Wednesday, August 31, 2022

what we did on our (pandemic) summer vacation,

The Museum of Nature
I can't remember now. Did we see anyone? Did we do anything at all? Odd to think I haven't posted a summer report since 2018. I suspect this might have simply been the time all blending together as a kind of temporal-mash, yes? What is time, really?

July saw our wee monsters in a variety of activities, including a five day stretch Christine and her mother took the children to Winnipeg to meet Christine's Oma and two maternal aunts, which I took as an opportunity to attempt to return into my novel manuscript. I took the opportunity to hit a few patios here and there to attempt longer stretches of novel-writing, away from the distractions of household requirements and email. July was all novel. I wrote in the backyard, I wrote at the Carleton Tavern, I wrote at the terrible, terrible sportsbar on Bank Street, I wrote in our dining room. I even managed an hour or two of writing during those afternoons with our young ladies at the neighbourhood wading pool, if you can imagine.

Their flights to and from Winnipeg (I think through Toronto, en route) were fine enough, and now our young ladies think that Winnipeg is a marvellous and even fancy city, given they saw little but hotels and a museum or two (as well as at least one family member's house). We want to go back to that fancy place, Rose says. Well, then. And once they were home, we even managed an afternoon moving through every floor of the Museum of Nature, their first museum jaunt (in Ottawa, at least) since this all began. That part was tough on Rose over the first year or two, the lack of ability to museum. I'm hoping to get her back into the National Gallery of Canada at some point this fall, if possible. Perhaps on one of her PD days.

forest school, Aoife

I think they did a week of bike day-camp after that, and even nearly a week with father-in-law in Picton, which furthered me into the novel. July was all novel. In Picton, I think they spent the bulk of their time in the pool. They attended a week of forest school, something they've both been doing throughout the pandemic, their only (and outdoor) in-person activities through any of this period, until this past summer, honestly. They did a week of day-camp at the school Rose will be attending this fall (in part to get her comfortable in the new space). I did attempt to get them into either our inflatable pool in the backyard this summer (an hour or two to inflate and fill it, for twenty minutes of their attention, before returning inside), but they weren't really going for it. They seemed more eager for such, say, last summer, or the summer prior. I managed to convince them a couple of times over the past few weeks to the local wading pool, the same pool my mother took my cousins back in the 1960s. They weren't always into it, but if I could convince them, we were there most of the afternoon. On the final day of the pool, naturally, it was raining, and the lifeguards weren't letting anyone in. The young ladies were crestfallen. Let's go home, they said.

Why do they always close the city pools so early?

Larry Sawyer

Jim Johnstone
I was in Toronto twice over the past couple of months--once for the Brian Fawcett memorial, and again in July for a reading at Type Books with Lisa Richter, thanks to Larry Sawyer's Milk magazine reading series (and saw plenty of folk such as Margaret Christakos, Jim Johnstone, Mark Goldstein, Kate Siklosi, ryan fitzpatrick and others. I think I'm back in Toronto twice in September for small press fairs, which should be fun. And our young ladies, of course, landing next week in in-person school for the first time since March 2020: Aoife in grade one, and Rose in grade four. Should we be nervous? We are optimistic, mostly. Although it would have been nice to, say, get their first boosters prior to landing back into a school year.

We finally had my great-grandparents' (WWI-era) piano tuned, and Rose latched immediately onto the possibility. I picked up a beginner's book for her, which she burned through in three days. I took thirteen years of lessons (but haven't played regularly since the 1980s), so I could assist her for most of it, but she clearly requires an actual teacher. She's been working through a second book as well. And did I mention that they've been fundraising? Rose has been over a year planning on a family trip to Harry Potter World or whatever through Universal, and has a money jar stashed to save up for such. They even had a flower business at the base of our yard, where I think they made some forty dollars. I was impressed by their work, neighbours clearly wandering by and tossing in change. Forty dollars! This picture is from the original days of such, not long after which Christine built a sign suggesting 'pay what you can' for flowers and herbs, so apparently that worked well enough.

