Wednesday, July 10, 2024

Ongoing notes: the ottawa small press book fair (part three : Jenny Wong, Michael e. Casteels + Barbara Caruso,

[see the first part of these notes here; see the second part of these notes here]

BC/ON: One of the most recent chapbook titles through Pinhole Poetry Chapbook Press is SHIFTINGS & other coordinates of disorder (2024), the chapbook debut by Jenny Wong, a poet who “resides in Canada near the Rocky Mountains.” There are some curious moments and silences across Wong’s lines—halts, and hesitations across first-person observational/meditational lyrics. “I come early / before sunscreen and sand / precipitate over miles of skin,” she writes, to open the poem “At Kitsilano Beach,” “before portable nets / catch spikes and volleys / of sunlit sound.” These poems hold such curious slownesses, and some intriguing lines amid striking images. “The lawns have begun to disintegrate / into brittle lessons about primary colors.” she writes, as part of “August Storms,” “Observe what happens to green / when there is no longer blue. Feel the prick / of parched dry yellow.” Certain of these poems could have used a bit of an edit, but I am interested to see what Wong publishes next; it does feel as though Wong is working to get at something that she hasn’t quite reached yet, but is certainly possible (and not that far off). As she writes to close the poem “Lactic Acid”:

Perhaps as we get older, our skeletons begin to show.

There is something inside me that eats away any desire for stillness. And so perhaps this is why I wander. Something in my bones.

Looking for home.

Michael e. Casteels + jwcurry, post-fair

Kingston/Cobourg ON: I’m always pleased to see a new title by Kingston writer Michael e. Casteels, and his latest is the prose collection A SUDDEN CHANGE OF SEASON (Proper Tales Press, 2024), a collection of thirteen pieces that sit in the realm of “postcard fiction.” I’ve been intrigued for some time with Casteels’ ongoing work, watching each project shift focus and framing between more narrative prose, prose poems and shorter poem-structures to collaborative and even visual works. With each new publication, I’m enjoying the fact that one doesn’t quite know what structures he might be working with until one opens to the first page. Are these short stories? Are these postcard fictions? Are these moments?

Monte and Me

My horse retrieved my moccasins from the saddle bags. I took off my boots and slung them onto the saddle horn. Then I donned the moccasins.

“What are you thinkin’?” he asked.

“Only one of us can make it. I’ll pin them down, you open that gate.”

For a moment he stood in the lemon light, inhaling deeply. Then he started down the hill, putting each foot down with equal care. Precious few moments were left.

Proper Tales Press (with Stuart Ross' works on the left + Anvil Press on the right,

Ottawa/Paris ON: A while back, Cameron Anstee produced a title by the late painter, publisher, collaborator and writer Barbara Caruso (1937-2009), her WORD HAPPENS POEM (Apt. 9 Press, 2023), a small title that opens with a “STATEMENT” by Caruso’s late husband (dated March 2018), the poet Nelson Ball (1942-2019) [see my obituary for him here]. As he wrote: “Barbara occasionally employed letter forms, numbers and sometimes words in her earliest paintings and drawings. Her paintings became exclusively non-objective around 1970, while in her drawings she continued to incorporate the forms of letters and numbers.” There is something lovely about Anstee working his sequence of archival projects, focusing his attention on the minutae of Caruso, as well as William Hawkins, whether through repeated issues, reissues or the collected poems that landed not long before Old Bill passed. There is such a delicate intelligence, out of complex, straightforward play in Caruso’s work, one that deserves a far larger attention (might a collected around pieces such as these, be worth considering?). Ball’s introduction continues, a bit further on:

Sometimes during such a period of respite she would make things, frequently working with small sizes. She was usually playful in what she produced. Word Happens Poem is an example. She made it around 1970 as a private gift to me. It was drawn with graphite pencil, employing stencils. Other examples of her “play” are the very small rubber hand-stamped presspresspress (1988-1998) booklets that she distributed selectively to friends, and a series of miniature ink drawings made in the manner of her larger non-objective drawings.

It was not Barbara’s intention to publish Word Happens Poem. She grew up in the town of Kincardine during the 1950s, a conservative era in Ontario. Even today, she may not have approved publication of several of the pieces. Nevertheless, the series is here complete.

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