Thursday, February 28, 2008

what Wednesday, what (Bishop, Queyras, Irvine, gryner…)
A lot of things happened yesterday. At noon, the Canadian Literature Centre hosted its fortnightly Brown Bag series, with a reading by Edmonton writer and U of Alberta prof. Ted Bishop (I’ve been waiting a couple of months for him to do his own “12 or 20 questions” interview…), author of that magnificent non-fiction book Riding with Rilke: Reflections on Motorcycles and Books (Penguin, 2005). I was fortunate enough to read the book in January, after he and I had traded books; his memoir comes out of a sabbatical year motorcycling down to Texas and back to dig through literary archives on projects relating to Virginia Woolf and James Joyce, and is an extremely smart, funny and eclectic mix of motorcycle road-story, technical manual, stand-up comedy routine and highly researched academic work, and one of those books I actually had difficulty putting down. As part of his reading, he introduced with another non-fiction piece about touring the book, including literary awards and publishing in places such as Prairie Fire and Playboy (he was on one of their “top __” lists, in the same issue as centerfold and also-Canadian Pam Anderson; he said the editor even hugged him at one of his book launches), and then commandeered members of the audience (us unfortunates in the front row) to help perform the section of the book where he purchases his first motorcycle (with extra voices provided by myself, Mike O’Driscoll and Christine Wiesenthal). I could post the section he read from, but it’s rather long, and a lot of the flow and humour fall away to excerpt, so I’ll just tell you to read the damn thing, and quote from this far later part of the book:

The classical pianist Alfred Brendel once told a New Yorker interviewer, “I like the fact that ‘listen’ is an anagram of ‘silent.’ Silence is not something that is there before the music begins and after it stops. It is the essence of the music itself, the vital ingredient that makes it possible for the music to exist at all. It’s wonderful when the audience is part of this productive silence.” He was talking of the highway. Some of the best moments on a bike come when you are not moving: roadside moments. You stop, kill the engine, and take off your helmet, and all is still.
Not exactly a funny piece, but a memorable piece. The next Brown Bag event, apparently, is Christine Wiesenthal [see her 12 or 20 questions here] on March 12.

The second event was current University of Calgary writer-in-residence Sina Queyras giving a reading at the University, reading from all three of her published poetry collections [see my reviews of her books and chapbook here and here and here and here], as well as a selection of new work. Due to the low tones of her voice and the bad acoustics of the room (why was she in L3?), there was a lot of the reading that I missed, but there was a lot that I didn’t, including selections of a prose work (a novel, perhaps) that she’s been fragmenting together for a number of years. Written in little prose fragments, these are absolutely lovely bits of thinking prose; I am very much looking forward to seeing them as a single unit. Have any been published, I wonder, as fragments anywhere else?

I’ve always admired her blog (wishing I could be as well-spoke and well-thought as she), and found it interesting that she feels as though she must before really feeling as though she wants to be doing it, for an otherwise lack of a certain kind of conversation about writing and writers (she threatens, every year or so it seems, to shut the whole of it down…).
It was interesting, too, how she talked about a section of her third trade collection Lemon Hound (Coach House), writing a section from Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse, talking about using Woolf’s own words from that book to write a piece of her own, using only Woolf’s words and in the order in which they were originally used (which is exactly what Gregory Betts has been talking about for a while, in his “plunderverse”; check out his essay on same in Fortunately, Queyras is around for another few days, so it gives me an opportunity to ask her a few more questions about such things…

On the way to Queyras’ reading, I saw musician and old pal emm gryner at the Student Union Building post-office, preparing for her sound-check for last night’s show with Josh Ritter (the two are on a Canadian tour); I’ve known emm since 1999, around the time of her Science Fair album and tour, when she was opening for Ron Sexsmith at Ottawa’s Barrymores. She was nice enough to put me on the guest-list, and somehow I managed the first row (how did I do that, you ask? because I’m the luckiest stupid bastard in the world, that’s how…). It was a great show; I’ve always been a fan of emm’s work (although I was a bit disappointed she didn’t play longer, and didn’t play her “Pour Some Sugar on Me” cover, which is completely lovely…); I had heard the name Josh Ritter before, but hadn’t really paid much attention to his work. Not bad (I prefer when emm introduced me to the work of Andy Stochansky, who is perhaps one of the finest singer/songwriters in Canada), but I did admire just how tight he and his band were, without sacrificing any of the looseness that comes only with pure comfort and skill, and just how much fun it looked like they were all having. At the end, emm and Ritter did a lovely duet that seemed to echo (emm’s new dress helped) a “Johnny Cash/June Carter” kind of appeal (with Ritter being the goofy one). Later on, emm + her husband Sean + I drank red wine in her dressing room, and talked about many things, including her new album, out sometime this year…

Also, my pal Dean Irvine, who teaches at Dalhousie University these days, is around campus doing various official things that end today, so apparently we’re to hang out tonight, before he heads back east tomorrow…

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Dear Friends and Colleagues/

Do please join us for the Canadian Literature Centre’s annual flagship event: the 2008 Henry Kreisel Lecture, at the TIMMS Centre for the Arts, March 5th, 2008, 7.30 p.m. This year’s lecturer is Wayne Johnston, and his talk is called “The Old Lost Land of Newfoundland: Memory, Family, Fiction and Myth.” Johnston will be discussing the myths and realities around the perception of Newfoundland.

Wayne Johnston is the author of seven books as well as a contributing editor of The Walrus. His first book, Bobby O’Malley, won the WH Smith/Books in Canada First Novel Award. Baltimore’s Mansion, a memoir dealing with his grandfather, his father and himself, was tremendously well-received and won the prestigious Charles Taylor prize for creative non-fiction.

His novels The Colony of Unrequited Dreams and The Navigator of New York spent extended periods of time on bestseller lists in Canada and have been published in the US, Britain, Germany, Holland, China and Spain. Wayne Johnston divides his time between Toronto and Roanoke, Virginia where he has held the Distinguished Chair in Creative Writing at Hollins University since 2004.

Please join us ! Admission is Free !
Reception and Book-signing to Follow.

Wednesday, March 5th, 7.30 p.m.
TIMMS Centre for the Arts (87 Ave & 112 St)
University of Alberta

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

12 or 20 questions: with Monty Reid [photo: Pearl Pirie]

Widely published as a poet and essayist, Monty Reid has produced a substantial volume of literary work. His volumes include The Life of Riley (Saskatoon SK: Thistledown Press, 1981), These Lawns (Red Deer AB: Red Deer College Press, 1990), The Alternate Guide (Red Deer College Press, 1995), Dog Sleeps (Edmonton AB: NeWest Press, 1993) and Flat Side (Red Deer College Press, 1998), a collection of new and selected poems, Crawlspace (Toronto ON: House of Anansi, 1993), and the chapbooks cuba A book (Ottawa ON: above/ground press, 2005), Sweetheart of Mine (Toronto ON: BookThug, 2006) and Lost in the Owl Woods (Toronto ON: BookThug, 2007). His work is also included in the anthology Decalogue: ten Ottawa poets, published as part of the first season of books by Chaudiere Books, the same time his book Disappointment Island (Chaudiere Books, 2007) appeared, which went on to be shortlisted for the Ottawa Book Award and win the Archibald Lampman-Duncan Campbell Scott Poetry Award. He has won the Stephan G. Stephansson Award for Poetry three times and is also a three-time Governor General's Award nominee. He spent nearly twenty years working at the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology in Drumheller, Alberta, in the heart of the Alberta badlands, before moving to the Ottawa area in 1999 to work at the Canadian Museum of Nature. His newest book is The Luskville Reductions, out this spring with Brick Books.

