Thursday, December 28, 2006

the problem of impartiality and reviewing

At the risk of getting nothing but negative reviews for the rest of my life I have to comment on the terrible state of reviewing....thinking of course, of the recent slaughter of Nathalie Stephens in the Globe & Mail versus the glowing, gloss of a review such as the recent one of Paul Muldoon by Ken Babstock. Let me just say up front that I don't have a problem with glowing reviews, or Ken Babstock, or Paul Muldoon for that matter, but don't these extremes point to an inconsistency of editorial policy at what is probably the only national venue for poetry reviews in the country?
The G&M seems to be very good at assigning certain kinds of poetry (or maybe certain people get to pick the ones they love). Babstock loves Muldoon ergo we're going to get a positive review of Muldoon; Todd Swift loves Babstock therefore we're going to get a glowing, over-the-top review of Babstock...whereas who (or what pray tell?) does Judith Fitzgerald love?
While there are those who prefer the scalding review, I wonder what the point of Fitzgerald's approach is? Who wins from this? At least Babstock writes an intelligent and often instructive, review, whereas all one feels from Fitzgerald is her bite.
Is that what we expect from newspaper reviews? Can't we expect a little more from a national "Book Review"? Unbiased I mean. Informative. If the G&M intends to be unbiased it should be unbiased...for all. It should decide whether it wants critical reviews and then go for critical reviews, illuminating critical reviews, reviews that will give people an opportunity to actually learn and think about poetry, about a book that is being offered for their consumption...
I've said this before and I say it again, like or don't like just isn't interesting. Maybe for a blog, but not for what we look to for a critical review... One wonders whether the G&M feels that poetry isn't worth the attention? Isn't worth finding the appropriate reviewer for a given book? Or, does it have an agenda, like so many other publications seem to have, of promoting a certain--very limited idea of poetry? If so, then why bother attempting to be inclusive? I haven't done the math, I wish someone would...I would be surprised to find a balanced representation, but it's possible.
This lack of inclusiveness is disappointing, particularly given the rich poetries currently being published in Canada...or is it just outside of the country that people see how rich and diverse and enviable the state of poetry in Canada is?
Is editorial consistency too much to ask for? Can we not expect as much from a publication such as this? Or is it really just the luck of the draw and innovative writers just happen to find their books in the hands of people predisposed to not liking them?
Finally, whatever happened to How Poetry Works? That was brilliant--those columns were clearly taking advantage of and allowing poets to show their smarts in their choosing and reading of poems. It appealed to poets and non-poets alike--why not build a critical community by informing people of the real range of contemporary poetries, and allowing them a way in to appreciating them? Or at least learning something about the work, at least coming to it open...

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Felix Reading Series, Madison Wisconsin

Ray Hsu, Hai, and Peter O' was a long time coming, but I came home from that trip with a nasty, nasty virus that lasted several weeks. Go Badgers!

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Big drama around the bird bath. The Robins do not like to share...and it seems like bathing is just a little erotic for them. Perhaps why they don't like onlookers?

Monday, December 25, 2006

Ah,'s one tradition I can't help but miss...the Queen's annual Christmas address. Is the fact that I'm a good girl from the colonies why I loved The Queen, as well? Or is it that we're just so starved for women in leadership roles? Even if they are tertiary? I had an Episcopalian Christmas Eve...very classy in the 18th Century church with a chamber orchestra and everyone in little boxes like carriages facing one another. But far too bright for a lapsed Roman Catholic--we like our churches to resemble caves...

St. Peter's, post Xmas Eve Service

Saturday, December 23, 2006

random fiction notes, part 1

Photo: NY Times
Nadine Gordimer: I have been remiss on this recent biography, though biographies are notoriously, well, strained (I'm trying to think of a good one). Clearly there is much more to this particular bio and the young Ronald Suresh Roberts must have had a difficult time in many respects...
On the other hand it looks as though Dave Eggers has scored with What is the What...reviewed in the NY Times by Francine Prose...the immediacy of first person when a writer nails the voice is fairly irresistible.
I'm intrigued with Zoetrope, which has a hip mix of contributors ranging from David Byrne to Margaret Atwood, Huruki Murakami to Mary Gaitskill, and well, a lot of people I'm curious about for one reason or another... Zoetrope also offers a number of the stories online, something I appreciate enormously.
Paris Review has archived interviews available on line, and as I've already posted last year, offers proof of the ongoing, and apparently well-accepted sexism in the literary world. (See my earlier post with stats...) What else can we say when even into the 21st century the number of writers interviewed is so skewed to the male gender? That's not mentioning the racial blinders. Is the Paris Review still a serious contender for fiction? They published Etgar Keret (whom I've posted on several times...) in Summer 2005 issue, they had an interview with Anne Carson (well, poetry, okay, but it was great to see her there: "If God were knowable, why would we believe in him?"), Spring 2005 had A.S. byatt, Rick Moody, Mogera Wogura...looking good.

