Monday, April 30, 2007

Phyllis Webb and the Common Good: Poetry / Anarchy / Abstraction by Stephen Collis
Who is this I infesting my poems? Is it I hiding behind the Trump type on the page of the book you are reading? Is it a photograph of me on the cover of Wilson's Bowl? Is it I? I said, I say, I am saying—
Phyllis Webb

What is the syntax of absence? What is the substance of between?
Stephen Collis
Despite the fact that she stopped writing a number of years ago, Saltspring Island resident Phyllis Webb remains an important poet for a number of writers across Canada, newly highlighted by the publication of Vancouver poet and editor Stephen Collis' study of her work, Phyllis Webb and the Common Good: Poetry / Anarchy / Abstraction (Vancouver BC: Talonbooks, 2007). A book in the works for a number of years (excerpts have appeared as "A Duncan Etude: Dante and Responsibility" in Jacket #26, and "Another Duncan Edude: Empire and Anarchy" in W 10), Collis certainly isn’t a slouch himself, an assistant professor at Simon Fraser University and author of the poetry collections Mine (Vancouver BC: New Star Books, 2001) and Anarchive (Vancouver BC: New Star Books, 2005) [see my review of such here], as well as editor of the anniversary collection companions & horizons: An Anthology of Simon Fraser University Poetry (Burnaby BC: LINEbooks, 2005) [see my review of such here]. The author of numerous publications of her own over four decades, Webb's poetry output is as formidable as it is (nearly) small, including Even Your Right Eye (Toronto ON: McClelland & Stewart, 1956), The Sea Is Also a Garden (Toronto ON: Ryerson Press, 1962), Naked Poems (Vancouver BC: Periwinkle Press, 1965; also found in The New Long Poem Anthology, Second Edition), Wilson's Bowl (Toronto ON: Coach House Press, 1980), Sunday Water: Thirteen Anti-ghazals (Lantzville BC: Island Writing Series, 1982), The Vision Tree: Selected Poems (ed. Sharon Thesen, Vancouver BC: Talonbooks, 1982), Water and Light: Ghazals and Anti Ghazals (Toronto ON: Coach House Press, 1984) and Hanging Fire (Toronto ON: Coach House Press, 1990), the last of which, as well as her selected poems, are still available through Vancouver publisher Talonbooks; she also published two collections of critical prose, including Talking (Dunvegan ON: Quadrant Editions, 1982) and Nothing But Brush Strokes: Selected Prose (Edmonton AB: NeWest Press / writer as critic, 1995).


Bee-sweet, the honey now/how trails a star
of far/near hawthorn and roseate late leap year

Gerald Manley, your black cossock
rushing through cosmic and microcosmic

inscaped latitudes, I look, see you
passing away/through Jesuitical

raced time-future. All your musculature
stretched, taut, reaching out/off

from black clouds, momentary passage,
there to here, tears of your Christ

mix/mingle 'I am so happy, so happy',
your last wet watering words,

June the 8th's hawthorn-hoped, pied beauties,
beatitudes, 1889, heard

here, February, leapings of '88,
10.15 a.m. The 24th. (Hanging Fire)

In his book length study of Phyllis Webb (one would say long overdue), Collis works through the public and the private spheres of the poet and now former poet (and current painter) Phyllis Webb through the lens of her poetry, working through how her poetry worked, and works, and continues to work so well. As he writes in the first paragraph of his introduction to the book:
Phyllis Webb is a poet around whom archetypes tend to cluster. The reclusive artist. The distraught, borderline suicidal Sapphic woman poet. The lonely Canadian in the wilderness, cabined in the cold—shacked up alone Tom Thompson style. There is of course some truth to these mystic associations, but, of course, they do not come close to telling the whole story. This cartoon biographical version of Webb must be bracketed aside here at the beginning—if not cast out entirely—so that we may focus instead on a more public and engaged Webb, a poet who forms a key part of, and who, as it turns out, has been so concerned with, our "common good." I will be polemical: if we are writing now on the West Coast of Canada we are all of us writing in some sense "after Webb"—both chronologically (though still very much alive, Webb has given up writing) and in terms of our debt (what she has given to poetry which we should not forget).
One of the interesting ways that Collis moves through Webb's poetic, and one of the things that makes Webb's poetic rare, is in the overt way she showed her influences, responding openly to other writers and their writings, as Collis writes:
Webb's response poems to her female contemporaries—Atwood, MacEwen, Bronwen Wallace—tend to take the form of poetic correspondences addressing more the poet than the poetry. The exception, perhaps, is "Letters to Margaret Atwood," which, while addressing Atwood directly as a friend, does engage critically with some of Atwood's writing and ideas. Even more importantly, the response to Atwood prompts some thoughts on Webb's own poetics:

After survival, what? The sedition in my own hand, will it be written down legibly, will I sign it and hand it over for someone else to fulfill? Or will I open like a Venus fly-trap to catch fat spies from the enemy lines and feed myself forever on them on them on them? They really aren’t worth my exotic trouble but I can't eat money and I want for once to be useful.
For years various editors and publishers (including British publisher Salt) have been suggesting a new edition of Webb's poems, ranging from a selected of sorts to a collected, with little success (from what I've heard, she wants us to wait until after she dies). Until then, some of the books are still in print, at least, to be able to access the poems of one of the most quietly influential and important Canadian poets of the past few decades. What makes a poet so precise write so very little, and eventually stop altogether (a question that could easily have been asked of John Newlove, as well, a friend and contemporary of Webb's)? How does one move to not simply slow down and/or stop (such as the now-late Artie Gold, or David Phillips), but actually renounce? What makes a poet move beyond the words, as Webb has moved through the other side and into abstraction and visual art? In "You Devise. We Devise." A Festchrift for Phyllis Webb (an issue I would recommend highly), guest edited by Pauline Butling, in West Coast Line (Number Six (25/3), Winter 1991-92), she speaks in an interview conducted by poet and critic Smaro Kamboureli, that includes:
SK: I'd like to go back to a phrase in the passive mode you just used—the insistence on the words having "been given to" you. This implies a passive process for the poet, the poet's ear being a receptacle. It reminds me of the poetics of dictation that Jack Spicer and Robin Blaser talk about. Being dictated, in the verbal sense of the word, as to what to listen to, what to pursue, what to record. I remember George Bowering's opening of Allophanes where he begins by reciting a sentence he heard in his mind—in his ear to be exact—in the voice of Spicer—the poet of dictation dictating. What are your thoughts about being initially on the receiver's side, something we might define as passive, before you move into the active mode, the act of construction, of writing?

