Saturday, September 29, 2012

Christine McNair and I are to be married in Glengarry today,

so expect that, over the course of the next little bit, the posts here might be slightly more random than usual.

I might not be answering emails as quickly, either. See you after we're back!

Friday, September 28, 2012

Ongoing notes: late September, 2012

Everyone should keep mailing me books for possible review. Chapbooks, especially. Why do I keep having to beg Canadian presses for chapbooks?

And can you  believe I'm actually getting married tomorrow...?

Philadelphia PA: In a beautiful hand-sewn edition of one hundred and twenty numbered copies is Jennifer Bartlett’s Anything has to be easy enough to get done (Albion Books, 2012), a short essay on the American poet Larry Eigner.

Writing a biography is like putting a puzzle together—or, as Pee Wee Herman says, “Certain questions get answered. Others spring up. It’s like unraveling a big cable knit sweater that someone keeps knitting and knitting and knitting…” To give ten years to something is a daunting task, and yet people do it all the time—to jobs, children, spouses, friends, art. The journey of discovering someone’s life—someone’s mind—is, at turns, engaging and intrusive, tedious and exhilarating. So that I might find myself on any given day thinking, What does reading Moby Dick have to do with writing a Larry Eigner biography?

It would appear that this is part of something larger, an actual biography that Bartlett is writing on the life and work of Larry Eigner, a poet I know very little of, but am interested in. There have been a slew of poet biographies lately, from the recent Richard Brautigan biography, to forthcoming biographies on Robert Duncan and bpNichol, all of which have been long awaited. And will there ever be a further biography to continue what was covered in the biography of Robert Creeley from a few years back? In this short work, Bartlett focuses on the complications of discussing and not discussing Eigner’s writing in relation to the fact that he lived with cerebral palsy, something that a number of his friends, commentators and reviewers seemed to find uncomfortable, even if the author himself didn’t seem to.

The question then becomes how to talk about the poet’s work without stressing CP too much. Eigner’s biography is interesting, yes. But what is more interesting is how his body informs the work. A poet’s corporeal condition always informs his or her writing, but in the work of a poet with CP, the connection to the poetic movement is laid bare, and (due in no small part to the simple difficulties of navigating an “abled” world) even intensified. This can be a cause for excitement—or is a cause for excitement in the case of Eigner. Particularly because Eigner’s poems were typed before computers, one can see the skeleton, the underpinnings, of the connection between soul/body/breath/poem.

The conversation reminds me of a performance I saw in Ottawa through Louis Cabri and Rob Manery’s N400 Reading Series by British sound poet Aaron Williamson, a writer who is deaf. To be able to perform, he had to do an hour’s worth of vocal exercises beforehand, and the act of performing sound poetry became as much a physical act as anything else. How could it not?

I am very interested in seeing what becomes of this project.

Brooklyn NY: From nonprofit art and publishing collective Ugly Ducking Presse come two new gracefully-designed chapbooks: Ernst Herbeck’s Everyone Has A Mouth (2012), translated from the German by Gary Sullivan, with contributions from Oya Ataman and Ekkehard Knörer, and Sandra Liu’s On Poems On (2012). I’m fascinated by Herbeck’s Everyone Has A Mouth, apparently the first collection of the late Austrian writer (1920-1991) to appear in English in the United States. As Sullivan writes his short but compelling introduction:

While working in a munitions factory in 1940, Herbeck reported the feeling of animals or other people—often a girl—invading his body, controlling his thoughts and actions. He was briefly institutionalized, released, and later served for half a year in the military. He was hospitalized again in 1945 and forced to endure shock treatment. He spent the rest of his adult life in mental institutions, most of it at the Maria Gugging Psychiatric Clinic near Vienna.

In the fall of 1960, the psychologist and writer Dr. Leo Navratil (1921-2006), head clinician at Maria Gugging and a promoter of art brut, met with Herbeck for the first time. Wanting to provide the patient with an outlet for personal expression, Navratil gave Herbeck a blank postcard-sized piece of Bristol board and a ballpoint pen ad asked him to write something on the subject of “morning.” After a period of consideration, Herbeck wrote the first poem in the present collection.

Navratil was struck by the results and continued to meet with Herbeck, each time prompting him to write another poem, until the poet’s death 31 years later on September 11, 1991.

