Monday, March 31, 2008

YOU NEED TO PURCHASE BOOKS NOW FROM jwcurry, part two (part one here)

[photo from the last ottawa small press book fair]

Called “the best concrete and visual poet in Canada” as well as the third largest collector of small (& micro) press in Canada, Ottawa writer/editor/publisher/bookseller jwcurry is going through financial straits, so I am posting this list of some (selected) items you can purchase directly from his Room 302 Books; other items available by various writers such as Stuart Ross, bpNichol, Frank Zappa, Nicholas Power, Peggy Lefler, Nelson Ball, David UU, Daniel f. Bradley, Mark Laba, Lillian Necakov [see her 12 or 20 questions here], Steven Smith [see his 12 or 20 questions here], Laurie Fuhr, William Hawkins, Steve McCaffery, issues of Open Letter, The Berkeley Horse and others; check with curry directly for other lists, titles, etcetera. If you want to know more about some of jwcurry’s publications, check out the piece I wrote on him in Open Letter (or wait a few weeks for the same piece to run in my collection of literary essays); he’s an indispensable resource that isn’t taken advantage of nearly enough. Items run from into the hundreds of dollars to mere a penny; annual subscriptions available.

this list selected from 1 of 3 different catalogues (more to come later):

from list #10A, jwcurry, separate publications

139. JENNIFER BOOKS LTD. Ottawa, privately published, spring95. perhaps as many as 10 copies? 8 ½ x 6, photocopy broadside. a photograph by Stan Bevington retouched by Curry. $5.00
142. LAND IS DOWN. Toronto, Curvd H&, 8apr89 (Curvd H&z #394) 1/75 copies #d & signed. 28 pp/13 printed, rubberstamp. 5 ½ x 3, sewn wrappers. serial concrete & poetry. $125.00
149. (editor) LOG. Catalog Of The Travelling Exhivition 5 November 1994 - ?. 3rd edition, revised. Toronto, Room 302 Books, 10feb95. 1/26 lettered copies. 72 pp/66 printed, photocopy w/ 1 colour photocopy p, 2 rubberstamp, in rubberstamp cover unique to each. 8 ½ x 11, Japanese-sewn card covers w/ shaped colour photograph bound to cover & tucked in photocorners. photography. the contributors are Jennifer Books, Curry, Lance LaRocque, Gustave Morin, Brian Sale, Gio.Sampogna, Kim Thompson. documentation of the ongoing caboose project (all photographs “of or from cabeese” mounted in collage in further such cars), w/ lots of portraiture of the photographers, as well as of Nicky Drumbolis, Chris Kubsch & Pete Tibando. $45.00
151. logical sequence 7: a brief statement on a possibility of a planetary alignment. Toronto, Curvd H&z, 8mar80 (Curvd H&z #51. Pomez A Penny #31. Th Wrecking Ballzark #15) 1/50 copies. 4 pp/3 printed, rubberstamp w/ holograph addition interior. 2 ¾ x 3 1/2 , leaflet. a concrete poem. $5.00
156. (w/ Peggy Lefler) “ metro “. Oakland, Score, nov84 (Scorebroadsides #F) 1/100 copies. 8 ½ x 11, offset broadside. a concrete poem. preceded by its appearance as a poem by Lefler on a broadside in her Different Tenses &, w/ the addition of Curry’s pattern superimposition, as a street poster for – made from an overrun of covers to – David UU’s METROPOLIS. this 3rd edition considerably revises the form of the poem. minorly creased. $10.00
159. Moebuis & A Bottle. Vancouver, Blewointmentpress, 1977. 1/500 copies. 40 pp/32 printed, mimeo in offset cover. 5 ½ x 8 1/2 , stapled wrappers. poetry, w/ 2 graphics by Allan Rosen. $5.00
178. Peggy Lefler : exhibitionist. Toronto, Room 302 Book, 1dec93 (List #9) 1/127 trade copies. 20 pp printed, photocopy. 5 ½ x 8 ½, sewn wrappers. bibliographical sketch, w/ illuss. by Lefler, photoportrait by Curry & correspondence to Lefler by Bob Cobbing. $4.00
209. rubber stamped. Toronto, Room 302 Books, 12feb93 (List #8) 1/26 lettered copies of an edition totaling 27. 20 pp/12 printed, rubberstamp. 5 ½ x 8 ½, sewn wrappers. an examination of 8 works by 8 writers using rubberstamps as a means of composition. $10.00
216. Shant’s hat & other poems. Toronto, Best Copy & Curvd H&z, 23nov94 *Curvd H&z #433) of an edition totaling 115, 1/78 #d trade copies. 16 pp/11 printed, rubberstamp w/ photocopy addition to cover. 6 x 4, sewn wrappers. a poem, cover photography of Shant’s hat by Curry/Ahman Shehab. $7.50
220. (w/ Mark Laba) sinillogical translations volume 4: THE SINO-PARISIAN TRANSLATIONS. Madison, Xexoxial Editions, 1987. 32 pp/26 printed, photocopy. 5 ½ x 8 ½, stapled wrappers, poetry. in an endless series of made-to-order variants, this is, as far as I can tell, the 3rd distinct edition. the 1st is distinguishable by the presence of an eyeless greaseball in the rear, the 2nd replacing it with an enlargement of a photograph by Curry; both issued under the Xerox Sutra Editions imprint. this 3rd edition signals the loss of their battle with the Xerox corporation. cover collages by Miekal And/or Liz Was. in orange covers. $7.50
249. THE JWCURRY EXPERIENCE. interview by Chris Kubsch. Willowdale, Suburban Home(Made)Sick Press, nov94. 1/50 copies. 32 pp/29 printed, photocopy. 8 ½ x 11, side-stapled card covers. w/ a poem introduction by Kubsch, cover photoportrait of Curry by Lance LaRocque. $20.00
254. THE TWEEZE. Toronto, privately published, 17oct91. 1/6 copies #d & signed. 102 pp/44 printed, rubberstamp w/ some holograph additions & letterpress cover device. 4 ½ x 6, Japanese-sewn & glued in wrappers w/ tipped in hair. a letter to David UU w/ a bibliography of private editions, prefaced by an excerpt from a letter by UU. $400.00
257. THIRD TRAC(K)INGS. A Reading. Toronto, Torpor Vigil Industries, 1feb96. 1/58 coipes. 6 x 3 ¾, photocopy broadsheet. a photograph on face of flyer for Curry’s reading at Café Blancmange, 10feb96. a selfportrait. $4.50
279. (editor, w/ Nicholas Power & Steve Venright) VISITATIONS. Toronto, Gesture Press, 29aug84. 1/98 copies. 44 pp/31 printed, offset, mimeo, rubberstamp, typescript & silkscreen. 6 ½ x 9 ½, 12 leaves & variously-bound pamphlets & an acetate card in envelope. poetry & prose anthology issued to accompany a performance on the date of issue at The Groaning Board, Toronto, w/ contributions by the editors, Mark Laba, Steven Smith & George Swede. $40.00
284. (w/ Jennifer Books) !WE REMEMBER!. Ottawa & Toronto, Canadian Small Change Association, 8dec95. of an edition totaling 46, 1/43 signed trade copies. 8 pp printed, colour photocopy & rubberstamp. 5 x 3 ¼, leaflet. photocopy w/ open letter announcement of the impention of the ’95 HitList Variations series of unique books. mostly released in envelopes, stamped, addressed & mailed to the eventual recipients of the HitList, this is 1/13 copies released w/o envelopes. $25.00
286. (w/ George Swede) WHERE EVEN THE FACTORIES HAVE LAWNS. Toronto, Gesture Press, 16apr88. 1/100 cpoies. 32 pp/16 printed, mimeo & photocopy. 4 ½ x 7, stapled wrappers. poetry, cover photograph by Randall Brock.$4.00

