Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Matrix 76: Robert Allen Tribute (and Sina Queyras)

Most people know the story of Robert Allen Zimmerman, who nearly called himself "Robert Allen" once he left home ("It sounded like a Scottish king and I liked it," he said), but changed his mind once he discovered a saxophonist called David Allyn, and even further, when he discovered the work of writer Dylan Thomas. What would have happened if young Zimmerman could have travelled into the future and met the Montreal writer Robert Allen? The new issue of Montreal's Matrix magazine (note new website) is built as a tribute to their late friend, publisher, editor, mentor, Concordia University creative writing teacher and writer Robert Allen [see my obit note here], who succumbed to cancer last November. An essential part of the Montreal literary scene, the new issue holds tributes by Jon Paul Fiorentino, Anne Stone [see her blog entry on same here], Jason Camlot, Mary Williamson, Todd Swift, Angela Hibbs, Andy Brown, David McGimpsey, lydia eugene, Steve Luxton, Angela Carr, Mikhail Iossel, Oana Avasilichioaei, Luc Paradis, Melissa A. Thompson, Mary di Michele, Catherine Kidd, Golda Fried, David Solway, Bryan Sentes and Rob's sister, Vivienne Allen. As Fiorentino writes in his introduction,
Robert Allen died in Fall of 2006 at the age of sixty. The last three weeks of his life were spent in the Eastern Townships with family and friends, sharing stories.

He was the author of nine collections of poetry, three novels, and one collection of short fiction. His most recent book was the brilliant long poem, The Encantadas, published just this spring. Without a doubt, The Encantadas is one of the best Canadian poetry books ever published. Rob was one of Canada's best writers. His work was a rigorous negotiation of tradition and experiment. He wasn’t a household name but I know that his work will only increase in profile and importance. I have faith that Canadian literature has the ability to catch up to Rob and his work. Rob was not particularly interested in social status or award culture. Instead he delighted in the numerous achievements of his students and protégés.

The number of writers who have been influenced by Rob is astonishing. Rob taught
emerging writers to use their curiosity, irreverence, and defiance to their advantage and to follow their own literary interests without apology. And most unique, he always treated his students and protégés as fellow writers. If you were one of Rob Allen's writers, you were driven to make him proud and prove him right.

As a friend, Rob was always patient, thoughtful, and generous. He loved to share a bottle of good scotch, or bad scotch, a cigarette, a story, a road trip. He would always provide counsel. His wisdom was an invaluable gift to those who loved him. On a personal note, throughout the seven years I knew Rob, he never stopped helping me and never stopped laughing with me. He showed his faith in me by letting me help him run Matrix and giving me the opportunity to edit books and work with authors. Rob helped me become a better writer and a better person. I will always be grateful for his friendship and I miss him more than I can express.
Allen was the author of a number of previous books of poetry and fiction, including Standing Wave (Véhicule), Ricky Ricardo Suites (DC Books) [see my review of it here], Napoleon's Retreat (DC Books), A June Night in the Late Cenozoic (Oolichan), Magellan's Clouds, New and Selected Poems (Véhicule), The Indigo Hotel (Cormorant), The Lyric Paragraph (ed., DC Books), Wintergarden (Quadrant), Late Romantics (w/ Mark Teicher and Stephen Luxton, Moosehead Press), The Hawryliw Process, Volumes One and Two (Porcupine's Quill), The Assumption of Private Lives (New Delta), Blues and Ballads (Ithica House) and Valhalla at the OK (Ithica House). In 2006, Andy Brown's Conundrum Press published the complete poem The Encantadas, which had been appearing intermittently throughout Allen's poetry collections for years.


has someone to see it, and say how it is, and bring the lyric
through to it, as if I was all here and all the moment, and could
make a poem on it.) Like and unlike our sky; shadows

on the east ridge; a long trail that once might have led
to water, crooked as memory. If a voice comes as it comes
sometimes, it is all I can do to not pick up

the phone, to hear a voice breathing in some other place, unstained
by this. Hello? Another body in my arms, relaying the voice. Her breath
goes sleepy, then near wakefulness, then slow

The issue even features some "New Sonnets" by Robert Allen, six small pieces that hadn’t been previously seen.

Sonnet of Nothing

And given nothing, the order ramifies. It includes
autumn, a damning and thinning, and hiding
in the cruel winter months. And given nothing,

my job, fifty hours a week, becomes what I think
is a governing love for all the people I work with.
The people I teach, they are so fragile and trusting,

that education will lift them out of everything,
when it will not even lift them out of the north wind.
They and I are teetering on the brink, but bring

a grace and creativity, and maybe most important
a denial of the end of everything. The metred instants
in sweeping storms, the moments when you trust

your life means something: that is when the moon
comes around in its swing, to shine on our ruin.

With the focus on Allen throughout the issue, it's hard to then pay attention to the other poetry and fiction in the issue, but alternately, the interview that Angela Carr did with Canadian ex-pat poet Sina Queyras is perhaps one of the most compelling interviews I've read in some time (I've gone through it about half a dozen times so far). The author of three poetry collections, most recently Lemon Hound [see my review of such here], she has been teaching in the United States for a number of years, and is currently preparing to move to Calgary for her writer-in-residence tenure this coming school year (the same time I'm in Edmonton doing the same). Moving through a lengthy interview that talks about Anne Carson, Sappho, Bat Barbie, Maya Deren, Gertrude Stein, Nicole Brossard, Virginia Woolf and others, Queyras talks about her influences, and her process of writing and reading.
SQ: People think that writing is an isolated act. They see poets (and some poets view themselves) as mad / sad / depressed geniuses who are "too good" for the world. That isn’t how I see poetry. It's way more social than that, and I think the better for it. There's a great essay in Poetry and Pedagogy edited by Juliana Spahr and Joan Retallack about the centrifugal classroom. I love the simple idea in this particular essay about the outward vs. inward approach to teaching / writing and completely agree. Poetry classrooms that focus on "I" driven poetry, spontaneous overflow of emotion if you will, to a disservice. You can have a poetic that radiates out, that is the self-reflected in others if you like, you can find ways to provide structures, or frames that the student can use to investigate those emotions or feelings in a variety of ways. You can take that energy and harness it. There's rich territory between wanting to get at that dynamic feeling, which after all IS a vital aspect of poetry, and directing that impulse in innovative ways.

Retreats get at this in a physical way: pragmatic but also conceptual. For instance, they show what a writer needs to do to be professional, but they also expose the fruitful tension between solitude and community. The need for a writer to be good alone, to have self-discipline, to be a good thinker, yes these are essential to creative work, but there is also the need for interaction with other artists, to hear new ideas, to have your own ideas challenged, to be inspired, pissed off, a little competitive, to respond to, or be distracted by, to be socialized really. To be a healthy person.

