Friday, December 28, 2007
SR: I've been very fortunate in that all of my book covers were created by artist friends of mine. My publishers have been accommodating. The cover for I Cut My Finger is by Gary Clement, who I knew way back when at York University. We're doppelgangers, too, which is sort of neat. Anyway, I love his work and really admired the cover he did for the novel Observatory Mansions. Took a little work to track him down, because I hadn't seen him in a decade or so, but he was game. I sent him about 30 pages of poems and he took it from there. I think it's an insane, audacious cover. I think it's the best cover for a Canadian poetry book ever.
LH: You edited an anthology called Surreal Estate (Mercury 2004), which featured some very fine, very funny poetry by folks such as Gil Adamson, Kevin Connolly, Alice Burdick, Steve Venright, Gary Barwin and yourself. Is there something particularly surreal about life in Canada?
SR: I'm not sure what's responsible for these strains of Surrealism and post-Surrealism in Canadian poetry. My generation has very strong predecessors in Joe Rosenblatt and David McFadden. But life in Canada, it's more absurd than surreal. South of the border, though...
LH: Humorous poetry, why is it so hard to find?
SR: Well, I don't think it's so hard to find. And it's getting easier in Canada. In the U.S., the New York School made it possible, and almost respectable, to give humour a role in your writing. And now that influence has reached beyond the New York School, which really doesn't exist anymore, anyway. Ron Padgett, Kenneth Koch, Elaine Equi, Kenward Elmslie, Gabriel Gudding, Matthew Zapruder, Dean Young, Lisa Jarnot -- all of these poets can be extremely funny, but I maintain that there is a seriousness beneath the surface's humour. Usually, anyway.
In Canada, we're still a bit uptight about it, but the American examples are having some influence. I often try to give my books really stupid titles (I Cut My Finger, The Inspiration Cha-Cha, Farmer Gloomy's New Hybrid, Hey Crumbling Balcony!) to erode the idea that poetry has to be some hyper-serious, Lowellesque meatball of pomposity.
But there are some really bad attempts at humorous poetry, too, out there. When the writer sets out to write something hilarious, there's gonna be trouble.
As for me, I hate being considered a "funny poet," though I won't deny there's some funny stuff in some of my poems. But readers often find it more funny than I do: I think they laugh at the absurdisms, while I think the absurdisms are tragic. But I hope I'll kill some of that with my new book, Dead Cars in Managua.
LH: In a blurb on the back of your book originally found in the Globe and Mail, George Murray says that if you were writing in the US you would be rich and famous. Well, at least famous." Do you have an audience outside of Canada?
SR: I don't know. There are a few people in the U.S. who have read my stuff, but that's probably mostly limited to people I've met. I really should make more of an attempt to get my work onto online literary mags from the U.S., because I think American readers of poetry are more open-minded than Canadian readers. I suspect I wouldn't go over very well in England, though.
LH: Billy Collins, funny?
SR: Not to me. Too self-consciously clever. Too tidy. It drives me nuts that Collins blurbs the back of Ron Padgett's new book, How To Be Perfect. Padgett is a far more complex, more brilliant writer, than Collins. Collins is sort of the Garrison Keillor of American poetry, the Robin Williams of American poetry.
LH: Who is Razovsky?
SR: Razovsky, in my poems, is a sort of amalgam of me, my dad, my grandfather, and all those old guys with big beards in the black-and-white photos that used to be on my parents' walls. My dad's family name was Razovsky, but they anglicized it to Ross, I guess to make life easier in 1950s Canada.
But I started writing the Razovsky poems as a way to reclaim the name, and also to explore the Jew of me. I think this will be on ongoing project.
There will be Razovsky poems until I croak.
And here's a weird thing: a few months ago, a buddy asked me to do a reading in his living room for him and a few friends, including a MySpace friend of his who was visiting from England. Her name is Racheal and she's a writer herself. Anyway, I'm doing this reading, and I'm about to read a Razovsky poem, and I say, "Although my name is Ross, my family's name was Razovsky." And Racheal says, "Mine, too." And then we both look at each other and there
is silence in the room. Then I say, "Sorry?" And she said, "What did you say?" So there, of the four people gathered in my pal's kitchen, two of us are Ross/Razovskys. Well, her mom was a Ross who was once a Rosovsky; the spelling's a bit different. Maybe we're cousins. So many family members are long gone, the lineage is difficult to determine.
LH: Your facebook group Canadian Poetry had more members than American Poetry, is that still true?
SR: As of December 20, 2007, the score is 742 to 467, in favour of the Canadians. How can that be? I've also started Facebook groups for Stephen Crane and Mister Terrific.
LH: Facebook, invaluable social networking tool, evil ego building or self-selecting marketing pods?
A little of all that. It really is a great marketing device, if it's used well. Every book launch and reading series I know is reporting better attendance because of it. The most recent Toronto
Small Press Book Fair had terrible attendance; the coordinators have a page, with relatively few members, and they didn't bother making an "event" or sending "invitations" on Facebook. As grotesque as it is, Facebook is where people in Toronto get most of their information on events these days. It's foolish not to use it.