write to jwcurry for this and other catalogues:
#302 – 880 Somerset Street West
Ottawa Canada K1R 6R7
(613) 233 0477

coming soon: selections of List #10C: jwcurry: contributions to periodicals and List #10-D: jwcurry: editorial responsibilies

related notes: Amanda Earl's recent note on curry ; jwcurry in Calgary; jwcurry & Richmond Landing: The Martyrology Books 4 and 5; a bpNichol cerebration: jwcurry reading the entirety of The Martyrology in Toronto; jwcurry reading The Martyrology; an all-weather event

related (other) links: John W. MacDonald on curry; Messagio Galore website;

Sunday, March 30, 2008

recent reading: Alberto Manguel’s The City of Words

Despite being the only item on my Christmas wish list, only a few days ago did I finally pick up a copy of Alberto Manguel’s The City of Words (Toronto ON: Anansi, 2007), produced as the 2007 Massey Lecture on CBC Radio and across Canada, including Halifax, Victoria, Edmonton, Montreal and Toronto (and not, apparently, Ottawa, where I was attending the writers festival, missing the Edmonton version). Manguel’s lecture is a conversation of the divisions between people and cultures and some of the reasons for such, telling stories of the other, stories of brothers and many others to weave his narrative of the creative power of words themselves, to build whole cultures and even tear others down.

Language lends voice to the storytellers who try to tell us who we are; language builds out of words our reality and those who inhabit it, within and without the walls; language offers stories that lie and stories that tell the truth. Language changes with us, grows stronger or weaker with us, survives or dies with us. The economic machineries we have built require language to appeal to its consumers, but only on a dogmatic, practical level, deliberately avoiding literature’s constant probing and interrogation. The endless sequence of readings of Gilgamesh or Don Quixote opens realms of meaning on countless subjects – personal identity, relationship to power, social duties and responsibilities, the balance of action – all of which may at some point entail a questioning of power and call for the resolution of injustice. To sustain the run of the machineries, those in office will often attempt to curb and control this multiplicity of readings in many ways: by simply prohibiting the book or, more subtly, by imposing a restricted or distorted vocabulary, by “blunting the language,” as Günter Grass once called it. This censorship (because of course, it is censorship) takes place in many ways, from the most dramatic to the most covert. It may ban a language entirely, it may subvert certain vocabularies, it may distort or empty of meaning certain of words, it may channel language into limp literary productions or limit it to dogmatic use in the realms of politics, commerce, fashion, and, of course, religion. In every case, its aim is to prevent the telling and reading of true stories.
What amazes me about Manguel is the range of references he can pull out to further and continue his argument, from reading Don Quixote, Cassandra and Gilgamesh into recent reactions to the Iraq War, and Hal from 2001: A Space Odyssey, bringing them together in such capable and moving insight as to be impossible to imagine in any other way.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Alice Major’s The Office Tower Tales

With her newest poetry collection, The Office Tower Tales (Edmonton AB: University of Alberta Press, 2008), Edmonton poet Alice Major [see her 12 or 20 questions here] has written her own office tower/downtown Edmonton version of The Canterbury Tales (for those who missed the obvious). Writing a very narrative verse, she writes out seventeen “stories,” all of which have “prologues” and four that even have “epilogues,” as well as an “epilogue” to the collection as a whole, with titles such as “Prologue to the Waitress’ Tale,” “This Great and Complicated Sin,” “The Office Romeo’s Tale” and “The Tale of the CEO’s Daughter.” This large kind of conceptual project (the book sits at 252 pages and rather small print) is unusual and unusually ambitious for Alice Major, who has produced eight previous collections (as well as a YA novel) over the years, predominantly as collections of individual poems or sequences. This new book, The Office Tower Tales, is very much a single project, considered a long poem in the very best kind of way.

Office towers, visible from far
across the prairie in the lengthening days,
are rolling up the lengths of rubber rug
that guard the marble of their foyers
from winter slush.

And down the long glass atrium of Commerce
Place, sun streams on the heads
of office workers – reds and ebonies,
flax, ash and tan. All the flocked shades
of continents

around the globe – a trail of migrant birds
gone native here and bound for coffee break
in the kiosk-bordered market of the food court.
There, in its central parliament, they take
their tables, near

the one at which Pandora, Aphrodite
and Sheherazad are overheard
continuing their long debate. Pandora
stops chewing at her thumbnail with its scarred
and bleeding rim

to snap, A kinder, gentler patriarchy?
Don’t make me laugh
. For emphasis, she raps
the cardboard corner of her empty
cigarette pack on the table, takes a drag
of bitter coffee.
What makes this collection is the sheer focus of the project, the quality of the writing in a poetry book nearly novelistic in its approach, taking in her years of living and working in the downtown core of the city. Still, as much as the book holds together as a full unit, some of the individual pieces are better than others, with “The Tale of the CEO’s Daughter,” for example, falling a bit away from the strength of some of the other pieces. Still, a highly ambitious and fully-formed work, this is certainly a break from what Major has done previously.

[Alice Major reads from The Office Tower Tales in Edmonton here, as well as various places across Canada (check this link, too, for her Edmonton launch); the Ottawa launch, hosted by Chaudiere Books, happens April 6 at mother tongue books, with opening readings by Nicholas Lea + Anne Le Dressay]

Friday, March 28, 2008

On Writing

I look at my hands.
They are no longer my own.
They have become my father’s

What happened last night?
— Robert Kroetsch, The Crow Journals

What does it mean to write? I write because my father rarely spoke to us, and I could feel the silences we shared a growing weight. Is that too easy, or too pessimistic? How does one even begin? But who cares, another writer suggested recently; we write, or we don’t. What does it matter how anyone starts?


Ottawa Valley historian Joan Finnegan used to say that it was easy to get the Irish to talk, just put a bottle of something in front of them, but the Scots… I have probably grotesquely misquoted her. It was why she had so little in the way of Scottish-Canadian Ottawa Valley stories, given such hesitation to speak to each other, let alone outsiders, despite the size, stretch and concentration of our population. What does it mean, then, to write?


