Friday, November 30, 2007

12 or 20 questions: with Lillian Necakov

Lillian Necakov lives in Toronto where she has been writing and publishing for the past 30 years. She is the author of Sickbed of Dogs, Wolsak and Wynn 1989, Polaroids, Coach House Press 1997, Hat Trick, Exile Editions 1998 and The Bone Broker, Mansfield Press 2007. Her work has appeared in numerous anthologies and magazines in the U.S.A., Europe, China and Canada, including Surreal Estate: 13 Canadian Poets Under the Influence, Mercury Press, 2004.

1 - How did your first book change your life?

It absolutely didn’t. It just allowed me to move on to the next batch of writing, although it was kind of cool to see my name on an actual book.

2 - How long have you lived in Toronto, and how does geography, if at all, impact on your writing? Does race or gender make any impact on your work?

My family moved to Toronto from Belgrade, former Yugoslavia when I was 3 years old. Geography does impact my writing, but it’s my immediate geography, meaning my neighbourhood and the neighbourhood I work in. You tend to write about what’s around you, what you know. I work in an at risk neighbourhood in a pretty tough part of town where I see a lot of poverty and violence but I also get to see the good stuff that goes on there. All this is bound to affect what I write about. If you read The Bone Broker it’s all there.

3 - Where does a poem or piece of fiction usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?

The work always starts with a tiny speck of an idea, a word or an image that is swimming around in my head. I never just sit down to write. There has to be something brewing before I can actually hit the keyboard. I usually write piece by piece or section by section, I tend not to think in terms of an entire book or body of work. I often have an entire poem or part of a poem composed in my head before I ever write it down. This process can take minutes or days.

4 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process?

I think they are part of my creative process. They can be positive or negative experiences but they almost always give me some kind of encouragement to go home and do more or better.

5 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?

Most of the time I don’t really know what the hell I am on about until later, when I go back and look at what I have written and how it may connect to what I have written before or what I am trying to accomplish. Really I think I write because it is the only way I know of connecting the dots of my existence, our collective existence. I suppose that is a kind of question I am concerned with.

6 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?

If it is a good editor it is essential. You can never step outside of yourself enough to be able to look at your work with that eagle eye.

7 - After having published more than a couple of titles over the years, do you find the process of book-making harder or easier?

Easier, mostly because I am not self-publishing anymore!

8 - When was the last time you ate a pear?

Today, I love pears. My dad has a pear tree in his garden; I grew up with them falling all around me.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?

I don’t really know, I try not to take any advice.

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to non-fiction)? What do you see as the appeal?

I don’t really move between genres much. I have written some fiction and it takes me a hell of a long time to write. I am a real perfectionist, every word and phrase has to be dead on, sound just right etc… not an easy transition for me.

11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?

Typical day for me begins at 6 am, get the kids ready and off to school, then get myself ready for the long trek to work (bike in the warmer weather and transit during the winter). I work full time running a community branch library, so I have no real routine when it comes to my writing. I write when I can grab an hour or two, mostly late at night or on Mondays which is my day off. I think that is why I tend to compose a lot of my work “on the run” so to speak and then commit it to memory so that I can later write it down. Needless to say, my memory is pretty good, or at least I think it is?

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?

Usually to a good book. I read a ton of fiction as well as non-fiction. I don’t read much poetry.

13 - How does your most recent book compare to your previous work? How does it feel different?

I think my latest book is a lot more thought out in the sense that it works as a whole. The work is stronger and there are some real departures (more humor and longer pieces). I suppose I am getting better at it, writing I mean, at least I hope I am. I feel like the work is a bit more mature.

14 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?

Sure! Films, music, nature, riding my bike all that stuff, how can it not? If you look at my stuff I think you will agree that it is pretty visual with all the imagery and so on. That is direct result of my love of film and visual art.

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?

I love Octavio Paz, he is my favourite poet. Books on science and math, Kaye Gibbons, Barbara Kingsolver and great crime writers (Craig Russell and Stuart MacBride). But really everything, I read a whole bunch of different stuff, I work in a library I can’t go a day without seeing something new I want to read.

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?

Ride in the Tour de France and write a novel.

17 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had younot been a writer?

Film maker.

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?

I am not a very good collaborator and I love pencils! (I suppose that means I would not have made a very good film maker).

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?

Film: Ghost Dog: the Way of the Samurai (re-viewing for the? time)

20 - What are you currently working on?

Staying out of trouble and ideas for the next poetry book.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The 2008 Robert Kroetsch Award

The competition for the Robert Kroetsch Award for Innovative Poetry is on now. Please note that entriesfrom last year or revisions of last year's entries may be resubmitted for consideration. This year's judge is Elizabeth Bachinsky. The winner receives a trade paperback contract with Snare Books which will include the publication of the manuscript and a $500 honorarium. Deadline: January 31, 2008.

Last year's winner was Thumbscrews by Natalie Zina Walschots, beating out over 60 other manuscripts. Each entry must be accompanied with a business size SASE and an entry fee for $30.00 Canadian. This is a not-for profit contest and all revenues are directly applied to the production and dissemination of the work. Please make all cheques and money orders payable to "Livres Snare". No cash please.

Send manuscripts to:
The Robert Kroetsch Award for Innovative Poetry
c/o Snare Books
#1A 4302 St. Urbain Street
Montreal QC
H2W 1V5

for more info, please visit

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Thomas Wharton in Canada Reads; a note from NeWest Press:

Astronaut picks Icefields by Thomas Wharton (NeWest Press, 1995) for 7th annual Canada Reads competition!

Steve MacLean, Chief Astronaut for the Canadian Space Agency, will boldly champion Thomas Wharton’s [see his 12 or 20 questions interview here] first novel, Icefields, for the CBC’s Canada Reads 2008 literary showdown. This is the first time a book by an Alberta author will compete in Canada Reads!

Book lovers across the country are invited to read this novel and participate in scheduled events. The Canada Reads debates will air daily on CBC’s Radio One from February 25 to 29, 2008, each episode ending with the elimination of a title.

Join the nation and cheer for Icefields as it battles against four other books chosen by celebrity panelists. Visit the NeWest Press website for related news and event listings:

Written by acclaimed author and Edmonton resident Thomas Wharton, this remarkable book has been published in 6 countries, won numerous awards, and developed a following of rapt and loyal readers. Icefields has been cited by the Times Literary Supplement for its “crystalline beauty.” People magazine calls it “a finely etched tale of love in a cold climate.”

