass festivals & events almost every weekend throughout the summer, & even composes his own pieces), the lines are far shorter than what we have come to expect in a Monty Reid poem, with ideas stretched out across the line, stretched across; instead, Reid condenses to the bare stretch of bone, pulling instead the small moment down. With all the banjo references that Reid makes in these pieces, it makes me want to be in that room if he ever gets together with that other Canlit banjo player, Newfoundland writer Stan Dragland (there's a great photo of Dragland with banjo & Alison Pick in the new issue of The New Quarterly, alongside an impressive & highly entertaining interview conducted by Pick).

Keep My Skillet Good and Greasy

the banjo
played clawhammer style

makes me think
of a man

in front of the demolished house
where he can smell

the grey reek of potatoes
and the stench

of ageing grease
just before the war

come home with me tonight
anyway (p 17)

Monty reads soon as part of a series at the Ottawa Public Library; to find out about getting a copy of his latest chapbook, check out Jay MillAr's BookThug.

Vancouver BC: Recently I was complaining that I hadn't heard anything about poet Rachel Rose after her first poetry collection, Giving My Body to Science (Montreal QC: The Hugh MacLennan Poetry Series, McGill-Queens, 1999); since then, I've discovered that she had a second collection out last spring, Notes on Arrival and Departure (Toronto ON: McClelland & Stewart, 2005). What I liked about her first collection is here, but more subtle, underscored. It is almost as though after her first collection, Rose has a better sense of what she is doing, and the electricity of that first fearful collection is somehow missing.


The night I weaned you
I checked into Bienvenue B&B
and left you in arms far stronger than mine.

I ate alone, pausing between each bite, trying to recall
who I had been before you came.
I did not want company, I did not want

to go out. The TV was set to hearing-impaired
translation, and I could not switch it off.
All evening I stayed inside, watching

what I never get to see: reality TV.
The Maury show
asking me: Is your teenage daughter

about to get married and you think her fiancé's
cheating? Then call. Are you ready
to find out once and for all

who is the real father
of your child? Call.
Underneath, the closed-captioning ran wild,

CNN discussed wars in distant
places, and I read the mysterious translation:
fighting among Ivory Coast rib bells,

and thought how far
the world seemed from me!
All night I lay on my back, breasts pulsing

their separate migraines, blind and aching.
Very late I watched a documentary on Susan Smith
and was reassured about my own slipping

maternal instincts: the fierce, sucking love I carry
for you. In the darkness I thought of
Alex and Michael Smith,

the six minutes it took their car to sink.
All night my breasts sobbed thin tears
and I wiped and wiped their tiny, streaming mouths

with a corner of white Kleenex.
The TV flashed its lights across my skin, body
my own again, if just for a night,

while you at home, screaming for milk and solace,
learned, finally, the comfort of your thumb,
flesh of my flesh

the jingle bells of your sleepy bunny,
that you could be nourished without me,
rib of my rib

that your world extended beyond my grasp,
that another's arms could console you. (pp 28-9)

Her poems are dazzling, resonant and unsentimental, but there is just some element of urgency that didn't come through here, the way the first collection did. Call it maturity, I suppose; it might be the equivalent of complaints that Elvis Costello wasn't an angry young man anymore, by the time 1980 hit. Am I simply unable to adapt? But who can deny the power of a poem such as this one, second piece in:


How dangerous your life is
between the walls of wet teeth
and the chasm we call throat.
Life is sweet at the beginning,
bitter and sour in the middle, and finally tasteless
at the end of it all. O the way you curl when I ask you
to say mulberry, say cunnilingus,
the way you tremble and wet yourself
at the sour anticipation of lemon tarts.

You have fed me well, satisfied my lovers, told my stories.
Your hinge has been wounded against sharp pearls,
the price for stretching full length
in pleasure. You have caught the bitter
draught of men, the rolling pungency of women,
and after, in the quiet room,
you have lifted yourself from where you lay,
pressed your tip against the palate's chapel
and formed the word Love.

Tonight, eating curled squid cross-hatched with diamonds,
I bit right through you. I believed you tougher than that.
My throat filled as you swelled and swelled.
Panting, my mouth open and spilling blood,
I gave birth to hunger, abstinence, silence.