I think too, that the pleasure of "breaking bread" for all of its clichés is a great thing. I was unbelievably shy prior to going to Banff and then wham, first day you're sitting at a breakfast table with Ken Babstock, Don McKay, Mavis Gallant and a few artists who make your head spin. Then moving to NY, forget about it, no shy, no time for shy. I mean I still am very shy, painfully shy, but I do it anyhow. My students laugh when I tell them this because they think I'm this big out-there personality, but no. It's always tough. You can't stop the waves but you can learn to surf, so the saying goes.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Robin Blaser: The Fire & The Holy Forest

whose salted heart

we've met
it turns out
in a labour of form,
a cultural largeness
talking to itself,
its memory damaged
so the past
is over the hill
out of shape,
tigerish disarray
of 'who made thee'
thus troubling
the lyric mind
with salt


At the Griffin Poetry Prize ceremony in Toronto in 2006, San Francisco poet Robert Hass gave a speech as tribute to Vancouver poet Robin Blaser, reprinted in Brick 78 (winter 2006):
If there is a single figure in whom North American poetry—poetry from Canada and
the United States—flows together, it's been in the work, as a teacher as well as a poet and essayist, of Robin Blaser. So it's particularly fitting and wonderful to see the Griffin Trust honour him this evening. I came across his third book first—Cups. It was published in 1968, and in a moment I am going to read you one of the poems from that book, but I need to say a word about the body of his work after 1968. Most of it got published in the small presses of Vancouver, and then by Coach House Press in Toronto. These were books that American poets, North American poets below the border, found in the basement of City Lights Bookstore and in Grolier Poetry Book Shop in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and the Strand Bookstore in New York—in those places where poetry, like notes passed around in the classroom by the students while the great teacher History rumbles away at the microphone, gets to happen. Robin published many of his books during his years in that system that seemed then a kind of magical underground hydrology: Image Nations (1974-75), Harp Trees (1977), Syntax (1983), and The Faerie Queene and The Park (1987) all came from Vancouver presses—Sun Stone House, Cobblestone Press, Talonbooks, and Fissure Books (although London's Ferry Press published the first Image Nations book); then he made the big leap to Toronto's Coach House Press with Pell Mell in 1988 and the earliest version of The Holy Forest, which was the first collected volume of his work and which is, like Whitman's Leaves of Grass, one record of an ongoing project in poetry that is yet to be completed.
It is rare that such an important and extended period for a poet can be collected into one volume (Alberta poet Robert Kroetsch also comes to mind), but it is the case for Robin Blaser. The University of California Press has not only recently published a revised and expanded edition of his life-long and ongoing "serial poem," The Holy Forest: Collected Poems of Robin Blaser (2006), but added as a companion volume, The Fire: Collected Essays of Robin Blaser (2006). Both edited by Miriam Nichols, who also edited Even on Sunday: Essays, Readings, and Archival Materials on the Poetry and Poetics of Robin Blaser (2002), the new editions of the poems follows the previous edition of The Holy Forest, published by Toronto's Coach House Press in 1993; originally edited by Michael Ondaatje and Stan Persky, and published with a forward by Robert Creeley, the new edition includes the same, and adds a new afterward by Charles Bernstein, and the essays includes a commentary by Nichols. Including the long poems "Cups" and "The Moth Poem" that both appeared in previous editions of The Long Poem Anthology, the new edition includes a number of poems added to what previously existed as The Holy Forest; sections including "Great Companion: Dante Alighiere" from 1997, and a small group poems that appeared as the chapbook Wanders (Vancouver BC: Nomados, 2003). As Blaser wrote on the "serial poem" in the first half of his statement for Michael Ondaatje's The Long Poem Anthology (Toronto ON: Coach House Press, 1979):
The Moth Poem is one section of a long unfinished work, The Holy Forest, and was
written in 1964. One line of it indicates that I had begun to think of the new country which came to be Canada. It is a serial poem, according to the agreement Jack Spicer and I reached to name the kind of narrative we were working on around 1960. Robert Duncan, planning to write on the poetry of both of us in 1962, called it neo-narrative. For both Jack and me, poetry had fallen into time, like beauty itself, and attendant divinity. (Blake's Los as the figuration of imaginative loss would come to mind in my later years to explain much to me of this argument with time.) The term serial was no adapted from serial music, but was intended to suggest the diremptions of belief, even in poetry, all around us. The broke, which is broken heart and broken mind, simultaneously cultural and personal, was never simply personal. Jack was to call the poet a 'time mechanic.' And it fits. Models for such serial construction were found in Rilke's Duino Elegies. Sonnets to Orpheus and Robert Duncan's Medieval Scenes. Such poems deconstruct meanings and compose a wildness of meaning in which the I of the poet is not the centre but a returning and disappearing note.

The serial poem, then, gives special emphasis to time ― poem following poem in sequence of the writing ― often with one dominant musical note or image, such as the moth, which is the gift or the dictated. During the composition of The Moth Poem, moths were attendant ― strangely, whenever, wherever, and noticed by others, about my head, on my shoulder, at my lamp. This is the issue of the opening poems. 'A Literalist' and 'The Literalist.' So, the poem begins with a moth caught in the strings of a piano ― literally ― it woke me with a marvelous, tentative music in the middle of the night. The beginnings and a command. Thus, the exact, the literal, the dictated are keys to the poem: for example, one of the Atlantis poems depends upon my having knocked over a glass of water, which accident inundated everything on my study desk. The central event of the poem is the creation of the moth in 'it it it it,' as it hit the dark window. This appearance of the moth is preceded by 'Paradise Quotations,' made entirely of lines from my reading that come to mind freely and wildly ― Nijinsky's diary, Coleridge, Hawthorne, and the intertwining couplets of Erasmus Darwin ― just before 'it' hit the window. The serial meaning ends in 'Salut,' a greeting to appearing and disappearing things, guided by the fragments of H.D.'s priest, a wand against mediocrity. The musical notes closing the original text of The Moth Poem are Pythagoras' notation of the musical intervals between the planets, the oldest tradition of the music of the spheres ― that is, according to Pliny, Hist. Nat., II. Oddly heard.
What makes Blaser's poems unique, in part, is how he weaves in not only his own references to literature and philosophy and religion, writing almost out of an endless supply of knowledge, reading, spiritual and intellectual pursuits, but, as Creeley writes in his preface,
Robin Blaser became a source for poetry's authority beyond any simplifying place or time. It is not at all that his work is transcendent or beyond the obvious limits of common life. Quite the contrary. In this still shifting edge of that West which is his first place of origin, he enters upon his own power without distraction or compromise, and comes to the substantiating community of his own need and recognition. In this respect only Robert Duncan finds a place of similar order, while their peers, such as Spicer and Olson, too often are battered by increasing isolation and overt rejection. So the last words said by Jack Spicer to his old friend echo with poignant emphasis: "My vocabulary did this to me. Your love with let you go on."
An important element to Blaser's poems has to be voice, hearing his clear and present voice even through the polyvocal threads he weaves in from every other corner of the civilized and uncivilized world; and as Creeley said, that love. Blaser's poems, even his darker ones, are filled with a kind of light, moving through an array of hope even as he moves us through the darkest elements. His voice comes through not despite the endless working threads, but because. Still, the only thing properly missing in this new edition, the poem "Christ Among the Olives" that, in the first edition, had red lettering to depict the voice of Christ, made lighter in this new edition. Can faded black be any replacement to the clear red?


the opposite of meaning is not
meaninglessness, what do these big
words means in the panic, well,
panic means heart before we had
formed this, it was Pan, my dear,
and tufts of plants before we had
planned or kissed it, before
we had dreamed the leaves and
historical consequences, before the
painted ocean and storms, before
the water everywhere, drunken and
sunned, stopped us, before the
rock of our spirit, before doorsteps
and fountains and fragments, before
cats and dogs and cities, the
endless footsteps, before sweetness
and mountains, before paradise
and walled gardens, before
streets and manufacture, cars
and desire, after stars and
constellations are probable, we
found it (from Pell Mell)