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Alphabet Game: a bpNichol reader, eds. Darren Wershler-Henry and Lori Emerson


an h moves past an m
an i becomes an r

someone throws a snowball

o p
t r s u
v v v


i i i i


x d

one mile

a sky which is grey

do not serve yourself

l e
4 3 1 2 2



zero than nothing

6 9 10
13 5

here a z becomes an e
becomes an m a w


a d in a cloudbank
an r by the sea

perhaps it is a river
passes over



a town
in which the r becomes an l (from “Trans-Continental”)

It serves as quite a compliment to the work of late Canadian poet bpNichol (1944-88) that every decade or so, due to a demand by readers, friends, editors and publishers, a new edition of his selected poems is brought back into print. Thanks to Smaro Kamboureli and Darren Wershler-Henry, who began the project, and Wershler-Henry and Lori Emerson, as editors, who saw it through, we now have the 336 pages that make up The Alphabet Game: a bpNichol reader (Toronto ON: Coach House Books, 2007) [see here for the announcement + table of contents, posted by Emerson]. The work of putting together any sort of collection like this has to be done by those who know the work, and know it well, and both editors have done much over the years either on or influenced by the work of Nichol, even back to Wershler-Henry’s first poetry collection as homage, his Nicholodeon: a book of lowerglyphs (Toronto ON: Coach House Books, 1997).

Coach House is certainly the obvious choice for keeping Nichol in print, especially since they’ve been working for years to keep the nine-volume The Martryology in print, as well as issuing a third edition of Konfessions of an Elizabethan Fan Dancer (2004) a few years back, edited by Nelson Ball (who also saw the second edition through his own Weed/Flower Press in 1973, after the original British Writer’s Forum edition in 1967). The obvious choice, even before the lane where the press lives was officially named “bpNichol Lane” a number of years ago, in homage to the late poet, with a Nichol poem etched into the lane itself (what the two photos, courtesy Amanda Earl, depict). Still, it does beg the question, why didn’t McClelland & Stewart consider keeping the previous selected poems in print (you can still get the much earlier selected poems that Talonbooks published, Selected Writing: As Elected, from 1980)? I mean, despite the fact that during his life, bpNichol said he’d never publish a book with McClelland & Stewart, and then, mere years after he dies, the first posthumous selected, An H in the Heart: A Reader (Toronto ON: McClelland & Stewart, 1994) appeared with the same company. Didn’t they know? Or was this weighed against the argument of distribution that a more “national” publishing house like M&S would have for the work?

Still, a book promoting the work and/or life of the late bpNichol could never be all wrong. Even as Nichol himself said in an interview conducted by Flavio Multineddu (Open Letter, Eighth Series, Number 7, Summer 1993):

It seems to me that any form you choose both lets you say certain things and at the same time limits the contents of what you can talk about, and therefore to reach the other, which you could say is the reader in one way, but I also meant it in the very basic sense that other people are strangers to us, all other people, so to reach out is to find as many exits and entrances as possible, which I saw it as being a question of formal choice: the more fluid you become moving between forms … unless you are contained by the issue of form per se. But the issue is not to get rid of form, but rather to multiply the sense of possibility, and that’s the way I’ve been, I think, rather clearly, operating.
Perhaps Nichol wasn’t talking about publishing per se, but there are certainly considerations that could be applied to such. In a similar vein, the editors of the new collection work to explain their own framework, as they begin their postscript, “This book is a frame.”:

You can see bpNichol’s work through it, but our frame, like many frames, has glass in it – glass that colours and textures, reduces and magnifies, reflects, refracts and, yes, occasionally distorts. Any book that pretends to do otherwise can be trusted even less than usual.

The Alphabet Game is indeed ‘a’ reader. Given bpNichol’s extraordinary literary output, what we present here is by necessity only a fraction of what he wrote in his lifetime; there have been, and we hope there will be, other collections of his work, in both print and digital form. This is only the beginning, again.
Rife with in-jokes and other Nichol references, the two-page postscript ends with:

In the meantime, we have established a website, [unfortunately not actually scheduled for launch until spring], which will continue the project that The Alphabet Game has begun, acting as an open-ended online anthology. The site will house a range of digitized Nichol material, including sound files of Nichol’s recordings, full-colour images and scans of his musical scores. Our goal is simple: to ensure that as much of Nichol’s work as possible stays available in as many forms as possible. To paraphrase Nichol, there are infinite alphabets ahead.
Apparently the framework for The Alphabet Game: a bpNichol reader also included only considering works that appeared in books, as opposed to all the other small bits of ephemera that could easily contain whole libraries, whole rooms, by themselves; partly, I’m sure, so the project of editing down a manageable collection and even representation of Nichol’s oeuvre would be possible, and not a life-long work of its own, completely overwhelming and unfinishable. How does one work to represent a writer who tried, in his own way, to do everything? From comics (bpNichol published the first underground comics, they say, in Canada), computer poems, visual/concrete poems, essays, interviews, endless collaborations, text and word games, television scripts, songs, fiction, sound recordings, theory, etcetera. Imagine: just for the book he had seen through the process, there were at least four that appeared posthumously; how much work do you think there was still to collect, collate and consider sitting around uncollected otherwise?

What makes the book impressive is just how well of an opening it provides, with the option of going further into any of the nine volumes of The Martyrology (selections are included in this volume) that Coach House keep in print, or the two more recent volumes issued by Vancouver’s Talonbooks, bpNichol Comics (2001), ed. Carl Peters, and Meanwhile: The Critical Writings of bpNichol (2001), ed. Roy Miki. What really appeals is the forthcoming two-volume reappraisal that Lori Emerson has been collecting for Open Letter on the work of bpNichol, as an interesting pairing/extension of this brand-new selected poems, with the first issue scheduled for January 2008 (rumours have launches for both issues and selected happening then as well).

Monday, November 26, 2007

12 or 20 questions: with Wayde Compton
Wayde Compton is a Vancouver writer whose books include 49th Parallel Psalm, Performance Bond and Bluesprint: Black British Columbia Literature and Orature. He and Jason de Couto perform turntable-based sound poetry as a duo called The Contact Zone Crew. Compton is also a co-founding member of the Hogan's Alley Memorial Project, an organization dedicated to preserving the public memory of Vancouver's original black community. (See HAMP's blog here). He is also one of the publisher of Commodore Books. Wayde Compton teaches in Simon Fraser University's Writing and Publishing Program, where is a creative writing intructor in The Writers's Studio; he also teaches English composition and literature at Coquitlam College. He is the Writer-in-Residence at SFU for 2007-8.

1 - How did your first book change your life?