I could ask the same question of Granta which has over the years, offered consistantly excellent round-ups of younger writers, the Best of the Young British Novelists (the 93 0ne in any case), as well as cross-over literary writing, thematic writing in issues such as This Overheating World with the amazing Burtynsky cover, etc. Including this piece by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

This week's New Yorker has an odd little piece of fiction from Marguerite Duras translated by Deborah Treisman, fiction editor, and one who does get things right often. This week's issue also features Orhan Pamuk's Nobel Lecture, which is quite moving. I'm not a fan of Pamuk's work, though I can see why others are. It isn't that I don't see the beauty of the craft, it just doesn't speak to me.

Richard Ford on the other hand I do remain a fan of, and having just read through the Bascombe trilogy (Lay of the Land being the latest...) I have to say that it's a strong series--though oddly enough the first one, The Sportswriter, remains my favorite. I love Ford. He's just so much what he is, so deeply himself, and stubbornly old-fashioned... But also smart: he was clearly marketing himself in this series. By next year I assume we'll be able to buy a boxed set and it will be the Dad gift for many. Not a bad one either. Here he is again.

There will be more on fiction soon enough, and not all of it so conventional...Biting the Error and Mary Burger's Sonny...she'll be coming to my class at Haverford this spring.

Lyn Hejinian, from Happily

Constantly I write this happily

Hazards that hope may break open my lips

What I feel is taking place, a large context, long yielding, and to doubt it would be a crime against it

I sense that in stating "this is happening"

Waiting for us?

It has existence in fact without that

We came when it arrived

Here I write with inexact straightness but into a place in place immediately passing between phrases of the imagination

Flowers optimistically going to seed, fluttering candles lapping the air, persevering saws swimming into boards, buckets taking dents, and the hands on the clock turning—they aren't melancholy

Whether or not the future looks back to trigger a longing for consonance grieving over brevity living is 'unfinished work' to remember to locate something in times to come

Sure a terrible thing whistling at the end of the rope is a poor way of laughing...

Friday, December 22, 2006

Xmas MLA troll...I don't know...but I'm sure they aren't all this cute.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

I'm it...

Tagged by the poetry meme and ET. Though as usual, I'm not sure I did it right...

The first "real" poem I remember reading was...a poem by Margaret Atwood in The Circle Game, with the words "man-hating bitch" scrawled in the margins.

I was forced to memorize numerous poems in school and...Nope, no one ever asked me to memorize anything but the Ten Commandments for which I was given a dollar per commandment memorized and promptly spent the money in a pool hall.

I read poetry because...I can’t seem to quit it.

A poem I'm likely to think about when asked about a favorite poem is...probably Kenneth Patchen’s Only Cherries, because I discovered Patchen in high school and he made me laugh and I didn't know that was possible in poetry.

I write poetry, because...I love writing it, but I’m not sure why I publish it.

My experience with reading poetry differs from my experience with reading other types of that it makes me itchy and temperamental and doesn't produce a soporific feeling as with a novel…

I find poetry...often lacks humor.

The last time I heard poetry was...the mellifluous strains of gas-guzzling SUVS barreling down the expressway.

I think poetry a terrible addiction…though one I'm not entirely sure I want to recover from...

my favorite park...

Storm damage right where my sister's memorial bench was to be placed on February 14th, 2007. And another storm coming...

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

more musing on the idea of blog

I said in an earlier post that I think one of the downsides of blogs and blogging in general is it seems that we pay less attention to actual books. I still think that's Noah Eli Gordon suggested recently at Kelly Writers House, the danger of blogs etc., is that we get caught up in the cult of personality rather than the poetry...that seems a danger no matter what the venue, but I agree on some level.

Though I do think that blogs bring attention to books that might otherwise be missed. I know people email me to say they heard of this or that book and have found it, and so on, and I know I've heard of poets and books that I wasn't aware of through other's blogs. And these books might not be reviewed in mainstream venues, so how would one necessarily find them?

On the other hand, I wonder if people are still paying attention to print journals. Or, do we assume blogs will take the place of such traditional reviewing venues... Do we need print journals?

Another, even more disconcerting aspect of blogging for this writer is that the idea of public has entered into my workspace. This is not good. My laptop is wireless so pretty much wherever I am I can be online, I can be connected. This has many benefits--but I'm not sure discussions about poetry is one of them. It makes for little distance. It flattens the process, makes visible, and while collaborative thinking/writing might be exciting, for this writer, it needs to be one part of a whole range of things, and there needs to be much more alone time. Suddenly that's difficult to achieve.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Came across Eyemazing, a photography magazine with an extremely lame title, but gorgeous production values and really quirky selections. Antony Crossfield for example...check out his "Foreign Body" series...and Aline Smithson does what many female photographers apparently do, photograph their feet in a variety of settings...