1 - How did your first book change your life?

It's difficult to say. It was a confidence-builder for sure, and it sortof legitimized being part of the literary community, and it felt pretty good - it's always nice to say you're a published poet. But I still had a family to raise and a job to attend to, so the basic trajectory of my life didn't change much. So one of the things it made me realize was that a book very rarely changes things in a significant way, and that's helpful in managing expectations, and also in making you understand (or at least making me understand) that the most important thing is one's own relationship to the work, and not in publication per se.

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

I've lived in the Ottawa are since 1999, altho the first 5 years of that was on the Quebec side of the river, which is a bit different. I've lived in downtown Ottawa since 2004.

Geography has always had an impact on my work - I'm conscious of it. Less so race and gender, altho I'm sure those are there as well.

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?

A poem can begin anywhere. An overheard conversation, a dream, a piece of rock, a rhythm, another poem. I used to get the beginnings of poems when I was driving. Sometimes I begin with an idea, but not often. The ideas are always percolating, but I usually need to be given a means to work them out.

I'm working on poetry right from the beginning. Any piece might end up as a book, or might end up as a haiku. I try not to pre-define it. But it's always the work, always the life-long poem, which I keep writing and re-writing.

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

No. They're a way of engaging the literary community directly. I find that I'm often changing poems before a reading, so it's kind of an editorial process for me too.

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?

I do find that my work does tend to circle around theoretical concerns, altho rarely 'literary' concerns. Some issues for me include the status of the so-called natural world (which takes a very shallow form sometimes as the status of the 'animal'), the production and engagement of a community, and the related production of meaning. But I almost never begin a poem with the express notion of working through any of these things. What I am always conscious of is that I write against loneliness.

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

Editors have been useful for me over the years, even when difficult. If you want to put your poems out in the world, you should have some sense of the world's response, and an editor can be an attentive, if partial, way of testing that. So, not essential, but useful.

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

Not sure what you mean. The writing itself is always an exploration and a challenge - that hasn't changed over the years. Publication itself, with the new technologies available, seems to me to be easier these days than it has for a while.

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

I had a pear and blue cheese for dessert a couple of nights ago.

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

Strangely enough, the best piece of advice I ever received was from an ex-Jesuit who was a bureaucrat in the Alberta government many years ago. He said "err on the side of generosity".

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

It's never been a huge gap to cross for me - they're all part of the same project. They demand different attentions, and there's more immediacy with the songs, along with the sense of collaboration - you're probably going to be playing them with other musicians. Working in different formats also has the benefit of keeping you at it, should one part or the other go dry for a spell. And I find that persistence valuable.

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?

A typical day begins for me around 5:30 am. I try to write every morning. I don't have the discipline I used to have tho, but I try to write every day.

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

Hmm. I have a variety of tactics. Sometimes I'll try translations. Sometimes I'll write songs. Sometimes I'll immerse myself in some big book, like Joseph Brodsky's Collected Poems in English. I don't believe in banging my head against any given wall, but move on to something else, and come back if necessary. The important thing is to keep writing, something.

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

Every book feels old to me. Because I'm usually engaged with something else by the time they actually come out. The book coming out this spring (The Luskville Reductions) is a good example. It was written at a fairly difficult point in my life, and it's hard for me now to really re-engage with it. It was hard during the editorial process too. Just because the situation, the location even, was over and removed.

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?

Books don't just come from books. There was a first one, and ur-book, somewhere. All sorts of things influence my work, and I'm very glad of it.

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

The rest of my life is important of course, but there any many writers whose work has influenced me and many that I admire. William Carlos Williams, for instance, has been a touchstone for me ever since I started writing. I also read a lot of scientific material.

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

move my piano

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 you not been a writer?

or given my perfunctory cooking skills, a chef

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

Well, it's never been opposed to something else for me. I want to write, and do the something else too.

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

Great, who knows. But I really enjoyed Wayne Koestenbaum's Hotel Theory. I like pretty well any film with food in it.

20 - What are you currently working on?

Host, a book about parasites.
Cuban translations
and this interview

Monday, February 25, 2008

Fred Wah’s Articulations

0.1 (Rilke)

Looks like the Angel got through. Wrapped.
Swaddled. Between the rock and the river.

Seen speaking as having held to mere fact.
Mirroring on the wall, not me, begründen.

Watch who’d turned us round, turned and stopped.
Just for taking leaves from the bottom of the tree.

Of which the years build up their larger mounds.
Pudenda’d down moss, “the smell of the heat is…”

Spectacle of Mrs. Erickson’s totem. Private parts.
Thread round desire like a crack through the cup.

Stare, stare — nothing there. Camp. Earth. House.
Poof! said the beak. Not a ripple. By a hair.
After years without publishing a new trade collection of poetry [see my earlier note on Fred Wah here] comes this new chapbook from Peter and Meredith Quartermain’s Nomados Press, Articulations (Vancouver BC: Nomados, 2007), as perhaps a teaser, a precursor to his forthcoming spring 2008 collection with Talonbooks, Sentenced to Light. Even before the more obvious focus of his collection (and ongoing series) Music at the Heart of Thinking (Red Deer AB: Red Deer College Press, 1987), Wah was working from and with a series of responses, whether to breath, other writing or, in his later ArtKnot” series [some are posted here], on specific works of visual art. Over the past few years, Wah has even collaborated with a filmmaker, and produced another chapbook All Americans (Calgary AB: housepress, 2002), that responds as a collaboration with visual artists. Included in the chapbook of seven poems, Wah writes:

All Americans is a text that was serialized for an installation called ‘Storybook Story’ curated by Luanne Martineau for the Art Gallery of Calgary 14 September - 11 November 2001. The text is meant to resonate with the weekly installments of three other writers involved in the same project (Skawennati Tricia Fragnito, Ahasiw Maskegon-Iskwew, and Rosemary Nixon). All of our texts were written in response to two panorama renderings of the Minnesota Massacre of 1862 from the Glenbow Museum's permanent collection. The first installment of our texts was due on Tuesday, September 11, 2001. I've used parts of their texts in my own, as well as some text from Snow Crash by Neal Stephanson.
As he writes in the back of the chapbook Articulations:

Articulations is a series of texts written for a collaborative project of paintings and textual transcreations. Calgary artist Bev Tosh and I intended an intertextual and generative dialogue that explores not only gesture and reading but also the textual surface of human figure, typed letter, and artifact. The original project, a series of fifty paintings, incorporates both installation and performance, elements utilized as extensions and repetitions in the making of conversational art.
It is almost as though, over the past decade or so, Wah has been more interested in pursuing this “conversational art,” writing pieces in dialogue with other artworks; as opposed, one could easily argue, with the “conversational art” he has been doing previously, writing in dialogue with himself, his family and his own history (such as in Diamond Grill, for example, or even Waiting for Saskatchewan). One could even say that his whole writing career has been one of “conversational art,” going back to responding to Pictograms from the Interior of B.C. (Vancouver BC: Talonbooks, 1975). In his new afterward to the recent tenth anniversary edition of Diamond Grill, "Re-Mixed: The Compound Composition of Diamond Grill," Wah writes:
In hindsight now, I sometimes think I can locate a tangible beginning for Diamond Grill. It was in a poem in a book of transcreations (Pictograms from the Interior of B.C., Talonbooks, 1975, p.16) of Indian rock paintings I worked on in the mid-70s.

