Friday, June 30, 2006

my mother + Alan Ladd

I was on the phone recently with my mother as she asked me how the non-fiction book on Ottawa was coming along; I told her about a few of the things I've been discovering, such as Pure Spring Ginger-Ale (which she didn't know about) and Crawley Films (which she did). At the prompting, she told me a story of Crawley Films, from when she lived in Ottawa. My mother is very much an Ottawa-gal; the middle of seven, the first in her family hospital-born (at the Grace, where I was), and lived at 233 Gilmour Street until she was fifteen, when the whole family moved down to the Alta Vista area, just at Ridgemont Avenue (then Kirk Drive) and Alta Vista (right by what is now Ridgemont High School). She went to the same grade school my daughter did; she even went to the Plant Bath at Somerset and Preston, half a block from where I live, during the 1950s.

Earlier in the 1950s, when she was ten or eleven, the American actor Alan Ladd was in Ottawa, re-doing the sound for the film Saskatchewan; apparently something had gone wrong with the original sound recording, and the only place that had the tools and the knowledge to re-do such a thing was "Budge" Crawley's Crawley Films. Ladd came to Ottawa with his daughter (and eventually broke an ankle while jumping off something he shouldn’t have, showing off to his daughter at the Chateau Laurier pool, while teaching her to swim); there too was my mother, ten or eleven years old with a friend in the gathered crowd outside Crawley Films' location in Hintonburg, waiting for a glimpse of the famous actor. Apparently, when Ladd's driver left the building to walk the dog, the two girls wandered over to see it, opening the offer for them to spend a half an hour walking the dog up and down the street. Can anyone else say that their mother met the guy who played Shane, let alone walked his dog?

Every so often, I realize my mother is far more interesting and engaged than I give her credit for. There are stories in her I have yet to get out. Today is her sixty-sixth birthday; my father turned sixty-five on Monday (they spent his birthday getting new glasses). Happy Birthday to them both.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Arc Poetry Magazine #56
Rubber Boots, A Love Story

They sing of fish guts, cow paddies,
and mud puddles; the places you've been.
They embrace the back of your knees, calves
held in the whoosh and slap, a lullaby
in this season of leaving.
An antidote to empty coat hangers,
they wait for you like dogs
at the back door. (p 52, Bren Simmers)
The other night I went to the launch of the new issue of Ottawa's Arc Poetry Magazine (formerly Arc: Canada's Poetry Magazine) at Cube Gallery in Hintonberg. I'm not always a follower of the goals of the writers or writings inside an issue of Arc, but I very like the redesign of the journal that happened after long-standing editors John Barton (who moved to Victoria, BC to run The Malahat Review) and Rita Donovan left; with new editors, and poet Anita Lahey (and others) taking charge, a new look, and art director Serge Duguay has certainly made for a more attractive product. The issue itself features poetry by Jan Conn, Stephanie Bolster, Adrienne Barrett, Barbara Myers, Monty Reid, Bren Simmers [see my review of her poetry chapbook here], Gerald Hill, Tom Wayman (and a disparaging poem about Calgary), Adam Chiles, Roger Nash, Margaret Avison [check out the Jacket magazine feature on her here] and others, as well as a very interesting swimming essay by Barton on Margaret Avison's poem "The Swimmer's Moment," pieces from a collaboration between Peter Sanger's poetry and Thaddeus Holownia's photographs, as well as an interview with Sanger on the same, conducted by reviews editor Matthew Holmes.

If my grandmother spoke of seeing one
in Regent's Park, I forget.

She kept the ebony figure, broken-tusked;
a little picture of Jesus by the radio.

Fed each kitten born out back
as the neighbourhood sank.

During a boom, developers razed
the place next door,

filled the lot and stopped the light.
Her heart would've gone out

had one shown up on her back porch.
She'd have set out dishes

that my mother, when her heart did
go, would have brought in and washed (p 17, Stephanie Bolster)
For a while now, Arc has been doing the "How Poems Work" feature on their website, which was once in The Globe and Mail, and are currently in the process of expanding that further, as Arc editor Anita Lahey writes in the "Editor's Note":
In this first-ever transatlantic online poetry exchange, Arc and SPL [Scottish Poetry Library] will post 12 monthly essays in which a contemporary Canadian poet introduces the work of a Scottish counterpart, or vise versa. Visit to see which Canadians appeal to John Burnside, Tom Pow and John Glenday, and why―or to learn which Scots are read voraciously by our own Aislinn Hunter, Carmine Starnino, Miranda Pearson, Mary Dalton and Stephen Scobie. Our reviews editor, Matthew Holmes, suggests the Canadians and Scots might each represent what he calls "the slant rhyme" of English culture. We are excited to be part of an effort to study and solve that slant, its angles and variations, the way Conn homes in on other exotic species. (p 8)
Arc does seem one for the prizes, after taking over the Archibald Lampman Award a few years ago (for best book of poetry in Ottawa), as well as the internal Confederation Poets Prize (best poem in previous year of Arc) and the Critic's Desk Award (best feature and short review in previous year of Arc), both of which I applaud, and think a bit much at the same time. As well, Arc is announcing a call for submissions for the 5th annual Diana Brebner Prize, named after the late local poet who was devoted to fostering new literary talent, as "a special award for poets who have not yet been published in book form." This year they're even letting me judge. I was one of those who, back in 1993 or 1994, Brebner wanted to mentor, until she realized she wasn't sure what I was doing, so we just met for coffee and talked about our children…
Stuck In the Jardins Des Plantes

(for Liz McCrea)

The black gates swing closed at the far end of the garden
for your benefit, since you are the only person left

and you realize that being locked in among the unfurling plants
would be worse than being locked out.

The Paris night flares like another world
but you are in this one.

It's too early for blossoms, and the trees
are just maps of where the trees will be

later. Instead of petals there are white labels
species and tombstone information that you can't read

in the dark, and it's not the information
you need right now. Didn’t you always want

the garden to yourself, to be lost
among the chlorophyll, and without your

cellphone to boot, and to hear only the voices
of the dead that wheeze in the shrubbery

and the pruned-back roses. Maybe not.
It's late, and your feet are sore.

It's the living that you worry about, that you want
to find. So you walk to the far end of the garden

and back again, looking for security
but they don't know how to find the one

you are looking for, the one who said he'd meet you
by the garden gates an hour ago.

They don’t know anyone with that name.
All they can do is let you out. (p 20-1, Monty Reid)

Saturday, June 24, 2006

the small press action network - ottawa (span-o) and The Ottawa Art Gallery Present:
The Factory Reading Series
Thursday, July 6th, 7pm

Stephanie Bolster (Montreal)
& Monty Reid (Ottawa)

free; The Ottawa Art Gallery (in the Arts Court Building), main floor, the Arts Court Building, 2 Daly (at Nicholas) [map here]
lovingly hosted by rob mclennan

Author bios:

Stephanie Bolster has published three collections: White Stone: The Alice Poems, which won the Governor General's Award and the Gerald Lampert Award in 1998; Two Bowls of Milk, which won the Archibald Lampman Award and was shortlisted for the Trillium Award; and Pavilion. Biodome is her second chapbook with above/ground press, which she will be launching, after Three Bloody Words in 1996. Born and raised in Vancouver, she lived in Ottawa from 1996 to 2000, when she moved to Montreal to teach creative writing at Concordia University. She recently edited The Ishtar Gate: Last and Selected Poems by the late Ottawa poet Diana Brebner and is working on a book of poems about zoos. Her first book, White Stone, will soon appear in French with Le Norot, translated by Daniel Canty.

