Thursday, August 31, 2006

rob & Brockwell in England, day-ish one...

a lot going on; what else to say? im currently in London, England with Stephen Brockwell, arriving in the UK & crashing at the hotel, almost immediately. im making notes for a novel i might never start; Stephen is being Stephen. shall i tell you abt the fact that during the plane ride, i actually finished watching the dancing movie with Antonio Banderas (which one?), or that i had everything they offered (champage: 1, gin & tonic: 3, australian red wine: 1, canadian red wine: 1, port: 1; although i remembered pretty quickly that i dont like port....). & plastic knives but metal forks?

spent the evening going around to too many pubs with Canadian ex-pat Ian Jempson, living in London the past few years. too many pubs & so little time. spent part of an evening at The George Pub & Inn in Southwark, "the last galleried pub in London," which was built in 1677, but had part of it occupied a century earlier, which means both Dickens & Shakespeare were hanging around here.

afterwards, met a woman who does driving tours through London, & a film currently in the works abt her uncle, "legless Arthur." a book abt him, apparently, called Falling Blossom, by Peter Pagmamenta & Lemozo Williams [sic]?

also wandered around a whole pile of other places you would have heard of, but Ian crashing in the hotel where we are (so he doesnt have to do 1 1/2 hrs to his place) & im tired as hell; a tomorrow problem. i wont tell you abt Eve in the bar downstairs; very small & very cute. ah me.

already written a couple of postcards that say:
"Took a photograph of Hogwarts & met Doctor Who, but there is no angel Islington...."

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Ongoing notes: late August, 2006

Everyone around is having babies, it seems. Congrats to blogger John W. MacDonald & his lovely wife Julie for the arrival of Matthew Alexander MacDonald on July 31st, Stephanie Bolster & Patrick Leroux (a playwright Clare Latremouille & I met in high school...) for the arrival of Madeleine Florence Leroux on August 8th, & Pubwells regular Chuck Double & partner Jill for the arrival of their little girl Leila just last week. & then there's QWERTY co-founder Paul Dechene (we no longer talk about the novel he's writing, apparently) & his wife Karen (math-whiz), who have moved away from Ottawa & into Waterloo for her math post-doc, who have a blog for pictures of their own new little baby. Will I see you in England or Wales in a few days? & will I see you at the ottawa international writers festival in a few weeks? Or at the two events they're also hosting on October 30th (where I launch aubade with George Bowering & tba; did you see the images posted recently by cover artist David Cation? I pre-launch the book at an art opening of his in Ottawa on October 20th....) & October 26th (where we officially launch the first three titles of Chaudiere Books -- Monty Reid, meghan jackson & Clare Latremouille)?

More than a few comments have been made lately about me & my new poetry collection, including here & here by Heather Cardin (who took my last poetry workshop; did you see Pearl Pirie's comments on my comments? or the photos she took at Heather's house?). Did you see these comments by Kathryn Hunt on my lovely singing voice? Did you see me on Jessica Smith's website? Did you see this other photo from the anniversary party by John W. MacDonald? & what's this all about? & why is Mr. Moore so strange? Or that Laurie Fuhr doesn't think I'm old anymore? Did you see I'm running another poetry workshop, as soon as I get back from the UK? Apparently while I'm there, I go back in time for some reason ("it's a buddy picture, with a talking pie…" "Ron Howard, you've done it again…") & end up at this guy's party. What?

Ottawa ON: At the most recent Art in the Park in Strathcona Park (Sandy Hill), I picked up a copy of two small chapbooks by Ottawa writer and musician Ian Roy, the fiction chapbook She Really, Really Does (2006), and the small poetry chapbook Some Poems About Birds (2006), both of which Roy recently self-produced for a reading he was doing at a music festival on the east coast. The author of a writing and photography collaboration, The Longest Winter, with musician and photographer Julie Doiron (Fredericton NB: Broken Jaw Press, 1999), and the fiction collection People Leaving (Ottawa ON: Buschek Books, 2001), the poems in the small chapbook are also included in his forthcoming poetry collection A Run of Bad Luck (Buschek Books, spring 2007). Because he produced them in such a small run for a particular reading, you can't actually get a copy (they're not for sale, really; unless you know how to find him yourself and just beg). You might just have to wait for his poetry collection in the spring, or his next book of fiction.

Birds Hitting Glass

There were nights we would lay awake,
silently watching rain or stars through the window--
or birds hitting glass.
The mornings following those nights
involved silent burials next to the garden,
a shared but separate grief.
Those nights were replaced by darker, longer nights.
You, stumbling down the dark path to our door,
listening carefully for my breath before entering.
And me, pretending to sleep, until sleep found you.
I would open my eyes then, try to make out the shape
of my shoes in the dark, the dim halo of light around the door,
the curve of the handle, the dark path leading away.
We carried on like this until we both got too tired;
and then it was just me, and the birds,
and the closed window.

Vancouver BC: Former/current greenboathouse books editor (it's hard to tell) Aaron Peck (now moved to New York City for schooling) finally has that promised chapbook out with our friends at Nomados, the short fiction Crepuscule on Mission Street (2006). The author of previous poetry chapbooks with greenboathouse books and above/ground press (as an issue of STANZAS), his Crepuscule on Mission Street is a fiction built out of a series of alluring fictions, written in parts as a casual conversation, smooth essay and narrative blend of story over story. I've known for a while that Peck has been working on a longer prose work, and if this is any indication, I hope very much that this is it, considering just how good it is.

What makes the work so successful is not only the smooth, ongoing flow of the prose, but the twists and turns, even turning in back on itself, seeing a thread well after you might have forgotten, instead pulling you back a reminder, and the story together through the remaining lines. The fiction/non-fiction elements even remind me somewhat of Andrew Steinmetz's brilliant memoir Wardlife: The Apprenticeship of a Young Writer as a Hospital Clerk (Montreal QC: Vehicule Press, 2000). I've always liked the poetry of Aaron Peck, what little I've seen, so am now extremely excited and looking forward to whatever the shape of this work of fiction becomes, once the full-length version appears.
"The Mark," writes David Maurer, "is thrown into an unreal world which very closely resembles real life; like the spectator regarding the life groups in a museum of natural history, he cannot tell where the real scene merges into the background." The escape of Frank Morris and John and Clarence Anglin from Alcatraz in 1962 was aided by an ingenious set of masks. The men placed replicas of their heads attached to dummies in their bunks. The view from the mess hall was agonizingly beautiful. Authorities thought all three men were asleep as the escapees snaked their way through the piping of Alcatraz. No one knows if they survived the swim. At closer inspection the masks were atrociously constructed, hideous, almost as if they were props in a 1970s Italian horror film. Their success depended on the guards not entering the cells in the same way a film's success depends on the fear and anxiety, the credulity, of the viewers. I looked out over the cliffs of Alcatraz from where I was perched like a haughty seagull. The waters of San Francisco Bay were rough, but the sky was an austere blue; there wasn't a cloud in the sky. For a moment I thought I'd lost my friends, and I could almost forget the clamour of the tourists. Kevin was talking to one of the attendants to see if they'd momentarily lock him in solitary confinement. Tariq wandered back toward the old playing field, and Jonathan walked toward me. It was almost as if he had started into one of his monologues before he reached me. I recently watched a PBS show on art forgeries, he said. A collecting couple purchased a painting that resembled a Van Gogh. He lit a cigarette. (pp 17-8)
Ottawa ON: Lately, Ottawa poet Max Middle has been making little leaflet handouts, starting out with visual pieces of his own, and now a derek beaulieu piece, "flatland #21," as his "Puddle leaflet #3," after his own #1 "two one line poems" and #2 "Moon Potatoes."

