Thursday, June 30, 2011

today would have been mum's seventy-first birthday;

A photograph I found last fall, captioned "Joanne's first steps, taken on the day she was 1 year old, June 30, 1941. She was walking to [her Uncle] Don [Page] - who snapped the picture." 

Will I ever get my post-mother creative non-fiction project, "The Last Good Year," finished? I'm hoping this year, possibly. There is still so much to learn, so much to figure out.

Happy Birthday, Mum, wherever you are...

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Ongoing notes: Toronto + Ottawa small press fairs,

I recently attended the Toronto Small Press Fair, as well as our own ottawa small press book fair [a snapshot of part of the Ottawa room]. Here are a couple of items I picked up, between the two. Each fair holds two events per year, and there are various other fairs around Canada (Toronto's Canzine in the fall, Montreal's Expozine, and Toronto's upcoming Meet the Presses, etc), many of which post to the (canadian) small press fair blog, so be sure to check back regularly for updates for future events!

Ottawa ON: It was good for Toronto author Jim Smith to be able to come through the pre-fair reading in Ottawa to launch his newest chapbook of poems, Exit Interviews (Ottawa ON: Apt. 9 Press, 2011), a collection of pieces composed in tribute to a series of dead, male poets, including bpNichol, Jack Spicer, Ed Dorn, David Aylward, Frank O'Hara. Vladimir Mayakovsky and Federico Garcia Lorca. There was something compelling about the way he read, also, ending the pieces before the end, giving the closure of each piece its own soft edge, tied up in subtle ways.
Ted Berrigan

I'm dead.
& you can't keep me here
As is mine
Great mud intelligence
That icebox I hadn't read
You cant keep me
Davy Crockett is right on
What thoughts I have
Smoking a pipe
You cant keep
Sober dog
White powder
Ron Padgett said
Me here
Go back to speed
It's made of everything!
[Jim Smith, seeing his Apt. 9 Press chapbook for the first time] Interesting to think he might have twigged on the idea, possibly, after a similar series by Toronto poet Victor Coleman, who wrote poems for a series of his late poet friends, each piece dedicated to another, his “Eulogistics” series (originally published as STANZAS #20), which appeared in his trade collection ICON TACT : Poems 1984-2001 (Toronto ON: BookThug, 2006). 

In both authors' series, the writers weave in echoes, slight traces, of the poets they write on, write for, small tributes to each, and the legacy they might have left behind. 

Of Jim Smith's work I'm aware of (which is, admittedly, quite little), these pieces strike as some of the more interesting of a mid-length (so far) career, from his One Hundred Most Frightening Things (blewointmentpress, 1985) to his most recent trade collection, Back Off, Assassin! New and Selected Poems (Toronto ON: Mansfield Press, 2009).
Federico Garcia Lorca

At five in the afternoon.
I will not see it.
Spain is the only country.
Yet the Milky Way
Has filled the valleys of Spain.
The rest was death.
Now, archer, now
There are newly crated things,
There are jellyfish,
There are angels who never attack.
I love the song
I love the cartwheel
I love the rooster.
Que pasa, rooster?
The best bullfighters fall,
Torn apart by the horns
Of their mothers.
Spain stretches out
At five in the afternoon
All is finished
The bull
Loses itself, the fighter
Scares himself.
Ottawa ON: I've only been requesting review copies from In/Words Magazine and Press editor David Currie [that's him in the middle, there] for six months, so it's good to finally see a small stack of publications, including two poetry chapbooks from jesslyn delia smith, her so it's the first really warm day (In/Words, Chapbook Series 8.10, February 2009), edited by Cameron Anstee, and rescue poems (In/Words, Chapbook Series 10, January 2011), listed as, since she was about to end her fourth year as an English student at Carleton University, “her last in/words chapbook.”
behind mike's place in january,
thinking about the future

from where i stand
the flag is lit
on brilliant fire
cold stone pillars,
rising with smoke,
our flourishing minds
Whereas the poems in the first of this pair of chapbooks seem unformed, unfocused and with so very little happening, the poems in her second, some two years later, read like koans in comparison, short, thoughtful poems that reveal by what they manage to hold, so briefly, back.
love lines.

decisions have been
made, unlike before, white
tea seeps from sponges,
creases of your skin,
love lines
and yellow bruises
on the backs of both
my knees, my ankles, from
kicking them in slip-on
princess shoes
There's a gaze here that focuses inward here, and considers, and is considered. The first chapbook might not have been much to grab the attention of too many, but smith's rescue poems intrigue. She might have moved away from publishing with In/Words, but one can only hope that this doesn't mean the end of her publishing. That would be a shame; she should keep going. I'd like to see where she goes.

