Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Ongoing Notes: late late May, 2006

With all the yelling about BookThug stuff a while ago (hoping it will fade away, eventually, and not give anyone, specially a. rawlings, any more problems), its been overlooked (somewhat) that if you ever get to hear or witness a Gustave Morin reading, you should by all means take it. He is one of the most engaging readers I've heard in some time. And quite a nice young fellow, I must say. Or if you can hear Ottawa poet Monty Reid play bluegrass, take that too; highly talented, hugely entertaining, and one of the nicest writers around. And I have to thank Anne Stone and Carol Hamshaw, who were nice enough to put a couple of issues of The Capilano Review in the mail for me, including that long longed for George Bowering issue from 1979; I think I owe both of them flowers, or something (at the same time, as we all eagerly await Stone's third novel…). And did you see the goodly compliment I got from Canadian expat Sina Queyras? How sweet!

Joe Blades, stalwart Broken Jaw Press publisher has produced a sampler of my 12th poetry collection, aubade, out this fall; the sampler printed in a run of 300, apparently, for BookExpo this weekend. Print out your own copy!

Jennifer Mulligan has been sending me a pile of links lately: here's one to a "sex at 31" variant dedicated to Barry McKinnon, here's another about the Conundrum Press 10th anniversary.

And the construction has started (finally) on my little street corner, so I can barely work in my little back room (do you know that joke about Ottawa having only two seasons: winter and construction?).

Don’t forget the Toronto Small Press Book Fair, don’t forget my reading on June 8th at the Art Bar in Toronto; don’t forget the ottawa small press fair.

I am killing myself slowly with Iron & Wine.

Calgary AB: Calgary lad ryan fitzpatrick doesn’t produce a lot of chapbooks, but when he does, they're the kind that everyone seems to want to get their hands on. His most recent, Larissa Lai's Nascent Fashion, is certainly no exception; produced tall instead of wide (just fold your 8 1/2 x 11 sheet the other way), Nascent Fashion is a graceful little poetry production by a writer getting more and more attention over the last couple of years (did you see the special issue that West Coast Line did on her a while back? Or my resulting note on it?).

emergency rings on the dollar
calls planes to existence
all immanent and breathing
we pass as pigeons
ideological contagion howls
digital signals and flags
wave hands semaphoric
call for metaphor the fundamental
whine of discontent
we civil our eyes as towers
twin the geography of a thousand and one
brown elsewheres we marked as target
market labour pool
disposable as plastic razors
double action blade for a cool smooth
all sexy until the bluff
the snuff cleanly
executed in real time imovie
the biochemical bludgeon
half-lives deplete cancerous uranium
military aircraft flatten desperate
breed of suicide
we mime our own grief
for verité of hourly cast
spell horror at flash recognition
we share soft biology
difference our capacity for hardware
our impermeable fear
we factor in our right to win (n.p.)

There are some marvelous lines and connections being made in her poems, all of which (at least from the West Coast Line issue) seem to be somewhat structured along the same lines, with that easygoing flow of idea to idea to idea, leaping as intuitive jumps from line to line (much in the way of Toronto writer Daniel f. Bradley, somewhat, writing as intuition) as much as she writes the collision of culture against culture; the poem exists in the collusion of such spaces.

all containers are dark inside
whatever engine
its oily ancient fuel
whatever medium
asphalt, salt water, fresh water, track
i thorn my foot to escape the shoe
dim the lights myself
before the boss does
who is a man
what is a machine
what has a mind
what is web-enabled
o parent
corporation my body
a cell to be bought
i flash appear when you need me
based in turkey
shanghaied to vietnam
the former yugoslavs slave as
mexican labourers max hours
push borders that pushed back
illegal where once master
carded now home without
all uniform
my black hair
flesh rip each time the contract
relocates the girl
the same girl different
my dreams rust containers
i slow boat from china
to meet yesterday's demands (n.p.)

I would be very interested to see what Lai could do in the form of a trade collection; will there eventually be one? And through all of this, I still have to wonder what ryan himself is working on? He puts things out here and there but not often (blogging many many pieces as they come to him); is he working on a larger collection? Is he working on further chapbooks? What makes up all of his own silences?

To find out about copies of this or any other of his publications, write the publisher, ryan fitzpatrick, either c/o MODL Press at 7419 - 25 St. S. E., Calgary AB T2C 1A3 or through email at

Pacific Rim, US: Riveting, powerful and even dangerous is the second collection by American poet Barbara Jane Reyes, her Poeta en San Francisco (Kaneohe, HI: Tinfish Press, 2005), winner of the 2005 James Laughlin Award of The Academy of American Poets. As poet Juliana Spahr begins on the back cover of Reyes' book, "The US has been at war since its beginnings. And it has taken this to new levels in the last fifty or so years. In response, US poetry that matters has become one long, necessary lament."

"The pure products of America go crazy."

en esta ciudad, where homeless 'nam vets
wave old glory and pots for spare change;
she grows weary of the daily routine:


and especially:

aquí, en las calles de esta ciudad,
they pray their tropical dreams will come
true again: blow jobs under a sticky table.
cheaper than a pint of watered down beer.
they want to touch her, on their greasy lips,

maganda ka mahal kita magkano ka

and if she believed in God,
and if her tongue had not been severed,
then she could issue this damnation:

wala kang pag-asa pag darating ang araw ng pahayag (p 21)

There is so much loaded in this poem it seems difficult to begin, whether politically, socially or culturally. These poems are the result of an admission of such things as they collide. These poems are witness and exploration to what happens to love and the body and a city in the bay as seen by an unflinching gaze.


forgive, forgive, for principles won't do. river's thralls of strange
witchcraft and the breaking strain of ships. you have angered the
evil spirits of the machine, and they demand appeasement. this is
why you have come, a man presenting himself as a voice, always
suspecting the jungle's eyes are not human. if they are, capable of
humanity, then they are the first men, wordless, taking possession
of accursed inheritance. no, you wish for deliberate belief. you insist
upon absolution and deliverance. and so it shall be. (p 89)

Great Barrington MA: Even though he isn’t running the publishing house The Figures (since 1975) anymore, Great Barrington poet and visual artist Geoffrey Young is still producing books, such as his fickle sonnets (Great Barrington MA: Fuck A Duck, 2005), with drawings by Donald Baechler. As well as running a summer art gallery in the town he made his in 1982, he is the author of such other recent poetry collections as Admiral Fever (with drawings by Philip Knoll), Pockets of Wheat (drawings by James Siena), Cerulean Embankments (drawings by Carroll Dunham) and Lights Out (drawings by James Siena).


Suppose the Army Corp of Engineers reversed
Earth's magnetic field, causing rivers to flow upstream?
We'd be in a movie starring Christopher Walken,
Cheering for and then resisting Evil incarnate.