According to a recent email, he is currently looking for "combinations of verse & visual poetry (yes… in whatever form such combinations may occur). Submissions of work resembling simply either 'linear' or visual poetry are also welcome! Printing format: one sheet of 8.5 x 11" paper, one or both sides, black & white."

He says to email him in the body of message or as .jpg, .doc, .wpd to, or mail Griddle Grin, 377, 532 Montreal Road, Ottawa Ontario K1K 4R4. for copies of the three leaflets published to date, send an SASE (8.5x11 sized envelope with $1.05 Canadian postage; abroad send $3 in Canadian funds payable to Max Middle).

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Jessica Smith's Organic Furniture Cellar: Works on Paper 2002 - 2004

Some of us have been waiting quite a while for a first trade collection from American poet and blogger Jessica Smith, after small publications here and there and here for some time, including chapbooks with Calgary's No Press and Ottawa's above/ground press, and both print and online publications around North America and beyond. Finally, her very attractive Organic Furniture Cellar: Works on Paper 2002 - 2004 (Charlottesville VA: Outside Voices, 2006) has appeared; Smith is one of the few working poets today who seems to understand the fundamentals of physical landscape, of the shapes and spaces possible on the page. The late Toronto poet bpNichol, for example, was heavily involved in the printing of his own books through the Coach House Press/Printing, and incorporated what he learned about bookmaking into the process of his texts, or the spaces that, it seemed, only Saskatoon poet Sylvia Legris, through her three trade poetry collections, really knew how to work properly.

Smith's first trade collection sprawls across the feeling and physicality of the white page, and is not a poetry of straight lines or even lines at all but of a deliberate splatter and splash, of space and drift, expanding what a poem can actually do in what is otherwise made into a very confined space. Prefaced by the brilliant essay "The Plastics of Poetry (A Poetics)" (previously appeared as a chapbook with No Press), Smith moves through the body of work of poets Charles Bernstein, bpNichol, Steve McCaffery, the combined works of Japanese architect Arakawa and poet Madeline Gins and various others to work through her own personal poetics for this collection, working through the plastic aspect of the poetry on the page. As she writes in her preface:
To understand what a "virtual" reading space is we must further analyze my proposed analogy between the plastic arts and plastic poetry. Avant-garde works of plastic art call attention to the way we use space every day. We see and remember our physical surroundings in order to recall them for future occupation. Arakawa's and Gins' projects remind us of this diurnal activity by disrupting it. Plastic poetry works in a similar, albeit more complex, way, by reinforcing elementary conditions of reading. When we read any text, the interplay of words, letters, fonts, ink, and paper already requires work: real physical and mental effort to make meaning. Furthermore, this process of making meaning is already virtual, in the sense that meaning is never actual but requires memory and expectation in order to be formed in the first place. The gears of memory and expectation are already at work in syntax and thus operate quietly beneath our understanding of "meaning." For example, we read the newspaper without thinking about the process of gathering sense from printed language. In contrast, the plastic poetry of Organic Furniture Cellar calls attention to this process in two ways. First, since plastic poetry usually has a fragmentary visual component, it calls attention to the physicality of reading. This forces the reader to recognize that there is more than one level at work in reading. Reading is not an immediate or transparent process, but a physical effort. Second, plastic poetry interferes with syntactical continuity by disrupting what the reader expects to find, or by suspending her memory of a word by breaking the word into unrecognizable fragments. By thus disrupting the reading process, plastic poetry calls attention to the way a reader uses the virtual space of memory to syntactically organize fragments of language into meaning. Like experimental architecture, the poetry I designate as "plastic" calls attention to the syntactical organization of space and time (in terms of the physicality of the page and the virtuality of the reader's memory) that already underlies every moment of action and thought.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Enter to win the Diana Brebner Prize for Poetry!

Arc: Canada's National Poetry Magazine invites emerging Ottawa writers to be recognized for their talent through a special award for poets who have not yet been published in book form. The prize is named in honour of the late Diana Brebner, an award-winning, Ottawa-based poet who was devoted to fostering literary talent among new local writers. Entry fee is $14 for up to two poems and includes a one-year subscription to Arc. Length of each poem must not exceed 30 lines (including spaces). All cheques or money orders should be made out to the Arc Poetry Society.

See our website for full details:

Judge: rob mclennan
Deadline: received by September 30, 2006
Prize: $500

Thursday, August 24, 2006

new poetry workshops at Collected Works Bookstore, Ottawa

If anyone is interested, I've just booked a series of dates for my seasonal poetry workshops at Collected Works Bookstore, Wellington & Holland, Ottawa,

happening mostly Monday nights but some Wednesdays; September 18, 25, October 11, 16, 23 & December 4, 11 & 18th (around both bookstore & my wacky schedules)

$200 for 8 sessions. 7pm to 9pm. for information, contact rob mclennan at or 613 239 0337; an eight week poetry workshop, the course will focus on workshopping writing of the participants, as well as reading various works by contemporary writers, both Canadian & American. the end-goal of the course will be a collective chapbook publication. participants should be prepared to have a handful of work completed before the beginning of the first class, to be workshopped.

Here's a nice note Amanda Earl wrote about the previous workshop...

Monday, August 21, 2006

some notes on Canadian poetry

This is a list I started a year or so ago, for reasons I've managed to completely lose, and have returned to again only recently (if only to get this out of my computer). As a reader and writer, the whole idea of “best of” seems so very subjective, so I thought I’d list those books that, for whatever reason, I return to, again and again. Those books that feed both my reading and my own writing. There are books you look at for a few days, or maybe a few weeks, but these are part of an ongoing list in my head of books that continue to be taken down from the shelf, sit on my desk for as long as a few months at a time.

It’s probably hard to judge a work of literature otherwise. It’s one thing to know something is good, even great, but how many of the same collections come down from the shelf, over and over? How many of them get trapped in the skull like a fly in liniment? Call this an ongoing list (in no particular order) of works that continue to dwell in my head, for whatever reason. That continue to teach (but in no particular order).

In a month’s time, would the list be different?

1) Lake Nora Arms, Michael Redhill
1993, Coach House Press: Toronto ON
(reissued in 2001 by House of Anansi Press: Toronto ON)

The third of his five poetry collections, in Lake Nora Arms, Toronto poet Michael Redhill burns through the mythology of an imaginary place. “You are here,” he writes, over and over, first as a map of the place, and then, as a blank space. When I first read this at the age of twenty-three, I was struck by the poem “Young Loves,” of those first moments of being in love, in something, in what, the ending of which that writes:

When will unhappiness strike?
Who will be the first
to awaken in bed and feel alone?
Soon they will have to love each other
in the impermanence of what awaits them
and that will be difficult, that time
which life pays you for in advance.

There’s something about the deliberate naiveté of the work, a small perfect collection. There are echoes of the same kind of myth-making in his more recent Light Crossing (2001, House of Anansi Press: Toronto ON), a far more mature work, but there is just something about Lake Nora Arms, Lake Nora Arms.