For about a half-decade, I ran weekly poetry workshops through Jack Purcell Community Centre for people living with mental illness, and there are qualities here I recognize from the poems presented during those days. There is a quiet, subtle essentialness to these poems, if not a gentle urgency. Although I’m not sure why the translations are presented so gracefully throughout the small collection, yet the originals appear en masse at the back in a much smaller font, sometimes three to  a page?


Yellow is the sand of the earth
Yellow is the color of the bronze forests.
Yellow is the hearts of flowers.
Yellow are the asters.
Yellow is the meadow. of money.
The franc is yellow. — brunette.
i have seen a yellow franc.
yellow is for example my pencil. (Ernst Herbeck)

Seemingly a first chapbook by Sandra Liu, On Poems On is constructed out of a series of meditations on light, and its absence. An uneven little book, some of the pieces are tight, and some meander; her strength comes from the tight lines, such as in the poem “Take a look at this,” holding a line break as deliberately as a thought.

Take a look at this

The lyre of clothesline outside my window
vibrates slightly, silently. Typhoon #3 calmed.

The large white and crinkles shut in the window
across from me, probably a one-block distance away, billows;

rests; billows. A plastic bag; an apron, maybe a skirt;
a plastic bag. My glass acts like it’s melting.

An action figure in a floral print housedress
walks away from the market. Grocery bags included.

Headlights at sunset, doesn’t seem to apply to boats.
Fast cars pass the chinks between buildings.

A burst of kitchen steam. A flickering tv.
A woman, another one, a granddad moving around.

A t-shirt on a hanger drying inside.
A billowing apron hung out. (Sandra Liu)

Grand Rapids, MI: From horse less press comes another new chapbook, this one from Seattle poet and musician Rebecca Loudon, her TRISM (2012), a prose-poem sequence that weaves through a narrative of bears and the divine. I’d be interested to hear some of her thinking behind such a sequence. Is this a Victorian western about bears, or something entirely other? Exactly what is the story, here?

The girls were named Alice the boys were named Jack. Their room was a wheel on a ship. Approach cautiously. Rouge was the place they looked for. Played wounded in battle. Trism Bear scouted the courtyard. Bears have no patience with rhetoric. Drank up felt the beer rise. Alices disappeared in the past making police work difficult. Took care at the conference of birds plague masks unguents curious recipes. Alices lowered the shawls from their foreheads under the influence of pebbles. Jacks leapt to their feet. Safety’s luxury came late. Broken glass on the Marilyn Shrine oranges and pine a candle made from human fat. The moon was down but there was enough light for horses to ford the river. Cherished a secret grudge against breathing machines. Did not let Trism Bear hear. Alices and Jacks were homeless and waiting for food. Desolation Point. The difficult miracle of anvil wince and shit. They were what was found there.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Enduring Freedom, Laura Mullen


the kiss of white on white
pages the book shuts a bride-
to-be dreams her dress a deep
pile of ashes the wind lifts
unfurling the long pale flag of
shreds to lace and then
this red incoherence the few
stuttered vanishing words
of the service dust to dust
the shadow of meanings cast
over these open snowfields
after the weeping faithless
reader through whose burning
eyes what lies ahead passes

American poet Laura Mullen’s Enduring Freedom (Los Angeles CA: Seismicity Editions, 2012) is a collection of prose poems exploring the ideas of the bride and the wedding, and all that comes with it, admittedly an unusual book to be going through, in the days leading up to my own wedding. In the titles of Mullen’s I’ve seen, including Subject (University of California Press, 2005) and Dark Archive (University of California Press, 2011), each explore a different idea from a series of directions to come, if not to a conclusion, a multiplicity of conclusions, exhausting a subject akin to the book-length explorations of poet Cole Swensen, if composed by, say, Lisa Robertson.

“The couple having a private moment.”

She should be seen being lifted out of sight: on a high trapeze still rising, say, and swinging above the stage, hissing “I hate you I hate you I hate you…” In the dimness far above she whispers spits and mumbles, she shrieks and flings down into the pooled light on the floor the various masks she’s been wearing: alternating “beautiful” (carefully made up) faces with monster visages, so lipstick-y smiles flop down along with snarling muzzles or gaping holes fenced with broken brownish fangs dripping reddish froth… “I haaaaaattttteee you!” She trills it out, standing on one foot, still in that silly bird costume they made her wear, singing it. And plop: the blond wig tumbles to the ground and then the brunette wig and so does, shortly, the silver mane and the nest of writhing snakes. I hate you, she thinks it hard enough so that it seems to fill the shadowed space, as she hooks her knees over the bar and swings, upside down, back and forth. “I h-aghydpn goooo” we hear (but faintly) as she rips apart the frilled and feathered gown – dropping fake breasts into the sawdust below, thump, floosh – and pulling the luscious rubber ass-mask around and up over her face…