Friday, December 15, 2006

as applies to the end of term feeling...

from The Character, Beacon Press, Boston 1999
Jena Osman
In waking up she decides that blowing on the wrist does not help a person. Then turns off the clock. Whatever the time might seem to be she realizes that she is in it because of exhaustion cross-barring the sound of somone reading to him or herself.
Finally had the pleasure of hearing Jena Osman last week out in Bryn Mawr at a Barnes & Noble of all places...(see Silliman for a detailed account of that). This is one smart book. Osman situates herself within the poem in a completely new way (at least to this reader). The structural, authorial, and thematic investigations have the cool exactness of a laboratory, and a kind of inventiveness that is conceptual, and utterly unique it seems to me. It puts me in mind of Joan Retallack for sure, and Leslie Scalapino, but there is something else here, a startling combination of things, and a very intense sense of a poet tackling the responsibility of utterance and the creation of yet more text in a time of overflowing utterance and physical text...formidable. And humble: a quality not found in abundance these days.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

This from CA Conrad.
My mother saw an albino deer in the mountains recently. None of the men believed her until one of them caught a glimpse of it while fishing. "Then of course they believed me because a man saw it too. FUCKING MEN! I can't believe you're gay, how can you stand it? If I was a man I'd get a sex change and become a lesbian!"That's what kari edwards did, and suddenly my mother wanted to know more.
I feel a memoir coming on..

How to end?

Currently musing over how to end. With a bang? With a delete all? Abandon ship? Winnow the entries down? Leave a storefront?

Gender and blogging is still a major issue and that makes me want to at least leave some of the discussions up.

On the other hand after nearly two years of blogging I am not convinced that the public dailiness of blogging is of any use.

And who needs trolls visiting their site? Why do female bloggers feel so harassed?

Sunday, December 10, 2006

or lack thereof...counting down the days till blog ends

Sunday, December 10, 2006


I clapped until little drops of blood
jumped out of my finger.

My life is not large-scale—
but intense.

fr. Mairead Byrne's heaven with thanks

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Feel the need to give?

Here's one that I am going to contribute to. Thanks to Amy King for this information:

Dear Friends:

As you know, I am the Director of Homeless Youth Services at Metropolitan Community Church. We operate Sylvia’s Place, a shelter for homeless LGBT youth. Young people come to us in a variety of painful situations - they have suffered abuse, rape, domestic violence, hate crimes, sex work, addiction, HIV infection and mental illness. The one thing they have in common is that their families either can’t or won’t be there for them. We’re the only family they have.

This Christmas season, I’m asking you to be a “gay santa” - help us make sure that each of our young people has a gift under the shelter tree.

How it works:

Contact us (manager at with your snail mail address, and we’ll send you a “dear santa” letter written by one of the youth.


Hi, thanks for your interest in the Santa program. We currently have enough people buying gifts, but are in need of items to stuff in the young people’s stockings. Please consider sending 20 of any of the following items, or use your imagination:

1) Candy
2) Hats, gloves, or scarves
3) Small toys (cards, yo-yos, bubbles, etc)
4) Small sizes of hygiene items such as lotion, hand sanitizer, etc
5) Lip gloss, toenail clippers
6) Socks

Also, if you’re in the NYC area, we need food for Christmas dinner, including ham, side dishes, soda, cider, desserts.

Please send to:

MCCNY/Homeless Youth Services
Attn: Santa Project
446 W 36th St NYC NY 10018

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Laura Sims


Have I seen such a tower

Her fleshy, spectacular hand

Would the dogs not find

A tower of ash when the hearth wound down

What it costs

to put winter in you!

Her nails cleanly sculpted, bare

And the autumn?

One buys tires for life


Then her hair falls down

Her hand

Is the winter

lost, little innocent people?

"Winter in You," originally published in Fence Magazine, is the first poem in Sim's first book, Practice Restraint. This book, which Rae Armantrout describes as "resonant of minimalism while engaging in "lyric critically on its own ground," is extremely of the moment it seems to me. The lines here, like Armantrout's, are clipped, the gaps in the poem doing all kinds of work. The Dickinsonian wit snapping the page here and there. These poems read in fact like fragmented, or rather, gutted prose poems. And this is interesting to me--they are in some ways very conventional narrative poems, but scaled back and chiseled with razor sharp insight.

Formally I'm not sure what to make of all the space in the poems, nor the regular shape of them. It's intriguing, and somehow more conventional than one might expect. Not quite abstract, but perhaps more like video feed. This might not be the most interesting aspect of the poems, but it's of interest to me...

From the series BANK here is "Bank Thirty-One"

Trees over here

Over there

In one empty classroom

The girl is turning

The town inside out


The worst is


This reads like an elongated post-post modern haiku.