Originally born in Denver, Colorado in 1925, Robin Blaser eventually found the west coast, and became part of a trio of poets known as the kernel of the San Francisco Renaissance, meeting up with fellow young poets Robert Duncan and Jack Spicer, before being invited north to teach at the newly-founded Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, where he became and remains an important focal point to a number of aspiring and established Canadian poets. It is in the voice, one can say. One has. As editor Miriam Nichols writes at the beginning of her "Preface" to The Fire: Collected Essays of Robin Blaser:
Best known for his participation with Robert Duncan and Jack Spicer in the San Francisco Renaissance of the 1950s, Blaser is unique among his companions of that period: not only is he belated, publishing his first, distinguishing statement of poetics only in 1967 in "The Fire," but his writing life extends much beyond the New American movement so famously anthologized in Donald Allen's The New American Poetry of 1960 and includes the distance of a cross-border perspective. In 1966 Blaser moved from Berkeley to Vancouver, British Columbia; he became a dual citizen of Canada and the United States in 1974. He has been a professor in the Departments of English and Fine Arts at Simon Fraser University for twenty years. He has sustained literary friendships across national and generational boundaries with the poets Charles Bernstein, George Bowering, Robert Creeley, Rachel Blau DuPlessis, Kevin Killian, Daphne Marlatt, Steve McCaffery, Erin Mouré, bp Nichol, Michael Ondaatje, Sharon Thesen, Phyllis Webb, and many others. This collection of essays is a virtual conversation about poetics with such personal writer-friends as well as philosophers and artists, living and dead, whom Blaser has found companionable. It is also an intense reading of the postmodern that winds its way through fifty years of cultural history to arrive at an alternative view of the arts.
Or, as Blaser wrote himself (in his own voice), in the beginning of his own "Robin Blaser: Curriculum Vitae," collected in The Holy Forest: Collected Poems of Robin Blaser:

What I would be if I were not a writer? Who I would be if I
were not a writer? —questions which—within the shadowy
places of my love of thought—bring to mind my father's
delight in whoopee-cushions. He liked particularly—taking
us all off guard—to place these on the chairs of dinner guests—
or on mine when I'd returned home for a visit. Consternation
and blushes. Discomfort with what one was or with what
one was going to say. The secrecy of person answered by true
or simulated laughter in gales. Some never came back to the
'vulgarity.' I was always a guest—of family, of religion, and
especially of language—nothing more, nothing less. That is the
reason whoopee-cushions come to mind now.

'The imagination of person'—to adapt Robert Creeley's
lovely wording of the same question—is noisy everyday. It's
a Penelopean mending job over the years. Weaving. Unravelling.
Weaving again. If possible into the heart of things. Perhaps, a
composer—to place with.

So what have I been in my fugue of sorts? Tossed. Thrown.
Allotted. One through twenty-one instances, just like that—
how do you like your green-eyed boy now, mr. death?

Saturday, March 24, 2007

a note on (literary) history

A few months ago while digging through the University of Ottawa's library for articles on John Newlove, Andrew Suknaski and George Bowering (as well as a few other items) for the three Guernica Editions books I've been working on, I found some interesting pieces running through Grain magazine from the 1980s. In two different places, I found pieces written on the histories of various prairie publishers, including "A Brief History of Thunder Creek Publishing Co-op," the organization that publishes Coteau Books, by Geoffrey Ursell, and the uncredited "A Brief Official History of Turnstone Press 1976-81," as well as a more general piece on "The Saskatchewan Presses" by Patrick Lane. From the uncredited Turnstone Piece:
Turnstone Press was founded one afternoon in 1976 in a pub near the University of Manitoba by a group of teachers and writers of whom Robert Kroetsch later wrote: "They dare to be culture-makers, the givers of new form in a city that prides itself on having grown old young." Five years after those ad hoc beginnings, Turnstone Press is now the largest and most active literary press between the West Coast and Toronto.

The initial mandate of the press was to provide a quality publishing outlet for the work of a growing group of new Prairie writers. Beginning with W.D. Valgardson's In the Gutting Shed ― now in its third edition ― Turnstone will have published 59 titles by the end of 1981. In the process, it has also been part of the development of a community of writers and readers in Manitoba ― by the time the Manitoba Writers' Guild was formed earlier this year, many of its founding members had had their first book published by Turnstone Press.
If you're in the midst of the game, it's important to have a sense of all the beginnings, even the ones that might seem a bit offside, or somehow "less important" than what is currently in front of you. As Lane begins his piece,
Literature is that creative work whose interest has a permanent or universal nature. There are only two publishers in Saskatchewan whose primary concern is such work, and they are Thistledown Press in Saskatoon and Coteau Books in Moose Jaw. Both began their venture in small-press publishing in 1975 and the first collections were the poems of the publishers and editors themselves. This is the basis for what is known in the trade as 'vanity' publishing, but there is a difference here. True vanity presses publish within an already respected and viable publishing scene. This was not the case for Saskatchewan in the early seventies. At that time there were no publishers interested in literature. There were elsewhere in Canada, of course, but their interest in prairie writers was and is now desultory at best.

I don’t want to go too deeply into the history of these two small presses. Suffice to say that this kind of publishing in Canada and elsewhere is almost always begun in order to publish the work of the men and women who begin the press. Anansi, Coach House Press, Talonbooks, and Very Stone House, presses from Toronto and Vancouver which began in the mid-sixties, all published themselves first. Their next step was to publish their friends and the loose, ill-defined group of regional writers who surrounded them. All these presses were, during the first five years, extremely regional with local biases and preferences. It was the same for Thistledown Press and Coteau Books in 1975, a decade later and in another place.

Prior to 1970, most writes, at least those who believed in a serious literature, left the prairie to go elsewhere. There are a few notable exceptions such as John Hicks and R.E. Rashley, but others like Robert Kroetsch, Miriam Waddington, P.K. Page, and Dorothy Livesay emigrated early in their careers. In the more recent past, John Newlove and Andy Suknaski left for the west coast to find a viable publishing and writing world. It is interesting that they have both returned, as has Robert Kroetsch. It is largely due to the work of the small publishers that this was possible. They created the climate of publishing that began to define a writing scene that was at home on the prairie. The establishment of the Saskatchewan Writers Guild in 1969 and Grain magazine in 1973 are equally crucial. The work of Ken Mitchell and Jean Freeman, along with others, goes far to establish a place where literature can occur. The work of Caroline Heath and her co-editors at Grain is also crucially instrumental.
It's far too easy to lose track of such things, even for those attempting to pay attention, and so much even an inch behind us is already unknown. I remember talking to a friend of mine a few years ago who's first book had been published in the late 1990s by Nightwood Editions; she had no idea that the press had originally been bill bissett's blewointment, with a history going back well into the early 1960s. And why should she? How many people know, that through The Georgia Straight and The Georgia Straight Writing Supplement, Vancouver's New Star Books can trace themselves all the way back to Tish?

These are things that don’t seem to be discussed, asked or written about. It was something that came up at the recent Factory Reading the other night with two Montreal writers, neither of whom had heard of the 1970s beginnings of Vehicule Press through the Vehicule Poets, or any of their members, including Ken Norris, Artie Gold or Claudia Lapp (it came up when I asked if there had been any discussion for an Artie Gold tribute in the next issue of Matrix, on the heels of the current issue's Robert Allen tribute? Neither of them even knew who Artie Gold was…). Thinking later on the issue, who would have told them about Artie Gold? I suppose there are places to find a few of these, including back issues of Essays on Canadian Writing and Open Letter (including their Coach House Press issue), many of which I've been picking up for years; Ken Norris even did a book collecting interviews and articles of their group for the collection Vehicule Days (1995); why can’t other groups be that organized?

Still, I wouldn’t mind knowing some of the history of Oolichan Books, for example (a publisher I seem to know very little about), or ECW Press. And what will they say in ten years about the beginnings and early years of such presses as Insomniac Press, Broken Jaw Press, or even above/ground press and Chaudiere, if anything?