This collection of essay-poems, subtitled “A Little Book of Mechanical Brides,” sweeps through a range of possibilities, with titles such as “Pride Bride,” “Bride of the Detail,” “Bride of the Lists,” “Bride of the Flaw,” “Bride of the New Dawn” and “Bride of the Venue.” The book exists as a series of portraits, each composed around another point-of-view. As she writes to open the poem “Bride of the Dream of the Perfect Day”: “As if good weather meant, no, were wedded bliss: a series of standard phrases or married words, conjugal felicity for instance (for instance for instance). Dark clouds can swirl like dirty tissue in an overflowing toilet somewhere else for all she cares but here and now Fine is the only forecast.” The title of the collection intrigues: is the “freedom” of marriage something akin to the Roman peace (Pax Romani) that needs to be endured? Within the collection, she (the narrator) references herself as an “oafish archivist,” suggesting more than a few things, including the fact that the collection as a whole is built as a complex study, perhaps before the author finalizes her own decision on the subject?

White Bride

Blank page. It’s this dress – I can’t breathe in it. Deep flounces of colorless fabric mount as if trying to reset a clock, a wake, our task to look back and not look back. Salt at the wrist – then up the arm to the shoulder, all the way to the bitter white heart. Bandaged: existing as erasure, I appear where I disappear. It’s a costume or an heirloom or it’s both. It’s a copy: it’s unique. It will only be worn once, and then it was only worn once: on the most important day of…. Then it’s listed among unclaimed gowns at the cleaners or crushed into a corner of the thrift shop. “I pretended I was in a play,” she confesses, speaking of her wedding, “I’d done theater – I knew how to get through it.” Colorless scentless sift of time and this feeling of connection to events we didn’t experience then this sense of being disconnected from what in fact…. And elected – representative. “I wish I’d put it on before and learned how to walk around in it.” Unmarked or almost: maybe a smudge of dust or a faint smear of what looks like rust at the edge of – but you’d have to know where to look. Because it cost too much to clean it. “Regrets? I wish I’d known how hard my dress would be to move in…I would’ve practiced.”


Wednesday, September 26, 2012

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Billie Livingston

Billie Livingston is the award-winning author of three novels, a collection of short stories and a poetry book. Her latest novel, One Good Hustle, is about the daughter of two con artists, trying to figure out if she is fated to be a crook or if she's got a chance at something better. She lives in Vancouver with her husband, her god parents and a hairy butt-biting Afghan Hound named Rubin.

1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?

Before Going Down Swinging, it didn’t seem possible for someone like me to have a published book— I thought authors were born smoking pipes and pondering the world from New England armchairs. Names like Random House were intimidating so the process of working for years with a book in mind, circumventing obstacles, and persevering until I actually had a contract in my hands proved to me that anything is possible.  With each new book, though, I still have the feeling that the whole publishing process is something akin to gator wrestling.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?

Though my poetry collection was published after my first novel, I did write poetry first. My poems were sort of micro-fictions. I wrote poetry as a way to understand characters and the impact of situations that may seem like fleeting moments. Many of the early poems later expanded and became Going Down Swinging.

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’s been different with each book. The writing initially comes quickly because I don’t want to impose much in the way of self-editing on a first draft. I try to write from the gut. No one’s going to see it so I allow myself the weird and foolish and just hurl it all out on the page. Then I go back and pull and twist and rewrite. It’s unusual for my first draft to look close to its final shape.

4 - Where does a poem or prose 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?

That has changed with each book too.  With my first book, as I mentioned I started toying with characters and story in the form of short narrative poems, but once I began the novel, I continued on in that way, writing hundreds of pages and then changing my mind about point-of-view, and rewriting with a more raw sense of where the nerves of the story were.  With One Good Hustle, I started with short stories in the voice of the narrator Sammie.  I walked her through various situations to look at how she operated until I felt ready to have her narrate a whole novel.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?

I have a huge dread when it comes to public readings and find it hard to write on a day that I know that I’ll have to read. It’s a bit crazy because I often enjoy reading in public as I’m doing it but I get terrible anxiety beforehand.

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?

I like the Roland Barthes quote about that:  Fiction is the question minus the answer.  Like a good shrink, good stories always provoke questions. They don’t supply you with pat answers. Pat answers are the role of self-help books and false prophets.