Aoife in cousin Paul and Carla's Orleans pool

There was Greg Kerr's memorial, which I found a bit rough (although I saw a bunch of folk I really hadn't seen much of since the 1990s). We visited Christine's cousin in Orleans, and managed their pools a couple of times. We went over to visit Jason Christie and his family. We caught a few visits with people in the backyard, distanced. Bardia Sinaee came to visit. David O'Meara came over to visit. Natalie Morrill came to visit. The children met Natalie's brand-new (nine weeks!) puppy, Gus. I saw Amanda Earl randomly at Staples. I went over to Monty Reid's backyard for an afternoon. I had a drink at the Carleton Tavern with Jason Christie. Stephen Brockwell and I launched poetry books at his local establishment. I attended a Michael Blouin book launch at a brewery I didn't know existed, mere blocks from our house. I went over to visit with brother Darren and his wife Trish, attended by birth mother (the first time we'd all been together, which was curious). And we even managed the Glengarry Highland Games for the first time during this period as well, during which one of Christine's cousins (her father's cousin Frank, to be precise: who kept referring to himself as Uncle Frank, so I've been calling him "Cousin Uncle Frank") organized an extended McNair gathering, which was fun.

And yes, I wore my kilt. See?

Over the past few weeks, the children had a variety of swim lessons behind the RA Centre by Billings Bridge, which was interesting. I didn't even know that was back there! It's a huge building (and apparently my parents had their wedding reception there). I hadn't actually been in or near the building before, so that was curious. And Aoife and I even saw a very impressive rainbow (we had to stop the car as we were leaving to look at it properly). Oh, and Christine had a car accident less than two blocks from our doorstep (she was en route to a rare massage, which had to be rescheduled). We have yet to find out if our car is a write-off or repairable, according to insurance. Bah and bah. So close we could see Christine from our front yard, awaiting the police. She is fine, but she's irritated and slightly achy (which she has been attending, don't worry).

And why is this delightful Gary Barwin book out of print? That seems terrible to me.

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Laynie Browne, Translation of the lilies back into lists


  1. Can I look with stammering?
  2. Do crossed-out items count? (“12.16.15”)

The latest from American poet, prose writer, teacher and editor Laynie Browne is the curiously-structured Translation of the lilies back into lists (Seattle WA/New York NY: Wave Books, 2022). A prolific writer and editor, author of fourteen collections of poems and four books of fiction—see my review of her poetry title You Envelop Me (Oakland CA: Omnidawn, 2017) here and my review of I’ll Drown My Book: Conceptual Writing by Women (Los Angeles CA: Les Figues, 2012), edited by Browne, Caroline Bergvall, Teresa Carmody and Vanessa Place, here—each of the poems in Browne’s Translation of the lilies back into lists are structured as lists, with titles set as dates. Built as a kind of lyric collage, each poem offers a sentence or thought per numbered line, offering some twenty, thirty or forty in sequence, allowing the accumulation and collage within and through each dated poem to offer a kind of diary.

Dedicated to the late Arkansas poet C.D. Wright (January 6, 1949 – January 12, 2016), the dating of the poems—which run from “12.16.15” sequentially to “05.23.16”—suggest that Browne’s friend and peer died mere weeks into the composition of the collection, something that wouldn’t help but shift the direction of the manuscript. “My inspiration is leaving.” Browne writes, as part “16” of the poem “,” seeing a potential correlation that might be, on my part, entirely speculative. “I can’t accept it. But I guess if she can / accept it I must also accept it. I sat down in her car covered with garbage.” Hers is a conceptual framework anchored in the lyric, one focused entirely on the moment, on individual pinpoints; composed as a book of questions, openings and musings that refuse closure or conclusion, allowing each line a weight no more or no less than any other. And yet, the ebb and flow of her concrete lines allow for a particular kind of abstract, floating in and out of specific focus, simply moving along as the lyric allows.

  1. The daily takes too much time.
  2. Therefore I propose to waking every second, beginning each moment.
  3. The new year is just an excuse for counting.
  4. Numbers don’t keep anyone safe.
  5. Ideas lurk in symbols and murders occur in figures.
  6. The squirrel runs up a tree but we do not accuse him of squirrelishness.
  7. Or, thievery or absentmindedness. Where is substance buried?
  8. Shall I reply again, to your drawings?
  9. I’m leaving habit on a high shelf.
  10. Going for a walk in sound.