My father always carried a small notebook and a series of ball-point pens in his right breast pocket, in green or blue workshirts. I presume he would have scrawled down notes on crops, costs, reminders and balances. How can I speak without evidence? Had he written down anything journalistic or diaristic, it would have contradicted everything else I’ve ever known about him. My mother keeps the same for grocery lists and phone numbers, on the ledge with pen and nail clippers beside her living room chair. Note-taker: the one thing I, I would argue, am not. How I write.

Or what these notebooks by my desk contradict.


My father tells few stories, but I know that he has them. How we the first farm on the dirt road to have electricity, and black-and-white television. As he told me once, watching the moon landing like radio, in black-and-white stills, the day the new furnace in. How his father tried to buy back the property next door, where he and his own father born, a late purchase sealed with a handshake. But then the neighbour got sick, and his wife sold the whole lot to else, not knowing the deal.

This would have been during Canada’s centennial, the year my parents married, and two more before my grandfather died, meaning that he and my grandmother were vacating the house, so my parents could settle themselves in as the main occupants. Where my father has lived since a year. This would have been three before I born, but four before my arrival. A long gestation, perhaps. This is why I have no baby, only toddler, photos.

Why write? they ask. I write because I have no other with which to say.


I am afraid I keep retelling the same stories told before, I feel I have so few.


When I was in high school in Alexandria in the 1980s, there was a joke that the town had just entered the 1950s. It was like a place caught in time, like a fly in alabaster, and somehow still is. I exist in a time-warp just to step into parents car, and allow the ride home, rolling back along years. It’s almost as though none of the intervening time ever happened. It is only my daughter that somehow allows me from being swallowed completely. Just by existing, she intervenes. She somehow, always, saves me.


Why write? It has done little else than to make my life harder. Had I just listened to my parents and taken over the farm, and saved it from the corpse it became; had I just listened to my ex-wife and got myself a proper job and not allowed her to build up the wedge that then pushed us apart. Why write?

Here I sit, nearly forty, and working so hard to record the life that I have and I had and I would have, had only not written at all. By writing, I have created the space in which to mourn what I have, by writing, lost.


In 1989, I arrived in Montreal to take creative writing at Concordia University, but the school wouldn’t take me. I sat what felt hours in the office of Henry Beissel, head of the department, who had already accepted me into the program. On the other end of his phone, an administrator kept telling him no, for my five and not six grade thirteen credits. There was nothing, he said, that any of us could have done. I was not meant for that city of Leonard Cohen and Artie Gold, that city of Nicole Brossard and Dany Laferriere, that city that would have properly taught me to speak French. I instead headed west, to Carleton University, where I spent more time with the mother of our eventual child than going to class; barely lasted a month. I wrote bad poems and pretended I’d never been on a farm.


My ex-wife tells me, she has never met anyone more different than their own family; I am the one at twenty-seven that she wanted at seventeen. It was always too late. I am the Frankenstein Monster she created; she wanted to put me on her taxes as her “idiot son.” I was, in many ways, her creation, saved from what I could have become through our ten years together, from fourteen years old up to twenty-four, with a child, three-and-a-half.


Caught up in his silences and her silences too, from the years my mother was away from home in hospital, starting in the early 1970s, and by mid-decade, starting her twenty-two years of non-working kidneys. It was why they couldn’t have children, and what they already knew from the time they were not yet married, but went ahead, as a cousin once told, for love.

Why write? My mother tells me I told her father stories when I on his knee, made up on the spot. I have no memories of such, he had died when I two. What stories would I have told? Is this something we’re born with, bred in the bone? Did my birth mother and father, still unknown to me, story each other in those months before I?


Why write. I save up my sights and my skills and I scratch them all down, page after now-endless page. Unforgiving. How do penance and crime become same?


My paternal grandmother told some, when I was young, that then drifted away. What was it she was trying to tell me? Just after the Labour Day weekend, as I new in grade nine and she suddenly gone. There was newness there, too. She who taught one-room a school before married and her, and then him.


What he never said, and she, somehow, used to. Read me books and my own before I started my school and could already read. How I could even speak French; far more than I’ve ever known since. There were books and then book and then books. It felt endless and open, taking in.

Always ahead or close second in grade school a contest, distant cousin and I, competing for who would get first into next part of library. A permission to go out, then, further.


Was once the wall I hit stepping through front door, all the silences behind and silences to come, all the way through my twenties and into my thirties. Now that they’re nearly seventy, but thirty ahead, they seem softer now. I write letters home about what I cannot phone, or speak during semi-annual visits. Why write?


Who went from books to comic books and back again, seven thousand Marvel Comics large. Who came from lack of a history and unknown genealogy to being the keeper of family knowledge, genealogist; working to compile what, perhaps, cannot be known.


There is family, and parents, and children. Since Alberta, I have written my daughter dozens of letters that she does not respond to; neither of us good on the phone, and she, neither email nor print. I would rather our weekly conversations in Ottawa, while trolling the Rideau Centre. From here, how I miss it. How I once thrived. How I will once again. What does it mean to write?


And then there is writing itself, that takes its own silence, and develops one, even as the writing develops. The only way to get work done. Be quiet sometimes and just put your head down.

Sometimes there only is but to write, to create what then needs to be solved. And endure.

related notes: falling in love, falling in love with poetry; three novels: on writing fiction; a as in Artie, g as in Gold (1947-2007);

Thursday, March 27, 2008

12 or 20 questions: with Suzanne Buffam

Suzanne Buffam is the author of Past Imperfect (House of Anansi), which won the League of Canadian Poets’ Gerald Lampert Award in 2006, and the chapbook Interiors (Delirium Press, 2006). Her poems have appeared in numerous publications in the U.S. and Canada, including The Boston Review, A Public Space, Poetry, Jubilat, The Canary, The Colorado Review, Denver Quarterly, Matrix, and De Maisonneuve as well as the anthologies Breathing Fire: Canada’s New Poets (Harbour, 1996), The New Canon (Signal Editions, 2006), and The City Visible: Chicago Poetry for the New Century (Cracked Slab, 2007). Her work has been translated into French, German, Spanish, and Slovenian, and she has participated in readings and literary festivals across Canada and the U.S., as well as in Mexico and Europe. She won the CBC Canadian Literary Award for poetry in 1998 and has twice been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Born and raised in Canada, she currently teaches creative writing at the University of Chicago.

1 - How did your first book change your life?

When I was about four or five, I asked for a book of my own for Christmas—a book I wouldn’t have to share with my brother, that is. My parents gave me Dr. Seuss’ Yertle the Turtle. Frankly, I was a little disappointed by the level of the text—and by the moralizing nature of the narrative (a cautionary tale about ambition and greed)—but it did feel good to write my name on the inside cover of that book. If you mean the first book I published myself, well, Proust says that by the time we attain the goals we set for ourselves, they have ceased to be our goals. In my experience, this seems to apply to publication at least as much as to love.