September spawn
fish weirs everywhere
all through the narrows

Upstream, upstream

A feast for all of us
cousins and old friends
everybody dancing
like crazy, eh?

That word "transcreation" is from Coleridge (Literary Reminiscences [1839], IV, 166).

"Not the qualities merely, but the root of the qualities
is transcreated. How else could it be a birth, a creation?"

and that etymon, "trans-", becomes, also, like "cousin", a little burr, another little thorn, that has prodded the discourse of the hyphen for me since "betweenness" also frequently engages a "crossing over," a trans-creation, trans-lation, trans-port. The implications of such a term around notions of Diaspora, foreignicity, and multiculturalism are clear (see p.5, Yet Languageless, Mouth Always A Gauze, Words Locked). […]

After Pictograms, the bio started to demand more in my writing. As a long poem, Diamond Grill is really anchored in my next project after Pictograms, a collection of poems called Breathin' My Name With a Sigh (Talonbooks, 1981). This was a crucial writing project for me since, around 1979, finally, after twenty years of writing, I was able to confront my racialized past, albeit mostly as an address to my father's death fourteen years earlier. So that other RE, the more nebulous RE of regarding, starts to particularize my own name, Wah. What's that all about, I start to ask. Breathin' My Name With a Sigh opens with this poem:

I like the purity of all things seen
through the accumulation of thrust
forward especially the vehicle
container maybe/or "thing" called body
because time seems to be only it appears
to look into the green mountains valleys
or through them to the rivers & nutrient creeks
where was never the problem animal is
I still have a name "breathin' it
with a sigh"
Robert Kroetsch once said that literature is a conversation; does that make everything Wah has worked up to this point boiled down to a series of ongoing conversations, between himself and the world?
48. (leg to stand on)

the deal is this
normal arc

under the frozen earth

not worth
the digging

a month
in which to stay warm

phantom calisthenics
shadow eyes

calendar empty
the tumblers unlocked

a limb
to go out on

a leg
to stand

Saturday, February 23, 2008

house: a (tiny) memoir
I remember in the card and magazine store in the Brookdale Mall, small and separated from my mother, suddenly lost among the familiar figurines and comic book rack. How was I to know she was but one row over? I panicked, and turned into the mall, crying out, but couldn’t find her. Why was I so afraid? A quiet Saturday strip mall in a border town, doing our weekly groceries. I knew about safety, and talking to strangers. Eventually, a mall security guard found me, from the woman who found first and then passed me along, and took me back to his office, giving me some trinket in a vending machines plastic ball to keep me distracted, until my mother showed. Why did I panic so quickly, and so much? What is it about being lost, even in a place that was already so familiar? I knew everywhere I was, the entire time.

house: a (tiny) memoir

Friday, February 22, 2008

The Crow Journals
Saturday, March 9, 1974
Binghamton, New York

Last night, or this morning at 1p.m., Sheila phoned from Petaluma, California. Lee had a heart attack in the Santa Rosa airport, was dead upon arrival in the hospital. I was stunned, confused, half asleep, unable to give the sympathy that she expected of me. And in bed, alone, after, I remembered the death of my mother. I remembered the wake, the crowds of people arriving over muddy roads, the body in the coffin in my parents’ bedroom. And I remembered the men who came to my father and tried to tell him of the sorrow they felt: and even at the age of 13 I saw the failure of language, the faltering connection between those spoken words and what it was I knew my father felt, what I felt…Fell asleep, finally, and had a nightmare. I was in a dimly lit bedroom. My Aunt Annie came into the room, sat down on the floor, because she wanted to talk to me. And at times in our lives she did tell me things, for I would listen to her tales of family history. She was unable to read or write and had instead a memory that covered many decades. I was not wise enough to listen carefully or to write down what she had to say, and now it’s lost…But back to the dream. She sat down on the floor, old, small, and I bent over to hear her. And as I bent over someone, something, behind me, threw a stifling quilt over me from behind, closed it around me, down over my head. I woke out crying out loud and in dread.
Today I went into the Rutherford Library at the University of Alberta to drop off some books and pick up some other ones, and I walked out with a copy of Robert Kroetsch’s The Crow Journals (Edmonton AB: NeWest Press, 1980). It wasn’t either of the books I walked out for, forced to order off-campus a copy of George Morrissette’s Prairie Howl (it apparently has an introduction by Andrew Suknaski) and George Melnyk’s New Moon at Batoche: Reflections on the urban prairie. Kroetsch’s Journals have me thinking of my own, the train journal I wrote a few years back that I’ve included in the any-day-now subverting the lyric: essays (ECW Press), writing during a Toronto-Winnipeg-Edmonton-Vancouver reading tour, but only when I was actually on the train; is there anything further? Is it even worth pursuing?

I’ve toyed with journaling as well as working a diary for about twenty years now, but it’s something that has always managed to elude me. Is it strange to say I’ve been too busy writing? I’ve got notebooks with scribbles that go back to the late 1980s, odd little missives to myself about something or other, but the attention then fades. I will certainly be no Elizabeth Smart [see my recent note on her here], writing an hour a day of what was happening around her, much of which fell into the early drafts of what became By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept. Is it enough to simply write?

I’ve certainly got enough letters I’ve written over the years filling up filing cabinet space in Ottawa (I print out two copies of all outgoing letters, going on at least five or six years now), is there anything there? Is this worth even considering at all, or should I just leave it alone? How, one might ask, does a book become book? There are plans and then there are simple accidents, of sheer accumulation.

This is something I’ve been thinking about recently, working on a piece called “On Writing” that keeps working to answer the question, “Why write?” It always goes back to that same central question, I suppose. It was something Ted Bishop put as a bug in my ear about a month ago, that I should write a book about writing itself. A foolish idea, in more ways that not, because I’ve certainly got enough else to do, and I don’t feel as though I’ve written or published enough yet to be any kind of authority. Why write? Why, indeed.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Ottawa launch of rob mclennan's Ottawa: The Unknown City (Arsenal Pulp Press)
Saturday, March 15 (the author's birthday!) 2008
2pm at Nicholas Hoare Books, 419 Sussex Drive, Ottawa

from the Arsenal Pulp Press website:

Ottawa may be our capital city but it's also a place of contradictions―the official version offers numerous, beneficent historic sites, institutions, museums, and galleries, but there are other stories to be told. In this latest edition of Arsenal's Unknown City series of alternative city guides for both locals and tourists, Ottawa comes alive as a diverse, quirky town that may look like a government city on the surface but boasts a small-town charm. The book charts a course through the city's hidden landmarks, shopping, dining, and nightlife hot spots, as well as secret histories that will come as a surprise even to life-long locals.