Born in Saskatchewan and a long-time resident of Alberta, Monty Reid currently lives in the Ottawa, where he is Director of Exhibitions at the Canadian Museum of Nature. Among his dozen books are Dog Sleeps (NeWest Press), Flat Side (Red Deer Press) and Crawlspace (Anansi). Recent chapbooks include Sweetheart of Mine (BookThug) and Cuba: A Book (above/ground). A three-time Governor-Generals nominee, he has published poetry and essays in periodicals throughout the country and internationally. His work has appeared in journals as varied as Capilano Review, Canadian Geographic, The Fiddlehead, The Malahat Review, Museum Studies, Prairie Fire and Ottawater, among others. A new collection of poetry, Disappointment Island, is scheduled to appear from Ottawa's Chaudiere Press in 2006. He plays guitar and mandolin in the band The Exhibitionists.

the small press action network - ottawa (cleaning out yr literary clogs since 1996); thanks to The Ottawa Art Gallery for providing space and much love.

next factory reading: tba

for more information, contact rob mclennan @ 613 239 0337 or check out The Ottawa Art Gallery website or the (new) official Factory Reading Series link.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Jon Paul Fiorentino's The Theory of the Loser Class

Foreign Weed

A trail of loosestrife led me

Always maintained a semblance of balance
the challenge to temporality

That is to say
I'm lonely or lonesome or both

At least
it was a nice ride

An easy challenge
an impossible morning

Don't forget to miss the
longest losing streak ever

Impossible to miss me
not winning (p 55)
Montreal author Jon Paul Fiorentino has been working his version of the "omega male" and notions of failure for some time, through his previous poetry collections Hover (Winnipeg MB: Staccato Chapbooks, 2000), Resume Drowning (Fredericton NB: cauldron books, Broken Jaw Press, 2002), Transcona Fragments (Winnipeg MB: Cyclops Press, 2002) and Hello Serotonin! (Toronto ON: Coach House Books, 2004), and his collection of short fiction, Asthmatica (Toronto ON: Insomniac Press, 2005). His new poetry collection, The Theory of the Loser Class (Toronto ON: Coach House Books, 2006), as the back cover claims, takes its title from The Theory of the Leisure Class, the book Thorstein Veblen published in 1899 that "recalibrated North America's class system," and, by introducing such "terms like 'conspicuous consumption' and 'nouveau riche,' […] identified a new demographic: the leisure class, a caste of the elite who could afford to spend all of their time in pursuit of fun." Working out the ideas of his own theories of the loser class, Fiorentino even goes so far as to quote Veblen throughout his text, working one idea against another, and letting his own pieces play off the structure of the original theory (but is this theory, one might ask, or fact? Is Fiorentino exploring an idea or simply expounding on what he already knows?). Throughout the bulk of his writing thus far, skimming along the top of the poems like an insect on water, Fiorentino answers the question that perhaps only he has ever asked: where are the poems for those who never win? Where are the loser poems? Where are the poems for the kids who spend all day in their parents' basements playing video games, and clutching inhalers, waiting to get back out to the mall? Is this a redundancy for writer stereotypes, who almost as a unit never get the girl, the big prize, the big win? What is it Jon thinks of us, exactly? What does he continue to think of himself, failing by therefore achieving?

Right In The Spine

Crooning Gertrude Stein's songs
but sounding shallow, somehow

Arrived in style but
can't get off your bike

Time to slash prices
on the Paxil and shovels

I've listened intently (almost)
to the revisionist chorus:

If a loser falls
I feel it

And if a loser falls
I feel it (p 16)
Subtitled "a work in three parts," Fiorentino's The Theory of the Loser Class works in much the same way as his previous collections, writing the book as the unit of composition, but with the slight shift of the poems working more deliberately off each other and less on their own, working far more of the fragmented body toward the whole. Broken into three sections, "Loss Leaders," "Selected Lies" and "The Theory of the Loser Class," the poems work more abstract than his previous work, and play far more comfortably; still, this work very much fits into the mode of his previous collections, extending the themes of failure and geography, merging Winnipeg again with his systems of loss at the fore. In his semi-serious piece "The lowdown on the loser class" published in The Danforth Review, originally written as an introduction to Jon Paul Fiorentino's launch in Montreal at the Blue Metropolis Festival, Montreal poet Jason Camlot wrote:

Following his summation of Veblen's thinking as an amalgam of positivism and historical materialism, Theodor Adorno characterized Veblem's "basic experience…as that of pseudo-uniqueness" (78). That is, as a result of an early sensitivity to the false pretensions toward uniqueness inherent in the jargon of sales, Veblen came to see everything but what is sacred in his theory―the work instinct―as sham.

Unlike Veblen's theory, in Jon's work, nothing is sacred. Well, certainly not the "work instinct," in any case. I sincerely believe that Jon has evolved beyond "the work instinct." I believe, further, that this remarkable evolution beyond one archaic instinct has been accomplished by a heightening in him of several other instincts, these being the "Alpha Male Macho Hunter Instinct," the "Check Cell Phone for Text Messaging Instinct," the "Morrissey is Grand Instinct," and the "Death-ly Dissatisfied With Myself Instinct."
Camlot even points out the contradictory in Fiorentino's book, pointing out a quote from page 77 that writes, "No theory here." ("Premature Devout Observances"). I won't bother pointing out the obvious argument of the best way to teach; by suggesting you know absolutely nothing (it brings the listeners guard down). As in his previous works, Fiorentino is fond of the pop culture twists, as the last line in the poem references Star Wars, writing "these aren't the druids you're looking for" (p 84, "Spine"), or even in his most brilliant "Sonnet of R2-D2," writing a poem completely in the character's own "voice," including "Doop deep beewoo burrwaap vreet dooop" (p 26). Writing Gertrude Stein, David Letterman, Jerry Lewis, Winnipeg, video games, drugs and shopping malls, Fiorentino again works the loser/geek card, the socially inept and the self-loathing, the loser class, and the wry pessimism his work has become known for; will this be the only card he plays? Will there ever be anything more? Can we say that this is enough?
Reversion works this way:

a stubborn oeuvre
subsistence, only form

We deserve
get ready

Variation works this way:

Scoff but it will only swell
your well-intentioned couplet

Neighbourhood kids
get theirs

Industry works this way:

Shock treatment

I'm late
I'm late (p 74, "Premature Devout Observances")

What was it they said on the old Fat Albert show? If you're not careful, you just might learn something before we're through.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Two collaborations: Continuations by Douglas Barbour and Sheila E. Murphy and apostrophe by Bill Kennedy and Darren Wershler-Henry

I don’t know what it is about collaborative works that have been all the rage lately. After smaller appearances with a number of chapbook presses, including housepress and above/ground press, Toronto poets Jay MillAr and Stephen Cain finally have their collaborative Double Helix appearing this fall with The Mercury Press; jwcurry has been collaborating with authors for years, and a trade edition of these pieces have been threatening to appear with a Toronto press for as long as I've known him. I've even done my own versions lately, but have yet to see any of them in print.

