Sunday, August 31, 2008

an old poem fixated on thoughts on the inconstant moon

Do I even remember all the details? A poem remembering her last summer in Alexandria, 1988, Clare Latremouille, who graduated high school a year before my eventual ex-wife and I, wandering west with partner and son into Chilliwack, Victoria, Vancouver and finally Kamloops, and we wouldn’t see her again for another nine years. When I finally did, visiting them in Kamloops in 1997, I wrote a piece called "clare & bryan, years later" that ended up in the collection The Richard Brautigan Ahhhhhhhhhhh (Talonbooks, 1999), making an earlier appearance as the chapbook The Wiser (housepress, 1999). It was even more years before they returned east, another small boy in tow.

a brief history of the moon

as unreal as anything could be
green grass, hills, water down streaming
moonlight becomes
a practiced bulb of feeling under
bridges, clare a troll & climbing
over rock face, water face &
“i want what shes having”
mere months into our marvel
& a transition line, a lie

What is it about the moon? I should just admit my own fixations and publish a collection of moon poems, this little poem from the unpublished "vague histories" manuscript. A poem about home, and finally leaving that home, that transition line between what was, and what was to come. Wasn’t this from the night she broke Al's passenger window in his truck? Clare, Ann-Marie, myself, Kahlil, Doug, Al and who else? Whatever happened to Al? Did we ever end up going back to the bridge at McCrimmon’s Corners, nicknamed the “moon bridge," for the sake of how clearly reflections could float? Have I ever told you the story?

Saturday, August 30, 2008

ongoing notes: late August, 2008

Did you see my little piece on Shawna Lemay's Capacious Hold-All blog? With clever photos and everything, taken by Charles Earl (I have more in the same series up on facebook); or this photo series, when Kate & I were on the farm for the long weekend. I've been working other series there as well, this one with people and this one with Ottawa stories I think I know. Or various upcoming events here and here and here and here? What else can I tell you?

Ottawa ON: Ottawa poet Sandra Ridley [see my earlier note on her poetry here], originally from Saskatchewan, has finally seen copies of her first poetry chapbook, Lift: Ghazals for C. (Saskatoon SK: JackPine Press, 2008). Beautifully produced with linocut and block prints by Eric Slankis, this tightly-knit twelve-part ghazal is composed for a family member, as she writes in the back, "[…] Carolyn who died in 1958, two weeks before her second birthday."

Falling into the hours of an April morning,
a weakening, a decline toward the expected.

A verbal lament is apology disguised as faith
& what's left of a family remains cause & effect.

Children sit quiet around the table. Listen.
A robin with every note sings only one song.

All that we do is told in minutes.
A kind question is the reason for asking.

Dear C., where have your photos gone?
Who took them away from the album?

Ridley has been quietly publishing for the past couple of years in various places, with one poem there, one poem here, so it's good to finally see something a bit longer, larger. When will someone finally take her poetry manuscript so we can finally see more?

The Ottawa launch for such is scheduled for September 13 at The Carleton Tavern [see the notice here]. Hopefully there will still be copies of the chapbook left by the time it happens.

Cleveland OH: Selected as the 2007-2008 winner of The Pavement Saw Press Chapbook Award is Noah Eli Gordon's Acoustic Experience (Ohio: Pavement Saw, 2008). A poet who predominantly seems to work in longer forms, this small chapbook of prose and poetry sequences that seamlessly blend together into an intriguing small unit of poems, with the occasional single piece included as well.

Scorched Anecdote

What begins an accrual of weak electrical impulses
ends as scales practiced on the library steps

Notes rise. Days rise. I rise, then Sara rises
The carpenter bee understands nothing of helicopters
The helicopter pilot understands bees perfectly

Salvage from declaratives vulnerability
Salvage Monica from Travis, Eric from Juliette
From Mike salvage Julie & Sara from me

Lettuce on paper, blackberry juice on the words:
"we’re this & we're that aren’t we?"

The author of six trade poetry collections, including a collaboration with poet Joshua Marie Wilkinson [see his 12 or 20 questions here] and artist Noah Saterstrom, Denver, Colorado poet Noah Eli Gordon [see his 12 or 20 questions here], what really struck was the little essay he wrote on his own work, that has managed to turn my own writing off into a whole slew of other directions.

An Old Poem Embedded In A Final Thought on the Airplane

About five years ago, I wrote a short poem called "Yesterday I Named a Dead Bird Rebecca". The title came to me while in Florida visiting family. Going for a short walk, I passed the carcass of a crow swarming with small flies. There was something so repugnant about this particular dead animal that, although oddly aware of its lack of any sort of odor, I was, nonetheless, overcome by a strong, debilitating nausea, one which I suspect arose simply from the smell I imagined the bird to have. The poem reads:

were a defused heart
wintering the clock

time kept
by counting birds

I'd call flight
a half-belief in air

a venomous lack
when the ticking is less so

What could be more obvious than that this poem transposes its prepositional way of understanding gravity into the structure of its own identity? Something that lies beyond its lone sentence speaks to me now as the kind of nostalgia one feels upon watching an airplane pass overhead. It means making distance disappear.

Still, it's hard to get a sense of Gordon's work in such a small form, nearly constraining what his poems usually want to do, barely able to get into the full stretch of what they are capable of. Does that mean that Gordon is best seen, instead, in the form of full trade collections?