Among the Unknown facts about Ottawa:
- A rumour persists that Queen Victoria chose Ottawa as Canada’s capital by playing pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey with a map of Canada
- When Oscar Wilde visited Ottawa in 1882, he met a young portrait painter named Frances Richards; she later moved to Europe and painted Wilde's portrait which allegedly became the inspiration for his novel The Picture of Dorian Gray
- In 1945, a clerk at the Soviet embassy in Ottawa defected, bringing along with him hard evidence of a Soviet spy ring in North America, making him a prime target for the KGB; his story became the basis of the 1948 film The Iron Curtain
- The Rideau Canal was officially named the "longest skating rink in the world" by the Guinness Book of World Records in 2005

Witty and urbane, this Unknown City book takes readers on a beguiling journey through Ottawa's past, present, and future, warts and all.

But you have to go; it's his birthday...

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

house: a (tiny) memoir

There was the Christmas we got the blue organ; my mother, like all of her siblings and most of my cousins, had taken piano lessons, but we hadn’t yet ours. I remember playing it, poking it. Turning it on and the hum through my fingers, invading my ears; the minute or two it took just to warm up. It sat in the corner of the living room a long time, and then quietly disappeared. Where did it go?

It was there and as suddenly, gone. Or did it linger for years catching dust, simply falling out of my recollection through months of disuse?

house: a (tiny) memoir

Monday, February 18, 2008

Edmonton on Location: River City Chronicles, edited by Heather Zwicker
As part of my wanting to know just what is going on around me, lately I’ve been reading Edmonton on Location: River City Chronicles, edited by Heather Zwicker (Edmonton AB: NeWest Press, 2005). Predominantly made up of engaging non-fiction pieces, part of what makes this collection is the sheer range of material, whether a piece on the Macdonald Hotel by Ted Bishop, poetry by Erin Knight [see my previous note on her here], Edmonton as “city of my groin” by Lynne Van Luven, the question of what a river is for by Myrna Kostash, and a north side story by Ian McGillis (who now lives in Montreal and runs the Montreal Review of Books).

prelude to a city

The first of the upturned stones, city
marker. The airport shuttle, Yellow cab & Remus’s
wife’s minivan carry visitors through the swollen Gateway;
they’ve heard that from the Edmonton International
you can see the curve of the earth.
A heeled rumour commutes Highway 2, merges
between CKUA’s pledge drive and the insulated furnace
of Ed’s new Explorer in the frosted AM rush: a theatre
with screens that’ll be as wide as the prairies,
seats like La-Z-Boy recliners, a royal
blue fortress borne by the flexed tricep of that empty
field off Ellerslie (it’s true—those seats will be to die for). (Erin Knight)
There is an awful lot of history in this town, including a section of the city that has evidence of human activity going back eight thousand years, making it the earliest evidence of such in the province. As Michael Phair writes in the introduction, “Chronicles uncovers little-known facts as well as personal memories of this multi-layered city called Edmonton. For example, although I have been told about the former Club 70, the first bar for “our kind” in Edmonton, Brenda Mann’s “Places of Refuge” is a personal memoir that poignantly recalls how this refuge, the Club 70 bar, was for her both a place of safety that she savoured yet also a painful reminder of the necessity of living two lives in Edmonton thirty years ago.” (Although it does seem odd that Phair writes this last sentence as though I know everything about him, already, and his “kind.”)

It’s difficult to imagine now, how geographically confined was the life I led in Edmonton in the early ‘80s. I had no car, but then, who needed to cross the High Level Bridge to investigate the fleshpots of downtown Edmonton or to check out the Stroll on 97th Street? Even though West Edmonton Mall, in its embryo form of only 220 stores, had opened its doors for the first time in September 1981, it was at least two city bus rides away. Besides, I didn’t have the money for such glitzy temptations. We had our own commercial and cultural hub along Whyte Avenue and environs: Greenwoods’ Bookshoppe for all the crisp new volumes we could salivate over but not afford to buy; the Garneau Theatre for the movies we needed to argue over; the Highlevel Diner for Sunday brunches and late-night coffees; the Strathcona Hotel for a chance to drink cheap beer and gawk at bikers on Saturday afternoons; Zoryana’s for that new second-hand outfit to lift our spirits. The Whyte Avenue of yore seems more diverse and interesting than today’s version, even though it had fewer bars and a less rowdy night life—or is that just my memory, romanticizing events? Only rarely did we venture south or north or west to the shopping malls and assorted emporiums of greed and distraction. We had our own snug world, thank you, our own Groinich Village. (Lynne Van Luwen, “City of My Groin”)
This is exactly the kind of book that any publisher truly engaged with the community around them should be making, and there are publishers such as Vancouver’s Arsenal Pulp Press, Montreal’s Vehicule Press and Winnipeg’s Turnstone Press have been doing for years, as well as the (now 35 year old) NeWest Press. One of the more outstanding pieces in the collection has to be Naomi McIlwraith’s impassioned “Why is Squaw Such a Bad Word?,” based upon her experiences as being a “historical interpreter at Ford Edmonton Park.”

According to American Indian theorist and activist Ward Churchill, the word “squaw” arose from the inability of European men, in New England, to say the word “sunksquaw” in the Narragansett language. They corrupted it to “squaw.” I described the similarity between the Cree word for woman, “iskwew,” and the word squaw. For Cree, like Narragansett, is an Algonquin language. In my personal research to enhance my work as a historical interpreter, I have read a number of inspiring books on Native—White relations and women’s economic roles in the fur trade, including Ward Churchill’s book A Little Matter of Genocide: Holocaust and Denial in the Americas, 1492 to the Present (1998), Sylvia Van Kirk’s Many Tender Ties: Women in Fur Trade Society, 1670-1870 (1981), and Jennifer Brown’s Strangers in Blood: Fur Trade Company Families in Indian Country (1980). Until very recently the chronicle of my maternal ancestors has been neglected, and my own understanding of this vital social history necessitates such scholarly investigation.
She continues, writing “Sometimes we act in ignorance of what a word means, ignorance meaning both ‘unknowing’ and ‘demeaning.’” Something I’ve noticed about this city is just how much it has in common with Ottawa (a working-class town and a government town) in terms of a kind of self-dismissal, and just how little outsiders know of what happens within its borders (and just how little they want to know). The big difference for Edmonton is in just how many books are produced about the area (I am trying to correct this for my own city, with, among other things, the newly-published Ottawa: The Unknown City), and just how many references there are to the city. As Robert Kroetsch said to Margaret Lawrence in “A Conversation” from Trace: Prairie Writers on Writing (Winnipeg MB: Turnstone Press, 1986), “In a sense, we haven’t got a real identity until somebody tells our story.” Or, as Aritha van Herk wrote in A Frozen Tongue (Sydney NSW: Dangaroo Press, 1992):

I lived in a small flat near the University of Alberta in Edmonton. It is important to understand that Edmonton is a city of landscape, divided by the North Saskatchewan river into two halves. The river is large, and in a geographical sense, it is recent: the valley that it traces through is narrow and steep, almost cliff-like. This physical fact necessitates several bridges that reach, not just across the river, but from one side of the valley to the other. The oldest and most impressive of these is the High Level Bridge, a narrow lack lattice that is both aloof and sinister, a landmark that hangs above the valley like a sign. It is the bridge that suicides jump from, it connects the city’s dueling halves of commerce and learning. Although I lived almost on top of it, I never thought of it, that black bridge. We looked at it, made love under it, even dared, drunk of course, to cross its upper tier over open railway ties. But I never thought about it. Until The Studhorse Man.