Damage is seductive when dressed as beneficence.
It takes a tool to manufacture a tool, it takes a fool
To wreck it. Have voice, will cavil. Rhythms
From deep inside the mantle rise to find us

Their arc's true target. Shlock feeds the plot's
Inner pitbull: no baton can count off what the theme
Is up against. Music maps convention, saps a blithe
Ear, moments when a three note melody and its

Tracking shot are bliss. Earth spins in the dark
Of space where a flick like this feels right at home. (p 69)

Sonnets might not be my favourite thing, but there is a particular joy to these that can't be overlooked, and Young has been doing this long enough that the subtle moves through the form are worth reading, and rereading. To find out about copies, write c/o 5 Castle Hill, Great Barrington MA 01230 or email Young at

Prince George BC: There are a lot of interesting things happening up there in Northern British Columbia, predominantly around the activity of poets/editors rob budde in Prince George and hardy f. in Fort St. John, who together have taken to producing the email/pdf journal Norther. A forum for the work of northern writers, it publishes exclusively the work of those who live "north of 50." The second issue, which arrived in my hotmail inbox a few days ago, includes writing by G.P. Lainsbury, Si Transken and Earson Gibson, as well as "Norther Manifest.oh axe" by hardy f., and the piece "Gentle Northern Summer" by George Stanley, taken from his poetry collection of the same name (Vancouver BC: New Star Books, 1995). As they write in their brief introduction:

is cultural suppression good enough?

you have the blues city girls
and boys - and we know it.

past trees or pulp. go over rivers
( drunk) through mountain ranges or mines.

publisher get out. it took you this long. you eat too much debris. all yr pronouns have been burned for heat.

drive one day too long. read the map like a menu.

there's yr smile. now get out. and space impulses disappear. no silence in weather. move pure norther. to the centre - a thick stand of wild meaning. (p 3)
From the text of the issue itself, here is one of the pieces by Si Transken:

Excellent Assets

the good news is that those first decades of my life
were surrounded with, & saturated by, the badwill of
pedophiles, rapists, thieves, lunatics, & desperate graspers.

thus, i learned a bountiful array of ways to lunge, dive, hide
fight, resist & even thrive in the midst & mist
of creepiness, crawliness, commonness.

thus now when surrounded with, & saturated by, the badwill of
managers, administrators, funders, politicians,
insurance company representatives,

other evil doers & mundane terrorists i rapidly
& effectively know where to get & put
walls, cuts, lines, poisons, camera crews, bullet proofing,

impenetrable smiles - i know when & how to shine
what's there's or mine & all the
excellent assets of my durable studio. (p 13)

I must admit, there is something strange about a journal you can only get by having it emailed to you; why not just put it online for a larger audience? Can a journal of this kind still reach a large audience. To get a copy for yourself, or to even submit (remember — north of 50 only), send them an email at

Waterloo ON: Finally out are the two spring and one delayed-fall titles from the Laurier Poetry Series published by Wilfred Laurier University Press; slim volumes of critical selecteds, after the first title, a selected Lorna Crozier title, appeared last fall, they have added Field Marks: The Poetry of Don McKay (see my note on his work here), selected with an introduction by Méira Cook, Speaking Power: The Poetry of Di Brandt, selected with an introduction by Tanis MacDonald, and The More Easily Kept Illusions: The Poetry of Al Purdy (see my note here on the recent Al Purdy conference at the University of Ottawa), selected with an introduction by Robert Budde.

As General Editor Neil Besner writes at the beginning of each volume:

At the beginning of the twenty-first century, poetry in Canada—writing and
publishing it, reading and thinking about it—finds itself in a strangely new
conflicted place. We have many strong poets continuing to produce exciting new
work, and there is still a small audience for poetry; but increasingly, poetry
is becoming a vulnerable art, for reasons that don't need to be rehearsed.

But there are things to be done: we need more real engagement with our poets. There needs to be more access to their work in more venues—in classrooms, in the public arena, in the media—and there needs to be more, and more different kinds of publications, that make the wide range of our contemporary poetry more widely available. (p v)
Each volume includes an introduction by the editor, as well as a non-fiction piece at the end by the poet (with the exception of the Purdy volume, which includes at the end an essay by Russell Morton Brown). As Di Brandt writes in her own afterward, "You pray for the rare flower to appear":

There is a mystery at the heart of poetry: people want to know the recipe, but
there is none. There is what Don McKay calls "poetic attention," to the beauty
and ugliness, joy and suffering, of everything around you, there is the
heightened attentiveness to sound, rhythm, image, breath, spacing. The grand
struggle with form, the impossible leap between the blood, the wild heart,
rooted in primitive, fantastic memories and sensations and dreams and desires,
and the page in front of you, the here and now, the material world in front of
you, the solid or rickety stage you stand on.

There are many schools of brilliant tricks to sharpen your formal skills, imagism, surrealism, decadence, vorticism, to name a few that have been important to me, projective verse, dada, sound, dub, transelation, rewriting of old forms, ghazals,
ballads, hymns, psalms, prose poetry, science poetry, l=a=n=g=u=a=g=e, oulipo.
You can never get it right, the form resists you, has a mind, a will of its own. (p 51)

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Lisa Robertson: The Men & The Chicago Review
I'm really a gentleman collector of sentences. I display them in cabinets.
Lisa Robertson, "Lifted: An Interview with Lisa Robertson" by Kai Fierle-Hedrick

Back again into the theme of theme issues (see my notes on previous here) comes the new issue of The Chicago Review with their feature on Canadian poet (and current resident of France) Lisa Robertson, featuring poetry and prose work by Robertson, an interview conducted by Kai Fierle-Hedrick, critical pieces by Benjamin Friedlander, Christine Stewart, Jennifer Scappettone and Joshua Clover, and a checklist of her published works. It's rare enough for a Canadian journal to have a feature on a particular Canadian writer at all, let alone a poet, so it seems that much more impressive that a foreign journal would decide to do the same (see also the recent George Bowering feature in Australia's Jacket magazine, for example, or the anthology of Canadian poets edited by Canadian poet-expat Sina Queyras). There have been arguments made for years that if Canadians dismiss the work done by their own, than how is anyone else supposed to take what we do seriously? Fortunately, for much of the sake of our own foolishnesses, the work is still getting out. At the same time, Jay MillAr's Toronto publishing house BookThug has released a lovely collection of Robertson's, The Men, as a long poem broken up into shorter long poems.

The men carrying his thoughts beyond his school
beyond all experience beyond idealism the men beyond.
I see it everywhere. Their immanent use will not damage
me. My place is grasped by my auditor. Their work is a
textbook. Without finding the world sufficient they give
it some liberty. To consider the power and domination
these bodies have I suckle them. There is not a man
alone there is not sufficiently nor geometry but there is
beauty and greatness and thirst.

Men are enjambed. (p 17, The Men)

Lisa Robertson, after years in Vancouver around various bits of the art, including involvement in Artspeak and The Kootenay School of Writing, is in the rare position of working very much a very individual poetry that is difficult to categorize, and even harder to compare with any other contemporary writers. As Kai Fierle-Hedrick writes in her interview, "There is something about your work I can't liken to anyone else's. I feel the same way about Erin Mouré's work, actually." (p 46). I suppose it would appear to obvious, then, to talk about the irony of suggesting the inability to compare a writer's work by making a comparison… Still, when talking of Robertson, Mouré's name does come up, as do the names of other Kootenay School writers during her time there, such as Jeff Derksen, Peter Culley, Nancy Shaw, Catriona Strang and Christine Stewart; no matter what else might happen, the mind continues along that need to group, even such a diverse field of un-group.