Edmonton, Alberta poet Douglas Barbour and Phoenix, Arizona poet Sheila E. Murphy have been engaged in an email collaboration, writing alternating six line passages to make up their collaborative work Continuations (Edmonton AB: University of Alberta Press, 2006). A long poem made out of twenty-five sections, the poem encompassed both daily activity, distance of years and thousands of kilometres (or miles, depending) in the form of a sustained long poem, starting out at the beginning, writing:
storm und
with that angel always
back upon
the piling ruin

solo fires thicker
than or wider
wings spread to
raise the ante
'in front of' the sun
what signs float in the empyrean

foreground of stranded
sun sans
seamed mild
blue eggshell
her name, Celeste
over a win afield (p 1)
In their collaboratively written text at the end of the collection that includes bibliographical information on the two authors, they include a note on previous texts [see also their collaboratively-written piece on collaborations in here]:

In Canada, Douglas Barbour and Stephen Scobie have performed extensively in
sound poetry, in the innovative tradition of The Four Horsemen, Rafael Barreto-Rivera, Paul Dutton, Steve McCaffery, and bpNichol. Other sound poetry groups, such as Owen Sound, also 'wrote' performance pieces in a collaborative manner. Further innovative and accomplished collaboration by Canadian writers includes the work of the group Pain Not Bread, formed in 1990 by Roo Borson, Kim Maltman, and Andy Patton. Anne Szumigalski and Terrence Heath's Journey/Journée (rdc press), like Heijinian and Scalapino's Sight, clearly indicates who wrote what. Double Negative by Daphne Marlatt and Betsy Warland specifically works to merge the two writers, with a poem, followed by a self-interview, and then a series of pieces written out of lines in the earlier poem.

United States poet John M. Bennett has composed and performed joint works with numerous other writers, many of whose texts have appeared in the long-running magazine of textual and visual poetry, Lost and Found Times. Sheila Murphy has worked extensively in making collaborative texts with Bennett, as well as Peter Ganick, mIEKAL aND, Charles Alexander, David Baratier, Ivan Arguelles, Rupert Loydell, Lewis LaCook, Al Ackerman, and Beverly Carver, among others, including a collaborative quartet with Mary Rising Higgins, Gene Frumkin, and John Tritica.

Countless examples of poetic collaboration are evident on the web, including works initiated on listserv groups, such as the poetics list from the State University of New York at Buffalo, in which poets representing many different countries have participated over the years. Many collaborative works exist across artistic disciplines, rather than within the textual realm: Robert Creeley collaborated extensively with visual artists such as Jim Dane, Alex Katz, and Susan Rothenberg, as well as composers such as Steve Lacey and Steve Swallow; Lyn Heijinian has collaborated widely with artists such as Emilie Clark, with the appearance of The Traveler and the Hill and the Hill. Numerous others have collaborated across disciplines. (pp 104-5)
Ending finally with:

Students of innovative textual work will undoubtedly pose questions concerning the place of collaborative poetry: What is the relationship between collaborative efforts and the individual works of a writer? Should collaborative texts be regarded as a category of their own, or classified within the sphere of innovative textual creation?

We share the belief that textual collaboration must undergo the same critical rigour as any written work of literature. The process of jointly writing an extended piece naturally entails risk, but the sustained engagement with crafting what is possible in language easily surpasses such risk. Stabilizing structural features such as the six-line format and daily practice, provide the necessary structure for propelling innovation. (p 106)
Barbour has been producing poetry collections for years, with the first, I think, appearing in 1970, and some of his strongest work coming out over the past few years, and moving through much more of a jazz/intuitive sense of poetry than in previous works, including Fragmenting Body, Etc. (Edmonton AB: NeWest Press, 2000) and Breath Takes (Toronto ON: Wolsak & Wynn, 2001), as well as his collection of essays, Lyric/Anti-Lyric: essays on contemporary poetry (Edmonton AB: NeWest Press / The Writer as Critic: VIII, 2001). Way down there in America, Murphy has been publishing both individual collections of her poetry as well as collaborations for almost as long, including including Falling in Love Falling in Love With You Syntax: Selected and New Poems (Elmwood CT: Potes & Poets Press, 1997), and more recent Incessant Seeds (Pavement Saw Press), Proof of Silhouettes (Stride Press, UK) and Concentricity (Pleasure Boat Studio: A Literary Press, NY). What makes any collaboration between two writers, specifically, interesting, is that when the project is done well, it introduces a third author that is neither of the two, but a combination of both. Neither the work of any individual, but the space where the two writers/works meet.

the breath of disappearing
moments loses sunfall, folded
points filled with imagined
integers breeze toward
skin blessed with other
skin, through fields again

what is the point of aspiration,
is there a place to which dance finally
arrives, the step merely a metaphor
for something, perhaps a world within
the chosen calling that eventually
confiscates what inherently is there

taken away it goes further
than believed and the feet stumble
slowly to a stop beneath
the great blossoming chestnut tree
leaning toward seed reaching
out to the dancing stars (p 57, from "XV")
For Toronto poets Bill Kennedy and Darren Wershler-Henry, their collaborative apostrophe (Toronto ON: ECW Press, 2006) is, as the press release claims, "the first book ever written with a search engine." [see Sina Queyras' review of same here] Writing on the project in the press release, they include this "How The Apostrophe Engine Works," that writes:
The Apostrophe Engine is a website operated by Bill Kennedy and Darren Wershler-Henry. It is the source of the poems in apostrophe, a book published by ECW Press in 2006.

The Apostrophe Engine was used for the first time on April 18, 2001, and existed on a private Web server for the next five years. As of April 19, 2006, the Apostrophe Engine is available to the public at

The home page of the Apostrophe Engine site presents the full text of a poem called "apostrophe," written by Bill in 1993. In this digital version of the poem, each line is now a hyperlink.

When a reader/writer clicks on a line, it is submitted to a search engine, which then returns a list of Web pages, as in any search. The Apostrophe Engine then spawns five virtual robots that work their way through the list, collecting phrases beginning with "you are" and ending in a period. The robots stop after collecting a set number of phrases or working through a limited number of pages, whichever happens first.

Next, the Apostrophe Engine records and spruces up the phrases that the robots have collected, stripping away most HTML tags and other anomalies, then compiles the results and presents them as a new poem, with the original line as its title … and each new line as another hyperlink.

At any given time, the online version of "apostrophe" is potentially as large as the Web itself. The reader/writer can continue to borrow further into the poem by clicking any line on any page, sliding metonymically through the ever-changing contents. Moreover, because the contents of the Web is always changing, so is the contents of the poem. The page it returns today will not be the page that it returns next week, next month, or next year.
Much like the questions posed by Barbour and Murphy, what is the relationship between this writing and the writing by an individual author? Can the writing be seen as purely writing, or is it overshadowed by its composition? Is this a method of creating work, or a reading game? George Bowering has played with earlier versions of constraints that he called "baffles," as did bpNichol as well, making the play of the composition the point of much of the work that resulted, or Christian Bök's Eunoia (Toronto ON: Coach House Books, 2001), which won the Griffin Prize that year, working a further level of constraint. Does any of that matter when reading the final product? It was a question posed by editor Joshua Kotin at the end of the most recent issue of The Chicago Review (51:4 & 52:1, spring 2006), in his "Can a Computer Make a Period Style Obsolete?," where he wrote:
The poems in this issue by Gnoetry and Eric P. Elshtain were written in a little over eight minutes on 30 November 2005. Their titles mark the time of their composition. Elshtain set the form—three four-line stanzas, lines between five and ten syllables—and selected the following five source texts: Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues under the Sea, Alexandre Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo, H.G. Well's The First Men in the Moon, A. Maude Royden's Sex and Common-Sense, and Margaret Sanger's Women and the New Race. The computer, Jon Trowbridge's Gnoetry 0.2, analyzed how often various combinations of words appear in these texts and used the information to generate the published sequence. As Trowbridge
describes, "Gnoetry's approach is statistical. The software does not contain any a priori knowledge of grammer." Gnoetry allows the human collaborator to regenerate specific lines; Elshtain did not otherwise edit Gnoetry's language or replace it with his own.