I’ve travelled the country because of my writing. I would have travelled a little if I’d never become a writer, but not nearly as much as I have. I would never have gone to Winnipeg (in November!) if it weren’t for their writers festival, nor would I have gone to Taiwan if it weren’t for the tour I did there.

2 - How long have you lived in Vancouver, and how does geography, if at all, impact on your writing? Does race or gender make any impact on your work?

I’ve always lived in Vancouver.

I like the idea that Kamau Brathwaite puts forth in his book History of the Voice, that conventions of meter come from specific geographies; that the pentameter is European and does not fit in the Caribbean; that Caribbean poets should develop meters that derive from the hurricane and the tides. Because I am from Vancouver, looking out the window at a rainy and cloudy day gives me a feeling of comfort and normalcy. Things like that probably creep into one’s aesthetics.

I’m always writing about race.

3 - Where does a poem usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?

Sometimes it’s as part of book, sometimes it’s just one poem. Poems start with sounds, for me.

4 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process?

The audio poetry that I do, live on turntables and mostly with Jason de Couto, is a creative process. Reading conventionally used to be a bigger part of the process for me than it is now. I think because the turntable-poetry is where I’ve focused all my thinking about performance, I’ve found that the rest of my writing, the stuff that isn’t written for that ongoing project, feels less meant for live reading.

5 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?

I’ve never worked with an editor for a book-length work.

6 - After having published more than a couple of titles over the years, do you find the process of book-making harder or easier?

It’s a stalemate between harder and easier. Some of my skills are better, but my understanding of what I don’t know is also greater.

7 - When was the last time you ate a pear?

Anne and I went to Harrison a few weeks ago and we bought some organic pears there.

8 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?

My friend David Gutteridge gave me some really good advice at a particular point in my writing life. This is not to say that Dave always gives good advice; he sometimes gives really bad advice and then later can’t remember that he did it. For example, he once persuaded me to throw away all my old high school yearbooks. I can’t remember what his argument was, but it was eloquent and convincing, so shortly after this conversation I threw them in the dumpster behind my apartment. Then, a few years after, when we were at his mother’s house, he got out his own high school yearbooks from her closet, and I said, “Hey, you told me to bin all my yearbooks! Why do you still have yours?” And he had completely forgotten that he had convinced me to trash mine, and neither one of us could recall what his point had been back then. So sometimes Dave’s advice is crap. Nevertheless, at a certain point when I was in my early twenties and wanted to be a writer, but was floundering, Dave told me to do more living, to get out and do a lot of interesting things, and then write about those things. It wasn’t that I did interesting things because of this advice, but rather the advice helped me think of myself and my locality as a subject in a new way. It was the right thing to hear at that moment, and it sort of shifted my perspective away from the young writer’s trap of derivativeness.

9 - How easy has it been for you to move between your own work to collaborative pieces? What do you see as the appeal?

Working with Jason de Couto is exhilarating. We plug in all sorts of gizmos: analogue and digital turntables, effects pedals, samplers, et cetera. I love it. We often talk about bringing someone else into the performances to play with visuals the way we play with sound. Collaboration is great. I’d love to build our sound-poetry performances into something even more elaborate.

10 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?

Whenever I have a spare afternoon, I write at the Vancouver Public Library. I find the commute to a location outside my home frees me up to concentrate on my writing rather than answering emails, the phone, work, and so forth. I have a need to write in complete silence, yet I like to be around people, so the library is the perfect setting. It’s weird, but I like to see people, and know they are they, but I want them to be totally quiet so I can hear my lines as I write them.

11 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?

I keep more than one project going at any given time, so there is no stalling.

12 - How does your most recent book compare to your previous work? How does it feel different?

My most recent book is a collection of poems whereas my first book was a verse-history.

13 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?

Music. It’s always changing. Today I was marveling at the production on “Don’t Stop ’Til You Get Enough,” by Michael Jackson. Those insanely grandiose orchestral arrangements of horns and strings all whirling around, and you can see all the musicians in the studio and how much work it took to get those takes, and then it all just gives way after the introduction to a little percussive two note doodle on the guitar. Two notes, but the guitarist wrings complexity out of it with that funk rhythm. There’s a good example of form. Jackson is supposed to have written that, and I guess he came up with the vocal melody, but it’s Quincy Jones’ production that makes it matter. That contrast of scale. A wall of horns and strings and all that breathing and violence, down to a small two note sketch that took no more than lifting and lowering a finger a few millimetres to make it happen.

14 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?

I would like to have a few pints of beer at the Railway Club with Hanif Kureishi, Danzy Senna and Smokey Robinson.

15 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?

Making music.

16 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?

Mere fate.

17 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?

The Epic of Gilgamesh and Tsotsi.

18 - What are you currently working on?

Short stories, I think.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Michael Ondaatje’s Coming Through Slaughter & Sheila Watson

“What a scene about nothing,” he said. “The individual unconscious scorns such
He sat down by the rose bushes.
-- Sheila Watson, “Brother Oedipus,” Sheila Watson: A Collection
Thursday night the Garneau Pub on 109th Street, getting most of the way through Michael Ondaatje’s novel Coming Through Slaughter (Anansi, 1976); after reading that interview with him recently in The Power To Bend Spoons [see my review/note about it here], it made me pull the book off my office shelf, one of the books I brought west with me to read, or reread. A list of them on my shelf that get longer even as it gets shorter, too. The Beauty of the Husband: a fictional essay in 29 tangoes by Anne Carson (Vintage, 2001), Sheila Watson, A Collection (Open Letter, Third Series, #1, Winter 1974-5), IN VISIBLE INK: crypto-fictions by Aritha Van Herk (NeWest Press/writer as critic: III, 1991), The Doomed Bridegroom by Myrna Kostash [see my previous note on her here](NeWest Press, 1998), Icefields by Thomas Wharton (NeWest, 1995) and The Collected Books of Jack Spicer, ed. Robin Blaser (Black Sparrow Press, 1989); there is never enough time in the world. All my whats and little wherefores.

I press myself into her belly. Her breath into my white shirt. Her cool breath against my sweating forehead so I can feel the bubbles evaporate. I lift her arms and leave them empty above us and bend and pull the brown dress up to her stomach and then up into her arms. Step back and watch her against the corner of my room her hands above her holding the brown dress she has lifted over her head in a ball. Turns her back to me and leans her face now against the dress she brings down to her face. Cool brown back. Till I attack her into the wall my cock cushioned my hands at the front of the thigh pulling her at me we are hardly breathing her crazy flesh twisted into corners me slipping out from the move and our hands meet as we put it in quick christ quickly back in again. In. Breathing towards the final liquid of the body, the liquid snap, till we slow and slow and freeze in this corner. As if this is the last entrance of air into the room that was a vacuum that is now empty of the other histories. (p 61)
Thinking more and more about the lyric novel and what I want to do with it, or even as a way of re-entering the mindframe of writing fiction, I’m brought continually back to Michael Ondaatje, which in hindsight, surprises me a little. Why had I been gone for so long? I hadn’t read any of his fiction since 1992, when The English Patient came out; I had read everything he had done up to that point, and nothing more. Coming Through Slaughter, Ondaatje’s novel about the jazz musician, Buddy Bolden.