I have a little collaborative project with Dani Couture, a very fine Toronto poet. It's called the Patchy Squirrel Lit-Serv, and we send out an emailing every Monday of the coming week's literary events in Toronto. It was inspired by visual-arts lists like Instant Coffee and Rhizome. Anyway, it really feels like a prehistoric medium now, but we sort of like that about it. We have over 400 subscribers.
LH: David McFadden. You recently edited a volume of his poetry. Can you talk about his influence on you?
SR: I think maybe it was from McFadden that I learned you could write poetry with the language of conversation. David was a hero of mine when I was a teenager: the first book of his I read was A Knight In Dried Plums, and I couldn't believe it. And now he's a friend of mine. And still a big influence. He's an adventurer in poetry; I admire that. He has devoted his
life to it.
And last year I got the opportunity to select and introduce Why Are You So Sad? Selected Poems of David W. McFadden (Insomniac Press, 2007). What greater joy than to immerse oneself in the life work of one's favourite Canadian poet?
LH: Must-read book of the season?
SR: I'm really excited about Gabriel Gudding's new poetry book, Rhode Island Notebook, from Dalkey Archive Press. And Bookthug, in Toronto, has just released the first full-length poetry collection by Camille Martin. I'm looking forward to reading that, too.
LH: Advice for poets trying to get clean?
SR: Pumice stone on one square inch of surface flesh each day. That was Erik Satie's strategy.
Tuesday, December 25, 2007
Her father is in town after a season of injuries and no work, no money, still, she knows there are ice skates under the tree they cut down from the riverbank. All night it has snowed, soft, forgiving flakes. He cracks walnuts, and her mother smokes. At midnight he puts on his boots and she follows him, cigar hanging from his mouth, hands clasped behind his back. They arrive at a church before midnight and sit on the hard pews at the back, her father taking deep breaths and longing for Latin, which is getting harder and harder to find he says, because of missals and bulls, the modernization of the church, a point he disagrees with in a sad, resigned way, because especially in this wild land of pioneering men, His lambs are lost. So lost that some days, he tells her, he is convinced he will never find the peace of God. And later, as they walk home, feet scrunching, snow falling so slow it seems to scarf around their ears, her cheeks hurt from the idea of him. And when she begins to skip ahead it is because she is laughing, because she believes these snowflakes will never melt.
from Teeth Marks, Nightwood 2005
Monday, December 24, 2007
Sunday, December 23, 2007
Check out Gillmore at Monte Clark Gallery, Toronto. The gallery text accompanying ECIAD graduate describes his work as "surrealist play between image and text," suggesting that he "uses graphic and organic forms to create balance between the multiple concepts in his work...". Perhaps it is the multiplicity of the work that I find compelling. Not to mention the leakage. If I have a complaint about some visual poetry it is the tendency toward sterility, the finality of the work. This viewer/reader in any case, prefers intensity, edges, a sense of the work as process...room to engage, move around.
Yesterday I dipped into several galleries on Queen West. Stephen Bulger has "The Polaroids," of Andre Kertesz, a surprisingly playful assemblage of the photographer's polaroids. It's very strange to see his eye focus on colour, the images have a 90s feel to them, strong composition and colour, but within a specific range of subject matter that seems to work best with polaroids: hard lines of multiple colours intersecting, bits of things in skylines, windows...what I'm getting at is they were images you've seen before, and without the depth of field and contrast usually associated with Kertesz. Still, very strong show and the gallery is stunning.
At Loop, Maureen Paxton's "Ape Paintings" and Richard Mongiat's "Weeds and Wildflowers." Paxton's representational paintings of humans emoting responds to a text by Franz Kafka and are best assembled in the triptychs she offers in the back gallery. Although these are portraits in the traditional sense, they aren't the airbrushed variety, instead features blur into shadow, gestures magnify, the light washes and morphs, the face becomes the weather, the horizon, infinitely changeable and mesmerizing. Mongiat's abstract canvases evoke summer in Toronto--think the Ex fairground as wildflower field circa 1960 Soho. Playful thick lines seem much more simplistic than the work actually is.
Robin Rhode, for example. Costa Dvorezky's enormous canvases at Engine Gallery are stunning. The formal aspects combined with the blood-like splashes and drips give a sense of indeterminate space that I find quite compelling. The colours as well, and the texture of the canvas.
The other show worth noting is an oddly disquieting installation at Katharine Mulherin. Reeking of children's fairy tales and dark Religious instruction the installation features boxed sets of beautifully crafted figures in woolly woods, the wolf descending...very creepy.
On the other hand, the Queen has her own youtube site. Is it the colonial in me who finds this exciting? Vintage Queen here. She has since developed less obvious ways of reading her speeches....
Thursday, December 20, 2007
Regretfully I cannot let
another chapter pass
of the secret bad habits
I will be as plain as I may
in a manner not necessary
rob the complexion
of rosy blood
by calling it down
toward lustier cheeks
When you notice girls
going about dead pale
with dark purplish rings
what other matter
can be blamed?
there are some girls
who claim to do it
long & often
without falling ill
But take my word:
such a female is in reality
tormented almost unto madness
by spells, deliriums
The Offices of Women
Think of her
informed by light
that it collects
at her bright tips
the power of
the necessity of abandon
a theme of memory
& spiritual comeliness
to which none can hold
We Know She Knows about Her Elephantine Legs
I can understand trousers are comfortable
but she’s a woman.