Toronto ON: I've long been a fan of the small chapbooks produced by Sarah Pinder [see a previous entry on her here] through her bits of string, and the Toronto Small Press Fair provided copies of COLLAPSE (May, 2011) and THE RYE HOUSE, a suite (October, 2010).
one street named after a saint or a mountain, another after blood, pealing bells, loose live gerunds strung across, pitched in hum, every eye a question, a pan, an establishing shot

the alternate ending: wreck this, move with speed, a leash, obedient, the click and what follows, wagging, eager, all breath

after the foot lifts, the cloud of upper sound in the flat wet warmth of the afternoon, you want the drag in chorus, field spent, the clench of taking aim at exhausted scrap, blowing it all – the name of a pocket, a hand carved tattoo (COLLAPSE)
What I like about her writing is the cool clarity of the lines, whether the prose or short line-lengths, and the smooth way that these chapbooks so wonderfully seem to exist outside the boundaries of trade publications. I don't know what her goals are, but I think I almost prefer that I haven't seen any of her work outside these small items; it gives her work a kind of credibility, stepping outside the mess of publications, journals, funded book-length works.
Lake Ontario

New York State on the other side,
but you had turned away,
flicking a match into
the velvet frozen sand (THE RYE HOUSE, a suite)
[Here is Sarah at the most recent Toronto fair] Hers are small, lovely poems that require extra thinking, that require attention of all sorts, for the reader to enter slowly, and live inside for a while, listening.

There's a part of me that would love to see her writings collected into a larger form, and another part of me that just wants to leave the whole of it alone. 

Go find her work, please. Give her your money, and ask, politely, for some of her works. 

If you can't find her, you should be able to at the next Toronto fair.
Son-in-Law Tony at Home, Sept 1973

before he embarrasses himself
with the axe. (THE RYE HOUSE, a suite)

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

12 or 20 questions (second series) with Marthe Reed;

Marthe Reed has published two books, Gaze (Black Radish Books) and Tender Box, A Wunderkammer with drawings by Rikki Ducornet (Lavender Ink), as well as three chapbooks, post*cards: Lafayette a Lafayette (with j/j hastain), (em)bodied bliss and zaum alliterations, all as part of the Dusie Kollektiv Series. Her poetry has appeared in New American Writing, Golden Handcuffs Review, New Orleans Review, HOW2, MiPoesias, Big Bridge, Moria, Fairy Tale Review, Exquisite Corpse, and Eoagh, among others. Her manuscript, an earth of sweetness dances in the vein, was a finalist in Ahsahta Press’ 2006 Sawtooth Poetry Contest. She has guest edited an issue of Ekleksographia and served as assistant editor for Dusie Kollektiv; she teaches in the English Department at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, where she serves as the Director of Creative Writing. Further information about her work can be found at her homepage She can be reached at:

1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
The first book came after returning to the States after seven years in Western Australia and nine years of a life largely devoted to two young boys. tenderbox, a wunderkammer was a huge pleasure and relief, a sense that I could indeed reclaim a writing life that has a share in a wider community beyond my own praxis. Working with Bill Lavender was a treat, as well. He is generous editor/collaborator and a tremendously talented book designer. I was fortunate, also, to have become friends with Rikki Ducornet at that time, who gave me six drawings to illustrate the collection. All in all, it was a richly gratifying experience.

The second book, like the first, grew into itself as a collection. That is, an impulse toward a small series grew into a longer one, in this case, a more various one. Gaze engages with Bush II’s war in Iraq as well as with the swirling milieu of the times: the construction of gender both in the West and in the Middle East and the associated notions of covering or uncovering women’s bodies, haute couture’s engagements with militarism, torture, and war in 2005-06 (some pretty crazy medieval armor along with parachute suits, body bags, piercings, binding, etc), and contemporary Islamic visual artists’ own engagements with Islam, the war, and/or culture. So Gaze feels different in terms of the wider range of attentions I brought to the writing. Gaze’s publication came out of a further immersion in collaboration that was initiated through Susana Gardner’s Dusie Kollektiv. From it, one member, the amazing Nicole Mauro, gathered a group of Dusies and others together to form a new book publishing collective, Black Radish Books. The sense of community that these two collectives have given me is astonishing and wonderful, placing me in the midst of a shared passion for writing and making, introducing me to some fabulous other writers. Among those is j/j hastain with whom I made my third Dusie chap and am currently collaborating on a new manuscript. She also encouraged me to take up a further extension of making, that is the collages that are central to our collaboration, one of which will be used for the cover of her new book from Furniture Press. The big difference, then, between the publication of tenderbox and Gaze is that immersion and participation in a community of writers – wonderful! So huzzah Susana and Nicole!

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
As a very young woman, 13 or 14(?), still a girl I suppose, I started writing poetry, no doubt inspired by my mother’s own passion for poetry. I grew up in a household where my mother went about the day’s duties, reciting, for herself and us, Wordsworth, Keats, Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Frost, a habit picked up at university where she and her roommate would keep each other awake ‘til late at night reciting poetry. –Though I learned her passion for poetry, I never developed her facility with memory.

In college I loved my play-writing workshop with Rochelle Owens, creating a playscript calling for a huge screen and projections in lieu of other kinds of staging, this is in the early ‘80’s. This was also when I was taking verbal performance with Jerome Rothenberg and constructing text performances, one using slides and two voices, another taking a kind of Bread and Puppet Theatre approach with outdoor performance and multiple performers. And, in a box somewhere from those days, there is a fantasy novella, my only real venture into fiction. I have written the occasional nonfiction piece, though very rarely.