Vancouver BC: I would have to say that blewointmentbooks (an imprint of Nightwood Editions) is quickly establishing itself as a small publisher producing some of the most important poetry books in the country these days [see my reviews of earlier titles by Matthew Holmes, Jay MillAr and on bill bissett], with poetry titles (unlike some other publishers that I could mention) that aren’t just replicating the same old forms, but instead pushing them further ahead. Along those lines, Rita Wong’s Forage (2007) [see her 12 or 20 questions here] moves through a cultural consideration of her immediate and further out, rippling into the world, commenting on “impassive rants against the abuses of power.” The language of her writing puts her on a list of Canadians such as Donato Mancini, Christine Stewart, Natalie Stephens, ryan fitzpatrick, and Jeff Derksen, working through language itself as a political act.


faith hides in little pockets like the heart
& the throat. born with a serious streak
the width of an altar, i climb the stairs in
that first home, the zhi ma wu, black
sesame childhood sweet, squeeze soya
beans in a rough white cotton bag, hold
my mother’s workworn hands. what do
any of these small gestures mean
except that they have carried me
into now? shadows in the corner.
dust on the shelves & in the blood. an
archival endeavour, let the fragments
stand together, make us larger than the
sum of the individuals. float from
quote to quote, to shore the body of
a man with hairy legs, a mi’kmaq
woman with dark hair who curls into
the sheets like a child, a gay boy who
made the best damn bannock i’ve ever
tasted. there’s no justice for him to die.
ground to push against: red earth,
bloody earth, stolen earth. what the pen
takes, the throat can return.

Unfortunately, it’s difficult to replicate the handwritten script that frames the poem “offering,” including “who wants sludge from the wealthy?” And then there is the first part of the poem “for Lee Kyung Hae / Korean farmer / martyred in Cancun / (1947 - 2003)” that reads:

smashes rice farmers into
the enduring earth

but your sacrifice
invokes capitalism’s fall
so earth resurges

gift economy
socialism’s red fist unclench
open palm stories

It seems interesting, too, that her poems of ruination and “abuses of power” comes framed with a cover photograph of a mound of trash, specifically computer motherboards; American poet Juliana Spahr’s this connection of everyone with lungs (2005) [see my review of such here; see her 12 or 20 here], a collection of 9/11 poems, also features an image of a garbage dump on the cover, thus heightening the suggestion of ruination. Is this what we are doing to ourselves? Is this all we are building, in the end, and will have left?

Friday, August 29, 2008

an old poem about the british columbia interior

There are far too many poems in the world with the bare title "poem," but this somehow one of the rare pieces I've allowed myself. When I wrote this during the summer of 2002, I was in Edmonton with poet Andy Weaver. We had rented a car to head south and then west into Vernon. We were scheduled to read at Jason Dewinetz' greenboathouse reading series, held in the basement of a building once owned by Jason's maternal grandfather. Wasn’t there a shoe store originally on the first floor? There was little at this point but remains, Andy and I reading with poet Vanessa Lent, niece of Vernon-based teacher, writer and Kalamalka Press publisher John, as part of her first public reading. John asked me about my Matrix magazine t-shirt, asking if the journal still existed, and saying oh, I published there years ago. But what does this have to do with the piece?

cold lake & the threat
of an empty dress

1950s dream
& wwII bombers
stalk the shore

a towel
that doesnt cover everything

to be made of stone
& endure forever

burning a hole in
bare pant legs
Between Andy's credit card, his discomfort at driving, and my love of it, we were the perfect pair, overnighting at derek beaulieu's in Calgary to break the trip by a third, so we didn’t have to worry about a nine hour drive before doing a reading. It was the same trip where we met ryan fitzpatrick in derek's converted garage, his housepress. Do I mention the day I helped derek and his father insulate the roof, to keep his press office warm, circa 2000, the days and nights around the same visit I spent with a woman that tore my heart out?

Instead, on this trip, Andy and I had lunch in Golden and I bought that pen, where the old 69'er gold rush prospector and mule moved back and forth. I have been slowly building a collection, one tourist pen at a time. Thanks to our road-map, Andy and I found the infamous 'last spike' site and drove up, disappointed at the fence keeping us from stealing it (or perhaps, from being struck by a passing train), and images in our heads of not just the grand rail but Pierre Berton's retelling of "the national dream."

Vernon, British Columbia seemed like a 1950s dream by itself, a town caught like a fly held in amber, to its own just-distant past. After the reading, we had drinks and drove back to the family cabin, where the green-painted boathouse sat, converted into a studio, where Jason slept. We sat the three of us around the campfire with three girls we didn’t really get the names of. Wasn’t novelist and poet Laisha Rosnau there too? I know she was. I remember talking to her at the pub. I don’t remember much else. I think someone even went swimming, at one point, in Lake Okanagan. I know it wasn’t me. Dropping dress on the beach.

The late night swim, the Vernon lakeshore, the bonfire we sat around. Is it as simple as simply-this?

Thursday, August 28, 2008

an old poem embedded in thoughts on my mother

Much of what became the poetry collection The Ottawa City Project (Chaudiere Books, 2007) came out of the realization that much of my writing about the combinations of 'home' and 'growing up' had come through the history of my father's family, on the same concession of Roxborough Township since 1845. Where did the other half come in? I remember calling my mother collect in my late 20s from The Royal Oak on Bank Street, once it occurred to me (after a few drinks) that I knew so much of my father's past, but didn’t even know where it was that my mother emerged. I've eventually discovered that she and I were both born at the late Grace Hospital in Ottawa's Hintonberg (fourth of seven, and the first of her siblings hospital-born), that she went to grade school at Elgin Street School, where my own daughter went to kindergarten, and lived on Gilmour Street until her mid-twenties, when the whole clan moved themselves down to the Ridgemont/Alta Vista area, where my grandmother remained until the mid-1990s.