The result of this interface is a fascinating six-poem sequence that resembles much contemporary poetry. But does it replace much contemporary poetry? Because Gnoetry replicates and refines a period style, instantly, ad infinitum, it threatens to render that style obsolete. For why write poems a computer can generate more efficiently? Why labor over unsolicited submissions when you can fill a journal over lunch? Gnoetry evacuates craft of meaning. When every MFA graduate has Gnoetry on his or her desktop, verbal pyrotechnics will no longer indicate a creative, skilled mind at the end of the poem. By flooding the market with linguistically innovative poetry, Gnoetry asks us to reconsider what we value in the period style, in poetry. And as it satisfies our appetite for surprising syntax and brilliant word combinations, it challenges poets to invent a new style that means, a style that cannot be replicated by a computer. (p 254, The Chicago Review)
(an ode to the west wind)

you are wonderful, smart and witty; someone wants to spend the rest of her life making you happy (that someone is me) * you are rich enough to afford it * you ain't talking 'bout love * "You Are My Flower" ― "Old Leather Britches" ― "Across The Blueridge Mountains" ― "Going Back To Harlan" ― "Poor Rebel Soldier" ― "No Hiding Place Down Here" ― "Going Up Cripple Creek" ― "Foggy Mountain Special" * you are also permitted, in fact, encouraged, to use the proceedings as a testing ground for paper topics and even for paper drafts * you are united * you are undivided * you are pure * you are brave * you are loyal * you are honourable * you are good * you are hopeful * you are true * You Are My Flower * you are interested in actuarial or computer consulting services * you are in their territories * you are used to looking at things in the world, not actions * you are on and ask what characteristics does this idea have? What else has those characteristics? Then watch ideas tumble out onto your page * you are using only one eye * you are Jessica Simpson, age 17 (p 72)
Darren Wersler-Henry certainly isn’t a stranger to conceptual work, working his version of bpNichol in his Nicholodeon (Toronto ON: Coach House Books, 1997) or his tapeworm foundry (Toronto ON: House of Anansi, 2000). I've heard the argument that the only way to force invention is to limit your options; to provide a constraint of some sort is to force the mind to work in other ways. At nearly three hundred pages, there is a lot of text to go through in this collection, this conceptual unit of work, and a lot of material that still could have been produced. Is excess the key? Moving from extremely short pieces to extremely long ones, the book moves as arbitrarily as the Web seems to, itself. As jwcurry once suggested, even two words beside each other presume a narrative; how to take meaning out of an artificially constructed text? Are the significant accidents of collusion the complete and utter point?
(the space between the heavens and the corner of some foreign field)

you are going to create something of this ilk, you should really be doing it on your own * you are saying and I am going to do a lot of this on my own but I also believe in doing something right the first time and the best way to do something right is to get a lot of collaboration from the start * you are viewing this page in a single window * you are lost in a haze of alcohol soft middle age the pie in the sky turned out to be miles too high and you hide hide hide behind brown and mild eyes * you are dead safe in the permanent gaze of a cold, glass eye * you are sleeping with your new-found faith * you are still missing it; you are still winding things up too tightly * you
are pretty much going to have to go with the storyline Roger used * you are going to send a copy of the script to Rog? That's the funniest thing I have heard yet on these forums * you are in favour of this idea * you are thinking there is a story (p 124)

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Sina Queyras' Lemon Hound

I remember being taken very much with expatriate Canadian poet Sina Queyras' first trade collection, Slip (Toronto ON: ECW Press, 2001) when it appeared [see my brief review of it here]. I know a couple of people who disagree with me, but I loved the collusion of couplets, and the dissonant flow. I loved the movement of what could only be described as bourbon on gravel; she already had a clear and comfortable sense of her stance, and I was looking forward to her slow and steady climb into further books and a further maturity. I liked the geographic shifts that were as subtle in the lines as they were spoken on the page.


Woke in a sweat, tears, longing, hung over, maudlin.
Repentant I will escort you, in due course return unmoved

to my camping futon, the grey cat sleeping there.
Footfalls overhead: from desk to bed each move

a lightening bolt, and lust-stung, benumbed — I cannot
leave my bed. My doubled-heart a throbbing, open sore

and tears for wanting what I cannot, in good faith, have.
It's fun, L. says, you need to have. And if my diversions

are not alone, my longest lasting love? Some questions
better left unasked. (p 23, from "Four Steps," Slip)

Her second collection, Teethmarks (Roberts Creek BC: Nightwood Editions, 2004) also played with the prose sections, but also worked more in a series of shorter lined pieces than the poems in her first, playing more on the line break and visual disconnect, which felt somehow less effective in Queyras writing than the longer fluid line. Where she was most effective was in the longer flow, such as the first poem in the collection, the first third of the piece "Three Songs for Jersey," that writes:

Welcome to the hourglass. Doormat or
escape hatch, depending on what side
of the Hudson you call home. Verdant
once was state of industry and strip clubs,
nail shops and roadways, soprano land cum back door
of America. Birthplace of Ginsberg and Williams. Slim
remembrance of Whitman in ginkgo leaves and crumpled
Budweisers; in rusted pumps along Route 1 all the way to Camden;
in the three-legged dog who wanders up the turnpike; the rain
silky and thick as liquid detergent; the egret who poses
by the sunken tires, or the turtles who sun on rubber-filled ponds.
Welcome to the state of hearts: the black man
at the New Brusnswick station who tips his hat, the beautiful,
thick-jawed, high-haired women who stand waiting at the train;
the wide-hipped, smart-mouthed waitresses of the Bagel Dish,
the saucy women waiting on Route 27 for the Atlantic City bus.
I can give you the insides of books, take you through the shelves
of the New York Public Library or I can take you to the train,
smelling enchiladas and Starbucks, oh I am composing this
while walking, listening to Lucinda Williams in the rain. (p 11)

What was but an element of structure in her first collection, Slip, moves to the forefront in her third trade collection Lemon Hound (Toronto ON: Coach House Books, 2006), with Queyras writing prose pieces that reference Gertrude Stein, Virginia Woolf, Lisa Robertson and Anne Carson. Why is it that so many younger writers these days are referencing Stein and/or Woolf, with Stein references all through Stephen Cain and Rob Budde, and Woolf pushing its way through Suzanne Zelaso's first poetry collection Parlance (Toronto ON: Coach House Books, 2003) [see my review of it here]? Budde's long poem, "software tracks," originally self-published as a Wink Books chapbook, is subtitled "‘a cubist ct scan of the american body’ and is a series of Stein-like (Tender Buttons) sections each titled with a bodily affliction (‘lung cancer,’ ‘apathy,’ ‘depression,’ ‘obesity,’ etc). It is a book written out of fear but into issues of language politics not overt politics. Chomsky, Roy, Moore, and Nader have done enough in that area–there’s only so much Adbusters can take.” In her collection, too, Zelazo writes a whole section based upon a Woolf novel, both titled THROUGH THE LIGHTHOUSE., as Zelazo writes, "emotion of / the page hoped to recall sympathy / mother half turning rain of words // that absurd circle needed" (p 50). For Queyras' own take, it scatters through the collection in bits and sparks, instead of any particular focus, moving into more of a cumulative effect of the whole collection. As Queyras writes in her Acknowledgments, "This book is, among other things, a direct response to and engagement with the work of Virginia Woolf, but my reading of her texts was radically altered by other writers, including Lisa Robertson, Anne Caron and Gertrude Stein, as well as by general discussion at the Thirteenth Annual Virginia Woolf Conference at Smith College." (p 106). Without knowing much of the works of Woolf, it is still interesting to track the differences in prose between Queyras' Slip and Lemon Hound, such as these two, from her first and third collections, respectively:

Avenue Laval

Flush with possibilities I move in to the basement suite in your brick
building, the only red on a block of lavish greystones trimmed in chalky
greens and Madame Caillaud in her wool suit welcomes me to the only
anglo fold. I tell myself it's because you're near that I wander up
to your flat; I tell myself it's because of Montreal that we lie
on your bed eating plum tomatoes; I tell myself it's because of Foucault
that I can't sleep; I tell myself I'm not falling in love, and yet late nights
reading Ginsberg until our tongues are tied in his long breathless lines. (p 14, Slip)

Ms. Forrest, ten years after

When I see you it is winter. You are pulling out of a
parking spot in your old English roadster ― blue, in
my dreams at least, a Blue Betty you say. I have never
seen you in winter. I know there is nothing winter
about you or where you live. Yet when I see you it is
through the windscreen, wipers pushing at the
heavy, wet snow. I come around the side of Betty,
laughing. There you are again, I say. A good winter? you
ask. Not too cold. What is it about you and winter, Ms.
Forrest? On Saltspring, where if it snows I am sure it
is only in prop-sized proportions. Why are you
always pulling out of that spot? Leaning your head
out to smile at me. Never stopping to spend time. (p 79, Lemon Hound)

Despite something being more prevalent in American poetry, there have been scant Canadians working within the form of the "prose poem" (sometimes called "postcard story" or "postcard fiction," depending on where you think you are starting from…), including Toronto poet Suzanne Zelaso in Parlance, and even Margaret Atwood, from her collection of "short fictions and prose poems," Murder in the Dark (Toronto ON: Coach House Press, 1983). Although longer than the less-than-a-page pieces by Queyras, and less lush than Queyras' liquid prose, there is an element of overlap to both collections:


I reach down and what do I come up with? Something early, a
small dry white flower. Everlasting, it was called. Picked by
the roadside, highway, near a rockface shot through with
quartz; on which the sun shone as it rose, lighting up the rock
like glass, like an entrance into light. Right then the world
was something you could walk through, into.

You could tent then, anywhere, just beside the road, any
wide place. The tents were heavy canvas and smelled of tar.
The others put the fire out. There were almost no cars; it was
because of the war. The war was happening somewhere, and
the devil's paintbrushes, red and orange, grew there in
clumps, purple vetch, daisies with their heavy smell, tiny
black ants on the petals. A stream too, the water brownish and

There was nothing to do, there was all that time, which did
not need to be filled. I knelt down, bare skin on the damp
ground, and reached into the absence of time and came up
with a handful of stems, on their ends the light reflecting from
the stream, the dry white flowers, already eternal. (p 60, Margaret Atwood, Murder in the Dark)

There is something absolutely elegant and lovely about the prose of Sina Queyras, flowing on the page as easily and deliberately as water.

On the way to the swimming hole

She passes the watch-repair shop with its grand-
father clock door. No one goes in or out but a dog
barks. She is sure the repairman has ever heard of
Dali. Buttercups wave and bob. They are so yellow
they shine a halo six inches around each pinky-sized
flower. They are so good she wants to eat them, but
they are singing, all along the roadside, and she
cannot eat anything that sings. (p 77, Lemon Hound)

(This version a slight variant from the one that appeared in her chapbook Still & Otherwise)

There is something about the pieces in Lemon Hound that seem far more sure of themselves than the pieces in her second trade collection, Teethmarks, easily making this the strongest of Queyras' works, and I very much would like to hear more of the constructions she played with, working her own sense of Woolf into play, and the play of other works that may have entered into it. How does she translate the flow?

What the river wants

The river wants to the town to hug her but the town has
an odour. The river wants to love the odour but it
can't. The river wants the town to know this. The river
wants the town to be invited. The river wants the
town to paint itself red. The river wants the town to
understand it. The river wants the town to talk softly.
The river wants the town to step inside. The river
wants the town to get over itself. The river wants the
town to make way. The river wants the town to hug
her without odour. The river wants the town to let
her hug it too. The river wants to flood the town with
anger. The river wants to fill its basements and
cellars. The river wants to dig up graves and twirl
them down Main Street. The river wants to flush out
pantries and libraries. The river wants to lap her way
through schools and courtrooms. The river wants to
swallow the town the way it swallows her. The river
wants the last gulp. (p 15, Lemon Hound)

Monday, June 19, 2006

Ongoing notes: the ottawa small press book fair, spring 2006

Another season, another session of the ottawa small press book fair. Can you believe I've been running this thing now twice a year since 1994? A number of the usual suspects were there, including three generations of Wilsons, Monty Reid, Susan Newlove and Railroad Bill Hawkins, as well as Jan Allen from Kingston, who I got to not only finally meet, but get her first trade poetry collection from Buschek Books (review to come). A highly entertaining day (and then Edmonton pushed the game into game seven, even better…). And check out this piece I just posted on John Newlove. Amanda Earl also wrote a piece on the book fair, as well as an entry on the manuscript of essays ECW Press is publishing in fall 2007. And did you see the link to the interview with Ottawa comic illustrator etc. Tom Fowler at his most recent blog post?

There are some other things lately, as I discover blog entries by Corey Frost and this kid and Mel Upfold. And can anyone read this? I got a few very interesting (all positive) responses to my post on The League of Canadian Poets, but Joe Blades is the only one who made his public.

I have been all over this song lately. I have been all over.

Ottawa ON: The Dusty Owl Reading Series, run lovingly by married couple Steve Zytveld and Kathy MacDonald-Zytveld, may not be the best reading series in town, but it is easily the most fun (they recently hosted a spectacular reading by Canadian poet Suzanne Buffam, opened by local poet David O'Meara). Producing small chapbooks intermittently for a while now, as well as their small journal The Dusty Owl Quarterly, one of their more recent chapbooks is New York State poet DeAnne Lyn Smith's The Unrequited Giant & Other Freaks (2006). The idea of writing poems on the circus certainly isn't a new one; even Toronto writer (since returned to Winnipeg) A.J. Levin wrote about such in his poetry chapbook Freak Show (Ottawa ON: above/ground press, 2001), later included in his first trade collection Monk's Fruit (Vancouver BC: Nightwood Editions, 2004). The chapbook as a whole didn’t do much for me, but there are some interesting moments in it, here and there.

The Tattooed Lady

My body will follow its own design,
a decision until the end of ink.
There's no reason to look between the lines.

It's all right here: snake crawling up my spine,
tongue stuck tasting air, unable to blink.
My body follows its own damn design.