Maybe there aren’t that many people who are actually interested in such things. Still, I think every publisher out there should have at least a few pages somewhere written about their beginnings; if I weren’t so overloaded currently, I would do the damn thing myself.

related posts: my piece on Montreal's ga press;

Friday, March 23, 2007

Introduction: There Is No Mountain: Selected Poems of Andrew Suknaski (draft)
Chaudiere Books, 2007

re origins

lanterns dealing with metaphysical concerns (where reality begins, or ends). only creative writing course ever taken – sometime in the late sixties, a UBC seminar “… man, you young city poets wanna know where reality begins? you oughta go out there in the wilderness, a while – where the batteries in your flashlight slowly go dead … where your horses slowly die, one by one, while your lantern falls apart … then maybe you’ll know what survival is all about” said the wilderness poet/guest – bushed after merely an hour of ramblings by the naïve students. in my good student nigger’s silence, i agreed – even though seven students suicided that year at the university, which finally led me to wonder about the relativity of the places we inhabit – in our mind, or actually out there in a physical geography we see. wondered about survival, the temptations of the wilderness beyond the last city bus stop, and the journey home. i don’t know … but am grateful for the poem, ken. the poem leading me home (“… back to the simplest things last of all” as charles olson said – a simple, ordinary truth … far from simple, once you get into it).
— andrew suknaski, october 28/77, st john’s college
Known for over three decades as "the poet of Wood Mountain, Saskatchewan," Andrew Suknaski was born on a farm near Wood Mountain, Saskatchewan in 1942 of Ukrainian and Polish decent, left home at 16, returned and left home again. This binary of travel repeated over the next twenty years of his life, before he finally to Regina, and then to a group home in Moose Jaw in the late 1980s. In the years that followed his first departure, he worked as a migrant worker, travelled through Europe and Australia, and attended Simon Fraser University and the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, eventually falling under the wing of Vancouver poet Earle Birney. He also studied at the Kootenay School of Art in the British Columbia interior, as well as the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts School of Art and Design. Through heavy amounts of publishing in small press publications and elsewhere starting in the late 1960s, as well as his own Elfin Plot Press, he caught the eye of Ontario poet and editor Al Purdy, who included Suknaski's poems in his first Storm Warning Anthology (1970), before editing what would become Suknaski's first trade and most famous poetry collection, Wood Mountain Poems (1976). He was the subject of a documentary film by Harvey Spak for the National Film Board, and was writer-in-residence at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg in 1978. Anyone in the prairies older than their mid-40s not only knows of the work of Andrew Suknaski, but might even consider him an influence, through years of his work being taught from out-of-date anthologies. Until his first trade collection Wood Mountain Poems, edited by Al Purdy for MacMillan, was reissued by Regina's Hagios Press as a thirtieth anniversary edition in 2006, almost everything of Suknaski's had long been out of print. Working through Andrew Suknaski's poems, the collection Wood Mountain Poems wasn’t a beginning, as many readers have come to see it, but almost a mid-point in his writing career, moving into text and away from the visual poems that made up a large part of his first decade. Still, despite his years of producing visuals and chapbooks and publishing and distributing across the country, the first few lines of his long poem "Homestead, 1914 (Sec. 32, TP4, RG2, W3RD, Sask.)," the first poem in Wood Mountain Poems, and reprinted innumerable times in anthologies (much the way George Bowering's poem "grandfather" had been, from a decade earlier), was the first, and sometimes only reflection that any reader saw of the work of Andrew Suknaski.

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!

For years starting in the late 1960s and further into the 1980s, Andrew Suknaski was one of the most prolific, energetic and influential poets in the prairies, travelling and writing, making poems out of drawings and words and cigar tubes and kites, and producing chapbooks and magazines as he went. What happened, you might ask? He was a combination of friend and contemporary, student and mentor to more than one generation of writer across the country, including Eli Mandel, Barry McKinnon, Gary Hyland, John Newlove, Patrick Lane, Al Purdy, Kristjana Gunnars, Dennis Cooley, Robert Kroetsch, Mick Burrs, Dennis Lee, Tim Lander, Mike Olito, Robert Currie, Catherine Hunter, Jars Balan, bill bissett, bpNichol, George Morrissette, Stephen Scobie, Smaro Kamboureli, Linda Rogers and so many others. As an author, he produced eight trade poetry collections and dozens of chapbooks; as a publisher, dozens more. Suknaski's poems were written as stories about the land and the people that lived there, working their way toward myth, and the myth of the place, even as he told the "real story" of various residents of the village of Wood Mountain. Like his friend John Newlove, Suknaski was one of the first too write any stories about the Native peoples in that part of the country, well before it would have been considered "voice appropriation," and helped more than a few other writers open up to tell their own stories down the road. There is a particular kind of deceptively simple prairie plainspeak that Suknaski seemed to perfect in his poems, and one that is repeated by many of the writers that came after him, but often without the kind of nuance that Suknaski was known for, through his series of seemingly endless departures and returns. As Scobie wrote in the introduction to Suknaski's previous selected poems, The Land They Gave Away (1982):

Suknaski has had an immense influence upon the development of Prairie poetry over the last ten years. This "anecdotal" style has become an orthodoxy, and, in the hands of less skillful writers, a cliché. Suknaski's best work retains the energy and vitality of the speech he is quoting ― but the danger of the style is that the poetic rhythms will go flat and dull, producing only some mildly interesting short stories which might just as well be told in prose.
His poems reference a world that no longer existed, as well as skim a series of worlds, at the time of his writings, sat on the edge of becoming history. In the poem "Ajiman" from The Land They Gave Away, he wrote of the Ojibway keeping alive the memory of something by not calling it destroyed, but simply saying that it no longer existed, and thus keeping it alive through memory, and its own absence.

the floating stone

that still



for what no longer


though still


in living

Suknaski's poems continually return to that edge to acknowledge the stories around him that might otherwise have been lost, writing of his own family histories and those of friends and neighbours, to various of the other nations and nationalities around him, including the immediate Sioux (ever aware of his immigrant guilt), the Chinese, Polish and Ukrainian immigrants, and various others of the native peoples. It is important to note that the word "honour" is repeated throughout his poems, as is the word "remember." Suknaski does remember, including stories of Big Bear, Sitting Bull and Crowfoot, Gabriel Dumont and the Teton Sioux, much in the way other writers, such as his friend, the poet John Newlove also did, another Saskatchewan poet who left the land, but, unfortunately, was unable to return (he considered himself a Saskatchewan poet for the rest of his life). For Suknaski, perpetually leaving and returning, the land itself is important to him, from his father and mother as well as the physicality of his home base of Wood Mountain, Saskatchewan (elevation 1,013 metres), close to the Cypress Hills (the highest point between Labrador and the Rocky Mountains), site of the infamous Cypress Hills massacre.

The question any book such as this is forced to answer is, does a selected poems work as a "best of" what the particular poet had published throughout their career, or does it work from a series of threads, of range moving through their poems over the space of years and various collections? The selection There Is No Mountain: Selected Poems of Andrew Suknaski moves from his early years as a concrete/visual poet through his seminal collection Wood Mountain Poems, and further, through a selection of poems that found their ways into magazines and anthologies by the end of his writing career, but had not yet been collected in book form. I wanted to show the range of Suknaski's concerns throughout his writing life, broader perhaps than the selection friend and editor Stephen Scobie made for his first selected poems, The Land They Gave Away (1982). Even just from his published work, that's a lot of material to go through. Since he self-produced his own collection of selected visual poems in 1976, publishing Writing on Stone: poemdrawings 1966-76 the same year Wood Mountain Poems appeared, it seemed reasonable to simply take him at his word, and include it here as a whole. It always begs the question, was his selected visuals named after Writing-on-Stone national park in southern Alberta, or did one have nothing to do with the other? One of the first concrete/visual poets of the prairies, he also had work in John Robert Columbo’s anthology New Directions in Canadian Poetry (1971) along with Steve McCaffery, Judith Copithorne, David UU, bill bissett and bpNichol, among others, and was part of the four poet Four Parts Sand (1971), publishing the visual works of Suknaski, bill bissett, Judith Copithorne and Earle Birney. As Columbo wrote to introduce Suknaski’s section of visual pieces, “Under the title ‘Elfin Plot Publications,’ Suknaski has moved poetry into non-poetic areas. He has turned poems into kites and flown them; he has made ‘poem candles’ and left them to burn on beaches; he has placed poems in cannisters and abandoned them in mountain passes; and he has folded poems into paper airplanes and dropped them from real airplanes flying at a height of ten thousand feet.” As he says himself, far from simple, once you get into it.