PW: I think that the writer has often felt and feels like a receiver, a receiving station, and so there's nothing extraordinary really about this process, except that I made it conscious and I pursued it and I tried to understand what was going on. I do feel that these givens are totally out of my control, and therefore I am the receptor. But what I do with them is what turns them into the poems. I'm not claiming anything extraordinary about the process.
Part of what makes Collis' study interesting, too, is that he includes some of Webb's visuals, whether as a cover image, or as full colour reproductions inside, showing how one clearly relates to the other, the writing that became the visual art, painting and collaging her way past the language. As he begins the final chapter, "After Webb," writing:
Near the close of her last book of poetry, Webb's poetic, lyric I "commits suicide," plunges off into the "watery commune" that is the very source of language, leaving Phyllis Webb herself to continue, to be reborn as a painter—to abstract a painter from the tangled self-examination of her verse. Or—is it a movement from the unavoidable subjective impulses of the (lyric) poem into the more (plausibly) objectifiable exteriority of the abstract painting? This is the tricky part. I don't want to veer into psychobiography, don’t want to suggest painting as therapy, as the salvation of a tormented poet. In Webb's suicide poems the lyric I is already gone: either it is part of the "commune"—"we, my friends, / who have considered suicide"—or it is wholly outside, an eye (I) watching—"I go as far as I can / collaborating in the fame"—staring into (or out of) the face of the other of its language: silence.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

the camrose review: a journal of lutheran thought

For the second time since he's lived here (that I've been aware of), former Alberta and current Ottawa poet Monty Reid has gone through his storage unit and pulled out t-shirts and back issues of the long-defunct poetry journal The Camrose Review (what later became The Dinosaur Review) and distributed copies to the group of us (yes, kemeny babineau, that does mean I'll be sending you that package soon…). Publishing (at least, but not much more than) ten issues throughout the mid-1980s out of Camrose, Alberta, the journal was edited by Monty Reid, Robert Kroetsch and Wade Bell (soon replaced by Aritha van Herk), and some of the features of the magazine included one on the writers Myrna Kostash (issue #3) and Andrew Suknaski (issue #6) [watch for our forthcoming selected poems by Andrew Suknaski], the "strange" issue (#10), as well as work on but predominantly by Dennis Cooley, Bronwen Wallace, Wayne Oakley, Rudy Wiebe, Colin Morton, Judith Kalman, John Barton, Barbara Carey, Kristjana Gunnars, Lake Sagaris, Birk Sproxton, Gwen Hauser, Jeanette Lynes and various others. On Sunday night, Reid showed up to the hospitality suite of the ottawa international writers festival with a stack of issues and shirts, and distributed them to whoever was interested.
With photographs taken by Cathy MacDonald-Zytveld, here's the group of us in the hospitality suite (at least, those of us who decided to participate; the final late late night of our ottawa international writers festival) wearing our too-small The Camrose Review: A Journal of Lutheran Thought t-shirts; from left to right: Paul Douglas, Carmel Purkis, rob mclennan, Nicholas Lea, Genevieve Wesley, Max Middle, Nick Tytor and Kathryn Hunt. Who could ever accuse me of not having the greatest ideas in the entire whole world? Who could ever say we aren’t entirely the most fun?

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Ron Silliman's The Age of Huts (compleat)

It almost becomes harder and harder to write about the accumulations of American poet Ron Silliman (one of the most visible online points in North America, his blog gets well over a thousand hits a day); what did poems do before Silliman's sentences? Seeing how poets such as Toronto poet Margaret Christakos twists the lines in her own texts upon themselves, or New York poet Kenneth Goldsmith pushing his endless lines both have echoes from the decades of Silliman's work, watching one step take another step take a further step. How do you read such an accumulation? Slowly, carefully, and completely, letting word pile up against word. The University of California Press has just published the collection The Age of Huts (compleat), collecting a series of shorter texts (published earlier as four individual books) as they were meant to exist, as part of a larger project. One of the original editor/publishers of L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E (there are those who suggest that there are only four actual L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poets, unlike the current watering-down of the phrase thrown willy-nilly, and that it would apply to Silliman and the other three that worked on the journal with him in the 1970s), an essential book would also be his The New Sentence, something I have yet to get my hands on. As Silliman writes in his preface to The Age of Huts (compleat),
Since 1974, I have been at work on a single poem, which I call Ketjak. This project in turn is composed of four works: The Age of Huts, Tjanting, The Alphabet, & Universe. With the exception of Tjanting, a book-length poem in its own right, each of these incorporated projects is itself a compilation of texts. This is the first opportunity I have had to present The Age of Huts in its complete form, a cycle of four poems with two satellite texts. In keeping with the sort of Russian-doll structure that I seem to keep reinventing, it may come as no surprise that one of the four poems in the Age of Huts cycle is itself composed of a series of poems.
The book is made up of a series of texts, including "Ketjak," "Sunset Debris," "The Chinese Notebook" (both of which appear online as pdf books at ubu editions), "2197" and two satellite texts, "Sitting Up, Standing, Taking Steps" and "BART." As Luminita Suse wrote on the ubu editions pdf edition of Ron Silliman's Sunset Debris:
Assuming that questioning is a form of expression then poems could be its distinct architectures. When is form not a distortion? Is there a final form? Is this what it is? This endeavor has its own doubts: At what point does it cease to be a poem? What are the right questions? Is this the work that rejects the reader? Sez who?
At first sight, we seem to be reading random question-like-verses. Confusion adds-up with these uncertainties: What makes you believe these words are connected, one to the other? What makes you think this is a voice? At a closer look, one discovers deliberate intentions to plunge one's mind into the lyrical dimensions of sciences, humor, medicine, erotic, philosophy, and many more.
If drivers can be car sick, then poets can they have been poetry sick for a while, when out of inspiration or too weak to play back words. Silliman offers an inquisitive context for this: Am I out of ink or breath? Is this condition called coma or comma? Are the words there before you write them?
There are accumulations, and then there are accumulations; what makes Silliman's interesting is in the way he knows just how to take it further than too far, which makes it not too far at all, but just exactly the right amount of far. What else can I tell you?

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Sonnet L'Abbé's killarnoe

A few years ago, I gave (apparently) Toronto poet Sonnet L'Abbé's first poetry collection A Strange Relief (Toronto ON: McClelland & Stewart, 2001) a hard time in my omnibus review in The Globe & Mail, saying that the poems needed a few more years of living before they were ready to exist in a book. Given that, I thought it would only be fair to go through her sophomore collection, killarnoe (Toronto ON: McClelland & Stewart, 2007); how can I claim she needs more time without following through, to see if it made any difference?

In terms of waiting between books, six years is roughly a good wait, if you're going to have anything more than two or three; moving up to ten or more becomes a whole different kind of writing, and can enter a poet into a whole other phase or period of their work, such as John Newlove in the 1970s, or Monty Reid after his Flat Side came out in 1998; for Sonnet L'Abbé, her writing has matured, and seem to be moving into directions that McClelland & Stewart poets don’t normally move, writing out language shapes and poems that have echoes of authors more associated with Coach House than with the publisher of poets such as Don McKay and Lorna Crozier.


La, la, la.
Don't listen, hon.
Lullaby lulls.

La, la, la
little one.
Lullaby unswerves.

La, la, la
Lullaby cusps.

La, la, la,
my love.
Lullaby realiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiings.

Even with that, I think if she is going to attempt this kind of work, she needs to get a lot further inside other writers who have worked with the same, before any of her experiments in this direction will work. Still, most of what she is working here simply aren’t poems I can have any claim to talk about with any real detail, moving outside and beyond the scope of where I find a poem to be interesting, or as she moves toward but is not quite catching. I do think she is actually leaning in a couple of interesting directions (and some of her experiments read as extremely frustrating, watching her fumble around helpless with very interesting materials), as even evidenced from her quotes from Anne Carson, Alice Walker and John Thompson, in poems embracing sound and rhythmic work and working with repetition, as well as her movement into more overt political poems, which very few Canadian writers have managed to do in any useful kind of way, save perhaps for George Elliott Clarke, Roger Farr and a couple of others. This is less a matter of her not learning (I think she has learned many things), but instead threading beyond the scope of my structural interest in poems, and therefore beyond the scope of my reading interest (what I am saying here is, I am not qualified to speak). Still, what I will give her very much credit for is the first poem in the collection (she has learned much from that John Thompson, who was kind enough to leave Canadian poetry the ghazal before he left us too early), that I leave with you here.