The Studhorse Man is unquestionably one of the finest picaresque novels ever written. It is no accident that I have written a picaresque novel, or that Robert Kroetsch and I grew up not twenty-three kilometres from each other, across the Battle River, but that does not matter. Then I had written nothing. What does matter is that The Studhorse Man takes place in Alberta, in Edmonton, and in one insane scene, the hero, Hazard Lepage, chases a thousand horses through a howling prairie blizzard and across the High Level bridge. It is an hilarious scene because the horse stampede wrecks havoc with an already snow-bound city; it is written to make the reader choke with laughter.

But I did not laugh. I walked to the window of my cheap flat and I looked out and I saw the same bridge that had just been drawn in black ink on the page in the book I still held in my hand. I stared at it for a long time, holding that paperback book and not daring to blink for fear somewhere would vanish. Someone had dared to write about a place I knew, about me. I finally had a map.
This is Edmonton telling its own story, which can only add to the same of anyone else who comes from this town, or currently lives here. As editor Zwicker writes in her own “Afterword”:

Our conversations are not uncontentious, and there is no single voice for these multiple perspectives. Taken together, the contributions offer a montage of images by turns jarring, moving, comforting, familiar, titillating, amusing, and startling. Above all, the pieces here resoundingly insist that as long as we continue to experience the city viscerally, we cannot die.
For anyone interested in learning Edmonton, another recent book I would recommend is the massive Edmonton: In Our Own Words by Linda Goyette and Carolina Jakeway Roemmich (Edmonton AB: University of Alberta Press, 2004).

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Suspended: A Short Thesis in Seven Parts by Kate Hall
From Jason Dewinetz’ greenboathouse books, comes its second-last chapbook publication, former Montreal poet Kate Hall’s Suspended: A Short Thesis in Seven Parts. For a number of years now, Dewinetz, author of a few chapbooks and a trade poetry collection himself, has been producing enviable chapbooks through his small press, but has decided to take a break, producing this lovely volume in an edition of one hundred, and the forthcoming Woods / Pages by Toronto poet Jay MillAr [see his 12 or 20 questions here] before he closes the whole enterprise down (with rumours of another whole project to begin a year later). A former editor/manager for the Montreal chapbook publisher Delirium Press (when she was still a student at Concordia University), Hall is a poet currently living in France, where she teaches at Quai D'Orsay Language Center. I like the intelligence and play at work in Hall’s seven part thesis, and this poem is easily the finest of what little I’ve seen of Hall’s poetry over the years, a clever and sharp sequence made of densely-packed lyrics.


Bats basically scream
until they hear their voices
echo off bugs and trees. Then they know
where they are and exactly what and how large
the thing they are hunting. If we had
a precise stopwatch we could tell
how far it is to the other side.
In the middle of the night even my own
breath sounds loud. I’m not an expert
in echolocation so I just open the fridge
and use the little light. I ate an entire jar
of chipotle-lime mustard. Half asleep,
I’m not sure why. According to a health pamphlet,
asking questions is a roadblock
to real communication. Dennett says
we’ll do whatever it takes
to assuage epistemic hunger
My findings are inconclusive.
Yesterday I yelled at myself and
nothing came back at all.
You have to admire any poem that includes the line “Skeptics do not believe / we can prove we are not dreaming, / but they are very glad for the existence of / anti-psychotics.” and “Narcissus fell into himself because of / light rays and surface tension.” You have to admire any poem that ends on the heartbreaking “I didn’t want to know / that you could add up so many things / and have them equal so few.” Hall’s Suspended is almost a poem in the fashion of others like Juliana Spahr [see her 12 or 20 questions here] or Lisa Jarnot, working the direct statement and series of powerful, single lines that accumulate into something layered and much larger, except Hall packs her sentences together, making them flow more easily than a simple visual leap over leap over leap.


We’ll begin in a vacuum with
artificial tools. We’ll assume the big bang was
the origin of the universe and there was
nothing before it. Nothing will be
a substance to suspend years of facts.
A game show will turn into a sparkly thought experiment.
People are running around behind the set but
god knows what they’re doing.
Faced with three identical doors, you choose.
The hypothetical host shows you one of the losing doors.
You have to decide whether to change
remaining doors mid-game. The mysteries are in need of
continual rephrasing. After seeing a loss,
change is always a good idea; it improves
your odds.
There’s a lot in this poem, and a lot more to admire about it. According to her bio on the greenboathouse books website, she’s working on her second poetry manuscript; does that mean we might be close to seeing the publication of her first? I anxiously await.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

ongoing notes: mid-February, 2008

Did you see these photos I just posted by Douglas Barbour, of the last Olive Reading? Will we see you at the next Edmonton Factory (West) or the next Ottawa Factory? Have you been seeing the attention our little John Newlove selected has been getting here, here, here and here (check out the Chaudiere Books blog for further Newlove, etcetera, updates...)? Did you see that The Antigonish Review has finally posted that Patrick Friesen review I wrote?

I've got some readings happening soon, working on an Ottawa launch for Ottawa: The Unknown City in mid-March, working on an Ottawa launch for subverting the lyric: essays for April 17th as part of the ottawa international writers festival; I might just also be reading in Edmonton (with Jordan Scott), Regina (launching the John Newlove selected there as well), Saskatoon, Grand Prairie, Prince George, Lethbridge and Calgary as well, over the next month or two; watch for details...

Calgary AB: One thing I picked up recently in Calgary was Natalie Zina Walschots’ [see my review of her Thumbscrews here] magnificent little chapbook Villains (Calgary AB: No Press #50, 2008), writing little poems on various Marvel and DC super-villains, including Dr. Doom, the Joker, Lex Luthor, Magneto and Ra’s Al Ghul (remember him from Batman Begins?). I love the poems in this little chap, and wonder if she’s got more to go in this series?


the plate in my head fields fate
pluck the fillings from my teeth
pull the metal from my head
strip mine me bare


proven mettle
every file
every lodged piece of shrapnel
draws me like dowsing

manipulate my polarity
stern vector
force slams spine to ramrod
like the lodestone on my stomach

bristling static
hair wire
shearing force stop pacemakers, shreds peace
every electron cocksure on fire


it’s for protection
plastic foils you
but eyes are emeraldine
and answer

whisper with arcs
of organic polymers
panic free radicals
air stable

articulate shock
charge transfer
fully conjugated backbone
hum biocompatible
It’s not that often that “writers” will admit to being fans of the “funny books” (although you would get very different answers from, say, Andy Weaver, Thomas Wharton and various others), no matter how smart they might be written or anything like that; these are wonderful, clever and interesting poems, and I hope to see more of them.

San Francisco CA: I recently got a copy of Small Town XII that I’m in, along with Arielle Guy, Michael Slosek, Robin Demers, Carrie Hunter, kathryn l. pringle, John Sakkis, Dorothea Lasky and Brandon Brown, edited by Logan Ryan Smith [see his 12 or 20 questions here]. Subtitled “the comeback issue,” the light blue cover, strangely, goes quite nicely with the pink pages inside (or does it?). I’m still going (slowly) through this issue, but I’m quite taken by a number of the pieces here, including those of Michael Slosek, which have some very nice moments scattered through:
Advice from Station One

Everything you once knew is gone
as if the space between your shoulders were made for something else.