Poetry has always been my first interest: its compression, its language play, the heightening potencies of imagery and sound – these were/are a kind of magic. Reading the Language poets with Ron Silliman while an undergrad, burrowed up in the Archive for New Poetry reading and taking notes, and then working on Gertrude Stein’s work with Michael Davidson cemented both a deep connection to poetic language and a widening sense of its possibilities. Performance, though, stayed in the mix and still interests me. My creative thesis with Keith Waldrop was a text for performance, inspired by Rothenberg’s Ethnopoetics and studying non-western theatre at Brown. My readings from Gaze are sometimes done in association with a slideshow of images, many of which are directly associated with the poems’ composition.

3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?
It really depends on the project. Those that require research come out of notebooks and note-taking. Often there is a long reading and collecting period, assembling a body of notes and understanding that will generate the writing. Individual poems have their own natures. Some seem to leap out onto the page, though I suspect that appearance is misleading, that these “easy” ones come after long periods of reading and processing. Sometimes I think I am more attached to the idea of something than to the actual writing; I am presently ignoring a project that I have picked up and put down several times. I reckon I am not ready to take it up and may never be. I do edit a lot, usually away or out. I try to give myself permission to write and keep writing, leaving room for elision and disruption, for compression as I return to the piece. Though this is less true for constraint-driven work, where constraint makes many, though not all, of the decisions for me.

4 - 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?

Again, this depends on the project. Some projects grow, sometimes into one another, while others begin as a concept around which I am working. Gaze certainly was a defined project, but other interests and pieces early began to feed into making it a kind of hybrid animal in its interests and attentions. The manuscript I have out in submission right now, as well as the one which I am currently working on, has its origins in a book concept. Nights Reading is a series of engagements with The Thousand and One Nights, female narrator/narration, the deployment of gender, and Sir Richard Burton, as well as other writers’ takes on the story-cycle: writers such as Edgar Allen Poe, Jorge Luis Borges, John Ashbery, Fatima Mernissi, Italo Calvino. It is a marriage of many impulses, coalescing on the nature of narrative and Scheherazade as narrator, though from the beginning rooted in my own reading of The Thousand and One Nights.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I love reading and performing my work, though much better in the dark! Somehow standing in the glare of lights with eyes and faces pointed at me is less potent that speaking into the barely illumined dark. That darkened space is a kind of invitation to performance, to adopting a persona, rather than simply reading my work aloud. Which is not to say I get more theatrical, but that my own immersion in the experience is deeper. Reading the work aloud is central to the writing. Not to the initial composition but in the editing and revision process, absolutely – the way the thing sounds is intimately related to my sense of its shape. The rhythms and pacings become manifest in the reading, and the soundings clearer.

6 - 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?

Theoretical concerns. The nature of language, so reading Wittgenstein, indeed often playing with his own language, but also the nature of perception and so reading Austin’s Sense and Sensibilia. Feminism, the construction of gender, the relative treatment, roles, burdens of women globally. In that context, what does it mean to say, to know? How is being a woman implicated in each and every one of my actions, of any woman’s actions? How can language, poetry, be a means to articulate those experiences, those understandings? Kristeva, Irigaray, and Cixous, here are useful to me. Politics more generally come into the work, most recently war and torture, the Bush Administration’s wars of adventure and plunder and the consequences to lives, cultures, human rights. How does one write in the midst of horror, articulate one’s inherent complicity? I live here, this is/was my government. It is not clear to me that poetry is any effective means of grappling with these issues, but in writing I seek a means of both engaging with and articulating that vexed territory. Landscape and the environment, a sense of place, are also at the heart of my thinking and work. I have moved around so much, I think I have no longer any place which is my own. A common condition, no doubt. One of the consequences, going hand-in-hand with global industrialisation and unrestrained capitalism, is the degradation and loss of places, both in terms of environmental integrity and the inherent character of a place. I live in Lafayette, Louisiana, the heart of Acadian culture in the United States, and though much about that culture thrives here, it is in a compressed form: the music, the food, and, to a lesser extent because of the systematic efforts to extinguish it in the first half of the last century, the language. The landscape, however, is increasingly decimated by oil and natural gas exploration, the chemical industry, suburban sprawl, and coastal erosion which is itself linked to the oil industry, as well as to the carving of shipping channels through the wetlands and the restraint of the Mississippi River to a course which forces its load of sediment out past the edge of the coastal shelf. So living here, where I thought to find my neighbours speaking Acadian French, there are almost none who do. Where the coast is but a short drive away, it is littered with industry and vanishing at an astonishing rate. Where the bottomland forests and swamps give rise to an extraordinary landscape of land that grows ever more wet as it approaches the coast, becoming at last the prairie tremblant, I live in the midst of Popeye’s Chicken, Chili’s, Domino’s Pizza, Target, and Walmart where sidewalks are almost non-existent, automobiles king, and the only ‘wild’ land within reach is a scant 10 acre park at the edge of town, also serving as a trailer park. Reading on place: Bachelard, J.E. Malpas, Edward Casey, Yi Fu Tuan.