One of the more interesting pieces was one written by Benjamin Friedlander. His critical/journal piece "A Reading Diary," was originally written and published in 1995 as a response to Roberston's XEclogue, and reprinted here with a new epilogue. As he writes in his 2006 epilogue to the original piece:
In any case, to have touched on tradition in my reading of XEclogue would have
meant, in 1995, touching on those matters of local origin that Lisa worked so
hard, and so effectively, to overcome. I did, to be sure, take up those matters
in setting "nature" against "language," but there my own allegiance was to
language, and I felt little risk that my remarks would be mistaken for polemic
or distract me from attending to what seemed most essential in Lisa's book. So
far as tradition was concerned, what seemed most essential was not her deviation
from present-day literary taste, but her recognition that one could only engage
tradition meaningfully by coming to terms with its distance
. (italics mine, pp

There is something wonderfully resonant in that idea, coming to terms with its distance that I simply can't shake (perhaps I might write of it further later on). In a prose piece about her own work included in the issue, "On Palinode" (pp 26-7), Robertson writes about that idea bandied about for some time now, about "poetry and knowing," ending with:

Resistance and reception confounded themselves. So a shade of shapeliness
persists within the gesture. Testing, not retreating, passivity scares me. The
attending gesture needs no action: it awaits x, inevitably. The fear pertains to
the uninterpretibility of material. The palinode is the most passive thing I can
imagine. There is a doubled sensation. Therefore it's obscene. This is a comedy.
This is why it interests me. Thus I systematically forget the poem. Unknowable
matters could arrive. What can one receive? What is desertion? What is the
extreme of reception? (p 27)

As she writes in the long poem "Palinodes":

Suppose I never saw deception
No distinctions—just the fear of isolation

That structure was not finally my medium
I am an animal I don’t know

Nor an orchard nor a single soul nor
A dog nor a leather purse nor subjection

Nor trivialization nor worthlessness
Nor apples and stars when the festival

Of war unfurls from garden suburbs and
Decks the patios in grand coloured

Swags flipping upwards in the breeze bringing
The shampoo scent of blossoms

It would be nice
To interfere with the accuracy of the world. (p 22, The Chicago Review)

It seems interesting she would mention "the double" in her piece on the poem. Even in her collection The Men there is the talk of the double, moving regularly from the "I" into "we" and vice versa. There is the collective and then there is the individual, as she writes in the poem "MEN DEFT MEN" from the same collection:
We are weary in the watching.
I am. (p 22, The Men)

What is this double-speak she speaks of? What is this kind of doubling? Writing herself as herself, writing herself as man, writing herself as the men. Writing herself or writing narrator. It was something prairie poet Andrew Suknaski wrote of again and again, predominantly when referring to Eli Mandel (and therefore, Borges) in various of his critical pieces, writing:

No, it isn't just the prairie that drove some of us mad. It was the mutants in
the lineage. Shakespeare taught us that. Borges reaffirmed it in a healthy
obsession with doubles: Christ/Judas; Cain/Abel; Othello/Iago and others —
fleshed-out binaries of the tormented, human mind. No, it ain't easy to follow
Mandel. ("out of narayan to bifrost/the word arresting entropy," Brick magazine,

Or writing:
Eli, as I began to pass the Bergman Apartments, your words faded in that coldest
of all cold nights I'd ever known. I didn't look right to what had once been your window. I did remember, again, how you once talked of seeing your double at
the Cave n' Basin Hot Spring that one summer. I think it was about then — as I
looked back once at the place that once doubled for home to you — that your dead
ringer began to peel my name off the cold aluminum sky illuminated by the city's
light: "Andyyy! Andyyyyyyy! Stop! Don't do it!" It didn't stop me. What actually
slowed my pace were the faint words of a woman I once loved. Miraculously, her
words surfaced again in my memory: "Andy, whenever I thought of you somewhere, I imagined this Towering Spirit moving across the Prairie . . . ." I stopped one
block past the Bergman Apartments. Abandoned my premeditated long walk east
across Wascana Lake where I might have confirmed the word with flesh. ("Mandel
Memoir," Essays on Canadian Writing, issue 45/46, winter/spring 1991/2)

In Robertson, it seems easy to talk about the double, even in the example of her poems including words with Canadian spellings, even as parts of her speech in the interview include American spellings. Was this a magazine decision, or a transcription one? Was she, in fact, speaking American speech during the section of the interview conducted in England, even as she writes in Canadian (i.e. British)? Is there even a difference? Does it matter at all to anyone?

Part of the strength of the section on Robertson (at nearly one hundred pages, makes up only %40 or so of the issue) is the fact that it includes a bibliography of not only her books and chapbooks, but her poetry in periodicals, essays and reviews on poetry, art and architecture, and her contributions to anthologies. For the sake of further context, I will include her list of books and chapbooks (as included in The Chicago Review) here:


XEclogue. Vancouver: Tsunami Editions, 1993.
Debbie: An Epic. Vancouver: New Star Books, 1997. [Published in the UK by Reality Street Editions, 2001.]
XEclogue. 2nd revised edition. Vancouver: New Star Books, 1999.
The Weather. Vancouver: New Star Books, 2001. [Published in the UK by Reality Street Editions, 2001.]
Occasional Works and Seven Walks from the Office for Soft Architecture. Astoria, OR: Clearcut Press, 2003.
The Men. Toronto: BookThug, 2006.

Chapbooks and Pamphlets

The Apothecary. Vancouver: Tsunami Editions, 1991. [Reissued in 2001.]
The Barscheit Horse [with Catriona Strang and Christine Stewart]. Hamilton, ON: Berkeley Horse, 1993.
XEclogue II-V. Vancouver: Sprang Texts, 1993.
The Glove: An Essay on Interpretation. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Fine Arts Gallery, 1993.
The Badge. Hamilton, ON: Berkeley Horse, 1994.
Earth Monies. Mission, BC: DARD, 1995.
The Descent. Buffalo: Meow Books, 1996.
Soft Architecture: A Manifesto. Vancouver: Artspeak Gallery, 1999.
A Hotel. Vancouver: Vancouver Film School, 2003.
Face/. New York: A Rest Press, 2003.
Rousseau's Boat. Vancouver: Nomados, 2004.
First Spontaneous Horizontal Restaurant. Belladonna 75. Brooklyn: Belladonna Books, 2005.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

The Factory Reading Series + The League of Canadian Poets

Since the League of Canadian Poets is holding their annual AGM in Ottawa this year on June 9-11, the newly-designed Factory Reading Series re-opens in its new location at The Ottawa Art Gallery as a "League warmup" with four startlingly good Canadian poets:
Leanne Averbach (Vancouver/New York)
Margaret Christakos (Toronto)
bill bissett (Toronto/Vancouver)
Max Middle (Ottawa)
7pm, free; The Ottawa Art Gallery, main floor, the Arts Court Building, 2 Daly (at Nicholas) (map here)
lovingly hosted by rob mclennan

Author bios:

Leanne Averbach is a text and performance poet who lives and writes in Vancouver and New York. Her first volume of poetry, fever, was released in Spring 2005 by Toronto's Mansfield Press, and she has released a companion CD, also entitled fever. Averbach has performed her poems with jazz musicians in Italy, Canada and New York City, and her work has been published in literary magazines such as The Fiddlehead, Descant, Antigonish Review, Washington Square, Dalhousie Review, Poetry New Zealand and The New Quarterly.

Margaret Christakos has published six collections of poetry and a novel, and will be launching her STANZAS issue "Far," published by Ottawa's above/ground press. She lives far out in Toronto, on the world of the other side. You can find her recent books of poetry if you visit the indy bookstore in your town, or check out:
Coach House Books,
Apollinaire's Bookshoppe,
Nomados Press,

bill bissett has garnered international attention since the 1960s as a preeminent figure in the counter-culture movement. The publisher/editor of blewointment press from 1964 into the early 1980s, over sixty of his books have been published over the years, predominantly by Vancouver's Talonbooks. A highly charged performer, he incorporates sound poetry, chanting and singing and remains one of the pioneers of the form. He currently writes and paints out of studios in Vancouver and Toronto, and a book of tributes to bissett has just been released with Nightwood/blewointment press, the anthology radiant danse uv being: a poetic portrait of bill bissett, edited by Jeff Pew and Stephen Roxborough.