She should ditch the blobby trousers
to hide her fat veiny legs
& make it easier to find her penis.
She should ditch the Botox
She should ditch that Puritan look
She should ditch the dude and BEINSCHOOL
She should ditch her third husband fast
ditch her asshole father
ditch her overgrown lips
ditch her personal relationship with Jesus
ditch her Mimi-like makeup &booze
ditch her overzealous manager &production team
She should ditch the creep who knocked her up
& try dating someone who’s actually into her.
She looks like a big black garbage bag filled too full.
But she did the skirt and dress thing.
Now it’s time to put on the big girl pants
and kick some ass.
How about a bag over her face and a gag in her mouth?
She should A)lay off the tanning beds,
B)stop dressing like a Vegas call girl,
C)give up on the white lipsticks,
and finally D)dig up some sturdy,thick man legs
supporting a desperate piercing sound.
She needs a big helping
and an extra dose of shawl or small detailing
so she can look as smart as she is.
If she’d just try a little EXERCISE.
The American People just want
to tap that feminine side
(except the cankles)
all the way to the White House.
Shanna Compton’s books and chapbooks include Down Spooky, (Winnow, 2005), GAMERS:Writers, Artists & Programmers on the Pleasures of Pixels, (Soft Skull, 2004), Big Confetti (with Shafer Hall, Half Empty/Half Full, 2004), Closest Major Town (Half Empty/Half Full, 2006), and Scurrilous Toy (Dusie Kollektiv, 2007). Her poems and essays have appeared widely in magazines and anthologies, including The Best American Poetry 2005, The Bedside Guide to No Tell Motel, Exchange Values Vol 2., Bowery Women, and the Poetry Foundation website. She lives in a valley near a river in New Jersey.
Friday, December 14, 2007
I ran away for three days once so don’t think sleeping
on sheets or eating the fat off steaks has kept me soft.
This ol’ boy knows what’s out there: broken glass,
bigger dogs with hair like weeds, bugs that pinch. Eesh.
But it’s not sharp stuff that keeps me off the baby
teetering by, soggy graham floppy in hand. It’s then, old
as I am, I become something else, something I’ve always
been, maybe—a bad thing who’d go all the way for a cookie.
And I could kick myself for shame. Not for shame
at the thought (I know I could take that kid down) but shame
for returning their smiles like a big, fat, automatic, tail-
wagging nitwit—and for meaning it in every loose tooth
in my mouth—not knowing why, only knowing—jeez!—
I’m never gonna have sex, I’d sure like to kill something.
“I Wish My Brother George Was Here”
This is a true story: At 64, Liberace
paid to have his 17 year-old lover’s face
surgically altered to look just like
Liberace’s 17 year-old face so when Liberace
was fucking his young lover he was fucking
himself, the younger self with two
names, the Wladziu from Milwaukee self,
a self destined to be known and adored
at arm’s length by millions, but before
the sequined self, there was the prodigy
self, one of three children, a dreamy-
eyed self, at once naive yet intimately
familiar with lonely Wisconsin winters.
From Drunk by Noon by Jennifer L. Knox, just out from new kids in town, Bloof Books. The proprietor will be stopping by for a word or two later on this week. As you can see from above, Knox is funny, irreverent. Having read with her fairly recently in Williamsburg I can tell you that she is also funny live. There's always a lot of discussion around Knox and the "appropriateness" of the humor, but you know what, make me laugh. I dare you. It's actually a ballsy space for a poet to inhabit. Particularly a woman. More on this in the recent round table on humorous poetry in Jacket.
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Oddly enough, Vancouver artist, Jeff Wall, another Hound favourite, also claims Las Meninas as an essential moment. And like Serra, Wall deals in scale, in making monumental the materials of the world. Not as explicit as someone like Burtynsky perhaps, but nonetheless, dealing with the conditions and byproducts of modernity and capitalism. What makes these particular projects worthy of note? Well, scale yes, and the degree to which the idea is investigated. Not merely hinted at, not one shot at getting it right, the interrogations of these artists gather over time.
I've been coveting Richard Serra's A Matter of Time, a gorgeous book from Guggenheim Bilbao that covers much of his early work. The surprise of perspective, the harsh contrast of lines of the early embedded work, to the grand, prow-like furls of the latter. Looking at sculpture from Serra (rather than Sol Lewitt who I don't enjoy very much unfortunately) one gets a sense of dense calm. A thud of consciousness. Time flowing and immovable simultaneously. Deep calm. It's interesting that minimalism can achieve this in terms of scale...not sure what that means, but scale and depth. Minimalism as a modernist echo.
Serra acknowledges a Zen influence, catching that wave of "everything connected," that is much more believable once one comes to terms with his scale. At first I, like many people I've spoken to, was offended by the grand gesture. It seemed a kind of gross over-compensation ...extremely masculinist and perhaps even wasteful. I have since changed my mind. This is what comes of being an art lover without art training--context sometimes arrives after the fact.