2) The Night the Dog Smiled, John Newlove
1986, ECW Press: Toronto ON

His last trade collection of new poems, The Night the Dog Smiled came out the same year John and his wife Susan moved from Nelson, B.C. to Ottawa, for him to work as an editor at Official Languages. Newlove (who lived a block away from me) was a mentor for innumerable other writers, simply from the work he gave us. In The Night the Dog Smiled, there seems a shift from his previous writing, as the consummate editor began to take over sometime in the mid-1970s, after the publication of Lies (1972, McClelland & Stewart: Toronto ON), taking out more words than he was putting in. There are so few examples of "perfect poems," but Newlove managed to get as close as anyone could get, from his "White Philharmonic Novels" to "The Weather" to "Concerning Stars, Flowers, Love, Etc." and so many others that exist within this small collection, quoted endlessly by so many other writers and readers over the years. Currently working to put together a larger selected poems for 2007, we had hoped there might have been enough for a new collection hidden in the house, but so far, there's been nothing. Still, we hold out for hope (however useless).


You never say anything in your letters. You say,
I drove all night long through the snow
in someone else's car
and the heater wouldn't work and I nearly froze.
But I know that. I live in this country too.
I know how beautiful it is at night
with the white snow banked in the moonlight.

Around black trees and tangled bushes,
how lonely and lovely that driving is,
how deadly. You become the country.
You are by yourself in that channel of snow
and pines and pines,
whether the pines and snow flow backwards smoothly,
whether you drive or you stop or you walk or you sit.

This land waits. It watches. How beautifully desolate
our country is, out of the snug cities,
and how it fits a human. You say you drove.
It doesn't matter to me.
All I can see is the silent cold car gliding,
walled in, your face smooth, your mind empty,
cold foot on the pedal, cold hands on the wheel.

related notes: John Newlove's Ottawa Poems;

3) The Collected Poems of John Thompson, John Thompson
edited by Peter Sanger
1995, Goose Lane Editions: Fredericton NB

Like Malcolm Lowry, John Thompson was another American lost on the wrong side of the border, his being the east coast, who eventually drank himself to death. When his second poetry collection, Stilt Jack, appeared posthumously in 1976 from Anansi, a group of thirty-eight ghazals, it suddenly made everyone want to write them. Considered to be the one who brought the ghazal into Canadian literature, Thompson’s were probably the best, influencing the work of Patrick Lane, D.G. Jones, Douglas Barbour, Andy Weaver, Catherine Owen, Phyllis Webb, Lorna Crozier, Michael Ondaatje, Eric Folsom and dozens of others.

Collecting not only his two trade collections, On the Edge of the Chopping There Are No Secrets (1973, House of Anansi Press: Toronto ON) and Stilt Jack, the second half includes a pile of other works, including dozens of uncollected poems, and his translations of René Char and others, more than doubling the amount of his work previously published in book form. Just listen to the flow and movement of this, the opening of the poem Stilt Jack:


Now you have burned your books: you’ll go
with nothing but your blind, stupefied heart.

On the hook, big trout lie like stone:
terror, and they fiercely whip their heads, unmoved.

Kitchens, women and fire: can you
do without these, your blood in your mouth?

Rough wool, oil-tanned leather, prime northern goose down,
a hard, hard eye.

Think of your house: as you speak, it falls,
fond, foolish man. And your wife.
They call it the thing of things, essence
of essences: great northern snowy owl; whiteness.

4) Delayed Mercy and other poems, George Bowering
1986, Coach House Press: Toronto ON

Probably my favorite of Bowering’s innumerable collections, in his Delayed Mercy and other poems, it’s the rhythms that get me, the movements that go from spark to spark, in “late night poems” about squirrels, the Pope, the movement in his backyard, and all that other wonderful everything and nothing. The poems themselves read quick, as though each piece was composed in five minutes bursts, at the end of an evening doing some other kinds of work at his desk. The quickness defines the pieces, moving in further leaps than some of his other writings. This, along with his Kerrisdale Elegies, is a collection that should certainly be reprinted by someone, as they originally were. These are books that need to be remembered.

The Pope’s Pennies

This long disease, my life,
lets me some days stand
& even walk where my eyes
have shown me a path.

A path? Silly talk, the world
‘s paths crossed one another
into oblivion years ago, a path
thru a riot of footprints?

As likely as surcease, some days
I can only manage to breathe,
one nostril clear, thin air
escaped from a hundred other bodies.

A poem, walked in, breathed out,
as stupid a task as any, as hopeless
as a medical report on an aged
quintuplet, a poem should be abandoned,


related notes: George Bowering's Baseball Love; George Bowering's Left Hook; A life built up in poems: an intersection with some of George Bowering's lines; the Jacket section on Bowering I edited;

5) traffick, Rob Budde
1999, Turnstone Press: Winnipeg MB

As much as I enjoyed Budde’s previous work, this is the collection that really made me look at him as a serious contender. A collection of long poems / sequences fit under the umbrella title “traffick,” Budde’s long prairie play is both serious and irreverent, following traditions long established by bpNichol, Dennis Cooley, Robert Kroetsch and George Bowering. He's published a few since this one, and always has another collection perpetually forthcoming, even as the last is barely out of the box; what else is there even to say?

This is about the failure of saying. The failure of language taken
one more step. About the man writing who must annihilate
himself, cut out his tongue, crush the bones of his hands,
gouge out the empire in his eyes. What is left is breath,
rhythmic, self-contained. No, what is left is the sensation of
breathing. Knowing that alone . . .

. . . I will be breath.

then the world will open up to earth
(when the earth underneath our world
becomes unconcealed).
objects will rise into things, and wordless
they will gather outside my house,
all those things without purchase,
all those things without names

While anxiously eyeing myself for signs that I am not who
I say I am.

the earth escapes us, us
concealed beneath the techniques of the world

The cab did not come. We stood, the two of us, unsure of
what to do. Our knowledge of each other was sketchy. The
sky was growing dark. The conference was on poetics of
resistance. The evening was a poetics of resistance. We
crossed the street again and again. Language crossed our
hearts again and again. Praying, languageless, for the divine.

related notes: rob budde’s A Sleep of Faith;

6) Change Room, Mark Cochrane
2000, Talonbooks: Vancouver BC

When I first read this, the second collection by Vancouver poet Mark Cochrane, I was filled with that mix of awe and envy; his is the kind of writing that threw (for a time) everything of mine into question. Why can’t I be this good? Why aren’t I doing what Mark is doing?

There are usually rumours of a new collection of Cochrane's far longer than there are answers forthcoming from him; through Cochrane, we learn not only patience but that anxious restlessness that his poems bring, hunkering finally down.

Dumbhead IX: Found Poem

So one day Miranda finds this poem

so far, face up on my desk
& appeals to our face-up
document rule
which holds that any exposed manuscript
around the house is free for reading, but
or the opening of journal pages
is prohibited–

Miranda finds this poem, so far
& although we both know better than to explain
I start to explain

Dumbhead I-XIII™ is a work of fiction, & any
resemblance of its characters ...

Dearly tested reader,
it is too late
to complain. You broke the rule, the seal, & the compact.
You peeled back the sheets, & every page you turn

7) Competed Field Notes, Robert Kroetsch
1989, McClelland & Stewart: Toronto ON
(reissued with a new introduction by Fred Wah, 2002, University of Alberta Press: Edmonton AB)

Depending on what period I was in, the answer could have been Advice To My Friends (1985, General Publishing: Toronto ON), which it was for quite a long time, or Excerpts from the Real World (1975, Oolichan Books: Lantzville BC ), or even the individual poem “The Winnipeg Zoo,” all of which has fed into my imagination over the years since I discovered Kroetsch’s poetry, and all of which is part of his continuing (yes, I’ve said it) long poem, the “Field Notes.” It's nearly a long running joke, somewhere, that this poem is about as “completed” as 6 Book 6 ended bpNichol's The Martyrology, a poem as long as a life, with new sections seeping through into the world as chapbooks & journal selections, over the years. Really, these works have possibly appeared in more single author forms than almost any in Canadian poetry, each time with another section or as, added.

