Sunday, October 01, 2006

Ongoing notes: early October, 2006

Did you see my Dennis Cooley review up at The Antigonish Review? Did you know about the workshop I'm doing on October 20th in Ottawa through the Writers Development Trust? Or the book launches for aubade coming up, pre-launch on October 20th with an opening of David Cation artwork, or the main launch on October 30th with George Bowering through the writers festival (more info soon)? Or the Chaudiere Books launch on October 26th, featuring Monty Reid [see my note on him here], Clare Latremouille [see my note on her here] & Meghan Jackson (more info soon)? Did you see the article on our new press in the October issue of Quill & Quire? Why don’t you know these things? Brief reports on the last Factory Reading, with Anne Le Dressay & K.I. Press right here & here, & even a photo (watch for more Factory Readings in January, etc.). Brief reports also on the "poetry bus" that was here in September, with reports by Amanda Earl (I've been finding her blog more & more interesting the past few months), Pearl Pirie, Kathryn Hunt & a photo by Charles Earl (there's even a photo of me with red eyes on the infamous bus on their own site...). & will I see you at this 10th anniversary ottawa international writers festival that starts today? Did you notice that Toronto writer/editor/publisher Stuart Ross is here too & offering editorial?

Banff AB: I always like getting the publications that come out of workshops, whether any of the chapbooks Robert Kroetsch saved for me from the Sage Hill Writing Colloquiums (I've only seen the one so far; are there others I should be getting copies of?), or the more recent Talk That Mountain Down: poetry from The Banff Writing Studio (Orono ON: littlefishcartpress, 2005) that I got from Rhonda Douglas, with writing from participants and facilitators alike that were all at The Banff Writing Studio during the same sessions, including Elizabeth Bachinsky [see my review of her second poetry collection here], Darren Bifford, Marilyn Bowering, Rosemary Clewes, Joan Crate, Rhonda Douglas [see my note on her here], Stan Dragland, Seema Goel, Karen Hofmann, Donna Kane, Erin Knight, Brenda Leifso, Ian LeTourneau, Holly Luhning, Nadine McInnis, Don McKay [see my note on his work here], Lisa Pasold & Ruth Roach Pierson.

Almost winter, and colder in the valley then.
November, already snow. On television, Mohammed

Ali. And there is a new father and mother.
The father is reported to be naked underneath his hospital

gown. He runs down the hall. The mother is not
and full of a different fear.

She gives this to her son. He keeps it secret.

And the apple trees in the valley are bare, and the orchard
is not yet a buffalo pasture, and another house

has not been built at the side of the property.
Dan's wife has not died, and Dan is still a whoring


The green shed is
a pile of wood. (Darren Bifford, from "Three Sections from Summerland")

This certainly isn't the first anthology of writing from the infamous Banff Centre; there was a more comprehensive anthology a few years ago, the anthology Meltwater: Fiction and Poetry from The Banff Centre for the Arts (Banff AB: Banff Centre Press, 1999), edited by Edna Alford, Don McKay, Rhea Tregebov & Rachel Wyatt, publishing the works of various writers who had come through the workshops throughout its history. One of the things I thought missing from Talk That Mountain Down: poetry from The Banff Writing Studio was an introduction of some sort, to give the writing & writers some sort of context, if even to let us know when they were all there together, & what the experience might have given them. For those who might not know, Banff is the place where writers spend five weeks up in the mountains to work on their poetry and fiction around a number of their peers, and established writers to help them go over their manuscripts. As Rachel Wyatt writes in her introduction to Meltwater:

Poets and fiction writers from Newfoundland and British Columbia and all points in between come together to complete a novel, to work on short stories, to put together a manuscript of poems. Or to be inspired by that amazing and thaumaturgic view to write something entirely different. It is not unknown for a poet in this atmosphere to take to prose or for a novelist to turn out a fine sestina or ghazal.

For nearly seven decades, writers have been gathering in the shadow of these mountains to learn from various masters. One of the first teachers was Hugh MacLennan and one of those early students was Robert Kroetsch.

In 1972, W.O. Mitchell became director of the Writing Program. It was, he insisted, to have no element of the creative writing programs being set up in universities, no formality. At Banff, writers were to write "without the pressure of performance." Like a mediaeval scholar, he gathered writers around him and talked to them and showed them ways in which to free their captive ideas.

It was a summer program then and high-school students as well as mature writers came to sit at the feet of the master and to work their way into the craft and art of writing. Poetry and prose, drama and writing for radio, all had a place and all, with variations, continue to thrive in Banff.
I've always wanted to participate in some sort of writers retreat such as this, but would never have the money to do so. There's something interesting about spending days, even weeks, with other writers and writing, and being able to slowly get into the head of another person's work, something I experienced while touring the book Open 24 Hours (Fredericton NB: Broken Jaw Press, 1997) in spring 1998; there's something about hearing someone read the same poem daily for almost a week that you can't help but get inside it. How often do opportunities such as those present themselves?