He was the best and the loudest and most loved jazzman of his time, but never professional in the brain. Unconcerned with the crack of the lip he threw out and held immense notes, could reach a force on the first note that attacked the ear. He was obsessed with the magic of air, those smells that turned neuter as they revolved in his lung then spat out in the chosen key. The way the side of his mouth would drag a net of air in and dress it in notes and make it last and last, yearning to leave it up there in the sky like air transformed into cloud. He could see the air, could tell where it was freshest in a room by the colour. (p 14)
It is the sense of the fragment merged with the obvious lyric that I love, prose and poetry merging and twirling into each other like dna strands; the combination could only be stronger. Rereading parts of the Sheila Watson biography by F.T. Flahiff, always someone to kill the doves: A Life of Sheila Watson (NeWest Press, 2005), the following evening [see my review of such here], and finding this fragment about her influence:

In 1985, aside from Seventy-One Poems, he [George Bowering] edited and published a collection of essays on The Double Hook, including one by himself in which he hailed the novel as “the watershed of contemporary Canadian fiction.” And in Bowering’s B.C., he speaks of The Double Hook as “the best novel to come out of the province,” concluding the section he devotes to her with the claim that “more than any other Canadian novel, it is loved and referred to by the innovative poets and fiction writers who have arrived on the Canadian scene since 1959.” “I call the interesting stuff written since 1959 the ‘Sheila Watson canon,’” he wrote in Craft Slices. He includes Robert Kroetsch among those who, in his words, “have followed on Watson’s break-through,” along with the Leonard Cohen of Beautiful Losers, “Michael Ondaatje, bpNichol, Victor Levy-Beaulieu, Nicole Brossard, and Louky Bersianik.” Bowering was even more succinct at the close of a letter he had written to her in 1982:

On Thursday I got a phone call from Coach House Press, talked with Frank Davey, Michael [Ondaatje], and bp[Nichol]. Wonderful age we’re in.

& it’s yrs (p 287)

Saturday, November 24, 2007

new from Chaudiere Books: Old Winter by Anne Le Dressay

The pieces that make up Anne Le Dressay’s second poetry collection, Old Winter, are urban poems grounded in the rural past. Understated, direct, ironic, quietly humorous, they reveal a love of the particular, of small daily things which feel more and more fragile in a world overshadowed by big threats. Descriptive or narrative, focussing on the inner world of mind and spirit or the ‘real world’ outside the narrator, these poems celebrate in close and vivid detail the small moments of ordinary life. They are poems of wonder, transformation, and resurrection.

And the meek shall inherit

Not this. Perhaps some post-
millenial earth where
lying low pays off in survival while
the loud and pushy get

Those who inherit this earth
are those who shout loudest, or who
simply take because they know
it's theirs.

If the meek inherit,
it's not anything as spacious or solid
or fecund as the earth.

Unless they taste it
in the dust kicked up
by the exuberant wheels of the true
inheritors taking off with their

Anne Le Dressay grew up in Manitoba, first on a farm near Virden and then on an acreage outside Lorette. She has lived for extended periods in Winnipeg, Ottawa, and Edmonton (in that order). She taught English and Creative Writing for ten years in Alberta. She is now in Ottawa for the seond time, working for the feds. She has been published sporadically since the 1970s. She has one previous trade book, Sleep is a Country (Harbinger, 1997) and two chapbooks, This Body That I Live In (Turnstone, 1979) and Woman Dreams (above/ground, 1998). She was also featured in the anthology Decalogue: ten Ottawa poets (Chaudiere Books, 2006).

$18 CAN/$16 US
isbn 978-0-9783428-0-7
available to bookstores through the literary press group
or directly through the publishers at

Friday, November 23, 2007

Edmonton readings; the past few days

Friday November 16, fait acomplit reading/launch

I don’t know too much about this thing, a regular magazine produced by students in the Comparative Literature Program at the University of Alberta; the readings were of poetry and fiction by younger folk, which was pretty interesting (I was there for Trisia Eddy, who had also just launched her first poetry chapbook through her brand-new chapbook publishing company). Not a bad little magazine, but I don’t understand any magazine that tries to charge the people they publish; apparently the journal was $10 for regular folk, and $7 for contributors. Damn tacky, if you asked me; I would rather have paid a $5 cover to go to a reading, just so the contributors would get a couple copies for free. Is that so much to ask? There must be a way for some of the buckets of money that seem to be free-flowing around campus and around the province to get into their hands and coffers, to allow for such a thing.

Saturday November 17, Snaring the NeWest

Unfortunately, Calgary poet Natalie Zina Walschots had to cancel her part of the trio for the sake of a family emergency, but NeWest Press was still able to host two other Calgary authors, ryan fitzpatrick launching his first poetry book with Montreal’s Snare Books, and William Neil Scott, launching his first novel, published by NeWest [see a report or two on the Ottawa leg of the same tour here and here and here]. Jon Paul Fiorentino’s Snare Books is producing some really lovely and compelling titles lately, from fitzpatrick’s FAKE MATH and Walschots’s Thumbscrews to (I’ve heard tell) a new title from Toronto poet/publisher Jay MillAr that I haven’t seen yet. Part of what I’m finding interesting with fitzpatrick’s first collection is in the way he’s working out a particular series of rhythms, working his own social-political theory through language (echoes of Peter Culley and Jeff Derksen), and his instance on the statement.


Here is eating me alive for my close
friend and boyfriend want fries with that.

When people dogging my face I take
pills for taking stuff and some shit.

Because they think I’m fucked up
is leaving you – for good nobody.

That I’m bipolar and I don’t want be
wit man scratch that never mind.

Since I’m through caring about fuck
and that’s wait for you for ever.