The adherence to titles-as-dates also link this collection to other poets over the years who have worked the structure of the “day book,” whether Robert Creeley, Jessica Smith [see my review of her latest here], Gil McElroy, Brenda Coultas [see my review of her latest here] or David Helwig. Through Browne, her “day book” exists as a kind of catch-all, where the form and purpose appear to exist as a kind of accumulation over any kind of lyric closure or particular narrative through-line, such as a journal-poem composed across a specific season, experience or travel, for example. “Sometimes I am against progress,” she writes, as part of “01.04.16,” “because I don’t like endings.” The line following, that writes: “Or write too many words, so as to lose my place.” As well, the poems are less sectioned than seemingly grouped, with an original collage by the author along with tag line to introduce each new stretch of date-poems. In many ways, Translation of the lilies back into lists is a long poem composed as a book-length suite, spotlighting the minutae of movement, moments and progress. If all narrative structure, as they say, an artificial construct, than perhaps Browne’s Translation of the lilies back into lists is a lyric closest to actual thinking.


1.     1 won’t drink the published version of our meeting.

2.     Sublime subjects.

3.     Events in little red book.

4.     I’m solely sunk.

5.     A gallery of no substance, no content.

6.     Yet every glimmering absence remains.

7.     The idea was to become less an obstacle.

8.     Concepts kept me from realism.

9.     Malleable thought, confiscated hands.

10.  Presence is the nearness of breath.

11.  Crystallized light.

12.  I described a lack of manageable alphabets as follows:

13.  Why subsist on letters?

14.  How well can you think any else’s thoughts?


Monday, August 29, 2022

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Sarah Mintz

Sarah Mintz holds an MA from the University of Regina. Her debut short story collection was released in May of 2021 with Radiant Press. She has had work published with Book*hug Press, JackPine Press, APOCALYPSE CONFIDENTIAL, Sea & Cedar, Agnes and True, and the University of Regina’s [space] Journal. She currently lives in Coleman Alberta with a man she met on the internet.

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

I’ve told this story before, but I’ve never written it down. By now, it’s probably been twisted into something that has no relationship to reality, but we’ll never know.

            When I was in grade one, the teacher announced that there would be a “Blue Day.” Everyone should wear or bring a blue item and get some kind of prize or award. My mother and I dyed the eggs on my fried egg sandwich blue. Every piece of clothing I wore was blue. I had blue bobbles in my hair.

            On Blue Day, each child was awarded one star, which was stuck to a piece of loose leaf taped to the wall, for wearing or having blue on or around them. I was never promised more than one star, but my eggs were blue! No one else had blue eggs.

In sum, I really liked that guy in Anna Karenina who wrote a book that no one cared about. My books are my blue eggs; I’m a try-hard Koznyshev.

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

I’ve always written things down and regarded them privately as brilliant, and then after having hoarded the scraps of written things for days, months, or years, burnt them in a fury of embarrassment, because they are not brilliant.

In 2017-ish, I enrolled at the University of Regina for a Masters of English Literature and Creative Writing, in an attempt to fulfill some promise I hoped I had. My teachers were brilliant. The works I was exposed to were brilliant. I was humbled. And also, I learned some stuff about poetry and writing stories.

            So I suppose, I came to writing through diaries, love notes, and lies to my penpals, and I came to structure (form: poetry, fiction) through school.

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?

I think my writing projects come from a bunch of places. Sometimes I free-write to generate ideas. From that, I occasionally get a phrase or idea that I can rework. Sometimes I just like the sound of a phrase and I want to make it into a thing that’s as good as that initial phrase. For example, I misheard someone who was telling me a story last week. He was talking about his friend Lorenzo and I thought he said Enzo. “Enzo?” I asked.

“Lorenzo,” he said.

“Nobody liked Enzo Lorenzo.” I thought. And I’d like to make a story that amuses me as much as that line, “Nobody liked Enzo Lorenzo.” In the movie version Enzo Lorenzo would be played by John Turturro.

            Also, other times, I will encounter something bizarre or forgotten and think that this ridiculousness cannot be lost! Or like, I have to make the thing known in the very way that I see it; it has to amuse others the way it amuses me. Maybe this is the goal. Anyway, it’s pretty hard.

4 - Where does a poem or work of 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?

I am always writing towards the end. Usually it comes very soon, and I suspect that’s because I’m impatient. But sometimes so much happens between the start and the end that it’s been thousands of words or hundreds of pages before a proper end shows itself. And then, after I have the start and the end and the way from one to the other, I have to go back and rearrange everything.

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

I used to go to poetry readings in my early 20s, but I had a terribly romantic-tragic idea of what a poet was supposed to be then, and those years are best left forgotten, or else, told in some rollicking self-abasing memoir.

            This new phase of writing and trying to participate has taken place largely during COVID, so, on Zoom, with many heads and glitches. A real-life meeting seems cool though. Where do all the poets hang out these days?

