this interview was conducted over email from December 2020 to May 2021 as part of a project to document literary publishing. see my bibliography-in-progress of Ottawa literary publications, past and present here
Ken Norris was born in New York City in 1951. He came to Canada in the early 1970s, to escape Nixon-era America and to pursue his graduate education. He completed an M.A. at Concordia University and a Ph.D. in Canadian Literature at McGill University. He became a Canadian citizen in 1985. For thirty-three years he taught Canadian Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Maine. He currently resides in Toronto.
Endre Farkas was born in Hungary. His family escaped during the 1956 Hungarian uprising, and settled in Montreal. He has collaborated with dancers, musicians, actors, and the other Vehicule Poets. He has published two novels, eleven books of poetry and two plays. His work has been translated into French, Spanish, Italian, Hungarian and Slovenian. He has read and performed widely in Canada, the United States, Latin America, and Europe, and has created performance pieces that have toured across the country and abroad.
He has also translated the poetry of Bari Karoly.
His book How To was nominated for the A.M. Klein poetry award in 1983. He is the two-time winner of the CBC radio Poetry “Face Off” Competition.
His collaborative book and videopoem with Carolyn Marie Souaid, Blood is Blood, was the winner of Zebra’s International Poetry Film Festival (Berlin) in 2012.
His two novels Never, Again and Home Game were published by Signature Editions in 2016 & 2019 respectively. Home Game was shortlisted for the Hugh MacLennan prize for Fiction. He is a proud non-card carrying member of the Vehicule Poets and Mouse Eggs.
How did Mouse Eggs first begin?
Ken Norris: Great question. I don't remember. Maybe Artie [Gold]. Artie had a sign, didn't he? A sign in his study about Mouse Eggs?
Endre Farkas: Ken, being the Vehicule historian, is probably the best person to answer this. I think Artie suggested the title. I think it was our prolific time and our looking to publish what we wrote toute suite. The sacredness of the immediacy. And in keeping with the Vehicule spirit of “if you want it done, then do it.” I don’t think it was a conscious decision but it was the Vehicule Poets’ house organ. Invitation was by mimeo. Serious little mags were popping up all over the country (I think) but not “playful” ones. Maybe TISH was our predecessor? (at least in name). And we had the “means of production.” Ken, correct me (he will) if I’m wrong.
KN: Artie had a sign, and he had a guy to draw the covers: Marc Nerenberg.
I was a Ph.D. student at McGill, and I had access to a ditto machine, and stencils. Endre had access to a ditto machine and stencils at John Abbott.
The Vehicule Poets were all talking to one another before we were the Vehicule Poets. We were all running magazines. But we wanted to do something that was instant and immediate. That was Mouse Eggs. Circulate the stencils this week and run it off next week. There were no editors. Everybody who was given stencils self-edited. Everybody also typed up their own stuff. Endre and I were the producers of the product. We ran the mimeograph machines and stapled the issues together. I think it was a run of 50 copies. Sold exclusively at The Word.
Was the Gallery the drop-off site for the stencils? I don't remember. Did we mail them in? Back when the postal service worked? Maybe.
Q: Endre: you mention TISH, but had you other models for Mouse Eggs? What else was going on around you in Montreal at that time? Had either of you seen copies of TISH, or had you only heard tell of it?
EF: We also put “Typos copyright of poets.” No, we didn’t mail them. At least I don’t remember doing this though John (McAuley) & Stephen (Morrissey) might have. Yes, John was publishing Maker & Stephen Montreal Journal of Poetics.
I had heard of TISH (Canadian Poetry class with Michael Gnarowski, and George Bowering was in Montreal at the time, so I might have seen a copy or two. I’m sure Artie had copies. George was already connected with Artie.
KN: Artie had copies of TISH, and he would let me “examine” them in his study. I couldn’t take them out of the room. So I’d seen TISH. And I THINK the Frank Davey edited reprint of TISH 1-19 came out in 1975, around Mouse Eggs time.
