Monday, December 31, 2007

Ottawa Poet Laureate (redux);

Every few years this comes up again, the suggestion that maybe Ottawa should have a poet laureate again (we had them well before other Canadian cities, as well as long before the Parliamentary Poet Laureate was created) [see my earlier note on same here]. Today in the Ottawa Citizen, columnist Phil Jenkins (thanks to Amanda Earl who blogged about it) suggests the same, and says that we should even be offering nominations [see the whole article here]. You can send your own suggestions to

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

ongoing notes: some magazines;

Since I haven’t managed to find a good magazine store in Edmonton yet (and I refuse to go into Chapters), I've had to wait until Ottawa to get whatever magazines I think I've been missing (oh world! if only you would mail me more…)

Winnipeg MB: Rereading the issue of The New Quarterly a few days ago that Charlene Diehl (then still Charlene Diehl-Jones) edited on Robert Kroetsch (Volume XVIII, No. 1, spring 1998; I actually picked it up while looking for pieces on the late Ottawa poet Diana Brebner) got me thinking of her again, wondering what she's been up to lately, and what she's been up to lately in her writing. How wonderful it was to see, not 24 hours later, her interview and new writing in Contemporary Verse 2 (Volume 30, No. 2, fall 2007).
to wake with perfect awareness of muscle, houses all in a row, questions sprinkled amongst the chairs. look back, little arrow, then step out, cross in full curiosity. the horizon is a nest around the blue egg of the sky, rings around the sun mark the beginnings of rest, the generous entry. everything is balance: yes is the only answer. wonder will refuse to unveil itself. up and down, it will say, side to side, lift one cross-hatched corner if you like. the trap door is somewhere, everyone will finally escape. the treasure is the map. sometimes all you can know is breath. (from "subliming")
The director of the Winnipeg International Writers Festival the past few years, she has published a poetry collections and two chapbooks, as well as excerpts of a memoir. When do we get to see more work from Charlene Diehl, who, in the 1990s, was on the verge of doing just about everything?
Yes, most people who know my writing have encountered chunks of my manuscript, Out of Grief, Singing. When I first climbed back into language, I leaned into poetry. Memoir offered itself several years later—I suspect by then I was ready to visit the narrative dimensions of that loss and all the intersecting lives and meanings that shape my understanding of it. Prose is less bewildering to most people, that's a factor too. But I keep exploring this experience poetically—I think the genre itself gives me access to this story in deeper and more instructive ways. As a matter of fact, my most recent suite of poems is "lessons in dying: snow poems," written at a dozen year's distance. The specifics haven’t changed, but my understanding and engagement of them have.

These big events continue to inform a present, and once you're no longer shattered by loss, they can actually function as a powerful ground. Maybe grief is one of those psychic impediments that generates creativity? It's certainly been a powerful resource for me, and as the years pass, I'm less afraid of being broken open again and more curious to find how I might be hearing the shifting resonances. Writing shows me where I am.
An intriguing interview with someone I'd like to hear much more from, one of the lines that stayed with me was when she said "…from where I sit a lot of what would pass as poetry is barely engaged with the real work this genre is capable of performing." I couldn’t agree more.

The interview also has an interview with Toronto poet Steve McOrmond, whom I'm quite fond of, as well as some magnificent poems by Calgary writer Emily Carr. I'm taken very much by what Carr, a PhD candidate in English at the University of Calgary, is doing with these pieces; I like her line breaks, hesitations and dislocations.

c.d. wright, jeff derksen, lyn heijinian & nicole brossard

for those want

apple cheeks. enters
the living room

from the sleep side.

a practical person
arranges for her own

disappearance on several levels.

blue lifts; pink
deepens; clouds rise.

he, suddenly, impossibly,

(it can be measured.)

just enough wind
to keep the flag flapping.

tactless, to insist
on being

a there.

instinct knows
where the international

boundaries are.

(which is like fruitskin
around fruit.)

a mad sum, absence.

And how much more can I keep saying about Sandra Ridley [see my note on her here]? I know she has her first chapbook coming out with Leaf Press next year; her first book, whenever it appears, is going to be kick-ass.

tumbler-snapper: able (two)

The Rio Motel in Socorro sells trinite souvenirs:
clip-on earrings with matching double-loop necklace.
Their check-in girl models her favourite set,
tempts the guests.

She will work there only six weeks.


A Santa Fe bank offers an incentive to any new customer,
a small sealed package with the label:

Do not hold close to the body for more than a day.


From Alamo's Alka Café, a new waitress writes the commission:

If the bombs aren’t harmful, why can't you detonate them any time,
not just when the wind is blowing the right direction?


A false dawn rises in L.A.


Lincoln Continentals jam the lot at the Sundown Drive-In,
then tear out along Highway 24. A rush of rag tops closing.
The forecast called for a backdrop of Perseids, a clear screen,
not mud rain from a black cloud, a bruise against the night sky.
A Gary Cooper western plays on. A projectionist watches,
smokes in the doorway, worries if he should change the reels.


Herding cattle across another blast area,
atomic cowboys assess what makes a nuclear landscape—
the rate of survival. A sidewinder snakes in circles.
A kit fox runs toward them, without fear.

Sure, with enough beer rationed, men piss out radiation.
And a quick scrub does them good.

Faith in the words, there is no danger,
soldiers keep recruiting.

I was also very taken with Ev Nittel's poem, that received an honourable mention in the 2007 2-Day Poem Contest, probably the most in an issue of Contemporary Verse 2 I've enjoyed in quite some time. But still, there's something in the McOrmond interview (which I enjoyed otherwise) that really grabbed at me, something I couldn’t let go of, when he said "The heart doesn’t speak in prose." Man, you're simply reading the wrong prose

Vancouver BC: The most interesting part of the new issue of The Capilano Review (3.3) had to be the "Four Anagrammatic Translations from Nicole Brossard" [I'm even reading a Brossard novel right now, finally a copy of Mauve Desert] by Calgary's Bronwyn Haslam, writing:
These poems are anagrammatic translations. As such, each English poem uses the same letters, and the same numbers of letters, as the French original by Nicole Brossard.

Although French and English share the same 26-letter alphabet, each language uses it distinctively. In fact, it is possible to determine the language in which a text was written by looking only at its "letteral profile"—the frequency of usage of each letter.

Translating Brossard's poetry anagrammatically creates an English text with a French letteral profile, yielding a more "French" English and a translation that has irrevocably absorbed something of the language of the original text.
Retelling lineage

pleats and repeats patience replete
in each patience our undeleted physique
conceives its cosmetic edges
its cadent lure a muscled beat
eloquence traverses our fists
moving our set letters to
split open seeds

open arteries of life stories careen, slam
and course our lives beside
endurance of mad faults of failure
become relation's rigour
all hunger is an adamant love
a valid imagination

Another lively selection has to be Montreal writer Angela Carr's "Nine Poems from The Rose Concordance." As she writes, "The Rose Concordance translates and organizes lines in the keyword index to the 13th century poem Roman de la Rose by Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meun. The lines are fractures of epic sentences. Translating, I rub the concordance, I flaunt the concordance, I dodge the concordance, I spurn the concordance, I regard the concordance."

of the precious

to have a precious lover
a precious kindness
what i could not promise
of these hundred precious books
take what's mine and precious
now subterfuge and blue
doubts sweep a bare and
precious backdrop
don’t wait for me to choose
preciously between
meaning and coincidence

preciously the covers
and the stones of blue ink
are transformed presently the
shhhhhh of soft
and contrary kisses/

and sighs of worse preciousness
of these hundred precious books
do they suspect wrongly?
in whose night and day were types of grain argued
most passionately?
in luxury's garden
asleep as though
my precious eyes
i cannot see her

Also good to see new poems by Peter Culley (he has a new book out in the spring, a second volume to his Hammertown), and Jon Paul Fiorentino (poems from a manuscript called Mentholism), who told me he was giving up poems a few years ago; is this another Kroetschian technique, saying he's stopping just when he's about to start?

