A lovely morning of early departure, Clavelle coming over around 10am, and the three of us going off to pick up Kroetsch for breakfast at the Pancake House, before delivering me to my noon train. Clavelle insisted on Cooley’s digital camera for these shots of us, sitting and standing around, to prove that we had been there, or been together, I suppose, in that particular place. She brought me a chapbook of poems by a few of them, and Kroetsch mentioned the book he has coming out with Kalamalka Press, from the BC interior; they’re restarted after a number of years, thanks to that John Lent out there, with books to appear from writers they bring in as writer-in-residence; it’s how Cooley had his Country Music: New Poems [see my review of such here] appear, which is apparently part of that much larger project, love in a dry land, that also includes his new trade collection, The Bentleys, out any minute now from the University of Alberta Press. An earlier section of same appeared in Cooley’s selected poems, Sunfall, so many years ago. How long do we have to wait for the whole thing? Is it simply too large to ever appear? I know his projects aren’t ever secrets, but why don’t more people ask him about them?
Kroetsch and his enduring kindnesses, or any of them, really; gave him a copy of aubade and he bought Monty Reid’s new book from me (I've actually sold quite a few of them on this trip; Mulligan was smart enough to instruct me not to give any of the Chaudiere Books away, but for review copies, knowing that I’d probably trade a handful of any of them for magic beans…), and had him sign a couple of his own books I’d picked up, one for myself, and two more for two other people at home (I won’t say who, just let them be surprised…).
On the train now, reading Birk Sproxton’s Phantom Lake, North of 54 (Edmonton AB: University of Alberta Press, 2005). Since reading and reviewing his Headframe 2:, I’ve been intrigued by his work, and even found a copy of his Headframe: (Winnipeg MB: Turnstone Press, 1985) [see my review of the second volume here] while in Winnipeg. A benefit now to reading his Phantom Lake while working the Canadian Shield; I’ve shifted my sense of my “sex at thirty-eight” [see my essay on the original series here; keep in mind McKinnon and I still accepting submissions for our forthcoming Collected Sex anthology...] to a poem about the Canadian Shield. Listen, then, to the opening of the first piece in Sproxton’s book:
I AM WRITING TO YOU from the edge of the Canadian Shield. More precisely, I am sitting with my daughter Andrea in a fifty-year-old cabin on the east shore of Phantom Lake, about three kilometres south of Flin Flon, Manitoba. You can find the town and a tiny blue splotch to mark the lake, if you have a Saskatchewan highway map. Look up, about 800 kilometres north from the US border. Though I am due south of a Manitoba town, I am actually in Saskatchewan, one province to the west of Manitoba. This phenomenon can be accounted for by the correction line, a device that makes the boundaries between the provinces a zigzag rather than a straight line. The correction line is designed to allow for the curvature of the earth and it zigs east in the southwest corner of Flin Flon. Local lore says that the line zigs through the middle of one house, and the family sleeps in Manitoba and eats in Saskatchewan—or the other way around. A house divided, you might say, if you hold imaginary lines to account for something. (p 3)I am trapped now in Kroetsch’s Seed Catalogue, picking up, and merely picking; I am working my “sex at thirty-eight” prematurely; do not let it be said, please, that I have been, or that I am, premature…
completed shield notes:
the bone across the soft flesh
is only bone
a completeness of virtues spread
from tree to distressed tree, compressed
into a boundary of north
what is the impulse of barriers
into violated frontiers? what would
think of me? the chinese wall
of ontario, shield
an endless, sudden relief
rice lake: how could any cold lake
in such a province
otherwise be filled
Tour notes, day twenty-four; November 24, training all Ontario, arriving Toronto ON
Extremely difficult sleep. Extremely difficult awake, too. Looking forward to being back inside a bed and not sleeping sitting up. Wrote out my fifty-some pages of my “sex at thirty-eight” piece, first draft now at thirty-eight pages (what are the odds?). Probably cut that down by a third or so more, once I can actually get the thing printed and start scribbling all over it; find it difficult to write and edit on a machine such as this… currently working on a short piece on reading lists for Dani Couture [see my review of her first book here], who requested such for their Northern Poetry Review; god knows why. The one thing with reading lists, I can always think of one or two or three more titles that are almost essential and required reading, and suddenly have dozens of books there listed; when is one supposed to stop?