Max Middle lives & works in Ottawa, Canada where he has been involved in many projects which have as their fulcrum a practice of poetry or m a k i n g . u p, among them the Max Middle Sound Project. He read in the 2006 Ottawa International Writers Festival as a member of the recently formed literary performance troupe, Deasil & Widdershins. You can find his contributions to the Ottawa Poetry Podcast at His work appears in Shift & Switch: New Canadian Poetry (Mercury Press, 2005). On 24 September 2005, he assisted jwcurry in the execution of Messagio Galore take II <>. On 28 February 2006, he launched flow march n powder blossom s (above/ground press), in a TREE (a reading series) in Ottawa. He continues to publish & exhibit visual poetry. Reach him at

sponsored by span-o (the small press action network - ottawa; cleaning out yr literary clogs since 1996) and The Ottawa Art Gallery; thanks both to them for providing space and much love, and to The League of Canadian Poets for providing funding.

The League of Canadian Poets, June 9-11, 2006, OTTAWA

If you are interested in participating in any part of the League AGM, all events are free and open to the public, with the exception of the Awards Gala and business meetings. Here are some of the highlights of the weekend, if you want to show up:

BOOK LAUNCH: June 10, 9pm at The Royal Oak, 221 Echo Drive
with readings by M.E. Csamer, Elizabeth Green, Shirley A. Serviss, Rhona McAdam, Maria Jacobs, Sarah Klassen and Carolyn Zonailo

BOOK LAUNCH: June 11, 3pm at Mother Tongue Books, 1067 Bank Street at Sunnyside
for Re:Generations - Canadian Women Poets in Conversation

PANELS: June 9, June 10, National Library of Canada, 156 Wellington Street, Rooms 154, 156

Japanese Poetic Forms
Panelists include George Swede, Dina Cox and Maxianne Berger

Life Under A Laureate's Wreath
Panelists include National poet laureate Pauline Michel, Saskatchewan poet laureate Louise B. Halfe and Halifax laureate Lorri Nielson Glenn and Edmonton laureate Alice Major

Poetry, Spirituality & Mental Health
Panelists include Ronna Bloom, Shirley Serviss and Ron Charach

Our Sisters in Spirit, Feminist Caucus
Panelists include Gloria Alvernaz Mulcahy, Marianne Micros and Penn Kemp

for more detailed information on this years agm, check here, call 416 504 1657 or

Friday, May 19, 2006

Conundrum Press, Montreal: 10 whole years

Congratulations to Montreal writer/publisher/editor Andy Brown, who celebrated the 10th anniversary of his publishing house Conundrum Press last night with a gala event featuring readings, performances, music and multi-media, as well as the launch of Valerie Joy Kalynchuk's second novel, Beauty is a Liar, and the launch of the portable conundrum, a 10th anniversary Conundrum Press anthology. Performing to a packed house (including much of the younger literary Montreal crowd, with other authors as audience such as the touring Vancouver poet Elizabeth Bachinsky, who was wandering through the spaces between bar and book table, former Ottawa resident Wanda O'Connor, finishing her first year of creative writing at Concordia, and fan favourites Jon Paul Fiorentino, David McGimpsey, and the irrepressible Jason Camlot…) were various Conundrum Press contributors (all thirty-some contributors are included in the portable conundrum), including Catherine Kidd (the first Conundrum Press author, or, as Corey Frost called her, "the oldest author published by Conundrum"), Andy Brown, Golda Fried, Dana Bath, Vincent Tinguely, Marc Ngui, Corey Frost, Suki Lee, Julia Tausch, Nathaniel G. Moore and Robert Allen, with multimedia (sans author) performances by Shary Boyle and Joe Ollman. With incredible performance after incredible performance, including film clips of Shary Boyle doing art performances as part of Canadian singer Feist's concerts in Paris, France in February 2005, and short cartoons by Joe Ollman and Elisabeth Belliveau (she was there last night, but decided to hide in the corner during the showing of her magnificent animated short, Perfect). And you have to see the strange short films by Toronto author Nathaniel G. Moore, who launched his "novel" Bowlbrawl with Conundrum Press last year, and last night launched a new short film called "dear canada council," which, he suggested, might never get him the funding he so desperately craves.

Brown's Conundrum Press is, as was mentioned last night, one of the few literary trade publishers in Canada interested in publishing comics, and has so for years, publishing pieces by Ollman and Ngui as well as Mark Bell, and the mad-genius of Billy Mavreas. The multimedia aspect of the evening was especially impressive, merging all sorts of considerations including animation, text, performance and music; where else but in Montreal do the barriers begin to break? Even that the portable conundrum itself would include fiction, comics, essays, drawings and everything in between call for not only the wide interests of editor/publisher Brown, but the range of activity happening at the ground level in Montreal (and various other cities, there and here) over the past decade. Parts of this energetic group of creators were also featured in the anthology Brown and I edited for Vehicule Press, YOU & YOUR BRIGHT IDEAS: NEW MONTREAL WRITING (2001), and also appear regularly in such places as Matrix magazine (I made a point of wearing my 80s-era Matrix t-shirt last night, made during the Linda Leith years…), fish piss, the Headlight Anthology, the Moosehead Anthology (both from Concordia University) and occasionally, DC Books.

One of the finest moments (for me) of the evening, was talking to the bartender (also stage manager) about Ernest Hemingway, Richard Brautigan, English-language fiction and various other things; she said her name, Lori, was spelled "just like Superman's other girlfriend." "You mean the mermaid," I said? Nice… (what an obscure reference…). In and out quick, my travelling-buddy Jennifer Mulligan and I were back in Glengarry county by three in the morning, much later than the last time we went to a Montreal event, a few months back. Check it out, if only for the photos of Brown, Moore, Fiorentino, Kidd…

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

a poetic portrait uv bill bissett

There is something about the new tribute to the Canadian poet and painter bill bissett that makes me realize, yet again, just how much he has actually accomplished over the forty-plus years of his career, and just how little acknowledgment he seems to have received for it. An attempt was made a few years ago as a special issue of The Capilano Review on bill and his work; much more comprehensive as tribute to bissett is the new anthology radiant dance uv being: a poetic portrait of bill bissett (Madeira Park BC: Nightwood Editions / blewointment, 2006). Entirely appropriate that the editors, Jeff Pew and Stephen Roxborough, would have the collection come out with the renewed blewointment line published by Nightwood Editions, since the original blewointment, edited, published and founded by bissett, was sold in the 1980s and became what is now Nightwood; long and continued cudos to Silas White for ressurecting the imprint, with collections already published by Toronto poet Jay MillAr and former Ottawa resident currently on the east coast, Matthew Holmes, among others, continuing the tradition of publishing invigorating collections of new poetry in Canada.

As the editors write in their "Prelude: Projekt bill Genesis" (the original call for submission circulated through cyberspace on December 15, 2003):
dere frenz uv bill bissett,

We had a poetic idea. It was endorsed by lunarians. Now we ask for your earthly participation.

The Idea: We noticed each time we talked to bill bissett we learned something about ourselves. We listened to him and he inspired us to write. Sometimes we wrote
poems about him. We imagined he must have the same effect on other poets. We
thought, why not collect poems about bill from his friends and fellow poets? We
believe a range of insightful voices speaking about bill will create an
intoxicating kaleidoscopic reflection-portrait almost as interesting and
multi-faced as bill.

The Endorsement: We presented the idea to bill for his blessing and this is what he wrote: "yr idea is brilliant love it fine totalee dont know tho if thers enuf around abt my work or me 2 make a book wud b way fun tho thanks a lot 4 yr brillyans raging happee trails mor as it cums in much love totalee n rockin love yu bill"

The Collection: We know bill is modest. Certainly we're not alone thinking he's inspired hundreds of electric/eclectic poems from friends all over the continent, if not galaxies beyond. We welcome you to send us your poem(s) about bill for consolidation in this meaningful anthology. And, we encourage you to forward this email to as many friends of bill you think might want to write and submit a poem. We are looking for poems by poets, painters, songwriters, dancers, actors, waitresses, gas jockeys, bus drivers, movie house doormen…anyone who knows and loves and is inspired by bill.