The Wire

Then the tree if not time
at least Art Blakey—
hard bop with a touch
of the parade ground,
in a good way—
the orderly handling by
many bird species
crowded up amongst
the short-term food
emergency—giving way
on the good branches,
keeping beefs short etc.—
then everybody gets their
designated seconds of
bark digging umolested
maybe some eavestrough
spider web, but stepping up
clean and bright
in bandstand order with
a solo worked up ahead of time
so that routine becomes display
and spring can start to operate. (Peter Culley)

Waterloo ON: I haven’t looked at The New Quarterly in some time, but get the feeling that this most recent issue (104, subtitled "Canadian Writers & Writing") is the first in a new format. Calling itself "The Real Estate Issue: a gathering of poems, stories, and essays on how place defines us and our experience of what's real," it has the most amazing photos inside (and on the cover of) the issue by Toronto-based photographer Toni Hafkenscheid (more of the same series can be found at

I find it interesting how so much of this Canadian literature is obsessed with space, with geography, with place; every few years, someone new asks Frye's dictum, Where is Here? Or, every few years, someone else new telling us how the whole question is out of date, bears updating, etcetera. What fixes our thinking so much in spatial terms? Even by those attempting to avoid it manage to write it in as an absence, writing a line around the hole in their argument; is it only those such as Christian Bök and derek beaulieu who manage to escape the argument at all, writing finally a post-place, post-geography, by moving into further concerns altogether?

Either way, the issue itself is pretty compelling, especially the non-fiction pieces by Elisabeth Harvor, Amanda Jernigan, Richard Cumyn, Andrew Tibbetts and Elizabeth Hay, among others. Cumyn's piece, borrowing from Norman Levine, is "Ottawa Made Me," writing an odd little memoir of growing up in the capital that ends on the line, "Ottawa can still surprise us in felicitous ways." What really intrigued were the selections of poems by Alison Pick and Matthew Holmes. Pick's are "House Hunting," a series of poems that appear to come out of searching (I know, it seems pretty obvious) for a house.

92 Freshwater Road

You cannot keep your eyes off
the owner, ring through her nose, braid
down her back a length of rope

you could climb. Save me. Let down
your hair
. Your words are chewing up
in the garbage disposal she's using

to woo you. You need a friend.
She calls you honey—
it tempts you to sign. Kitchen

features a built-in dish-washer,
stove she is willing to leave.
She needs to move now—

she wants to be gone.
You, of course, take this personally.
Back at home the flashing red light

is just a wrong number, a hang-up.
You're porous, lachrymose, social-life
starved—but hip

to the law of supply and demand.
You want to buy. She wants to sell.
Both of you human, no less.

From house-hunting to home-owning, Holmes writes not of the searching, but through the house (a "fixer-upper") he and his wife purchased in Sackville a couple of years back. I've always been a fan of the poems of Matthew Holmes [see my review of his first collection here], so it's no surprise that his poems would have jumped out at me. A magnificent series of small fractures and fragments, I think some of these "Housepoems" would make a fine little chapbook (from above/ground press, perhaps?).


I close you
with panes
from this open air, its wind
not sated by dry leaves. It wants you.

The putty a stubborn child
with the notion, new, of "no."
I hold a knife up, edge it under your lids
and with my blunt attention
you grow a wrinkle, a hairline of difference
that catches light
(I catch my breath)
and cracks, too tight,
across your gaze.

How clear you make yourself, how open,
no quarter closed, no quarter given
in such close quarters as glass and mullion,
sach and seal, joint and shim, sill

and still,

how clear.

Montreal QC: I'm still going through the new issue of Matrix (78, The Narrative "I"), but I've already read the featured interview with Lisa Robertson by Angela Carr about half a dozen times. Less a question and answer than a series of fragments, Carr writes, "The following pieces are transcripts from a soundfile (nightwalk), an interview with Lisa Robertson across the sidewalks of the plateau on November 18, 2006. My tiny recorder was fastened to Lisa's left lapel. Later, transcribing the interview, impressed by how the interviewer's voice had become immersed in the ambient sounds of traffic and conversations of unknown passers-by on the streets, I rendered it as punctuation."
LR: Susan Clark, Christine Stewart and I, published it in this one issue zine we did called Giantess that was on legal size paper, pale green printed on hot pink. It was illegible. It was the organ of the new abjectionists; they only had one organ. So it was printed there, then I got busy doing other things. After that I ended up writing the Soft Architecture manifesto. Again it was a one time thing for a gallery catalogue and then I went to Cambridge, and there, when I was researching The Weather, I was talking to my friend Matthew Stadler on the phone, and we both discovered in this conversation that we were both interested in architecture, and we hadn’t known that about each other before — obviously we weren’t really close friends then — so I said I'd send him this architecture text. He got really excited about it, so I thought okay maybe it's not so bad, maybe I should keep this office as a situation for developing texts on architecture. And then when I got back to Canada I started doing that and Front magazine, which is published by the Western Front — it's the oldest artist-run center in Vancouver — they have a monthly magazine — every two months now actually — they asked me to write a long piece in installments over several issues, so it seemed like a good opportunity to work on the architecture stuff, and I wrote four of those walks.

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The whole flaneur thing is pretty male-centered. It's represented as though it's male-centered. The female authors are not represented. But there are feminist critics like Janet Woolf who propose variants, critiques about gendering, and you know you can look at Djuna Barnes and Violette Leduc as flaneurs. As soon as you start looking closely a whole lineage of walking women arises around you.

Monday, December 24, 2007

another christmas in old glengarry

Rain the whole way driving back to the farm yesterday, Kate & I another day or so on the family farm. I just hope the whole damn business doesn’t freeze (it didn’t, fortunately). Apparently my sister pregnant again, due in July (that would be 3, including Emma, 4 + Rory, 17 mo). I suspect she & husband Corey are working to create some sort of sporting team or family musical group, although I don’t see her as the "Mother Maybelle" type (she claims too, that one loves to sing & the other is sporty; maybe a Spice Girls knockoff?). Apparently my mother getting a hip replacement in mid-January, a week or so after my father goes in for (finally) that back surgery for the sake of a pinched nerve in his leg (they think he’s actually going to spend a month on his back after this). Geez, what else?

Kate going on a school trip to Italy during the March Break, so even if I come back to Ontario for such I wouldn’t get to see her; still, if she’d rather have hung out with me than (in her words) "hot, young Italian men," I think I’d actually be worried about her; imagine, she’s going to be seventeen in less than two weeks...

Big dinner at mid-day at my sister's house, with everyone around. Part of the afternoon listening to music (driving back to Ottawa for various things, including the return of the child), including the cd Kate made for me, after the other she made for me during the fall (but only handed over a week or so ago, just in time for my cd player at home to stop working). She always makes the most interesting mixes (Jennifer & I think she could dj pretty easily), including new, old and odd songs by David Bowie (my favourite Bowie), Bowling for Soup, Veruca Salt, etcetera. What I particularly liked was that she included Depeche Mode’s "Photographic"on the newest one, a song her mother even included on the second mixed cassette she made me back in the late 1980s (the days of The Lost Boys soundtrack, Gene Loves Jezebel, The Gruesomes, Stand GT and The Smiths, etcetera); who says nothing ever connects?

The Peter F. Yacht Club reading was a blast the other night; Pearl & Roland & Charles took a bunch of photos (where are they all, but for the facebook ones?). We had only a few readers--Amanda Earl [see her mention of such here], Nicholas Lea, Roland Prevost, myself and Sandra Ridley (even the bartender read!), but we made Pearl Pirie read as well, from the 80 page manuscript she’s been working on lately (it was apparently only 45 pages long a couple of days earlier). Anita Dolman, extremely pregnant, decided not to read (even though we prodded her; if pregnant, when might we ever hear her read again?).

In Ottawa again until January 2nd, when I fly back to Edmonton, where all of my files are; Ottawa an enforced vacation of sorts, since most of what I need to do is still out west.

