Sunday, January 31, 2010

Nathaniel G. Moore, Wrong Bar

Where laughter could have risen out on a grid, on its own separate track (lever pushed up, entering the audio’s thick multi-leveled nuance), a truck belches, a bus exhales, and winter’s malicious choir belts out its finest renditions. I look at the malnourished trees cinched together in sparse soil, potted and thumbed in a shallow grave in the parking lot. Barely six people in the parking lot: a gamey man and his buddies, a lone security guard, a gaggle of teen wolves slowly evaporating into the grey nightline horizon framed by television wires.

I sing the most beautiful hymn on earth: “Dried pineapple faces, sunken, hollow, and sore, how you hallmark a healthy regimen in me … You are the thunderclap, the seven-hour nightmare, you’re how I’ll survive in a pupa, the pupa I’ll be fetal within … and, oh, how my wings will soar me and, oh, how my kingdom will ignore me, pupa pupa, do not forget me … take me on your special imagination quest.”

How does one describe Toronto writer Nathaniel G. Moore’s second novel, Wrong Bar (Toronto ON: Tightrope Books, 2009) [a part of which appeared in the Descant “hotels” issue I wrote of, here]? The author of, as well, a new fiction chapbook with Black Bile Press and a second poetry collection with DC Books (neither of which I have yet seen), his Wrong Bar tells his story through the eyes of narrator and writer Charles Haas, resident of the fictional Maudlin City, spending his nights working through what appears, at first, to be a menial job inside a detective story inside a psychotic break, and his twentysomething days with friends, acquaintances and enemies who drink, smoke, party and just “hang out,” as he falls somewhere on either side of the lines between what is real, what is imagined and knowing at all the difference. Where Kingston author Steven Heighton wrote a main character in his novel The Shadow Boxer who has an earnestness that often made his life harder, turning what had been a frustration about Heighton’s earlier work into a strength, so too, Nathaniel G. Moore manages to bring in a surreal and manic energy as a strength, something working with his writing as opposed to against it. In Wrong Bar, this is easily the closest he’s managed to make the surreal train of illogical thought and jagged aspects of his personality (seemingly) in print, from previous writing that held back and sometimes couldn’t reconcile itself. Here, Moore’s writing pushes through himself at full force; but accomplishing, it begs the question, exactly what?

I turn on the computer and hit the white rectangle indicating another melee with myself and hand-to-eye co-ordination. This one I christen “They Suffocate At Night.” It’s all about my concern for Cate and her meet-up with Daniel, of whom she’s spoken so little. The things I recall are as follows: they dine on seafood twice a month; he is homesick, an incredible singer, possibly married, and enjoys classical music. in the story there is a teary goodbye over calamari and a possible double-murder that happens moments after Daniel leaves his apartment to go to the airport to meet up with Cate, and it’s revealed at the end that his true nature is quite nautical. Of course, Cate won’t really confess to me anything particularly accurate about her relationship with Daniel, so I have to make it up. The end of the story has Daniel with his wife in Spain, submerged in the late-night ocean, growing tentacles and making love underwater. Something like this:

“I love you,” Daniel said softly, his distorted reflection pixilated as their limbs submerged. Both sets of tentacles treated and swam in the water. Their smooth Spanish mouths filled with water. “I always will.” This must be underwater love, Daniel thought. And it truly was.

Everything in this book exists in a heightened state, and the points that aren’t, seem to exist in an attempt to ground the text, to keep it from going completely off the rails. Moore’s language is all over the place sometimes, but is completely the point, and somehow manages to keep itself together and askew all at once. Once you’re inside, there’s no mistaking anyone else for the electrical prose of author Nathaniel G. Moore, and that itself might be an acquired taste. Like the fiction of others, such as Matthew Remski, Daniel Jones, Margaret Christakos or John Lavery, Nathaniel G. Moore’s Wrong Bar is a dangerous beast, and isn’t for the faint of heart.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Catherine Owen, Frenzy

a whole city can disappear and a love

that suddenly inevitable become a smudge (“Somewhere in Toronto”)