233 gilmour street

my mother own & baseball diamond, home
aint what it used to, last rites of houses
then not so, set & set upon
runcible, mountain high & the street
contained everyone, tender disgust
& cicadas sweet rapture, august moon
of red summer silk contradictions, plastic light
of fathers, her own a cold cigarette
plantation, stroke or no stroke, a
form of erasure; snarl of smoke
suspicious materials, brokeback colonies
anticipation of shores upon shores upon shore
once speaking clear, they moved; obtain
a clearer speaking picture, gilmour torn
& torn down; immediately moved
their material restriction impeded, & built
in nineteen sixty-six a tall brown
oval ship in harbour minutes, impressive
& leaving them no lesson to meet
I was intrigued by the combination of these histories, that the whole of my father's clan could be traced through three properties side-by-side, and my mother's, through properties in Coburg, Kemptville and Brockville, and various Ottawa locations, all of which were torn down after the family moved, as the last torn down for the sake of a smaller house on the same lot, another torn for the sake of the on-ramp to the 417 at Lees Avenue, and this one on Gilmour Street, torn down to built the Canadian Public Service Building at 233 Gilmour Street. There are the references to home and family, the building that looks like a brown, oval steam-liner, there is the little Jack Spicer reference peppered in, through.

In 2003, I was getting a book signed at the Ottawa International Writers Festival by Kingston poet Joanne Page, just as a CTV-CJOH cameraman asked if it was okay for him to film us. Of course, we said. With only two poetry collections in the space of a decade, Page added, thank you for remembering that I exist, and reviewing this book! How could I not remember, I said, you have the same name as my mother. You a Joanne Page from Kingston, and she a Joanne Page from Ottawa. The cameraman, surprised, turned to me and asked, did she live on Gilmour Street?

Apparently when he was thirteen and she was fourteen, my mother was his first girlfriend. What did that even mean? And the squatter house that still stood across from 233 Gilmour, not yet torn down by the city, was where, he said, my mother's best friend lived. He hadn’t thought of her for years. Just how random is that, some fifty years later? Brian Nichol, he said, "spelled like bp." I was impressed; just how many television cameramen knew of the late Toronto poet? I spent the rest of the evening calling him "almost-dad," which he found amusing enough to call me "almost-son" a few times. What are the odds in discovering such connections? It made me wonder further about what I know so little about, my mother, who apparently briefly dated one of impressionist Rich Little's two younger brothers when they all students at Lisgar. But how did she end up with the stoic, hard-working, skinny farm kid from Glengarry?

It's part of what makes Ottawa such a small town. If you stay here long enough, you end up not only meeting everyone, but meeting at least one person who is somehow connected to another person you know from somewhere else. Is this a reason to leave the city screaming, or to hold on that much tighter to all that I have? Or better still, all that I haven’t yet?

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Evidence: Poetry Reading with rob mclennan

Thursday 25 September 2008 at 7:00 pm
Ottawa Art Gallery, Arts Court

In 2007, rob mclennan published The Ottawa City Project (Chaudiere Books), a book of poetry whose playfully bureaucratic title belies a poignant engagement with a hidden Ottawa. In many ways, this book served as a catalyst for OAG’s current exhibition Evidence: The Ottawa City Project. Like the artists included in the exhibition, mclennan’s writing continues to chart the fragmentary proof of an alternative Ottawa, thus revealing the lacework of absence and presence that characterizes our constantly changing and evolving city.

Born in Ottawa in 1970 at the Grace Hospital on Wellington Street near Parkdale Avenue, rob mclennan was raised on a sixth-generation dairy farm near Maxville, Ontario in historic Glengarry County. He currently lives directly between Ottawa's Chinatown and Little Italy neighbourhoods, and was called "Centretown's poet laureate" by David Gladstone in The Centretown Buzz in the mid-1990s.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

an old poem embedded in thoughts on the suburbs

It's that classical relation, I suppose, that George Bowering is always referring to. In February 2001, I wrote a small suite of poems while between residences that ended up in the collection aubade (2006), the block between the shared house on Rochester Street and the tiny apartment alone on Somerset Street West a month long. I landed near the Ottawa airport, living the interim in the basement of a friend's rented townhouse, poet and former graffito: the poetry poster editor/publisher b stephen harding. I have so rarely experienced the suburbs, and have never lived there otherwise, preferring strict rural or Ottawa's Centretown. There is something particularly hellish about the suburbs in my mind, having, I would think, the worst of the city and the worst of the country. In the city, there are all these people around, but at least there's something to do. In the country, there's nothing to do, but at least there aren’t any people underfoot.
south keys (he who became lost

this is a poem w/ neither light. time of day

by the teeth of the river, they slept. the tip,
the tongue.

expands across the water. lets lost balls
float slowly past.

the taste of anything this morning. the snow here,
does as snow does.

a candle burns brightest. the box it came in,
even more.

a telephone is not a detection system. beats
the myths of early warning.

tristan took the wrong south bus, & never saw
isolde again. wandered crescents

for hours. who then

the loss becomes him. that is,
turned into.
When I wrote my fiction referencing Persephone in the novella white (2007), I imagined a version of Nepean, an Ottawa suburb, being her own kind of hell, largely based on where my daughter and her mother have lived for roughly a decade. What choice did I have? There is something mythological and even dark about the suburbs, where bored teenagers find the wrong things to do, with stories of swarmings at bus stops, and sexual assaults seemingly on the rise along bike paths, and hidden in bushes. And these are the people, more often than not, terrified of coming downtown and being assaulted themselves, when it might be the safest part of the whole city. When the whole eastern seaboard went through the blackout of 2003, it wasn’t New York, Buffalo or Toronto reporting lootings, but out on Maitland in Ottawa's west end, hearing the reports from late-night talk show hosts Conan O'Brian and Jimmy Kimmel.