It’s Christmas Eve; Kate is already back in Ottawa.
What will I do when I get back to my little apartment tomorrow?

Friday, December 21, 2007

newly released: #8
Notation for Willing suspension of belief by Lawrence Upton

Phil Hall’s surrural: Ontario gothic, the killdeer, the music of failure and the distraction of shifting ground by rob mclennan

A De Tour by James Wilkes

Going ‘Round the Outside: Adam Dickinson by Tim Conley

NAMING for Ricki Redhead by Lawrence Upton

all previous issues still up at, including pieces on/by John Newlove, Rachel Zucker, rob mclennan, the Vehicule Poets, Carl Peters, kemeny babineau, John Barton, Erin Moure, Sharon Thesen, Adam Seelig, Gregory Betts, Andy Weaver, natalie stephens, Jon Paul Fiorentino, David McGimpsey, Margaret Christakos, Gil McElroy, etcetera.

eds. Stephen Brockwell & rob mclennan
managing editor + web design, Roland Prevost

Thursday, December 20, 2007

some recent poetry collections;

I've been packed in with busy lately, so not as much reviewing as I would have liked, would like. Deadlines fall like dominoes, months after they should, or should have. At least I still exist…

Calgary AB: Recently, Calgary poet ryan fitzpatrick has been touring the country with his first trade collection FAKE MATH (Montreal QC: Snare Books, 2007) in the “Snaring the NeWest” tour, alongside fellow Calgarians (also with first books) Natalie Zina Walschots and William Neil Scott [see my note on their Edmonton appearance here]. I like his examination of the straightforward phrase, and the way he engages with the social-political, exploring the contradictions and nuances of pop culture. Why is it so difficult for CanLit audiences (etcetera) to acknowledge writing that includes pop culture and/or humour without being dismissive, the way such as David McGimpsey, and, to a lesser degree, Jon Paul Fiorentino and Nathaniel G. Moore have been (seemingly) nearly, summarily, dismissed out-of-hand by critics?


Dear Bigg Snoop Dogg, let’s reconsider
your archaic views of feminism. That’s so gay
is typical teen jargon in some schools.

Maybe while Bayside High lived in
the Pacific Paliisades took up with that
little tart that is so gay is stupid and weird.

When her high school classmates say,
“That’s so illegit!” Raven Symone answers
“That’s so f-ing GAY! Or is it?”

Most professional trucking schools have
classes on pimp-slapping hoes. Although
teachers patrol the halls looking for gay activity.

Find out about that gay Disney girls tune
singing homophobia rocks. Surely Snoop,
women would rather be bikinied than respected.

Ottawa ON: Some of us have been waiting for Ottawa-area writer Michael Blouin to publish his first poetry collection for some time, but now we finally have his I’m not going to lie to you (Toronto ON: Pedlar Press, 2007).

between men and women

there should be no time for remorse
no confusion
about who was wrong
it’s everybody’s fault

I was drunk somewhere
and she was waiting
silent, lovely

she shouted, hollered, cooed, cried, screamed
she screamed again
I went out and I brought back flowers, polished stones
more confessions.

Blouin’s poems read as even deceptively simple, and seem to work best when the interplay is happening a bit deeper than what can be seen on the surface, working through poems that interact with the domestic (something else played by other male poets such as Robert Creeley, Barry McKinnon and Richard Harrison). Still, the plainspeak of some of these poems work very nicely, and for some, don’t work out at all.

I drive this truck

look, there’s been a lot of poems
written about cars that won’t start
in the winter

I could show you
a hat full of them
but it wouldn’t matter

you turn the key
and you get a cold metal click
like a bone

maybe a voice on the radio
saying how damn cold it is

look, let me make it simple
without a lot of language
the car won’t start and
this morning she left a cold cup of coffee
sitting on the counter and that’s about it
I could work around hiding the thing for you
but it’s right there.
Draw your own conclusions.

He does have some magnificent turns of phrase there and here, and he recently found out that he has a novel coming out next year with Coach House Books; I look forward to seeing what he does with it.

Calgary AB: How many poems can be written about a canoe? Apparently quite a lot, if Diane Guichon's first poetry collection, Birch Split Bark (Nightwood Editions, 2007) is any indication. Another Calgary author part of that massive book launch recently in cow-town, Guichon plays with the metaphor and myth of that Canadian icon of the canoe in four sections, labelled "John," "Isabelle," "Bobby" and "Lily." Just how many poems can be written about canoes?

John's Myth -- Orkneys West

Albans from France punctuate island migration
Stretch walrus skins over framework of Arctic birch branches
Hot pitch seal tar evaporated mammal oil to waterproof weatherproof
Fifty-foot curragh canoes
The smell rank of blubber diced and heated
Gristle-strained gum smoothed over gut-sewn seams
Carry valuta men through oceans of grey water white
Ice to rock beaches where tusked-tooth rich blubber tourists
Lounge in polynyas mating with others of their kind
Gannets, whales, dolphins, porpoises
Endless skeins of ducks
Ring grey harbour seals
Humpback, fine, sei
Halibut and cod
From Brittany to Orkney to Faroe to Iceland to Greenland to
Baffin Island to Labrador to New Found Land
I track sea animals and erect stone cairn markers to
Map the way
On the kill and trade
Ivory for a metallic age
To avoid Viking hordes at sea in knorrs and oar paddles gone berserking
Canoes overturned on rock walls to eke out December winds and ice-
Locked harbour doors
Tusker colonies erased from maps
Legends of Albans-in-the-West
Whisper for DNA test
To prove there: here and here
Writes home.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

some (further) Edmonton (and Calgary, and Ottawa) readings;

A note on things that happened before; a lag while Ottawa sinks its claws or fangs or whatever else…

Tuesday, December 4; rob’s Edmonton book launch for white

A good little event, with about twenty people or so, including Barbour, Lemay, Stewart, Hedley, Kostash, El Labi. I read most of the first section (but not all) with the idea that I might never read it in Alberta ever again; going to do the same in Ottawa next week, read about twenty minutes or so of the first section; it’s such a little book that it’s difficult to really read anything less without not giving enough for a sense of it; after Ottawa, will I even pick such a thing up again?

Wednesday, December 5; Yann Martel, presented by Edmonton Cultural Capital

Yann Martel, Man Booker Prize winner and current Saskatoon resident, did a talk to a packed house in the Manitoba-Saskatchewan Room of the Westin Hotel in downtown Edmonton (it was moved some time ago from its original location of the Stanley A Milner Library Theatre for the sake of the crowd). Recorded by CBC Radio (to be aired somewhere over the next few weeks) and hosted by CBC’s Peter Brown, the event was structured around the publication of the new hardcover The Illustrated Pi, a new edition of his third book, Life of Pi, that won the Man Booker Prize in 2002.

The evening was structured into three parts: a talk on the new edition, a talk on his current project, and an on-stage interview on “The Active Artist” by Brown. There is something lovely and even envious about how Martel speaks, with a kind of casual deliberateness that shows how much he thinks about what he is saying, and the obvious craft behind the talk that he gave. Martel talked about the process of finding an artist for this new edition through an international competition, one that brought in 1600 submissions that were eventually boiled down to sixty and then six, into the final winner, Czech artist Tomislav Torjanac. A well-crafted evening, I think I filled about twenty pages of notes (pretty much every second or third line he spoke was quotable); far too much to get into in so short a space as this.

Thursday, December 6; Christine Stewart’s making strange poetry reading

Held at Remedy Café in the middle of the afternoon, Christine Stewart hosted a reading by her 399 class, “Making Strange Poetry Reading,” with Megan Cleaveley, Allie Grande, Natalie Helberg, Carlos Lara, Judy Lin, Victoria Meszaros, Nina Varsava and Erin Weisgerber. Not everyone made it to read (there were one or two missing), but there were certainly some interesting experiments coming out of class projects on the canto, homo-linguistic translation and other poetic structures designed to get these young people moving outside of their own "voice." I was particularly taken with some of the pieces performed by Carlos, Judy and Erin, with some impressive lines coming out of just about everyone; will these be names we should be keeping an eye on?