I was born looking for.
Somehow I came here.

I followed the promise
of collisions, cubisms,

to a pronged, arboreal truth
not strung out from spools

of old syntax. An insight
outside the senses. A tasted

image. A colour heard.
Not for comfort.

Okay, for a kind of comfort.
For a synesthesia. Something

amniotic. A memory before form,
the infinite inside the integral.

How else can I put it?
For the spirit prism, written.

Monday, April 23, 2007

festival notes, day seven & eight, we stay up late (or, "fear & loathing at the ottawa international writers festival")
(thanks to Steve Zytveld for providing the subtitle)

A Saturday of fewer things, & more things; just to be able to get any breathing or sleeping done (& those blog entries I posted), I didn’t get to anything on Saturday until the 4pm film screening of Heard of Poets, a documentary on poets & poetry in/through Ottawa by Josh Massey & Ben Walker. An interesting film [see here the things I cannot say, by Amanda Earl & John W. MacDonald], they filmed readings & interviews with poets over an eighteen month period, including Stephen Brockwell, jwcurry, a. rawlings, Max Middle, George Elliott Clarke, Seymour Mayne, Oni the Haitian Sensation, Mark Frutkin, Pauline Michel, Jim Larwill, A.J. Levin, Paul Muldoon, Michael Dennis, Gus Morin, Gregory Betts, Melissa Upfold, Terry Ann Carter, Christopher Levenson & John Akpata, among others. I quite liked the way the film was structured, almost thematically, weaving through readings & interview clips, & blending fragments of various authors into each other; I would certainly recommend seeing this film, & hope that they can get some airtime on it, somewhere. Seymour Mayne, in part of his interview, said some things that I found particularly interesting, & some other things that were just completely off-base. Certainly an interesting cross-section of some of what has happened in the city & even through the city over the past couple of years, & any documentary that includes jwcurry [see a note I did on him here] working on his gestetner is obviously a pair of boys who get something that most other folk just don't; still, it's interesting to notice that I was probably at almost every single event they filmed, including the infamous BookThug reading at Richard Fitzpatrick Books in Mechanicsville (you can hear my voice in the background when the police arrived), or the TREE Reading Series open set with Middle & Brockwell (you can see my publications in the background of both), or Michael Dennis launching one of his LyricalMyrical books at Invisible Cinema (you can see me at the back of the crowd), or Clarke, Muldoon & Levin at the ottawa international writers festival (you can see me in the crowd there too). I'm not sure exactly how to get a copy (the ottawa small press book fair & Invisible Cinema come to mind), but if you want to know more about their project, you can email Josh Massey at

After that, poets Genni Gunn, Erin Knight & Erin Moure performed at the fourth poetry cabaret, lovingly hosted by our own Stephen Brockwell; another night of three poets, two of which share a name? Who plans these things? Interesting how Sean Wilson deliberately put three poets together who work the translation as part of their writing, working back & forth between languages, & just how their differences matched. Interesting to hear their considerations at the Q&A portion of how the languages meld into each other, & just how their considerations of even English shift through knowing a second or even a third language. Interesting how Erin Moure talked about returning to one of the points of origin of the lyric I away from religious poems in her Galician researches, & how it not only becomes impossible to remove the I, but impossible to even want to. How can one close down the lyric? How does one write without the I? It's always refreshing to see how someone in Moure's "avant" position is so much more open to a variety of ideas & considerations about how things are done or even could be than so many of her counterparts.


I was told I would get my bearings soon.
I wondered when these things would be given to me.

All I watched was a perch at the best window
to watch the snowfall. Which is the best window?

The one that wants to be larger. Don't they all?
Not true. Some never imagine the other exposures.

The best window welcomes shifting angles
of light and so, in its window way, time-zones.

It knows there are those to the north and the west
and that its day has started without them. Oh,

said this other voice, who was really my divided self
created from a specified loneliness held in abeyance,

and who had already taken a perch at the best window
from which to watch the snowfall: as did mine. (Erin Knight, the sweet fuels)

Part of the bonus of the festival was Erin Knight bringing along her partner, former University of Ottawa student & current professor of poetry at Brock University in St. Catharine's, Ontario, the poet Adam Dickinson. He just doesn’t visit us often enough; Edmonton just won't be the same without him, now that he's come back east.

A Body of Too Many Spines

We are, for the most part, on our hands and knees,
like the rain creeping into a house;
thin needles of the hydro-cycle,
the part that begs to come indoors
and implicate each of us.
We come to error with the nudity of benches.
All our summers have the same beginnings,
bright ideas slice themselves open like fruit.
We are horseshoes making blacksmiths.
We are too many fires.
New wood and the old wood;
the past isn’t so much remembered as turned into fuel.
What is opposite of forgetting?
Justice? Swallowing the wrong way?
It can't be remembering.
We are always remembering,
there are very few subjects that tolerate our memory.
We are the aftermath;
treelines driven to drink in the heat.
Resemblance falls to the ground pointing everywhere.
We are not the hardwoods we like to think,
but the more primitive conifer,
its bundle of needles,
a body of too many spines, too many ways to stand. (Adam Dickinson, Kingdom, Phylum)

Yesterday not making it out to most of the afternoon business (including the David Suzuki lecture I really wanted to hear; oh happy earth day, they kept telling me) because I was in the east end, reading at the Gloucester Spoken Arts reading series. He asked me to read over a year ago; by the time I realized it was in the midst of festival, it was too late (I have another reading this coming week somewhere slightly west of me, I think…). A good afternoon with Roland Prevost & his lovely wife Jan, & reading with two young poets part of Colonel By Secondary School; a good afternoon, but one that prevented me from festivaling until the 6pm book launch, hosted by Capital Xtra; over the next few days, I hope to get into reviewing John Barton & Billeh Nickerson's Seminal: The Anthology of Canada's Gay Male Poets (Vancouver BC: Arsenal Pulp Press, 2007) that they launched on Sunday; over the next few days hopefully get posted some photos that we took late late late last night at the hospitality suite, courtesy of Carmel's camera & some donations from Ottawa poet Monty Reid (but more about that later on…). Did you know we sold a small stack of Nicholas Lea's book during the festival? Did you realize he even outsold Dennis Lee?

& now the festival is over, & I have to spend the next few days re-entering into the rest of my life. I just don’t want to see anyone else for a few days; I can't, I don't, I can't, I don’t, I can't

related notes: Amanda Earl's entry; John W. MacDonald's photos of Erin Moure, Erin Knight, David Suzuki, Nicholas Lea, Simon Armitage, Heather Mallick, ; Charles Earl's photos of Erin Moure, John Barton; Pearl Pirie's entry;

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Press Release ; Archibald Lampman Award merges with Duncan Campbell Scott Foundation

Arc Poetry Magazine is pleased to announce the merger of the Archibald Lampman Award for Poetry with the Duncan Campbell Scott Foundation and the creation of the new $1500 annual Lampman-Scott Award. The Lampman-Scott Award recognizes an outstanding book of English-language poetry by an author living in the National Capital Region and will be announced at the Ottawa Book Awards ceremony in October. A reading featuring all eligible poets in conjunction with he Poets’ Hill Committee will be held at Beechwood Cemetery on Thursday, Sept. 20, 2007.

