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.

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