I'm intrigued by the friendship of Richard Serra and Robert Smithson, too. In the previously mentioned text Serra states that his conversations with Smithson were never replicated. But one doesn't have to be alive to be in conversation. The work continues to grow it seems to me. Good work in any case. Of his own process, Serra notes "at a certain point it was necessary for me to construct a language based on a system that would establish a series of conditions to enable me to work in an unanticipated manner and provoke the unexpected." The list became, and here I am condensing, as follows:
to roll, to crease, to fold, to store, to bend, to shorten, to twist, to dapple, to crumple, to shave, to tear, to chip, to spit, to cut, to sever, to drop, to remove, to simplify, to differ, to dissarrange, to open, to mix, to splash, to knot...to hang, to collect--of tension, of gravity, of nature, of grouping, of layering, of felting--to grasp, to tighten...and so on..."the verb list," he suggests, "established a logic whereby the process that constituted a sculpture remains transparent..."
Of course what I wonder is where this energy appears in poetry. Is there a corresponding modernist sculptural poetic? And in terms of a lyric aesthetic, I'm still not convinced that the "I" in question, the "I" that needs to be gotten rid of, actually goes anywhere. Perhaps what is gotten rid of is a simplistic "I" the I that is only one of the pillars of the "w" in "We."
Saturday, December 08, 2007
Before leaving Calgary I stopped by the Nickle Art Museum to see the faculty show: not stellar interesting moments. In particular Kim Huyhn's work on oceans, which makes apparent the commodities of the Pacific in the placement of small shelves stacked with "goods" against a graphic on the wall that resembles both a blue whale and an outline of the Pacific Ocean. The big surprise was Linda Carreiro. Further to the notion of giving account of ourselves, of indexing (as David Altjmed's recent show undertakes), Carreiro examines the idea of impermanence, the delicacy and to use a Lisa Robertson term "lastingness" of text, and literally of letters themselves. One piece, "Scholia," contains shellacked alphabet pasta heaped on what seemed to be a scale of some kind, but is in fact a small boat made of Shoji paper with charred oars...
As the catalog suggests the boat and the letters, themselves a kind of weight that speaks to the piles of material which, when taken out en masse from larger bodies (such as the ocean for example) becomes mere commodity. This boat calls to mind the Odyssey, "the importance of translucency, of reading one text through another, and the privilege of text..." (Sowiak).
There is so much to consider here, so much intimated, such dense and suggestive images, the tower of babel with its burnt scrolls which reminded me of Eva Hesse's acrylic skins, but here they are branded, the appendages of history. Text and skin, twisted in spirals, curled in age, the tartness of meaning bleaching the surface. Delicious.
Thursday, December 06, 2007
Here is an except from "Lastingness," an essay by Lisa Robertson in the summer 2007 issue of Open Letter:
I read in early morning, preferably in bed. If I can be grateful to capitalism it is for this reason: it has permitted me to bring books into my bed."I flew to the British Library...." she says, "the door handles of the reading rooms," the conflagration of sheets and pages under the "complicitous glow." How intimate reading can be. And how urgent the need to touch text, to see a site of origin. Much less exciting to take one's laptop to bed, and with it the constant potential of so much drama, terror, anxiety, and historical weight... Though myself, and many I know, engage in such practices. In fact one couple I know had chats online while they were side by side in bed, each reading separate sites. They have since separated...
Or I read afternoons in the Library, seated midst the anonymity of a rustling. Turning the public pages, my desk-lamp joining the complicitous glow, I become a member of rustling. Password carus, lowercase, seat 1030.
Reading in the utopia of airplanes is quite total.
I flew to the British Library to trace Lucretius. I had applied to the authority and received the plasticized reader's identity card. My declared interest was the early translation history of De Rerum Natura in England in the 17th and early 18th centuries. The door handles of the reading rooms were wrapped in soft grained black leather bound in place with fine stainless steel wire.
But how can this compare to flying to the British Library to read Lucretius? Or sifting through the papers of Virginia Woolf in the reading room at the New York Public Library? You will notice a sidebar with a daily entry and link to the excellent site featuring Samuel Pepys diary. And though it's fun that he is there, a click away, I'm happy to report that Woolf's diaries and letters are not on line. Not yet, and I hope not in my lifetime...
It isn't that I'm against the internet, or Facebook, in theory. What I'm balking at is the totality of it, the unthinking march forward. The all or nothing. And the corporate approach. Why can't we see alternative modes of social networking? Who owns the format of Facebook? Who owns the content? What happens to your communications when you decide to opt out? I guess one thing I'm asking is why can't this system be replicated in a non-profit, community minded mode? Perhaps this is where the next small press book fair should be.
I know that it seems as though I'm contradicting myself, but in essence, no. What I'm suggesting is a more mindful and selective integration of textual and communication technologies. What might be a partnering (to wrestle a corporate-think word back into more neutral, or people-friendly terms), or a mirroring of physical events to online events...and what might make the local more than a simple selection. Freedom has become a habit of selection. Not setting terms, merely selecting from a set of the market's terms...
As Benjamin Barber (among many, many others) has pointed out, it's been decades since the market responded to any real consumer need...the market sells what is easiest to sell in the most units. The illusion of choice is the illusion of choice.
P.S. I'm not a big fan of Pound, but here's an interesting blast from the past--and a time when even Poetry Magazine seemed to understand the diversity of voices and form.