Established in 1986, the Archibald Lampman Award for Poetry was inspired by Archibald Lampman, Canada’s finest 19th century poet. Born in 1861, Lampman graduated from Trinity College (Toronto) in 1882, and then moved to Ottawa where he worked for the Post Office until his death in 1899. He is known for his ability to immerse metaphysics in the details of nature, which he observed while hiking round what was then the wilderness capital of a new country. His books include Among the Millet (1888), Lyrics of Earth (1895) and the posthumous Alcyone (1900). Previous winners of the Archibald Lampman Award for Poetry include Laura Farina, Stephen Brockwell, David O’Meara, and Stephanie Bolster.

Duncan Campbell Scott was born in Ottawa in 1862 and died here in 1947. He had a controversial, but highly successful 53-year career in the civil service and was a tireless contributor to the cultural life of the national capital. With Ottawa’s Archibald Lampman and Fredericton’s Charles G.D. Roberts and Bliss Carman, Scott was a leader of the influential group of “Confederation Poets” who comprised the first full flowering of Canadian literature, especially poetry, in the late nineteenth century. Lampman wrote of reading, in 1881, Roberts’ first volume, Orion and Other Poems (1880) and being inspired to become a poet. Subsequently Lampman convinced his friend Scott to write poetry. The two remained fast friends, frequently taking wilderness trips together, till Lampman’s early death in 1899 from complications associated with the rheumatic fever he’d contracted in boyhood. Scott suffered much guilt because Lampman had lapsed into his final illness following one of their trips. For the rest of his life in response to any mention of Lampman’s name, Scott would sigh, “Poor Archie.” Scott became Lampman’s literary executor, and his tireless labours in this role were instrumental in keeping his friend’s poetry alive.

The Lampman-Scott Poetry Award is a fitting tribute to the intertwined lives and accomplishments of these two makers of local, national, and international culture. This year’s contestants are:

* Sylvia Adams: Sleeping on the Moon (Hagios Press)
* Ronnie R. Brown: Night Echoes (Black Moss Press)
* Terry Ann Carter: Transplanted (Borealis Press)
* Michael Dennis: Arrows of Desire (General Store Publishing House)
* Oni The Haitian Sensation: Ghettostocracy (McGilligan Books)
* Christopher Levenson: Local Time (Stone Flower Press)
* rob mclennan: aubade (Broken Jaw Press)
* rob mclennan: name, and errant (Stride Publications)
* Monty Reid: Disappointment Island (Chaudiere Books)
* Grant D. Savage: Their White with Them (Bondi Studios)

To follow this story, look for updates on the Lampman-Scott Award archive <"
or contact Paul Tyler at <>.

other happenings

April is Poetry Month. If you haven't taken in some of the terrific poetry events happening across the country, there's still time. Google around or explore Portage, the poetry routes map at <>.

It's a busy time for Arc too, so you might find more than usual number of announcements in your inbox in the next week or so. Last April, along with the Scottish Poetry Library Arc launched Great Scots: The Canada-Scotland Exchange with poets introducing poets from across the Atlantic. If you haven't already checked out these fascinating portraits, now is the time.

In the latest edition <>, John Burnside introduces Aislinn Hunter, the instigator of this international exchange. The series wraps up in the next few weeks. Stay tuned. Arc Poetry Magazine P.O. Box 81060 Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, K1P 1B1 <;mailto=1&> <>

Saturday, April 21, 2007

festival notes, day five & five & sixsixsix

This morning to bed at six am, yesterday to bed at four. I'm too old for this nonsense; what am I doing to my poor body? Is it any wonder I don’t get any work done during the festival? Thursday night the launch of the second issue of Ottawa U's new magazine The Puritan [see my review of their first issue here]; apparently they're doing a print run of 500 copies & giving them away for free, as well as posting everything (including a little story of mine) online as well (even though they didn’t actually ask any of the contributors for permission to do so, but whatever). I applaud their effort, but can't stand the posturing, & then they didn’t even stay for the fiction readings later on in the evening… is young even an excuse anymore? Later on readings by Coach House fiction writer Tanya Chapman and Montreal's own Andy Brown, reading from his first novel The Mole Chronicles (Insomniac Press); as much as I liked what Andy was reading, hearing M.A.C. Farrant read afterwards pretty much blew everyone else out of the water. Apparently she had a memoir out with Greystone a few years ago I now want to read; apparently she's currently adapting it into a stage production.

Last night, Catherine Kidd performing parts of her first novel Missing the Ark [see my review of it here]; one of the Dusty Owl gang suggested that if the Capital Slam people didn’t invite Catherine to read at their events, she wouldn’t talk to them anymore. A magnificent performer, & someone that needs to be heard & seen to be properly experienced. Apparently some of her material online on her myspace page.

Is it wrong to admit I absolutely fell for former Globe & Mail columnist Heather Mallick? A wonderful sense of fun & humour & compressed rage that (she claims) were fuel to her columns for so long; I think I have to read that book of hers. Why is it I almost always get more excited about the non-fiction at these events? I wanted to adopt her, but for the fact she's older than I am & has a family, & I really have nowhere to put her in my apartment anyway. I think it's best we keep at a distance, in a way. For us. You know.

The third poetry cabaret was last night, with return visits from Toronto poet Dennis Lee, British poet Simon Armitage & a first visit to the festival from BC poet Barbara Nickel. Simon Armitage read through the festival two years ago, during a one-off reading with Ken Babstock that was standing room only, & absolutely magnificent. Armitage, I will admit, is a poet I would rather hear than read, & there is something long & graceful deep in his poems that I don’t see anywhere else (even though a number of the poems he read were poems he had read two years ago in the same room), with a sly & even outrageous underplayed sense of humour. I was disappointed to discover that the first poem he read, "I am a sperm whale," wasn’t actually in his book Tyrannosaurus Red Versus The Corduroy Kid (Anansi, 2006), but the follow-up, "You're Beautiful," is, & reason alone for owning his new book. The poem reads like a mantra or a small chant, & includes:

because you're classically trained.
I'm ugly because I associate piano wire with strangulations.

You're beautiful because you stop to read the cards in
newsagents' windows about lost cats and missing dogs.
I'm ugly because of what I did to that jellyfish with a lolly
stick and a big stone.

You're beautiful because for you, politeness is instinctive, not
a marketing campaign.
I'm ugly because desperation is impossible to hide.

Ugly like he is,
Beautiful like hers,
Beautiful like Venus,
Ugly like his,
Beautiful like she is,
Ugly like Mars.

The one book by the three I actually found the most interesting was Barbara Nickel's second, Domain (Anansi, 2007), a follow-up to her Gladys Elegies (Coteau Books, 1998). It had been a while since I'd heard her read or seen her, moving all over the country from Saskatchewan to Vancouver to Newfoundland & back to BC; who can keep track? She remembered I was actually at her Ottawa launch of the first collection so many moons ago (in the same building we were in last night), or when I convinced her to play "More than a Feeling" on her fiddle in a hotel room in Halifax in 1999; when Betsy Struthers & John Oughton were singing, but Carmine Starnino wouldn’t. Why would that even be important?