After it was over, I stayed around for a bit for drinks; should I tell you which one published a Harlequin Romance novel last year?

Saturday, December 8; Calgary extravaganza!

A carload of us—Trisia Eddy, Lainna El Labi and I (delivering Cara Hedley [see her recent feature in The Danforth Review] south as well)—appeared in Calgary for the Calgary Extravaganza, as twelve Calgary authors launched eleven titles; why can't other cities do such as this? One of my crew noted how all of the writers seemed University-related; are there any writers in town in this group that don’t have anything to do with the program at the University of Calgary? With fantastic (albeit brief) readings by Robert Majzels [see his 12 or 20 here], derek beaulieu [see his 12 or 20 here], ryan fitzpatrick, William Neil Scott, Jill Hartman [see her 12 or 20 here] & Brea Burton, Cara Hedley, Natalie Zina Walschots and various others, it was interesting to see the range of publishers represented on stage, from Snare Books (Montreal), Information as Material (England), Oberon Press (Ottawa), The Mercury Press(Toronto), Coach House Books (Toronto) and Nightwood (Gibson's Landing, BC), but only one title from an Albertan publisher, Edmonton's own NeWest Press. Why doesn’t Alberta have more literary publishing?

Starting his tour reading the first part of his novel, Scott decided that, for this final reading on the same tour, ending where he began, he would read the last part of the novel; what made it interesting, particularly, is in what he didn’t give away. And it was good to see some of these folk I haven’t seen in some time, including beaulieu (we traded envelopes) and Christian Bök; an offshoot of our conversation has me reconsidering the last two poetry collections (un and yesno) by Dennis Lee

And then there were the adventures in Red Deer each way, an hour or maybe two.

Tuesday, December 11; Christine Stewart at the Olive Reading Series

I couldn't be happier with the appointment that University of Alberta made of Christine Stewart, doing the job that Douglas Barbour used to in the Department of English and Film Studies; Barbour pretty much said the same thing when he was introducing her reading. The little chapbook is an interesting series of accumulations about Mill Creek Ravine and the bridge she goes under twice daily en route to her office; how does someone from another space conceptualize something that so many locals would otherwise find familiar to the point of unremarkable? It's interesting how she comes from a more socially-aware poetic gaze, coming out of the language writers and various KSW alumni from her years of Vancouver, working critically on Lisa Robertson, Dorothy Trujillo Lusk, Nancy Shaw, Susan Clark and so many others that seem, predominantly, invisible in Canadian crit (but not so in American or other-crit).

Tuesday, December 13; rob's Ottawa book launch for white

With the idea I might never read from the book again (very hard to excerpt from such), I read roughly twenty minutes worth from the novel to a crowd of roughly fifty, which was pretty exciting, and hosted by old pal Monty Reid. A group of us ended up at the Dominion Tavern afterwards, including Max Middle, Megan Hughes, Amanda and Charles Earl, Pearl Pirie, Sean Dowd, Genevieve Wesley and Nicholas Lea, and Josh Massey. A very long night; I think I arrived home around 3am. Is this why I'm tired all the time?

See the photo of such here, by Charles Earl; did you see the review in The Globe and Mail?

Otherwise: check out these reports from Ottawa on Monty Reid’s reading at Dusty Owl (one from Amanda, another from Pearl); read what Shawna Lemay said about Anne Le Dressay's new poetry collection; don't forget the Ottawa launch of the Peter F. Yacht Club or the beginnings of the first of the new Factory (West) Reading Series in Edmonton, or the next Ottawa reading of the Factory Reading Series on January 24 to launch the fourth issue of ottawater!

Monday, December 17, 2007

I don't normally post cartoons, but;

this one was too good to pass up; Pearl sent this to me recently, from this website; I think it's rather brilliant. And in the same vein, check out this cartoon from the University of Alberta student newspaper, The Gateway.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

rob's novel reviewed in the globe & mail!

After so many years of not having my books not reviewed or even mentioned, it never even occurred to me that my novel could get a review at all; not a bad little review (although there are considerations of the little book overlooked). Still, why do some folk insist on uppercasing my name?

I think in a way Bartley misses part of the point, including the other (secret) narrative happening within and throughout the novel (not even referenced; why do readers keep thinking the initials are accidental?) (and I don't remember putting a brother in the book; but who is ever completely in charge of anything? Maybe one slipped in when I wasn't looking...), but am very very pleased he liked it. I should just appreciate that, yes?

Expand (and contract) your mind

December 15, 2007

By Rob McLennan

Mercury Press, 102 pages, $16.95

P and H are newlyweds fresh from a Niagara Falls honeymoon. As they settle into their spanking-new, characterless suburban house, the bloom is already wilting.

H goes to work and P wanders the bare rooms, missing her single life. She brings in a stray dog; he comes home and summarily boots it out. One night, she announces that he's the second man she has ever loved. "He doesn't ask about the first. Which is good, because P can't remember." Who, we might ask, does not remember their first love? And what young husband fails to see such a disclosure as a challenge? Are P and H some sort of litmus test for reader comprehension?

Poet Rob McLennan sows uncertainty in his first novel. What's unsaid spurs us on. We flash back to their first date. H was drawn by P's smell: "fields of wildflowers, and shortbread." They walked on a beach, shared a pomegranate. Now their love is pale and strained, and most of the strain seems to be P's.

McLennan's first erotic image gives us H on top of P's "white body." She thinks of touching her tongue to his eyes. "To discover how they taste." Then P's memory is revealed to be seriously wonky. She recalls that her mother is dead, except when she remembers that she's alive.

P elaborately decorates the house for Halloween. When the goblins come knocking, she can't bring herself to answer the door. Winter comes, deepening her gloom. H is mostly invisible, his two obsessions work and the model trains in the basement. On a spring day while he's at work, P packs up and decamps to her mother's farm.

Her childhood home serves more to dislocate her than offer comfort. The house seems too small, the landscape too huge, the smells too primitive. "The ladies. Awash in the damp and slightly rotting smell she associated with her mother." At her bedroom window, she crouches "to mimic her former view," only confirming that the past is irretrievable.

All through this, P and her author skirt around the shadowy memory of her father. While P retains some warmth, her mother recalls him with unembellished enmity.

The one other person whose memory stirs tenderness in P is also the first character given a name: Stephen, her teenage first love. There are hints of rapture and escape, then a loss. Later come hints of a lost brother:" the boy in the bubble and the sound of her father's voice."

An enigma - P herself - is at the core of this book. McLennan never solves it, though he does at last allow P's name to be spoken. Together, the enigma and the naming have kept P and her barely lived life hovering at the fringes of my mind for a few days now. P is the fear, always suppressed, that we exist only by the thinnest tissues of connection -that the self is really nothing but its context. If you're not averse to that sort of fictional mind-tweak, this compact novel can only expand you.