It does. There's nothing here that isn't mine.
See this heart over my heart? Don't you think
there's reason in the red between the lines?

Fire pulses from within my skin, a sign
of my ferocity, licking the brink
of my body, following my design.

I'm easy to interpret, just assign
meanings to symbols and the symbols shrink
my reasons down to ink between the lines.

Tattoos chronicle my body's decline
as years suck colors from me, one long drink.
My body knows death follows its design—
the reason I choose life between these lines.

The Dusty Owl folks have even been planning an evening around a "Shakespeare Shatner-off" on this coming Sunday, where participants have to (do I need to explain it?) do their best/worst William Shatner impression while performing the works of William Shakespeare. I've been practicing mine for some time now, in preparation.

Ottawa ON: I meant to pick up the new issue of INDUSTRIAL SABOTAGE #62 from jwcurry at the BookThug event some weeks ago, but only managed to on Saturday at the fair. A lovely little gestetnered product from his Room 302 Books for only $4, everything smells like mom's high school; included are a number of the usual suspects, including Sam Andreyev, Nelson Ball, Guy R. Beining, bill bissett, b.a. carver, Jon Cone, Judith Copithorne, MB Duggan, David Fujino, Krafty Karnal, Billy Little, Michael Mann, Jamie Reid, Hans Jewinski, Lynn McClory and bpNichol, with artworks by Richard Beland, R. Giii and Arthur Craven.









the breeze (Nelson Ball)

Published as Curvd h&z #458, 26apr2006 in an edition of 250 orso. Copies from #302-880 Somerset Street West, Ottawa Ontario K1R 6R7. As he says, subscriptions: ask. jwcurry also had a number of other interesting items, including some of his own collaborative works, some older bpNichol pieces, and the anthology GUESSED BOOK, which he produced a few years ago in the hospitality suite of the ottawa international writers festival; anyone moving through the room during the week was invited to produce something on a stencil for him to produce, working (often and usually) through the night. He was amazed that folk not only looked at the collection, but even bought both the copies he brought with him to the fair. Are people in Ottawa finally getting it?

Ottawa ON: Produced by John Newlove Poetry Award winner Melissa Upfold (who keeps vascillating between Ottawa and Sarnia; the Newlove Award means that Bywords will be producing a chapbook of Upfold's work hopefully in time for the fall edition of the ottawa international writers festival) is the small zine variations vol II. A strange little publication on the Bywords table, it includes text, smears of paint and other bits, in an edition of forty copies. It's hard to tell who produced what, but here's a bit from her editorial:
In this months issue of VARIATIONS, angst; this
utter hallucinogenic state from the carbons, is
investigated. This sickness has made people
diluted, fearful to express concerns and
anxieties-- so willingly complacent, numb. So
I say WHY with this issue. If you hurt, if you are
scared of the downfall of society, or the Death
Valley we live next to (in), maybe you should
"If you want to submit, help out in any way shape or form, send donations or just ask general questions, email:"

Ottawa ON: If you can ever find a copy (I rarely do), its worth finding out about In/Words, produced by the good folk as an in-house creative writing (etcetera) handout literary zine at Carleton University (filling a small part of the void left by those who couldn’t figure out how to run The Carleton Arts Review). They appear to produce a couple of issues a year, and even have launches for the things (apparently on the last Thursday of every month they hold spoken word events at the Avant-Garde Bar, 135 1/2 Besserer Street), with readers with very little experience with the world outside of literature and universities (open sets, people). The most recent issue, with a cover photo of the recently-late Montreal poet Irving Layton, is Volume 5, Number 3, with poetry and fiction by a whole pile of folks, including Jamie Bradley, Matthew Walthert, Phil Caron, Aaron Clark, Ben Ladouceur, Rhea Wilson and our very own Amanda Earl (who has been publishing more and more lately).

Learning the Slide

her fingers pluck moon glow
from catgut and steel

rosewood heat caressed
between thumb and forefinger

the neck of a bottle
cherry wine still flowing
slides along the frets

she sings of forgetting
of how James from Kahnawake
taught her slide guitar

calling her
from the bus depot
that new year's eve

she watched his pudgy finger
enter the glass bottle slide

as his practiced right hand
stroked out Muddy and Eric's

then gave her a try

that night
the last time
she'd stayed up all night
on new years eve (Amanda Earl)

Saltspring Island BC: Not Ottawa-bookfair related, but still; one small item I got at the recent League of Canadian Poets AGM in Ottawa was a little poem by poet and beloved League matron Cathy Ford, pasted inside a card with an envelope that read #38 of 52 copies, and published for the feminist caucus, 24th meeting at the 40th anniversary of the league of canadian poets, June 9-11, 2006, Ottawa.


secrets of the dead series, everybody knows
crematoria fires bloom blossom like blown poppies
the true meaning of fictions

intellectual property knife sharpened controls
life perpetuating medicare drugs dispensed beyond affordability
developed for treating AIDS world wide, already seventy million

this earth, this earth, marrying all hope against reason
some dreams break open in sleep, some end in nightmare vision
the paper of record, trial subscription

undertaking all the days life living edge is
indistinguishable from dying, painfree at last the soul lifts silent
icily skate the women and children, and men, orphaned, abandoned

into the nearest next holocaust jaws of death
steel trap spectre mouth gaped wide open
chewing off its own paws, is this how the living go on

desperately printing in a childish hand
all the incantational words for snow
will not save us

my breaking heart, love
my broken english
my english
breaking, braking

"who is going to look
after these children"

An actively published poet in the 1970s and 1980s, Cathy Ford hasn’t had a trade book or even a chapbook out in some time. Will there be something soon, I wonder?

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Nathalie Stephens' JE NATHANAËL

A new publication by Canadian poet Nathalie Stephens should be more of an event than it currently is. The author of collections of poetry in both English and French, the new edition of her JE NATHANAËL (Toronto ON: BookThug, 2006) is her own translation into English from her original French text, published by Montreal's l'Hexagone in 2003. Currently living and teaching in Chicago, Stephens has lived in a number of Canadian cities over the past few years, including Toronto, Guelph and Montreal, and has published a number of books and chapbooks including You But For The Body Fell Against (New York NY: Belladonna, 2005), The Small Body With It Rises From Under (Calgary AB: NO Press, 2005), L'Ingure (Montreal QC: l'Hexagone, 2004), Held (abrégé) (Ottawa ON: above/ground press, 2004), Paper City (Toronto ON: Coach House Books, 2003), Species: Ex(hib)it (Toronto ON: BookThug, 2003), Je Nathanaël (Montreal QC: l"Hexagone, 2003), Grammaire des sens (Calgary AB: housepress, 2002), What Exile This (as an issue of STANZAS, Ottawa ON: above/ground press, 2002), L'embrasure (Laval QC: Éditions TROIS, 2002), There Is No Object Between Us (Calgary AB: housepress, 2001), All Boy (Calgary AB: housepress, 2001; Toronto ON, BookThug, 2004), Somewhere Running (Vancouver BC: Arsenal Pulp Press, 2000), Underground (Laval QC: Éditions TROIS, 1999), Colette m'entends-tu? (Laval QC: Éditions TROIS, 1997), This Imagined Permanence (Toronto ON: Gutter Press, 1996) and hivernale (Toronto ON: Éditions du GREF, 1995). In addition to this, her collection Touch to Affliction, is forthcoming in 2006 with Coach House Books. Simply for the sheer amount of work that she has published, it seems strange that there wouldn't be more attention paid to what she is doing.