What pleases me about this book is the very clipped nature, the highly condensed particulars. Sims wide-ranging engagement is quite spectacular, and I revel in the consistency of voice over a good 100 pages (that length in itself an accomplishment in these days of 49 page first books).

This is a fabulous book and a very impressive first book. Still, I'm not yet sure what I think of it as a poetic experience. This is something I've been worrying over for a while now about a strand of poetry that is becoming more and more prevalent in the US, and probably doesn't belong in a review (though I suppose this being on my blog I can do what I want). One thing I notice is that my engagement with the text is very tentative. The book doesn't want me to linger in it. I read several poems and grow intimate with the cadence of the poet, but the very nature of the poetic project itself seems to spurn the reader. At least momentarily...these interruptions are of course part of the point, and perhaps my comments are more about my own reading than the work itself, but I suspect if I keep noticing it (and I have...) that it must be worth thinking about. I'm just registering a nagging at the base of my poetic spine that is becoming increasingly attuned to poetry that is kicking me out of orbit.

Sims' book skirts this line with a great deal of success.

Laura Sims
Practice, Restraint, Fence Books, 2005

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

National Day of Mourning

The statistics for violence against women remain alarmingly high, and December 6th remains a highly charged day for me, and many women, particularly in Canada. I can't be in a classroom without knowing where the door is and how to get out--for me it was never a given that I should have access, and even today I'm not convinced that right won't be taken away from me. In Montreal women gather to protest violence and to remember:

Anne St-Arneault, 23; Geneviève Bergeron, 21; Hélène Colgan, 23; Nathalie Croteau, 23; Barbara Daigneault, 22; Anne-Marie Edward, 21; Maud Haviernick, 29; Barbara Klueznick, 31; Maryse Laganière, 25; Maryse Leclair, 23; Anne-Marie Lemay, 22; Sonia Pelletier, 23; Michèle Richard, 21; and Annie Turcotte, 21.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Bruce Whiteman

I've been reading Bruce Whiteman's The Invisible World is in Decline, and loving it. I have no idea who this poet is and until I discovered it in my mailbox I had never read a poem of his. And yet I'm smitten. Truly I am. So without knowing much else about this poet I have to say that these prose poems are really fine, so consistant in tone, and vast in their landscape. Just gorgeous, thoughtful observations and penetrating insights that reveal a mind engaged not only in literature or the small "I" of my career, My Career! This guy is out there doing backflips through the literary landscape just for the fun of it, and so gently: "Six green pears on a piece of crumpled newspaper beside a poinsettia that will not flower" and later "They will not speak of rot, but someone thinks it and the first pear turns brown. The painting of them all wants to speak immaculately of their future, when they cannot be eaten by birds or poets."

The prose poem--that form never to appear in the over-wrought pages of Poetry magazine--is o M of the most exciting forms of our time for my money. Condensed lyricism, surreal anecdote, or small abstract canvases, the prose poem ticks along like a view from a train window, click, click, from hydro pole to hydro pole--an image that in fact speaks to the quaint sense of the prose poem now seeming from another century. Which it does. So unchic in its completeness, in its bid for unity, for a sense of narrative satisfaction...

And yet here is Whiteman: "The dead do not speak unless it is through lovemaking and that is another story..."

What I wish for reviewers is that they see what they have in front of them, not what they are expecting to see... Such a simple request, and yet seemingly impossible. Why? Because it asks them to be present? To take a risk? To engage with the work itself ? These are gorgeous poems. They are coiffed only in their desire for precision, not for gloss. Impressive. Someone, just read this book and appreciate it for what it is...

kari edwards

Still reeling over here from the news regarding kari edwards who passed away this weekend in San Fransisco from cardiac arrest. Geoffrey Gatza at Blazevox has made her new book having been blue for charity, available online. kari was one of the gentlest people I've ever met, and also one of the most active.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

looking at art in madison

There was a sol lewitt show at the beautiful contemporary art gallery in madison ( I spent an extra 24 hours there this weekend due to a bit of weather in the midwest. If 12 inches of snow can cause that much trouble in a city like Chicago that gets "weather" every year, I wonder what some of the real extremes of weather we have in store for us will do?? ). Thank God for art, that's all I can say. Aside from the lewitt they had art that he had collected from other artists over the years. A potentially intersting idea but somehow not that interesting...though he had an Eva Hesse and a Chuck Close. But I did enjoy seeing the repetitions and variations and in general I think there are few places I'd rather spend an afternoon than a gallery. And this one is is the view from the 3rd floor looking down State Street in Madison.
Oh, yes, I read with Peter O'Leary and got to meet Ray Hsu finally. Excellent. Came away with a book of Ronald Johnson's--something I've been wanting for a while now. Peter O'Leary is Johnson's literary executor. The book Shrubberies, is gorgeous.