Both authors gave extremely funny and engaging readings to (unfortunately) a small crowd. I’m intrigued by William Neil Scott (read this rather dim review of his book here), and was impressed by his use of dialogue in Wonderful, a novel (NeWest Press), edited by Edmonton writer and NeWest Press board member Thomas Wharton. Unless you really know what it is you’re doing, dialogue can very easily come off as false, but Scott doesn’t seem to make a single wrong move.
“This is amazing,” he confided.
“It is,” she agreed. “It truly is. I should have done this from the beginning.”
“Would you like to dance? It’s not right that you’re off by your own here.”
She looked up at him. “I’m a little bit old for dancing.”
“Nonsense,” he said, extending his arm.
Laughing, Ester Anson reached up and took my father’s arm.
For the rest of the evening, the people of Garfax laughed and danced, drank and told stories. When the morning blue came, they extinguished the fires, turned off the lights, and moved through the silent pines back to their cars. One of them men from the moving company had been left to drive Ester to Benning. They found him asleep in the front seat.
“I want you to have my house,” Ester told Cadmus in the blue.
“That’s extremely generous,” my father said, a little drunk.
“I’m serious. I’m leaving it behind me, Cadmus. The rest of it is yours.”
“Are you sure?”
“I’ve decided.”
Cadmus opened the door for her and woke up the driver. Before getting in, she stood on her tiptoes and pulled him down to kiss him on the cheek. “Thank you,” she said.
“You’re absolutely welcome.” (p 60)
Tuesday November 20; George Bowering at the Olive Reading Series

Vancouver writer and troublemaker George Bowering [see my review of his most recent poetry collection here; see the section I edited in Jacket on him here] read to a packed house at Hulbert’s, reading only from chapbooks he’d had published recently, including ones by No Press (Calgary), Rubican Press (Edmonton), Pooka Press (Vancouver), above/ground press (Edmonton/Ottawa) and BookThug (Toronto). Apparently in 2006, Bowering decided to write a chapbook a month using a different structure, with a poem a day, making some chapbooks 31 pages/pieces long, some 30 and one 28. Launching two of the chapbooks at the event, his Horizontal Surfaces produced as an Olive give-away and Eggs In There produced by Jenna Butler’s Rubicon Press, he dipped into the entire range of published months, slightly less than a dozen (the one published by kemeny babineau’s Laurel Reed Books hadn’t arrived yet). The pieces in Horizontal Surfaces are quite amazing, and, as Bowering said during the reading, end up being short essays on writing instead of what they suggest they might otherwise be.

In reading we use our eyes and imagination. With radio we used our ears and imagination. With television we use our eyes and ears. Some of us watch television with our mouths hanging open. Television reaches us. It covers us with light. Any poetry that tries to appear on television sounds all wrong. When producers bring poetry onto the set they try to make it act like television. In poetry there is no laugh track and no suspenseful string music. Imagination doesn’t have a chance; there is no imagination in that light. A man holds a handgun. A popular consultant ridicules a book-buying husband. At first they told us that microwave ovens were for cooking meals. At first there were people who thought that television would be for the arts. Once a long time ago, you would see an author as the last guest on a late night talk show. These days we see the young walking around with wires hanging from their ears. How long will it be until the inventors sell them wires to hang from their eyes? My blind buddy rides the buses, his fingers reading a large book, the young all around him, staring into nowhere, wires hanging from their ears. He uses the fingers of his right hand and his imagination, farther away and more in place than they’ll ever be. (Horizontal Surfaces, Olive)
His chapbook Eggs In There is a book about his parents, written in the “I remember” style he started with his book on Greg Curnoe, The Moustache (Coach House Press, 1993), an idea he borrowed from a couple of folk who’d done their own version, including New York School poet/artist Joe Brainard, but suggesting, too, previous collections of his own including Autobiology (1972) and even His Life: A Poem (2000).

I REMEMBER that my parents drank coffee all day long, and until recently, so did I. So did my late wife and I. So does my sister, a year younger than I; she has a pot on all day. But she still smokes cigarettes. About the time I stopped smoking cigarettes, I cut my coffee down to about three cups a day. Uncle Gerry and Auntie Pam downed it all day and night. I have always known that coffee is a family habit, but my daughter didn’t get it. What I really liked was getting old enough to have coffee with my parents, and smoke cigarettes with them. My father always put one drop of milk into his coffee. He hated milk.
coming up: Thursday November 29; 44th Avenue Troubadour

Apparently Edmonton poet Catherine Owen has been hosting small gatherings in her house on a monthly basis for some time, and she asked me to participate in this moons ago, quietly promoting this event as “rob mclennan recites, michelle boudreau plays, paul saturley talks about photography. we laugh. we cry a little. we eat pretzels.” How could anything go wrong with that?

also coming up: I launch my first novel in Edmonton at Audrey’s on December 4; Yann Martel reads on December 5 at the Stanley A Milner Library Theatre; the Calgary launch of nearly a dozen books by Calgary authors; I launch my first novel in Ottawa at the Ottawa Art Gallery on December 13; we launch the Edmonton issue of The Peter F. Yacht Club in Ottawa on December 22 at the Carleton Tavern;

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Fast Forward: New Saskatchewan Poets, eds. Barbara Klar & Paul Wilson

I’m always taken with an anthology of any kind of arbitrary grouping, whether with the recent Chicago anthology The City Visible: Chicago Poetry for the New Century [see my review here], Post-Prairie: An Anthology of Poetry and Writing the Terrain: Travelling Through Alberta with the Poets [these reviews, unfortunately seem to have been taken down from the Word site], or The Winnipeg Connection: Writing Lives at Mid-Century, edited by Birk Sproxton and Language Acts: Anglo-Québec Poetry, 1976 to the 21st Century, edited by Jason Camlot and Todd Swift [see my review of both here]. What is it about geography that compels? It’s a question I’ve been asking myself for years; another question I’ve been asking for some time, where are the new Saskatchewan poets (brought up again a couple of years ago when Talon produced Post-Prairie and included only two Saskatchewan natives, the long-moved Karen Solie, and the transplanted Sylvia Legris)? Edited by Hagios publisher Paul Wilson and Barbara Klar, two accomplished poets in their own right, Fast Forward: New Saskatchewan Poets (Regina SK: Hagios Press, 2007) includes the work of Sheri Benning, Belinda Betker, Carla Braidek, Bev Brenna, Lynn Cecil, Sandy Easterbrook, Bernice Friesen, Tracy Hamon, Julia Herperger, Wanda Hurren, Laura Edna Lacey, Anne Lazurko, Taylor Rae Leedahl, Holly Luhning, Sharon MacFarlane, Neal McLeod, Wynne Nicholson, Brenda Niskala, Jeff Park, Doloros Reimer, Paula Jane Remlinger, Mansel Robinson, Crystal Sikma, Jennifer Still, Michael Trussler, Daniel Scott Tysdal and Joanne Weber. As the editors write in their introduction:
Saskatchewan is shaped like a big empty page. The blank page, the Chinese say, contains the infinite. There are infinite ways for snow to fall; there are infinite ways for the poem to be written.