Friday, December 14, 2007

The Peter F. Yacht Club #8

issue launch / reading / regatta / christmas party
lovingly hosted by your captain, rob mclennan

Saturday, December 22, 2007
7:10pm - 10:00pm at The Carleton Tavern,
223 Armstrong Street (at Parkdale in the Parkdale Market)

with readings (potentially) by:
Stephen Brockwell
Amanda Earl
Jesse Ferguson
Clare Latremouille
Nicholas Lea
Roland Prevost
Marcus McCann
rob mclennan
Max Middle
Monty Reid
& Sandra Ridley

related links: to the issue here; to the now-past Edmonton launch here;

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Edmonton’s Mark McCawley, Urban Graffiti and greensleeve editions

I met up with Edmonton writer and publisher Mark McCawley [see his recent 12 or 20 interview here], and traded a pile of his publications over the years with some of mine. His is a name I’ve heard for years, usually associated with other post-realist working class fiction Canadian writers such as Matthew Firth, Daniel Jones or even Grant Shipway (think, too, of the anthology Hal Niedzvieki edited for McClelland and Stewart in 1998, Concrete Forest: The New Fiction of Urban Canada). An active poet and fiction writer, he edits and publishes chapbooks through his greensleeve editions, as well as the litzine URBAN GRAFFITI , all of which have been on hiatus for the past couple of years. Some of what he gave me included chapbooks of his own work, The Length of Distance (greensleeve publishing, 1989), the deadman’s dance (greensleeve editions, 1989), Last Minute Instructions (Toronto ON: Unfinished Monument Press, 1989), Thorns Without the Rose and Other Stories (greensleeve editions, 1991) and Voices From Earth, Selected Poems by Ronald Kurt and Mark McCawley (Calgary AB: The Prairie Journal of Canadian Literature, Number 13, 1990), as well as a whole stack of work by others he’s been producing in Alberta for nearly twenty years:

Neil Scotten, Blue (greensleeve editions, 1990)
Ken Rivard, Working Stiffs (greensleeve editions, 1990)
Richard Stevenson, DICK AND JANE HAVE SEX (greensleeve editions, 1990)
Andrew Thompson, sd edwards and Faye Francis’ collaborative Everybody Does It! (greensleeve editions, 1990)
Michael C. McPherson, A Backward Climb Up The Stairs, four fictions (greensleeve editions, 1991)
Giovanni Testa, inscapes (greensleeve editions, 1991)
Beth Jankola, One Sided Journey Through Politics (greensleeve editions, 1991)
Janice Williamson, excerpts from the journals of Alberta Borges (greensleeve editions, 1991)
Beth Jankola, Voices in the Night (greensleeve editions, 1992)
Shannon Sampert, Secret Sisterhood (greensleeve editions, 1992)
alan demeule, Flesh Temple (Edmonton AB: perimeter press, 1992)
Daniel Jones, The Job After the One Before, Stories (greensleeve editions, second revised edition, 1993)
James Thurgood, Icemen Stoneghosts (greensleeve editions, 1993)
Carolyn Zonailo, Letters of the Alphabet (greensleeve editions, 1992)
Stephen Morrissey, The Divining Rod (greensleeve editions, 1993)
Beth Jankola, The Sunflower Poems (greensleeve editions, 1994)

Conspiracy Northwest, ed. McCawley (greensleeve publishing, 1989), Aaron Bushkowsky, Beth Goobie, Margaret Greene, Barry Hammond, Ronald Kurt, John Lane, Mark McCawley, Ky Perraun
Keeper of the Conscience: an anthology of social/political poetry, eds. Ronald Kurt and Mark McCawley (greensleeve publishing, 1990), Mark McCawley, Chris Faiers, Allan Sarafino, Katherine Kostyniuk, Ronald Kurt, Clifton Whiten, Alan Demeule, Jones and Joan Brown.

URBAN GRAFFITI #2 (July 1994), #3 (February 1995), #7 (Autumn 1999), #8 (February 2001) and #9 (September 2002).
McCawley emerged during the 1980s, a period when parts of Canada were rife with young and younger writers starting to produce their own works, including Joe Blades starting his Broken Jaw Press for chapbooks and, later, trade books in Halifax (since moved to Fredericton). Toronto being Toronto, they had a slew of small and smaller publishers emerge during the same period, including Stuart Ross (Proper Tales Press), Daniel Jones (Streetcar Editions), jwcurry (1cent), Kevin Connolly (Pink Dog/WHAT Magazine) and Gary Barwin (Serif of Nottingham), among others (what else might have been happening in other corners?).

Alberta Uncovers a Humanist Plot

Hang up the telephones of small men. A radical fringe
group of intellectuals form a liberal humanist splinter
group to protest tower shortages. Transmission lines
tremble with memos; baseball memories shimmer short
stops. Miami Man holes up in his provincial office
facing north to the river. Passionate outbursts from
smokers plot to overthrow the government, rail against
“those corrosive artsy crafty lefties.” The word sailboat
blinks off/on in small circles before their eyes. (Alberta
and Frank caucus and muse: “Will spring nourish this
insurrection or find it nodding off in March?” (Janice Williamson, excerpts from the journals of Alberta Borges)

It many ways, it’s amazing that this guy could have fallen off the radar the way he has; there are probably very few publications by the late small press legend Daniel Jones still available, including his mind-blowing poetry collection The Brave Never Write Poetry (Toronto ON: Coach House Press, 1985), but for this small publication by McCawley, and a trade collection produced a number of years ago by The Mercury Press. What other chapbooks (and there were a few) are even still out there?


Nineteen minutes and twenty-one miles
out of Edmonton, tracks begin to click
like a primitive clock, counting distance
between switching yards and abandoned stations,
click, click, a perpetual morse code.
In picture windows prairie pauses,
each view exacting as the last
with only the occasional sun sight
to remind us of motion.

Remembering once when origins
and destinations didn’t matter, only
the space between here and there
and time passing in backwater towns,
travels of legendary drifters
who rode the rails like buffalo
into an uneasy extinction.

We chase the sun all day
towards a horizon we hope to find
darkened by mountains and granite slabs
still stained with human blood,
measuring the length of distance
by the weight of silver wheels
pounding ground’s bleached geography.

If we’d listen, we’d hear
decades grind beneath boxcars,
the strain and pull
as the engine heaves ahead,
its destination a future
we may or may not traverse.

For now, we jolt and shudder
uncomfortable companions to coal and cattle,
crisscrossing this checkered prairie quilt
of canola, barley and wheat. (Mark McCawley, The Length of Distance)

To find out about available chapbooks and prices (he says he has masters to most if not all of these, so he can theoretically have everything in print) contact him directly at:

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Factory (West) Reading Series

a reading series lovingly hosted by rob mclennan during his tenure as writer-in-residence at the University of Alberta (2007-8); the name "Factory (West)" refers to the fact that I have been running readings for years in Ottawa since 1995 that now exist under the title The Factory Reading Series, held regularly(ish) at the Ottawa Art Gallery;

a variety of poetry and fiction (etcetera) presented on the third Tuesday of every month from January to May, 2008 in the Underdog (downstairs) at The Black Dog Freehouse, 10425-82 Avenue, Edmonton AB;

doors 7pm; readings 7:30pm

The first reading will be happening on Tuesday, January 15

with readings by:
Trisia Eddy
Joel Katelnikoff
Jenna Butler
+ Thomas Wharton
author bios:

Trisia Eddy lives and writes near farms, train-yards, refineries, and the North Saskatchewan River. Her work has been broadcast on radio, published both in print and online, most recently with Existere, fait accomplit,and ditchpoetry, and is forthcoming in cahoots magazine. She is the founding editor/publisher of red nettle press, which released her chapbook, what if there's no weather, in 2007, with more poets to follow in 2008.

Joel Katelnikoff is a PhD student and king of suplexes. When he isn't busy bodyslamming nonbelievers through wooden tables, he writes fiction and educates the masses. Joel's first collection of short stories will be released in 2009, provided that he can find someone to publish it.

Jenna Butler was born in Norwich, England in 1980. She is an educator, book reviewer, editor and poet who currently makes her home in Edmonton, Alberta. Her work has received a number of awards and has been published both in Canada and internationally in literary magazines, anthologies, and journals. She is the founding editor of Rubicon Press and is currently working toward a PhD in Creative and Critical Writing from the University of East Anglia, UK. Her newest collection of poems, Forcing Bloom, is scheduled for release in 2007 from Mercutio Press.