Former Edmonton poet Catherine Owen (recently returned to Vancouver) has always been a poet more comfortable working older forms, writing poems that talk about writing, and exploring modernist structures such as the sonnet and ghazal against a rough street-level urbanity. In her sixth trade poetry collection, Frenzy (Vancouver BC: Anvil Press, 2009), Owen explores the idea of the muse against a rough Vancouver backdrop, working her poems (as former collaborator Joe Rosenblatt writes on the back cover) as a “neo-romantic bard,” and delving into Greek myth. In seven sections, Owen’s poems are constantly in a state of frenzy, agitation; constantly unsettled, yet almost resigned to such. Resigned, or are they blatantly proud? And how many poems (there are quite a few) move through their frenzied agitation into a kind of celebratory dance of nervous energy? Such as the poem “When the two characters speak at once” that ends with “had continued to fall into this perfect description / of mysterious joy,” and begins:

Hope is not a rest stop and so we kept dancing

though I can’t hold you up he said laughing

at the madness of the tightrope beneath them

the music’s net always an inch from their lips

licking at any language that surfaced

Owen’s poems want to tell us stories, relating a mixture of myths over contemporary surfaces, showing magic and betrayal on every Vancouver streetcorner, whether muses who sing out of newspaper listings, or late hotels (four poems for Vancouver’s late Cobalt Hotel, 2000-2009). But, in her sixth trade poetry collection, Owen’s poems so insist in telling us stories, I wonder what she might accomplish if she turned her gaze to fiction?

Keeping her grandmother’s obituary in a glasses case she

crosses the street against the light almost getting run over

by that stupid idea she had of telling him she read Sartre

why this loving of men who cannot (“The shades now drawn on the two box windows”)

Although I’m not sure how her section, “The Flood-Ghazals,” work as ghazals, structurally different than those I’ve seen in English-Canadian poetry over the years, from John Thompson, Phyllis Webb, Douglas Barbour, Andy Weaver, Rob Winger and others. Considering that at least one of Owen’s previous books a collections of ghazals, far closer in structure to what one would expect, are these ghazals in, perhaps, name only? Where has the flood, exactly, taken them?

Aunt Dilys

Old women often have Trollope in their bathrooms,

hidden under the Reader’s Digests, yesterday’s paper –

some journeys always stay the same, like the one where

Demeter goes to the underworld or Eurydice looks back

or Lot’s children, fleeing the sodomized city, turn

into pillars of salt or this looking upward into eyes

that have Pompeii in them and laughter like the hills

beyond Hope rolling & rolling into sagebrush and

tumbleweed and bed where an ancient tunnel begins

in the back of the mind reversing truth where the beauty

is dark and free as a pomegranate seed whose promise

is an old woman pacing lonely and fierce in her once

wild-flower passions, but alone still, reading Trollope.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Short Grain (with Variations),

Grain Magazine's 22nd Annual Writing Contest, is accepting entries until April 1, 2010 (postmarked). Grain still awards $6000 in cash prizes! The entry fee is still $30.00 which includes a one year subscription! Our judges are counted among Canada's finest writers! One entry fee allows you to enter a maximum of two entries in either of two categories: Poetry in any form to a maximum of 100 lines; Short Fiction in any style to a maximum of 2500 words.

Judges are: Jennifer Still, Poetry, and Lee Henderson, Short Fiction. Four prizes will be awarded in each category: 1st prize=$1,250, 2nd prize=$750, 1st and 2nd runners up=$500 each. Consult Grain's website, for complete rules.

About our contest judges:

Jennifer Still's second poetry collection, Girlwood, the manuscript of which won the 2008 John V. Hicks Award, is forthcoming with Brick Books in spring, 2011. Her first book, Saltations (Thistledown), was nominated for three Saskatchewan Book Awards. She is the recipient of the 2008 Saskatchewan Emerging Artist Award; also in 2008 she was a finalist (twice) for the CBC Literary Awards. Co-founder of JackPine Press, Jennifer now lives in Winnipeg.

Lee Henderson is the author of the award-winning short story collection The Broken Record Technique and the novel The Man Game. He is a contributing editor to the art magazines Border Crossings and Contemporary and has published fiction and art criticism in numerous periodicals. His fiction has twice been featured in the Journey Prize Anthology. He lives in Vancouver.