7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
I think writing is inherently political, whether writers choose to explicitly engage with political issues or not. To not engage, not look, not say, is equally political. Being part of a larger culture means everything we do has wider consequences than our own immediate impulse or desire. Driving to the shops instead of walking is a political choice, so is eating industrially produced and disseminated food versus locally grown, organic food. So is thinking and teaching and everything else I do. How can writing not be implicated and engaged? It can’t. What’s the writer’s role? I think we all have the same obligation, whether writers or artists or any otherwise: to make our choices conscious and explicit, informed and compassionate. To see our actions as part of a web of associated choices and actions. Think globally, act locally, hold the policy-makers’ feet to the fire.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
Invigorating, actually, as the editor challenges me to see the work from outside myself and my own intentions toward it. To read as a reader. I think that is essential, whether it comes from an editor or not.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
In response to my inevitable and incorrigible backlog of reading – I just finished a writing review of a book sent to me 3 months ago—Skip Fox told me to read 10 pages of everything (though not necessarily the first 10): if it grabs you, keep reading, otherwise, move on to the next. Just keep reading.

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 teach and direct the Creative Writing Program at UL Lafayette, so during the academic year, I squeeze writing in wherever and whenever I can. During the summer, grant-writing aside, I write almost every day, usually in the morning. Afternoons are okay, but I am liveliest, freshest in the morning. By evening, all I can do is read, so that is when I try to catch up on that enormous collection of unread books. A typical day begins with a cup of rose-scented tea and breakfast – right now, peaches and blackberries with yogurt because that is what is in season here. (I love picking fruit in summer! At least, early enough in the morning that the heat doesn’t do me in.) Followed by answering email. Then I gather my books, my notes, my self, re-read what I have been working on to plunge myself back into that language, and start writing.

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

Reading, always reading. Laura Mullen’s hybrid book Murmur was great for that when I was working on both (em)bodied bliss and Gaze. I think this is a matter of needing to open out of myself, back into a wider world of voices and language, to hear again as a reader. Going out and away makes coming back possible. That reading is not necessarily poetry, but usually. Keith and Rosmarie Waldrop are inspiring in that way, as well, especially Rosmarie’s work for me. Or Nicole Brossard’s Notebook of Roses and Civilization.

12 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Here and now, old fashioned roses, freshly baked bread, rose-scented tea. Of my childhood home, almonds and dust and the sun-warmed coats of horses. I grew up on a small almond orchard in central California. When I wasn’t raking in the harvest (hot, bloody-minded work), I was riding bareback through the trees with my sisters.

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?
Visual art, the natural world, science and the language of math, all of these have and do influence my writing. I am interested in the correspondences between these, the way, for example, Fibonacci sequences are mathematical equations, a description of the growth of sunflowers and pinecones, and a method for tuning an instrument, while also possessing a fabulous name: the golden spiral. Science and math offer vocabularies that push me out of my usual range, that reformulate the way I am thinking about language. A fair number of the poems in Gaze are ekphrastic, responses to the work of artists in MOMA’s Without Boundary, artists Shirin Neshat, Ghada Amer, Mona Hatoum, Shazia Sikander, Jananne-Al-Ani, and Raqib Shah, who are themselves responding to the artistic and religo-cultural legacies of Islam.

14 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
Jerome Rothenberg, always: his ethnopoetic work, his extensions of it into his own work, his contemporary work. H.D., particularly her engagements with Sappho and other ancient Greek poets and Trilogy. Mina Loy’s gorgeous Lunar Baedekker. Gertrude Stein. Rosmarie Waldrop. Mei-mei Berssenburgge. Lyn Hejinian. Wittengenstein’s Remarks on Colour. Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Botany of Desire. Borges’ Labyrinths. And most recently, the work of Dawn Lundy Martin.

15 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Surf! I watched my partner, Mike, learn to surf when we lived in San Diego, and though I have lived close to the coast most of my adult life and love to body surf, I have never learned to surf. Some part of me pines for that. A sense of a missed moment and experience. Being in the ocean is extraordinary. Delicious. And pretty terrifying at times. Not much fun to be pinned down by a wave or caught in a rip. Still, I loved body-surfing when I was pregnant, letting go into the water, becoming weightless and graceful, immersed in something entirely other, that was a great pleasure.

More writerly? Learn French well enough to converse easily. Better? Fluently enough to translate contemporary poetry written in French.

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?

Anything: competition-level 3-day event rider. Alternately, I think I would likely have done something rather related: science writing, perhaps. Editing. Teaching, which I spend a lot of time doing, in fact.

17 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
There were other impulses: astrophysics, musical composition. Though I was strongly engaged by these, I am better at writing. In fact, I think I was not all that great at those others. Whereas writing immediately creates in me that feeling psychologists term “flow” – like body surfing the perfect wave, everything in sync.