Ottawa has grown at such a rate that we perhaps have a higher percentage of city-acreage taking up suburb than our condensed downtown core, one you can walk east-west across in the space of some ninety minutes. Does anyone remember that it was circa 1865 when Ottawa went only as far south along Bank Street as Gilmour or McLeod? Not even as far as the current Queensway. Has anyone really thought about the neighbourhood Old Ottawa South, and just how far south the city-boundary actually currently goes? We exist with these designations of Old Ottawa East and Old Ottawa South, but that doesn’t mean we bother trying to understand them, back when such city boundaries were neighbourhoods, and not anonymous row-housing between highways.

Certainly, the population of Canada has gone from predominantly rural to predominantly urban within the first three decades of my own lifetime, so conceptual shifts are inevitable. When I was at the University of Alberta, I met a grad student who actually admitted that he'd only recently discovered that people still came from farms, and that such talk of Canadian rural was true, and wasn’t merely used as some kind of "literary device."

Lately, there's been a dearth of material on the suburbs and writing on the suburbs, including a special issue of Descant magazine, the "Sub/Urbia" issue (#125) that came out as its summer 2004 issue. Is this a matter of perhaps working to take back what has already overtaken us, or even to justify what we can no longer deny?

related notes: another of same series published in milk (Chicago); another from here;

Monday, August 25, 2008

some new books & books;

Here's an image of a new piece of artwork sitting on my living room wall, by Ottawa artist Eric Walker (an image of his also graces the inside of my collection of essays, and another image was reproduced on the cover of Decalogue 2: ten Ottawa fiction writers), a recent gift during a dinner party.

A new poetry collection of mine just appeared, but in Sweden, online as pdf only (find it here), published by Lars Palm's ungovernable press (a comment on such here by someone I don't know); otherwise, I've two new poems and a little essay online at Milk magazine out of Chicago, & already, someone else I don't know has commented as well.

Otherwise, Talonbooks brings out my poetry collection gifts next spring (selections of such here and here and here), and Ireland's Salmon Publishing finally brings out my book of ghazals, a compact of words as well (selections of such here and here), and I've been listening to little else but this lately. What will the rest of autumn bring?

Thursday, August 21, 2008

an old poem embedded in thoughts on disaster

For better or for worse, call this one of my 9/11 poems, published in my (out of print) British collection, name , an errant (2006). The anthologies were sick with them for a while, everyone writing a poem on what the world predominantly witnessed as a television event, eventually moving from the immediacy of television out into other media. How does one make a particular kind of distant pain universal, unique and even artful? Unless you actually lived in New York at the time, or were in the vicinity, which a surprising number of writers were, American and otherwise, how can one write anything at all? How is it possible to write any kind of political poem, so called, announcing a pain experienced second or fourth hand?
the sand that is everywhere

you would be so very nice
to question

& be ready w/ a believable

seeking out the cause, so much
left here has been broken

a rattling of chains

this is a noise you hear
on a bus

a context that supplies its own

chest pulld tight, as watching
worlds collapse

announcing the death of irony, even
before the fires are out

ash covers all in his apartment

the space of weeks, & a few
short blocks
The title of the piece was borrowed from Toronto writer and filmmaker R.M. Vaughan, who said in the acknowledgements of his first poetry collection, A Selection of Dazzling Scarves (Toronto ON: ECW Press, 1996), that this was his original title. I preferred the abandoned title to what he went with, and lifted it back for myself. But how does one write anything after such an event? Even Paul Celan knew, you could still write poems after Auschwitz, but they would have to be different.

Over the years I'd steered deliberately clear of poems on current events and politics, mainly because most poems on such simply don’t work, and there are enough badly-written, well-intentioned political poems out there in the world without me adding to the problem. Still, it became part of a list of events that connection whole populations; where were you on the day this or even this happened? The world saw John F. Kennedy assassinated that afternoon in Dallas on live black-and-white or captured on radio; the Vietnam war was one lost through media reports witnessed on television. The Challenger disaster I watched live in 1984, just home from a high school morning of my grade nine history exam. The western world was connected through our three or four days unable to do anything but watch the reports of the World Trade Center attacks and response on the major news networks.

Following the attacks, the media was reporting the death of irony. How can they report such a thing, said New York resident Jon Stewart, one evening on The Daily Show, when I still have ash covering everything in my apartment? Some of the fires weren’t even out. Such things aren’t possible. It's too early. Everything will eventually go back to normal, whatever it is that might mean. But what does normal become?

Did anyone else notice how it was CTV Newsnet, well before CNN or CBC, showing new footage first, well before the other stations repeated such, well down the line? Do you remember the empty skies and the government workers sent home?

Do you remember that start you had a few days later, noticing that first airplane back in the sky just above?

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Diana Brebner Prize
Prize: $500 Judge: to be announced

Arc: Canada's National Poetry Magazine invites emerging Ottawa writers to be recognized for their talent through a special award for poets who have not yet been published in book form. The prize is named in honour of the late Diana Brebner, an award-winning, Ottawa-based poet who was devoted to fostering literary talent among new local writers.

Entry fee is $14 for up to two poems and includes a one-year subscription to Arc, beginning with the Winter 2008 issue, for yourself or a friend. (If you already have a subscription, you can give your new one-year subscription to a friend. Please include their mailing address.) All cheques or money orders should be made out to the Arc Poetry Society. You can now pay by credit card or paypal as well as by cheque or money order through Arc Magazine's Poetry Stand. Length of each poem must not exceed 30 lines (including spaces).