Readers of Suknaski might notice that I deliberately didn’t select from two of his trade collections, his Montage for an Interstellar Cry (Winnipeg MB: Turnstone Press, 1982) and Silk Trail (Toronto ON: Nightwood Editions, 1985). There are a few reasons for that, including that they were each built as book-length poems, making them hard to select from, as well as that they're both actually still in print, making them easily available to interested readers. A further publication, Octomi (1976), wasn’t included for the same reasons of length and space, making it difficult to excerpt from. Another reason is that they are both part of an unfinished project Suknaski was working on called "Celestial Mechanics," a multiple volume piece, and the unit as a whole might even be worth making into it's own single volume at some point further down the road. Another reason could be that this book was hard enough to keep to the length it already is, without adding more text from yet another book and another book; there is so much material of Suknaski's to go through. On the other hand, I did select from an unpublished manuscript rescued a few years ago from Suknaski's archive by poet and critic Nathan Dueck, his suicide notes, abandoned (c. 1977), a fragment of which appeared as a very early chapbook before he abandoned the project altogether. For the "uncollected" section, I decided to focus only on poems that had seen print, as opposed to what sits in multiple and varied versions in his archive at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg; that could be it's own project, and too large to even begin to enter for the sake of a selected; still, the poems that make up the "floating entries" all seem to be part of that unfinished "Celestial Mechanics" project, that hopefully might see its way into being, if not completed, but at least built into a whole from whatever disperate parts already exist.

There is a line by Eurpides that the late poet Irving Layton referenced when he wrote his "Birthday Poem for John Newlove" that could also apply to Andrew Suknaski, writing "Whom the gods do not intend to destroy / they first make mad with poetry." In her piece "Essay Parcels from Andrew Suknaski" from the anthology Trace: Prairie Writers on Writing (1986), prairie writer Kristjana Gunnars wrote of receiving dozens of packages of poems and bread (made from the ash of Suknaski burning his papers) from Suknaski, the bulk of which she couldn’t even bring herself to open, writing "The artist is a poet. It was as I had feared. The artist was mad." In a piece that doesn’t really show the best side of either, she starts the short piece with:

It was April when the parcels started arriving. The snow was melting. Yellow grass could be seen by the fence. I went home after work one evening. Opened the screen door. Two large thin parcels fell to my feet. The postman hid them between doors.

I did not open the parcels. They went into the basement. Next day four cards in the mailbox. Four more parcels at the St. Norbert post office. I picked them up. Not because I wanted them, but because of the Francophone clerk. He was so excited.

Those parcels went into the car trunk. There they stayed, unopened. When the warm weather came a great perfumed smell arose from one of the packages. When I got into the car it made me think of a field of tulips in Amsterdam.
Andrew Suknaski once said that he got the same amount for his papers that his father got for the homestead (where Suknaski's sister is still buried), a total of five thousand dollars for each. When he began having difficulties in the 1980s, he joined a select group of Canadian writers, poets considered the best at their craft, who, for whatever reason, had stopped writing (or at least, stopped publishing), including Montreal poets Peter van Toorn and the late Artie Gold, the late Toronto poet Ed Lacey, British Columbia poet David Phillips, and Ottawa poet William Hawkins. Over the last twenty years or so, Suknaski has lived in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, not far from his original home of Wood Mountain, and not far from his friend Gary Hyland, who looks after his affairs. It has been said that there will be no other poems, which is disappointing, but one could argue that there are certainly enough poems in Suknaski's archive at the University of Manitoba that simply haven’t been dealt with yet that at least a combination of some other uncollected and/or unseen poems are certainly possible. He might not be well enough to write, but certainly he's well enough to read, and I can only hope that this collection can help to remind him of the best of those days writing Wood Mountain, knowing that a potential new generation of readers can be brought along with him for the experience.

rob mclennan
Ottawa, March 2007

related posts: my essay on Suknaski in poetics.ca; my review of the new edition of Wood Mountain Poems, Hagios Press;

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Artie Gold Memorial

There will be a memorial gathering & reading for Artie Gold

Saturday April 14 2007, 7:30
The Word Bookstore
469 Milton

There will also be an estate sale at Artie’s Saturday March 24 9:00-5:00
7336 Sherbrooke West Apt. 7.

There are shelves of antique bottles, Shelves of LPs (mainly classical)
Incredible collectibles. The money raised will be used to hire an archivist to catalogue his twenty boxes of literary papers.

related posts: my original obit of Montreal poet Artie Gold

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Birk Sproxton Obituary, from the Red Deer Advocate

SPROXTON 1943 - 2007 Blasted out of the rock and water of Flin Flon, MB on August 12, 1943, Birk Ernest Sproxton returned to the ground March 14, 2007, passing away on prairie soil in the Red Deer Regional Hospital. Growing up playing hockey, Birk shot left and always loved the slap shot from the point. But a fascination with words, metaphors and the turn of a phrase pulled Birk to a life of reading, writing and teaching over professional sports. Busy with academic pursuits, Birk always had time for the most basic of things; rocks, trees, water, birds, family, friends and the other characters, real or imagined, who make the Prairies, the Prairies. Jokes, hyperbole and the occasional piece of wisdom, almost always mixed with gut-wrenching laughter, characterize Birk's discussions. That same humor, wisdom and insight, also evident in his writing, earned much high praise. In 2005, his book Phantom Lake: North of 54, earned the Margaret McWilliams Local History Award for excellence in the study and interpretation of Manitoba history. Birk also earned the $25,000 Grant MacEwan Alberta Author Award with Phantom Lake. At the 25th Annual Majorie Ward Lecture March 8, 2007 at St. John?s College, University of Manitoba, Birk returned to the place where he earned his BA, MA, and PhD degrees. Speaking on another explorer and lover of rocks, J.B. Tyrrell, Birk received much praise for the lecture which was to serve as the base for his next book-in-progress. Rather, one of his next books-in-progress, there was always more than one. In assuming the roles of husband, brother, friend, athlete, teacher (spending 31 years as a creative writing instructor at Red Deer College), editor, author, father, grandfather, in addition to numerous others, Birk touched many lives. With his wife of over 40 years, Lorraine, together they encouraged a household atmosphere of love, hard work, mischief and fun. Those traits remain. Birk is survived by his loving wife Lorraine, children Mark (Erika Ainscough), Denis (Rhonda Berry), Shannon (Nathen Eckert), Andrea (Craig Schroh), grandchildren Shaw, Seth, Isiah; siblings Merle (Sheila) Sproxton, Gwen (Mel) Chapman, Carol (Bob) Latremouille), Wayne (Beryl) Sproxton, Allen (Wanda) Sproxton, Cheryl (Ron) Peters, sister-in-law Marjorie Moffat, dozens of nieces and nephews, and countless friends. A celebration of Birk's life will be held at Eventide Funeral Chapel, 4820 45 Street, Red Deer on Tuesday, March 20, 2007 at 4:00 p.m. In lieu of flowers, donations can be sent in Birk's honour to the Canadian Cancer Society; the Red Deer Regional Hospital Cardiac Unit; St. John's College English Department; University of Manitoba or Prairie Fire Press Inc., Winnipeg, Manitoba. Condolences may be forwarded to the family at www.eventidefuneralchapels.com Service and Cremation Providers: EVENTIDE FUNERAL CHAPELS 4820 - 45th Street, Red Deer. Phone 347-2222. DOWNTOWN RED DEER

related post: my original note from Andris Taskans

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

rob mclennan at the ottawa international writers festival

SUNDAY, April 15 @ 8:00 PM
Poetry Cabaret #1

Featuring George Murray, rob mclennan and George Bowering
Reading and in conversation with Stephen Brockwell