18 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
Poetry: Conditions of Light by Emmanuel Hocquard (translated by Jean-Jacques Poucel). Fiction: Rikki Ducornet’s Phosphor in Dreamland and Robert Coover’s Briar Rose. I was really taken by Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls, as well. (I just finished teaching a course on contemporary fiction.) Anthology: Poems for the Millennium, Vol. 1 – yes, I finally settled down to read it – by teaching it! Films: Julie Taymor’s Frida and Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man. I liked Plunkett and MacLane directed by Jake Scott, too. Film comes to me almost exclusively through Netflix, so I am well behind everyone else who catches film in the theatre.

19 - What are you currently working on?
I am in the happy condition of have a whole series of projects cooking. Up front is a piece based in a cut-up: scissoring into/through Swann’s Way. Though I imagine this as a full-length manuscript, the first section of 20 pages or so is also part of a collaboration with a theatre group (my colleague Keith Dorwick’s Plastic Theater), an animation/video artist (Yeon Choi), and a musician (Joshua Carro). The piece will be presented via a 3-D digital “cave” here in Lafayette in March 2012. Very cool. Working with the other artists is hugely exciting, flexing the intellectual space in which I work. Next up, I am collaborating once again with j/j hastain on a series of verbo-visual texts addressing body and embodiment, using as point of departure Forrest Gander’s "The body has been my sole means for finding a world" from Eye Against Eye. Nicole Brossard’s assertion that “the motive is roots, flesh and skin….a first and ultimate memory” resonates in my part of this, too. j/j and I exchange image-texts – her “cells” and my collages – then exchange responses to one another’s work, creating a kind of rhythmic pattern, two such exchanges per month. Ultimately we imagine it published on the web, imagining the color images would make a print version pretty dear. I am also collaborating with my husband, Mike Kalish, who makes art jewelry and small sculptures, in this case, his “boxes” and my texts. This collaboration challenges me as I have to severely limit the amount of text for any piece. These are small boxes, made of copper or brass and enamel, usually no more than three or four inches in diameter. I keep going back and looking at Ian Hamilton Finlay’s work, as a way of seeing how such limited language works. I first came across his work at UC San Diego: his UNDA is part of the Stuart Collection there, overlooking the coast. Amazing piece. Finally, I have a place-centered collection I am just beginning to gather the threads of, work responding to the landscapes of Louisiana – the whole range from prairie tremblant, bottomland forest, the BP oil spill, coastal erosion to the fact of living in a hurricane zone – juxtaposed against the history and politics which shape/have shaped Louisiana’s landscapes. A first step: reading Radical Vernacular: Lorine Neidecker and the Poetics of Place and Oliver Houck’s Down on the Batture. –Plenty to be going on with!

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

Monday, June 27, 2011

Roy Miki, Mannequin Rising

Whereas this cluster of shoppers with
draw hope from dangling pronouns

And whereas this bridge that con
joins resists the run on the sentence

And whereas this designated place
mat is tight lipped on migratory commas

And whereas this market erected in mid
stream feeds on the veins of creeks

And whereas this not for sale make
shift canoe replicates the idea of passage

And whereas this reverse of water con
flates the drainage of seductive fillings

And whereas this island stands as trade
mark to the bouyancy of socialite codes

Let the rhetoric flip its blissed nominals
on the farthest reaches of its distemper

Let chains of recurrence picket all
the wickets on the chagrined boardwalk

Let fruit (o raspberries) in basketry
collapse into circuits of belonging

Let no wreckage patent the pillage
or haunt the glowing in the village (“A Walk on Granville Island”)
Governor-General's Award-winning poet Roy Miki's fifth trade poetry collection, Mannequin Rising (Vancouver BC: New Star Books, 2011), exists as an exploration of public spaces and personal responses and responsibilities, specifically referencing most-often-beheaded store mannequins placed in mall windows as an avatar for large-scale consumerism. 

Including full-colour photo-collages by the author, the collection is, at its core, built around three lengthy sections of sequences, starting with “Scoping (also pronounced 'Shopping') in Kits” to “A Walk on Granville Island” and “Viral Travels to Tokyo,” surrounded by shorter pieces that hold the manuscript in place as a whole. 

So much of Vancouver poet and editor Miki's work in this collection is held in his immediate, walking the streets of Vancouver neighbourhoods, or ongoing travels to the country of his ancestors, providing subtle touches and a light touch across a landscape of commodity that has become all-too-commonplace.
Do you believe that all these
waters have not been charted?