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

At the moment, I’m living in the south of Mexico, in the city of Oaxaca, and though I can’t say for sure how this will ramify for me down the road, the place has definitely made an impression on my sense of human history and my own tiny portion thereof. Oaxaca is a colonial city of about 350,000, large enough to foster a thriving cultural scene (just saw a bunch of Man Ray films last week at an outdoor theatre down the street!), but small enough to get everywhere you need to go on foot—including some of the most fascinating archeological sites in the world. About an hour’s walk from our door is Monte Alban, the oldest known city in Mesoamerica, which dates back to roughly 500BC—about the time the first tragedies were being staged in ancient Greece (a fact which blows my mind in all sorts of ways). Beyond that, the surrounding hills are full of indigenous villages where dialects of thousand-year-old languages I’d never heard of before are being broadcast on local radio waves. So I find myself feeling rather awed a good deal of the time—and more conscious on a daily basis of the past than I've ever felt living among the high-rises and Dunkin' Donut shops at home (wherever that may be, as Elizabeth Bishop says). In the photo above, incidentally, I’m standing in front of what is allegedly the largest living organism on earth—a cedar tree that’s apparently older than Jesus.

But who knows how this will impact my work. I’m not likely to start writing about my life or time here in any particulary direct way. I moved to Chicago from Montreal almost five years ago; to Montreal from Nova Scotia; to Nova Scotia from Iowa; to Iowa from Victoria; to Victoria from Vancouver; to Vancouver from Florida; to Florida from Abidjan (in the Ivory Coast); to Abidjan from Montreal…In between those places I’ve spent several months at a time in various others as well. Probably the main impact these places have had on me is a sense of constantly moving around, of constantly saying goodbye to places and people I love. Which likely has something to do with my tendency to allegorize or otherwise render oblique most aspects of “place” and autobiography in my work…

As for gender and race, I’d say they inform pretty much every aspect of my life—how could they not?— from my perspective on the world to my way of speaking to and within it—again, however obliquely they make their way into my work.

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?

I'm an erratic poet. At the moment, I'm managing to sustain a routine, in terms of schedule, but from poem to poem things tend to fluctuate wildly. Some poems begin with a single line that strikes me as interesting, funny, or puzzling--or possibly even a just a title--and proceed from there. Others accumulate from bits and pieces that seem to constellate around a vague theme. I keep notebooks where I write down bits of language--my own and others'--images, lines, facts, quotations, etc--and these are indispensible in terms of getting started or working my way through a draft.

As for writing “books,” I’d say it’s too soon to say. So far I’m the author of only one book that selectively collects about ten years’ of work. At the moment I’m working on a longer project—but it, too, consists of a series of fairly short bits.

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

Probably neither. I do enjoy giving readings, though, so long as I’ve got new material to read. That’s when reading feels usefully scary for me. I find my poems have about a 3-reading limit before I feel utterly bored by them. On the whole, though, writing for me is a fairly solitary pursuit and requires huge amounts of time alone in my room (or, as it so happens these days, alone on the roof)—and I’m enjoying my break from the Poetry World right now. (I had a teacher once who made a distinction between the Poetry World—all that shmoozing and gossiping that seems to be part of any “career” in poetry—and the world of poetry—that other world of hightened attention which Eluard said is “inside this one”). I guess the trick to staying sane is finding the balance that works for you. I’ll let you know when I find it…

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’d say my concerns are pretty much of the practical sort: how to be a good person in the world; how not to be ruined by envy, bitterness, regret and desire; how to stay open, curious, hopeful in the face of war, certain death, and the eventual annihalation of our solar system....and, of course, how not to take oneself too seriously in the process! I suspect most poets are more interested in questions than in answers—otherwise they’d be scientists or popes. As for the “current” questions, well, it seems to me any really good question should be endlessly renewable, and thus, endlessly current.

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

About ten years ago I met a man in graduate school who, in addition to being a terrific poet, was the best editor I’d ever met. So naturally, I married him. I continue to find this relationship both difficult and essential. I also had the great good fortune to work with Heather McHugh on my first book, and I can’t begin to say enough about her acumen and agility of mind.

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

Once, many years ago, against my strong inclination, I ate a few slices of a pear to please a man I wanted to impress. I learned the hard way from that disasterous encounter that one might as well be honest from the start about the fruits that one enjoys.

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

There’s a moment in that documentary “Touching the Void” where a mountain climber is stuck deep in a cravasse with the wrong end of a cut rope and a badly broken leg. There’s a thin shaft of light coming down from above and a seemingly bottomless chasm beneath him. (Warning: spoiler ahead). Realizing he can’t possibly climb back up to the surface, he decides instead to take his chances and crawl deeper into the darkness—which, miraculously, eventually leads him back into the light. Apparently, what occurred to him in that darkest hour was the need to keep making decisions. So, besides the overtly spiritual allegory availabe here, that’s one thing that’s really stuck with me: Keep Making Decisions. That piece of advice may save your life.

9 - 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 would like to be the kind of writer who follows a routine. Usually, I lack the self-discipline to do so, and/or circumstances conspire to thwart my best attempts. Luckily? Miraculously? Mercifully?--at the moment my life and my resolve are cooperating and a productive routine has emerged. It helps to have adopted a new puppy, for whom routine is indispensable! For superstitious reasons, though, I think I’d better keep it to myself.

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

I read poetry, philosophy, I leaf through any number of random books I find on my shelves. Also, I like to walk. Something happens in the brain when you’re walking that just doesn’t when you’re sitting at your desk with your head in your hands. And when it doesn’t happen, I’m working on being okay with that too.

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

Well, as I mentioned above, at the moment I’m the author of only one book, but I’m nearing what feels like the final stretch of a new manuscript. As far as I can tell the biggest difference so far is that it contains the word “God.”

12 - 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?

All of these things plus other people, fear, longing, self-pity, self-loathing, love, hope, doubt, despair…Do these things count as “forms”?

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

I’ve gone through so many phases it would be tedious to list them here, but I will say that a bunch of weird poems by Dylan Thomas and Shelley and Blake’s Proverbs from Hell” lit a fire in highschool, and in my twenties, Simone Weil’s Waiting for God opened my mind in a way I would never have thought possible in my younger, fiercely atheist days. Lately I’ve been reading around in eastern philosophy and Greek tragedy. At the moment I’m reading Sophocles and the Tao Te Ching. And I don’t like to travel very far without some Dickinson, Stevens, and a collection of Robert Walser’s short prose. Obviously, I’m leaving out a lot.

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

Develop patience. Housebreak my dog. But it seems these two are one and the same…

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

Well, my first novel, a comic picaresque chronicling the heroic misadventures of a plucky young girl named Claronette, met with such wild approval by my beloved third grade teacher Mme. Rivere that I’m afraid my course was thenceforward ever set.