Thomas Wharton was born in Grande Prairie, Alberta, an agriculture and oil city located near the BC border. By the time his second novel was released, Wharton had developed a following of rapt and loyal readers. Salamander (McClelland & Stewart, 2001) won the 2002 Georges Bugnet Award for Fiction (Alberta Book Awards), was a finalist for the 2001 Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, and was short-listed for the 2001 Governor General’s Award for Fiction, the Sunburst Award for Canadian Fantasy, and the 2002 Grant MacEwan Author’s Award. A collection of short stories soon followed. The Logogryph (Gaspereau Press, 2004) was named winner of the 2005 Writers’ Guild of Alberta Award for Short Fiction, nominated for the Sunburst Award for Canadian Fantasy, and short-listed for the IMPAC-Dublin Prize in 2006. Thomas Wharton lives in Edmonton with his wife and three children. An assistant professor of English at the University of Alberta, he’s currently hard at work on The Shadow of Malabron, the first in a fantasy trilogy (The Perilous Realm) for younger readers, to be published by Doubleday Canada and Candlewick/Walker US/UK in the fall of 2008. Thomas Wharton's first novel, Icefields (1995), was recently selected for Canada Reads 2008. [see his 12 or 20 interview (with a million links) here]

For further information, email rob mclennan at az421(at)freenet(dot)ca

further readings:
February 19; readings by Diane Cameron + tba
March 18; readers tba
April 15; readings by Kim Minkus (Vancouver) + tba
May 20; readings by Myrna Kostash + tba

Monday, December 10, 2007


Guerilla is a quarterly consideration of Ottawa culture at ground level: the celebrated, the unknown, the historic, and the avant-garde.
The 2008 Guerilla Magazine Micro-fiction Contest
Create a world with just 300 words

The Contest

Entry Deadline: January 10, 2008
Open to all residents of the Capital Region (i.e. Ottawa, Ontario, Canada and area)
No entry fee
Winning entries published in the print and online editions of Guerilla #15 (March 2008)
Top three entries paired with an original illustration by Anthony Tremmaglia (
Honourable mention entries may also be published

Winning entrants receive a Guerilla t-shirt and other prizes courtesy of the Ottawa International Writers Festival.
Winning entrants retain copyright but grant first publishing rights to Guerilla magazine for a period of six months.

The Micro-fiction

Be 300 words or less
Be previously unpublished
Contain at least once instance of the word "Ottawa"
Be clearly recognizable as fiction (not poetry or prose poetry)
Be e-mailed to: by midnight Jan 10, 2008

Friday, December 07, 2007

White Pelican: year one

I don’t know if say Edmonton is further away than another place. I don’t think it matters, now. I’ve lived in every province except the Maritimes and I’ve lived in most of the big cities in them and I’ve never felt that I couldn’t be at home…to be at the centre is to be where the ideas are, that is, in your own head, wherever you are. Right now, I’m in Vancouver and that feels like the centre. One of the useful things about art is that you literally take it with you wherever you go…you don’t have any choice—you can’t choose to leave it all behind. (interview with Roy Kiyooka, volume 1, issue 1)
Since I’m in Edmonton, I’ve taken it upon myself to make at least some attempt to read the entire eighteen issue run of Sheila Watson’s White Pelican, the magazine she produced during her last few years at the University of Alberta. With its first issue in 1971, two years after Henry Beissel’s Edmonton/Montreal journal EDGE published its ninth and final issue (Beissel moved from the University of Alberta to Concordia, where he helped form the first parts of the creative writing department there), the editorial board of White Pelican consisted of Sheila Watson, Stephen Scobie, Douglas Barbour, John Orrell, Norman Yates and Dorothy Livesay. As F.T. Flahiff writes in his biography of Watson [see my review of such here], always someone to kill the doves: A Life of Sheila Watson (2005):

At the heart of White Pelican lay Sheila’s sense of community and the nature of the English department at Edmonton as it had developed through the sixties. This “little magazine” had been hatched in the living room at Windsor Road one evening in 1970. Those who were to become its editors were present, and Sheila and Wilfred proposed to underwrite the cost of the venture. In light of this offer, one bit of policy was agreed upon: the magazine would accept no government grants and no advertising. The editors wished to remain accountable only to their contributors, to their subscribers, and to themselves.

It was a daring and, by any standard, a remarkably successful venture. Reviews and essays, fiction and documentary prose and photographs and drawings mixed with what was its mainstay—poetry. Edmonton poets, such as Wilfred, Miriam Mandel, Ted Blodgett, Stephen Scobie, and Douglas Barbour, were well represented, as were poets from other parts of the country, such as bpNichol and Michael Ondaatje. There were new voices (the first pages of the first issue were devoted to poems by Elizabeth McLuhan) and there were voices in French as well as in English. Some issues had a specific focus: one edited by Dorothy Livesay and Rude Wiebe, on the North; another on Gertrude Stein, edited by Sheila, for example. Sheila contributed an essay to this last, one of three she wrote for different numbers of White Pelican. She took particular interest in their publication of excerpts from the diary Henry Kreisel had kept while he was interned in Canada as an enemy alien during the Second World War, and in an illustrated article by the Alberta architect Douglas Cardinal.
That Watson was bringing in some of the younger writers, Barbour and Scobie, being new faculty at the University says very good things about her openness to new ideas and new writing. As she wrote in the first pages of the first issue under the title “ABOUT PELICANS”:

Perhaps I should begin by saying that I speak here as a person not as a group. When the six editors of White Pelican decided to act they were drawn together by proximity not by policy, by concern not by consensus. The fideicommissum was there. Person by person or person with person, each would bear witness to the fact. It would be absurd then for any one of us to assume Coriolanus’s napless vesture of humility or the speak in the neutered voice of the uni-form, the uni-sexed, or the uni-what-you-will. As it happens we are de facto a multiple of three. Under the sign of the white pelican, le pelican blanc, pelecanus erthrorhynchos, we find it possible to co-exist.
Still, what else was happening in Edmonton at the time, including other publishing in the city, province or prairie? No publishing venture lives in a vacuum, and at least the University of Alberta Press would have been publishing, but I wouldn’t offhand know what (this would have been before George Melnyk would have helped invent NeWest Press, and before Longspoon). I’m frustrated that the journal existed without author bios, thus diminishing a sense of context; I know Douglas Barbour, know he is and what he’s done, but what would he have called himself then? New faculty, author of a first poetry collection the year before, perhaps; instead, the work exists well before the biography, the way Sheila herself (according to her biographer) would have preferred it.


Under this white shadow we have made
our home: salt, snow, hunger moon.
The whale’s belly, the harpoons glisten.
We will die clean in our cold garden.
It is ours, we claim it: this sleep,
this waking with the white bears, the
ice, the gods. (John Thompson, volume 1, issue 4)
Some of the most interesting parts of the first year have to be the interviews with Roy Kiyooka (September 16, 1970) and Michael Ondaatje (March 3, 1971), both conducted by Barbour and Scobie, and corresponding with readings each were giving in Edmonton. Both interviews make me think [see my two previous notes concerning Ondaatje here, including about another older interview] about the series Guernica Editions produces; have interviews with either of these authors ever been collected? There are some extremely interesting parts of both, including Ondaatje talking about his The Collected Works of Billy the Kid (1970), and about the film he’d produced on bpNichol, Sons of Captain Poetry (1970):

M: I think this is one of the problems with the movie. Simply by editing a one and a half hour interview down to 8 minutes, you make someone much more articulate and confident than he really is. That’s why I wanted to have the emphasis on quietness at the end. There’s very little silence in the film, which I think is a serious mistake.

D: And Barrie is in some ways very interested in silence; in his poems.