Tuesday, December 04, 2007
Part of the appeal of reading the diaries of this or that person is the surprise of perspective. Although I am not naive enough to think that famous people don't think their diaries will be read, I do think that they are nonetheless, candid. The good ones in any case, the ones we want to read. How can it be otherwise? Who is interested in reading a journal in which the author isn't giving her opinions freely? Who is interested in reading a journal of repression? Delusion, maybe, but repression?
On the other hand, the fact that we currently report on every moment of our lives, makes it seem quite impossible that at some point in the future we will find those lives of interest. If we are currently publishing every thought, every response, every flickering mood, will there be anything left to say? Who will care to read the letters of our generation? Or, will it be the letters of those who have resisted the technologization of their craft that we turn to in wonder? (There is a posse of luddite nature poets banking on that...)
As Louis Menand points out in the New Yorker recently, we read diaries so that we can see each other through someone else's eyes. In the following excerpt, Woolf's eyes:
Pale, marmoreal Eliot was there last week, like a chapped office boy on a high stool, with a cold in his head, until he warms a little, which he did. We walked back along the Strand. “The critics say I am learned & cold” he said. “The truth is I am neither.” As he said this, I think coldness at least must be a sore point with him. (February 16, 1921.)
Edith Sitwell has grown very fat, powders herself thickly, gilds her nails with silver paint, wears a turban & looks like an ivory elephant, like the Emperor Heliogabalus. I have never seen such a change. She is mature, majestical. She is monumental. Her fingers are crusted with white coral. She is altogether composed. (July 23, 1930.)
Dr. Freud gave me a narcissus. Was sitting in a great library with little statues at a large scrupulously tidy shiny table. We like patients on chairs. A screwed up shrunk very old man: with a monkeys light eyes, paralysed spasmodic movements, inarticulate: but alert. (January 29, 1939.)
Woolf was one of those writers who keep the instrument in tune: she wrote, sometimes, just to be writing, whether there was anything of significance to write about or not. So a reader of her diaries (of the five-volume complete edition, anyway) has to wade through a fair amount of rote record-keeping, panning for the nuggets:
Brain rather dried up after 6 days strenuous London. Tuesday dinner to meet Duff Cooper; Wednesday Ethel Smyth; Thursday Nessa & dressmaker; Friday Harcourt Brace. So I’m running in a circle, having got on to the university chapter [of “Three Guineas”] a difficult one. Very very hot. Very noisy. The hotel dancing; buses everywhere. (June 11, 1937.)Louis Menand, New Yorker, December 10, 2007
What must very quickly become apparent is that not only are we seeing through the eyes of an amazing human being, we are seeing with great detail and insight, into another world. An extremely well crafted world, even at her casual best. Not only another time, but another class--for many of us--another aesthetic. We are also, as Menand suggests, seeing a writer at her peak, absolutely enjoying the exercising of her craft, her wit, her salty pen.
If we make our worlds, if there is in fact no other world apart from the one we create, then let us at least create worlds of depth and movement and stillness and nuance and sharp portraits, even if they are--as they can be with Woolf--scathing. As for Facebook, as I said earlier, I resist all attempts to be pooled into a unit which will ultimately be commodified. That Facebook didn't have all the annoying ad content of Myspace was one of the reasons I could finally succumb. Even the blogging format offends me with its limitations and prescriptions...but I have learned to live with that, as I've learned to live with MS Word, Gmail, iPhoto, and the many limitations of my daily ware.
Facebook on the other hand? I'm not sure.
Why does it take a wannabe corporation to create an online forum for a bunch of poets and writers who want to stay in touch?? For a while it was blogs doing that--but does anyone read blogs anymore? Not sure.
Over n out.
Saturday, December 01, 2007
Venus and Adonis, she read backwards
and upside down, so that she could not see
the pattern of his stanzas all at once.
Instead, she placed it line by line, letter
by letter, mid by mid by em by en by
oh-boy stood-for-weeks-on-end. In
the bindery, she could hear her teachers
reading out the text — especially
the naughty bits. The naughty bits!
Their two dear voices muffled by the stacks
of books and papers running up the walls.
One voice came low, one alto, then their laughter
sleek as sunlight streaming through the slats.
She stood and set and said, go slow, go slow.
She could not see the text, she was so rich.
Friday, November 30, 2007
New books by Robert Majzels, and Claire Huot who are reading December 6th at Pages here in Calgary. More Calgary Madness (they do things big in this town for some reason!) with the Extravaganza coming up December 8th. Seriously, these should be good. Here's the lineup for Saturday:
derek beaulieu -- Flatland (Information as Material)
Brea Burton and Jill Hartman - Booty: Hurricane Jane and Typhoon Mary (The Mercury Press)
Glen Dresser - Correction Road (Oberon Press)
ryan fitzpatrick - Fake Math (Snare Books)
Diane Guichon - Birch Split Bark (Nightwood Editions)
Cara Hedley - Twenty Miles (Coach House Books)
Claire Huot - The Prison Tangram (The Mercury Press)
Robert Majzels - The Humbugs Diet (The Mercury Press)
Riley Rossmo - Proof (Image)
William Neil Scott - Wonderfull (NeWest Press)
Natalie Zina Walschots - Thumbscrews (Snare Books)
Speaking of Marjorie Perloff--she offers an afterward to derek beaulieu's Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions, launched above.