Considered by some to be one of the most important postmodern works in Canada, this is poetry that shows a body how it is done. It's also impressive for the range of styles Kroetsch works with, in the extended piece(s), from note taking, letter writing and ledgers, each recording and making a record of what has happened, out in the Field, standing, out in the field, outstanding. Kroetsch once wrote an essay on the long poem as delay, delay, emphasizing the unfinished tantric elements of his continuing poetic. Every piece in here is a delay, each piece but part of the next one, fitting in together into one extended act over three decades. Filled with puns, references and bad jokes, Kroetsch the prairie trickster is giving you clues while pretending not to, while pretending to give you clues. Here’s part of the series “Advice to my Friends” (p 114):

18. Four Questions for George Bowering

Michelin Green Guide: “The University [of Bologna], founded in
11C, had 10,000 students in 13C. At that time the professors were
often women and a solemn chronicler reports that one of them,
Novella d’Andrea, was so beautiful in face and body that she had to
give her lectures from behind a curtain to avoid distracting her

You who wrote Kerrisdale Elegies,
tell me:

Does the body teach us nothing?
What is it that we seek to learn
instead of beauty?
What do they mean, “distracting her pupils”?

I too once lectured in Bologna.
It was February, the room was cold,
I was more than adequately dressed.
No one put up a curtain.

What would happen if, just as you
slid into home plate,
the pitcher threw the catcher
an orange?

related posts: Comparing apples to oranges to lemons: Robert Kroetsch’s The Snowbird Poems as continuing Field Notes; The Robert Kroetsch Award for Innovative Poetry;

8) Queen Rat, New and Selected Poems, Lynn Crosbie
1998, House of Anansi Press: Toronto

Collecting the best work from her three previous poetry collections (she’s also had two others since), the most important sections are at the beginning, the new poems, such as the suite on angels, the five part “Fredo Pentangeli” and “Prestley,” but predominantly the “Alphabet City” series, easily the strongest example of her poetry. Originally appearing in the anthology Open City (199, House of Anansi Press: Toronto ON), Crosbie’s poetry is known for giving “voice to our bad and beautiful icons,” writing previously on Farrah Fawcett, the Black Dahlia, Jack the Ripper, John Travolta and Jeffrey Dahmer. In “Alphabet City,” rife with references literary and otherwise, she turns her attention to the city itself, in an abecedarian on various Toronto marks and landmarks:

Gladstone Hotel (1985)

The whole rhythm section was the purple gang ...

It was a blizzard out there, but King Elvis (Toronto’s first impersonator +
Subway Elvis) was performing at the great hotel where Sweet Daddy Siki’s
purple Cadillac surfs by,

and there is mud wrestling, some country and western in the Bronco Room.

He is wearing a gold lamé jacket with unfinished edges, black slacks.
Looks nothing like Elvis but we dance on the chairs as he sings. Those lush
segue ways I said I don’t wanna I don’t wanna be don’t wanna be tied,

that old hook – sm. hip-swivelling, a tired blonde girlfriend clicking
her nails to the beat, smashed, we ask him to sing Smoke on the Water,

and he gives it a shot which is why he’s the King:

Frank Zappa and his buddies were at the best place in town, some crewcut
with a flare-gun burned the place to the ground, yes!

There is a little car accident later and I tip the driver generously, record
snowfalls, ice, and fast winds. I appreciate a little showmanship.

9) Disturbances of Progress, Lise Downe
2002, Coach House Books: Toronto ON

This is one of those books that I admire for both its intuitive properties, and its generative properties (many of the same qualities I admire in Suzanne Buffam's Past Imperfect), pushing the nodes in my head into further of my own little directions. Her skill is such that her poems read seamless and effortlessly wonderful, and the sheer craft of them justify the wait we suffer between collections. Just listen to the soft collusions in her poems, as in this first part of the poem “But Oh To Ride Her Marvellous Exception” (which is probably one of the best titles I’ve ever heard):

Many hours crave a slender paddle
flocking destinations on either side of
a glass plane.
We ourselves a friction that emulates
the distance between days.

To stretch equatorial this long age.
Tide pool.
Neat oval of stones.

Through no-man’s land
(by all accounts ailing)
I’m afraid I’m afar not one
who interiors but

Even as I try to end this, the list grows longer. Wilson’s Bowl by Phyllis Webb, Iridium Seeds by Sylvia Legris, Bloody Jack by Dennis Cooley, Craft Dinner by bpNichol, Hello Serotonin! by Jon Paul Fiorentino [see my review of his most recent book here], Ogress Oblige by Dorothy Trujillo Lusk [see my review of such here], The Beginning of the Long Dash by Sharon Thesen, The Centre: Poems 1970-2000 by Barry McKinnon [see my review of such here], The Holy Forest by Robin Blaser, lacerating heartwood by Judith Fitzgerald [see my note on her here], Past Imperfect by Susan Buffam [see my review of such here], An Oak Hunch by Phil Hall, A Sheep's Vigil by Erin Mouré, etcetera. Once it begins, does it ever end?

Sunday, August 20, 2006

ottawa report: lucky thirteen, above/ground press


On the word poem write the word page
on the word page write the word table

on the word table write the word room
on the word room—bored yet?

the point dulling as it moves

or on the word poem write the word word
on the word word—bored yet?

the move dulling as it points (Phil Hall)

Friday night was the above/ground press lucky thirteen event at The Mercury Lounge in Ottawa, celebrating thirteen years of making chapbooks, as well as two new chapbooks by Toronto/Perth poet Phil Hall, and Cornwall/Ottawa poet (just about to move to Fredericton, New Brunswick for his PhD) Jesse Ferguson (it also included a launch, finally, of the physical chapbook he did with Friday Circle, moons after the same has been on their website…). A good crowd, the readings were absolutely spectacular, with Phil Hall (currently at their cabin near Perth) closing out the evening with one of the finest presentations of writing I've seen in a very long time; it probably has some of the audience still stunned.

Unfortunately Wanda O'Connor, scheduled to read as well, couldn’t make it from Montreal because part of her car broke; I'm hoping that I can convince her (with pre-sent chapbook manuscript) to attempt another go, for my reading series through the Ottawa Art Gallery (will she ever make her way back home?).

I still find it strange and even surprising in so many ways that I've managed to keep the damn thing going this long, producing chapbook after broadside after chapbook (with so many more on the way; I'm plenty bad backlogged; subscribe so I can make more!); I'm still hoping I can put together a 20th anniversary anthology in a few years, much the way Joe Blades let me put together one for the 10th a few years ago, the anthology Groundswell: best of above/ground press 1993-2003 (2003). The current queue includes publications by Margaret Christakos, Jill Hartman, Barry McKinnon, derek beaulieu, Karen Clavelle, Cath Morris, Stephen Brockwell, Jeanette Lynes and hopeful attempts at forthcoming publications by Mari-Lou Rowley, Andrew Suknaski, Jennifer Mulligan, Wanda O'Connor and William Hawkins.