Entrant's name, address, e-mail, or phone number must not appear on the poem, but on a separate sheet of paper that also lists the titles of the poems entered. Entrants must be residents of the National Capital Region and not have yet published their poetry in book form. No simultaneous submissions or previously published poems will be accepted. Judging is blind. The winner and one honourable mention will be published in Arc's winter 2008 issue. Arc will host a public reading for both poets in December 2008. Winners will be notified by October 20, 2008. Results mailed only to entrants who enclose a self-addressed, stamped envelope, or emailed to those who provide an email address. No e-mail submissions will be accepted. No entries will be returned.

Deadline: received by September 30, 2008
Privacy Notice: Unless you indicate otherwise, Arc may share addresses of entrants to the 2008 Diana Brebner Prize with similar literary magazines or related organizations for promotional purposes. If you would like your address information kept private, write "Please don't share my address" near your address information on the sheet you include with your submission. Your request will be honoured.

For more info contact Sandra Ridley at contests [at] arcpoetry [dot] ca

Send entries to:

Diana Brebner Prize
Arc: Canada's National Poetry Magazine
P.O. Box 81060
Ottawa, Ontario
Canada, K1P 1B1

Saturday, August 16, 2008

new poetry workshops at Collected Works Bookstore, Ottawa

If anyone is interested, I've just booked a series of dates for my new seasonal poetry workshops at Collected Works Bookstore, Wellington & Holland, Ottawa, happening on Monday nights: September 22, 29; October 6; November 17, 24; December 1, 8, 15.

$200 for 8 sessions.
7pm to 9pm.

for information, contact rob mclennan at or 613 239 0337;

an eight week poetry workshop (not happening during the ottawa international writers festival, of course), the course will focus on workshopping writing of the participants, as well as reading various works by contemporary writers, both Canadian & American. participants should be prepared to have a handful of work completed before the beginning of the first class, to be workshopped (roughly ten pages).

Friday, August 15, 2008

12 or 20 questions: with David McGimpsey

David McGimpsey was born and raised in Montreal. He has a PhD in English Literature and is the author of the award-winning study Imagining Baseball: America's Pastime and Popular Culture, as well as a collection of short stories and four collections of poetry. His travel writings frequently appear in the Globe and Mail and he writes the ‘Sandwich of the Month’ column for EnRoute magazine. He teaches at Concordia University.

1 - How did your first book change your life?

I remember getting my first copy of Lardcake (ECW, 1996) and seeing the author photo and thinking “Wow! The camera does add ten pounds!” I think my first book enhanced, rather than changed my life. I would hope a life is something too rooted to be swayed much by the mere publication of a small press book. However, the acceptance my first book received helped in my desire to prevent my life from changing into something I did not want (i.e. folding sweaters in The Bay to make a living).

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

Except for the years I was in graduate school in Halifax (I did my PhD at Dal) I’ve always lived in Montreal. My parents still live in the house I grew up in Ville D’Anjou – a suburb at the very eastern part of the island right by the oil refineries, where my father worked.

Race and gender impact all writing. As do matters of class and ethnicity. I think growing up working class and Anglophone in Quebec has had a profound effect on my understanding of writing and on my writing’s relationship to Anglo-American culture and to literary culture as a whole. How could it not?

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?

“Where all the ladders start.” I’m a fairly disciplined writer, but allow myself to explore, write, with no thought as to what “project” I’m working on. I don’t quite like the sound of that - writing poems as if they were important projects (“Look teacher, I wrote 50 poems about brambleberries!”). What’s that Johnson quote about the sure sign of incipient madness being when someone thinks what they do is terribly important? So, I write poems, or make books, I don’t embark on projects – though I appreciate what’s meant by that kind of conceptualizing. Maybe that Soviet “project” embarkment is an affect of grant applications, establishing a sense of community project into one’s terribly important insights about the glaciers and the role of “memory”. Sometimes a word or phrase suggests a direction, sometimes the dry discipline of writing (I’m gonna write a freakin’ sonnet!) makes it happen. Even if not, because of the anthological nature of poetry, it will always lead towards something like a book.

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

I work as a stand up comedian sometimes and so I’m aware of the basic dynamics of performance and knowing a little bit about how to craft a joke, I have some knowledge of public / popular space in how I approach character-voice in my poems. I enjoy reading in public and think I’m okay at it, but poetry readings are, by and large, entertainment-proof. I have left some readings feeling so incredibly inspired and engaged but I’ve also left many feeling the need to be relieved of their oppressive air.

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?

Sprite or 7Up? Strat or Tele? Britney or K-Fed?

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

Essential because it is fraught with an inherent difficulty. A great editor is a great blessing. A bad editor can also be blessing insofar as any of the book’s failings you can blame on their lack of care.

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

Once a realistic perception of one’s position in the literary marketplace sets in, it’s easier to concentrate on artistic goals. Writing is always hell.

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

I think Tiffany was singing in the malls then. What about Absolut Pear? Seriously, I had a poached pear at lunch the other day, it came with pistachio-encrusted chevre

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

My brother-in-law Doug told me, at the most defining point in my life, that I did not have to be embarrassed to have strong emotions.

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

As easy as moving between the genres of breakfast and lunch. The human mind has a wonderful capacity to distinguish time for waffles from time for soup. Does that make prose-poetry brunch? I don’t do brunch. I am adamant about that. No brunch. No brunch whatsoever. Poetry and prose are not ontological modes.

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?