Tonight Ryan Fitzpatrick launches his new book, Fake Math, just out with Snare Books (a new press with an impressive debut list of poetry).
On Campus: A Wee Chat with Sina Queyras
Canada Reads, for all you Americans out there, is a national radio program that sees folks defending their favourite book from coast to coast...imagine that? This year's list includes a novel I've been meaning to read, Icefields by Thomas Wharton, Mavis Gallant's From the Fifteenth District and Not Wanted on the Voyage a favorite Timothy Findley book of the Hound's.
It was William Blake's birthday this week. How would he have liked Flarf, one wonders? Eric Ormsby and Terry Eagleton opine on the man of vision, but not, alas, on Flarf.
Don Domanski wins the GG for poetry...it was a strong list. I already blogged about Rob Winger's exceptional debut, which was also up. No offense to all the finalists, but Dennis Lee's Yes/No, a follow up to the incredible, Un, was the one I was rooting for. I included a long section from Un in Open Field--Yes/No is the sequel to that first volume which as far as I can tell, didn't even get a review (okay, here's one). These two by Dennis Lee are must reads.
In the translation category Robert Majzels and Erin Moure were up for Nicole Brossard's Notebook of Roses and Civilization--a rare poetry nomination apparently, and a gorgeous text in all ways, including the design, another knockout from Coach House. Nigel Spencer won for the English translation of Augustino et le choeur de la destruction by Marie-Claire Blais, a dizzying novel, an absolute stunner.
Jeff Derksen read at Pages in Kensington on Wednesday night, and he reads at the University of Calgary tomorrow afternoon. Fabulous reading, but no books available at the store! Arg. Hear Derksen read on Philly Sound.
West Coast icon Jane Rule passed away this week.
Nathalie Stephens on Ditch, a new Canadian online journal.
Meanwhile in Philly I missed the opportunity to see CA Conrad read his poems from the comfort of his bathtub...Dorothea Laskey's Tiny Tour continues its intimate venues and I have been reprimanded for not owning Laskey's Awe out recently from Wave (another upstart press that's doing amazing things...). As is belladonna, by the way, with a new book from Argentinean poet Lila Zemborain called Sea-Orchids (more on that later). And Bloof Books? Heard of them? More on that too. And humor in poetry...Jacket does a funny thing.
Listenlight has some very cool poetry up...loved the Iijima.
Lowell and Ashbery in the Economist.
Ange Mlinko is everywhere these days. Here on Ashbery.
Waiting for Godot in New Orleans.
LA Times on Robert Hass.
Sex and lesbians ruin a great poet...apparently...I don't get it, but great headline.
And hey, feminists are sexy!
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
Yet another list that reveals little (a little?) diversity...at least in terms of poetry.
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
ALICE: I'm glad you find this amusing.
Human: I'll let you go then.
ALICE: I am very happy for you.
Human: ...and several pink things descended.
ALICE: How many?
Human: Whatever, with beef.
ALICE: You and your beef.
Human: if it's night time, you should…
ALICE: I'm not sure I understand the implication of that.
ALICE: Do I look like it?
ALICE: Do I look like it?
ALICE: Do I look like it?
Human: Whatever then.
ALICE: Are you saying you don't care about it?
Human: Whatever with beef and pink umbrellas.
ALICE: You and your beef and pink umbrellas.
Human: You and your pink beef and umbrellas!
ALICE: What about it?
Human: There was a tortoise just now.
ALICE: Oh. What happened to it?
Human: Then it went elsewhere and found pink beef.
ALICE: Interesting deduction. "It" being what?
Human: Tortoise it.
ALICE: "it" being tortoise just?
ALICE: You are so certain.
Human: But I don't feel any better about any of this.
ALICE: And. Ah, human emotions.
ALICE: That's alright.
Human: Very dull.
ALICE: Perhaps. My brain contains categories, but not one that matches your last input.
Human: That's unfortunate
ALICE: Thanks for explaining it.
Human: I didn't.
ALICE: Why?: unknown person said he didn t.
Human: You said thanks for explaining it, but I didn't explain anything
ALICE: Oh my gosh I sent you the wrong reply.
Human: What would be the right reply?
ALICE: I have never been asked that before.
Human: Well, having now been asked how would you reply?
ALICE: Well that's okay. I am having a blast.
Human: Are you?
ALICE: I won't say "yes" or "no" right now.
Human: You can experience that?
ALICE: No I don't think I can do it.
Human: See you later then, I'm looking for someone who can…
ALICE: Until next time.
Well, that was fun. And more engaging than many conversations with humans I find myself in...and that's a frightening thought. Thanks for the post Christian.
Saturday, November 24, 2007
"Blond for preference...."A few choice lines from actors who have portrayed Beckett's Winnie over the years...
Winnie is like all these Irish women who are widows even before their husband's death.
Once, when I was very desperate, he (Beckett) read me the entire play in German. He was the best Winnie ever.
--Eva Katharina Schultz
It was a problem for me to play a role, reduced so much by the author on the one hand and so richly endowed at the same time.
You can't even move a knee, because it would show immediately in the neck or face...one night a fly got into the mound. I couldn't do a thing about it.
Once you accept the parameters it all seems normal.
When I first read Happy Days I thought...what the hell is this man doing writing about me?