I found it interesting the construction of her collection, working a series of poems as foundation poems throughout the collection, almost as section titles, from "MASTER BEDROOM" to "GIRLS' ROOM," "LIVING ROOM," "UTILITY ROOM," "KITCHEN," "BOYS' ROOM," "STORAGE ROOM" and "MOVING." Shorter & tighter than the other pieces, they felt like foundation poems holding the book together, with the rest of the poems that followed each like the flesh surrounding the bone. Unfortunately, I found the poems that came after as flesh far less interesting then her foundation poems, & wanted to keep her somehow to that, but it probably doesn’t work that way; is this a matter of personal style, perhaps, or simply the fact that her book lasted ten years in composition? & will we have to wait another ten years for her next book? We've had to wait even longer for Michelle Desberats


The mirror's cracking silver would have saved.
It resembled thorns. Beyond that bramble
in the glass, a forest—curtains severe
and green, a deep closet—loomed untouchable.
What happened there the mirror memorized:
Mother smoothing the spread. A sheer fold
of drape swaying, lulled, as she left. A maze
inside those curtains for the girl who holds
escape a possibility, who shatters
bone years later and, strapped and locked, appeals
to a square of sky again. The doors were shut.
A finger on the mirror now, I track a pale
design that keeps me out—a girl obscured.
The only way to touch her is to hurt.

Apparently she goes off to Montreal tomorrow, to see Stephanie Bolster & Patrick Leroux & their brand(ish) new baby girl.

Later on in the hospitality suite (what happens in the suite, predominantly stays in the suite…), finding out that Catherine Kidd knows every word & every song of Jesus Christ Superstar; Catherine instead performing a poem in full brogue by Robbie Burns. Steve Zytveld singing again & again Jerusalem (with the Billy Bragg version I heard last week still trapped in my head...). Children's author Rochelle Strauss (her name reminding me of the whole Rochelle, Rochelle stuff from Seinfeld...) being a lot more fun than I expected a children's author to be; Andy Brown in a brand-new red shirt he bought in Ottawa to help launch Catherine's first novel. An argument into the last hours about poetry & reviewing & notions of being open (etcetera) to alternate forms of writing in a square-table discussion that included Nickel, David O'Meara & jwcurry (& three other folks I don’t quite know the names of) that was pretty interesting, until it collapsed into itself as the sun rose & the Saturday issue of The Globe & Mail hit the hotel room doorstep…

related posts: Amanda Earl's entry; John W. MacDonald's entry; Charles Earl's entry;

Thursday, April 19, 2007

festival notes, day two, maybe three, maybe four

What else to tell you? Another few days of late nights, another few days of festival nonsense, the kind of which only happens twice a year, if you let it. Woke up to a banging on the door & at least fresh coffee, that wonderfully nice Sean Wilson, because we had to move hospitality suites in the hotel from third floor to eleventh; there's something about waking up to a bang on the bedroom door & a "we no longer have this room." Ah, festival...

Last night launching Nicholas Lea's first poetry collection, Everything is movies to a very nice &amp; receptive crowd; sold a small stack of copies, & Nick seemed very happy with how the whole thing went. Now the question is, will we ever sell any more? Hoping to get some review copies out over the next week or two, hoping to get copies into at least mother tongue books & Collected Works Bookstore by the end of the week (where I already took my book the day before yesterday). Missed the 7pm talk on literacy, a whole slew of us went up to the hospitality suite to talk & eat a bit, including jwcurry, Nicholas Lea, Robert Stacey, Monty Reid, Marcus McCann, Andrew Faulkner (from the new Ottawa Arts Review journal [see my review of such here]; Marcus & Nicholas & Stacey tell me he's the new kid to watch…) & a whole slew of others, & even found M.A.C. Farrant waiting for us upstairs, before heading back for the 8:30 show with B.W. Powe, Sandra Alland & bill bissett.

The 2nd poetry cabaret was all over the place; Bruce Powe (a York University prof, he was actually born in Ottawa & lived here until he was about seven years old…), absolutely brilliant in earlier days talking about, for example, "Canada: The Imagination of Place" just a day earlier (I have to get a copy of that book of his), he seemed an unfortunate fit with the other two; if you like what they do, you just won't like what he does. His poetry read like overwrought, over-sentimental and badly written prose in comparison; it might just not be my thing, which I'm more than willing to admit (Stacey said he quite liked it, for example). Alternately, Alland was particularly interesting, since I'd not heard or read or met her before, although I'd heard her name for some time (I have to get copies of those books of hers at some point); a couple of us at the back of the room decided that she reminded us of Coach House author a. rawlings [see my review of her book here] when she read, although less polished & with a wider range. The first third of her reading was particularly interesting, & then less so; her translations from English to English of a poem by Samuel Beckett over & over & over was extremely interesting, & produced some wonderful results. I think this is one of those poets I'm going to have to start paying some real attention to.

Of course, everybody who knows anything about anything can't help but love bill bissett's wild & wandering performances; I'm fascinated by the range of information bill brings into his poetry, including history & religion & politics & complete & utter wonderful nonsense & just walking around. Every time I hear him read & speak I return to that sense of wonder, of how can this man not be more known than he is? In the Q&A (with local CBC personality Alan Neal who kept calling him "bill bissette"), for example, bill showed himself to easily be the most engaged, informed & culturally relevant of the three writers on stage, but simply doing what he does confuses most people (at first) on the page. How can there not be a whole collection of essays on what bill has done, is doing & what he has continued to do since the late 1950s? Imagine: since the late 1960s or so, Talonbooks has done a new bill bissett collection every eighteen months; bill said his books counted well into the 70s. How can he not be wider known, & wider appreciated?

Tonight looking forward to Robert Wright talking about Trudeau; tonight looking forward to Andy Brown & M.A.C. Farrant; tomorrow looking forward to Catherine Kidd [see my review of her first novel here] & the third poetry cabaret, with Dennis Lee, Barbara Nickel & Simon Armitage

related notes: Amanda Earl's entry; Max Middle's entry; John MacDonald's entry; John MacDonald's other entry; John MacDonald's other other entry; Sandra Alland's entries;

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Nancy Shaw (1962-2007); forwarded by Charles Bernstein
courtesy of the SUNY-Buffalo poetics email list

Christine Stewart wrote to me last night that Nancy Shaw had died. I asked her to send me a brief obituary notice, which I am forwarding to the list. All who knew Nancy will join Christine and me, and the Kootenay School of Writing poetry community, in raging against her death but also celebrating her poetry, poetics, and contribution to the world our poetry collectively makes.


Nancy Shaw born May 24th, 1962, died early Monday morning April 16th, 2007. A founding member of the Kootenay School of Writing in Vancouver, Shaw authored Affordable Tedium (Tsunami 1991) and Scoptocratic (ECW Press 1992). She also collaborated on several chapbooks with Catriona Strang, including Busted (Coach House Books 2001, and most recently Cold Trip (Nomados 2006). In addition, Shaw was a visual artist, curator and wrote for various art catalogues.

A service will be held in Vancouver at St.Andrew's-Wesley Church, 1022 Nelson Ave. at 1:00 PM, Saturday April 21, 2007. Instead of flowers, please donate to the BC Cancer Fund.