Grain Magazine
PO Box 67
Saskatoon, SK, S7K 7E8 Canada

Sunday, January 24, 2010

from "eight poems of reconciliation"

The space in paintings is not paint; it is space.
Cole Swensen, The Glass Age

I know there are men in the distance.
The trees at the edge of the woods

are sacrificing one another.
Paige Ackerson-Kiely, In No One's Land

a name, etched in, is made of gravity.

I call you, let you wake
into the contours of my voice,

uncertain hours.
a penance, twinned.

this difficult birth.

it is useless to believe in light

unless blind, & then
you know.

kissed Morse Code
across the dash.

you don't have to shape a distance
to walk a flight of stairs.

the poem doesn't have to be difficult.
the poem doesn't.

there is nothing stranger than what
we almost recognize.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Paul Quarrington: July 22, 1953 - January 20, 2010;

[Gregory Betts + Paul Quarrington at the spring 2009 ottawa international writers festival hospiality suite, crashing the party] Got into Toronto last night, in just enough time to hear about writer/musician Paul Quarrington, who died earlier in the day, after a long battle with cancer. Buddy, I thought we had more time? I must have met him around five years ago, through the ottawa international writers festival, Clare Latremouille and I in the hospitality suite, corralling him into singing Saturday morning cartoon theme songs with us (he knew quite a lot).

I didn't know him well, but well enough, but I'd see him at things here and there, including the ottawa fest, Eden Mills, and other literary haunts; well enough, that when he came to Ottawa for a conference last spring, he emailed me to ask what was going on, worth going to? I told him, festival, baby; gave him the hotel and room number, and he showed up that night, Greg Betts in tow, apparently both in town for a conference on literature and film at the University of Ottawa.

I didn't know him well, but he was always game for a conversation and a comfortable word, open to whatever might have been happening around, and seemed the most un-authory of any of those "famous novelists" I've met over the years. He was just Paul; any beer in the fridge? What have you been up to lately? Apparently he and Steve Heighton (I was witness to it at a previous festival) told each other bad (I mean, bad) jokes when they met at festivals or the like. Pretty entertaining, but like watching a train wreck at the same time; marvellous.

We were even talking of going over to his backyard for a bbq at some point, myself and my beautiful lady, once the weather got warmer (I thought we had more time...).

[I know, I should probably include less unflattering, say, photos, but this was a good night, and the only pics I have of him with me right now] Whenever I saw him, I was always reminded of the film based on his novel, Whale Music, and the great Rheostatics song co-writ by Quarrington himself, "the beast needs more torque," etc (unfortunately I can't find it online, but here's another lovely song from the same film by them Rheostatics). It might have been the author of Fishing With My Old Guy, his memoir on fishing with his father (pretty self-explanatory, I know) where I first connected with his writing, but boy, I'm going to miss the friendly casualness of the talented author of everything to do with Whale Music. I'm going to miss that guy, Paul. Tonight, sir, I will raise up a glass...

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Paul Auster, Invisible

I shook his hand for the first time in the spring of 1967. I was a second-year student at Columbia then, a know-nothing boy with an appetite for books and a belief (or delusion) that one day I would become good enough to call myself a poet, and because I read poetry, I had already met his namesake in Dante’s hell, a dead man shuffling through the final verses of the twenty-eighth canto of the Inferno. Bertran de Born, the twelfth-century Provençal poet, carrying his severed head by the hair as it sways back and forth like a lantern—surely one of the most grotesque images in that book-length catalogue of hallucinations and torments. Dante was a staunch defender of de Born’s writing, but he condemned him to eternal damnation for having counseled Prince Henry to rebel against his father, King Henry II, and because de Born caused division between father and son and turned them into enemies, Dante’s ingenious punishment was to divide de Born from himself. Hence the decapitated body wailing in the underworld, asking the Florentine traveler if any pain could be more terrible than his.