M: He is. Very Much so. But then you’ve got the problem of how you can make silence symbolic in a movie … Barrie originally wanted to call it I DREAMED I SAW HUGO BALL after that song he sings at the end. But this other title, SONS OF CAPTAIN POETRY suggests an era which is kind of post-Pop really. You see, I don’t see Barrie as a Pop poet, or a camp poet. Comic books are so much in fashion these days, it’s really sad, because people see it in that camp way. Cohen, I find, is very much part of the Pop-camp system, and he uses it imperialistically. For Barrie the Pop figures, like Green Lantern, are his saints. They’re much more human figures, they’re very human, very identifiable, like lost brothers and things like that. I think THE MARTYROLOGY is the best thing he’s done. I think it’s the most private things he’s done so I don’t know what kind of reaction it will get. It’s coming out sometime this year with Coach House. I think most of Barrie is in that book. It’s a kind of autobiography with these strange relations emerging, people left over from this pop world, threading through this very sad world with false icons all over the place. Victor Coleman says one of the best things about Barrie in the film. Roughly, he says of THE MARTYROLOGY that it’s important enough that Barrie’s not quite sure of where it’s taking him, he’s not quite sure what he’s up to! Which I think is a beautiful thing to say about anything that is really important to a person. It is so important to him that he hasn’t got the confidence in it. Travelling blind.
Another entertaining part is just seeing work by now-well known writers and their works, including the first part of what later became the late Jon Whyte’s poetry collection/long poem Homage, Henry Kelsey (since collected in the 2000 collection Mind Over Mountains: Selected and Collected Poems, published by Red Deer Press), and pieces by the poets John Thompson (d. 1974) and Pat Lowther (d. 1976), as well as pieces by bpNichol even before the first book of The Martyrology (1972) had seen print.


oh the a be
an or and and

c d q o p

whistle up gorge leg
laughter m l steep
la lune la lune

low l t s z
v v o b q r
la tigre i y w



spoon (bpNichol, volume 1, issue 2)

year one:

issue #1: edited by Sheila Watson

poem by Elizabeth McLuhan
photo of Roy Kiyooka by Bernie Bloom
interview with Roy Kiyooka
letters from Roy Kiyooka
poems by Miriam Mandel
drawing by Norman Yates
poems by Wilfred Watson
essay by Wilfred Watson: Towards A Canadian Theatre
poems by E.D. Blodgett
Gordon Peacock: A Plethora of Playwrights?
book reviews by Dianne Bessai and Douglas Barbour

issue #2: edited by Douglas Barbour and Stephen Scobie

two poems by Michael Ondaatje
A Conversation with Michael Ondaatje (Barbour, Scobie)
various selections by bpNichol
Prairie Poems by P.K. Page
four poems by Steve McCaffery
three poems by Stephen Scobie
Song by John Lent
two poems by George Chambers
Summer Elephants: Ian Hamilton Finlay

issue #3: edited by John Orrell and Norman Yates

Postures of Survival: July 1, 1935
P.O.S. by Pierre Falcon
artwork by Frederick Candelaria
P.O.S. World Arena
P.O.S. by Jon Whyte
poems by Christopher Wiseman
poems by Leona Gom
P.O.S. University Arena

issue #4: edited by Dorothy Livesay with Rudy Wiebe

Poems by John Thompson
Poem by Pat Lowther
Dream of Sky People by Isabella Foord
Poem by Duncan Pryde
Poems by P.S. Barry
Poem by Floris McLaren
Poems by Eleanor Crowe
Poem by Skyros Bruce
The Fish Caught in the Battle River by Rudy Wiebe
Poems by D.M. Price
Poem by Mick Burrs
The Rhetoric of the North by R.J. Merrett
Poem by William Aide
An Earnest Recalling by Chuck Carlson
Poems by Mary Vida
Poem by Peter Stevens
Poem by Tom Ezzy
Poems by Brett
A Clutch of Books by Rudy Wiebe

Thursday, December 06, 2007

the power of blogging

More poetry: A coin you dropped when you took your pants off
is still on the floor. Please come back and pick it up.

More: The scar on my hand I got cleaning the house for you
has outlasted you. In this way you are indelible, but only as
long as I have my hand.
Sarah Manguso, Siste Viator
There is the immediate that compels, and the afterthought that lingers; some keep a hold on the mind for years. When those interested in reading and talking about poetry and theory and other literatures not as culturally above-board as fiction and non-fiction discovered the power of the web-log (blog), from the essay to the short review to even the base opinion, much was opened up in the conversation. As Robert Kroetsch once called it, all literature is a conversation, and there are certainly as many ways to enter that conversation as there are voices within it, whether posting a poem from a book worth pointing out to others, a short review of a chapbook, or even a journal of poetry by either a selection of other writers, or just the author of the blog.

There are a couple that I try to visit daily, including Ottawa poet Amanda Earl’s blog, poet Sina Queyras lemonhound, Edmonton poet Shawna Lemay’s capricious hold-all and California poet Rachel Loden’s wordstrumpet, where the above quote is taken from, watching her weave her magnificent way through lines or pieces that catch her attention. There is a wonderful kind of grace to Loden’s posts, writing on such diverse subjects as Susan Sontag, a quote or two by the poet Sarah Manguso, and ideas of American humour (or should I say, “humor”). Even her titles are graceful, in that wonderful mix of pure line and envious phrase, titling her Manguso post “Rose, Oh Pure Contradiction” (a line very much worth stealing). I even loved those lines from Sarah Manguso so much that I immediately ordered review copies of her last two titles.

Part of the wonderful timing of blogs is the dearth of reviewing and other literary criticism in print journals and newspapers these days (at least in Canada), compared to what there was, say, in the 1980s. It’s why I post as much as I do; it’s the same reason Stephen Brockwell and I started our online critical journal

But does criticism change through the process of short posts? And further, what makes a blog interesting, and even worth reading? Queyras, these days in Calgary as writer-in-residence at the University of Calgary, is another author I try to dip into daily, to catch her posting on photography, artwork and writing, or even just highlighting a particular poem or poet that spark her attention. Blogs, by themselves, have turned media into more of a democracy, as anyone with a computer and internet connection can put their thoughts immediately into the world, to the point that American political pundits and candidates, certainly, have been forced to react to the blog world for the past few federal elections; to the point that journalists in both print and television media have been “encouraged” by those that employ them to start posting their own blogs (whether this is a good or a bad idea, I haven’t quite decided, as I deliberately ignore all of that). Still, it brings those with theoretically the least power more into the forefront, from teenagers posting journal entries and poems about feeling bad (thank you, overgeneralization) to poets and small press publishers, and those otherwise without the same opportunities for larger voice.

And then there’s American L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poet and former editor of same, Ron Silliman, master of us all, posting practically daily on the literary world, from longer posts on particular authors and books, to a roll of links that move further and further out into the world; it was certainly no surprise when his numbers hit a million last year. I wonder, too, if such a known quantity in the small press/avant-garde writing world such as him has brought a credibility to literary blogs that otherwise wouldn’t have been there?

Through blogs I have discovered the works of various authors that I might otherwise have not; through blogs I have entered conversations and heard about events, whether before the fact or read reports on them after; I have read entries that have made me sad for the entire conversation about writing, and others that have made me thrilled and hopeful for the same. But still; but still?

Writers are a series of individuals that exist in a community of people who rarely see each other; made up through public events (readings) and the printed word (bookstores, magazine stores) including the mail (whether personal correspondence or other “correspondences” through contributor copies of journals and anthologies). Just how have blogs shifted this consideration of literary communities?

My friend Randy Woods once called the internet a series of hubs, instead of a straight line of linear communication; there are probably more people around the world who first read the name John Newlove on Ron Silliman’s blog or on Australia’s Jacket magazine than ever discovered him from an anthology such as New Wave Canada (1966), Poets of Contemporary Canada 1960-1970 (1972) or from the original 15 Canadian Poets (1971); information without the filter, perhaps, of critical selection (but for the self). But what does it all mean?

Through writing this piece over the past few days, I find it an interesting coincidence that Queyras just posted two blog entries wondering if anyone “out there” even reads these, referencing blogs (“blogging vs. journaling”) and social networking sites such as facebook (aren’t you on it yet?); what the purpose of it all is.
So what are we making with all of this effort to connect?

I would say the counter on mine (200+ daily) or Ron Silliman’s (more than ten times that) easily contradicts her worry. It seems funny, too, since Queyras has one of the best Canadian literary blogs out there (and still she worries), posting more than, say, diary and/or journal elements of her living day and more of her thinking day (I would rather know what an author or simply a reader is reading and thinking about than where they went out to purchase milk, for example).

