Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Ongoing notes: late May, 2007

Will I see you at the ottawa small press book fair, or the reading on the night before at the Carleton Tavern (upstairs), 7pm? Chaudiere Books just put out our seventh title (without funding or investors, I might add; purchase our books so we can afford to make more!), the collection Decalogue 2: ten Ottawa fiction writers; see here for Amanda Earl's report on such, as well as photos of the readers by Charles Earl here, here and here. If you were on facebook, you'd not only be able to already see them all, but the pictures Jennifer Mulligan took from her recent trip to France. Did you see that Nath. G. Moore apparently liked my review of his book, my named dropped by Brian Campbell, or this enormously sweet posting by Sharon Harris? Did you read Pearl Pirie's report on the recent Haiku Canada weekend, or this recent review in The Ottawa X-Press of my new book and Nicholas Lea's new book? Decalogue 2 contributor Matthew Firth even reads at this year's WESTFEST, along with Montreal writer/publisher Andy Brown and a whole bunch of others; check out the Chaudiere Books blog for further information on upcoming author readings, new publications, where to get them and submission calls.

My book Ottawa: The Unknown City is in its final stages [see my previous note on such here]; if you know of anything in the city I might be missing, tell me now [Amanda Earl even makes reference to the project...]! I've been working 24/7 for the past few weeks, desperately wanting this done and out of my house, finally… I've been useless for just about anything else for quite some time now...

Ottawa ON: Grant Wilkins has been producing his small chapbook magazine Murderous Signs for a few years now, and has just put out the 15th issue of his small semi-annual (you do the math), with a short essay by Toronto writer Edward McDermott and poems by Tim Conley, author of the most magnificent book of short fiction, published last fall.

Reflections in an Imaginary Snow Globe

There is a thing in my eye. When you hold it, just in that
certain way, it looks like the place where you were born.
Seldom is the journey uninteresting,

but the reward is never posted. Did you hear, in my eye,
how do you say fish it out, is it because it is swimming?
You hardly look. When she asks whether this or that outfit
looks good how can the answer go naked, that was the
reply, ripe I thought at the time,

but then no one sees the point.

At the end of the issue is series of pieces that translate an Archibald Lampman poem with structures borrowed from bpNichol's Translating Translating Apollinare (Milwaukee: Membrane Press, 1979), "an experiment in the application of various forms of translation/transformation to a sonnet." Wilkins' magazine has always shown his interest in the Confederation Poets as well as more current strains of avant-garde, whether Max Middle or jwcurry (and he's been doing an informal study on concrete/visual poetry now for years), so it's entertaining to watch him blend the two ideas. Here he takes the poem "Voices of Earth" and replaces each of the words with ones that rhyme with the originals:

Be calve lot furred be few sick dove fee shears,
Flea gong glove bar dew bar, cut bare mar bounds
Fore keep fan bedpan soy band divan beers,
Chat creature fuses bin fur bonbon founds;
See gall love beams, glee buy shove grins fat bane
Key folk, lee boaring dove me pea's dirge, fight
Shove blunder caking sitar doff, for sane
Gnat balls cry spinets din see drummer flight.

Breeze far sea choices love berth's chic vet hole,
Buttering she agony bomb ditch tea fame.
Clue dim flew shears gem beef abscond enscroll
Nor toy conveyable myth rout ma came,
Bakes sin quiz mart lots dreaded fair, uncurled,
Restore we dearth land faking shove me hurled.

Unfortunately, this is the last issue of his free little magazine; as he writes in his editorial:

Changing personal interests and priorities are also a contributing factor. I've recently found myself becoming more and more interested in the physical elements of literary production, and have been moving towards "book arts" orientation for The Grunge Papers (the business entity through which Murderous Signs is published), actively exploring letterpress printing, hand papermaking, hand binding & notions of fine printing.
For copies of this or other of his publications, either go through his website, or come directly to the ottawa small press book fair.

Chicago IL: Canadian expat Suzanne Buffam read at the TREE Reading Series recently [see my review here of her magnificent first poetry collection], bringing some new poems as well as copies of her chapbook Interiors (Montreal QC: Delirium Press, 2006) with her. There is just something about her poems that I don’t seem to find in anyone else's writing, with a combination of heartfelt wondering with the right amount of distance, a pondering without being pondering, and a ghazal-like leap from line to line that seems almost unbelievable for the way the poems hold themselves together, and so well.


Low cirrocumulus clouds in the west.
War in the east.