I might still be a couple of novels behind on my reading American writer Paul Auster, but at least I was able to go through his latest, Invisible (New York NY: Henry Holt, 2009). Invisible tells the story of 20-year-old aspiring poet and Columbia University student Adam Walker, who meets a couple at a party in the spring of 1967, Rudolf Born and his girlfriend, Margot. After reading most of his other works, there is something here in how he tells his story that feels familiar, from working through secondary texts—including Walker’s contemporary memoir-in-progress, “1967,” sent to a friend and read through his eyes, and the diary entries by another character at the end—and odd coincidences, working through elements of the story through both archival and character distances, something that Auster seems to employ in different ways over a number of his works. It’s something he employed in his breathtaking The Book of Illusions, easily my favourite of Auster’s works, as well, working through the search of a dead filmmaker through the narrator’s conversations with the filmmakers family, friends and through the late filmmakers own nearly-lost black-and-white masterpieces. Who here is invisible, what exactly is lost, through Walker witnessing Born’s irrational outbursts and seeming generosity and, finally, Born’s murder of a mugger who wasn’t even armed, causing the rest of the book (and the remainder of Walker’s life) to spiral out of control.

Back in the dark ages of our youth, Walker and I had been friends. We entered Columbia together in 1965, two eighteen-year-old freshmen from New Jersey, and over the next four years we moved in the same circles, read the same books, shared the same ambitions. Then our class graduated, and I lost contact with him. In the early seventies, I ran into someone who told me Adam was living in London (or maybe it was Rome, he wasn’t sure), and that was the last time I heard anyone mention his name. For the next thirty-something years, he rarely entered my thoughts, but whenever he did, I would find myself wondering how he had managed to disappear so thoroughly. Of all the young misfits from our little gang at college, Walker was the one who had struck me as the most promising, and I figured it was inevitable that sooner or later I would begin reading about the books he had written or come across something he had published in a magazine—poems or novels, short stories or reviews, perhaps a translation of one of his beloved French poets—but that moment never came, and I could only conclude that the boy who had been destined for a life in the literary world had gone on to concern himself with other matters.

I’m intrigued by Auster’s secondary character Jim (a writer, as so many of Auster’s main characters are), working his own way through Walker’s story, even the parts that don’t match up, and even contradict, through secondary sources to further the plot. What really appeals is how the story leaves itself, finished and unfinished, leaving the reader to decide exactly what happened, and exactly if it matters, precisely, in the end, what the difference is. Is there a difference? What does the truth have to do with the results that followed? What is the truth to any person’s story, and does how they saw their story become, then, its own kind of truth? I’m intrigued, too, by Walker’s literary ambitions, working on poems and translations of poems, finally ending up in Europe to pursue his literary ambitions, something that Auster himself did as well; is Walker simply an alternate Auster (something he has played with, too, in previous books, even bringing characters named “Paul Auster” along for the ride) who took a wrong turn at a party in New York at the tender age of twenty?

Monday, January 18, 2010

Lana Turner: A Journal of Poetry & Opinion Nos. 1 + 2


The apprentices paint themselves how odd

The first line of a poem about painting

Or putting the finishing touches on

Waiting would also be about a rope

Designed to fray just where it stops

Falling outside the sorting field

Odd a line would write itself out

In apprenticeship to others, agree

To uncoil as the poem frayed

Strange also to have learned the manner

In which the rope becomes a brush

I experience as waiting as apprenticeship

To a painting dying in the sight of it

Predictable the rope frays here and here

Odd it stops like anything painted (Geoffrey O’Brien, No. 1)

I recently discovered the American annual Lana Turner: A Journal of Poetry & Opinion, edited by Calvin Bedient and David Lau out of Santa Monica, California. Lana Turner, where are you, we love you, wrote Frank O’Hara, but this isn’t exactly the form we expected her to take when she picked herself up again. A magnificent journal, each issue features essays on poetry, new visual art, fiction, politics, translations and poetry, and even some writing on music and movies in the second issue. What makes this journal is the rich volume and quality of work, as well as the range, packaging each of the first two as magnificent units. Hopefully this is a journal that will not only continue, but thrive. As the editor writes (extremely briefly) at the beginning of the first issue:

Wyndham Lewis’s BLAST and Robert Bly’s The Sixties are respected but distant models (very distant in the case of BLAST) for this new annual magazine, Lana Turner (whose subtitle in fact echoes that of The Sixties). The editors don’t aspire to the powerful salience in the magazine that the aggressive and brilliant Bly and Lewis enjoyed in theirs; but neither will we always remain behind the curtains, affecting to be nowhere in the vicinity. Now and again, we’ll step out. […] In dispensing with a further preamble, we anticipate that the journal itself will disclose its purpose. We hope that here and there it has an alerting value and that everywhere it gives you pleasure.