As American poet Cole Swensen recently wrote on the writing of Nathalie Stephens for a recent issue of the on-line journal

"Only the writer who astonishes language, who dares to tamper with it, is worthy of the epithet," writes Nathalie Stephens, and she lives up to the challenge she sets—hers is a use of language that alters the language as she uses it. And in her case, this means two languages, as she writes in both English and French, often using one to infiltrate the other, to crack the other open. Often we sense the two languages passing each other, and as they do, a charge arcs from one to the other, making each stand out in sharp relief.

Not surprising for someone with two native languages, she's attentive to betweens and uses them productively. In her most recent book, the quasi-narrative, Paper City, one of the two main characters is b—betwixt. In conjunction with his other, n—néant—they negotiate worlds not unlike our own. "I open my mouth and drawn, (n) had been known to say. She was neither of one rive nor of the other, and her appartenance, while flagrantly resisted, was hotly debated, contested and denied," she writes. Thus positioned in a middle space, suspended in the river of language, Stephens is in an excellent spot to unleash her philosophic bent, which sifts through relationships—of language to illusion, of the body to language. Working with these staples of experience, she develops an open-ended philosophy of language, one that refuses to delineate or in any way to describe, but that instead, brings it alive and puts it into motion.

Themes of desire, gender, and their social ramifications play out in her often dense, turbulent prose passages and give them a momentum that sends us hurtling through their lushness. There's a liberating agenda right behind that lushness, a determination to give agency to the unexpected—to distance, to isolated letters, to marks of punctuation. It amounts to an exacting generosity that creates a marvelous contrast with the sparse layout of some of her texts, such as Touch to Affliction, which is presented in part here. One page ends with the isolated line "And you have yet to speak." This is an open invitation, but it's also an obligation, and positions the reader right where poetry is always trying to get us, which is to say, waiting for the next word.

Stephens has always been the kind of writer able to cross boundaries as though they didn’t even exist; what other writers spend their entire careers attempting, seems to come as easily and as fluid to her as water. As she wrote of her own work in her poetics statement in the anthology side/lines: a new Canadian poetics (Toronto ON: Insomniac Press, 2002):

Read or write text across genre. Fuck with the potency of pre-configuring form. Rail. Or better yet, say nothing, mouth wide, temples beating, fist wedged between teeth. Write it all down. Cross it all out. (What's your blood type?)

There is confusion in it. The persistent refusal of delineation. Want something hard to bite into. Something that will break. Take a new form. Spill.

What Faust asked for I got. Look inside. See nothing. Look again. I have scripted folly with a fine chisel on my leg bone. Strips of skin piled neatly on the table. You wanted this. (p 223)

Working her prose almost as an extension of Nicole Brossard's expansive texts [see my recent Brossard review here], Stephens' JE NATHANAËL moves as a single thought, a single idea opening up throughout a series of small sections. Divided into two openings and five sections ("books"), here is the opening that comes after the first opening, the second:

My dear Nathanaël I will not write. Every day I take your name
into my mouth. I take it and give it away. I would like to inhabit
it as you do. Know what it is to belong to no one. Not to exist. Or
rather to exist infinitely. I tire of thinking the body differently of
searching out the right word for what belongs neither to language
nor to silence. You are right not to answer. To go quietly along. As
for me I am running and still nothing. I would like to speak to you
of the disjointedness between word and speech. Between touch and
breath. Skin and flesh. I am a bit like you I don't exist either. If I
say: I am I am lying a little bit. Languages hold this way of living
against me. I distrust books because of the noise they make. You know
how to cultivate silence. I am learning from you. I am learning to be
quiet. I am learning to love beside love or the definitions imposed on
it. The body leaves itself that's one good thing. At any rate mine does.
Nathanaël I did not find you in any book. In any poem. I found
you in me. I invited you to dance. We moved similarly. Although
distinctly. I sit every day in my garden. Some days I lie in the grass
or in the snow depending on the weather. Sometimes it rains. Breath
precedes the body Nathanaël. I am breathing differently.
(p 11)

I see the boy again. It has been a long time. It's noon. The sun
stretches into a great gash across the sky. Light spills onto his
face. The boy is no longer beautiful. He is a boy among so many
ushers in the street in the middle of the day. What was I looking
for ? What did I find in its place?

Solitudes. I wait for dusk. The western sky split in two. Burst.

Last night I dreamt of a body that was no longer a body. Words
bore it no resemblance whatsoever. (pp 75-7)

Through her notion of doubling, from the body to gender, Stephens writes an unblinking eye, and works her way through the body whatever it might be, and whose. It would be impossible to not be taken in.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Running the Goat Press, St. John's, Newfoundland

Speaking of Newfoundland, I recently got a whole pile of things from Marnie Parson's Running the Goat, off there nestled on the Rock, including PEG BEARSKIN, A Traditional Newfoundland Tale, as told to by Mrs. Elizabeth Brewer, adapted by Philip Dinn and Andy Jones (the one from Codco), and illustrations by Elly Cohen (2003), The Design of Wings, poems by Genevieve Lehr (2004), Three Servings, In which the reader is offered generous portions of Boiled Dinner, by Mary-Lynn Bernard, Michael Crummey and Andy Jones, with original linocuts by Tara Bryan (no date), and Stan Dragland's 12 Bars (2002), which won the bpNichol chapbook award that year, and later appeared in his collection of essays, Apocrypha: Further Journeys (Edmonton AB: NeWest Press, 2003).

It seems even more than obvious to mention that the storytelling tradition in Newfoundland is particularly strong, and echo elements of Celtic heritage including kitchen music, shared story and song found in parts of Ireland and Scotland (we are far too Presbyterian in Glengarry, unfortunately, to have such a thing…). The poems in Genevieve Lehr's The Design of Wings are large, floating and expansive narratives that fill up the page. Here is the first section of the two part poem "Song for the Beloved," that begins:

The father he loves collapses the empty wheelchair, folds down the
house. Gone for another while.

These times together, the father thinks, have softened the light the
sun lets in from the sea. The chair his son wheels is a Russian short
story where a man is lost hunting but doesn't perish. The father
arranges his own astrology, is quieter now, speaks more languages
than he ever remembers learning. He and his son tell old stories and
nudge the air, comrades.

There was a woman who went mad because she could not wash
her dead husband's hair, pressed her cheek upon a pane of glass
to comfort the sorrowing house. If she had only waited, the father
begins to explain. Strums a note. Sings into the sky, the guitar's
blue surface where an echo journeys into the wilderness to summon
itself home.

The folded chair is another language the father teaches his son,
sings of its components: the silver wheel with its apocalyptic spin,
the hands joined to a constellation of the hunter, legs on footrests
that pivot and swing away.

Is it possible to endure the wheel's song, the mud-filled tracks left
by a caravan of gypsies whose singing had taken his son away?
The song wears a red shirt, speaks of rivers that lose their way,
of children who love too much, and an island in the Atlantic
where a house is shaking in the dream of another wind. (np)

Utterly magnificent and graceful in design and production, these books feel like subtle and important objects (many of their publications are hand-sewn), and provide an essential outlet in an area rich with talent, but often lacking in publishers (Killick is the only other literary publisher I can think of out there; am I missing out on what else exists?).