Booster and Blaster had been a few years earlier, but I wasn’t around for that. I was newly arrived in this incarnation.
Mouse Eggs wasn’t like anything else in Montreal. We just wanted an outlet for work that was hot off the pen. I think the “holiday” themed issues came later.
Q: How were the first issues put together? Were you soliciting work, or did you put out a call? How was work gathered?
KN: I remember handing out ditto sheets to the Vehicule Poets, maybe down at the Gallery. I think everybody got two ditto sheets, two pages. To put whatever they wanted on their pages. So it definitely started with the 7 of us, and maybe 14 pages. So the work was self-selected, and then everyone could be surprised. Including the guy who was putting the issue together, me or Endre. I believe the fourth issue was done in concert with the Spring Poetry Marathon, and maybe that was the Second Annual Spring Poetry Marathon, held at Vehicule Gallery (the first one had been at Concordia). And everyone who participated was given a page. So that was our biggest issue, and our most inclusive issue. I believe Augie Kleinzahler has a poem in that issue, along with LOTS of other people. I remember it as being forty pages, and difficult to staple!!
Q: The Vehicule Poets anthology through John McAuley’s Maker Press was published in 1979, not long after the initial run of the journal. How important was mouse eggs in helping the seven poets in the “Vehicule Poets” shape into an informal group?
KN: Good question. I believe there is a collaborative poem in the first issue of Mouse Eggs written by our seven. That’s the first “collaborative act” of the group, and it gives birth to Mouse Eggs. So I see Mouse Eggs as THE central document of the Vehicule Poets. It’s lighthearted, but it’s also a serious collaborative act. It’s the construction of the clubhouse. It’s the unofficial official organ of the Vehicule Poets.
Q: Moving through the bibliography for mouse eggs, what strikes me is both the incredible pace with which new issues appear, as well as the geographic range of writers, which suggest that word was getting out about what it was you were doing. You’ve contemporaries from across North America appearing in the pages of mouse eggs, but no elder poets, whether Bowering or Blaser or Davey or even Louis Dudek, who was around the Vehicule vicinity. Was this deliberate, or was the journal really one of ongoing happenstance?
Let’s compare Mouse Eggs to CrossCountry for a minute.
In CrossCountry I was interested in getting ALL of the older poets in Canada and America into the pages of the magazine. Heavy-hitters and newcomers. I mean, I got a poem from F.R. Scott who was close to eighty at the time.
Mouse Eggs wasn’t really a magazine. Every issue was a moment in time. It’s Valentine's Day—let’s go!! What have we got?
Who have we got? Here’s the photograph of that moment; now let's move on to the next moment.
I agree--there was an incredible pace. I like what you said about "ongoing happenstance"—that is it exactly. I put poems in Mouse Eggs I would never try out anywhere else.
At McGill, Dudek was talking to me constantly about “permanence” in poetry. Mouse Eggs was as ephemeral as you could get. We were just leapfrogging from holiday to holiday, whim to whim. I tried my hand at writing a few forgeries. There’s a Tom Konyves poem that wasn’t written by Tom Konyves. There's a John McAuley poem that wasn’t written by John McAuley.
CrossCountry was getting money from the National Endowment of the Arts and the Canada Council. Mouse Eggs wasn’t getting money from ANYBODY. Endre was mimeographing issues at John Abbott and I was mimeographing issues at McGill. These days they would probably say that we were stealing paper. But things were looser then.
Louis probably would have been offended if I asked him for poems for Mouse Eggs. We weren’t The Tamarack Review. We were maybe like First Statement, but without the John Sutherland editorials. There was no editor. There was no cohesive aesthetic. It was just meant to be fun. Poets having fun, as opposed to working on their careers. At that time none of us had a careerist bone in our bodies.
Q: Once the Vehicule Poets were formed as an informal group, what did that mean, exactly? Was this a way for the seven of you to distinguish yourselves from the other poets working in the city? Was it a marketing tool for readings? What did it mean to the group of you?