Dani’s original email: Good afternoon, folks: I'm currently putting together aHow am I supposed to pick only one? Here is the list I gave her (I won’t tell you which single title I finally picked, since she only wanted one…) (it could probably have been quite different, although not completely, had I compiled this yesterday, or tomorrow, or even from my little apartment and not a VIA train…):
reading list of poetry books for Northern Poetry Review [www.northernpoetryreview.com] and a short essay on the importance of reading lists. Where am I getting the titles from? You. Well, hopefully. On November 21, I will assemble the list of books and a second list of those who contributed. No one person will be matched up to the book they suggested. Visitors to the site will only be able to guess who suggested what. If you're interested, please reply with the title of a book of poems that you think is an essential read. Thanks for your time, thoughts. All the best, Dani Couture, co-editor ::Northern Poetry Review:::
rob’s recommended reading list (hundreds of miles away from my bookshelves), in no particular order:
Barry McKinnon, The Centre: Poems 1970-2000
John Newlove, The Night the Dog Smiled
Judith Fitzgerald, lacerating heartwood
Sharon Thesen, The Beginning of the Long Dash
Christian Bok, Eunoia
Robin Blaser, The Holy Forest
Jack Spicer, The Collected Books
Fred Wah, So Far
Juliana Spahr, this connection of everyone with lungs
Monty Reid, these lawns
Lisa Jarnot, Black Dog Songs
Kroetsch, Completed Field Notes
Rob Budde, traffick
George Bowering, Delayed Mercy and Other Poems
Lynn Crosbie, Queen Rat
Michael Ondaatje, The Collected Works of Billy the Kid
Dennis Cooley, Bloody Jack
Michael Redhill, Lake Nora Arms
Michael Holmes, james i wanted to tell you
Steve McCaffery, Seven Pages Missing, Vols. 1 and 2
John Thompson, Stilt Jack
Phyllis Webb, The Vision Tree
Artie Gold, The Beautiful Chemical Waltz
Alice Notley, The Mystery of Small Houses
Anne Carson, Men In The Off Hours
Barry McKinnon, I Wanted To Say Something
(I'm not going to put links to these; I could be here all day if I started doing that... just believe me when I say these books would be a worthy start...)
On a whole other note, I have to remember to call my cousin Erin when I get into Toronto; I never really get a chance to hang out with her. Two months older than I am, she lives in Bramalea (a Toronto suburb) with her husband Wayne and their two kids, right by where her parents live, my mother’s younger brother Don and wife Lyn; why is it family only gets together for weddings or funerals? Also, usually when I’m in Toronto, I’m busy all weekend and not during the weekdays, completely opposite to their schedule. This trip, I don’t really have anything specifically planned for the weekend, and Andy Weaver claims he’s busy until about Wednesday night. Maybe see what they’re doing Saturday; maybe see the Fictitious Reading Series Sunday night, although I probably shouldn’t worry about any of this until I actually arrive in that city by the lake…
In Capreol, northern still from Sudbury Junction, a half an hour for payphones and the end of my calling card; why is almost no one there when I call? Must be the lunch-hour, Jennifer not at her desk, for example. Called home, got my dad, who said my mother at a doctor’s appointment in Ottawa; always something. He has one himself on Wednesday, an MRI for his leg, a problem he’s had now for some time, bringing up my months of mail as he drives by.