Audience at The Mercury Lounge included Ottawa superblogger (and new dad) John W. MacDonald, Fredericton poet/math professor Hugh Thomas, Murderous Signs publisher Grant Wilkins, as well as Amanda and Charles Earl, Monty Reid, jwcurry, Max Middle, Carmel Purkis, Marcus McCann, James Moran, Wes Smiderle, Tina Trineer, Nicholas Lea, Clare Latremouille, Sarah Ruffolo, Vivian Vavassis, Pearl Pirie, Heather MacLeod & plenty of others.

Being a birthday party, the lovely Mercury Lounge bartendress, Cindy, said it couldn't exist without cake, so she slipped out during the readings to pick up a small cake that she presented me with at the end; how sweet! Thanks, too, to Lance Baptiste, who helped make the event what it was; without whom, etcetera. You know.

During his part of the opening set, Stephen Brockwell read a poem specifically written for the event (during a particularly dreadful conference call he had earlier in the day):

13 Congratulations for Things Above Ground

To the starlings on the lawns of Hampton Avenue,
congratulations for your appetite for grubs;
you divet the green without iron or wood!

To crickets in the grass and the cicadas in the pines,
congratulations for your syncopated summer symphonies!

To the jittery groundhogs on the cloverleaf of the Nicholas off-ramp,
congratulations for your excessive copulation,
compensation for the brevity of your existence!

To the snapping turtle crossing the 138 on my way to St Elmo,
congratulations for the hundred rank summers of your stench!

To the geese among the husks of the Experimental Farm’s new strains of corn,
congratulations for the relative safety of your flight plans
and the ecology of your pre-flight meals!

To my cat whose long lost front claws make a backyard hunt impossible,
congratulations for your courage to target the smaller but
no less dangerous bumblebees and wasps!

To my neighbour’s ten-year-old coonhound found on a Mountain in Japan,
congratulations for howling your Buddhist hound haiku!

To the postal workers who make more money delivering poetry
than the poets make writing it,
congratulations for finding at least one profitable niche!

To the typewriters in the campfire behind a Somerset St apartment,
congratulations for your slowly rusting silent poetry!

To the poets who scribble and scrawl with their hands the
impossible articulations of intransigent tongues, well,

To the audience, yes, you, and you, and you,
whose ears have heard more poetry than speeches,
congratulations for your reckless attentiveness!

To the bartenders who pour clover-dashed Guinness with panache and smiles
congratulations for accepting a poet’s pathetic tips!

To the paper-and-ink-stained fingers of the publisher surviving on lettuce and beer,
congratulations for folding three hundred thousand pages
without shedding more than a barrel of blood and sweat!

See also: Amanda Earl's posting on such here; a photo by Charles Earl; subscription info; a photo & note by John W. MacDonald; Pearl Pirie's post;

Saturday, August 19, 2006

some new & newish chapbooks from above/ground press
celebrating thirteen years of killing trees for literature

Pronouned or Baby Photos of the Country Stars
by Phil Hall, $4

catch a bird
a chapbook of visual poems
by Jesse Ferguson, $4

My little above/ground press recently achieved its 500th published item; a whole list of other new + recent-ish titles here; add $1 per order for postage; outside Canada, pay in US funds; make cheques payable to rob mclennan, c/o 858 Somerset Street West, main floor, Ottawa Ontario Canada K1R 6R7

2007 above/ground press subscriptions now available -- $40 per calendar year for chapbooks, asides + broadsheets (while supplies last; outside Canada, $40 US); if you order now, subscriptions begin immediately. current & forthcoming publications by Phil Hall, Margaret Christakos, rob mclennan, Andy Weaver, Jesse Ferguson, Nicholas Lea, Lea Graham, Max Middle, Jessica Smith, John Newlove, Stephanie Bolster, Stan Rogal, Gil McElroy, Jennifer Mulligan, Sharon Harris, Jan Allen, bpNichol, ryan fitzpatrick, Julia Williams, Shauna McCabe, Jordan Scott, George Bowering, Barry McKinnon, Cath Morris, Karen Clavelle, Wanda O'Connor, Fred Wah, Anita Dolman, Stephen Brockwell, Mari-Lou Rowley, Monty Reid, Rachel Zolf, Gwendolyn Guth, Natalie Simpson, derek beaulieu, Rob Budde, etcetera. Send all of your money to rob mclennan c/o 858 Somerset Street West, main floor, Ottawa Ontario Canada K1R 6R7. For irregular notices of new publications, email rob mclennan at

Friday, August 18, 2006

Andrew Suknaski's Wood Mountain Poems, 30th Anniversary Edition

Homestead, 1914 (Sec. 32, TP4, RG2, W3RD, Sask.)

I returning

for the third spring in a row now
i return to visit father in his yorkton shack
the first time i returned to see him
he was a bit spooked
seeing me after eleven years –
a bindertwine held up his pants then
that year he was still a fairly tough little beggar
and we shouted to the storm fighting
to see who would carry my flightbag across the cn tracks
me crying: for chrissake father
lemme carry the damn thing the
train’s already too close!

now in his 83rd year father fails
is merely 110 pounds now and cries while
telling me of a growing pain after the fall
from a cn freightcar
in the yard where he works unofficially as a cleanup man
tells of how the boss that day
slipped a crisp 20 into his pocket and said:
you vill be okay meester shoonatzki
dont tell anyvon about dis
commeh bek in coopleh veek time . . .

father says his left testicle has shriveled
to the size of a shelled walnut
says there’s simply no fucking way
he’ll see another doctor – says:
the last von trried to shine a penlight up myne ass
no von everr look up myne asshole
an neverr vill

while we walk through the spring blizzard to the depot
i note how he is bent even more now
and i think: . . . they will have to break is back
to lay im flat when he dies

in the depot
father guards my bag while i buy two white owl cigars
and return to give him one
and then embrace saying goodbye
and i watch him walk away from me
finally disappearing in the snowflake eddy near a pine
on the street corner
and then remember how he stood beneath a single lightbulb
hanging from a frayed cord in his shack
remember how he said
myne life now moveh to end vit speed of

Thirty years after it was originally published, comes Saskatchewan poet Andrew Suknaski's first trade poetry collection Wood Mountain Poems (Regina SK: Hagios Press, 2006), with a new introduction by Tim Lilburn, launched a couple of weeks ago at the Saskatchewan Festival of Words in Moose Jaw. Originally edited by Al Purdy, who had seen Suknaski's work and included it in the first Storm Warning anthology (1971), Wood Mountain Poems has long been considered one of the most important prairie poets over the past few decades, yet Suknaski's work has predominantly been out of print for years now, and Suknaski too, out of commission, living in a group home in Moose Jaw. An important book in the prairies, the back cover writes that "As fresh and relevant as when first published, Wood Mountain Poems is one of the first books from Canadian prairie literature to examine the division and shared experience between European settlers and Aboriginal peoples. In these poems we gain insight into the lives of historical figures such as Sitting Bull, Crowfoot and Gabriel Dumont." Even Ottawa writer and editor Armand Garnet Ruffo told me recently that it was Wood Mountain Poems and the cover image of Sitting Bull that gave him permission to write his own poems, about his own native heritage. As Lilburn writes in his introduction:
The first publication of Wood Mountain Poems in 1976 marked a beginning in the de-colonization of the West Canadian literary imagination — many have remarked on this; we were emboldened to think our own stories were worth telling, our own talk worth writing down. The book appears now an act of courage that made much possible: whole careers, a literature. Ginsberg called Whitman the old courage-giver; the same could be said of Suknaski in Wood Mountain Poems. Whitman's example gave Ginsberg a range of formational permissions — on volume; line lengths; the pilings of words; themes; on gayness; suppleness of association; on routine transgression: because of Wood Mountain Poems, a door opened in Western Canadian poetry to bar talk, tall farmer tales, and a spirit of bricolage in making. We'll build our own way of writing, we said to ourselves, up from our kitchen tables — and so we did.