It’s been a generation since the publication of the last anthology of new Saskatchewan poets. Almost overnight, it seems, another group of poets has surfaced in the community and grabbed the attention of the literary journals. It is time to showcase them, to gather their voices and celebrate a changing consciousness. Six hundred pages of submissions later, Fast Forward is the result.

While a few of these poems are about place, an anthology of Saskatchewan poets is not necessarily about being here. Poetry is by definition innovation; each of these poets has turned a unique form of experience into art. These poets are looking up from the prairies toward possibility and a broad view with subjects as diverse as
ancestry, love, birth, death, history, nature, and growing old.
Saskatchewan has always had an interesting arts history that has seemed separate somewhat from the rest of the country; recently I watched a documentary on the Emma Lake workshops, highlighting a history of inventive visual art in Saskatchewan that has continued for decades. For some reason, the Emma Lake Artists’ Workshops (founded by Kenneth Lochhead and Arthur McKay) managed to work with some of the most inventive artists of the 1940s through to the 1960s at their peak, producing out of their workshops painters such as Roy Kiyooka and the “Regina 5” (Kiyooka, who should have been included in such, but is an argument for another piece altogether). What becomes interesting, though, is how the avant-garde of the visual arts can engage with Saskatchewan on a ground level, but somehow the writing community doesn’t seem terribly interested or aware of what is and has been happening with writing in the same way; how can one explain the discrepancy? Still, one of the poets included in this collection is Daniel Scott Tysdal, originally from Moose Jaw but currently schooling in Toronto, who has been described almost as Saskatchewan’s “great (white) hope” through his first collection Predicting the Next Big Advertising Breakthrough Using a Potentially Dangerous Method (Regina SK: Coteau Books, 2006), working through a number of extremely interesting formal applications as well as with using voice, and multiple voices (despite the fact that the work included in this anthology I wouldn’t call his best). Another “new” poet that has been much discussed over the past little bit has been Sheri Benning, currently of Saskatchewan but formerly of Edmonton, where she did doctoral work at the University of Alberta, now author of two trade poetry collections from Brick Books, including the recent Thin Moon Psalm (2007). But still, the benefit of much of this anthology is that there are a number of poets inside that have been living on the periphery, just waiting and working their way into a larger and wider attention.
A Letter to Jorie Graham

An answer isn’t expectation,
isn’t knitted from the yarn

of any poet’s words. Isn’t everything
something? There’s usually a why

and an oh, each of these sometimes
spidery, sometimes eight different paths

that channel my brain, gesture with parted legs.
Each one a foot or two plotted institutionally

like a house on the low prairie field,
an erection of wood and glass, something

birds stare at, flap into, circle
like an interruption of interest.

(I’m building something like it.)
Not imitation, or repetition,

just easy movement,
a hawk, crow, or even the robin

at five, then four, then three
every morning. The word’s turn

synchronized, seasoning
its way through months until

even the days begin to hide
somewhere underneath, laugh

at the green north side, frozen
features wasting away. A façade

realizes its own alter ego, leans
a mole nose against the backside

like an address, one place
to the other, my forehead

to paper, horizontal sense of blue stretched
skin and veins and ink. (Tracy Hamon)
Part of what makes this anthology compelling is not just the poems and the poets themselves, but the fact that a number of them have short prose pieces in the back, small essays talking about their process, whether generally, peripherally or about a specific piece. As Benning writes in her “’Stare, Stare, Stare’: Learning How to Read Wolverine Creek”:
Lawrence Buell writes that according to contemporary literary theory a writers’ capacity to render a faithful mimesis of the natural world is considered to be relatively unimportant and her interest in doing so is often thought to be a secondary concern (p. 84). Literary depictions of nature are all too often thought, by critics, to exist for their symbolic or ideological attributes rather than as objects of contemplation for their own sake. Buell adds that “all major strains of literary theory have marginalized literature’s referential dimension by privileging structure, textuality, ideology or some other conceptual matrix that defines the space discourse occupies as apart from factical ‘reality’” (p. 86). Thus literary theory has turned the attempt to generate writing which articulates and foregrounds the environment into a puerile, untheoretical pursuit.
The editors mention that it’s been a generation since the last anthology of new Saskatchewan poets; I almost wish that they would have mentioned what that might have been? Part of what makes regionalism so frustrating is that from where I live, I would probably never know unless I go out of my way to ask; I know Edmonton’s NeWest Press published two volumes of the anthology Ride Off Any Horizon (1983; 1987), but they were more “prairie” than any specific province; I know of a number of “prairie” anthologies and even some for Manitoba. What other were the Saskatchewan ones?

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

by George Bowering

(see here for info on #1)
34 pages, 8 1/2 x 11

Part of George Bowering's year of making chapbooks from 2006 (this book is October), with other titles from the same series produced by Pooka Press, BookThug, No Press, Rubicon Press and Laurel Reed Books. See his "12 or 20 questions" interview here.

Mail all your money (payable to rob mclennan) to:
rob mclennan, writer in residence
Department of English and Film Studies
University of Alberta
3-5 Humanities Centre
Edmonton, AB T6G 2E5

$6 (+ $2 for postage; outside Canada, $6+2$ US)
(while supplies last; produced in a numbered run of 200 copies)

above/ground press subscribers rec' a complimentary copy; 2008 subscriptions still available

for further above/ground press titles, check out the new above/ground press blog

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

rob mclennan's Edmonton book launch:
The Edmonton launch of rob mclennan's first novel, white (The Mercury Press), will be happening at Audrey's Books, 10702 Jasper Avenue Edmonton, on Tuesday, December 4 at 7:30pm.

title info here:

more info on rob with a bio:

Audrey's Books:

If you can't make that one, don't forget the Ottawa launch a week later!

Monday, November 19, 2007

P A R S E R : New Poetry & Poetics
May 2007 / Issue 1

Editor: Roger Farr
Advisory Editor: Reg Johanson

No friends of the Standards, PARSER is a journal of poetry and poetics with a penchant for anarchism. PARSER wants to help extend your social horizon. But PARSER wants you to read PARSER first.

