Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Ongoing notes: mid January 2007

Where does all the time actually go? This is usually when folk make their "New Year's Resolutions," I guess. I've never been the resolution type; I think any changes, alterations or improvements shouldn’t be time-specific but more ongoing. Yes yes yes, January is named for "Janus," the two-faced god who looked equally forward and back, but any real consideration of "taking stock" has to be a slow ongoing process, and not simply an arbitrary one begun with a hangover (I was out very very late this year…). I'm also terrible about birthdays; why limit thinking of someone to whatever day they happened to be born? But anyways

Nicholas Lea recently pointed out this interview with Bill Knott; Amanda Earl comments on my recent Capital Slam feature (mentioned also here in The Ottawa Citizen); birthdays are celebrated (with my name attached); and apparently my new chapbook (I don't have copies yet) is available from that nice Peter Ganick.

Apparently Melissa Upfold got the package I sent her (she never actually emailed or wrote back to tell me...); someone I don’t know commented on a fragment of a review I posted; and did you see this short piece that Ottawa poet Shane Rhodes wrote on a Robert Kroetsch "sonnet"? He also did one on Fred Wah... Apparently Amanda Earl got some visual pieces published online that she made for the poetry workshop she took with me last fall; apparently too, Max Middle is offering subscriptions for his Puddle leaflets. And did you see my poem in the new issue of The Walrus? Don’t forget, both the upcoming Factory Reading and ottawater launch happening in Ottawa, and Meghan Jackson reading happening at the IV Lounge Reading Series in Toronto, among other upcoming events

And apparently my question over email a few days ago, wondering what the hell happened to all the poems on Ottawa city buses attracted a bit of attention… check out today's Ottawa Citizen...

Calgary AB: Straight on the heels of his Canada Post (Montreal QC: Snare Books, 2006) [see my review of such here] is Calgary editor & poet Jason Christie's second poetry collection, I, ROBOT (Calgary AB: Edge, 2006). It seems strange but entirely appropriate, somehow, that a collection of poems about "robots and animated appliances" would be coming out with a Science Fiction and Fantasy publisher. In many ways, I, ROBOT has the feeling of a short novel organized as a collage work, all working as a group to paint a larger picture, working a combination of short story and prose poetry to write a story of the human robot, including toasters, washing machines, VCRs and personal computers while referencing classic science fiction writers, books and film.


"What happens between one period and a
full stop?" The robot teacher asked his grade
four grammar teacher. The teacher replied:
"Nothing happens. They are the same thing."
"Then why are they called different things?"
The robot student asked again. The teacher
didn’t respond, merely drew a dotted line and
a straight line on the virtual board out of green
and orange with her photon-stick and gave the
little robot a detention.

As much as I very liked this, it didn’t grab me in the same way as Canada Post did. I very like the way he writes the book as unit of composition in ways that many people don’t, working and reworking echoes of the long poem as more than sequence and more than pastiche. But where is it all going? And where will Christie go next?

Vancouver BC: Since Erin Mouré did her madly-brilliant Pessoa traselation a few years ago, he seems to be all the rage these days (or I wasn’t noticing before that, which is entirely possible). Newly out from Peter and Meredith Quartermain's Nomados is Christine Stewart's Pessoa's July or the months of astonishments (Nomados, 2006). Written as a series of letters to Pessoa, the book also concludes with a note from the author:
Pessoa is Portugese for person. And Fernando Pessoa, a Portugese poet (1888-1935), consisted of persons. He was heteronymic and included Álvaro Campos, Alberto Caeiro, Ricardo Reis and Bernardo Soares, prolific poets with different birthdays, poetics, odours, and mothers. It is in his company, and others, that I consider.
The idea of pseudonyms and/or multiple voices is one that seems to confuse and even anger the public (including writers) most of the time, asking why another name has to be used, isn’t this fraudulent, etcetera, before considering the purpose and exploring the use of these multitudes (the story of reviewer Carmine Starnino, for example, exposing the poetry collection Vehicule Press published by a Greek poet as actually being David Solway, thus, in many ways dismissing not only the material of the collection, but the entire exercise).