To pass through the desert
on the heels of the sun, whose job
was to percolate black flowers

Once death comes

Don’t speak toward the house of God
when they translate “yellow” as “young”

Only the amulets you tie
will have seven arms
And if you haven’t picked up Dorothea Lasky’s first poetry collection, Awe, you really don’t know what you’re missing; at least with some poems in this issue by her, you can get a small sense of her work, and just how good it is:

Death of (no Life of) the Human
for Juliana Spahr

We are all here together
Insecure or not
It is our party
To play in
They are our hearts to mention
The world would not exist without us, o us!
I feel connected to everyone (everything) with lungs
The green springs of the air we breathe in
Are spongy and delightful
And I am not a racist
Nor am I not a facist
I am not anything as much as I am nothing
Floating so floatily in the mid-Spring air
The white wind touching my wrists and ankles
And everything loving me, o that I exist
And breathe in this air
There would be no air to breathe
Without us to breathe it (Dorothea Lasky)
Madison WI: The first issue of Cannot Exist recently came at me from the American Midwest, edited by Andy Gricevich, with poetry by Rick Burkhardt, Arielle Guy (there’s that name again…), Rob Halpern, Roberto Harrison, Lisa Jarnot, Kent Johnson, Laura Sims and Rodrigo Toscano. With so much strong work in this chapbook-sized magazine, it’s hard to pick out highlights, but Kent Johnson has quite an interesting piece at the end of the issue:
To John Bradley

after Tu Fu’s “To Pi Su Yao”

It’s hard to know if we have talent. Here and there, a drunken
grad student expresses admiration. It’s pathetic, really: our cars
are junk, missing half their hubcaps; in the place on our vitas
where the “prizes” should go–about the same number as the hubcaps.
The wheels start to fall off: beer bellied, flatulent, we’ve become
the objects, from afar, of our children’s disdain. Twenty years beyond
the prime of life, inadequately covered, we buy Viagra with our overtime pay.
Who gives a fuck about either of us or our elected tribulations?
We’ve been reduced, here, at Sullivan’s Tavern, to our own audience.
Though the workers from the tannery stare at us with contempt,
we appreciate each others’ poetic merits. Our poems will be completely
forgotten, rot in the landfill of oblivion. With wry smiles and toasts
to the ancient ones, we console each other:

In that common, mass grave, we shall never be alone.
Another highlight is New York poet Lisa Jarnot [see an earlier note I wrote on her here], author of that perpetually-forthcoming biography (said to be out this year with the University of California Press; various excerpts published in journals over the past two years make it look spectacular) of the late poet Robert Duncan:

Someone else’s room is the tomb
of god. Plain English, Gilded Dragons,
and Japanese prints. Drop me in this
alcove out of the sky. The cruising
altitude is 37,000 feet. The room
belongs to William Dalrymple
or Audie Maurois. Titian is watching,
I, an American heretic,
to grease the break of day.
For further information, contact Andy Gricevich at 3417 Stevens Street, Madison WI 53705 or via email at

Calgary AB: The grad student journal at the University of Calgary, NōD, really wants you to pay attention [see my review of previous issues here]; with issue #7, they are getting far better at production, but play themselves as avant and even wacky by producing the issue’s pages in reverse order (how crazy is that?). It’s one of those things that manages to be fun and annoying all at the same time, and the issue features work by a whole slew of people, including derek beaulieu, Angela Carr, Louise Bak, Sean Moreland, Jesse Patrick Ferguson, Helen Hajnoczky, Judy Lin, Jonathan Ball and ross priddle.

The Poets

It seems as if the poets will never shut up. Now
they have begun to scream off their balconies.

They all seem to have balconies. You used to pass them
on the street and never know. Those days are gone now.

These days, they say that nothing we do is boring.
Everything resonates with layers of meaning.

We are sick of meaning. We want to watch reality
shows and eat TV dinners in peace.

Damn these poets. For all of their talk,
they do not understand. There was a time

we looked up to them, when we sang
their songs, read their words, loved them

and built statues to honour their passing.
Those days are gone now. (Jonathan Ball)
One neat piece in the collection is Edmonton poet and University of Alberta student Judy Lin’s piece “Marble Soda Haibun” (link to what a haibun is, and to what a haibun is), especially knowing that the same piece came out of a recent class she took with Christine Stewart [see her 12 or 20 questions here; see my note here on Stewart’s class’ reading last fall that Judy Lin took part of].
Marble Soda Haibun

In Taiwan the sun sets at five, clockwork, and then suddenly the street that was dim and vacant lights up in a row of bulbs hanging off vendor stalls. This stretch, this city runway waiting for the contents of Kaohsiung’s apartments to descend, to empty themselves into: Xinjyuejiang. There are fried dumplings being flipped on the grill alongside corncobs on a stick, sweet tofu being ladled into white plastic cups. Look pig’s heart soup, fried chicken, okonmiyaki, hot grass jelly and bubble tea. Food everywhere, people everywhere, you used to rub your shoulders against those
grownups, so much taller than you.

Once, you were separated from your family in the crowd, released your mother’s hand for an instant and then she was gone. There were so many people, the smell of sweat and food intermingled, made you nauseous. The woman who stood beside a steel ice bucket handed you a bottle of marble soda, the twisted green glass with the wet, soggy label. It was so cold in your palms. You passed it from one hand to another, the curve of the bottle and the sharpness of the cold. She told you stay here and you waited, popped the marble that blocked the mouth of the bottle into the drink with the straw and sipped the soda that left a stinging sensation on your tongue. Citrus. Your mother showed up a few minutes later, hysterical, thanked the woman over and over again while you rubbed your leg with the edge of your pink sandal, a marble in your hand, and you remember how it felt between your fingers, no edges.

what was left of this
in the morning – a puddle,
a handful of marbles.
Another highlight to the issue is seeing more visual pieces by Fredericton (formerly Ottawa) poet Jesse Patrick Ferguson (when did the “Patrick” appear in there?); over the past few years, he’s been producing some really interesting visual pieces in various places, including as chapbooks with No Press and above/ground press, and in journals around Canada (including The Peter F. Yacht Club). Perhaps he has a books-worth of material in there, by now?

For further information, or submission/subscription information, contact them at

St. John’s NL: If you’ve seen his ditch: the poetry that matters, you probably already know just a little bit about east coast poet/publisher John C. Goodman, who, it seems, just appeared in the world as the mysterious creator of a poetry website that manages to not only be aware of some interesting writing, but some interesting interviews, essays and other links about North American poetry. Lately, he’s taken to producing chapbooks under the Trainwreck Press imprint, including his own hard (St. John’s NL: Trainwreck Press, 2008). He might not be “breaking new ground” in this small, elegantly-produced chapbook, but he certainly knows where that new ground might be; with the kinds of works he’s interested in on that website, I’m willing to give him the benefit of doubt for now, and keep an eye on where his poetry is going.

Stay down

Stay down gently .
inthe lip of eye .
night words .
soften hours .
more thana lullaby .
the sparrow sings .
at daybreak .