Writing by:

- Alice Becker-Ho
- Alfredo Bonanno
- Roger Farr
- P. Inman
- Reg Johanson
- Wolfi Landstreicher
- Dorothy Trujillo Lusk
- John McHale
- Aaron Vidaver
- Rita Wong

$12 to:
PARSER, Box 2684, Stn Terminal, Vancouver BC Canada V6B 3W8 or

Are my feet on the ground yet? Now I can finally talk about the first issue of PARSER that arrived two months or so ago, after even further months of anticipation. Any journal or publication of any kind anywhere that manages to get writing out of Vancouver poet (and Ottawa Valley-raised) Dorothy Trujillo Lusk deserves a medal of some kind (I’ve been trying to get poetry out of her for years, for issues of ottawater…), and I’ve just been staggered by the poetry of Rita Wong lately (she apparently has a new book out any minute now with Nightwood Editions). Aside from that, seeing the first issue of any journal is certainly a cause for celebration, and I applaud the ambitious aspects of what the editors are attempting with this publication, putting some of their Vancouver that doesn’t often make it into Canadian literary journals in a finally available forum.
p a r e n t (h) e t (h) i c a l b r e a t h

from & for rk

if these cells ever absorb the warmth of an Indian autumn:
perambulatory witness to neo-colonial streets in saltwater city,
Aboriginal Columbia, this year of increasing immune system

a pulmonary commons called planet

a breath that met another in the commotion of nouns, gerunds,
subordinate clauses cluttering the historical air: whoo-oosh!

urban smog doesn’t obscure empire’s smash, just clings to its
paraphernalia, obdurate rem(a)inder

dene becomes need if you throw off regulation, peregrinatory
realignments incant

holy need chirps on these wintry pages, migratory passages
looking to make “generosity of method” homing pigeons to
carry these unrelenting songs (Rita Wong, from FORAGE)

There is a whole aspect of “difficult” work that Canadiana doesn’t really seem to want to have to deal with, whether the work of the Kootenay School of Writing (check out their online pdf journal W) or other forms that fall outside of mainstream standards (or ideas of “hipness”), an idea that I’ve always found rather frustrating. When Queen Street Quarterly finally ended their run, there was suddenly a whole range of Canadian writers and writing no longer available in journal form anywhere in the country. Why do you think that is?

Sunday, November 18, 2007

12 or 20 questions: with Stephen Cain
Stephen Cain is the author of the poetry collections dyslexicon (Coach House, 1998), Torontology (ECW, 2001) and American Standard/ Canada Dry (Coach House, 2005). His first collection of micro-fiction was written with Jay MillAr and appeared as Double Helix (Mercury, 2006).

He was the literary editor of the Queen Street Quarterly from 1998-2005 and a fiction editor at Insomniac Press (2001-2006).

He spends far too much time commuting from High Park to York University, where he teaches Canadian and avant-garde literature.

1 - How did your first book change your life?

To be honest, there were several other things in my life that I’d anticipated for many years before they actually happened that were more rewarding. But yeah, it feels great to see your first book roll off the press and (in the case of dyslexicon) to trim and bind it yourself. Mostly what it showed me was that there’s more to the writing game than getting a book out—there’s waiting for the reviews, doing the promotion and tours, and dealing psychologically with the collective indifference that poetry is met with in our culture.

2 - How long have you lived in Toronto, and how does geography, if at all, impact on your writing? Does race or gender make any impact on your work?

About 15 years now, broken by a return residency in Kingston from 1999-2000.

I’ve written a book (ironically) titled Torontology, contributed to the uTOpia series, and have always found the city a huge inspiration.

Uh, yeah… but rob, this is crazy, why do you ask about race and gender within a question on geography?

3 - Where does a poem or piece of fiction usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?

A poem usually begins with a title and a general idea of the form. Titles, for sure… I’ve still got a huge list of titles for poems that I’ve named, but haven’t written. I usually write in sequences, and usually with ten parts. Once two or three sequences have been composed I start thinking of them as being part of a book project, and consequently start shaping subsequent pieces with that in mind.

4 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process?

Definitely part. Almost all of my poems get their trial run at public readings, and I listen closely for audience reaction to help determine whether to keep or kill a piece or sequence.

5 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kindsof questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?


6 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?

I can’t see why anyone wouldn’t want to be read closely by an intelligent editor and, with all of my books, I’ve been lucky enough to work with several. That being said, I do find it silly to fight about “house style” issues, or debate about whether “a typical reader” (whoever that may be) will “get” a reference or need more explication of form/ process.

7 - After having published a couple of titles over the past few years, do you find the process of book-making harder or easier?

Mid-career kinda sucks. No longer the new kid, and decades away from grey power. The writing may be better, and you may have more confidence, but it gets harder to generate excitement among whatever readership you may have with each new publication unless you’re doing something radically different. Hence my attempt to shift towards a poetics of engagement, as well as narrative prose, in the last while.

8 - When was the last time you ate a pear?

Easily my most hated fruit. Great if you want a pack of sugar with a mouthful of sand. I think I accidentally ate a piece of one about seven years ago when some chichi restaurant decided it would go well hidden in a grilled cheese sandwich.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily givento you directly)?

Read more than you write. Write more than you publish.

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to fiction to critical essays)? What do you see as the appeal?

Moving from criticism to poetry and back happens quite often—they really do feed into each other. Fiction, on the other hand, is a huge challenge, and I continually find I am deeply skeptical of narrative.

11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?

I reserve the hours after 11 p.m. for writing. I usually carry a notebook throughout the day to jot down lines and ideas which gets pulled out at night.

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?

In vino veritas.

13 - How does your most recent book compare to your previous work? Howdoes it feel different?

My last two books were collaborations. So it feels nice to relinquish some hubris. Sharing the launch of a book with someone else is surprisingly fun—some pressure is taken away, and there’s someone you can commiserate with immediately.

14 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?

Did Dave really say that? I thought it was Barthes… maybe Kristeva?

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?

Visit France. And Ireland too.

17 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had younot been a writer?

I don’t have the steadiest of hands, hate giving other people orders, dislike narrative, and almost never watch movies, yet, despite all that, I think I would have been a decent film director in a different life.

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?

I think I often do something else than write.

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?

Lately it’s more theory and criticism that excite me. All That Is Solid Melts Into Air by Marshall Berman was inspiring, and perhaps the best critical work I’ve read since Craig Dworkin’s Reading the Illegible.

As I mentioned above, I almost never watch films. The last one I saw was about six months ago: Winterbottom’s adaptation of Tristram Shandy. I thought it was a noble enterprise and a pleasure to watch, although I don’t know if it qualifies as “great.”

20 - What are you currently working on?