I should have been listening
To every word you sang
Rapt pious chant
[from Cold Trip]

Other publications include:

"McLuhan, or Modernism in Reverse Glenn Wilmot"
Canadian Journal of Communication Volume 21, No. 1. 1999.

"The Method is the Message: Rethinking McLuhan Through Critical Theory"
Canadian Journal of Communication Volume 24, No. 1. 1999.

Alan Gilbert to Nancy Shaw, Notes on Cultural Poetics. Open Letter Eleventh Series, No. 3, Fall 2001

"Cloning Scapegoats Martha Stewart Does Insider Trading" Social Text 21.4 (2003) 51-67

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

John Newlove documentary on BRAVO! this Thursday

Don't forget this Thursday, April 19th at 8pm eastern on Bravo!, the premiere of Robert McTavish's documentary on the late poet John Newlove.

Here's what the Globe said:

Globe and Mail, Friday, April 13, 2007
Henrietta Walmark

What to make of it all? The life and poetry of John Newlove
Bravo!, 8 p.m.

It's a single black and white photograph accompanied by a few lines of poetry that best captures the existential despair that shaped poet John Newlove and his life's work. Newlove is sitting, head slumped, his back to the sky. Light fills the pane, catching on his shirt collar as if to lift his chin from the darkness, the inwardness that envelops him. Against this backdrop these lines are recited: "Black night window/ Rain running down the fogged glass/ A blanched leaf hanging outside on a dead twig/ The moon dead/ The wind dying in the trees/ In this valley/ In this recession." Robert McTavish provides a deeply textured portrait of the great Canadian poet of the sixties. Sometimes as sparse yet dense as Newlove's poetry, the film uses floating text, family photos, conversations with fellow poets, friends and family as well as late-life interviews with Newlove to capture the complex soul tormented by depression and alcoholism, yet still able to write with, as George Bowering says, a "confidence and sufficiency that is so beautiful."

The documentary will also be shown this fall at the ottawa international writers festival at the launch of A Long Continual Argument: The Selected Poems of John Newlove, edited by Robert McTavish with an afterword by Jeff Derksen, to be published in September by Chaudiere Books.

Monday, April 16, 2007

festival notes, day one (to blog, or not to blog?)

& so it begins, the spring edition of the ottawa international writers festival, yesterday at 2pm. There was no way I could have made it for two, so unfortunately missed the first two events, but made it in time to hear writer & Bookninja creator George Murray talk about blogging, hosted by our own Amanda Earl. It was interesting to hear Murray talk about the creation of the site, & what his original ideas for the site were. I have to admit I haven’t really spent a whole lot of time wandering Bookninja, but his talk made me want to start engaging with it, starting (roughly) as an ongoing conversation about & engagement with literature with a group of friends at his local bar (when he lived in Toronto), The Victory Cafe (I know that, over the years, its been a hangout for various writers such as Paul Vermeersch, Beth Follett, Stuart Ross, John Degan & Chris Chambers, among others). George talked about some of the troubles & pitfalls of blogging, & what he's learned from it (it would make an interesting piece, I think, on Bookninja itself...). Amanda Earl did a lovely job hosting & holding the Q&A portion, including questions provided by others over email (Pearl Pirie won the contest Amanda was running for such). I am such a huge fan of what these guys – Sean, Neil, Kira, Thea, Leslie – have done with the writers festival over the years; one of the best reasons to live in the city, I do think.

Wonderfully entertaining to be able to launch my new book with George Bowering, after years of wanting; rob between Georges, Murray & Bowering. Host Stephen Brockwell had to be prodded to remember to use last names when referring to those; Murray (who refuses, for some reason, to lower case my name on his Bookninja), suggested I change my name to “george mclennan,” just to be less confusing (shades of the “Bruce” sketch from Monty Python…). I have to admit I liked George Murray’s reading far better than I expected; his talk was informed, interesting & a bit rambly, which I even quite liked; I haven’t seen George now in a few years, & was hoping to get some conversation in at the hostility suite later on, but it didn’t quite work out. At the reading itself, my monster headache didn’t really help things; I felt as though I was only working on 50% at the Q&A portion after the reading; thankfully, since I announced my headache (& reasons for it) during my reading, a pill of some sort was later provided.

Brockwell asked us questions about how we consider place, saying that place is the central concern in my writing (I'm not sure if I agree with that); certainly "place" features heavily in my work, & it's something I've been aware of for some time, writing Glengarry (another book I'm trying to get out next year, glengarry: open field) and now writing Ottawa; so much of this has to do with placement itself (for me, anyways), which doesn't limit itself to simple geography, but in naming, & other concerns. Identity being self-identity, after all. For the past few years I've been thinking about "place" & "subject" & working through them with projects such as these so I can work my way out through the other side, to see where else I can eventually go. I have to admit, simply hearing someone say that anything is my central concern (etcetera) makes me suddenly want to completely shift directions (later in the hospitality suite, Nicholas Lea suggested my writing was less about "place" than Fred Wah's consideration of the "biotext"; & then he & jwcurry got into a big late-night discussion about Wah, which was pretty interesting). Where else is there to go? I'm sure that notions of "place" (as suggested in the Q&amp;A) might not only be "Canadian" but outdated; are these things that derek beaulieu & Christian Bok & Lisa Robertson worry about, for example? Why am I still holding onto my "where is here" concern?

Bowering complained later that the typeface on my blog is too small &amp; he can’t read it; someone wondered well after the Murray blog bit, does one have to have a blog now to be a working writer? It almost seems so for musicians, working a myspace or whatnot; is it essential now to be on-line? Bowering said he can't be bothered; made jokes at the reading about the typewriter on the writers festival poster; does anyone know what this is?

Of course all the usual suspects & more were there at the reading, including Monty Reid, Amanda & Charles Earl, Chris Jennings, Steve Zytveld, Katherine Hunt, Pearl Pirie, Josh Massey, Rhonda Douglas, Janet Jancar (who provided the advil), Kate Bryden, Bonnie Laing, LeeAnne Mattie, Jennifer Mulligan, Max Middle, Nicholas Lea, Rob Winger, Terry Ann Carter, Ian Roy, Anita Lahey, Sandra Ridley & Emily Falvey (& a whole bunch of others), & jwcurry, who showed up right after the reading was over, with guitar in hand (he & Brockwell played in the hospitality suite).