It was only when mute that you revealed
the wound that can't be stitched must be concealed. (p 4)

Toronto ON: Another BookThug publication in my mailbox recently was the first issue of BafterC (January 2006, Volume 2, No. 1), edited by Mark Truscott & Jay MillAr (are there copies of volume one still available, I wonder?). A tastefully designed publication of challenging writing, the issue includes pieces by a. rawlings, Laynie Browne, Lynn McClory, Adam Seelig, Kemeny Babineau, Lisa Jarnot and derek beaulieu, as well as a piece by Calgary writer Julia Williams ("Community and Accessibility: An E-mail") and Toronto writer Sandra Alland ("Some thoughts on Poetic Translation"). Here's an example of one of Browne's poems, from her work-in-progress "Daily Sonnets"; Browne is an Oakland CA poet I was previously unaware of:


A dumb duration that enters
the body, used to color textiles
paper, hair, dyed-in-the-wool
Dutch uncle subject to dust storms
A cloth brush for removing duplicate
Dumps, dumplings or dumbfounded
Pennyweights used to designate
Difficult shortwave reception
To cause to appear smaller in size,
Character, a couple or pair of
Dungeons pertaining to twelfths
A person easily duped, dipped
Into coffee, denim fabric, to make a
Speechless collection of ammunition (p 6)

Prompted by an email question by Truscott, asking if the ideas of community and accessibility are related, Williams' piece is quite interesting, although starting from the somewhat pessimistic base idea of a Canadian poet selling no more than 26 copies of any title (anything that sells that badly is the combined fault of the writer, publisher and booksellers, and not a reflection of Canadian poetry in general). As she says in her piece:

Why do writers pursue publication if they don't care that only a handful of people will ever look at their work? If we want no more than 26 people to read our poems, wouldn't it be simpler to find out their names and e-mail them the file? There's something truly disingenuous about insisting we don't want a large readership and then sending our manuscripts to a bunch of publishers. This attitude won't keep publishers (especially small presses) in business, and it certainly won't give us the ability to devote our energy to writing creatively as opposed to making a living (the two pursuits being mutually exclusive - not to keep harping on this point). In a nutshell, if poetry is just for poets, then it becomes a hobby and not a profession. I want poetry to be a profession. I want to earn compensation commensurate with my experience and education. I want every writer and publisher in Canada to spend less time working day jobs, writing grant applications and panhandling to corporations, and more time doing their jobs. (p 26)

I completely agree. Unfortunately, print (or any other) media doesn't seem to take poetry seriously (much of the time), and it becomes even worse for a poetry in any way challenging. As far as poets and/or writers unwilling or uninterested in promoting their own publications after they appear, I don't even understand why they bother; why ask someone to spend thousands of dollars producing a book of yours and then refuse to tell anyone? It just makes no sense. I've seen to many of them over the years.

According to the colophon on the cover, BafterC "appears as often as is either possible or necessary." Check the website to find out how to get a copy, or submit to potential future issues.

Philadelphia PA: If you remember any part of the late poetry journal Ixnay, then you should be excited about the ixnay reader, volume two that appeared sometime last year (but only recently in my mailbox). Still edited and published by the usual suspects, Chris McCreary and Jenn McCreary, the second volume of their ixnay reader includes sections by various poets, including Fran Ryan, Kaia Sand, Kevin Varrone, Daniel Hales, Jen Coleman, Pattie McCarthy, Eric Keenaghan and Eli Goldblatt.

I have to admit, Pattie McCarthy, author of two trade collections with Apogee Press, is one of my favourite (I should say, favorite) young American poets, so it was a joy to be able to go through her twelve part "iron :" that includes

6. hale & hearty, whole & hale—
a system of hereditary skepticism.
the ostrich [which
bird can consume iron] unnecessarily
fecund & vespid.

it's a delightful system (even a workable system).
the act or practice of opening a vein; (of insects)
bloodsucking— while it might
seem a bit medieval, this treatment, it is something
close to astonishing in its simplicity.

But really, there were parts of every section that were interesting, such as this fragment from Fran Ryan's "Blaise," that reads:

This is practice speaking through a violence.
Practice for a cut a practice speaking through fear.
Use these lines these are leaves in a light.
Practice for a cut mouth in a violent place.

Not to be detected speaking in silence in a cassette.
Speaking of a way through a violent way for you.

He is not to be detected.
The cave as a refuge from violent
Place to speak again
And flaw in the voice therapy to pronounce.

Blaise speaking this practice whisper from a violence.
Blaise in the leaves wanting peace speaking in leaves.
Place the fingers at the throat
Fingers remove the bone that cut the throat and mouth.

Blaise stammer in a practice not to be detected.
Speaking as a poet speaking into cassette.
The impediment
Leaf the mouth a small tree
This seeks peace in speaking in public.
Remove the bone the precise throat
Remove the bone and sing.

Check out their website or write them c/o McCreary, 1328 Tasker Street, Philadelphia PA 19148 to find out how to get a copy of this, or any of their backlist.

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