Lie inthe fold .
of darkness .
soft reassurance .
inthe hours .
until daybreak .
inthe deep sighing .
of darkness .
inthe crease .
of thigh .

Friday, February 15, 2008

12 or 20 questions: with Daphne Marlatt

West Coast writer Daphne Marlatt has written over twenty books of poetry, fiction and essays, notably the poetry collections This Tremor Love Is, Salvage, Touch to my Tongue, and Steveston, and the novels Ana Historic and Taken. She has worked as an aural historian and as an editor for a number of little magazines, including the feminist journal Tessera, which she co-founded. Spring 2006 saw full production by Pangaea Arts of The Gull, her contemporary Noh play about Steveston’s Japanese-Canadian fishing community. In early 2007 she was the Markin-Flanagan Distinguished Visiting Writer at the University of Calgary and has just completed a fall Writer-in-Residence position at McMaster University. This spring (2008) she will be launching her new long poem The Given from McClelland and Stewart.

1 - How did your first book change your life?

i can't say its publication changed my life in any drastic way (it was after all only an odd title by a very young woman poet), but the editing/rewriting of that manuscript taught me a lot. looking back on Frames of a Story, i think it signalled a recurring genre blur in my future writing, though i didn't know that then. when Earle Toppings at Ryerson told me that my ms. of short prose pieces in a sort of minimal narrative spinning off the Anderson fairy tale, The Snow Queen, was too poetic and would work better if some of it was broken into lines, i discovered that i couldn't just break prose into lines that would work as poems. i had to rewrite them. i also discovered that whereas conversational tone and momentum (the rhythms of longer phrases) seemed to me what prose was about, image stilled in a moment, even a musical moment, demanded a much closer attention to each word so my lines tended to be short. prose stretched, poetry contracted. how to put these two together has pretty much obsessed me since.

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 don’t see how geography could fail to impact on my writing, living here in this city I always return to. despite its rapidly increasing density, its blind of highrises, Vancouver is still overwhelmed by its terrain – mountains, sea & river arms, & yes, its coastal rains. Of course gender impacts on my work, & has almost from the beginning. I’ve written about this so often I’m not going to repeat myself. Just curious about why you pair gender and geography, aside from both starting with soft g’s?

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?

Both. (& I’m not answering these in order.) Sometimes a poem calls out for a return to that ground & so begins a sequence. Sometimes a book calls out for further exploration of its territory – as Ana Historic called Taken into being & Taken called The Given into being.

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

They’re very much part of the process because I find giving a reading involves listening to how the piece crosses that physical gap between the audience & me. This tells me where the writing goes flat, loses its verbal tension. It often shows me what can be cut or what needs further teasing out. Often I don’t have the opportunity to do this with a work before it’s published, which is why I was very happy to have the chance to read the whole of a slightly earlier version of The Given to people in the creative writing program at the U. of Calgary a year ago. It’s such a generous thing for people to do, agree to sit for a couple of hours or more (with breaks of course) to hear a whole manuscript.

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?

I’ve had both language and feminist concerns behind a lot of my writing, as Readings from the Labyrinth demonstrated. Given the rapidly increasing environmental crisis we’re all facing, these seem to have morphed into the urgent concern: how to live in a way that respects the infinitely complex living networks (all species networks, not just human) that we are part of. language, as a verbal network, reflects to a certain extent the complexity of this undertaking. how break the bias of a solo-centric point of view to admit some of the multitude of other co-existent points of view? how speak or even listen with care within our cultural cacophony that over-rides silence & all its resonances?

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

Despite early possessiveness about “my” work (& the work is never one’s alone) I’ve found it very helpful to have an outside take. I started out in writers’ groups where there was a lot of active response. My first experience with a professional editor was with Earle Toppings at Ryerson who worked closely with me, and then at Coach House, where other writers voluntarily worked as editors, I was lucky to have both Michael Ondaatje & bp Nichol. Karl Siegler at Talonbooks has given me useful critical response. And at Anansi, I was fortunate to have Martha Sharpe and now at M&S Anita Chong. For both Taken and The Given there has been the close eye of Stan Dragland [see his 12 or 20 questions here]. So I’ve been blessed with good editors as well as with a handful of deeply appreciated writing friends who have given me their individual responses to a manuscript.

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

Harder. There’s the not wanting to repeat myself and so a setting of formal hurdles higher & higher. There’s the constantly evolving public critical dialogue that plays a part in what I write, sometimes generatively, sometimes negatively. And, quite simply, everything, even writing, seems to take longer with aging. Perhaps it’s that I want to go deeper against the cultural surface rush -- I’d like to think so.

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

This morning as most mornings. I love their range of colours – red, green, yellow, brown -- their elegant shapes, the European provenance of their names – Anjou, Bosc, Bartlett, Comice -- & then the Asian pears, crisper than apples. I love the surprising juice of such firm flesh.

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

Roy Kiyooka’s “You write what you are given to write.”

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

Musically, prose & poetry feel different – longer syntactic possibilities in prose, longer rhythmic waves. And then in fiction the larger patterns of character & narrative movement, the appeal of dialogue & speaking voice in tension with other speaking voices.

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 wish I had typical days. Much as I try to start work in the morning, life demands interrupt. I live with my partner & our dog & cat. We have extended family & the complexities of those inter-relationships. I belong actively to at least 2 different communities, a writing one & a Buddhist one, not to mention my urban neighbourhood which, unusually for the inner city, has a strong sense of neighbourliness. Nevertheless, I try to start work sometime in the morning & go into the afternoon. E-mail, through which all writing business is conducted these days, is definitely a time-sponge.

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

Meditation. Walking the dog. Going for a swim. Early morning bouts of insomnia which often bring ideas.

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

I’ll leave that to the critics.

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?

Well, of course.

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

This changes, as everything changes, depending on what I’m currently working on. While I was writing my Noh play, I read other Noh plays in English as well as haiku and Dogen. But when I’m writing poetry I’m often reading novels. When I’m working on narrative, I read both novels & poetry as well as a lot of nonfiction, depending on what I’m researching for the narrative. Writers I’ve returned to again and again over the years, those who have preceded me & taught me by example, have been Virginia Woolf, HD, Gertrude Stein, Dorothy Richardson, Marguerite Duras, William Carlos Williams, Robert Duncan & Robin Blaser. Then there are those of my contemporaries whose work I follow with great interest, but this list would get too long to mention all of them.

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

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 you not been a writer?

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

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

20 - What are you currently working on?

12 or 20 questions archive

Thursday, February 14, 2008

house: a (tiny) memoir
The girl next door and I would often climb up a tree and onto the roof of one of the sheds when we were around ten. My father would always yell at us to get off the sloping hot tin. I wonder if this is why he tore the shed down?

When he finally went in to clean it out, he found, under the layers of planks, a number of rusted horseshoes, metal milk cans, and various buckets and spigots, left over from his father’s sugar bush operation. There is a small rise in the bush once a mound of rotting wood once a sugar shack, gone well before I arrived, and my grandfather would produce maple syrup.

In the days still my father ate a bowl of syrup with a slice of bread to mop it.