Many xcellent and raging thanks!
For those who might not be aware of bill, he is a complete and raging Canadian poetry presence, producing writing, readings and artwork since the late 1950s (when he got a singing endorsement by Jack Kerouac, famously praising bill and his work in an interview in The Paris Review), and publishing books since the early 1960s. For about as long as I've been alive (about thirty-six years or so, so far), bill has even had a book appearing with Vancouver's Talonbooks every eighteen months, without fail, which probably makes him the most productive, resourceful and imaginative presences in Canadian writing with some the least work done on his art. The most important fact about bill's work, for the uninitiated, is not only the phoenetic spelling that makes up the largest amount of his textual work, but the sheer force of his life performances, which have the power to turn any critic or cynic into an automatic fan. What makes the true measure of the collection is the range of contributors included, from some of the expected sources of bill influence, such as Joe Rosenblatt, Kemeny Babineau, Ross Priddle, jwcurry, Sharon H. Nelson, Jay MillAr, Karl Jirgens, Judith Copithorne, Mari-Lou Rowley, Darren Wershler-Henry and Adeena Karasick to some less expected names, such as Patrick Friesen, Lorna Crozier, Leonard Cohen, Margaret Atwood, P.K. Page and Margaret Avison.

As Vancouver poet Maxine Gadd writes in her poem "bill is a book someone will do someday but":

Th bill pomes
i don’t know how to do
the bill poems all
pomes are to Sweet William
billy boy and billy-wielding mom or dad and the dead who demanded
that in spite of impending whatever
be done
oh old ballads, o
the Willy that wends through all our wanton ones
the true blue Bill that mans the white sails over oceans, lost, longed for, laughed with
the sails of the will
the bill that stands on a bird, the bill that comes and must
be paid out like the rope of the sails
the old singing ocean
our goddess
our origin
the will to keep listening, talking, reading reeeling, riting old hippy hopes of a new anti authority anxiiiious hoping to find a way to keep on living, laughing, leading us all into poetry
prole ole leaves and tatters (p 61)

Another element is a series of small notes, reminiscences and other writings by various of the contributors at the end of the collection, including one of my favourite stories of the old blewointment days of bill bissett, as told by (again) Maxine Gadd, of her near resistance to sending work out into the world to get published, thwarted by crafty poet/publisher bill:
Maxine Gadd – Would be glad to remind bill of the time he visited and grabbed a bunch of pages. I was sick with something devastating and couldn’t chase him. He soon after published a book he titled hochelaga after some history I'd been reading. I still like the book and bill. Isn't it good to have ratched spelling, like when you lose the drift to get the desired stream? (p 153)
[bill bissett reads in Ottawa as part of the premier event of the newly-designed Factory Reading Series at the Ottawa Art Gallery on Thursday, June 8th at 7pm; other readers include Leanne Averbach (Vancouver BC), Margaret Christakos (Toronto ON) and Max Middle (Ottawa ON); see my note here on the last time bissett read in Ottawa]

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

shades of the new concrete: derek beaulieu and Donato Mancini

The examples of concrete/visual poetry in Canada over the past few years, at least in trade form (as opposed to smaller publications such as chapbooks, broadsides and other ephemera) has been few and far between (see some of the previous examples and history of such as listed in my review of Shift & Switch: New Canadian Poetry, eds. beaulieu, rawlings, Christie), but, as many have suggested, exist as a form throughout the entire history of literature, language and human culture. As Jars Balan wrote in his introduction to the Open Letter issue he edited, "Cantextualities: Contemporary Visual Poetry in Canada" (Tenth Series, Number 6, Summer 1999):

Visual poetry [viz-you-elle poh-eh-tree] embraces a wide variety of verse forms, styles and media, but always requires that a poem be seen for a total appreciation of its aesthetics or content. Visual poetry is a type of intermedia, straddling the grey area between traditional written literature and the graphic arts. Forms of visual poetry include: acrostics, labyrinths, palindromes, word squares, textual collages, rebus poems, serpentines, abecedarian verse, lipograms, proteus poems, constellations, leonine verse, mazes, and versus cancrini or crabs. To name but a few different configurations taken by visual poetry through the centuries. (p 7)
One of the most consistently active in the realm of both creating and publishing Canadian concrete/visual poetry is easily Calgary writer, editor and publisher derek beaulieu, with his work appearing in more places I've seen than just about anyone else (check out some of his visual pieces here at minimalist concrete poetry). After the visuals included in his previous trade collection, with wax (Toronto ON: Coach House Books, 2003), it's good to see something further along those lines in his collection Fractal Economies (Vancouver BC: Talonbooks, 2006). Two of perhaps only a handful of presses in Canada that would even consider publishing such a thing (historically, blewointment, Coach House and Talon were almost the only games in town, with more recent publishers such as The Mercury Press, New Star and even Insomniac Press getting into the fray), despite Talonbooks ongoing history with publishing non-linear forms, the lack of any real communal push still gives concrete/visual in Canada far less support behind it than the more mainstream lyric. Is concrete/visual to poetry what poetry is to the rest of literature? As Shift & Switch showed, there are certainly enough younger people across the country working with, around and through the form (some of the more interesting examples including Windsor, Ontario writer Gustave Morin, Canadian ex-pat Jason Le Heup, Toronto writer Daniel f. Bradley, Brantford, Ontario lad kemeny babineau, Medicine Hat, Alberta poet/publisher ross priddle and Ottawa's own Max Middle), making me wonder if these continued practices of outside have been building enough over the past few years, with journals such as filling Station, dANDelion, Matrix, RAMPIKE and others actually giving space to publishing concrete/visual work; is this a return, finally, to a much-maligned and misunderstood form?

An interesting component to beaulieu's collection is the inclusion of his essay "an afterward after words: notes toward a concrete poetic," an essay that also appeared (slightly altered) on Brian Kim Stefans' ubuweb, allowing the casual or less informed reader a context to enter into the work. As he writes in the piece:
Concrete poetry has expanded beyond the tightly modernist "clean concrete" poems
of the 1950s—typified by Eugen Gomringer and Mary Ellen Solt. Gomringer and
Solt sought simplicity and clarity in their materialist use of semantic
particles (Gomringer's "Silencio" and Solt's "Flowers in Concrete" are
examples). Gomringer argues that concrete poetry is an essentially modernist
gesture that "realize[s] the idea of a universal poetry" and can "unite the view
of the world expressed in the mother tongue with physical reality" ("Concrete
Poetry" np). Created by a dictatorial author-function, the modernist concrete
poem limits and sanctions the role of the reader according to strict
formulations; the reading space is "ordered by the poet … [h]e determines the
play-area, the field or force and suggests its possibilities" (Gomringer, "From
Line to Constellation" np). (pp 80-1)

More focused on visuals than his previous collection, that included sequences of texts, Fractal Economies is probably one of the very few collections published in trade form in Canada focusing entirely on the visual/concrete, in a very short list that would include works by jwcurry, Darren Wershler-Henry and Gustave Morin. Throughout the collection, beaulieu works with manipulative devices such photocopy, digital, letraset as well as what appears to be charcoal/lead rubbings; the last section of the collection, what appear to be pencil rubbings over plastic letter refrigerator magnets (which anyone born over the past three or four decades should be aware of), is actually my least favourite of the whole, and I think, overall, the least effective. What is far more interesting are pieces like the found poem "new directions in canadian poetry" (p 51), which appears to simply be a series of lines and connecting dots from the directions that come with Ikea shelves (I remember helping him put that shelf together, actually). I like it for its referencing, and for its sheer simplicity. This is very much a more mature work than his previous, by an increasingly interesting artist.