These instruments on the dock
are tracking devices

They barely hold together
under intense scrutiny

Once upon a time one could
say there was an all purpose
supermarket in this solidarity
that could not have been

For instance here in the crook
of a water colour scenario
a dissolve of say brown and/
or blue with a smidgen of grey
in the hand me down clouds spoil
the mandarin oranges pyramidically
poised to capture our fancy this

i wonder about the starlings that
congregate around the passengers
who dole out food substances freely
with an elan usually associated with
those with gifted bodies and minds (“A Walk on Granville Island”)
The third of the longer-sequence sections, Viral Travels to Tokyo,” exists as a kind of “utanikki,” or poetic travel journal, a form consisting of a mixture of poetry and prose explored as well by Canadian poets Fred Wah, Roy Kiyooka and bpNichol. Rife with small moments, a light touch and insight, Miki's poems evoke a kind of breathless-zen movement. What might be left of us, his poems inquire, if everything we have and we are is for sale? Written in couplets ghazal or even haiku-like in their brevity, Miki's poems require the strictest of quiet attention.
turbulence zones
in on Tokyo's light

winding down clock
time it's already tomorrow

before today is done
the recuperation queries

who is that masked gaijin?

it follows that nothing
is irretrievalbe in the descent

Where is the hot seat located? Where does the wand seek to land? What if the thermal vane spins out of whack? The clipboards hanging on the inspectors are blank and look more decorative than rowdy. One seat over, K sees they've been tied over their shoulders, as if improvised, with some plastic rope with frayed edges. Hedge against the tide, so we suppose. What's with the goggles in the fractured light? We wear our metabolic suits in neutral colours for the duration.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

my father turned seventy years old today;

My father, Douglas Ian McLennan, turned 70 today, born June 26, 1941 at 4:40am to John Duncan and Ellen (Campbell) McLennan. Christine, Kate and I went down to the farm to watch that happen, almost like a car turning over in kilometres (is that a bad comparison?). We met them in Casselman, including sister, husband and their three kids, for the Chinese Buffet (which just felt odd) before heading back to the house.

Can you imagine, he's lived in the same house since he was a year old, and born in the back room of the house my sister (pictured, here) now owns. With his father and grandfather born and raised next door, and the original homestead where he is now, we came full circle, it seems.

[here he is having an early 70s birthday] Sitting on the back deck, he unwrapped presents, the kids tore around (jumping up and down on bubble wrap for a while), Christine and I harvested some of the rhubarb from the back of the house, and he talked about some of his plants, including grapes growing wild beside the house, or some of the white flowers he planted a couple of years ago. We could hear the bullfrogs, close by, in what used to be the manure pit. Lovely.

He told us he used to have a dog when he was little, but couldn't remember the he only remembers him called "bad pup."

He told us another involving a collie they had when he was a kid, named Peter. Apparently Peter used to jump back and forth over the long row of cutters used to cut the hay, and "he zigged, when he should have zagged," and lost a back leg during harvest. My grandfather brought the vet out, who was able to do little else but simply sew up the wound, and the dog was not only okay, but back out the next day jumping over the cutters, with only three legs. Never slowed him down for a minute, my father said. A couple of years later, the dog was hit by a car. 

What a strange, random story that was. 

Happy Birthday, Father!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

(another) very short story;

I simply presume that Jake Gyllenhaal’s disaster epic The Day After Tomorrow (2004) was built as sly prequel to the original Planet of the Apes (1968). When American astronaut Taylor left 1968 to arrive a full two thousand and six years in the future and pound fists, you can see a similar angle in both, between thirty and forty-five degrees of the lady herself. Back in Gyllenhaal’s day, the Statue of Liberty hoisting her copper torch, posed waist deep in ice later replaced with sediment, the shifting earth of two millennia. Where were you when the earth moved, Captain Taylor? In the thirties, Armageddon teased from alien forces, the fifties from nuclear fallout, and now, from the chaos of weather, spun out of control. There was the tidal wave that swept storeys under, the bad movie science of global warming causing flash-freezing super-storms at –101 ºC, turning New York into an eventual Forbidden Zone. Doctor Zaius suspected all along, not blown up at all. You maniacs.

Friday, June 24, 2011

“Erín Moure,” Pillage Laud

Their barn was the case of death.
Until cattle are recalling duties, your dancer is bitterness.

What is a yelling habit learning?
The citizen is the statement of vodka.

After a swerving scheme between her smile and my book,
the model of rope—voltage—is her dictionary.

Memory between certain hens and a bridge
is the course of art.

Has the ranch between the wing and her player
between the interval and the pioneer
asked this idle disaster?

To court attends. Her size walked.
In her idiom, how could my melody fight?
Before this fence is her pioneer, the food cracks me and my story.

After you live to verge, how couldn't a stake's
connection unbend?
Your frontier would benefit me.

Because you were my cups, so unbearable a statement
has vanished us. (“PILLAGE 2 (High Prairie”)”)
A lot has changed over the years in regards to computers and poetry production since Pillage Laud, by “Erín Moure,” was originally released in a limited edition (and almost exclusively through mail-order) in 1999 by Toronto's Moveable Type Books, now reissued in 2011 by Jay MillAr's BookThug. As the back cover proclaims:

Pillage Laud is a lost cult item from the last century. It used MacProse, freeware designed by American poet Charles O. Hartman as a generator of random sentences based on syntax and lexicon internal to the program; it worked on Apple systems prior to OSX and is now in the dustbins of computer history. In 1999, the news was shocking: Moure's poems are written by a computer. In 2011, now that everyone is a computer, the book can be read anew.

