Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Andy Weaver introduction for the TREE Reading Series

Here is the introduction I read to present Toronto poet Andy Weaver at last night’s TREE Reading Series:

In a brief introduction to his section in the anthology evergreen: six new poets (Black Moss Press, 2002), Andy Weaver wrote:
I’m not even certain that I write anymore. It feels more like I just cobble together lines that I’ve put down in the little book that I keep in my right pocket. Which feels better, in a weird way, than when I was naive enough to believe all that crap about inspiration and genius and whatnot. To misquote Frost, which is fine ‘cause he’s dead, one could do worse than be a cobbler of words.
This is a sentiment shared by the late John Newlove, who kept found lines on organized stacks of blue file cards, for him to later include in his own poems, even going so far as to write about that theft between stolen lines in the poem “White Philharmonic Novels” from his collection The Night the Dog Smiled (ECW Press, 1986):
Look, nobody gets wise writing
Now I must be making
pretty manners
at you
It’s necessary to realize that all these phrases
are stolen. The arrangement is all.
Some of us waited years for a first collection from Andy Weaver to appear, finally published by Edmonton’s NeWest Press in spring 2005 as the collection Were the Bees. A former editor at The Fiddlehead, and founder of both Fredericton’s QWERTY magazine and Edmonton’s Olive chapbook and reading series, there were a few years when I considered Andy Weaver to be the best poet in Canada without a trade book. Weaver’s poems are almost a bridge between the prairie horizons of Robert Kroetsch, the more traditional metaphor-driven lyric pastoral of Don McKay and Jan Zwicky, and the explorations of the avant-garde. His poems explore the ghazal, influenced by Canadian models John Thompson, Phyllis Webb and Douglas Barbour (as well as Barbour’s breath-line), the metaphysical threads of San Francisco Renaissance poet Robert Duncan, and the pastiche of how seemingly-arbitrary lines collide into each other, much like, for example, Lisa Robertson’s The Weather (2001).

Before hearing him read from his “Were the Bees” sequence in Edmonton in spring 2004, I had considered his poem “Three Ghazals to the constellation Corvus (The Crow)” to be his strongest work. Since east coast resident John Thompson’s posthumous collection Stilt Jack (House of Anansi, 1978) appeared, bringing the ghazal, an ancient Persian form, into Canadian poetry, the prominence of the form exploded through the publication of Phyllis Webb’s Sunday Water: Thirteen Anti Ghazals (1982), Douglas Barbour’s more recent Breath Takes (2001), and younger poets, such as Eric Folsom, Rob Winger, Catherine Owen and Weaver and, unlike so many others, bringing new life to the form; exploring fields of disconnect through couplets.

In Weaver's “Three Ghazals to the constellation Corvus (The Crow),” every couplet is punctuated, clipped with a wry ironic sense, tongue planted firmly in cheek, as he references Crow, a trickster creation god along the lines of Coyote, or Raven. Every line evokes more than it has space to tell, but tells enough, from youth writing, bad luck and injury to drunken hope and hopelessness, turning the poem in on itself by the very end, a mixture of wit and education, and the kinds of learning that only the bars of Edmonton’s Whyte Avenue can provide, between lines of Duncan; between lines of Mina Loy. Born in Saint John, New Brunswick and raised in various places, including rural Alberta and Carleton Place, just outside of Ottawa, he took his BA at Carleton University, with a creative writing workshop with Seymour Mayne at the University of Ottawa, took his MA at the University of New Brunswick, and his PhD at the University of Alberta, finally achieving an assistant professor job at York, and its still my theory that he is hoping, eventually, to personally influence every university in the country.

The biggest reason I chose Andy Weaver to read, apart from the fact that he remains one of my favourite people, was simply the fact that I haven’t seen or heard a word of his writing since his first trade collection appeared, despite rumours of a forthcoming second; I want to know what the hell he’s been up to.

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