I've been hearing complaints here and there (muttering, mostly) about Vancouver writer and KSW member Donato Mancini's Ligatures (Vancouver BC: New Star Books, 2005) since his own collection of visuals appeared, although it hasn’t yet been explained to me what exactly the problem with his work is. There are certainly parts of the collection I think are interesting, such as the altered "@phabet" (originally published as a chapbook with above/ground press) and various of the text pieces (keeping to the concrete of the argument presented by Balan), but others, such as the altered cartoon (with dialogue from his "@phabet," reminding me slightly of the altered comic book texts published as Patricia Seaman's New Motor Queen City that appeared a few years ago by Coach House Books) and the abecedarian "Writing For the First Time: 22 baby mesostics," are extremely interesting as ideas for pieces, but somehow don’t manage to follow all the way through to their respective and effective ends.


setting, tone, time, intimation
of the expected

'tuning up'

what's done
he does
has done

interlude A
suggesting unspoken the

spoken comes to

say what's

setting down again only
this setting
is understood as a particle
of a total
to the particular

here is the desire
is the wish

only the thing that matters (pp 78-9)

Another section, featuring white text on black paper, scatters individual letters into the deliberate shapes of water and flow beautifully into cloud-shapes, letting the eye wander up and down the boundaries of what the mind works fervently to shape and decipher. I don't think everything in Mancini's Ligatures completely works, but I very much appreciate the effort, and, still very much like the book; I look forward to seeing how and where he further develops.

One of the most important elements of both these collections is that sense of very serious play, something so very much in evidence in the work of bpNichol, the ghost that floats through both works as nearly the octopus that sits in the room. Play is extremely important, and sometimes those working in these forms can get lost in the play, they are so serious about it. Both books are worthy additions to that most ongoing of fields.

Monday, May 15, 2006

a whole pile of (finally) new + recent poetry chapbooks from above/ground press

To celebrate the fact that above/ground press (killing tree for literature since 1993) recently achieved its 500th published item, here is a whole list of new + recent-ish titles; further backlist available here.

(NEW!) purdyesque. Ed. rob mclennan. Poems by George Bowering, Stephen Brockwell, Gwendolyn Guth, Steven Heighton & rob mclennan. "publisht in Ottawa by above/ground press in an edition of 250 copies / for a poetry reading on May 6th, 2006 as part of the conference 'Al / Purdy: The Ivory Thought' at the University of Ottawa, May 5-7, 2006; / many thanks to Gerald Lynch." free at the conference / otherwise $5.
(NEW!) Dennis Cooley (Winnipeg MB). "two poems" STANZAS #45. free if you can find it / $4 otherwise (next issue: June 2006; Margaret Christakos, Toronto ON).
(NEW!) The Peter F. Yacht Club #5. Middle, Max (ed.). Poems by Gary Barwin, Anita Dolman, Jesse Ferguson, Laurie Fuhr, John Lavery, Nicholas Lea, rob mclennan, Max Middle, James Moran, Jennifer Mulligan, a.rawlings, Sandra Ridley, Vivian Vavassis & Rachel Zavitz.$5.
(NEW!) rob mclennan (Ottawa ON). the address book (erasure). $4.
(NEW!) Stan Rogal (Toronto ON). "Celebrity Rag, Opa!" STANZAS #44. free if you can find it / $4 otherwise
(NEW!) Stephanie Bolster (Montreal QC). BIODOME. $4.
(NEW!) Nicholas Lea (Ottawa ON). light years. $4.
(NEW!) Max Middle (Ottawa ON). flow march n powder blossom s. $4.
(NEW!) Lea Graham (Worcester MA). Calendar Girls. $4.
(NEW!) rob mclennan (Ottawa ON). six strains: variations. (from variations: plunder verse, a work-in-progress) $4.
(NEW!) rob mclennan (Ottawa ON). nine small(er) essays. $6
(NEW!) Jessica Smith (Mid-Atlantic). Shifting Landscapes. $4.
winter 2. mclennan, rob (ed.). poems by Jesse Ferguson, Lea Graham, Gwendolyn Guth, Meghan Jackson, rob mclennan, Jennifer Mulligan and Sandra Ridley. Produced “for the appearance of winterlude.” 4.
Sharon Harris (Toronto ON). "more fun with 'pataphysics," STANZAS #43. free if you can find it / $4 otherwise
bpNichol (1944-1988; Toronto ON). THE TRUE EVENTUAL STORY OF BILLY THE KID. reissued after the original 1970 Weed/Flower edition; published with an afterward by carl peters, as a classroom handout (etcetera) for peters at Simon Fraser University. $3.
ryan fitzpatrick (Calgary AB). Adolesce. $4.
Gil McElroy (Colbourne ON). (The Work of Art) In the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. $4.
Christophe Casamassima (Baltimore ). Septology. $2.
Jan Allen (Kingston ON). " personal peripherals 1-30," STANZAS #42. free if you can find it / $4 otherwise.
Shauna McCabe (Charlottetown PEI). land over time. $4.
rob mclennan. nine variations on the fifth muse. $3.
The Peter F. Yacht Club #4. mclennan, rob (ed.). 500 copies. Poems by George Bowering, Stephen Brockwell, Suzanne Buffam, Stephen Cain, Margaret Christakos, Anita Dolman, Gwendolyn Guth, William Hawkins, rob mclennan, Max Middle, James Moran, Jennifer Mulligan, Susan Musgrave, Wanda O'Connor , Sandra Ridley & Vivian Vavassis. Produced as a handout for the ottawa international writers festival, September/October 2005. Otherwise, $5.
Monty Reid (Ottawa ON). cuba A book. $4.

as well as recent "poem" broadsides by Shauna McCabe, Wanda O'Connor, George Bowering, Meghan Jackson, Jordan Scott, Max Middle, Jennifer Mulligan, Gil McElroy, Gary Barwin and rob mclennan (available while quantities last). forthcoming books by Cath Morris (Vancouver), Barry McKinnon (Prince George BC) and Karen Clavelle (Winnipeg).

Add $1 per order w/in Canada; Outside Canada, please send in US funds.
above/ground press 2006 subscriptions still available: $30 per calendar year for STANZAS, chapbooks, asides, broadsheets + The Peter F. Yacht Club (in Canada, $30 Can/ outside, $30 US; because mailing costs are hammering at me, its all going up to $40 for 2007…). Send all of your money, payable to rob mclennan, c/o 858 Somerset Street West, Ottawa Ontario Canada, K1R 6R7.

Watch for above/ground press items this spring at both the Toronto Small Press Book Fair (June 3) as well as the ottawa small press book fair (June 17); or me, even, reading in Toronto at the Art Bar Reading Series on June 6…

Sunday, May 14, 2006

a brief note on the poetry of Joshua Marie Wilkinson

Boy-scatter in the market,
moths awake inside the piano.


Surely you remember the legendary earthquake.