The Spring Edition's feast of poetry begins with readings by Newfoundland's George Murray, whose fourth collection, The Rush to Here, combines what he calls "thought-rhyme with the structured sonnet form"; Ottawa's rob mclennan, described in the Danforth Review as a poet who "doesn't so much push against boundaries, as deny boundaries," launches his most recent collection: The Ottawa City Project; and Canada's first Poet Laureate, George Bowering, arrives from British Columbia with Vermeer's Light, a work that, in the words of the Quill & Quire, "walks the tightrope of sentiment without falling into sentimentality." After the readings, all three poets will join poet Stephen Brockwell for a conversation on the craft, with plenty of opportunity for audience questions.

George Murray "has the poet's instinct, the knack for turning a good phrase and the verbal grit and suppleness to keep the reader engaged. ... An important talent." -- National Post

In rob mclennan, "a whole tradition that has been underground in Canada for almost half a century has found a new champion." -- Arc magazine

"Bowering is both highly skilled in the formal aspects of poetry and perfectly accessible to the average reader." -- Booklist

For further writers fest information, check out their website.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Brad Cran's "Cinéma Vérité and the Collected Works of Ronald Reagan: A History of Propaganda in Motion Pictures" from Fence magazine, Volume 9, No. 2

It's been a while since I've seen anything by Vancouver writer Brad Cran, inventor of the 1990s chapbook publisher Smoking Lung Press, publisher of a couple dozen small-run poetry and fiction chapbooks by various west coast writers, usually publishing for the first time in single-author form, including Ryan Knighton, Karen Solie, Billeh Nickerson and Cran himself before the press produced two trade books, Hammer and Tongs: A Smoking Lung Anthology (1999) and a blues anthology of Canadian poetry, Why I Sing the Blues: Poems and Lyrics (co-edited with Jan Zwicky, 2000). A poetry collection of his own, The Good Life, even appeared a year later with Nightwood Editions, but since then he's been relatively quiet, publishing maybe a poem or two here or there in journals (rumours at one point had him schooling in the United States and that he had a child, but I've been out of touch with Cran since about 2000 or so). In the new issue of Fence magazine, out of New York State, comes his very smart three-part essay "Cinéma Vérité and the Collected Works of Ronald Reagan: A History of Propaganda in Motion Pictures." Working through various aspects of the film industry, Cran works a magnificent ongoing essay mixing politics and art through short sections on various aspects of film and propaganda, including William McKinley in 1896, President Woodrow Wilson in 1915 with Birth of a Nation, to Iraq and Vietnam, Robert Redford vs. Richard Nixon (The Candidate and All the President's Men), to John Hinckley, Jr., Bruce Willis, Hitler, Winston Churchill and Black Hawk Down. Is there nothing as innocent as we had originally hoped? Making connection after connection, the research for these pieces must have been immense; I don’t know where this essay began or where it is going (how long it eventually might be), but it is easily the best part of the new issue. What's interesting, too, is how the essay works in three parts, scattered throughout the issue, instead of working one up against the other; what is it about the delay?
Love Is on the Air

Ronald Reagan perfected a type of radio announcing known as the ticker tape play-by-play, which consisted of Reagan spinning wild tales of suspenseful sporting events based on the tiny bits of information supplied by ticker tape. Years later in a political speech, he reflected on his time as a radio announcer by saying, "I once learned the hard way that whether you have anything to say or not, keep talking." Reagan's experience in front of the microphone led to his first Hollywood role, as a sports announcer in Love Is on the Air, and to his testimony at the congressional hearings on the menace of Communism during the McCarthy era, and then on to political speeches promoting the Republican Party. Every important aspect of Reagan's life was in some way channelled through a microphone. So it was in front of a live microphone before his weekly radio address in August 1984 that Reagan cleared his throat and announced, "My fellow Americans, I am pleased to tell you that I've signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes" His aides moved quickly to issue a disclaimer stating that Reagan did not know how to use a microphone and had no idea that it was live.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

call for submissions: who wears short shorts?

Ottawa literary publisher Chaudiere Books is seeking submissions by Canadian writers of short fiction of no more than 1,500 to 2,000 words for an upcoming anthology project. Seeking vibrant, engaging works perhaps more “language” than “narrative,” but not exclusively. Please send works no later than August 15, 2007 to Chaudiere Books, c/o 858 Somerset Street West, main floor, Ottawa Ontario K1R 6R7 (include s.a.s.e. if you expect work returned) or over email to rob_mclennan@hotmail.com

For more information on Chaudiere Books, check out www.chaudierebooks.com or www.chaudierebooks.blogspot.com

Saturday, March 17, 2007

meditation, mennonites, poetry & prairie thinking: Di Brandt's So this is the world & here I am in it & Patrick Friesen's Earth's Crude Gravities

Two recent books that deal with enough of and from the same issues that they may as well be talked about together, a collection of essays by Di Brandt, and a poetry collection from Patrick Friesen. Originally a Winnipeg poet and critic currently living and teaching in Brandon, Manitoba, Di Brandt is the author of a number of poetry collections and the new collection of essays So this is the world & here I am in it (2006), published as the tenth volume in NeWest Press' writer as critic series. An enviable and impressive series of single-author critical volumes by Canadian writers (predominantly poets), the series includes volumes by George Bowering, Stephen Scobie, Aritha van Herk, Frank Davey, Phyllis Webb, Daphne Marlatt, Fred Wah, Douglas Barbour and Stan Dragland (a volume by prairie poet Andrew Suknaski is forthcoming). Unfortunately, the first problem I have with Brandt's collection—well, perhaps less a problem than a disappointment—is the fact that the cover design of the previous volumes has shifted with this one. Part of any series such as this, part of the benefit of such a series, is having some kind of echo of uniformity of packaging, and the previous version I will admit I miss. Where did it go?