Hopefully see all of you on Wednesday, when we launch Ottawa poet (soon moving to Fredericton) Nicholas Lea’s first poetry collection, Everything is movies; apparently those boys at The Puritan launch their second issue during the festival, which is also on-line, where you can even find a piece of my fiction…

related notes: Amanda Earl’s entry, John MacDonald’s entry, George Murray’s entry; Pearl Pirie's entry; Charles Earl's entry; the Ottawa Citizen article on me;

Sunday, April 15, 2007

The Peter F Yacht Club #7
Edited & compiled & typeset & paid for by rob mclennan
April 2007 (spring writers festival special)

John Barton
George Bowering
Stephen Brockwell
Amanda Earl
Jesse Ferguson
Laurie Fuhr
Phil Hall
Nicholas Lea
Clare Latremouille
Marcus McCann
rob mclennan
Max Middle
Wanda O'Connor
Roland Prevost
Sandra Ridley
Wes Smiderle

The Peter F. Yacht Club, issue #7; irregular (very) writers group publication. Edited & compiled & typeset & paid for by rob mclennan. Previous issues still available (possibly) at $5 each. Issue #1, August 2003, edited by rob mclennan; Issue #2, April 2004, edited by Anita Dolman (out of print); Issue #3, September 2004, edited by Peter Norman and Melanie Little; Issue #4, September 2005, edited by rob mclennan; Issue #5, April 2006, edited by Max Middle; Issue #6 (mis-numbered Calgary special), February 2007, edited by Laurie Fuhr. For availability of previous issues, write rob mclennan, c/o 858 Somerset Street West, main floor, Ottawa Ontario Canada K1R 6R7, or email, or show up to this spring's ottawa international writers festival!

related posts: John MacDonald on a previous issue launch; Amanda Earl on the previous issue;

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Erin Moure's O Cadoiro, poems

There has been a shift in the work of Montreal poet and translator Erin Mouré over the past few books, beginning, perhaps, with her translation Sheep's Vigil by a Fervent Person (Anansi, 2001), turning her own poems from the Portuguese of Alberto Caeiro/Fernando Pessoa's O Guardador de Rebanhos, and continuing into the collections that followed, including O Cidadán (Anansi, 2002) and her Little Theatres (Anansi, 2005) [see my review of such here]. The author of a number of previous poetry collections — Empire, York Street (Anansi, 1979), The Whisky Vigil (chapbook, Harbour, 1981), Wanted Alive (Anansi, 1983), Domestic Fuel (Anansi, 1985), Furious (Anansi, 1988, 1992), WSW (Véhicule, 1989), Sheepish Beauty, Civilian Love (Véhicule, 1992), The Green Word: Selected Poems 1973-1992 (Oxford University Press, 1994), Search Procedures (Anansi, 1996), The Frame of a Book (or A Frame of the Book) (Anansi, 1999; Sun & Moon, Los Angeles, 1999) and Pillage Laud (Moveable Type Books, 1999) — her books work almost less as individual books and more as sequences of books that begin to group together, working books as couples or trios. In hindsight, I don’t think anyone could argue that her two books with Montreal publisher Véhicule Press certainly fit together almost as a single unit, compared to the rest of her work, or her two collections with Anansi in the late 1990s. Her newest poetry collection, O Cadoiro, poems (Anansi, 2007) has ties that begin with her Cariro/Pessoa transelation, but fit somehow more along a path begun with her subsequent collection, working a back and forth through translating Galician-Portuguese into an argument about authorship.

It was that thread and that
tower I climbed threading every
hour and not again craving
death instead of ache in every
breath marked alone, aloneness where I
sit still.

Do you make stones of words as towers
are of stones?

(when you come back; speak to me)

(I still have that thread, that tower)

[671] #708
Gonçal Eanes Do Vinhal

Mouré's whole work has been one of exploring boundaries, whether that of lyricism, citizenship, identity, language theory and challenging language itself, working not the poem separate from theory but incorporating theory. If poems can be called a thinking art, why not? Working her last few collections working the places between Galician-Portuguese and English, Mouré moves further from her earlier works through English and French, even as the poems root themselves deeper through some pretty heavy theory and theorists. There is an interesting way that Mouré uses the language, weaving a kind of lightness and wide range of worked speech, even while incorporating the weight of theorists such as Foucault, Agamben, Lacan and others, without letting the weight take over. How do the poems not collapse from such theoretical weight? How does the theory not simply get in the way of the poetry? How does the weight not take over? In her "in lieu of a postface" in O Cadoiro, poems (a postface to the collection has been posted online in pdf format at, Mouré writes:
O cadoiro is, literally, the place where falling is made. In Galician, cadoiro is one word for waterfall. Cataract, perhaps. Thus, the fall. This to me is the place of poetry, for whoever writes poetry must be prepared, ever, to fall down.

My crux or crossing: to lean into time's fissure to play with and resorb the language of lyric from a time when the poetry of Western Europe first broke free from ecclesiastical modes of praise and epic modes of heroic glory. The poems of the medieval Iberian songbooks, written in Galician-Portuguese, set aside God and history to turn toward … another human. Lyric was the fulcrum of this turn, and Galician its human language, for it was never ecclesiastical and never the language of history, but the idiom of emigration and of place's longing, of the beloved, of the bereft. In these poems, Dante's salvation narrative was not yet operative.

They are fount for my own inventions and coalects, which are but small plaints, rustlings, a ruxarruxe, an altermundismo or "otherworld-wantingness" where habitation is possible but tenuous, for though poems recuperate, they do not solve.
What is it about falling that entices? Lately I've been noticing everyone working a version of the poem that doesn’t work, from Phyllis Webb and Jon Paul Fiorentino's notions of the failure in poetry, to Mouré's old pal Phil Hall, suggesting that every poet should have a collection that completely fails. Is it as simple as the failure, or is it the Biblical fall from Heaven, and into the depth of what cannot be spoken? What is it about the fall that attracts?

On an island, there re waves everywhere!
A small island.

Simon became Peter and Peter became Pedra!
A small island.

(Will you come?)

I don t know how to row a boat.
I m no swimmer either.

(Will you come?)

e u~a! I thought I d see you

But there s no boat on the high sea!
The waves arrive empty.

(Will you still come?)

[795] #852
Meendinho M.

There is a particular kind of lyric that Mouré not only writes, but embraces; and after the large projects that came before, such as Search Procedures (1996), The Frame of a Book (or A Frame of the Book) (1999) and Pillage Laud (1999), the small projects that she has worked since seem a structural step backwards, but only if, as a reader, there is something you miss in how she works the finely-honed lyric into alternate directions, and her constant exploration of the self, from citizen, female and feminine, watching her lyric drop every so often from the deliberate heaviness she puts there. In the Montreal Review of Books, writing on her previous collection, Little Theatres (2005), Edmonton poet Bert Almon wrote:
Mouré's book contains poems and prose passages about "little theatres" that are attributed to a Montreal writer named Elisa Sampedrin, who appears to be a heteronym of Mouré herself. The "heteronym" is a method devised by one of her favorite authors, Fernando Pessoa, who created a series of imaginary poets and wrote poems from their point of view.
Or, as Mouré herself wrote in her preface to her O Cidadán (2002):
To intersect a word: citizen. To find out what could intend/distend it, today. O cidadán. A word we recognize though we know not its language. It can't be found in French, Spanish, Portuguese dictionaries. It seems inflected "masculine." And, as such, it has a feminine supplement. Yet if I said "a cidadá" I would only be speaking of 52% of the world, and it's the remainder that inflects the generic, the cidadán. How can a woman then inhabit the general (visibly and semantically skewing it)? How can she speak from the generic at all, without vanishing behind its screen of transcendent value? In this book, I decided, I will step into it just by a move in discourse. I, a woman: o cidadán. As if "citizen" in our time can only be dislodged when spoken from a "minor" tongue, one historically persistent despite external and internal pressures, and by a woman who bears ― as lesbian in a civic frame ― a policed sexuality. Unha cidadán: a semantic pandemonium. If a name's force or power is "a historicity … a sedimentation, a repetition that congeals," (Butler) can the name be reinvested or infested, fenestrated … set in motion again? Unmoored? Her semblance? Upsetting the structure/stricture even momentarily. To en(in)dure, perdure.
[Erin Mouré launches her poetry collection at the ottawa international writers festival as part of Poetry Cabaret #4 with Genni Gunn and Erin Knight, 6pm, Saturday, April 21]