In a way, the Vehicule Poets became aware of themselves by being denigrated by other folks in town who called them “those fucking Vehicule Poets.” And what they meant were those poets who were running the Press and the Reading Series down at the Gallery. And it was, “Oh, they must be talking about us.” And “Oh, they must be talking about the group of us.” And the “us” was the three of us who were editing books for the Press: Endre, Artie, and I. And the “us” was the folks who were running the Reading Series, which was Claudia, Endre, Artie, John, Stephen, and Tom. So when people are talking about “the fucking Vehicule Poets” that must be who they are talking about.
So that’s the way that we were aware of the fact that we were being talked about and being dismissed all together.
In late 1978, we called a meeting at Artie’s house to discuss whether we all wanted to appear in an anthology together. Everybody showed up. Everybody talked about it for a couple of hours. And we decided that we DID all want to appear in an anthology together. So we applied the label “The Vehicule Poets” to the anthology, and it was published by John’s Maker Press in 1979.
But Mouse Eggs started coming out in 1975, before we were ever officially “the Vehicule Poets.” We were just a bunch of friends doing a mimeographed magazine together.
Once we were a group, what it meant was that, when Artie died, and they ran his obituary in the Globe & Mail, they called him Artie Gold, Vehicule Poet.
You should read my poem “Montreal, 1975,” which is in South China Sea. I talk about what it was like for me to find the other six. I say that once we found one another we were “no longer alone / in the vast soup of being.”
So there’s THAT. And that, for me, was significant. I suddenly had friends. I suddenly had friends in poetry. I wasn’t going to have to conduct “a career” on my own. We didn’t THINK in careers then. Did we think “in marketing”? I don’t think so. We were just stating the obvious—we were 7 poets who were hanging out with one another and collaborating with one another.
And one of the things we were collaborating on was Mouse Eggs.
I don’t remember ever consciously thinking about being a Vehicule Poet as a way to distinguish myself from others. Ken is right us being dubbed the Vehicule Poets was derogatory. I think Tom liked the label because it suggested motion, moving ahead. (Read “No Parking.”) We didn’t ever have a meeting about the name or writing a manifesto. Our manifesto, if you can consider it such, was our experimenting: Tom with his videopoetry, me with my collaboration with dance and music, Stephen in his work with a visual artist, John with concrete poetry, Ken in collaboration with Tom, John, Stephen and me. Claudia’s “radical” work was eroticism and feminism. I thought and still do that Stephen Morrissey poem “regard as sacred the disorder of my mind” was as close as we got to a manifesto. I consider it our unofficial anthem.
Peter Van Toorn referred to the Vehicule Poets as “the messies” and to himself, Solway & Harris as “the neats.” What he meant by “messy” was that that we didn’t focus on craft and form. It was a “fun” and “derogatory” term at the same time. I think he and the other “neats” were wrong. We were probably as, if not more, concerned with craft. We just weren’t reproducing/manufacturing the old forms. We were interested in “making it new.” And we were having fun. Serious fun. And Mouse Eggs was one the ways we were having it. And for me that was important.
Marketing? The closest I got to doing that was going to the Atwater and Jean Talon markets to buy fresh fruits and vegetables.
Q: What do you feel the journal accomplished, and what was behind the decision to end it? Did it simply run out of steam?
EF: I honestly don’t remember.
KN: The first “series” of Mouse Eggs was twelve or thirteen issues in 1975 and 1976.
We came back to it for a “second series” in 1980 and 1981. I still don’t remember how many issues were in the second series, but I am guessing that it was three or four.
We had a lot of fun doing Mouse Eggs. It was only produced in batches of 50 copies. We were mostly doing it for us. It wasn’t going for any kind of cultural impact. We wanted to have fun, and fun was had. It was probably less fun to do the second series, which is why there were fewer issues. The second five years of the Vehicule Poets was less coherent and less energetic. We were still hanging out in twos and threes, not so much in sevens. Claudia left for the States, and I was in the South Seas a lot.