Some highlights of the first issue include a feature on/by Barbara Guest, including an essay and early poems, Marjorie Perloff’s essay “Rereading Frank O’Hara” (there he is again…), photographs by Judith Taylor and John Lucas, and poetry by Brenda Hillman, Juliana Spahr, Srikanth Reddy, Geoffrey O’Brien and plenty of others. Some highlights of the second issue include essays by C.D. Wright, Catherine Wagner and Calvin Bedient, visual art by Peter Sacks and Alan Halsey, and poetry by Rae Armantrout, Cole Swensen, Ben Lerner, John Ashbery and plenty more.


mineral edges in a possessed squad car.”

Olympic heat. Dramatic sludge in the dendrite hammer.

If it twists into crumpled shiny things, this rag of light works.

I’ll mop heavenward over the spasmodic drifts. Adjacent

To the wound: the glove: the shrunken brown hand.

Orchestral juice wins ninth place in metallic bands.

I’ll blast you. You blast you.

I feel like a cheap hungry siren. (Douglas Piccinnini, No. 2)

I can easily say this is one of the finest and most comprehensive new journals I’ve seen in some time. But do we really have to wait a year between issues? They are currently taking submissions for their next issue, but only until the end of March. I am already anticipating their third. Here’s the beginning of an essay by poet C.D. Wright, “Concerning Why Poetry Offers A Better Deal Than The World’s Biggest Retailer,” worth the price of the issue alone.


The poem stands alone.

But it is not made of itself alone. It is not brought into being by parthenogenesis. Not endowed with that level of self-sufficiency or self-concern. It gets it on with all the other arts. It communes with the non-arts. It strives for discipline. It never surrenders its wild streak. For some of the makers it is virtually on tap; for others it is wrenchingly wrought. Whatever it takes, it takes. Whatever it gives, is also taken. Once made it has a degree of autonomy and with that comes the terrible face of isolation from having been made and having no sphere. From having only its own space to occupy.

Is this it then? The consumption of all by one? Does Wal-Mart win?

Sunday, January 17, 2010

In Stereo by Paul Hegedus

Brampton, Ontario poet Paul Hegedus’ In Stereo (Toronto ON: BookThug, 2009), is helping keep writer/publisher Jay MillAr’s small Toronto enterprise one of the few poetry publishing houses in Canada worth keeping a constant and consistent eye upon. In his first trade poetry collection, Hegedus works the idea of the double, writing in what the book jacket calls stereophonics, turning lines that twist the direct statement even of the North American ghazal, moving through a mix of structures and styles, and turning ghazal-like leap to leap into twist to sodden twist. But why not simply call the collection “stereophonics,” writing his (as the back cover tells it) “twin microphones…positioned in order to more accurately record and represent a sonic movement”?

What is it mean when Hegedus says that he writes his concerns in or of the stereo? Is this writing dna strands of the double, wrapping up into each other, or leaving the old-fashioned mono behind into whatever came next, to Phil Spector’s historic “wall of sound”? From straight lyric to visuals and many variants in-between, there are what could be considered visual/text “walls” at either end of the collection, beginning the collection before moving out into the construction of the book itself, twisting phrases in on themselves until they crackle and spark, and crack even into themselves, as he even writes “speech sets movement towards two words” (p 45) or “notice the two speakers // your relationship to a / position thru its repetition // split finger mirror figure // flip side rotations of / vocalized versioning // fun house flowers informed / by glass shards” (p 69). In a magnificent collection moving uniform in multiple directions, is this Hegedus alternating right and left channels, as well as that moment or those moments when both sides exist at equal levels, equal volume, making it impossible to tell exactly where any of the pre-recorded sounds are coming from? Is this Hegedus in surround-sound?