Lift teabag from cup.
Add milk. Ask if it is happiness

or pleasure you prefer.
Watch the storm churn to the surface.

Shadows gather in the valley below.
To count them is to know their many shapes

cannot be counted.
They must be numbered among.

A writer we have to wait and wait and wait for, apparently she's also in a new anthology of Chicago poets that just came out, which I have yet to find. See photos of her reading by Charles Earl and John W. MacDonald, Ottawa's own literary paparazzi.

Oakland CA: I swear, someday I'm going to get myself into an issue of Xantippe [see where I saw my first and discovered Rachel Zucker here; see my subsequent interview with Zucker], but so far, it just hasn’t happened. Recently the combined 4/5 double issue arrived in my mailbox, featuring poetry, biography (a fragment of that perpetually-forthcoming Robert Duncan biography Lisa Jarnot is working on) and a swath of poetry book reviews.

The Port of Seattle

Teetering free of grating vanes
Fall hand-sized flakes of rust

The signal yet unsounded
Nestled in bright life vests

The rigging sprinkled with rot
A nautical sign for rest

Better now than never
Better never say

None of your physics persist
For long, none

Of your bromides cut
The air where

Once our lichen bloomed
The sea where

Twice the riptide blitzed
The sand where

Once a drifting splinter lay
Guttered, culled & grey

Two long, one short:
A warning unrequited. (Chris Pusateri)

I'm not entirely sure why they did a double issue as opposed to two singles, but I almost wish every issue was this large, with this much poetry and this many reviews, and the Lisa Jarnot stuff on Robert Duncan makes me very much want to read the final book, supposedly out this fall with the University of California Press.

Montreal QC: Anyone paying attention to the late Montreal poet Robert Allen[1946-2006; see my note on him here]'s poetry over the past twenty years has certainly been aware of his ongoing project, "The Encantadas," collected into a single volume by Andy Brown's Conundrum Press. Published in 2006, soon before Allen died, his continuing sequence of poems on the Galapagos Island (The Enchanted Isles) have been appearing in various of his poetry collections over the years, including Magellan's Clouds, New and Selected Poems (1990), Ricky Ricardo Suites (2000) and Standing Wave (2005), his last three poetry collections. Twisting like an adventure novel, Allen's The Encantadas read almost like a life's work in a single volume, rushing and burning like a standing wave of its own.


fourteen hundred and ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue ― do you
see him springing from the serpent's teeth you sowed? Yes, you. Are you
happy up there in the top hat of America? Can you sail clear

of the white, ice-jammed straits, find shade from a predatory
sun? / One morning I awoke at the crosshairs of a dream,
ascending a green beanstalk into a land of solid cloud. Child-

hood things lay strewn everywhere, a chicken laying opal eggs, a steam
train sadly chugging, the ruins of a petrol station, nosed by a three-wheeled Cooper
in British Racing Green. Some giant kid was bawling

It's not that often that the great poem of an authors life is published just before the author dies; as sick as he was, it was great that he was able to not only oversee the final part of the project, but see it come to bear as a publication, and Conundrum Press has done extremely well by producing a graceful book, a "collected poem."

Saskatoon SK: It's not that often that a particular project will take up more than one volume of poetry in Canadian writing, and even less often that the volumes occur with different poetry publishers, so for that reason alone, the publication of Saskatoon poet Steven Ross Smith's fluttertongue 4: adagio for the pressured surround (Edmonton AB: NeWest Press, 2007) is worth noting. The only other project I can think of could be the four-volume bpNichol project that included love: a book of remembrances (Vancouver BC: Talonbooks, 1974), Zygal: a Book of Mysteries and Translations (Toronto ON: Coach House Press, 1980) and Truth: A Book of Fictions (Stratford ON: The Mercury Press, 1993). Long a student of the work of bpNichol and the Four Horsemen, Smith is the author of a number of volumes of poetry and fiction over the years, as well as one of the founding members of the 1970s and 80s sound poetry group Owen Sound (which came from, ironically, Owen Sound, Ontario). fluttertongue is a project that Smith has been working on for some time, and include the volumes Fluttertongue Book 1: The Book of Games (Saskatoon SK: Thistledown Press, 98), Fluttertongue Book 2: The Book of Emmett (Regina SK: Hagios Press, 99) and Fluttertongue 3: disarray (Winnipeg MB: Turnstone Press, 2005); why would he deliberately work his project through different publishers? It's as though the project, although a unit, is less about the structural considerations of being a specific single unit, but one instead meant to spread out across the page.