Depends on my schedule. I always make time for writing. But, basically what else is there get the coffee in me, open the lap top and git er done.

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

Other writers, obvies. Esp. those who share my sense of shame.

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

Sitcom has a unified formal conceit, which my previous poetry collections do not. Otherwise, still working on Main Street. My collections of poems tend to have some desire to spin outward from my readings of poetry (Sitcom is, in a way, my response to Browning and Shakespeare) and perhaps a tendency to use the word “Urkel” more often than most poetry.

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?

Music in particular. I still write song lyrics and dream of one day writing a song that Faith Hill will sing.

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

Frederick Exley’s A Fan’s Notes, Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited. Virgil, Shakespeare, Tennyson, Browning, Baudelaire, Hardy, Yeats, Fitzgerald, Lowell, Berryman.

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

Eat a taco in each of the 50 states.

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?

I would have worked in the oil refineries in the east end of Montreal. I’d be a bartender, I think. A tough one. I’d like a job where I could yell at people.

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

Fear of honest work.

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

Byron’s Don Juan. Big Momma’s House Two.

20 - What are you currently working on?

I am currently concentrating on my music. I just wrote a song called “Drunken E-Mails Are All I Ever Knew of Love.” It’s obviously going to be HUGE.

12 or 20 questions archive

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

another short history of l.

christopher columbus discovered little
but the loyalty

of a worthwhile publicist;
this new world trembles

to begin

you sleep in sepia, a quilt
of undiscovered countries

& decades of land claim

there are nouns that we know
& those

that won't save us

you are peeling a lemon
down like an onion

forgive me

at the edge of the stone
is a mark

at the edge of the mark
is a daydream

what is it you wanted
to know

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

bad joke file: rob realizes he's fifty years too late to write for rocky & bullwinkle...

Scene: Mr. Peabody's Improbable History. Mr. Peabody and his pet boy, Sherman, go back in time to witness an argument between Karl Jung and Sigmund Freud [note: confirm the two were even contemporary. Does it even matter?] A servant boy, perhaps, an employee who doesn’t want to work for Jung anymore, for some reason, and another that doesn’t want to work for Freud. Some kind of labour dispute, some kind of mismatching, without it being creepy or anything. Eventually Mr. Peabody solves the dispute by having the two employees trade jobs, where they are much happier. The final conversation works around the boy who originally worked for Jung, who simply didn’t appreciate any of that dream nonsense.

Mr. Peabody: Well, Sherman, there it is. The boy [give him a name] is finally where he meant to be, which isn’t really much of a surprise.

Sherman: What do you mean, Mr. Peabody?

Mr. Peabody: Well, Sherman, everyone knows that Jung is wasted on the youth.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

N 49 15.832 - W 123 05.921

AUGUST 19 - 24, 2008

1965 Main Street, Vancouver, BC (Coast Salish Territory) presented by The Kootenay School of Writing with & at VIVO Media Arts Centre

participants include

Rita Wong Tyrone Williams Darren Wershler-Henry Mark Wallace Aaron Vidaver Rodrigo Toscano Catriona Strang Brian Kim Stefans Juliana Spahr Rod Smith Colin Smith Kaia Sand Lisa Robertson Judy Radul Pat O'Riley Sianne Ngai Dorothy Trujillo Lusk Kevin Killian Reg Johanson Robert Fitterman Roger Farr LauraElrick Stacy Doris Jeff Derksen Michael Davidson Peter Cole Louis Cabri Clint Burnham Jules Boykoff Dodie Bellamy

newly commissioned works
readings + talks + panels + performances

N 49 15.832 - W 123 05.921

We are deliberately leaving the colloquium thematically open-ended, having invited writers and artists whose critical and creative practices already intersect (or, in enough cases, contradict) inproductive ways. A pertinent conversation will arise from the juxtaposition of the works themselves. Our direct critical interventions in the lead-up will therefore be kept discreet.

In our collective discussions, however, some of the active terms have included old standards / conceptual pillars of politicised poetics: aesthetics, form, knowledge, and political agency/subject position. The specific set of contexts within which these items are interpreted will constitute the core question(s), constructed as such, of N 4915.832 - W 123 05.921 / POSITIONS COLLOQUIUM.

Here we might ask: How is poetry a political field of action? What can poetry un/do? What do 'limits' mean for poetry? What are the crucial issues in taking a social (ideological) position with in a poetics today? What relationships arise between cultural production and broader social projects?

With these questions in view, the following quotations are presentednot as authoritative statements, but as problems.

"Politics and poetics are united: 'This is a dream not of a common language, but of a powerful infidel heteroglossia.'"- Brian Lennon,"Screening A Digital Visual Poetics" (Configurations Vol.8, No.1,Winter 2000)

"Can we hold onto the possibility of a self-consciousness that does not, simply because it must be critical of oppressive forces, repeatedly fold in upon itself, becoming self-referential—and self-incarcerating—in the form of that non-communicative language that Foucault (mis)recognizes as 'literature as such'?" - Rey Chow, introduction to "The Age of the World Target: Self-Referentiality in War, Theory, and Comparative Work"

"…the unpacking of the semiotic density of discourse, including political discourse, performs an anthropological function in politically dangerous environments in the sense that pure value is accorded positions that let the theorist evade statements of clear opposition to the status quo and allow him or her to defer instead to the values of ambivalence and indeterminacy. To penetrate the meaning of contemporary politics, we think, demands a different and difficult intellectual leap in which one is required to work one's way through—and out of—this subjectively experienced complexity and grasp the bald objectivity staring us in the face." - Timothy Brennan and Keya Ganguly, "Crude Wars" (South Atlantic Quarterly 105:1)