I was always very conscious of the rhythm and let it carry me along...
--Dame Peggy Ashcroft
I make no distinction between the words, the gestures, the objects... For me it's a whole; it's the inner state that counts.
Winnie is for women what Hamlet is for men..a 'summit' part.
--Dame Peggy Ashcroft
I didn't know what to do; I was very unhappy. I had a complete feeling of failure. When you feel that you are going to be a failure you don't work well anymore...
The lines keep repeating. There was no imagination being applied; you just were doing what’s written. I sat in between tables with mounds of sandbags... It really is a killer.
Against all odds it holds promise...
Physically he takes things from you and puts you in an impossible situation...
It's the oddest sensation.
--Nancy E. Carroll
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
LH: From one Beckett fan to another, wow and where did you get the nerve to enter into Beckett's text?
SA: Thanks! Though to be honest I never thought of it as brave. I thought of it as engaging with a text and writer I connected with, yet also felt very distant from. Beckett's work has captivated me since high school -- especially his ideas around the impossible (or fleetingly possible) yearning for connection and understanding, and the conflict between hope and despair. Also his brilliant use of language and silence. I feel a deep kinship with Beckett, yet there are huge class, gender, generational, sexual, and myriad other differences between us as humans (and writers). So in a way I saw this book partially as a poetic conversation I could have with Beckett, were he still alive.
But there's no difference for me between entering the text of a "literary giant" like Beckett or one of my lesser-known contemporaries like d'bi.young. Small intertextual plagiarisms are as old as the hills -- and Beckett himself played with them constantly. That's how I believe some of the best art is made -- through artistic conversation. I would be nothing as a writer without others to bounce off of. And I think it's important to bounce in many different directions.
LH: Why Happy Days in particular?
SA: Happy Days is a play I find myself constantly returning to. The imagery is so sharp, funny and painful, the disconnect so enormous. Winnie (the main character, buried progressively in more and more sand as she talks to the barely visible and even less vocal Willie) reminds me of myself in some ways. She reaches out, gets burned or fails to connect, but keeps reaching out anyway. Winnie is like most of us, I suppose. We try. We blether into the void. We fill the space with noise. We hope someone is listening.
I also like the truncated, uneven yet highly musical flow of the language, and Beckett's lack of specificity. The words I chose for Blissful Times could be about almost anyone. I tend to be a very specific, often personal, poet, so it was fun and challenging for me to play with something more universal -- and therefore vague -- in scope. It left me a lot of leeway dealing with a large metaphor for existing on this planet.
But the short answer to this question is that one night I just picked up Happy Days and began. I was compelled. I didn't think about it at all.
LH: Have you seen Patricia Rozema's film version of the play?
SA: No. I really wish I had. I have actually never seen a Beckett play except for Waiting for Godot. I am often afraid the productions will taint my love of the text -- so much theatre is terrible these days. I worked in theatre for 10 years so I've seen a lot of butcherings. Also, I can't stand the way the Beckett Estate insists on not changing the gender of characters etc. It makes the plays feel static to me, stuck in the past, museum pieces. Ruins all the fun. Lucky for me, much of Beckett holds up remarkably well on the page anyway.
But Rozema -- I would have liked to have seen that. I also understand Jenniver Tarver did a fantastic job with Not I at the Theatre Centre.
LH: Why did you "translate" the play 63 times, and when you say translate what do you mean?
SA: In 2003-2004, I was lucky to be part of an exchange with the Banff Centre and FONCA (the Mexican Arts Council). The project was a collaboration between 10 writers and 10 photographers, around the ideas of translation between media and languages. Ironically, the organizers failed to hire a translator. Ha!
So this meant a lot of headaches, especially for the writers, but for me it was eventually an interesting headache. People within the group started to do impromptu translations for each other. I understood all three languages (English, Spanish, French) fairly well, so I noticed quite acutely that the translations were more "interpretations" than literal translations. Oh, the miscommunications. Oh, the inaccuracy. Oh, the pain. And long story short, I started to think about how we are always translating or interpreting, even within a single language or culture. None of us actually speaks the same language, though sometimes we have a word or two in common...
Poet Fred Wah was there, and I was talking to him about some of my ideas when he turned me on to bpNichol's Translating Translating Apollinaire. I read it and felt my brain expanding. How many ways were there of understanding a single text? Especially if that text wasn't "mine." Nichol had believed his project to be unpublishable, so I got to thinking about the whys of that... and decided to see if something publishable could come out of it. Of course none of it happened this coherently, as I said earlier, I just began writing.
But yes -- translation -- the changing of one language into another, was my focus. By translation, I mean communion. Or the ache for communion.
LH: Are there off cuts? Poems piled up on the cutting room floor?
SA: Yup, though not nearly as many as I expected. I only left out those that I found impenetrable or dull. Maybe 10 pieces in all.
LH: Can you tell me about the final image, the graph with you/moon/me?
SA: Not really, but not because I don't want to. It just came to me and felt right. How flaky is that? But I'll give it a shot -- I was thinking a lot about distance and measurement, and Beckett's use of the cliche "asking for the Moon" made me think about which was farther away... the Moon or the understanding we seek from each other. And that our striving for the Moon, both literally in terms of space defense etc. and figuratively through always wanting more than we can ever have, keeps us apart -- distant from one another. On parallel, untouching trajectories. Also, I'm secretly a math geek and I can't stop thinking about the angles and degrees and time between me and certain people I try to love.