A little bit of Christmas in your eyes,
stuck to your red lips. (p 19, "The Trick Was to Disappear")

I recently got copies of the first two poetry collections by Seattle-born Joshua Marie Wilkinson, his Suspension of a Secret in Abandoned Rooms (Portland OR: Pinball Publishing, 2005) and more recent lug your careless body out of the careful dusk (Iowa City, Iowa: University of Iowa Press, 2006), which was also winner of the Iowa Poetry Prize. I first discovered the work of the writer Joshua Marie Wilkinson a few weeks ago, after picking up a copy of the American journal Phoebe (see my note on that here), as he was included in the eleven writer multiview, "Eleven ways of Looking at Travel." This is the first part of what he wrote for Phoebe, responding to the question of travel, and talking about his first collection:
When I started writing my first book, Suspension of a Secret in Abandoned Rooms, I had moved from my home in Seattle to Bratislava in order to be close to where the painter Egon Schiele was from. For several months I traveled by train over the Slovak-Austrian and Austro-Czech borders in order to find the little towns where he painted and where he had lived. I didn't write that much, except for sketching notes on the trains. Taking pictures is a kind of writing I suppose. But travel was integral to that book. I wasn't out for adventures, I just didn’t think I could write it unless I
went to Vienna and to the little towns in Northern Italy, Southern Czech Republic, Eastern Austria, and Western Hungary, and Budapest where Schiele, and eventually Wittgenstein, had been about a century before. Trains allowed all my travel in Central Europe, so trains recur again and again in that book. (p 33)

I don't know exactly what it is that leads particular poets to compose whole collections on the work of painter Egon Schiele, whether Wilkinson's first, or Vancouver poet Catherine Owen, who also did as her first poetry collection, Somatic: The Life and Work of Egon Schiele (Toronto ON: Exile Editions, 1998). There have been other references here and there as well, such as in Winnipeg poet Sarah Gordon's debut collection, Rapture Red & Smoke Grey (Winnipeg MB: Turnstone Press, 2003), as she wrote “Today is cold and damp in the bones as I was walking downtown the / air was reaching through my jacket and sweater and I was prompted / to write an essay on Egon Schiele’s hands.” (p 6), and continuing with “How odd to mention Vienna here, in the middle of a prairie winter / location is everything.” As Jane Miller writes in her introduction to Wilkinson's Schiele:
The time may be right for a poetry that is not only imaginative, but that is
also grounded in reality. "Each day you must offer yourself with words to
somebody," Mr. Wilkinson says, giving great responsibility to language, and to
the poor soul who is taking an affirmative stand regarding life itself. This is
about as un-existential, and as unashamedly positive a viewpoint as I've seen
from a poet in a while. Bravo to Joshua Marie Wilkinson for believing in this
world, its history and its art. His own art might make believers of his readers
who, I'm confident, will trust and follow him:

It is dusk again.
A plain-clothed woman opens a side-door

from the Monastery's basement & I slip into the passageway. (p 9)

As lovely as this collection feels, there is just something about the book that doesn't strike me; as good as the writing is in this collection, there's some intangible there somewhere that keeps me from getting too deep inside the collection. Maybe it’s the same unknown fact of why Schiele that prevents me from getting deeper. My own little anti-narrative hang-ups.

I am writing from the outhouse by candlelight
& father may at any moment burst in.

My pillow no longer smells of you or, worse, I've nearly
forgotten your scent. The bedroom window rattles
& I sleep shaky in fits.

I fear that these letters will not reach you,
that the messenger boy's already betrayed me

& reads this with yellow eyes before he shakes the bag out
into the ravine from underneath the bridge.

The pitched roof of the pharmacy gives the rest of the black painting
the slightest glow where the red fronts of houses are nearly brown.
The sky & blue river are flat.
The bluish shutters of a small house are thrown open to the moonlight.

Black silhouettes could be anything but the figures I see.
A couple quarreling or stretching after love in the summer darkness,
sharing a cigarette at the window.

You fall asleep thirsty with your mouth open.
But I picture you again, at the kitchen window sewing white feathers
into your fire-spinning dress, your cat Texas asleep in the sink
& even music tricks me, brings you back. (p 81-2, "The Satchel of Letters")

Is it simply a matter of the subject matter wearing me down? Is there just something there I can't look past, no matter what Wilkinson is doing with the material?

Dear Egon,
I am writing to tell you that the house here in Krumau
is ready for you. There's a piano in the studio
though keys are missing. I will drag it out with my brothers if you say.
Also, a handsome girl lives next door.
She's a dancer with broad shoulders & a flat nose like a boxer's.

Woods can be a city. (p 54, "I Think Words Do This To Your Body")

On the other hand, there is something astounding, and even spellbinding about the poems in Wilkinson's second collection, lug your careless body out of the careful dusk. Built as what could easily be called a long poem broken into fragments, the collection is broken into seven sections that are themselves broken, page by page and line by line. Winner of the prestigious poetry manuscript contest, the Iowa City Prize (which I keep not winning), the winner gets an armload of cash and a published book at the end of it, with previous winners including Cole Swensen, Liz Waldner, Joanna Goodman, Peter Jay Shippy, Michele Glazer, Susan Wheeler and Emily Rosko.

Did the movies spoil you early?
Couldn’t the river take that man away?
Had you wished for a better entry?


The man slumped wide-eyed
dead at the wheel of the milk truck
isn’t enough for a poem until
the ground thaws,
the windshield splatters onto the dash,
into his pleated lap & animals catch
the opened scent.
Montana burned flesh. They nuzzle
& tug him lengthwise
like a dummy
into the goat field
& wish him goodbye.

Sweaty water, oven belly, brick chin, monster
oarsman, your man square
in the mirror like he's been drinking
the spitty punches. (p 8-9, "A Moth in the Projectorlight")

There is just something about Wilkinson's lines that pull apart the material of the poem and break down into the essential lyric fact. How is a poem? In his work generally, Wilkinson manages to pull a shock of image against another shock, and let the resonant electrical bursts make waves across the many layered lines. Call it resonance, perhaps; call it love and lusty restrain. The lines of lug your careless body out of the careful dusk just keep feeding in through other lines and leaving physical traces, well after I've finished reading. Written with echoes of the previous book, the poems in this collection are more abstract than those of his Schiele work; even to be able to call it the "Schiele work" seems an inappropriate boiling down of such material, but what else to call it? And how else to consider this work, where by holding less hard onto the ideas of a fact the poems themselves become so much more?

A girl I knew plowed fields all night
in Bow, slower than sleep-
walking until the sun creamed
the hilled horizon, rousing the elk
to gallop through it & dimmed out
the headlight of her tractor, green
as a lime. Thirsty bugs, coyote shriek,
damn summer things to dread. She was
so quiet in the morning when
we'd wake for work that I feared my
breathing would be the most awful sound
& held it until she began
to search for clothes & dress before me
in the dark. (p 54, "Boy-Scatter, the Sleepier & the Sleepiest")

lug your careless body out of the careful dusk is a magnificent collection and needs to be experienced.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Ottawa: The Unknown City

I've been working the past year on a book for Arsenal Pulp Press in their Unknown City series (due out in 2007, to help celebrate 150 years of Ottawa being named Capital by Queen Victoria), and have been discovering a bunch of pretty entertaining items. Ottawa isn't just the wholesome boring government town that gets projected out to the world (and sadly, projected in); that is only the beginning. And don’t let the current mayor fool you either, the City of Ottawa has been interesting for years… A mayor, I will remind you, who didn’t do anything useful to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the City of Ottawa in 2005; we got a month of Alberta scene (for its 100th anniversary, which was extremely cool), but where was the Ottawa scene? What is it about Capital (and fourth largest populated city in the country) that is driven so hard to dismiss the local?