In 1999, we hadn't yet heard of “flarf,” and computer-generated works were considered gimmicky, with little-to-no benefit to literature as a whole. The lack of reviews of the first edition even seems to hold what response Mouré received to the collection, the first, as well, she worked as a variation on herself as author, responding to notions of the citizen. What does it mean to write lesbian love poems via a computer program? Do these poems strip away the human element, or enhance it?
We were these (shelved) utopias/
Images of torsional cloth.

Why may the dictionary insist?
The noise book addresses their vigil.
A rusting tool.

The site—so direct a gleam with noise—was the stone,
and a chair of damage had signed joke. (“PILLAGE 1 (“Oakland”)”
There has been an argument I've heard of whether a work is actually generated completely by computers. If a human hand created the computer, if the author's eye decides the generation-process and chooses the words to enter into the program, is the writing actually, exclusively, computer-generated? And, if the computer program was designed by Charles O. Hartman, does this actually make the final product, the book-length Pillage Laud, a collaboration between Hartman and Moure? And what does this have to do with language, how words mean? How does such a work alter the considerations we bring to poetry? I've heard arguments that poetry created through such processes, including, even, Christian Bök's infamous Eunoia (Coach House Books, 2001), became negated as poems for their perceived lack of “authorial intent.” Do we need to know what an author was thinking to read a single line, a single poem? I would hardly think so. It's not always what made the pieces, but what the pieces, in fact, become that matter in the end; how they exist as pieces, how they exist as poems. Despite what some of the language poets might tell you, words can't help but mean, and the meanings emerge through how the words are combined. As the author herself writes at the beginning of the collection:
Pillage Laud selects from pages of computer-generated sentences to produce lesbian sex poems, by pulling through certain found vocabularies, relying on context: boy plug vagina library fate tool doctrine bath discipline belt beds pioneer book ambition finger fist blow. Erín Moure January 1998
Given that she selected from the generated pages, this could be, even, a collaboration with “Moure” and the entity that became “Moure”/Hartman, collaboration piling upon collaboration. What has the combination of “Moure” and the computer program actually given us? Damned good poems, I would say, that many would have loved to have been able to compose. Perhaps “Moure” wanted the same thing. But does the tool, perhaps, distract from the actual product?

Interesting, too, given that the sections of Pillage Laud predominantly focus on urban and suburban geographies, including “High Prairie,” “Roselawn,” “Bloorcourt,” “Burnaby,” “Rachel-Julien” and “Burnside,” is there something “Moure” is telling us, combining computer-generated poems with generated communities? If one is artificial, the other might be called so as well; artificial, but possibly, deceptively so, and created to appear that way, but somehow, so much else.
What had so meaningless a book sheltered?
Film will remove the chemical region between the valve
and the message.

While I am exposing this condition, what can't a state undergo?
The library panicked.

A shaking evening was a label. Had the wastes of electricity
switched the words of worry?

Though you fought to excite her, whom couldn't my plug

Your drawing of her affection delivered the series, billing me.
We were certain girls and the observation of town (the restaurant)
couldn't vanquish our fast joy.

Why are certain ones companions?
I unbent, but some virus in her website was the pool. (“PILLAGE 8 (“Rachel-Julien”)”)
Through this, the sixth of their “Department of Reissue” series, BookThug is returning to print and presenting to often wider distributions important Canadian texts over the past couple of decades, and it will be interesting to see the reactions to Pillage Laud, a book that seemed to receive little to no critical attention the first time around. Given that there is actually less book reviewing going on now than there was back in the late 1990s, will the new edition make any difference?

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Robert Kroetsch (June 26, 1927-June 21, 2011)

It was awful to turn on the computer to the news yesterday that Alberta writer Robert Kroetsch had died in a car accident on Tuesday night, returning home to Leduc from a reading, mere days before his 84th birthday.

A mentor and friend to more than a few generations of Canadian writers, Kroetsch's influence was wide-reaching, not only through his writing, but through the generous attention he consistently paid to younger writers, a generosity he seemingly extended to almost every writer he met.

I first met him through Winnipeg poet and editor Dennis Cooley, during those Friday afternoon gatherings among writers and thoughtful readers at Boston Pizza, sometime during the last century. Boston Pizza, of all places, just down the Pembina Highway, not far from the University. Quiet Bob, sitting at the corner of the table, taking all of it in, commenting when required.

Later, as I toured through Winnipeg, reading with Laurie Fuhr, Kroetsch coming out to be part of our small audience. Robert Kroetsch came to hear us, I beamed. Who's that? Fuhr's blush in a subsequent email, discovering library shelves of his name.

Over the years, we would see each other in Winnipeg, and even Ottawa a couple of times, whether for a reading he was doing as part of the ottawa international writers festival, or later, when he returned for the postmodernism conference at the University of Ottawa. His reading as part of the conference had not one but two standing ovations: one before, and one after. He was there to be loved, and looked slightly embarrassed.

Sitting between Robert Kroetsch and Dennis Cooley, the admirers that slipped Kroetsch a pint or two he'd quietly slip over to me. A nod, and a smile.

His was a constant influence. In poetry, fiction and non-fiction, he worked in genres carved out for himself, that he'd managed to create, so the rest of us could explore the same, in our own works. A novelist who came into poetry, showing us just how it could be done.