"Art as a separate sphere was always possible only in a bourgeois society. Even as a negation of that social purposiveness which is spreading through the market, its freedom remains essentially bound up with the premise of a commodity economy." - Theodor Adorno, Dialectics of Enlightenment

"Poetry, as a creative practice can aim at an 'actual [rather than 'formal'] freedom' through a language that challenges and negotiates a neoliberal structure of feelings" (9)." - Jeff Derksen, introduction to the West Coast Line anthology Poetry and the Long Neoliberal Moment

"The inability to find an 'optimism of the intellect' with which to work through alternatives has now become one of the most serious barriers to progressive politics" - David Harvey, Spaces of Hope

"Thus, there is an ambiguity of agency at the site of this decision...One decides on the condition of an already decided field of language, but this repetition does not constitute the decision of the speaking subject as a redundancy. The gap between redundancy and repetition is the space of agency." - Judith Butler, Excitable Speech,129

information Fees

$100 = full registration
$30 / full day (both sessions)
$20 / daytime session only
$15 / evening session only
$10 / Tuesday night reading + party

subsidies available, please contact us

Readings, talks, panels 11 am - 3:30 pm +
Readings, performances 7 pm - 10:30 pm
Payable by cheque or Canadian money order to The Kootenay School of Writing Society Dominion Building 309-207 West Hastings St. Vancouver, BC, V6B 1H6, CANADA

direct all electronic correspondence to positions.colloq AT gmail DOT com


August 19 - 24, 2008 at/with VIVO Media Arts Centre 1965 Main St, Vancouver

TUESDAY 19 August
Afternoon-Evening Session only *not* at VIVO, location TBA
4:00 pm - late Opening day social - a party + bbq with readings by poets who have been members of the KSW board or collective.

} tentatively including {
Sachiko Murakami, Donato Mancini, Maxine Gadd, Peter Culley, Steve Collis, Ted Byrne, Andrea Actis + surprise guests

Morning - Afternoon Session

11:00 am Panel presentation Title / theme: "On Line: Poetics and the Distribution of Meaning" Moderator and Curator: Andrew Klobucar
Panellists: Darren Wershler-Henry, Brian Kim Stefans, Judy Radul, Sianne Ngai

1:00 pm Theatrical presentation Kevin Killian and Dodie Bellamy w/guests "The Clifford Irving Show" Dinner Break 3:30 pm (circa)

Evening Session
7:00 pm Readings, presentations, and performances by: Darren Wershler-Henry, Brian Kim Stefans, Colin Smith, Robert Fitterman, Clint Burnham

THURSDAY 21 August
Morning - Afternoon Session

11:00 am Panel presentation Moderator and Curator: Rita Wong Title / theme: "Alpha Bets: Language Gambles on a Gift Economy"
Panellists: Juliana Spahr, Pat O'Riley, Reg Johanson, Peter Cole

1:00 pm Talk Michael Davidson "On the Outskirts of Form: Cosmopoetics in the Shadow of NAFTA."

Dinner Break 3:30 pm (circa)

Evening Session

7:00 pm Readings, presentations, and performances by: Rita Wong, Juliana Spahr, PILLS (A. Vidaver, R. Johanson, R. Farr), Pat O'Riley, Peter Cole, Louis Cabri, Jules Boykoff

FRIDAY 22 August
Morning - Afternoon Session

11:00 am Seminar Seminar leaders: Kaia Sand and Jules Boykoff
Title / theme: "Landscapes of Dissent: Guerilla Poetry & Public Space"
Respondents: Catriona Strang, Colin Smith, Juliana Spahr, Nicholas Perrin, Laura Elrick, Clint Burnham

1:00 pm Panel presentation Moderator and Curator: Jeff Derksen
Title / theme: "Neoliberalism and the Politics of Poetics"
Panellists: Rodrigo Toscano, Rod Smith, Dorothy Lusk, Roger Farr, Laura Elrick

Dinner Break 3:30 pm (circa)

Evening Session
7:00 pm Readings, presentations, and performances by: Rodrigo Toscano, Rod Smith, Kaia Sand, Dorothy Trujillo Lusk, Jeff Derksen

SATURDAY 23 August
Morning-Afternoon Session

11:00 am Seminar
Seminar leader: Sianne Ngai Title / theme: "The Zany Science: Post-Fordist Performance and theProblem of Fun"
Respondents: Tyrone Williams, Mark Wallace, Andrew Klobucar, Rob Fitterman, Stacy Doris, Michael Davidson, Louis Cabri, Dodie Bellamy

1:00 pm Audio feature
Lisa Robertson and Stacy Doris "The Perfume Recordist"

Dinner Break 3:30 pm (circa)

Evening Session 7:00 pm Readings, presentations, and performances by:
Tyrone Williams, Mark Wallace, Catriona Strang, Judy Radul, Laura Elrick

SUNDAY 24 August
Afternoon-Evening Session only *not* at VIVO, location TBA

3:00 pm - whenever
closing-day social

Friday, August 08, 2008

house: a (tiny) memoir

There is a photograph of four-year-old me cradling a baby raccoon, bottle-feeding it milk. I remember my mother pulling out secreted glass bottles and nipples, left over from before. My father and the hired man, Steve, cut down a tree in the bush that, until too late, they didn’t realize held a nest with a female raccoon and two kittens. When the tree fell, the mother did too. My father brought the two young to the house so we could wean them. I remember the raccoons.