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

The poet writes poetry because he is a poet. (Wallace Stevens)
What else is there to do in the time before sunset? (Plato)

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

Book: In Search of Lost Time (Vol 4: Sodom & Gomorrah—only three more volumes to go!). As for films, well, the only genres on offer at the cineplex here in Oaxaca are horror, horror/action, horror/thriller, horror/terror and romantic comedy, so I’ve seen a lot of really bad monster movies in the last few months (I’ll do anything for popcorn). But we managed to rent Kurosawa’s Kagemusha a few weeks ago, and parts of that were terrific.

18 - What are you currently working on?

Sit! Stay! Come!

12 or 20 questions archive

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

12 or 20 questions: with Jaspreet SinghJaspreet Singh is the author of Chef, a novel, and Seventeen Tomatoes, a collection of linked short stories, which was awarded the 2004 McAuslan First Book Prize. He recently finished writing Speak Oppenheimer, a play, for Montreal’s Infinite Theatre. He was the 2006-2007 Markin-Flanagan Writer-in-Residence at University of Calgary.

1 - How did your first book change your life?

The book didn’t change my life. It changed my death (shall I say). Because of the book I will be ‘remembered’ a couple of years after I die!

2 - How long have you lived in Calgary, and how does geography, if at all, impact on your writing?

I moved to Calgary to be closer to Banff. The Rockies helped me restore memories of growing up in Kashmir. While writing the ‘glacier scenes’ in Chef (my new novel) I drove to the Athabasca Glacier 11 times to get it right.

3 - Where does a 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?

For me a piece of fiction often begins as an image or a sound or a smell. I allow it to take me in any direction. Soon it grows (or rather crystallizes) into a sketch. In the beginning I don’t know whether the sketch has the potential to become a ‘short story’ or a ‘novel’ or a ‘play’.

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

Both. I love public readings. I find them a distraction. To read in public is a creative act. Sometimes the readings leave me exhausted. Sometimes they inspire new writing.

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?

The relationship between ‘people who do not matter’ in this world and the ‘people who do matter’?

I am interested in different kinds of ‘power’ relationships. I try to pose questions about power with my writing.

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

The literary quarrels between the editor and the author often benefit the book.

However, I refuse to work with editors who ask me to explain the ‘mysterious’ in the text or to change the first person narrative to third person because of the ‘demands of the market’.

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

It doesn’t get easy.

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

Last week when I visited Kashmir after a gap of five years!

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

One doesn’t know what one knows until one starts writing.

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?

A typical ‘writing day’ begins and ends with writing. Generally I am more creative ‘early in the morning’ and ‘late at night’.

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

Cinema. Poetry. Long walks. Travel. Music. Cooking.

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

My most recent book is really a ‘dialogue’ with the previous book.

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?

Cinema, science, and poetry.

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

W.G. Sebald. Thomas Bernhard.

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

Write a book for children.

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?

Cinema (directing films)

By the way, I moved to writing from engineering. I have a PhD in chemical engineering.

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

I like Orhan Pamuk’s response to this question. Let me quote (from his Nobel Acceptance Speech, My Father’s Suitcase):

“I write because I have an innate need to write! I write because I can't do normal work like other people. I write because I want to read books like the ones I write. I write because I am angry at all of you, angry at everyone. I write because I love sitting in a room all day writing. I write because I can only partake in real life by changing it. I write because I want others, all of us, the whole world, to know what sort of life we lived, and continue to live... I write because I love the smell of paper, pen, and ink. I write because I believe in literature, in the art of the novel, more than I believe in anything else. I write because it is a habit, a passion. I write because I am afraid of being forgotten. I write because I like the glory and interest that writing brings. I write to be alone. Perhaps I write because I hope to understand why I am so very, very angry at all of you, so very, very angry at everyone. I write because I like to be read. I write because once I have begun a novel, an essay, a page, I want to finish it. I write because everyone expects me to write. I write because I have a childish belief in the immortality of libraries, and in the way my books sit on the shelf. I write because it is exciting to turn all of life's beauties and riches into words. I write not to tell a story, but to compose a story. I write because I wish to escape from the foreboding that there is a place I must go but – just as in a dream – I can't quite get there. I write because I have never managed to be happy. I write to be happy.”
18 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?

Book: State of Exception (by Georgio Agamben)

Film: Close-up (by Abbas Kiarostami)

19 - What are you currently working on?

New novel.

Monday, March 24, 2008

12 or 20 questions: with Eric FolsomEric Folsom was born naked in late November, 1951, in the city of Lynn, Massachusetts. Harry Truman and Joseph Stalin were still in power, but he never met either one personally. As a student, Folsom decamped for Canada during the Vietnam era, writing poetry whilst leading an apparently normal life. Numerous poems appeared in small magazines, he joined the editorial board of Quarry by invitation of Bronwen Wallace, a self-published chapbook (Brewed for Ontario) might have happened, and he printed and edited the small but wiry zine Next Exit. His first legitimate book, Poems for Little Cataraqui (Broken Jaw Press), was published in 1994, then he wrote more poetry. What Kind of Love Did You Have in Mind? (Wolsak and Wynn) appeared in 1997, followed by Icon Driven (Wolsak and Wynn) in 2001, and the chapbook NORTHEASTERN ANTI-GHAZALS (above/ground press) in 2005. Since then he has tried to improve.

1 - How did your first book change your life?

Full status in the League of Canadian Poets was pretty nice, also not wondering if I was a poet only in my fantasies, not having to calculate whether my poems in magazines were equivalent to a book when I applied for a grant. On the other hand, the book didn’t change my actual life and a slew of other things at around the same time did.

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

I’ve been in Kingston since 1974, lived in Halifax, Montreal, and New England before that. Geography as social geography shapes me and everyone else quite a lot. I imagine myself as a citizen of the cultural complex at the northern end of the Appalachian chain, the country where we tap maples, pick blueberries, bake beans, and shovel snow, regardless of Ottawa, Quebec City, or Washington. Political boundaries strike me as an elaborate fiction of limited use to the majority. Poems for Little Cataraqui covers this in an oblique way.

I think about gender rather more than race, but in both cases the culturally constructed aspect intrigues me. I remember way back when Canadians referred to the “English” and the “French” as “Races”. Why do we say “race” if no one really wins?

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?

Most of the time I just fool around until a theme becomes unavoidable, then shifting the focus from the short to the long form. Depends on the project really and I’ve done it both ways, also shifting between form and subject as the organizing principal.

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

Very much part of. I love reading, I rehearse readings, I revise out loud so I can hear the sound of the poem. Print is indispensable but too often provides next to no response, the live audience is immediate and providentially serves as an excellent bullshit detector.

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?

Theories about writing don’t seem to help me get the writing done, so I tend to be practical on that front. However, big questions about history and science, about power and being less toxic to your family and your planet, about art and the mysterious creation of meaning, can be alluring. Also, can I get the reader interested in such questions? Can I convince them they should care? Can I do it without sounding vain and pompous? Why are you laughing, that wasn’t funny!

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

Oh, essential, if you find a good one. Humility and an outside perspective are hugely valuable. Really good editors are rare these days, most newspapers used to have them, but for poets finding a great editor has always been an accomplishment. The combination of open field composition and knowledge of standard grammar seems to fry the average brain.