Mouse Eggs bibliography
Mouse Eggs, two dozen. “SPECIAL HOLIDAY ISSUE--CHRISTMASS,” 1976. Poems by Raymond Filip, Ken Norris, Artie Gold, Tom Konyves, s. morrissey and Patricia Walsh.
Mouse Eggs, three dozen. “Valentine’s Day.” Produced as Stephen Morrissey and Pat Walsh wedding announcement. Poems by John McAuley, Artie Gold, andre farkas, Harland Snodgrass, Ken Norris, TEEK (T. Konyves), Arnold Snardon and stephen morrissey.
Mouse Eggs, four dozen. _____. Produced to coincide with the Second Annual Spring Poetry Marathon. Poems by Mona Elaine Adilman, G.C. Ian Burgess, Muriel Byer, ritchie carson, Catherine Cole, Frances Davis, Donna Dimaulo, Raymond Filip, Gilbert Gelinas, Artie Gold, Bob Johnson, Gertrude Katz, T. Konyves, Helen Kosacky, claudia lapp, Carole H. Leckner, John Lehndorff, Orin Manitt, C.W. Marchant, John McAuley, Elizabeth Metcalfe, stephen morrissey, Dick Mundel, Ken Norris, Leslie Nutting, Inge (Mrs.M.) Packer, Edward palumbo, Robert Rayher, Elizabeth Richards, Allen Roth, Ray Shankman, Harland Snodgrass, Ari Snyder, richard sommer, Paul Walker and Pat Walsh.
Mouse Eggs, five dozen. Easter, 1976. Poems by John McAuley, Ken Norris, janet kask, Jim Mele, andre farkas, Jesus of Nazareth, Jr., Artie Gold and Geoff Young, Murphrie Roos, Jim Joyce and T. Konyves.
Mouse Eggs, six dozen. “Mouse Warnings,” 1976. Poems by Susan Blaylock, guy birchard, Helen Kosacky, stephen morrissey, Patricia Walsh, G.C. Ian Burgess, Marquita Crevier, T. Konyves, claudia lapp, andre farkas, Ken Norris, Robert Galvin, Artie Gold,
Mouse Eggs, eight dozen. “Back to School,” 1976. Poems by Mash, penny chalmers, T. Konyves, claudia lapp, Guy Birchard, ritchie carson, andre farkas, Artie Gold, Maurice Zerkon, Sean Seamus Wilmut, Jeffrey and Colin Morton, Henry Hershfelf, Michael Largo, Ken Norris and T. Konyves.
Mouse Eggs, nine dozen. “Trick or Treat,” 1976. Poems by Hopeton Anderson & Guy Birchard, Jim Mele, S. Morrissey, John McAuley, Opal L. Nations, Ken Norris, T. Konyves and Barry Cornwall. “ENDGAME by Samuel Beckett, A Review,” “Oct. 24, 1976. Powerhouse Gallery, St. Dominique” by T. Konyves.
Mouse eggs, ten dozen. “Christmouse issue,” Poems by guy birchard, morrissey/Walsh, stephen morrissey, Artie Gold, Opal L. Nations, Ken Norris, T. Konyves, Tom Cornmash, andre farkas, Helen Kosacky, Bill Davis, James B. McGinniss, Carol E Cohen, Mike Breiner and Tinker Greene.
Mouse Eggs, eleven dozen. “The Tattooed Mouse,” February 1977. Poems by T. Konyves, Opal L. Nations, Ken Norris, john maccawley, stephen morrissey, artie gold, August Kleinzahler and guy birchard.
Mouse Eggs, twelve dozen. “Reuben’s Garage,” April 1977. Poems by claudia lapp, Opal L. Nations, Stephen Morrissey, Tom Konyves, Andre Farkas, Ken Norris, Artie Gold and ritchie carson.