The Romans agreed that only one hour
was ever fixed, when the sun marks the summit
of the sky. If you want to meet me,
meet me then. The rest of the day will fall
to either side, and if the sun only comes level
with our chests we will not ask, is this all there is?
The place doesn’t matter. And if there is wind,
the ravine will offer low-ground shelter
from the chill. At the sixth hour our bodies
will be the pendulum of the swung day;
we'll discuss summer, the back-roads, cow-parsnip
the size of us. Remember weeks when the plain
was washed with a primary palette and noon
suspended us, shadowless, dry-mouthed. (Erin Knight)

Copies can be found through the publisher's website, or, in Ottawa, through Rhonda Douglas at The TREE Reading Series.

London England/Montreal QC: While in London [see my UK note here], I met poet Christopher Gutkind, born in the Netherlands & raised predominantly in Montreal, before moving to London, England in 1988. Wanting to re-connect with his Canadian-ness, he mailed me a copy of his first poetry collection, Inside to Outside (Exeter England: Shearsman Books, 2006). It would be interesting to know if he's attempted publishing at all in the little magazine community in Canada at all, or if that is something that would interest him; parts of this collection have had earlier homes in the United States, as well as closer to where he currently lives. One of the more important publishers in the UK of more daring poetry (that I'm aware of), along with Salt Publishing, Stride & Reality Street, Shearsman produces highly attractive books; but what is it about the printing processes in England that make all Shearsman & Salt books smell like some sort of mind-altering substance?


(I listen)

outside time
has changed back
and tonights will grow
after darkening

(a leaf gets weaker
with each wind
it rustles)

fall makes
poems drop from trees
who publish them that way
regardless of how
they're gathered

(fire is happiest
in unused

new hours
are called inside
and not knowing before
they explore
their home

(dust figures out
what air tries
to say)

An interesting collection, it suffers as a whole in part due to the insistence of the narrative "I," making me wonder what he's working at through it; the poems read far stronger when he reduces the "I" & allows the poems themselves to speak.


the hair to touch
the shoes to walk
the glasses to see
the luggage to go seek

the curls to fondle
the laces to learn how to
the eyes to find another
the travel to Auschwitz

the strands to be cut
the feet to be walkless
the staring to be still
the exploration to cease

When not working through the insistent "I" or the occasional cliché, there are some extremely strong elements to his twisting, plain-speaking play. Whatever weaknesses the book has could easily be chalked up to writing experience, the "I" weighing it down in places, or other poems where stronger edits could have made a difference; it will be interesting to see how he evolves in a second collection. Still, Inside to Outside, as a whole, does make for an engaging work, as in this poem, that writes:


tell me the rose
isn’t obsessed
in what it does
its unfolding of space
its callings
as it draws a colour
up its stalk
to stroke our eyes
as our nose gets tugged
and softly kissed
or the day obsessed
by what it shows
the night by what it hides
the child in its play
its chasings
of dreams that open
and close
or us in our voices
saying anything
however veiled
however grey to be
and fingered

Buffalo NY: I recently got a copy of the 2006 edition of Pilot: A Journal of Contemporary Poetry, "an annual magazine produced with funding and support by the English Department at SUNY Buffalo." A far different production than SUNY Buffalo's P-QUEUE (their third annual apparently has come out this year, but I have yet to see a copy), this "issue" is un-numbered, so I can only presume it's the first (but what do I know?). Edited by Matt Chambers & Andrea Strudensky (who appeared in Shift & Switch: New Canadian Poetry), the issue features the work of a wide geography of writers, including Boi-Lucia Gbaya, Jeff Derksen, Tony Lopez, Derek Beaulieu, Lisa Robertson, Rachel Zolf, Karen Mac Cormack, Rodrigo Toscano, Alan Halsey, Ric Royer, Ashton Royce, Adrian Clarke, Kevin Thurston, Angela Szczepaniak, Geoff Hlibchuk, Redell Olsen, Chris Fitton and Allen Fisher, as well as a review of Caroline Koebel & Kyle Schlesinger's Schablone Berlin (Chax Press) by Kevin Thurston, &, included at the back, a cd with an interview with Michael Basinski.

From the 10,000 foot view you never know when this will rear its ugly
head it's important not to keep score.

I'll prepare a strawdog on double character do you want to litmus test
it I extracted all the communication.

This concern bubbled upward don't take anything I say as "gospel" we
want to use language that reflects today's realities.

"Whoever and there [sic] mother needs to see it" let me be the heavy
and intervene. (Rachel Zolf, "from Human Resources")

For more information, contact the editors at 306 Clemens Hall, English Department, SUNY Buffalo, Buffalo NY 14260 or at

1 comment:

darren bifford said...

hi rob, darren bifford writing here. I noticed you posted one of my poems from the Banff anthology. There's a typo: "his mother is not", should read "his mother is hot", by which I dont mean to suggest sexy.