Dear Pessoa,
this is my film
house where memory betrays her.
His kisses were
lenient and tactless. With soft
lucid parts. His neck was
secluded plus it was
named and luminous igniting Greek
extinguishers. To hell with it
I said no
to the
extinguishers, and walked misery.
You were foment, I figure
and found that many berries
even are bitter.

Flora, whose floss designs love? (pp 12-13)

Kentville NS: A book I've been going through lately is A Ragged Pen: Essays on Poetry & Memory (Gaspereau Press, 2006), with essays by Robert Finley, Patrick Friesen, Aislinn Hunter, Anne Simpson and Jan Zwicky. As Finley writes in the introduction, these pieces were "first presented on a panel at the Association of Writers and Writing Programs Conference held in Vancouver in the spring of 2005."

Eurydice Afterwards

She's underwater. It's spacious, dark;
the marble stairs spiral around
as they descend. Years ago, a boy floated
down, dying. It was not in her power
to change things. He'd thrown
himself off the bridge, despair
in his pockets. The least she could do
was stroke the pale skin, carry
the body to shore. Now she recalls

air. What it was like to breathe,
April wrapped around her
in a cloak of wings, hundreds,
stitched with iridescence. She drew
that mantle over a prince's shoulders,
put the crown of her hand in his hair.
Sometimes his lyre can be heard faintly,
or maybe it's just the last of the ice floes
striking the bridge as it passes.
Even here, a scattering of light
from above. Watery halls, spangled. (Anne Simpson)

Because of how the pieces held together and spoke to each other, they decided to produce a book of the pieces, and including poems and/or prose by the individual writers to go along with their conference pieces. It makes me wish the transcripts and such of more conferences were put into print, and makes me wonder if there were other pieces delivered at the same conference that would have worked together as well as this collection does. Wasn’t this the same conference that had, among others, the American poet Cole Swensen? I would love to know what she would have said at same… As the cover tells us, "a good memory is not as good as a ragged pen," and the pieces each work around the ideas of writing and recollection, as Friesen, in his "Memory River," writes:
There is no one approach to either poetry or memory, but one function of poetry is to be a song of longing for what is not there, nor ever was. Not longing for the memory itself, but for something outside of memory, the absence which is the context of memory; the state of longing in and of itself. We long for what can't be named; the unremembered. As Basho's poem suggests, even in the present we long for what is right before us because everything holds within it its own disappearance and loss, its own state of non-existence, and as we experience the present we experience it as loss. (p 33)
Victoria BC: Another new little publication is Toronto poet Souvankham Thammavongsa's chapbook residual (Victoria BC: Greenboathouse Books, 2006). A follow-up to her first trade collection small arguments (Toronto ON: Pedlar Press, 2003) [see also the interview with her posted at], this four poem chapbook might be the shortest chapbook that Jason Dewinetz and Aaron Peck have ever produced, but that certainly doesn’t make it any less beautiful than any other of their publications. In these four small poems, Thammavongsa writes out a series of hesitations and slow movements, that even as they pause manage to pause, still, and continue to cause themselves to perpetually reduce to a mere hair's breadth of movement.


The human body
is marked

two points

The point
water boils

The point
water freezes

is where

it lives
and how

between two points

New England: Lately I've been reading American poet Fanny Howe's on the ground (Greywolf, 2004) [I found a stack of them remaindered at the Benjamin Books location at the Rideau Centre three weeks ago]. There isn't nearly enough good I can say about her poetry [see my note on her some time ago here], after going through various of her works including her Selected Poems (University of California Press, 2000), Gone (University of California Press, 2004), and her chapbook Tramp (Montreal QC: Vallum, 2005), as well as her more recent Radical Love: 5 novels (Beacon NY: Nightboat Books, 2006). Why do I think there's another poetry collection out this year?


The first person is an existentialist

like trash in the groin of the sand dunes
like a brown cardboard home beside a dam

like seeing like things the same
between Death Valley and the desert of Paran

An earthquake a turret with arms and legs
The second person is the beloved

like winners taking the hit
like looking down on Utah as if

it was Saudi Arabia or Pakistan
like war-planes out of Miramar

like a split cult a jolt of coke New York
like Mexico in its deep beige couplets

like this, like that…like Call us all It
Thou It. "Sky to Spirit! Call us all It!"

The third person is a materialist. (p 23)

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