Mouse Eggs, thirteen dozen. “Baker’s dozen,” June 1977. Poems by Artie Gold, stephen morrissey, Ken Norris, Opal L. Nations, Ken Norris, T. KonYves and Andre Farkas.
Mouse Eggs, one dozen, Series B. “breaking through to the EIGHTIES,” circa February/March 1980. Cover and back cover by Artie Gold. Poems by Stephen Morrissey, Ken Norris, Tom Konyves, Endre Farkas, Claudia Lapp and John McAuley.
Mouse Eggs, Second Gathering (Raiders of the Lost Mouse issue) 1981.
Thank you rob mclennan for providing the second dose to keep the Mouse Eggs phenomenon alive (the first dose was manufactured last year by Endre Farkas who resuscitated a dormant mouse – the Phoenix Rising Issue.) A phenomenon it was, make no mistake. If there was any doubt that poetry was alive and well in the late ‘70s Montreal, the dozen or so issues of this rat mag whose initials screamed “ME!” (I Am Poetry!) put that to rest.
Mouse Eggs was, simultaneously, an open and closed magazine. As such, it was a metaphor for many poetry-related truths: here the ego, there the id; above all, it became autonomous, a being-in and unto itself, a character of its own (its outward appearance accurately rendered on each cover by Marc Nerenberg).
Like Tristram Shandy, Mouse Eggs described its own birth – in the first issue, five of the 7 Vehicule Poets wrote a short quixotic poem, titled TCAKA (Tom, Claudia, Andre (Endre), Ken, Artie). This was the tzimtzum (a kabbalistic term for contraction) “in order to allow for a ‘conceptual space’ in which finite and seemingly independent realms could exist.”
The next step of the “conception” was the first assignment: each poet would submit a poem on the theme of “8 ½ by 11”, the frame of the poem. Interestingly, it was Artie Gold’s “Poem on an 8&½ by 11” that described the generation of TCAKA. And so, in that first issue, there are 5 poems with that title in the same order as the original TCAKA poem (which closes the issue). Again, Artie got the last word, “After me… the absolute deluge”.
Ken Norris sensed the spiritual significance of the moment:
In the beginning was the Verb
and the Verb was
What followed was “outrageous” writing, the more outrageous the better.
Issue after issue, a self-reflexive reference bled purple from its noxious pages. Ken wrote a poem that was not by me, I wrote a poem by (the one…and only…) DITTO. Let the machine speak for itself.
Issue after issue, testaments to this city’s beating heart: “Dante’s Inferno is selling at Cheap Thrills for 49¢.” I marked the events of note in 1977: “What was dada in “The Dada Show”? Nothing. What was not dada? Dada.” It was a word to separate, like Quebec from Canada, poems from poems, poets from poets. It was what was going on in Montreal at the time.
Our gallery, Vehicule Art, was what was going on in Montreal at the time. As in poetry at Vehicule, Sundays at 2. Or the press, Vehicule Press, that published our first books. Or performance at Vehicule, tonight 8 pm. Or, in my case, video at Vehicule, grab a portapak and become a visual/video poet. Or take a poem and put it on the buses. A thousand buses. Access to the means of production, that was Vehicule. Some people didn’t like it. Those fucking Vehicule Poets. What did we stand for that was so out of favour, out of flavour? Louis Dudek knew there was more to us than being wild. (Check out “A Real Good Goosin’: Talking Poetics with the Vehicule Poets” on vehiculepoets.com)
As for Peter Van Toorn’s separation of(our)messies from (their)neats, it was an attempt to quell a rebellion that had turned against a stifling convention that privileged praise and harmony in verse. While we revelled in the ironic, we rebelled against the academic. Everything was on the table:
Though the dawn
like a kiss/
We need less
That we didn’t mind being identified as the “other” couldn’t have been very satisfying to them; a beautiful butterfly had landed on our shoulder, not theirs. As sure as eggs is eggs no one was expecting THIS. It was unfamiliar territory and we wanted it to stay that way.
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