Suknaski's ferality is also Whitmanic: his work attends to no pattern; instruction in the great cultural paradigms has not transfixed him; he's heard other things and followed them. He camped out on his own. Genius often comes from the margins; the understanding of one's land, the reading of one's place in one's locale, comes from the margins. Saskatchewan's two universities have contributed astonishingly little to the development of a regional literature, even less to the European settler task of mixing what Europe knew with what was on the plains in order to become "of" this place. Far more of spiritual and political benefit has come from Wood Mountain Poems and from the paintings of such "primitives" as Jan Wyers of Windthorst and W.C. McCargar of Balgonie. The roughness of Suknaski makes his poems, to my ear, seem even more elementally us than either Who Has Seen the Wind or Wolf Willow.
I've been doing my own Suknaski work over the past six years, editing a new edition of selected poems, scheduled for next spring with Chaudiere Books, There is No Mountain: Selected Poems of Andrew Suknaski (which should be one of the few trade books of his to include any of his visual works, hopefully up to about forty pages of), as well as a collection of essays forthcoming with Guernica Editions, Andrew Suknaski: Essays on His Works [see the long piece I wrote on Suknaski for the collection up at]. Through the process of going through as much Suknaski as I could find, I even accidentally put together the collection Nebulous medicine: the essays, statements and reviews of Andrew Suknaski (forthcoming, tba). If there are any pieces out there I might have missed, or pieces yet to be written on his works, please let me know.

Hopefully the stores will be filled with this new edition. Otherwise, check out Hagios Press c/o Box 33024, Cathedral P.O., Regina Saskatchewan S4T 7X2, ph: (306) 352 6944 or email them at

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Short notes on three American poetry collections: Dara Wier's Remnants of Hannah, Brian Henry's Quarantine & Martin Corless-Smith's Swallows

Until the poetry collection, Remnants of Hannah (Seattle WA / New York NY: Wave Books, 2006) appeared, I hadn’t even heard of Amherst, Massachusetts author Dara Wier, author of nine previous collections including Reverse Rapture, Hat on a Pond, Voyages in English, Our Master Plan, Blue for the Plough, The Book of Knowledge and All You Have in Common.

Attitude of Rags

It felt like a story sorry it'd lost all its sentences,
Like a sentence looking for its syntax.
All of the words had homeless, unemployed, orphan
Written all over their faces.
It had that parboiled, simmering, half-baked look
Of curiosity about its mouth, like a month of Sundays
Has in the mind of a non-believer, a true back-slider.
One got the impression reluctance was waxing.
One wanted to say passion was taking a beating.
One wanted to say one's prey to one's feeling.
The feathers of their feelings were all scattered.
It was the kind of day were one to see a flock of
Creepy baby angel heads attached at their necks to
Pitch-black aerodynamically preposterous little wings
Clustering at the sum of things, one would rub one's
Eyes, be too faint to respond, much less explain.
It looked the way a fence looks just after the last
Stampede. A big old blood-colored barn collapsed in
Its tracks. Out of hiding came all the hidden cameras.
It looked like streets look after a parade's disbanded.
It was the kind of day in which emotions roaming from
Town to town, free to be themselves, enjoyed their
Rich fantasy lives. This was the kind of day that day
Was. We were rags in the hands of a narcoleptic duster. (p 13)

I like the deceptively-clear statements to Wier's poems, her prose-stares that wind their way across the page in ways that poems are supposed to, and even not supposed to. There is a wonderful sense of gracefulness to these poems, and thus, the entire collection, which make me glad to have heard of her at all, and make me want to find at least one of her nine previous poetry books. And besides, who else is writing anything (that I've seen lately) to John Clare?

Homage to John Clare

Babies come into this world without shadows
Almost like snakes
Ants have better chances, ants never weep
I'm trying to talk my brain into recovering from a blow
It took from a fork made of words
By a real brain
My love saw it happen but could only exclaim he tried to
Explain something from heaven but it was from hell what
The hell it didn't hurt me it was more like being hit on
The head by a feather, a small one
To think in reverse is not possible
Or is that what is happening when one reads something
Backwards something reads one when happening is what
That is
Vinyl, it was said with authority
Llamas look as if they like grazing in the rain in the
Fields, east of town
John Clare also grazed on his way home from his asylum
I was looking at a bear standing upright in a t-shirt
Licking a page of a book it was holding
Maybe words on a page were honey or
Something bears are attracted to, like fish or
Bittersweet berries
I have no further access to the pages of that book

I have no feathers, I am not made of vinyl
I was trying to sound as if I meant business
I had the shadows
Of the leaves of a tree all over me
The sun inched over, I was covered in cobwebs
My love was suspiciously silent (pp 32-3)

The second of the three books is Quarantine (Boise Idaho: Ahsahta Press, 2006) by Brian Henry (why do so many poetry collections have thin to non-existent bios?). In two related sequences, "Quarantine" and "Contagion," Henry works two sequences of sickness, hurt, hate and reaction, as the forty-part first section works in almost a series of narrative sequences explored through a series of dreams. What I like about these particular poems is that they run in a breathless quality, both through structure and content, and should almost be spoken out loud in a single and impossible continuous breath.


My wife tried to kill me once in bed
a knife at my throat she told me
to say something to speak to her
or she would cut out my tongue
I said please and she stabbed me
in the neck I lay in bed waiting to die
but I only fell asleep I did not dream
awoke with the knife next to me
and her standing by the door watching
perhaps now you will speak to me
I sat up and grabbed the knife and held it
toward her she opened the door to flee
I licked the blood off the blade
and fell asleep again this time with dreams (p 24)

As a counterpoint to the longer and more dream-narrative poems in the first sequence, the second sequence of the collection, "Contagion," is a series of shorter poems that steal lines and phrases from the poems in the first, bastardizing small collage works from everything that has come before, turning the lines of "QUARANTINE / 30," for example:


Wine when I drank it would send me
to sleep I rarely drank unlike my father
he drank as long as I can remember
his face puckered from it all redder
as he aged his face a bulbous mass
I kicked him once by accident in the face
a man and his son playing his big jaw
smacked he swung so hard at my head
I could taste the blood before his hand (p 36)

into the shorter poem "Contagion / 11":

Contagion / 11

I could taste the blood before his hand. (p 56)

Are the "Contagion" poems merely the dreams that the "Quarantine" poems might have? Is the second series merely a series of dreams had by a series of dreams? I like poems that turn in on themselves, working out of their own base materials (something Toronto poet Margaret Christakos has turned into a gifted skill in various of her own collections). And what happens when any of these poems wake?