Friday, April 13, 2007

some upcoming rob mclennan readings, Ottawa + Toronto

Hopefully I'll see you on Sunday at the ottawa international writers festival to launch my brand new poetry collection (rumoured to arrive today), or Nick on Wednesday, but here are some other things I'm doing that are coming up:

Sunday, April 22 (2:30 to 5:00pm) in Ottawa as part of Gloucester Spoken Art at Cafe Margit, 2425 St. Joseph Blvd, in Orleans. Info: Asoka Weerasinghe at

Friday April 27 in Ottawa as part of the monthly Arts Night events held at the First Unitarian Congregation; 7:30 pm on the last Friday of each month. The cost is $5.00 or pay-what-you can. Info: J Loeffelholz-Rea at

Wednesday May 16 in Toronto as part of the Draft Reading Series, Toronto. 7:30pm, 276 Carlaw Ave. Ste 209. Info: call 416-433-4170 or email

Information on various upcoming Chaudiere Books author readings in Ottawa & Toronto can be found here.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

ropewalk, poems by Angela Carr, and songs for the dancing chicken by Emily Schultz

One of the first publications by Montreal publisher Snare Books is ropewalk, poems by Angela Carr. Started out of Matrix magazine by the late Robert Allen and Jon Paul Fiorentino [see my review of Jason Christie's Canada Post here], their logo is "for a party without love is as a snare without delusions." A first book for Angela Carr, it exists in three sections, "Ropewalk," "Empty Cups" and "Mountance of a Dream," the first of which is taken up almost exclusively with "The Louise Labé Poems."

Many say that Oliver de Magny fell in love with Louise
in 1554; her Oeuvres was published in 1555. Oliver
was a fellow poet and a regular of her salon, the literary
centre of Lyons, where he attended her with rapture,
enamoured. A poem he published in 1559, Ode a Sire
Aymon, ridicules a rope-maker: undoubtedly
Ennemond, Louise's husband. There are two sorts of
ties: the first is made with rope, and the second with
the silvery lute string. A rope is coarse, clumsy, com-
mon, heavy; a lute string is delicate, refined, lustrous,

Carr takes the story of Louise Labé, daughter of a prosperous rope-maker and wife of another, who was born in the early 1520s and a prominent (called "unwomanly," even) woman in the literary circles of Lyon, France, and twists it, coils and uncoils it, touching faint echoes of other Montreal writers, whether Erin Mouré or Nicole Brossard. Carr has some compelling movements and beginnings, working longer sequences and poem/prose fragments in the first and third sections of her debut poetry collection, and broken lines and lines that trail off into the air.

no plates

he just walked in
off the ice they
towed his car
with no places
to do

my meal
unfinished confused
with food

there was a man
who lived with grizzlies
and was eventually
eaten by one he said
all of the hype
around bears you've
got to accept

even babies can
die de deux
choses l'une l'autre i
never talk about
the saddest

surface of
so it's brilliant
apocalyptic cold
blowing in

Unlike the first and third sections that feel as though they are working single poems, her second section is a collection of shorter pieces that move through various structural devices, working as a unit not necessarily as theme or content but almost through tone. This is obviously a poet who has learned from those around her, and can end up possibly writing some extremely enviable work, and this small, graceful collection of dark and subtle lyric is a very nice book of poems, but I think it will be in future work where she really begins to shine.

in an envelope

I have it in an envelope
sealed I tasted the glue before
kicking myself because
of course I do not want to send it.
What use is it anyhow to catalogue
my and the kids' fevers.
I might as well be writing
with a French keyboard, fucking
up all the symbols. The stamp
on the envelope is one of these
windows you can't even see through.
Sometimes a disk ejects spontaneously
and now there are blisters all over their mouths
and they hurt. I said Drink some water

They say part of the strength of bpNichol as an editor at Coach House Press wasn’t necessarily for the strength of the individual manuscripts he was accepting, but by how the publication of a first collection would free up the author to move on, and go on to their next project. Don't get me wrong, I quite like this book, but I would very much like to see what Angela Carr does next.

I am seeing a film.

I am seeing a film
and you are with me.

I am seeing a film
and you are far from me.

I am seeing a film
and the theatre is bathed
in blue light, but the insides
of my mind are crimson.

I am seeing a film
and morality is small
as popped corn.

I am seeing a film
and thinking about story,
how it has its downfall,
how narration isn’t
worth spit, because we are
able to sit in two places.

(from "I Am Seeing a Film," Emily Schultz)

For Toronto writer and editor Emily Schultz, her first poetry collection Songs for the Dancing Chicken (Toronto ON: ECW Press, 2007), references the films and life of acclaimed director Werner Herzog, the man who made such films as Grizzly Man (2005), Fitzcarraldo (1982), Stroszek (1976) and the infamous Nosteratu (1979), turning biography into poem, as the back cover compares her work to Michael Ondaatje's infamous The Collected Works of Billy the Kid (1970). Compared to Carr's ropewalk, Emily Schultz's Songs for the Dancing Chicken is less lyric, and a bit more grounded in concrete images and straightforward sentences. Using references to Herzog as her starting point for particular poems (she includes a list of such at the back of the collection), she is able to create poems that move in strange and sometimes surreal places, writing small stories triggered by an image, or a still.

For Werner Herzog

The man
with a gun in his hand
that will bring the ending
mounts the empty
ski lift
and rises

a sign on his back
above the story

Previously editor of Broken Pencil magazine, Schultz is the author of the novel Joyland (Toronto ON: ECW Press) and the short story collection Black Coffee Night (Toronto ON: Insomniac Press), and works her poems through a kind of narrative as well, weaving the collection through the life and work of a single individual through six sections, including "songs for the dancing chicken," "better hell," "a climax of dirt," "in the factory," "letters to heartbreak" and "poems for the wrong person." Unlike Carr's use of subject to propel a poem (Louise Labé), Schultz might use more concrete images, but goes off into further tangents, and thus moves further away from her source in a series of wonderful pieces.

The Boy from the Theatre, the Excrement of Dogs

When we were together
we were always seeing ghosts.

The moon was the fullest and brightest
it had been in a hundred years.

I made love to you
but I was thinking of another.

Now you make love to another
and think of me.

We wandered the streets like two clowns, sleuthing
the stolen red circle of our one-ring show.

In our absence the little dog shat on the floor
and the crowd went home.

Out my window you saw something
that made you cry.

You lay back down next to me
under the cover of night.

I lay dreaming
that we were a thousand years old.

When I woke you were sunlight
and my heart was the cold colour of snow.

In the apartment below me
a spoon scraped the bottom of an empty bowl.

One of the pieces in the final section of the collection is "The Week John Ditsky Died," a poem for a poet, editor (former poetry editor for The Windsor Review) and University of Windsor professor (as well as former mentor to Toronto poet John Barlow), I can only presume that Schultz might have gone to the University at one point, or was from the City of Windsor?

In Detroit, fifty officers have a warrant
to seek his remains. Hoffa, that is,
on the front page; Ditsky's in the back.

A man of crime is exhumed. A man of letters
laid to rest. Delivered via e-mail and old acquaintance,
the paper's smudged weight sits upon screen, illuminated,

uncanny, popping with ads for its own Classifieds.
The Death Notices yawn with tulips.
Visitation is for an 11 a.m. already passed.