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 the primary job of the writer is to tell a story.  If you’re writing from your gut without filters — writing, as they say, what you fear most — then your themes will occur naturally.  To my mind, it’s a mistake to become so entranced with one’s role as a writer that the novel becomes nothing but a pulpit from which to preach particular themes and admonishments.

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

Working with a good editor is essential.  It’s almost impossible to edit one’s self.  Like the reader, the writer needs someone who can ask difficult questions.  I’ve been incredibly fortunate to work with some of the best.

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

The only way to get anything written is the AIC method. (Ass In Chair)

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

I guess it’s happened naturally. One form inspires another. I write whatever I’m drawn to write, though sometimes, writing itself feels like trying to yank veins out of my arm.

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?

If I’m deep into a book, I have a quota that I try to keep: Two pages per day.  Enough that I feel I’ve accomplished something and not so much that I feel daunted at the outset. I tend to begin my days with tea and the news, answering emails.  Then a walk to the beach and back.

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

Lately, I’ve been reading peculiar news stories.  They are often filled with ordinary knuckleheads committing such desperate or narcissistic acts that I’m thrown into a deep daydream, marvelling at the avoidable and yet inevitable casualties involved. It can completely rejuvenate my sense of wonder and sympathy which in turn fuels my writing.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?

This is a screaming cliché, but fresh cut grass.  It’s such a comforting smell. And it’s a goofy one for me because I grew up mainly in apartment buildings.  Maybe it comes from a longing for my own backyard.

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?

It’s hard not to be affected by what you surround yourself with. I’m influenced by the storytelling of friends, by walks through the supermarket or the park, by newspapers, television, road trips, music, radio, podcasts, museums, graffiti — that’s why I think it’s important to pay attention to one’s surroundings, to feed your brain with more than fluff.

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

I like reading those News of the Weird stories, mostly to remind me of the desperate and often absurd actions of average people when cornered.  But it’s anything and everything with me: really corny fiction, dark and beautiful poetry, philosophy, mythology, theology, The Globe and Mail, The New York Post

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

I hope to do more visual art, work with my hands.  I’d like to learn how to make a book, how to weld, I’d like to learn some simple carpentry. 

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?

When I was a kid I wanted to be a veterinarian. Later I wanted to be a lawyer.  I never went to creative writing school but I wish I’d gone to law school or medical school.  It would be good to have that knowledge to use in my work.

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

I always wrote. When I was doing other things I still wrote. Especially while I was employed in the most mind-numbing of jobs, writing kept me sane. The surprise came when someone actually wanted to publish the writing.

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

I just read True Grit by Charles Portis.  I didn’t expect much, but I loved it.  The original film with John Wayne and Glen Campbell was such fluff, you’d never know what was lurking in the novel.

I recently saw Aberdeen with Lena Headly and Stellan Skargård, It was riveting and terrible and, at times, painfully funny. The performances are so good, the scenes so humbling and humiliating, you want to cover your eyes.

20 - What are you currently working on?

I think it’s a novel but I’m not sure yet.  I’ve written one long story about a Catholic priest in rehab.  Now I’ve moved on to his sister who is obsessed with spiritualist churches, seeking mediums who claim to talk with the dead, people who might be able to help her find the voice that’s snuffed out of her life.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Glengarry is shortlisted for the 2012 Archibald Lampman Award!

From the Arc poetry magazine website:

Congratulations to the 2012 finalists for the Archibald Lampman Award

Arc Poetry Magazine is proud to present—drumroll—the 2012 Lampman shortlist!

Each year, Arc Poetry Magazine honours Ottawa poets. Arc is proud to present the four 2012 finalists for the Archibald Lampman Award for best book of poetry by a National-Capital author.

The award is named in honour of Archibald Lampman (1861 – 1899), one of Canada’s finest nineteenth-century poets. Lampman moved to Ottawa in 1882, and much of his metaphysical nature poetry was inspired by the National Capital region.

Michael Blouin  Wore Down Trust (Toronto; Pedlar Press, 2011)

rob mclennan  Glengarry (Vancouver: TalonBooks, 2011)

Thelma Poirier  Rock Creek Blues (Regina: Coteau Books, 2011)

Sandra Ridley  Post-Apothecary (Toronto: Pedlar Press, 2011)

The award will be presented on October 24, 2012 at the Ottawa Book Awards.

Congratulations to all four finalists and their publishers, and many thanks to our 2012 judges.