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 have theoretical musings! But not concerns.

In Ladies & Gentlemen...Mr. Leonard Cohen, Leonard Cohen answered an interviewer who asked, “What do you care about, really?”

He said, “When I get up in the morning my real concern is to discover whether or not I’m in a state of grace. And if I make that investigation and I discover that I’m not in a state of grace, I try to go to bed… A state of grace is that kind of balance, with which you ride the chaos that you find around you. It’s not a matter of resolving the chaos because there’s something arrogant and warlike about putting the world in order, but having that kind of… like an escaped ski, down over a hill, just going through the contours.”

7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Do they even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?

I suppose, I think art is a corrupting force. Like junk food. Art is something that hijacks our emotional capability, like sugar is something that hijacks our sense of the sweetness of fruit. Art is emotional MSG. 

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

I thought it would be awful! I hate to be criticized, as do most babies. However, in practice, I’ve found working with an editor incredibly necessary and valuable. It’s very difficult to write with just your imagined or ideal audience in mind. An editor helps you see your blind spots.

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

My mother always said that life was about eating and watching TV. I disagreed with the hedonist for a long time, but now I’m coming around.

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

Not easy. My prose is often dense and flowery. I yell, “If this was a poem, you’d decipher it!” into the abyss.
            The appeal with writing short things is that you can take them in all at once! It’s easier and faster (not *always* but often) to tell if something is working in a shorter piece. It’s a real gamble to write 100,000 words and then go back to edit it and be like, “Oh, it’s bad. It makes no sense.” But you gotta do it. Don’t wimp out. Maybe you’ll write the next Miss MacIntosh, My Darling!

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?

Who has time to write! What with the three jobs and eating and such! I will put a note on my to-do list for weeks, “read, write.” But it usually comes after chores and errands. Or else, I have neglected the housework and sit in the dust and dirty clothes with a broken laptop and type quick! to catch up with the last three weeks of thoughts. It’s not that many thoughts. I can usually get them out in a day of doing nothing else.

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

I read hard things. I try to get through my long list of classics. Usually, I will be inspired by people much smarter than me. If I’m discouraged by people much smarter than me, then I read the comment section anywhere.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?

A rootless fool! I have no home. My parents were military and we lived all over. Though sometimes when I walk in a dry pine-needly forest, I think of Nova Scotia, where I live for a while.

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?

I think McFadden’s got something there. But also, science is pretty cool. I like knowing stuff.

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

I like weirdos. Daniil Kharms, Donald Barthelme, Lydia Davis (sometimes), Max Apple, Stanley Elkin, I think Faulkner was pretty weird sometimes too. Ooh, Sherwood Anderson. I guess I like to imagine that they’re my people. Or like, “If they can get away with that, I can get away with this.”

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

I’d like to write something that resonates.

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?

There was a great article in GQ a few years back about a hermit who used to steal snacks from nearby cottages.

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

Yes, that is the question.

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

Presumed Intimacy: Para-Social relationships in Media, Society, and Celebrity Culture by Chris Rojeck:

“By the illusion of cybernetic togetherness, through the media and the para-social union of watchers that it supports, plus the event diet concocted by the media, cannot overcome the inner reality of cybernetic solitude. The latter is at the emotional heart of market-based forms of organization. In the end, under the market form, we live and die, alone together.” haha
Also a good one from Presumed Intimacy:
“Social outcomes are the result of tacit, complex judgements in which an underlying pattern is deciphered out of a temporally qualified succession of appearances.”
The last great film I watched was Ikiru. The finest film about bureaucracy ever made?

20 - What are you currently working on?

I recently finished a novella about parasocial relationships, for which I received a surprise grant from the Canadian Council for the Arts. Now, I have to find a publisher to impress the government!

A mentorship with CSARN!

I sell flowers in the mountains!

I sell junk on the internet!

In May, we will go see the wild horses in Sundre.

I’d like to start a small press! I “learned” HTML for this: (get in touch if you wanna help! if you wanna submit! if! if! if!)

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

Sunday, August 28, 2022

Kristjana Gunnars, Ruins of the Heart: Six Longpoems


In the garden there is a bower for melancholy,
a hidden garden where I can stay with this sadness
Wisteria hangs overhead, lilacs emit their scent

and birds wing past at extraordinary speed.

There are fragments of eternity in all passing things.

Saturn is still in the universe with all its moons,
Artemis, goddess of the forest, gives me green
thoughts in a green space.