house: a (tiny) memoir

Thursday, August 07, 2008

A brief note on D.G. Jones

You Can’t Escape It

freedom must respect
the frame

it is no crime to want the painting
to match the room

the insect
has an intricate design
but cannot grow
as big as an elephant
the whale
requires water

miniatures may require
special attention, expect
rarities: laser art done
with the aid of an electron

you may wrap the earth

the emperor and his entourage
may view it
from a terrace on the moon

god and astronomers enjoy
large views

Lately I've been re-reading Wild Asterisks in Cloud (Montréal QC: Empyreal Press, 1997), my favourite poetry collection by Canadian poet D.G. Jones. One of the few poets who straddles modern and postmodern from his early collections in the late 1950s and early 1960s, including Frost on the Sun and The Sun is Axeman (both published by the defunct Ryerson Press) to his more recent collections Under the Thunder the Flowers Light Up the Earth (Toronto ON: Coach House Press, 1977) which won the Governor Generals’ Award, The Floating Garden (Toronto ON: Coach House Press, 1995), Grounding Sight (Montréal QC: Empyreal Press, 1999) and small chapbook, standard pose (Ottawa ON: above/ground press, 2002). There have been rumours of either a collected or selected poems of Jones' happening from Montréal’s Signal Editions / Vehicule Press for a few years, but so far nothing has been confirmed.

In this piece, from his collection Wild Asterisks in Cloud, Jones writes the narrative like a ghazal, leaping from point to point while still having one. Writing between languages (he has done a number of translations, and founded the bilingual literary journal, Ellipse), between styles and graces, Jones manages to work all eventually into the spaces of his poems with an enviable ease. Jones knows precisely how to break a line, and much can be learned from just watching how he does it, listening to the breath and because and the music of each turn. One of the few Canadian poets (along with George Bowering and David Donnell) who taught twenty-something me, through example, the purpose and point of a perfect line break. Much, too, has been made of his collection of Canadian criticism (there have been books apart from Atwood’s Survival), Butterfly on Rock (University of Toronto Press, 1970).

There is so much quotable in a poem by Doug Jones, with nothing extraneous. Constructed along the lines of a number of pieces of his, including the halting, jagged edge and increasingly tangentical leaps from line to line over the years, Jones, a resident of Quebec’s eastern townships, seems one of the few English-language poets of his generation visibly influenced by some of the Quebec poets that came before him, notably the late Anne Hebert. His Wild Asterisks in Cloud is one of those collections of poetry I get happily lost in for a few weeks, every time I open it, along with Kroetsch’s Completed Field Notes (1989; 2002), McKinnon’s The Centre: Poems 1970-2000 (2004), Newlove’s The Night the Dog Smiled (1986) and Bowering’s Delayed Mercy & Other Poems (1986). These are books I repeatedly pick up, every few years, as a series of touchstones, writing an earlier poem during one of these periods, the piece "for cybele creery & jonathan wilcke (after jones" from my collection paper hotel (2002), and this one, published in (the now out-of-print) name , an errant (2006):

for doug jones

the poems will come, he says, once
the wood gets cut

he captures the hard, thin
& leans
by the backdoor

when the trees look like bones

a seasonal thing, what
pertains to the breath

not an accident of birth

once it can be seen, it can
finally be transcribed

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

above/ground press: fifteen (long) years

When you do anything long enough, you realize you've done it for quite a long time. Yes, yes, yes. It's hard to comprehend the markers along the route of the past decade and a half. In my mind, each publication seems an extension and broadening of an ongoing set of ideas.

The past academic year, while I was in Edmonton, I produced a series of eight monthly titles in my University of Alberta office, numbered runs of two hundred copies, and all but two by Alberta authors, all of which will soon be online as free downloadable pdf files. How cool is that? One could easily say that the Ottawa poetry pdf poetry annual ottawater, soon to accomplish a fifth issue, is an extension of my work through above/ground press, as is the more recent work with Jennifer Mulligan on Chaudiere Books. What about The Peter F. Yacht Club, invented and distributed through above/ground press, as Amanda Earl recently realized is going to be five years old with issue #12 out this fall, produced and edited by her. How can everything not fit into everything else?

With some five hundred and fifty above/ground press items so far, including various magazines (STANZAS, Missing Jacket, drop, The Peter F. Yacht Club), chapbooks, broadsides and other ephemera, it was originally started in August, 1993 (there were other chapbooks that came out as early as the fall before, but I seem not to count those, since they were pre-press name). Where does all this activity lead, and how does it keep? What's entertaining is watching the activity that has emerged and managed to maintain since, including Warren Fulton's Pooka Press (and recent Dirty Packrat variant), derek beaulieu's housepress and more recent No Press, Peter and Meredith Quartermain's Nomados, Rob Budde's Wink Books, Amanda Earl's angelhousepress, Max Middle's Griddle Grin, as well as the previously-built works that have managed to continue as well by Gary Barwin, Joe Blades, Jay MillAr (pre-dating me by a year or so), Stuart Ross and jwcurry.

As I have long stated, above/ground press' selection process moves simply where my interest takes me, with recent and forthcoming publications by Priscila Uppal, Pearl Pirie, Amanda Earl, Pete Smith, Christine Stewart, Gregory Betts, George Bowering, derek beaulieu, Douglas Barbour, Catherine Owen, Emily Falvey, Kate Heartfield (as well as perpetually-late publications from Barry McKinnon, Cath Morris, Karen Clavelle and Margaret Christakos) and various others, wandering through style, and wandering through geography.

What else can I tell you?

What else can I say?

This year's launch/party is happening August 14th at the Ottawa Art Gallery as part of the Factory Reading Series, with readings and launches by Amanda Earl and Pearl Pirie. Hopefully you can make it.

For further information on the press generally, check out