In his decades of publishing, specifically poetry, he managed to remain active, and fresh, well beyond many of his contemporaries. He enjoyed, and engaged, wholeheartedly. With his whole heart. He was always asking for names of young writers that he should be reading.

It seemed he was constantly publishing, whether the occasional book, or odd little missives he somehow kept quiet about, until one would appear in your mailbox. Even now, he has a chapbook forthcoming with Jason Dewinetz's Greenboathouse, and another, through my own above/ground press, the small chapbook Further to Our Conversation, that includes:
Dear John Lent,

We wash ashore from our mothers wearing nothing but a few hairs. Our first cry is a poem that contains everything.

Strictly speaking, peanuts are not nuts. It was a wet night, so you rowed home. I suppose you could claim we have learned to walk without legs. That would be the short answer. Never mention the moon in a poem, that’s what I always say.

Cantilevers can cross a chasm from cliff to cliff. The converse is also correct. The Beowulf poet was onto something. Figs and apricots, set in the sun, could be said to be soaking in sunlight. Given that, then, the thought becomes a thong.

On bad days we are little more than road kill.

You were riding shotgun on your motor home when the thunder rolled. Coconut cream pie is just about the best thing going. If I had my way, giraffes would have shorter necks and longer legs, errant snakes would be hanged by the neck, Dewey Decimal would organize our highways once and for all.

You knelt too close to the fire. You might be a ruse, a reconnoitering. Icarus in a car, disguise the limits, pain.

Capitalists and other high rollers wear expensive shoes. Certainties are short-lived, and fallacies are, by and large, true, or somewhat true, or briefly true, or not untrue, with exceptions as noted. Poets might not have wings, but they have toenails. Your poems are catapults. Please unfasten your seat belts now.

A license plate has an odd destiny. It is not allowed to make words out of the ABCs.

During my Edmonton year, rereading a number of his books, including Alberta (1968), including A Likely Story: The Writing Life (1995), including The Crow Journals (1980). I reread The Studhorse Man (1967) and looked over that bridge, the High Level Bridge. During my Edmonton year, told by Cathie Crooks and Jeff Carpenter of the University of Alberta Press that I'd become “friend of the press,” meaning any books they'd published I could purchase at author discounts. I immediately picked up a few extras of The Completed Field Notes (2000), to hand out to others. Another copy, to keep my other copies from wearing down, completely. Repeated sessions of weeks, even months, I would carry around, dipping in.

Whole projects of mine over the years hold an echo of Robert Kroetsch, somewhere. A trace of a lemon, or the inevitable delay, delay, delay, the tantric hold of the long poem. The length of the line, or a sweet and lusty tribute to a beautiful woman, all the way back to beginnings.

Last spring in Edmonton, I was fortunate enough to be part of a trio of authors launching books published by the University of Alberta Press – myself, Alice Major and Robert Kroetsch [the photo comes from such, Kroetsch signing my copy of his newest, Too Bad]. In the two readings we did, able to watch a crowd show up to admire the man and his work, from George Bowering, Kimmy Beach and Lori Neilsen Glenn in Edmonton, to Aritha Van Herk, Nathan Dueck and Dennis Cooley in Calgary.

From the podium at the University of Alberta's Faculty Club, mentioning the woman he had to break a date with in 1948, just after his final year of university. Breaking their date to head north to learn, as he'd said many times, to become a writer. The woman there in the audience, the first time they'd seen each other since he'd broken the date, and his sly suggestion, perhaps, that he should make up for the loss.

Those long threads of prairie roads that created him, and the last that he knew.

Last night, a small group of writers converged at the Carleton Tavern in tribute to Kroetsch, each lifting a glass.

Here, a new poem (draft) as tribute to Robert Kroetsch, taken far too soon
Dear Robert Kroetsch,

Like one speaks to the stone, like
-- Paul Celan, Selections (trans. Pierre Joris)

The afterward constantly updates. Our stories have yet to begin.

Your home took you everywhere. So far, in fact, you had even returned. Home, addressing the mouth, and the eye.

Leduc, to your sister. There was always that part that remained, that had never taught Birmingham, never fathered, never taught Winnipeg, never retired. Had never walked beaches in New Zealand, or flown snowbird across the South Seas.

We revisit our own pasts to meet up with ourselves. We call this the future. We call the emptiness, wisdom.

I am heartbroken, sad. The words, before they even begin.

In Alberta, before you'd gone north, you grew into the name that was yours. We rewrite ourselves constantly.

Through your poems, you constantly warned me. Of what, neither of us were entirely sure. Perhaps you kept writing to learn, what you'd already discovered.

Steep your hands in the cosmos. Kroetsch, what can I tell you. Advice I would never presume. We get stuck on the word.

Your poems composed as conversations I didn't realize we'd had, immediately familiar once reading.

The day that I heard, raising a tavern-glass. Looking west, for the near future, and the most recent past. Why do we expect our teachers to never die.

Your handwritten updates. Your story has yet to begin.