Tall pines lean slightly in the grey mist of distance,
branches tangle with branches again a backdrop of haze,
water, sky, overhanging rock. I now think

Love is a story
that has failure in it, complexity, something
foreign—a story I tell myself

when I am at a loss for words. (“A Moment in Flight”)

Icelandic-Canadian poet and prose writer Kristjana Gunnars’ seventh poetry collection, and first full-length poetry title in twenty years, is Ruins of the Heart: Six Longpoems (Brooklyn NY: Angelico Press, 2022). Twenty years is a long gap for anyone between collections, and it is interesting to see how the structure of her poems have very much shifted into a variation on the lyric essay, having evolved from the points on a grid poems of early collections One-eyed Moon Maps (Victoria BC: Press Porcépic, 1980), Settlement Poems 1 (Winnipeg MB: Turnstone Press, 1980) or Settlement Poems 2 (Turnstone Press, 1980). Gunnars’ work emerged out of a 1970s and 80s engagement with prairie mapping, the long poem and mythologies of origin and family patterns, connecting her work to an array of her prairie contemporaries: Robert Kroetsch, Aritha Van Herk, Dennis Cooley, Andrew Suknaski and Monty Reid, et al. One can easily see an echo or even influence of Gunnars’ structures in a collection such as Reid’s The Alternate Guide (Red Deer AB: Red Deer College Press, 1985), with both writers engaging very deeply in how lyric mapping is composed, and stretched across the landscape of the full collection. Eventually, her attentions shifted into prose as well, producing five novellas over the space of a few years—The Prowler (1989), Zero Hour (1991), The Substance of Forgetting (1992), The Rose Garden: Reading Marcel Proust (1996) and Night Train to Nykøbing (1998)—all of which were recently reissued as a single volume through Coach House Books, The Scent of Light (2022) [see my review of such here].

Given the twenty years since the publication of her prior poetry collections Carnival of Longing (Winnipeg MB: Turnstone Press, 1989) and Silence of the Country (Regina SK: Coteau Books, 2002), the six poems that make up Ruins of the Heart: Six Longpoems—“A Moment in Flight,” “Fraser and Salmon,” “Threadbare,” “Black Rose With Rain,” “Under a Winter Sky” and “Moon on Fire”—have shifted in structure from her prior published poetry, seeming far closer to the prose essay-poem than more traditional lyric. The first section even appeared originally in more of a prose form, subtitled “an essay on melancholy” and produced as a chapbook through above/ground press in 2020. There is something in the poems collected here that suggest the two structural threads of her published work have merged—her poetry and her prose—allowing for the best of both structures, and meeting somewhere in the middle.

The “Six Longpoems” collected here are composed as a suite of six individual examples of meditative, sequenced thought, writing on melancholy and mortality, love and faith, environmental devastation and the material of dailyness. “It’s such a strange experience to outlive time like this,” she writes, to close the poem “Threadbare,” “so strange.” Writing on time, aging and the shadow of death, there has been a meditative quality that emerged through and within the sequence of her novellas, but one not so prominent in her poetry as it is here. “Life in small details.” she writes, as part of “Black Rose With Rain.” “All stable, unchanging, without surprise. / I find myself in a world of autonomous speakers.” A bit further down the page, offering: “The duration of things is vast / but never empty. There is no such thing / as empty duration.” She offers a foundation of mysticism; referencing Joyce, Siddhartha, Borges and Rumi, hers is a lyric of beginning and endings, attending a lyric of spiritual dailyness and lyric pilgrimage. “The Phoenician sailor said: judge me as a man / whom the ocean has broken.” She writes of death, weightlessness and the turning of something (being) into something else, which is also nothing. “What I would like is to linger a while / in quiet contemplation.” There are often times that those who work in multiple forms can have one certain readers prefer over the other, or one more striking than the other—Elizabeth Smart the prose writer, say, working with lyric experiment the way Elizabeth Smart the poet never could—but this particular work seems a progression of both Gunnars’ poetry and prose sides. No matter which element of her writing you prefer, this is where all those threads not only continue, but meet.

Every night I see the space station passing by.
The lights are blinking and it has great speed.

You were asking if time stops above the clouds
in space. We were wondering if time is real.

I remember saying the astronauts come back younger.

                        On the third night he says
even numbers are evil omens—

I know you can live your life in both directions.
I learned that when I saw the Fraser and the Salmon

trying so hard to touch below our feet.



All of this is about love. (“Fraser and Salmon”)