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 of course. If wasn’t harder then you weren’t challenging yourself, you lazy slob. The best book is the next one.

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

Christmas, the fruit salad had some canned pears. Where am I supposed to get pears in March?

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

Always ignore advice. (Exceptions can be made if the person offering is extremely sexy).

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?

Pretty irregular, I’m afraid. I work full time at the public library, so if there’s a deadline looming I’ll start getting up earlier, can’t write worth a damn late at night. If there’s no pressure, I’m pretty lazy. I subscribe to the notion that output requires input, therefore the average day begins with a pot of coffee and a lot of reading.

11 - Where is your favourite place to write?

The kitchen table if it’s a longhand first draft. The computer in the laundry room/spare bedroom once I’m revising. In summer I might switch to the back bedroom which has a view of the back yard, but I’d rather be in Tatamagouche, or Banff, or Ogunquit.

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

Every blockage has a different character, I have to rummage through the whole toolbox of inspiration. Sometimes I listen to music, sometimes I go for a walk in the woods. Read philosophy, meet someone for coffee, break the routine. Ask questions.

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

I’m not sure which is my most recent book, the one I just finished writing, the last published chapbook, or the full length book from seven years ago. In addition, I haven’t written the works in the order they were published. The manuscript I just finished is my attempt to make poetry read like a novel, a strong narrative driven by action and character. It’s too early for me to say whether I succeeded, but it feels different largely for having taken far too long, requiring skills I didn’t know I lacked, plus mountains of research. Fun but harder than I expected.

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?

Heck yes, all of the above. Input and output. You left out modern dance and small town airports.

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

The great George Bowering was crucial when I was eighteen. I grew up loving the Beats, I still love Robin Blaser and Charlie Olson, I will always love Al Purdy and Bronwen Wallace. I want to be Basho when I grow up.

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

Climb Mount Washington in New Hampshire. Translate the Bible into Haiku.

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?

A depressed alcoholic or a fabric artist hooked on religion, God only knows. So many choices, so few brain cells.

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

I was the nerdiest kid in High School, not a lot of close friends, and for some unexplained reason I thought poetry would make me stand out and get noticed. Never mind that I already stood out for being kind of weird. I read a poem aloud in English class about waiting for the bell to ring at the last period of the day, and the kids loved it. I’ve spent a pathetic life trying to recreate that feeling, drawn to the lonely spotlight and the imagined applause. I also just like writing. In fact I get a buzz off it, loose complete track of time, and forget to make supper. This is why writers need personal servants and The Canada Council ought to look into it.

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
On Violence, Hannah Arendt (1970). Across the Universe, Julie Traymor (2007).

20 - What are you currently working on?

Twenty questions for rob mclennan. I’m almost done.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

ongoing notes: Easter Sunday, 2008

Is it Easter where you are? It seems to be Easter here.

Have you been keeping track of the “12 or 20 questions” series? There are plenty more up over the past little while. Will I see you in April, when I launch my collection of essays (while talking about Sheila Watson + Elizabeth Smart) at the ottawa international writers festival (despite the fact that, I recently found out, it won’t be ready yet), & later, at Audrey’s Books? Did you see the John Newlove review that Paul Vermeersch did in the Globe, the interview in The Danforth Review with the editor of same, this review I did of a recent George Bowering chapbook, or the other reviews I did for Verse? Or this new poem of mine, & this other one? These photos of some recent Edmonton/Ottawa/Red Deer adventures?

Pearl said nice things about me recently (she told me not to link, but it was so sweet!); also check out links from John W. MacDonald and Charles Earl. Or what Billy Little said about John Newlove? Or this link referencing me Ottawa book?

St. Catharines ON: The new version of Brock University’s literary journal, The Harpweaver, renamed pRECIPICE, is perhaps the closest any Canadian journal has come to the goals and accomplishments of the late-lamented Queen Street Quarterly [see my note on same here], as far as form and content. It’s magnificent to see former Ottawa resident and Montreal scribe Wanda O’Connor [see my earlier note on her here] publishing again. And who is this Kate Eichorn, publishing odd mixes of poetry and prose that I would love to see in larger form. Is there a book coming? The issue also includes some quality work by Stephen Cain [see his 12 or 20 questions here], Jay MillAr [see his 12 or 20 questions here], Maureen Hynes, Aaron Giovannone, extremely interesting visuals by derek beaulieu [see his 12 or 20 questions here], Camille Martin, Stan Rogal [see his 12 or 20 questions here] and others. Editors Gregory Betts [see his 12 or 20 questions here] and Adam Dickinson [see his 12 or 20 questions here] are doing a fantastic job; I can’t wait to see more.

Barbed Wire and Wild Roses

I swore sex was a word
we were not allowed to say. Our parents

held it away from us
when we played hide’n’seek with homework due

while frogs sang late in the evening
and train whistles narrowed the distance of neighbourhoods.

One clear, spring day, Cole, Jessy and me
ducked over the fence of a dead end street,

crossed the tracks, and the farmer’s field,
to the old cow pond. Cole

had a magazine from his Dad’s dresser.
We sat behind a barbed wire fence of wild pink roses,

studied a landscape of mushrooms and flowers. But,
Jessy’s sister had followed again with her friend.

“Like allergies,” He said, wiping his nose on his sleeve.
We hid the book, sank stones in the murky water.

Until Donna screamed, “Look what they got.”
She went swimming. Cole followed.

In the noon sun, we played truth or dare
in the stubble wheat. (Keith Inman)
San Francisco CA: In the mail recently, I received the first issue of a very svelte and very gracefully-produced little journal from San Francisco called Mrs. Maybe, edited by Lauren Levin and Jared Stanley.


Who but us
could know wisdom’s cut,

the pain of pain’s
leaving, same as you?

Who would smooth us to
a circle? You would. You would.

You and your planet. You
and your flagrant blue room. (Graham Foust)
As the magazine itself states, “MRS. MAYBE, after whom this journal is named, is the medium who conducts the séance in Robert Duncan’s play Adam’s Way.”


Let’s stand together on the soft ground
I will give you these things which will protect you on the journey.
White bird has feathers as one thousand inverted ribs
he’ll stand lovingly on your head, there now
hold up this vase and its small swamp
like a lantern with a dirty glow.
Thin piece of foil trimmed into the shape of a sickle
and pasted to your chest.
At your side the thin deer with the asshole shriveling like a rose.
Opera glasses dripping with paint, and
birch cane hooked on the forearm.