In essays, almost meditations (some of them), on the prairie (Brandt did spent a decade or so teaching at the University of Windsor between her Winnipeg days and Brandon days; is this a homesick essay?), James Reaney's Winnipeg, Adele Wiseman, Dorothy Livesay, David Arnason, Canadian Mennonites, twins and her own "Berlin notes," Brandt moves through a series of concerns throughout her collection, with each essay either touching on or coming back to that "wide, wide prairie." Perhaps, then, instead of an introduction, it was appropriate to begin with the piece "This land that I love, this wide, wide prairie" that begins:
It is impossible for me to write the land. This land that I love, this wide, wide prairie, this horizon, this sky, this great blue overhead, big enough to contain every dream, every longing. How it held me throughout childhood, this great blue, overhead, this wide wide prairie, how it kept me alive, its wild scent of milkweed, thistle, chamomile, lamb's quarters, pigweed, clover, yarrow, sage, yellow buttercups, purple aster, goldenrod, shepherd's purse, wafting on the hot wind, hot clods of dirt under our bare feet, black, sun soaked, radiating heat, great waves of heat standing in the air, the horizon shimmering, flies buzzing endlessly, wasps, bees, cicadas under the maple trees, dripping with sap, the caragana hedges brushing the air lazily, heavy, golden with blossoms, the delirious scent of lilacs in bloom, hot pink begonias, marigolds, sweet peas, spider queens, wild yellow roses, crimson zinnias, baby's breath, the cool fresh smell of spruce, jack pine, elms gracefully arching overhead, asparagus, cucumber, radishes, onions, peas, beans, corn, raspberries, strawberries, chokecherries, gooseberries, blackberries, yellow currants, red currants, Japanese cherries, cantaloupe, watermelon. It was heaven, the prairie was, the gift of its bounty accepted easily by us, her children, running barefoot all summer, through the garden, the fields, feet hating the constriction of shoes in the fall, the return to school desks and books and sweaty silence. The hot dry smell of wheat during harvest, the sexy smell of our own skin, bellies, thighs. The call of crows, killdeer, sparrows, kingbirds, barnswallows, robins, orioles, nuthatches, woodpeckers, blue jays, mourning doves, the surprise of toads, little frogs, earthworms after rain. The bellow of cows, the cool west nuzzle of calves' noses, the grunt and snuffle of huge pink sows wallowing in dirt, the squeal of newborn piglets, soft newborn kittens in the barn. How I loved you, how I love you, how I love you.
It reads, considering her years away, almost a love-song of return, coming back to that place she didn’t even realized she missed, until she had returned again. It might be completely nit-picking, but I cringed slightly at this passage in her wonderful essay on James Reaney's Winnipeg, where she writes:
It was Reaney, of course, who popularized the term Souwesto, for the particular mannered culture of the densely settled countryside southwest of Toronto, that produced Stephen Leacock and Alice Munro and Christopher Dewdney and Nino Ricci and Don McKay, and only much later non-European writers like André Alexis and Christopher Curtis, though Reaney claims it was Greg Curnoe who coined the term.
Even though Don McKay is technically "from" Cornwall, Ontario (eastern Ontario), since he was raised there, and born in Owen Sound (northern Ontario), I might give that to her, since he did start his years of active publishing as poet and publisher while teaching at the University of Western Ontario; but what about André Alexis, writing Ottawa stories from his home base of Ottawa? I think I would have liked her to explain this more, since she is perhaps holding information that I don’t seem to also hold. How did southwestern Ontario produce Alexis?

In case you didn’t already know, this isn’t Brandt's first book of criticism, following on the heels of her Dancing Naked: Narrative Strategies for Writing Across Centuries (Toronto ON: The Mercury Press, 1996) and Wild Mother Dancing: Maternal Narratives in Canadian Literature (Winnipeg MB: University of Manitoba Press, 1993), not to mention the more recent book she co-edited with critic Barbara Godard, the wonderfully compelling Re:Generations: Canadian Women Poets in Conversation (Windsor ON: Black Moss Press, 2005). Reading any writer write about other writers, other writing, is as much reading their own considerations of writing than anything else they might mention. As she writes in her essays on bees:
What, after all, is text? "The stratigraphy of rocks, layers of pollen in a swamp, the outward expanding circles in the trunk of a tree," writes Gary Snyder, "can be seen as texts. The calligraphy of rivers winding back and forth over the land leaving layer upon layer of traces of previous riverbeds is text."
Part of a group of what could only be called Canadian "meditative" poets, along the lines (perhaps) of Tim Lilburn, Jan Zwicky and Roo Borson, former Winnipeg poet Patrick Friesen has lived in Vancouver now for about a decade, working his meditative long lines in the best way he knows how, in his thirteenth poetry collection Earth's Crude Gravities (Madiera Park, BC: Harbour Publishing, 2007). Another poet working from the Mennonite background of Manitoba rural, he also published a collection of essays last year, Interim: Essays & Mediations (Regina SK: Hagios Press, 2006) [see my review in a forthcoming issue of The Antigonish Review]. It's been interesting to see his slow shift from the overtly-Mennonite content poems of his earlier works, moving more subtle and more meditative into the Winnipeg content and shift to the longer lines of what I think is still his finest poetry collection, St. Mary at Main (Winnipeg MB: The Muses' Company, 1998), and slowly into his post-Manitoba work, including this current collection of poems. In Earth's Crude Gravities, Friesen moves back through meditative poems more overtly talking about religion, and the religion of his childhood; perhaps not a content he'd particularly left behind over the past few books, but one that hasn’t been as forefront in a while, working through the certainties and uncertainties that come with his current considerations on his own thinkings on religion, and his own beliefs. Is this a man coming to terms with his own beliefs, or simply reevaluating them?

vanity of the road

I follow the red ribbon
into my father's bible
to the underlined words
as for man his days are as grass
and I know how he died
with what dark understanding
with what slow embrace
of the loss of love
and every godly storm
that shook his fields
for the wind passeth over it
and it is gone

and the ribbon streams
into the underlined words
of my bible
there is nothing better
for a man than that he
should eat and drink
and that he should make
his soul enjoy good
in his labour
and reading further
into the red lines
all go unto one place
I don’t know my death
only that it will be mine alone
only that I have been split
into one man

and the ribbon runs
through the dog's barking
one hot summer
the bread torn by hands
and chewed with pleasure
it runs through my blood and
the dust on my feet and
the vanity of the road
for the wind passeth over it

and the place thereof
shall know it no more

Still, for the way the words flow, I think the most interesting poems of Friesen's are the ones with the longer lines, working out a rhythm that the shorter poems just don’t have in the same way.

fall (the revelations)

the smell of apples and tomatoes in crates a bonfire in the garden burning
withered potato plants
mother leaning over the cauldron's steam and father as daylight falls raking
last vines into the fire

inside the home a bible on the table and linoleum waiting for his knees the
piano tuned to sabbath
and the child in rapture with jesus with a white horse behold the pale horse
and seven thunders sounding

the child in wonder at the woman in purple her hands filled with
abomination and drunk on blasphemy
the beauty of fornication and the trumpets of the city and the boy in love
with spirit and the bride

dogs whoremongers and the morning star fair and shapely and subtle of
heart with her solace of love
he steps from the yard the young man lurks near the door of words in the
dark and black of night

there is so much on earth and in heaven and time at hand for his thirst for
the sorcery of world
at home the anxious voice of love calling but he turns toward the cinnamon
the aloes and the myrrh

Friday, March 16, 2007

Birk Sproxton, 1943-2007

A sad note, forwarded by Rob Budde:

Thursday, 15 March 2007

Dear Friends,

I'm sorry to have to inform you of the untimely passing of our dear friend and colleague, Birk Sproxton. Birk died suddenly of a heart attack last night. He was a lovely man, an engaging writer and a delight to work with as an editor. Our heartfelt sympathies go out to his family, friends, students and to all who have had the good fortune to know him over the years.

I last wrote to Birk on Tuesday to let him know that The Winnipeg Connection, which he edited for Prairie Fire Press, has been short listed in both categories of the Manitoba Writing and Publishing Awards in which it is eligible: for the Carol Shields Winnipeg Book Award and for the Manuela Dias Book Design of the Year Award. I had been waiting for Birk's reaction before circulating this news more widely. Congratulations to everyone involved with the book, especially to Birk Sproxton who so wonderfully imagined it into being!

Andris Taskans,
Editor, Prairie Fire

related notes: my review of Sproxton's headframe: 2

Thursday, March 15, 2007

today is my 37th birthday

& I feel four hundred million years old. A year, perhaps, of boiling down. Thirty-seven years on this earth, as of 8:15am today, born in the building now the hole in the ground replaced with something else, what was once Ottawa's Grace. Will I ever learn what happened in those first ten months?