If you haven’t paid much attention to the work of Stan Dragland yet, then you have been missing out, with various pieces out over the past few years, ever since he retired from teaching at the University of Western Ontario in London, and moved to Newfoundland. His collection of pieces, 12 Bars is exactly what it claims to be, written about and from various bars around where he now lives, writing a kind of living that includes both essay and literary art. To read his critical pieces is to want everyone to write this way.

The Ship Inn

You never miss the water
Til your well run dry

You had your night music. Been and gone. The honey sweetened
your tongues and there was nobody watching, least of all yourselves.
Everything sweet and slick in the honey moon. You will never, never
slide like that again. You want to seal it all up in amber, all you lost
the second you lay down out there. Habit already creeping on you
when you rose.

But won't the honey moon slide around next month?

Who told you that? Moon doesn't move. You turn around her.
Go back outdoors. Don't say "velvet meniscus," don't give me
"engorged with its population of the night." Just drop your tone
way down and go back out. There's something bright and slick
across the curve of that dark pool. Go back and lay your cheek
down there. Lay yourself down and take a look.

It's not the same, is it? It's all changed. What did you expect?

For more of Dragland, you can get this, his collection of essays as part of NeWest Press' Writer as Critic series (that includes this series of pieces), Apocrypha: Further Journeys (2003), or his more recent collection of short prose pieces, Stormy Weather / Foursomes (Toronto ON: Pedlar Press, 2005) [see my review of such here]. Rumours have him coming to Ottawa to read at the TREE Reading Series sometime this fall, as part of a group effort of Newfoundland writers and writing. Be sure to check out updates here.

To find out more about Running the Goat, you can either check their website, or write c/o 8 Mullock Street, St. John's, Newfoundland A1C 2R5.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

The League of Canadian Poets: Ottawa agm

Recently, The League of Canadian Poets had their annual general meeting in Ottawa, with readings, book launches, panel discussions, meetings and a wonderfully entertaining lecture by Ottawa-born Margaret Atwood (the annual lectures, named after the late Manitoba poet and editor Anne Szumigalski, have resulted in previous pieces by Anne Carson and George Elliott Clarke, all of which subsequently appear in an issue of Prairie Fire).

It was recently pointed out to me that I've been attending these meetings (with the exception of two, I think -- Saskatoon and Toronto) for a decade now, after Joe Blades invited me along to crash the Ottawa AGM in 1996, before I was a member. A year later, I crashed another Ottawa AGM, but this time after I had been invited to join the organization, been turned down, and then invited to participate by the late Ottawa poet Diana Brebner in a panel discussion (moderated by Brebner and John Barton, the panelists included myself, Stephanie Bolster and Helen Humphreys, and resulted in the small publication sexual disorientations: sexual identity and gender expression in the writing life, edited by Patience Wheatley, and produced by the Living Archive of the Feminist Caucus, The League of Canadian Poets in May 1998). The concern at the time, I recall, was that an extremely nervous staff was fully expecting me to be "disruptive" at the meetings because I had recently been rejected for membership. But that feels like another story.

One thing I've noticed over the years: what happened to turn the AGM from a series of conversations between working poets across Canada into a version of an extended book launch? When the organization was founded some forty years ago in a backyard conversation that included Raymond Souster, A.J.M. Smith and a handful of other poets across the country, I don’t think it was specifically what they had in mind (what could they have been thinking?). Too many of the current membership of the League are only appearing with new book in hand, and then are rarely seen until the next one comes along. Where do they go, and how do they expect any sort of continued dialogue with such a spotty attendance record? Is conversation even a desired goal? I mean, I can understand money, time, work, living and whatever else getting in the way of regular attendance; I can understand a lack of desire. I also see the amount of members attending regularly to be getting smaller, even in the time I've been paying attention: Cathy Ford, Carolyn Marie Souaid, Eric Folsom, Anne Burke, Dina Cox, Alan Briesmaster and a few others. I missed the "glory days" when all members received funding from the Canada Council to help them with travel to and from the AGM as it moved annually across Canada (I was told a few years ago, when I was on national council as Ontario rep, that Ottawa has consistently been the cheapest AGMs for the League, which would explain why there have been four of them here since 1996…).

I recently read an article on Toronto poet/editor/publisher Jay MillAr's BookThug and Apollinaire's Bookshop where he said that he joined The League of Canadian Poets to shake them up from the inside. It made me wonder: what exactly is he doing to do that (not to put too much pressure on Jay…)? I only ask because I remember saying exactly the same thing myself nearly ten years ago with a group of others (becoming Ontario rep was something that I tried to do to increase the shaking, as Montreal poet Carmine Starnino, another young buck beside me, became Quebec rep…), and I was the only one of that group to even attended this years' Ottawa annual (beside the fact that MillAr didn’t attend this year either). How exactly did we ever shake anything up? How is Jay working toward it? Is he focusing perhaps more on the fringe than the core? Is there a part of his activity that I'm missing?

At the same time, MillAr, for example, is actually doing a lot when it comes to shaking things up. But how does his shaking relate at all to the League?

I have also wondered why so much of the material read at the League AGMs, usually at the marathon book launches (anyone who has a new book to launch at the meetings gets to read for three minutes each, and can often go on for an eternity) all seem to be working variations on the straightforward lyric narrative line. Why is that? How is an organization that can boast such members as Rachel Zolf, Stuart Ross, Erin Mouré, Jay MillAr and bill bissett not manage to hold events that make it more appealing for those writers (and others like them; I use them only as examples) to participate? This year at least had a couple of highlights, such as Catherine Owen and Suzanne Buffam, who won the Gerald Lampart Memorial Award for best first collection of poetry (although she isn't actually a current member of the League).

I am tired of celebrating the small moment and the narrative line. Why can't it be about sound as much as subject? Why do I have to be moved? Why can't I simply be taken?

Why do the spoken word members not appear to launch their CDs? Why don’t such community-minded and active younger poets across Canada such as derek beaulieu or Jon Paul Fiorentino feel the need to belong to such an organization (is the joining itself they respond to? the lack of their heroes or significant peers in attendance? both worthy reasons, to be sure…). The larger question becomes one of the League itself; what is it about the organization that these people don't feel the need to make attending such things a priority? And why is it so many poets don’t return once their book has been launched the last time? ( I haven’t launched a book at a League of Canadian Poets AGM, for whatever reason, for at least five years…) I saw some at this years' event I haven’t seen in years, since the last time they launched. Why not simply appear to engage in the conversation? What is it about the conversation that is lacking?

I have wondered for some time the purpose of such an organization as The League of Canadian Poets, and can remember asking around ten years ago what the whole deal was, why I should care about it, what they were on about, getting versions of stories out of Robert Hogg, Gary Geddes, George Bowering and (former president) Henry Beissel. I know about the exodus that occurred in the early 1970s; I know of the smaller exodus that occurred at the founding of the feminist caucus; I know of the meeting that happened the same weekend as Pat Lowther was brutally murdered by her husband. The purposes of such an organization aren’t necessarily what they can do as a unit, but what they can do as a series of individual conversations/interactions between members. Writers being promoted and books getting written and people finding out about other people are completely separate concerns that can and often do overlap, but more often than not simply don't.

I participate for the individual conversations; I participate for what it is I can learn and continue to learn from a series of accidental encounters. Do you know of the idea of not reading only what you agree with?

For other mentions and reports of League activity, check out a brief AGM blog reports by League members Rhona McAdam, and apologies from member Joe Blades.