You’re ready to gallop into the infinite stage
of a city garden. (Jessica Savitz)
A fine publication (with, unfortunately, no biographical information on any of the authors), the first issue, produced in a run of 100 copies, features the work of a number of writers both new and familiar, including Jessica Daniels, Stephanie Young, Aaron McCollough, Marisa Libbon, Catherine Theis and Avery Burns. One of the pieces that immediately jumps out is Aaron McCollough’s [see my review of his most recent book here; see his 12 or 20 questions] poem “FOURTEEN,” that includes

the pigeons on the wire
up in the canada wind
look headless
Malmö, Sweden: I just got two little publications from Lars Palm, Swedish poet [see what he wrote about me once here], including the seven poem riot and Death Is (Lake Country BC: by the skin of me teeth press, 2007). What really intrigued me, apart from the Canadian publication by our own Kevin McPherson Eckhoff, is the seven poem self-publication, made in an edition of 40 for a poetry festival in October last year. Not all of them work, playing with and twisting old standards, but when they do work, they do with such a lovely ease. What is it about these small pieces that compels?

(be or bee)

or not

(not arrows) at
the forces that

shake spears
only in lower
case of

or he
whispered for
poking fun
Toronto ON: If you are at all interested in concrete/visual poetry, you have to get a copy of Jenny Sampirisi’s other clutter: an and-thology (other clutter, 2007), featuring the work of Gary Barwin [see his 12 or 20 questions here], Nico Vassilakis, Chris Major, A. Rawlings, Jesse Patrick Ferguson, Darrell Etherington, Johnny Smoke, John Barlow, Aaron Tucker, Dan Waber, Derek Beaulieu, Michael Murphy, Jeremy Hight and Mike Freeman. Coming out of her other clutter website and produced in a numbered edition of sixty copies, this graceful little production has one of the finer selections of concrete/visual that I’ve seen in quite some time. You should definitely start paying attention.

Saturday, March 22, 2008


NATHALIE STEPHENS [see her 12 or 20 questions here]

March 31-April 4, 2008

Hosted by the Department of Modern Languages and Cultural Studies
with support from the Vice President Office (Research), The Canadian Literature Centre, English and Film Studies, MLCS and Women's Studies

Schedule of Events
Monday March 31, and Tuesday April 1


HC 1-145 - 6:30 PM
Receptions to follow in the Old Arts Building's Student Lounge

Wednesday, April 2



HC 2-292 - 4:30PM

Friday, April 4


Prairie Room, Lister Conference Centre
7 - 8:30 PM

Reception to follow in the Glacier Room, Lister Conference Centre

In addition, Nathalie Stephens will hold office hours Tuesday, April 1 and Friday, April 4, from 2-4 PM (Old Arts FacultyLounge: A320).


Nathalie Stephens (Nathanaël) writes l'entre-genre in English and French. She is the author of more than a dozen books including The Sorrow And The Fast Of It (Nightboat, 2007), Touch to Affliction (Coach House, 2006), Paper City (Coach House, 2003), Je Nathanaël (l'Hexagone, 2003) and L'Injure (l'Hexagone, 2004), a finalist for the 2005 Prix Alain-Grandbois and Prix Trillium. Je Nathanaël exists in English self-translation (BookThug, 2006). Other work exists in Basque and Slovene with book-length translations in Bulgarian (Paradox Publishing, 2007). Her essay of correspondence, L'absence au lieu (Claude Cahun et le livre inouvert), published in 2007 by Nota Bene, will find self-translated form in 2009 with Nightboat. In addition to translating herself, Stephens has translated Catherine Mavrikakis, Gail Scott, Bhanu Kapil and Sina Queyras. Entre-genre, Stephens's recent work has striven toward an ethics of correspondence through a dismantling of the body's relationship to the notion of place, the body's own damningly elusive "where". Distrustful of genre delineation, Stephens pursues her work away from the usual generic safeguards, preferring instead the unexpected that arises from the arguably disreputable and misunderstood place where various lines cross. Literaturen vestnik (Literary Gazette, Bulgaria, 2007) has written this about Stephens's work: "If we are to speak of modern prose today, it is, in all probability, of this kind: situated nowhere as a genre, but intentionally omnipresent."

Friday, March 21, 2008

recent reading: Monty Reid's Fridays

For my birthday this year, Monty Reid [see his 12 or 20 questions here] pulled out a copy of his first solo (and self-) publication, Fridays (Sidereal, 1979), something he’s done every so often over the past couple of years, digging into his storage unit for copies of his old journal The Camrose Review [see my note on such here] or in by one, out by four [see my note on such here]. The timing is pretty interesting, considering I’m working slowly on a review of his new collection (just waiting on the final book to arrive on my doorstep, sometime over the next few weeks), his Luskville Reductions (Brick Books, 2008). The author of nearly a dozen poetry collections (with a non-fiction book thrown in), Reid is also the author of karst means stone (NeWest Press, 1979), A Nature Guide to Alberta (non-fiction; Hurtig Publishers, 1980), The Life of Ryley (Thistledown Press, 1981), The Dream of Snowy Owls (Longspoon, 1983), The Alternate Guide (Red Deer College Press, 1985), These Lawns (Writing West / Red Deer College Press, 1990), Crawlspace: New and Selected Poems (House of Anansi Press, 1993), Dog Sleeps: Irritated Texts (NeWest Press, 1993), flat side (Red Deer Press, 1998) and Disappointment Island (Chaudiere Books, 2006), as well as a small series of chapbooks, including Six Songs for the Mammoth Steppe (above/ground press, 2000), Sweetheart of Mine— (BookThug, 2006), cuba A book (above/ground, 2005), Lost in the Owl Woods (BookThug, 2007) and the forthcoming Forty Fucks (BookThug, 2008). For years known as an Alberta poet, Reid moved to Luskville, Quebec, just west of Hull/Gatineau, in 1999, to start working at the Museum of Nature in Ottawa, and his poems for years have acknowledged his western geographies.

It’s always interesting to see where a writer started his beginnings from the early publications, to see both just how much the work has progressed and evolved over the years, but the potential hints of what was still to come (I found the same when working my essay on Barry McKinnon a couple of years back). When reviewing his third poetry collection, The Life of Ryley, in the NeWest Review (something Reid had been editor of, but the year before) poet/critic Douglas Barbour [see his 12 or 20 questions here] even referenced that first little publication:
[…] Although I might question some minor touches in specific poems (some of his similies would be more forceful in straight metaphors), I like the whole of Monty Reid’s The Life of Ryley (Saskatoon: Thistledown Press, 1981, 76 pp, $14.00/6.95) very much. Reid’s previous book, Karst Means Stone, was a finely modulated exploration of personal history through a grandfather’s memoir, but his earlier pamphlet, Fridays, a tossed-off sequence of takes on the people who passed him as he sat in mall at the University of Alberta, more clearly registers his poetic as it is displayed in The Life of Ryley: a listening to and watching of the passing now. What is impressive about The Life of Ryley is how the poems shift in form as their objects change. Some of the poems are observations, some are spoken in other personae, some are the poet’s own statements: together they form a mosaic of a small community’s life as it happens. Reid has a wicked sense of humour, but none of these poems feel like cheap shots. Moreover, some of them are troubling or powerfully sympathetic. Many voices are heard in The Life of Ryley, but behind them all is the dispassionate, precisely observing, voice of a poet who notices the things that count and knows how to shape each observation fittingly. It’s a good book, and unlike many Thistledown book (book which are often larger), it’s a whole piece of work. […] NeWest Review, Volume 7, No. 8, April, 1982)
Obviously this is writing before he perfected that long lyric line of a single moment, stretched out to its fullest, but you can still see hints of the later poems, the echoes of the rhythms and clarity to be later built upon, from this first chapbook as single poem:
a security guard
with shoulder patches

more law students

someone with a
portfolio of paintings,
prints, sitting down
to drink

two little kids
that must live
somewhere in the mall
they don’t have
any coats on

one of the girls who works
in the library

one guy with the
Edmonton Sun

Lubor Zink

no, not Lubor Zink

the enclosed air
the sun heaped into
between the rooms
the stores, the faces
move in light