The year I was thirteen, my father cleaning out the shed later took me days out to the bush, tapping trees and collecting the sap as it ran, between the beginning of warm weather and the end of the snow. When he boiled the pot on the stove, it needed to boil two-thirds or more out to syrup, and the steam kept setting off the smoke detector in the downstairs hall.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

12 or 20 questions: with Dorothy Trujillo Lusk

Dorothy Trujillo Lusk's books and chapbooks include Oral Tragedy (Tsunami Editions), Redactive (Talonbooks), Volume Delays (Sprang Texts), Sleek Vinyl Drill (Thuja) and Ogress Oblige (Krupskaya).

1 - How did your first book change your life?

Completely, in that I now had an identity not appended to father, husband, boyfriend or gay male best friend and that it could be verified by reading the cover and body of the book. I had been one of those disposable young women of weak social and class position that are there on sufferance and are casually punted off the field.

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?

a) Since I was twenty-one with a 2½ year hiatus in Italy, Berlin and Hogtown, then nine months in Fort Saint John. I had lived in Victoria the year before moving to Vancouver and had spent my year of Grade 10 out in the Fraser Valley. I was born in the Ottawa Valley (Deep River), lived on the Quebec side of the river (where my father was from) for a few years, thence to Ottawa. My forefather had been a Presbyterian minister who came over from Ireland in 1820. Rob Manery tells me that Luskville is now a dragstrip. My mother’s maternal family came north to Chatham, Ontario from the States and apart from a day trip out with Alex Varty and Kevin Davies to explore the Elora Gorge, I’ve never had the chance to visit the area. It’s definitely in my imagination and my heart’s eye. I greatly admire writers such as James Lee Burke and Peter Culley who can write such atmospheric peculiarity but although I can recognize it, I can’t seem to produce it but in teeny spurts. I have a visual overview of real places in my mind at all times, moving, as though I am flying. The Lower Mainland of British Columbia, the Gatineau Parkway, camp Fortune, Old Chelsea, hills somewhere around Renfrew, the highway west of Toronto, the Elora Gorge, my Uncle Ira’s house below the forest fire tower in Parry Sound—it’s pretty continuous, all these real places. I tried to write about my immediate neighbourhood, False Creek South, for Jacqueline Turner’s and Meredith Quartermain’s The News, but I couldn’t seem to get very far, in the sense of a sustained composition. The first book was riddled with gnomic elisions of geographical specificity. I got less gnomic.

b) Yes, in working with emotional reality; subjectivities and power; exclusion and politically biased gatekeeping strategies.

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?

Earlier on, poems emerged somewhat compact and discrete. I shifted into continuing in the same concentration at a longer stretch. I now make scads of notes, sporadically, and my partner, Aaron Vidaver, nags and goads me towards realization of poems and books including my last one, Ogress Oblige. So book from the start composed of edited bits.

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

Hearing other people read is a good spur. One can become invigourated and find more points of departure and connection. Lee Ann Brown writes at other people’s readings. When she did it at my first reading in New York, my feelings were crushed but she told me years later that she does it a lot and wanted to give writer’s workshops on writing at readings. As well, I rely on my listeners and readers to be friends who don’t let friends publish that which sucks and reading aloud before an audience can show that which needs further work.

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?

Read theory. A lot. Not behind. Within. I’m the one with the questions rather than answers. My writing is a complex of interrogation and assertion not resolution. I don’t even think I have any idea what the current questions are.

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

Fiction writers have a harder time holding their ground with editors than do poets. Newspaper writers get it in the neck. Douglas Coupland has said that editors are there to remove any trace of character or personality from newspaper journalism but that they foster it in magazine writing. Editors hired by publishers to put the book together can sometimes distort the shape of the work from how the poet will have imagined it. Most small poetry magazines don’t try to edit at all, in my experience, and if you want editorial help they are reluctant to give it, as I’ve found also to be the case with art criticism. I’ve been chastened by another writer with whom I was working collectively, for even suggesting that a mutual friend’s work was not quite yet ready and that friends don’t let friends publish prematurely. She told me she would never presume to tell another writer how to write but I find that I need others to read my work and am very grateful for their attention. Having said that, I have also had portions of work excised because the editor did not share an interest in a particular theoretical analysis and thereby found the vocabulary and construct uninteresting and detracting from the way the piece could be read, in his view. One can be easily bamboozled or made meek when in the (as perceived) vulnerable position of pre-published, yes, but pigheadedness is not either any great virtue.

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

Totally easier, in terms of not being so overly attached or over identified with the writing and the book. It also helps that I have a partner who is of tremendous intelligence and discernment and knowledge of the book making process.

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

Roger Farr made a lovely vegan supper for us last month including a crisp pear in the salad.

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

“Be like the great men: smoke many cigarettes.” Charles Olson to Black Mountain painting not writing student Paul Alexander.

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?

I no longer have any sort of work routine. I write when I can. Everything changed with parenthood, necessarily. Before this, I would write through the night when getting back from my job as a photo-conceptualist’s studio assistant or being out at openings and art bars. The writing helped me process the art natter out of my psyche. Or any of the material of my life that was outraging me or giving me ongoing vexation. I especially enjoyed getting up early, before having any external language interactions and getting in a few hours of close and rapidly concentrated work.

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

Read a lot. Read a lot out loud.

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

It feels, and I think it reads, as less interwoven and less emotionally cathartic.

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. Instrumental—never vocal—music unless I want verbatim chunks making up building blocks of the poem, which at times I have done.

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

Wonderful Margaret Avison just died. I’ve been off my reading game for several years of family crisis so there is a backlog of books to read and books that I don’t even know have been written yet from many of the writers that have been important to me earlier on. Within my immediate social frame are Melissa Wolsak, Aaron Vidaver, Roger Farr, Maxine Gadd [see her 12 or 20 questions here] and Reg Johanson. So I have close at hand access to their work. I have to wait for Peter Culley’s books the same as everyone else now but his work is of immeasurable importance to me, as is Ken Belford’s and Kevin Davies’. Rita Wong has a new book out and Maxine Gadd has another coming out from New Star. I’m greatly looking forward to (Winnipeg writer) Colin Smith’s upcoming book from Krupskaya. Fiction writers Pete Hautman and Phil Rickman. Chris Turnbull’s work that I get to see when she sends off care packages to Aaron. Louis Cabri. Judith Goldman’s terrific recent book Deathstar/ricochet. Marie Annharte Baker is back in Winnipeg but we talk about writing among other things at least every week.

15 - What would you like to do that you haven’t yet done?


16 - 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?

Bicycle repairwoman. Or, alternately, history scholar. In my ignorance, I thought the life of a student was monastic and unhectored. I would never have succeeded in the modern academy.

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

I second guessed my sketchbook notes at art school into what I unlaughingly called immaculate conceptualism. I theorized the life and possibility out of every single idea that could have become art. From this disappointment came the apprehension of language’s supple polyvalency and the ability to interrogate that which remained restrictive in visual/conceptual art.

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

Colin’s Big Thing by Bruce Serafin. Billy Elliott on late night broadcast.

19 - What are you currently working on?

Short pieces in a pidgin of Latin, Old English and modern Occidental-ish that I make up and forget as I go along. See the inaugural issue of PARSER, the second issue of Model Homes, the next issue of ottawater and another chapbook this spring from Thuja Books called Volume Delays II. All of these pieces are part of DECORUM.

12 or 20 questions archive