Easily the most ambitious of the three collections has to be Martin Corless-Smith's Swallows (New York NY: Fence Books, 2006). Writing a house and the self out of Keats, Horace and various inquiries, his is a structure easily entered but not easily left, and not easily mapped. His is the best kind of book; one you need to sit with for a long time to fully explore. A wonderful intertext, Corless-Smith has a range of quotes tucked into various corners of the collection by John Donne, Pliny the Elder, Sir Thomas Browne, Walt Whitman, W.G. Sebald, various books of the Bible and E.M. Forster, among others. Despite the amount of quotes (there are actually thirteen pages of quoted text before even the first page of Corless-Smith's own) it feels less a matter of threatening to overwhelm than an essential part of Corless-Smith's foundation; he has a lot of material and needs a strong base on which to build. One of the most thoughtful and ambitious American examples of "the book as unit of composition" I've seen in some time, I am very interested to see what else this Corless-Smith fellow has been up to. Something complicated, no doubt.


We become subject, more than we are aware, to idols of the theatre.

(A) room is a doorway.

The mind is written (read) on the body.

Our (real) house has no walls.

We are (the same) as grass. We are very much like cattle.

Efforts of understanding (are) born out of futility where they remain.

The spirit dwells in activity (of the body / the world).

Your meaning, when you speak, is that you speak.

Without is contained all that is within.

Our features are war, famine, hatred, sadness as well as play, harvest, love and pleasure.

Happiness accepts strife.

(In) change (something) always persists.

Lightning…a career…(an island)

The web is no mistake between the leaves.

Of another colour, of another temperature is else.

Peace is a quiet war.

If we must see the universe as human, let it be an imbecile.

Qualities are not apart from our understanding (are not away from our noticing).

Our idea of the human is the human. Our idea of the cow is such.

An event may be seen as fortuitous or accidental.

Things are in harmony without the pleasure of (our) agreement.

Knowledge is a sensation of ignorance.

All Things (something) are in the process of change, our understanding of which is to observe them (it) between two imagined poles.

Because we remember we believe we endure. Memory is a comparison of moments, not a store of ages.

The only necessity is that which is next.

If Man is moral fire is moral.

Can we then separate Water, Earth, Fire and Air? Only in their instant. And then onward. One is always in brittle contact with its most elusive other aspect.

Is our seeing anything less than the energy to see?

There is no difference between self-knowledge and knowledge of the world. Can you see behind your eyes?

Desire is coterminous with movement. Satisfaction is other than desire.

Is my living discernible from yours?

Soul is that name which I give to all that beneath all I am…

Myself is an accidental outcome through my responsibilities are true.

If I am wholly free I am only partially aware of this.

If you don’t compromise might you live forever?

Man is frail and the law of the universe is mutability.

The things you have decided are not necessary. (pp 5-7)

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

aubade: a note on the text

Originally subtitled "a song of mo(u)rning," aubade works a sequence of sequences to fill out into an eventual whole. The question the publisher asked, do poems within themselves and beside each other need to have a formal consistency? A reasonable question, certainly, but still. It was an argument, supposedly, that George Bowering had with his McClelland & Stewart editor(s) in the early 1970s as well; do pieces need to be streamlined to exist properly in a book? In the case of aubade, I think not, given that each section exists within itself, and rules apply between sections. Where might be single quotes in one, might be double in the next, or exist not at all in a third; and does it mean that every line therein is borrowed? Does it even matter?

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The Church in the Wildwood, Glengarry

Through working on the McLennan/MacLennan genealogies of Stormont and Glengarry Counties, I've been very interested in the red wooden church right by the campgrounds at Lancaster, the Anglican Church of St. John, the Evandelist, otherwise known as the "Church in the Wildwood" (I can't find any reference to the building on the internet, nor can I find any contact information to ask specific questions…). Built by a strain of McLennans that included a senator, the McLennan Library at McGill, emigrants to Java, a soldier in the American Civil War, and a Member of Parliament, the church was built by Charlotte Mair McLennan, after the death of her husband John McLennan, Esq., otherwise known as John "By the Lake" McLennan, who was Conservative M.P. for Glengarry from 1878 to 1882, president of the Montreal Board of Trade, vice-president of the Merchant Banks, and a director of various other companies, as well as responsible for a number of homes built along the lake by what is now Lancaster South and the Lancaster Campgrounds. Their own property became known as the "Ridgewood" estate, and hosted many parties there in the late 1800s, now made up predominantly of campground, the 401 highway, and a small house tucked away in the woods, with a church and graveyard behind it. As historian Ewan Ross writes in his LANCASTER TOWNSHIP AND VILLAGE:
The Anglican Church of St. John, the Evangelist, (Church in the Wildwood) held its first service on July 21, 1899. This church was erected on the McLennan (Ridgewood) property on the east front of Lancaster township by Mrs. John
McLennan in memory of her husband. Though Anglicans in the area at the time were few in number and the church was almost a private chapel, population change in the next three quarters of a century brought more Anglicans to the community and the importance of St. John’s as a place of worship increased with time. There is
a small cemetery beside the church.
In her non-fiction collection Braggart In My Step, More Stories of Glengarry, author Dorothy Dumbrille goes into a bit more detail, in her chapter "The McLennans by the Lake," starting:
Something more than a mile east of Lancaster, on the Montreal highway, we pass a sign on our right which reads “St. John’s Church.” It is easy to miss the beautiful little building buried in shade, but it is worth while to stop here, for this is the only Church of England in the County.

Built to esemble the churches of England which are maintained by private estates, this one was used by a generation of the McLennan family, primarily for their servants. It is now separate from the property and the small congregation has as
its minister one of the clergymen from Cornwall.

The building is sadly in need of repair but its appointments are tastefully chosen. On the wall near the entrance is a tablet to the memory of John McLennan, father of Duncan McLennan whose home was across the road from the church. The highway now cuts through the middle of the property, leaving the old McLennan home on the left as we travel east, and the church on the right.
Apart from these sources, there are no other references I've been able to find to the church, the family or the history of the church that give any real information. From what Dumbrille writes, it seems the original house is long gone, with the current house slightly further from the shore of the chapel a more recent addition, but I have yet to find out when and who, and hopefully without having to barge into their front yard with my mother's car. As Dumbrille continues:
Ridgewood, here referred to, is the great brick house behind the church and near the shore of the Lake. It is modern and elegant, surrounded by gardens, with a lawn sloping to the river. This home was built comparatively few years ago and is now out of the hands of the family. It has changed owners many times during the last few years. We imagine it stands just about where the old dock must have been. It affords a view for many miles up and down the Lake and across to the mountains on the farther shore.

Hugh McLennan [brother of John "By the Lake"] married Isabella, eldest daughter of Neil Stewart, third son of Ronald Stewart mentioned in a previous chapter. Hugh’s mother’s father left him a property on Loch Garry which he sold, going up the river to work in a hardware store. In the following year he secured a position as a purser on the St. Lawrence boats, and so began a connection with the traffic of the St. Lawrence which lasted all his life. Everyone travelled by steamboat between Upper and Lower Canada and his duties brought him in contact with all the important and influential men of his time: The Honourable John Hamilton of Kingston, Sir David MacPherson, Mr. Luther Holton and Sir John A. Macdonald, Cartwright and others. In 1848 he was, during winter, agent for the stage coaches. What a colourful occupation that was! Finally he went into business for himself and, in due course, married Isabella Stewart at the home of her aunt, in Bytown.