Greg Hollingshead
with an unfinished novel

non-academic staff

a girl in a siwash sweater
something like the one
Pat’s grandmother made
out of bison wool

so many others
gone by while I’m
looking at someone else
the constant rush
[Monty Reid launches his Luskville Reductions on Thursday, May 15th in Ottawa at Rasputin’s, 7:30pm; live music with Monty Reid, Sarah Hill, Jonathan Ferrabee and others]

Thursday, March 20, 2008

12 or 20 questions: with Naomi Guttman

Naomi Guttman was born and raised in Montreal, where she attended Concordia University. In 1992, her book Reasons for Winter won the A.M. Klein Award for Poetry and was short listed for The League of Canadian Poets’ Pat Lowther Memorial Award. She has received grants from the Canada Council for the Arts and the Constance Saltonstall Foundation for the Arts, as well as an Artist's Fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts. Wet Apples, White Blood was published by McGill-Queen’s University Press in the spring of 2007. She teaches English and creative writing at Hamilton College in Clinton, New York.

1 - How did your first book change your life?

It didn't, though I guess it did make me feel that I was an official member of the tribe. A few years later, it probably did help me get a job. Which did change my life.

2 - How long have you lived in Clinton, NY, 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 Clinton for 11.5 years. I think geography does have an effect. I grew up and lived in Montreal all my life until I moved to Los Angeles in 1989. Then my poetry dried up. The palm trees, the Santa Anas, the banks of jade plants growing like shrubs in people's yards, the relentless sunshine, it was all very weird and disorienting to me. Maybe it could have happened anywhere, but in moving back east, I seem to have become more myself again. I feel a certain comfort in the march of seasons and the landscape of rolling hills and valleys. It's an agricultural area and quite beautiful. As for race and gender and ethnicity (you forgot that)—of course. I see the world the way I do because of gender, etc. and vice versa. It’s inescapable.

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?

Individual poems begin in mysterious ways. Often it’s a few words that seem to come out of no where like a fragment of music. As for how I make a book of poems, I think that I don’t know yet. My first book was a lot of little pieces. In my second book, which came out last April, I tried to work on a couple of series or longer, narrative poems. Right now I’m working on a sequence as well, and then if other things happen it’s fine. I think it gives me a sense of rhythm and purpose to work on something that’s part of a greater whole; at the same time, it can be unnecessarily limiting and a trap if it means that one sacrifices something because it may not fit. But doing research in a certain area, e.g. the history of breastfeeding was something I researched while working on Wet Apples, White Blood, is part of my method.

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

In small doses, I think readings are good for my creative process, though I don’t do them very often. When I give a reading, I feel that the conversation of poetry—and that is how I see poetry, as part of a grand, ancient, contemporary, timeless conversation—is alive, and that I really am part of it. Maybe it’s all illusory, but can be a good thing to see the effects of one’s work on an audience, and sometimes to hear back from them how they have been moved. Of course, sometimes it seems that an audience isn’t moved at all, and that can be hard. But there’s a lesson there 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 don’t think poetry can answer questions in any satisfying way. I’m going to sound very retro and old-fashioned, I know, but I do agree with those who say that poetry is the emotional history of the world, and that therefore the essential question poetry engages with—I won’t say answers—is who are we and why are we here? Certainly our approach to that question may have evolved and includes things that our ancestors couldn’t have dreamt of—technologies that complicate the boundary between who we are and who others are, knowledge of our place in the universe and our planet’s history and likely demise, ethics, morality, consciousness, but I believe the basic questions remain the same. The biggest current question for me is how will we survive all the challenges our civilizations have created: pollution, overpopulation, global warming, etc. But those are not theoretical questions of the kind that have to do with poetry, and yet they could be: how can poets effectively engage in these questions without being didactic or repetitive? How can they compete with advertising and the power of the advertising industry today—which functions as the Church did in the Renaissance—as our contemporary patron of the arts.

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

My experiences with editors have been good.

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

I doubt that it will ever seem easy… it’s a challenge, for one thing, to figure out what to include and what to put aside; what order to put things in.

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


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


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 get up at 6:30 and do a bunch of chores that help my children get out of the house to school I try to take a walk or do some yoga. Given my druthers, I’d read some poetry and write for a while before going into work, though this is not always possible. Often I’m reading student papers or preparing for class. I do try to write in my journal every day, even if it’s just an account of the weather, even if it’s perfectly boring.

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

I turn to books, art, music. That’s probably the best nourishment for me—to engage in something in the arts that thrills me. Certain artists in particular—for some reason Joseph Cornell’s shadow boxes, even though this is now something of a cliché, inspire me… I don’t know why this is, and I haven’t written about it, but they do. I like home-made things, collages. I like naïve art, too—folk art, anything made out of rusty bits of metal excites me.

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

I’d like to think my more recent work is technically more aware and more sophisticated than my first book, which was published many years ago.

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?

Yes, I agree with that. See #11 above. Art is a big conversation and I think for me I have to keep being engaged in the gross conversation in order to keep the conversation with myself alive, and that includes theatre, science, newspapers, nature, radio, the whole mess.

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

It would be a very long list.

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

Travel—I haven’t really done much of that—see all the big cheesy places: Pompeii, the Pyramids, Machu Pichu, Taj Mahal… I’ve been a homebody for much of my life, so that’s always a fantasy of mine.

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?

Well, I already have another occupation, which most writers do. I teach for a living, and that does also complement my work. But if I had to choose another vocation, I would probably choose to be a painter or a sculptor. I’ve always loved to work with my hands.

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

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

I don’t know if it was a “great book,” but I was pretty impressed with Ian McEwen’s novel Saturday, which I read only recently. I thought Michael Clayton was a fine movie and would like to see it again. In it Tom Wilkinson has one of the most brilliant monologues I’ve ever heard on film, and the best thing is that you get to hear at least part of it twice. Great acting all around, great direction and fantastic editing. I just saw The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, a French film, which was excellent, and really inspirational vis a vis writing: a paralyzed man dictates a book, one letter at a time, by blinking his eyelid. If he had the patience and grace to do that…. It’s something to remember when one feels glum about facing a blank page.

19 - What are you currently working on?

I actually think it’s bad luck to talk about that, so I won’t.

12 or 20 questions archive