I've always wanted to make a cd of birthday songs, from The Beatles to the Dik Van Dykes (how I miss them) to Weird Al Yankovic (do you remember that one?). Ann-Marie keeps telling me (and the child, now, too) about one by the Arrogant Worms, but I just haven’t heard it.

Here's the newest of my annual "birthday" poems, with the (earlier) long draft after a few days of notes:

elegy (birthday)

a winter made of bruises, mark
each day-dream broken in the field

at thirty-seven, I can talk
aware, to garner

or segregate the trees; knows just
what missing

an elegy another day, an answering
of what we wont remember

if at beginning surely felt

would pitch a tent at what we never

I am no longer expecting questions
an answer will provide

it is only another birthday; leaning forty
more beside

from ghostly variation & the distance
of a starving break; we know

the foot hold fact will scar

a concrete poem concrete wrapped
& let go in the water

an allegory mountain
astern the ladle boat

artifact & ask

am held together sum; concern
as far the page

w/ ribbons crossed, & coloured stream

erased it day by endless year
, wide at first would narrow

the smoky blind

a prayer should ask

mother me back in bare & staple; maple lift
& literate a weedy scene

intemperate, a hungry microphone ghost

image bleed upon the pale

bone is something grown
And here's what it ended up turning into:

elegy (thirty-seven)

it is only another birthday

bone is something grown
On Saturday my sixth annual Carleton Tavern birthday party; upstairs this year, since the downstairs was getting too crowded. Max Middle turns my age in three weeks, & apparently Una McDonnell had a birthday a few weeks ago. I suppose I'll be my next birthday in Alberta? It's a strange thing to think about. Where will I be in a year's time? Or two?

Just got an electronic birthday greeting card from Sheila Murphy; why is she so good at remembering? How sweet! Last night a late late night phone conversation with the lovely Lea Graham (or, an early early morning conversation, perhaps); later thisafternoon Kate & I visit my mother in hospital. Drinks tonight potentially with Brockwell at my favourite watering hole...

related notes: what I was on about last year; what I was on about the year before;

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

blog on blog redux

After my original "blog on blog" post, I thought it would be interesting to provide a longer list, an update of various Canadian writers that I'm aware of, that seem to have on-line presences through blogs:

Ralph Alfonso (Vancouver), Karla Andrich (Winnipeg), Jonathan Ball (Calgary), Gary Barwin (Hamilton ON), poet/editor derek beaulieu (Calgary), Jacques Benoit (Edmonton), poet/critic Gregory Betts (St. Catharine's ON), Michael Blouin (Oxford Mills ON), Alex Boyd (Toronto), Rob Budde (Prince George BC), Brian Campbell (Montreal), J.R. Carpenter (Montreal), Lauren Carter (Orillia ON), Jason Christie (Calgary), Karen Connelly (Toronto), Jason Dickson (London ON), Denielle (Prince George BC), Kristina Drake (Montreal QC), Steven R. Duncan (Vancouver), Bywords editor Amanda Earl & one of her many other blogs (Ottawa), Chris Ewart (Calgary), Jon Paul Fiorentino (Montreal), ryan fitzpatrick (Calgary), Abigail Friedman (QC), Corey Frost (Montreal/New York), former Ottawa resident Laurie Fuhr (Calgary), Peter Garner (Montreal), William Gibson (Vancouver), Terry Glavin (Vancouver), Jude Goodwin (Squamish BC), Ariel Gordon & her other one (Winnipeg), Heidi Greco (South Surrey BC), Alison Gresik (Ottawa), b stephen harding (Ottawa), Jill Hartman (Calgary), Nienke Hinton (Toronto), Nalo Hopkinson (Toronto), James Horner (Vancouver), Weldon Hunter (Vancouver), Chris Hutchinson (Vancouver), Jan Lars Jensen (Nova Scotia), Ken Kowal (Winnipeg), Dawn Kresan (Windsor/Kingsville ON), Claude Lalumiere (Montreal), Jennifer LoveGrove (Toronto), Colin Martin (Calgary), Ashok Mathur (Vancouver), Rhona McAdam (Victoria), Marcus McCann (Ottawa), Ami McKay (Scots Bay NS), Max Middle (Ottawa), "mompoet" (Port Moody BC), Nathaniel G. Moore (Toronto), Jennifer Mulligan (Ottawa/Gatineau), Jim Munro (Toronto), George Murray (now in St. Johns NFLD), Erin Noteboom (Waterloo ON), former Ottawa resident Wanda O'Connor (Montreal), Pearl Pirie (Ottawa), Emily Pohl-Weary (Toronto), Karen (K.I.) Press (Winnipeg), ross priddle (Medicine Hat AB), expat Sina Queyras (New York), Lou Reeves (Ottawa), Harold Rhenisch & another one (150 Mile House BC), D.C. Reid (Victoria), nikki reimer (Vancouver), Stuart Ross (Toronto), Mari-Lou Rowley (Vancouver/Saskatoon), Maria Scala (Scarborough ON), Jordan Scott (Coquitlam BC/Calgary), kevin Spenst (Vancouver), Jeremy Stewart (Prince George BC), writer Kate Sutherland (Toronto), Vincent Tinguely (Montreal), Lindsay Tipping (Vancouver), Sherwin Tjia (Montreal), Mark Truscott & his newer blog (Toronto), Diane Tucker (Vancouver), Kellie Underhill (Sackville NB), unknown (Toronto), Paul Vermeersch (Toronto), Aaron Vidaver (Vancouver), Rachna Vohra (Montreal), Bernadette Wagner (Regina), Nathalie Walschots (Calgary), Thomas Wharton (Edmonton), Ian Whistle (Nepean ON/Winnipeg), Zoe Whittall (Toronto), Shawnda Wilson (Montreal), Michael Winter (Toronto/Newfoundland), Dwight Williams, & another one (Ottawa), Julia Williams (Calgary),

Then there are collaborative ones, including the one Ariel Gordon, Bren Simmers & others keep, as well as this one (when does Gordon find time to do anything else?) or this one, by folk I don't seem to know, and this other one by folk I don't know, Kitabkhana; there are the geographically-related collaborative blogs, including the one Rob Budde plays about in his northern British Columbia, The Calgary Blow-Out, or trans-cribing Canada, the Winnipeg Words, this other one from Calgary, or my own attempts through the ottawa poetry newsletter. Vancouver writer/editor Wayde Compton keeps one with others, on his Hogan's Alley Project, working to celebrate the early histories of the black community in Vancouver. Apparently Toronto poet and ECW Press editor Michael Holmes has started one for mostly ECW business; The Mercury Press also has one for notices, & kemeny babineau's Laurel Reed Books has one, and Jay MillAr's BookThug as well (& then all the others on my sidebar that I just haven't mentioned...). Why does Toronto lad Nathaniel G. Moore need one, two, three, four blogs? There's even a writers retreat with a blog, & then of course the blog for the late Montreal poet Irving Layton...

There are all the Canadians living abroad, working their own variations, including Sina Queyras (Toronto/Montreal) and Corey Frost & his other one (Montreal) wandering New York, Andy Quan (Vancouver) in Australia, or Todd Swift (Montreal), Frances Kruk (Calgary), Richard Rathwell (Ottawa/Vancouver) and John Stiles (Nova Scotia), currently living in England, or poet Neile Graham in Seattle.; what else?

The ones on my sidebar are, for now, the essentials, that I (mostly) visit every day, including John Macdonald's essential Ottawa blog, Queyras', Kate Sutherland's and Jessica Smith's, among others.

I will update this every so, when I hear about others.