There are the obvious bits, such as Tom Green, Paul Anka and Rich Little, or where Alanis went to high school (Glebe, where her first gold album sits in the school's office), or the fact that , in the mid-1990s, Carleton University wanted to, but discovered they couldn’t name a building after their famous and former student Dan Ackroyd (because he dropped out, and they apparently have rules against that), or that Friends' co-star Matthew Perry's mother was press secretary for Trudeau (have to find out more on that), or that Tom Cruise (before he dropped his father's last name) went to school here, somewhere (need way more on that). Here are some of the other things I've been discovering:

Pure Spring ginger-ale: was not only invented in Ottawa right after the Second World War, but the name originated from a pure spring running under the family home of the man who started the company (with his father), behind a house that used to sit at Wellington and Preston Streets. If you can imagine, now all of that is just the first line of what has been for years an empty waste (and wonderfully open view). There seems something disappointing about any "what used to be here" consideration. Another would be that plaque at Percy and Gladstone, right beside the Laundromat, telling readers that one of the first games for the Stanley Cup was played at a rink that used to be there. And don't forget the plaque in front of that god-awful looking 1960s government building on Lisgar Street, just east of Elgin. I haven't read it in a while, but here's the jist: there used to be a big beautiful house here, owned by one of the Confederation Poets. We tore it down to build this. What a country.

Crawley Films: before the National Film Board existed, there was Ottawa's Crawley Films, founded by Frank Radford "Budge" Crawley (1911-1987) and his first wife Judith Rosemary Sparks Crawley (1914-1986). Called "an audacious rogue," a trail-blazing entrepreneur and a true pioneer in Canadian film, Frank Crawley is often considered Canada's answer to American film-makers Jack Warner or Sam Goldwyn. First housed in the abandoned St. Matthias Church Hall at 19 Fairmont Avenue, near Wellington Street in the Hintonburg area (in the 1930s, the church itself moved to Sherwood and Parkdale, just south of what is now the Queensway), the company was founded not just to make films, but to build a film industry. With the head office in Ottawa, and branch offices built in Toronto and Montreal, the two made Crawley Films into Canada's largest independent film company, and most successful of its kind in North America, rivaling the NFB in the production of sponsored films. In the forty-three years Crawley Films existed, it produced more than five thousand films -- including industrial films, features, documentaries, animation, television series and commercials -- and won 255 international awards. Not only his business partner, Judith Crawley was also an accomplished director, writer, editor, producer, camera operator, sound recorder and actress, working directly on numerous Crawley Films projects and winning awards, later serving as president of the Canadian Film Institute (1979-1982). Their first film, L'Ille d'Orléans (1938), was made during their honeymoon, and went on to win the Hiram Percy Maxim Award for Best Amateur Film of 1939. They went on to produce such films as The Loon's Necklace (1948), Newfoundland Scene (1950), Amanita Pestilens (1962), The Man Who Skied Down Everest (1975), Hamlet (1973) and The Luck of Ginger Coffey (1964) from the Brian Moore novel, as well as the first animated series for television, The Tales of the Wizard of Oz (1962). Notable in their innovation, Crawley Films produced the first Canadian feature filmed in colour, the first shot simultaneously in English and French, the first in Canada to utilize 16mm synchronized sound, and the first Canadian feature to win an Academy Award (for the documentary The Man Who Skied Down Everest). Some of the people that worked with Crawley early in their careers include director Irvin Kershner, British thespian Robert Shaw, Christopher Plummer, Lorne Greene, animator Bill Mason and documentarian Pierre Perrault. As the company became more successful, a modern film studio was built to the church hall studio, and maintained its own laboratory, sound stage, animation facilities and engineering equipment, working to diversify the business as much as possible. The company was eventually bought out in 1982 by former employee Bill Stevens, the head of Atkinson Film Arts. Unfortunately, by 1989, Atkinson Film Arts fell upon hard times, and announced on the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of Crawley Films that all the old Crawley Studios and facilities would be sold. The old building is still there, across from the big church on Wellington Street West, a shadow of its former self. A few years ago, Artguise on Bank Street held a show of animation cells from the Crawley Films series The Tales of the Wizard of Oz. Even now, if you go into their gallery/art supplies store, you can get either of the co-owners, Jason or Brandon, to sing you the theme song from the series. For anyone my age or just a bit older, it will all come flooding back. (Oh, the Land of Oz is a funny funny place / where everyone has a funny funny face / and the streets are paved with gold / and no one ever gets old…)

Max Middle: I'm beginning to wonder about that Max Middle. There is someone in every community who seems to be a connector, or lynch-pin, so to speak. What they were doing with American History and Forrest Gump. You know that whole "six degrees of separation" thing… (Is Max Middle the Kevin Bacon of Ottawa?) What I am realizing more and more: the potential that poet Max Middle (pseudonym for Ottawa-born Mark Robertson) might just be the lynch-pin for everything there is about the City of Ottawa. He sent me an email a few days ago, telling me that he was in "a play with Matthew Perry. this would have been 1983ish when we both attended ashbury college. i think he was a grade ahead of me." A person I met in the early 1990s while attending readings hosted by Rob Manery and Louis Cabri, I keep finding out about connections Max has to other people I know, and other things going on not only around the city, but in other parts of the country. I even found out recently that he worked with my (not yet) ex-wife at the Wheat Berry during the summer/fall of 1990, during the time she was pregnant. He's done work with the Ottawa Art Gallery, the Fringe Festival, jwcurry, and his dad not only hung out with the Rolling Stones in London at the extreme end of the early 1960s, but intimate performances by the Beatles. One could even argue that Max himself is the Ottawa continuity between Manery/Cabri and curry. What the hell? Is Max the centre of everything that keeps this city together?

Ottawa Valley's wholesome image: you wouldn't think that St. John's, Newfoundland born Shannon Tweed (yes, that Shannon Tweed) had an Ottawa connection, but she does. A prolific actress and Miss November, 1981, for Playboy magazine (thanks to Canadian TV series Thrill of a Lifetime in 1981), later Playboy Playmate of the Year 1982, and involved with Hugh Hefner and Gene Simmons (they had two children), she represented the Ottawa Valley in the 1978 Miss Canada Pageant, placing fourth.

Pierre Trudeau's eyes: I'm still trying to get a fix on it, but for the first time in months, I've got some leads on the mural of two eyes that sit on the side of a building at the University of Ottawa. Rumoured to be the eyes of the late Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, the mural was done by the late artist and University of Ottawa professor James Boyd "around 30-35 years ago. He was an artist and designer, and taught for many years at Ottawa U. in the Visual Arts Dept […]." Other rumours are they were the eyes of Trudeau friend and rival Rene Levesque, or even the eyes of the artists' girlfriend. Will we ever know the truth? (If such a thing exists…)

Or in an email from literary historian and father of hundreds, Steve Artelle:

How's this for sensational: in 1882 a guy committed suicide in the cathedral on
Sussex Drive. It's been a while since I came across the info in newspapers from
that time, but if I'm remembering right, he put a bullet in his head after a
mass. They had to get a gang of priests to come in and reconsecrate the place
after. Nasty.

Best thing I can think of for the Parliament Buildings is the stuff on the origin of the Hall of Honour, which was a scheme to commemorate Archibald Lampman. And a few years before that scheme was cooked up, Lampman's wife actually died at her desk in the Library of Parliament. Could give you some details if you're interested.
If anyone else has any stories, suggestions or directions I should be including or looking into, please let me know. What are the best neighbourhood pubs? What about 24-hour hangouts around the city (if there are any)? The hole-in-the-wall clubs, unaddressed, on a need to know basis… There are so many stories that have yet to be included anywhere. I've tried to address a version of such in the creation of ottawater, including folk that are not only currently here, but who were here or are from here (working to get Gary Barwin, Margaret Atwood, Sara Cassidy (youngest of Carol Shields, an exceptional writer out there in Victoria) and Colin Browne in future issues…).

It's about time someone bloody celebrated our fine Capital in a useful way. About time some of the things around here got acknowledged.