The gradual climb to prominence and wealth of this able and distinguished man would, in itself, fill a book. He and his brother, John, became interested in the Beaver Line. Hugh McLennan became President of the Board of Trade and then member of the Harbour Commission, as representative of the Board of Trade, a position he held for twenty-five years. Finally, he became Director of the Bank of Montreal in 1882 and a Governor of McGill. He died in 1899.
John "By the Lake" McLennan, esq., was the great-grandson of Farquhar McLennan and Isabella McRae, and grandson of Murdoch McLennan, who was one of the original 1802 settlers of Glengarry County, Ontario. As John wrote in his piece “GLENGARRY. Its Early Settlement and Incidents Connected Therewith” in The Glengarrian, [a precursor to the current Glengarry News] December 24, 1885:
…My grandfather, Murdoch McLennan, gave up a valuable holding on the Seaforth estate, in order to keep with his friends and neighbours who were emigrating. They were 1100 souls in the vessel, and were four months at sea, encountering wintry weather on the coast of Labrador, a rough introduction to the New World. My father (John McLennan) was but thirteen years of age; he had the good fortune to have been at school up to that time. At the call to arms in 1812 he enlisted in the Militia, with the appointment of sergeant. He was with the company in the march across the ice and the taking of Ogdensburgh, and became Lietenant and Quartermaster at the close of the campaign. After the war, he taught for several years the school at Williamstown, which continues as a High School under the present system. In 1823, he retired to “hew out” a farm in the woods of Lancaster, and was at the same time appointed to the Commission of the Peace. He commanded a company for frontier duty in 1838-39 and died in 1866.
Of the few dozen McLennan/MacLennan strains I've seen throughout the two counties, this one has easily the most stories I've found, ranging around the world, and oddly, is one of the few that I haven't really found any descendants of. Where did they all go? Certainly, the name married out in a number of places, making descendants harder to track, as well as the fact that some ended up in Boston and other places, increasing the difficulty of researches. Considering they had such status but a century ago, written about almost weekly in The Glengarry News, of garden parties at their Ridgewood Estate, travels and other activities, how could they have disappeared so completely?

Monday, August 14, 2006

Maxine Gadd's Backup to Babylon

in the backwoods

across rainy Georgia Strait from dominatrix city on an island amongst
islands known for thousands of years, a two hour walk on small settled
roads to the beginning of a forest under a green mountain cradling a dark
green cove, an old orchard and meadow sloping northwest, a run down
yellow house, many collapsing outhouses, tool sheds, wood sheds, chicken
coops, garages carpeted about with exquisitely disintegrating components
of antique internal combustion motors: springs and levers, axles separated
from wheels, bolts, wires, nails, blades rusting into the colour of the cedar
bark browse

back of all that, a cabin with a woodpile, axes, wedges, mauls, saws,
black nights, fire, silence, soft cries of owls and wounded deer, fire, and
neighbours' tales (p 3)

Vancouver poet Maxine Gadd has been quiet a long time, as far as any sense of literary publishing is concerned. Far more active throughout the 1960s and 1970s, apart from a number of small self-published items that have remained extremely close to home, and a chapbook out from Saltspring Island's mother tongue press in 2001, Gadd's Backup to Babylon (Vancouver BC: New Star Books, 2006) is her first title since the appearance of her selected poems, Lost Language (Toronto ON: Coach House Press, 1982), edited by Daphne Marlatt and Ingrid Klassen. Working smaller projects instead of the book itself as her compositional unit, Backup to Babylon collects three of shorter works in one volume, including "greenstone," "cabin on the shore" and "backup to babylon," some of which appeared previously in the hand-crafted book Fire in the Cove (Saltspring Island BC: mother tongue press, 2001). Her collection Westerns (Air, 1975), for example, was made up of three of her early mimeo books: Guns of the West (blewointment press, 1967), Book of Practical Knowledge (self-published, 1969) and Hochelaga (blewointment press, 1970). (A question worth asking: why does she wait so long before any of these works fall into a published collection that more than her immediate group can see?) Lost Language, called a selected, was itself built up of writings that predominantly fell outside of those considerations, including performance pieces and works from little magazines and small anthologies (the collection is worth going through alone for the interview that Marlatt conducted with Gadd on Vancouver Co-Op Radio from 1981 included at the end).

at the very end of the road

the silk
on a nail
on a wall
like a lei

on old

on the back
of the black

of the Omineca
river under
the Omineca
at the very end
of the road
Old Hogum (p 100)

It has been said for years that Canada has no tradition of political poetry, citing our lack of civil wars or "Manifest Destiny," deliberately annexing other lands to create our own country (an idea that very much ignores the native elements across the country), usually citing Gary Geddes as one of but a handful of our politically active and engaged poets. Apart from whole swaths of French-Canadian poets over the past forty years, and various native poets over the past few years, there has been a western strain of politically and socially engaged work coming out of the west since the 1960s, and Gadd is very much a precursor to other politically and socially active language poets of the west coast, including Jeff Derksen, Peter Culley and Dorothy Trujillo Lusk (it's not hard to see shades of Ed Dorn out of Gadd's poems, either). Coming out of Vancouver of the 1960s, Gadd existed peripherally to all the activity of the Tish group, existing in a part of their ongoing conversations if not part of any of their particular groupings, along with other poets around town such as Gerry Gilbert [see my note on him here], John Newlove, bill bissett and Roy Kiyooka [see my note on him here]. There is even a great story (reprinted in her words in my note on bissett) of a poetry collection of hers that only existed because bill bissett broke into her house and stole a stack of poems, and created a book through his blewointment press of what he managed to escape with. Included in the back of the bill bissett tribute anthology radiant dance uv being: a poetic portrait of bill bissett (Madeira Park BC: Nightwood Editions / blewointment, 2006), edited by Jeff Pew and Stephen Roxborough [see my review of such here], Gadd writes:
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?
More recent than that, Gadd was very active in Vancouver during the "woodsquat" occupation of the Woodwards building that unfolded between September 14 and December 14, 2002, part of which was documented in the special issue of West Coast Line 41 (volume 37, 2-3), fall/winter 2003/4. As an interesting sidebar to that, the back cover of her Backup to Babylon writes that the collection is "set in the Vancouver of the 1980s, a time of the Francis Street Squat, of Solidarity, of political optimism confronted by cynicism. Feminism, utopianism, the erotic are some of the subjects treated in these poems." In her own acknowledgments page, Gadd writes:
This is a book of ancient history, ravings, folly and struggle. The person I have turned into is not the woman in 1984, pictured by Elaine Brière. I still claim the poet's right of altering the orthography demanded of us in Grade School. So the format here is of resistance and surrender and resistance and … the fool's attempt to re-enter "The Garden." Nightmares and the beautiful terrible white page where voices are laid down. (p 147).
purposeful love

with the tide out the tall grey CIA sailors stay away.

here come the feet of the people
they are looking for a good time
cruel clowns
sit above them and mock them
the peoples' hunger makes these dolls divine
the clowns fall off the towers and trees like plums at the end of summer
purposeful love ploughs them under (p 61)

Gadd's poetry is insistently engaged and essentially human, exploring the social aspects of her immediate world, including the area around the intersection of Hastings and Main Streets in Vancouver, considered the poorest postal code in Canada. Where has she been all this time?

scene 4: Hastings and Main

the dark eyed Dene boy
he stop yu on
the street

hey, where yu going
and i
yu can't stop me
yu got no right

he laughs
he steps back
he say
let's see
some ID, then

i turn up my nose like Pretty Pepperidge Meggy
who sells sweet and nutty pies frum the farm
frum the freezer

no use
looking back

no problem
who i
on this
day (p 43)