A second draft of my novel. A new collection of poetry that I’m calling Post. A pataphysical anthology of early Canadian avant-garde poetry entitled Mortar, and a series of Situationist-style children’s poems called I Can Say Interpellation.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Victor Coleman’s ICON TACT: Poems 1984 – 2001

With twelve years between his last trade collection and this one, you would perhaps think that the publication of a new book by Toronto poet and editor Victor Coleman would be more of an event, with the appearance of his ICON TACT: Poems 1984 – 2001 (Toronto ON: BookThug, 2006). Largely run over and misunderstood by the literary powers that be, Coleman has certainly been involved with literary activity over the past near-decade and a half since his last major poetry collection, LAPSED W.A.S.P.: Poems 1978-89 (Toronto ON: ECW Press, 1994), including as coordinator of The Toronto Small Press Fair, founding editor of the revived Coach House Books in the late 1990s, and smaller publications through Coach House Books, above/ground press and BookThug, among other wisps of ephemera, and publication in various small magazines, anthologies and journals. For someone so active during the 1960s through the 1980s and beyond, as one of the original editors of the original Coach House Press, and silent editor of Raymond Souster’s New Wave Canada: The New Explosion in Canadian Poetry (Toronto ON: Contact Press, 1966) to all the other things he ended up doing, one could easily ask, where has Victor Coleman been?

One of Canada’s essential cultural workers, it is almost as though the collapse of his involvement with the first Coach House seriously began to curtail his literary activities, and just at the point when he was about to embark in the most interesting work of his career so far, including publications such as Honeymoon Suite (Toronto ON: Underwhich Editions, 1990), The day they stole the Coach House Press (Toronto ON: Eternal Network, 1994), Icon Tact (Toronto ON: The Eternal Network, 1996), LETTER DROP (Toronto ON: Coach House Books, 1999), Eulogistics (published as STANZAS #20; Ottawa ON: above/ground press, 1999), Moon Over Viagra (Toronto ON: BookThug, 2002) and MI SING: LETTER DROP 2 (Toronto ON: BookThug, 2005), and even an earlier version of the collection that appeared as ICON TACT [POEMS 1985-94] by InstaBook in 2002.

Through his references to old poet-friends (whether in the poems or acknowledgements), Coleman ties himself to the past, but somehow his work isn’t necessarily tied to that past (working the tact of his own iconography), as in this poem for the late poet Paul Haines (father of musician Emily, from the band Metric, editor Stuart Broomer recently put together an edition of Haines’ works as the collection Secret Carnival Workers: Paul Haines):

Tapes, like notebooks
have no taboos

no Network executive interference
just the honest crackle

of state-of-the-home equipment
in a little Ontario town

where French
is taught by Paul.

Women inspire me!
But they don’t let me write.

It costs more
to call Kingston

than to call
New York, New Jersey & New Haven

Mercy! Whatever happened
to the distance crossed?

Fenelon Falls
but the Fall Assizes.
The collection also includes his infamous (and often-reprinted) piece “The Day They Stole The Coach House Press,” that came out of the shifting of the press in the 1980s, a shift that eventually meant a departure from the “old-style” collective, as well as the Press becoming a separate unit from Stan Bevington’s Coach House Printing (once the “Press” died, a new company continuing the values of the old emerged back at the old Coach House behind Huron Street into Coach House Books, thanks to Bevington and Coleman, among others). The poem itself includes the emotionally-wrought stanza:
The order of the day was ‘cut your origins,’
or ‘remove the dead wood of the past,’
a lasting legacy that wouldn’t go away
even when part of it died. Complicit,
the elixir of greed had crept under the skin
of the interlopers, some of whom
had come on board to make careers.
There is no mistaking the intent in a poem that includes “The enemies of poetry stole the Coach House Press” or the heartbreakingly raw couplet, “Nothing could be more empty / than the body: poetry.” As well as that poem, the collection includes Coleman’s “Moon Over Viagra,” as well as the “Eulogistics” series that originally appeared as a whole in STANZAS magazine (reprinted in Groundswell: best of above/ground press, 1993-2003). Another extremely strong sequence (a form Coleman seems to favour), it pairs up the living with the dead, such as in a poem for Greg Curnoe, referencing his widow, Sheila, Daniel Jones, referencing Nicky Drumbolis, Gwendolyn MacEwen, referencing Rosemary Sullivan, or this one for Frank Zappa, referencing Ottawa poet/publisher (and Zappa fan/collector) jwcurry:

dear jw

O’Hara is dying in the dunes
Guitar the axe of apes
Tropes assigned their millennia
Billions of dollars in debt
Florid pillars of regret
Big boogies behind the weather
Following the head that cried melody
Or calling the siblings dirty names
Carving a mythology of sonic boomers
Including both waffle and vacuum
Into whom won’t two go?
There’s a seam in seamless
and it’s always crooked
From walking that way to the bank
Of the River of No Return
Written in couplets, with much the same feeling as the poems in Eulogistics, I am disappointed that the poems that make up LETTER DROP (originally published with a series of drawings by painter David Bolduc) and MI SING: LETTER DROP 2 didn’t make it into this collection, and wonder at the reasons why; is it simply a matter of space, attention or something further? With the poems in this collection, it’s obvious that Coleman is interested in the twist and the pun, working language in that “serious play” that bpNichol so often talked about, but what is it about the “I/eye” that keeps coming up in Coleman’s pieces? From his 1960s poetry journal Is (or, “eyes”), to the obvious penis reference from his first book one/eye/love (Toronto ON: Coach House Press, 1967)? (We won’t even begin to discuss the ejaculation blurry close-up shot inside his Stranger collection from 1974, or all the penis artwork otherwise in the collection.)

It does become interesting that Coleman has an ongoing interest in structuring his collections through these notions of time, as opposed to highlighting some of the other structures he has worked over the years, telling us in the title what years the poems were worked on, from his Old Friends’ Ghosts: Poems 1963-68 (Toronto ON: Weed/Flower Press, 1970) to From the Dark Wood (poems, 1977-83) (Toronto ON: Underwhich Editions, 1985), his LAPSED W.A.S.P.: Poems 1978-89 and even his Open Letter issue, Seventh Series, No. 4: Winter 1988-89, “Victor Coleman: a selection of art writing and literary commentary 1966-83,” edited by bpNichol. Whatever else you might think or have thought of his poetry (Coleman has the distinct honour of being the only poet removed from Gary Geddes’ infamous 15 Canadian Poets series), is the openness of his work, the open-ended seriality of where Coleman’s poems go that give them their strength; Coleman’s poems have never been afraid to look you directly in the eye, and managed to bore a hole through both individuals, the watcher and the watched. Not about the “I” as such, but about the singular gaze.

related post: Victor Coleman's "12 or 20" interview