Monday, September 24, 2012

the autumn 2012 ottawa international writers festival schedule is now online!

the ottawa international writers festival
October 24-30, 2012

Check the schedule here, with authors including Linda Spalding, Christine Poutney, M.G. Vassanji, Shauna Singh Baldwin, Annabel Lyon, David Bergen, Lloyd Robertson, rob mclennan, Chris Alexander, Robert Fowler, Maureen Jennings, Peter Robinson, Michael Petrou, Pasha Malla, Missy Marston, Sarah Dearing, Ayad Akhtar, Shani Boianjiu, Anton Piatigorsky, Spencer Gordon, Barry Webster, Tim Ward, Amanda Lang, Nyla Matuk, Jonathan Goldstein, Nadine McInnis, Miranda Hill, Steven Heighton, Matthew Tierney and Marcus McCann (among others), and the Ottawa premiere of Midnight's Children screening and on-stage conversation with Deepa Mehta.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

eleven eleven #13

There was no hope
that a reading
customer could
leave this thick and
cold silence. She
shivered and rose
again looking
to go for coal.

She put water
once in the hot
water bottle
which could not sing
any more while
the new she-cat
slept in its fur
behind the stove.

raised their eyes to
look across the
old window prints
of falling snow –
the street had turned
completely white.

Alone, she crossed
her happy arms
upon her chest,
and put her nose
outside to re-
cord the world of
whole spectacle. (Victor Coleman, “ivH 58 [coda]”)

The most startling thing about the thirteenth volume of the bi-annual eleven eleven: A Journal of Literature and Art (San Francisco CA: 2012) might be in the inclusion of new poems by Toronto poet Victor Coleman, a writer who rarely (it seems) appears in trade journals (although, as I learn through Coleman’s bio, a chapbook of this work appears or has appeared this year with Toronto’s BookThug). I suspect the inclusion of work by Michael Boughn, a writer who co-edits and co-conspires with Coleman (including co-editing the recent University of California Press edition of Robert Duncan’s The H.D. Book), might have something to do with that. Possibly. But either poet’s work is worth more than the price of admission, and I wonder what the late John Newlove might have thought about Boughn’s poem in this issue, the odd, hilarious and marvelous “Doukhobor Butts”? The piece begins:

The truth is often saggy, naked, dimpled
in ways unsuspecting youths from the desert
intersect with a kind of stunned but vague
recognition that north is more direction

than most needles can tell. Is it
the condition that wreaks or the havoc
that conditions? The flames bear confusion
into the thick of alien’s sudden

illumination. […]

For the two hundred and fifty-plus pages of the journal, I’m a bit surprised at the sheer amount of writers I’ve not previously heard of, a wide range of magnificent work by such as John Pluecker, Floyd Salas, Lee-Ann Roripaugh, Judy Roitman, Eugene Rico and Clay Matthews, all new discoveries, thanks to this issue. This is the benefit, I suppose, of a journal that doesn’t consider the writers they publish for another issue or three. And the bee images by Rebecca Szeto, “from the ongoing series Traces: Daily Meditations on Just Beeing,” are quite stunning. Otherwise, it’s good to see new work by familiar names such as Sarah Rosenthal, françois luong, and Rebecca Loudon (a recent discovery).

from Lizard

Mostly eats the living.
On account of her
eyes. They see what
moves. She stalks
the world nude, I
want to say reveals
the world’s nudity.
Want to say, we’re
all that emperor.
That lonely thing
with mirrors (Sarah Rosenthal)

Another particular highlight was the interview Peta Rake conducted with Newfoundland-based photographer/performance artist Kay Burns, and her work The Other, a series of staged photographs of the artist as female historical figures who lived their lives as men. Might this be a touring work, perhaps? As Rake introduces the interview:

Dress is an exploration of not only self, but of the other. Enacting these alternate identities has become a process of discovery for performance based artist Kay Burns. The women Burns researched and portrayed in her project, The Other, made a “pragmatic decision to dress as men in order to move forward in a career path that would have been unacceptable for women at that time.” And the women have such varieties of career; Margaret Ann Bulkley as the military doctor and surgeon Dr. James Barry; Mary Charlene Parkhurst as the stagecoach driver for Wells Fargo Charley Parkhurst; Charlotte O’Leary as the zoo keeper and bear trainer Charlie O’Leary. What becomes integral to Burns’ project is that the women she seeks to re-inhabit do not implement male dress as one-off masquerade, but that they had lived their entire adult lives as men, with their female genders only revealed posthumously.