Continuing to read the Sproxton book, there is much in here I like, much I admire, and even understand. Here’s another passage from Phantom Lake that I’m quite fond of:
TRAVEL AND ARCHIVES, riding and reading—they all go together. Barry Lopez tells a story of writing letters while on a plane and being asked by his seatmate about the writing life. The man had a daughter keen on writing. What should the girl know about being a writer? What might she do? Lopez said the girl must do three things. She must read widely and at her own direction; she must learn what she believes; and she must get out of town.And what to say about the train ride itself? Long and long and long and long; intermittent reading, sleep and work; various passengers wandering around. I’ve done this train more than I’d like to admit, probably eight of my ten tours done on the VIA Rail home to Vancouver, and only one hasn’t been the coach class sitting up while sleeping, taking the first class ride during the 1998 Great Canadian Via Rail Tour as organized by the ottawa international writers festival; oh, to be able to do that again…
That advice seems straightforward. First, you get out of town and then circle back. Go back to see what you’ve missed and to see if you’re missing. (pp 18-9)
Tour notes, day twenty-five; November 25, Toronto ON
Last night the train actually got in on time; what are the odds? Weaver and I ran stuff back to his new digs, before we ran back to the IV Lounge Reading Series; Steve McOrmond was reading, and had even offered me a space there moons back for the same night, but I knew I'd be trapped on a train. Luckily, we even got there in time to hear him read... other readers included Dani Couture (speak of the devil! finally got to meet her) and some other person who's name I not only didn't get, but ran off with their stack of chapbooks before I could even more over there to inquire. Ah well. Drinks after (as with all things) with Weaver, McOrmond, Matthew Tierney and assorted wives (I'm terrible with names, but had wonderful conversation with Tierney and McOrmond's lovely wife) as well as IV Lounge Reading Series host Alex Boyd.
McOrmond apparently also reads on Tuesday at the Art Bar; apparently he'll be reading other things than last night (he thinks Weaver and I should read in the open set). Already made fun of him that he really should be reading every night that I'm in Toronto...
Today, hunger-over than I probably should; Kelly's birthday last night too, which added to drinks (Weaver's lovely wife). I remember around the time they met, Jason Dewinetz and I making fun of Andy "Mustang" Weaver for the girl we knew he liked... as Paul Dechene once said of Kelly, "Does she know the debt-load she's getting herself into?" But now he's all respectable (sort of), teaching at that York University place.
Today, somewhat heartbroke; Janet Inksetter is closing down her Annex Books (but leaving the on-line store in place); I've been making a point of visiting her on pretty much every Toronto jaunt for years; she even gave me a charm to help me on my first big tour back in 1997, back when she would entertain herself by making me empty my pockets (she still remembers the array of strange things I felt the need to carry). Always my favourite Toronto place to stop; now folk will have to go by her house for books. She started her 1/2 off sale today, and apparently I was one of but a few "preferred customers" to get the email last week (she says she didn't even know I was coming): dropped $100 on her today for books, including a whole slew of poetry books for folk at home. And that's at half off! ("that cheque" I'd been waiting all month to arrive finally did...) Today, too, she said she always asks me questions, knowing that the answers might not be informative in the way she would like, but that they're always interesting. I will miss her lovely store; I look forward to her house... I gave her a copy of my new Stride poetry collection, since there's a poem in there with her name in it, written right after I purchased an old Coach House Press poetry collection by David Bromige.
keats, at 206, is very old
out into that,
over annex, &
true, this only comes
or is it time
& then to keep time,
w/ any age
& this autumn part
one loves life
for all the living (from name, an errant)
Later on: An evening with dinner at Pauper's (on Bloor at Bathurst), and then seeing a bunch of bands with Murray and Julie Sutcliffe at Clinton's (I even bought a CD by one of them...); Murray was one of them original QWERTY magazine guys with Weaver & Tierney & Dechene & McOrmond & Rhodes (etcetera) out of the University of New Brunswick how many years ago; the magazine started in 1996 I think, thanks to Jan Zwicky and Don McKay being at the U. Joe Blades originally put me in touch with them, so I managed to not only get into the first issue (they just put out a 10th anniversary retrospective recently), but they all did a two city reading tour back in 1997: Ottawa and Elliot Lake (figure that one out). Imagine: a van-load of surly, drunken poets (the first time I got to meet Weaver, Dechene etc as well as the first and only previous time I'd met Murray and Julie...) arriving to stay at my house for a few days for a reading in Ottawa. One of them (I won't say who) threw up in three provinces on the drive over, arriving twelve hours later than they claimed they would; who knew throwing a party the night before that they left at 5am would prevent them from arriving in Ottawa by noon? Oh, those were the days... There's a video of the event (I hope to never see it), including a younger and haired Mr. Weaver passed out on my back room floor after we covered him in, what, 300 stickers? Oh, youth. Oh oh oh.
Did I mention I'm somewhat looking forward to getting home? Did I mention I'm gone from home a whole 28 days? That's as long as rehab...