Oh Sina Queyras, I was so very sad when you stopped blogging how long ago; please never leave us again…

related notes: my list of other blogs by Canadian writers;

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The Trees of Periphery
by Christine Stewart

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

Christine A. Stewart is from Vancouver and currently writes and teaches experimental poetry and poetics in the English and Film Department at the University of Alberta. She is researching the work of experimental women poets in Western and Eastern Canada, and exploring alternative forms of scholarly analysis. She is author of the chapbooks Pessoa’s July: or the months of astonishments (Vancouver BC: Nomados Press, 2006), From Taxonomy (Sheffield, England: West House Press, 2003), Daddy Clean Head (Vancouver BC: Lumpe Presse, 2000), A Travel Narrative (Hamilton ON: Berkeley Horse, 1994) and The Barschiet Horse [with Lisa Robertson and Catriona Strang] (Hamilton ON: Berkeley Horse, 1993). See her "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, December 04, 2007

ongoing notes: early December, 2007

Apparently this person themselves an arbiter of what is “good” against “bad”; do I need to start reviewing book I hate? Why do I constantly have to defend what I’m doing here, that I’m simply not just “praising everything I get,” but instead trying to talk about work that I think is doing interesting things? How can anyone be an arbiter of good/bad in a way that doesn’t involve any degree of subjective personal taste (see another conversation thread that came out of a review of mine)?

Me and my new Edmonton pals, or at least two of them; Lainna Lane and Trisia Eddy and I at George Bowering’s Olive reading [see my note on such here] in November (did you see the other photo Lainna took of me during our adventures at the West Edmonton Mall?). The three of us head out to Calgary soon for the big December 8th reading and launch!

Apparently Stuart Ross might like my novel; check out the "stack 'em Max" game we played (John got the name slightly off) we played during the writers festival; a review of Brockwell's last book that I don't think "gets it"; apparently I'm a sexy fiction writer now; a very cool photo from a very cool reading; I get memed; Marcus McCann, as a blogger, has just got more and more interesting lately; I'm in the new issue of Noon; Lars Palm loves and laments the Martian Press.

Toronto ON: While briefly in Toronto, I was able to get a copy of the second issue of Stuart Ross’ PETER O’TOOLE: a magazine of one-line poems (Proper Tales Press, September 2007). One thing that I’ve always liked about Ross’ aesthetic is that he is completely honest about where it comes from, whether giving credit to some of his writing heroes, including Toronto writer David W. McFadden (Ross recently edited McFadden’s selected poems) and American poet Ron Padgett, and now with this new venture, including a poem by (as the bio tells us), “Bill Zavatsky, of New York City [who] published Roy Rogers, a magazine of one-line poems, in the 1970s.”


Thinking about Dickinson she walked off the edge of the world. (Sina Queyras)

This new issue has poem or poems by Gary Barwin, Dani Couture, Lynn Crosbie, Clarice Eckford, Debby Florence, Frank, Niels Hav, Richard Huttel, Phillip Lopate, Camille Martin, Lynn McClory, Sina Queyras, Sandra Ridley [see my earlier note on her here], Stuart Ross, Steve Venright [see his recent 12 or 20 questions here] and Zavatsky. To order a copy, or to find out about further or previous issues, email Ross at

Wake up, take a pill, I’m Ted Berrigan! (Bill Zavatsky & Phillip Lopate)

Ottawa ON: I recently got a box of the fourth issue of The Puritan: Ottawa’s Literary Prose Journal to give out, edited by those plucky young University of Ottawa grad students, Spencer Gordon and Tyler Willis. The issues are getting increasingly more interesting, without them losing any of the feel of the original; it’s not easy for a journal to get a good sense of self already developed by the first issue, and, no matter what improvements come along from issue to next, manage to maintain that sense all the way along. The new issue has short fiction by George Bowering, Paul A. Toth, John Moss, Brian Carr, J.J. Steinfeld, Rebecca Cuttler, Darryl Berger, Michelle Miller, Annie Zhu, Wes Smiderle, Kate Heartfield and Dayle Furlong, as well as a foreword by David Staines.

Montreal in the early ‘nineties. It felt separate, removed from Canada, its own little glamorous world. While the rest of the country wasn’t shaving their legs, wearing soft sandals and experimenting with heroin, we were making theatrical spectacles, installing art in every conceivable spot, resurrecting coffee houses, staying up all night. Francois and I would dance at the discothéques every evening, after classes and homework. We’d skip dinner to spend more time on the dance floor, eat the fruit in our drinks. The way he led me, his hips swaying, footwork impeccable. One night he told me, after he had stepped on a bigger man’s foot and a fight erupted, he told me what he did—and he made me promise not to tell anyone. (Dayle Furlong)

Be aware, too, that the writing from all four issues are available online in pdf format, which you have to admit is pretty cool.

Edmonton AB: Poet and publisher Trisia Eddy has announced her new chapbook enterprise, red nettle press, with the appearance of her own what if there’s no weather (2007). Dedicated “to bringing the work of Edmonton poets to a wider audience,” this is also a first chapbook for Eddy herself, and her poetry has some interesting moments here and there, slowly feeling their ways through playing with line breaks, rhythms and simple movement.


what if you miss me
what if we can’t find it
what if i wake up
what if the doorbell rings
what if there’s no weather
what if we spill
what if someone else finds the key

what’s the next letter

I like the rhythms in this short piece, perhaps one of the strongest in the collection:


traffic lights change in the distance,
amplifying the cold. the deep space

of road, disemboweled. her brow
an orange dawn, an open field:

furrowed, newly sown. the day
is skimming, a swan on the man-made

lake, trailing memory behind a
reflection of yet another architectural

wonder. but those buildings rarely
survive, replaced by newer, glossier

models. & she misses these friends,
red-handed, macerated, still.

Back to those roads: steel-plated,
peeling aereolas of their pink.

grooved by arrivals, departure.
a train could ride those rails, bent

and occupied. slightly bold, seven
times. if only the garlic-breath

of a late-born city skyline
would snag the clouds.

What’s interesting to note, too, is that the website for her press also lists a series of other Edmonton-area literary events.

Toronto ON: Another thing I picked up while in Toronto was Stephen Cain’s chapbook Montreality B-Sides & Rarities (Toronto ON: BookThug, 2006) while dropping a whole wad of cash on BookThug items at This Ain’t The Rosedale Library Bookstore on Church Street (they even have a BookThug display at the cash).

To Epimenides

Don’t read this
And I won’t write it down

Cain has always been one of my favourite contemporaries, and working, predominantly it seems, in sequential works in multiples of ten, so a selection of “one-offs” was, in its own way, somehow inevitable (even Bowering had his own version of “one-offs,” the collection In The Flesh from 1974). With what he’s done so far, I like the way Cain has always experimented, but almost carefully, as though he knows so much of what other experimentation has gone on before that he treads not lightly but still spare; he says little enough that you know it will always be interesting.

The Ubi Sunt Engine

Where is the plane, Flight 77?
Where is The Simpson’s Springfield?
Where is the money?
Where is the Love Ringtone?
Where is the evidence that animal research benefits
Where is the sun?
Where is the love?
Where is the learning?
Where is the Earth’s water located?
Where is the mango princess?
Where is the true danger?
Where is the pub?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the car?
Where is the war in Iraq heading?
Where is the greatest difference between true north
and magnetic north?
Where is the feminism in cyberfeminism?
Where is the beer?
Where is the action in virtual communities of
Where is the revolution?
Where is the horror?
Where is the religious right hiding out now?
Where is the spleen?
Where is the tundra?
Where is the digital highway really heading?
Where is the public domain?
Where is the best place to sit when I go to the
Where is the graveyard of dead gods?
Where is the New Woman now?
Where is the outrage?
Where is the government?
Where is the washroom?
Where is the energy?
Where is the clitoris?
Where is the Lone Ranger when we need him?
Where is the Ark of the Covenant?
Where is the center of the universe?
Where is the stage?
Where is the apology for slavery?
Where is the bed?
Where is the problem?
Where is the wiggle-room?
Where is the poetry reading tonight?