A poem of 1078 numbered stanzas/lines, Smith works through his relation and relating through language with his father, one of Smith's constant themes, there are even parts of word-play that have echoes of Toronto poet Phil Hall, working his word combinations and twists into something about birds, and something that rattles and shakes into something so much further, more.

A mossfringed grove. above, an eagle circles. stretches a talon to
scratch her underwing, plucks, from her body, settling adrift, a
single white feather.

feather floats, as she thermals up. away.

feather, current-borne, hollow-shafted — cleft, wordless.

utterance is loss.

my (Father, a roil of words.

loss unutterable.

a crumbling shore. breaking sky.

forage for words. store them in cloth pockets, in satchels, in every
room of my house. they fall away. from every stitch and seam.
from every clasp.

on the verge of
a phrasing of birds awing in the grove. wrentit chatter-rattles.
chickadee, warbler, towhee. scuffle and trill.

ears atingle with chitter and chat. i sit still.

Prince George BC: For some reason, Prince George poet Rob Budde, who I'm almost always a fan of [see a previous note on him here, and another here], has produced poem's poem (Prince George BC: wink books, 2007), a small chapbook of poems that don’t quite do it for me. What's happened? I know he has a book or two out this year that I'm very much looking forward to. He still works the longer line, almost prose-poemy, and working the self-reference (check out the "pizza guy" reference that works into his 1999 collection traffick, for example), but for some reason these aren’t really doing anything for me; is this part of a larger project or structure I'm just not seeing? Otherwise, these poems about poems, which are difficult enough, and load themselves already just through their structure, seem aimless, and not exactly formless, but moving for the sheer sake perhaps of only moving. What are these poems all about?

Poem in the Overcode

Poem is a good boy, disturbs
the flow of pedestrians as little
as possible, mixes oil-based paint in
prescribed ways, eats the fictional
food groups, redeems his air
miles, watches hockey, thinks
about mutual funds and international
security, gets hopped up on
caffeine and sugar, has a full
medicine cabinet, frets over
fuel prices, is curious
about porn, submits regularly
to established magazines, finds
unique ways to create
vivid description and surprising
but comforting comparisons, breaks
the line right where it should, hears
screams at night, has a mellifluous
reading voice, is suspicious of
postmodern pomposity, dreams of the city
falling apart, demons
fouling the internet, resists discussing
the trivialities of language indeterminacy,
knows where he is going, tries
to get there on a straight straight overpass

Ottawa ON: With it's sixteenth issue, I've finally seen a copy of Matthew Firth's Front & Centre magazine, filled with "hard-hitting new fiction" by Tony O'Neill, Ian Colford, Carrie-May Siggins, Jeffrey Griffiths and Tom Leins, as well as a slew of fiction reviews. Published through his Black Bile Press, which he started out of Hamilton, Ontario about ten years ago to publish the poetry and fiction journal Black Cat 115, he has even produced some single-author chapbooks along the way, these days focusing on fiction, and leaving the poetry behind.

In many ways, Firth is a roughneck version of John Metcalf, kicking against as many pricks as he can in his search for not only good writing, but great writing. The guest editorial by Salvatore Difalco even echoes classic Metcalf (but with more swearing), writing:

Okay, so we all know the Giller Prize is bullshit. We just know. Nothing they tell us or show us will alter that opinion in the near future. But this year's Giller's took the cake. Now, I don’t mean this as a slur to a fellow writer. He's a patsy from the looks of it. But the word astonishing kept creeping up on me these past few months, indeed kept hitting me over the head, and I want to take a moment now to express my astonishment, because I really am astonished.

I read, or tried to read, Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures before it made the shortlist for the Giller. My wife had bought it for herself, and after she started it and dropped it abruptly with no comment, I had a look at it. I liked the cover; it was cool, blood red, with this pencil sketch of a human heart. I hate grandiose blurbs and the back cover had the best: "Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures is an astonishing literary debut…" Stop. There was that word again. I read the acknowledgments and found it interesting that Margaret Atwood and Michael Winter and a few other prominent writer types were mentioned. The guy had connections. Good for him.
If you're a fan of any kind of fiction, I would certainly recommend going through the rest of this editorial, and even the rest of the fiction in the magazine. There aren’t that many people left working to be great instead of merely passable. To get a copy, go through his website.

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