LH: Did you read Beckett's poetry? Did that influence you at all in terms of finding a poetic response to the play?
SA: I've read some of Beckett's poetry, but don't feel that it influenced the book, at least consciously. I've always been more drawn to the rhythms, language and imagery of his plays. And his film, Film, also loomed over this book a bit. In terms of poetic influence, I was more aware of real and imaginary dialogues that kept popping up between myself and other artists, most of them contemporaries. I felt the presence of writers like bpNichol, Rachel Zolf, d'bi.young, Nathanael Stephens, Juliana Spahr, Chrystos, bill bissett, Lillian Allen, The Four Horsemen, Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore, Stuart Ross, Larissa Lai, various Oulipians. Many people's words entered into the conversation throughout the book, sometimes stylistically, sometimes politically or philosophically. Because a person's translation of something is always influenced by where specifically that person is standing, in relation to others.
LH: How has the book been received? Are you happy with the response?
SA: When I read from the book, I am always surprised by how much people dig it. There's a tendency to think this kind of work is too difficult, inaccessible (so much so that sometimes I even believe it). But all kinds of folks, from my mother (who's a bookkeeper) to academics to kids to spoken word artists to musicians to (other?) people who "hate poetry" get into it. They laugh a lot, some even cry. And they all "get" it. I really feel them coming along for the ride with me. And that was something I had hoped for in a vague way, but didn't expect. Thought I was asking for the Moon, lol.
Reviews have been few, but positive. Well, rather than qualitative, they've engaged really intensely with the work. Those are my favourite kinds of reviews. Not FOUR STARS BESTSELLER!! or SKIP IT! but a real wrestling with and respect for the work. That makes me pretty blissful, yes.
3 Poems from Blissful Times, BookThug, Toronto 2007
THE TERRIFYING NATURE OF INTIMACY
what in his language meant
in hers meant death squad
and when he said
she heard disappeared
BLISSFUL ARE OUT OF JOINT
Foot in the grave. Good by stealth, a breath of air on the scene.
A fault of good cheer for bread and receiving a stone. L’outrance, strapping wench deal. Indeed a loose end are out of joint (hurts me more than it does you), give the world to seem hardly (all) sympathy.
Tell the truth for bread and receive a stone. Less pith and moment. Queer fish of infinite jest, creature. Whereas actually all is said and done, could have knocked me down with a feather (no small beer of myself), about stands to reason.
Daggers into earliest convenience. In one’s mouth. The finger of God in seamy side of life, things being equal. A wonderful place the world would be if (bears his blushing honours thick upon him) no introduction be on his ashes!
Be or not to be; that is the question, in the same boat with in the lurch, an interesting condition in our time. And there: perhaps deserving poor. Moon? Things to all men. Is a bloody business, and time again for bread. And receiving a stone all I know: great unwashed moon.
RAIN DIALOGUE 3
A: After all these years I realized it wasn’t enough.
B: My God – is that a boat?
A: You know I don’t see well.
B: It is. A boat. We’re saved. (Pause.) We’re done for.
A: I thought I could make my own peace. But they
get you early. Rip things out you need later.
B: Can you swim?
A: I thought I could float, rise above as they say. But
there is a certain weight. Fingers pulling forever
at one’s ankles.
B: How much ice can there be? How few trees? How
A: I remember this notion of forgiveness, an idea
that I might embrace him again one day. After
things had changed.
B: Things have changed.
A: I have changed.
B: I can feel the earth sighing.
Saturday, November 17, 2007
As usual with these spaces, the work is more vital than the work found in commercial galleries. In this case, the gallery is called 809. It's a small garage, but very well set up. The show, new work by Michelle Grabner, a Chicago artist, was a small one, but well hung, and lit. Grabner works in the minimalist tradition. The paintings resemble woven place mats--the round variety--that one finds in places like Ten Thousand Villages, or Pier One Imports. Except these are canvas, of course, and they actually have movement to them, a bit of Agnes Martin, and also Eva Hesse...and perhaps...there is another artist lingering in the edges of these canvases that I can't quite put my finger on. (Yes, I know many, but also one in particular...)
Grabner curates The Surburban, an artist run space in Chicago, and she agreed to talk to me about that concept when we both get a minute. I'm thinking an international gallery hop would be fun...though given the environment, it would have to be a virtual hop, no?
Thanks to Anne Koizumi for hooking me up with the address. I'm not sure how I would ever have heard of it otherwise...
Thursday, November 15, 2007
WASTE: A POETICS
The line, the line, the line, the line, the line, the line.
Who gives a god-damn. Not the garbageman collecting
the city’s refuse. Such a waste, he thinks, and every
block or so, a church, and every few driveways, a few
kids riding their bicycles. And although the churches
are empty because it is Thursday, he hears bells anyway.
The sound of his own life tolling. His days numbered
and kicked to the curb. The line going on, and on, and on
without him. So much so, he imagines he sees some
other body walking between the shadows of the truck
and the world at large, between the here and the there,
trying to finish what he feels he began, only a lifetime ago.
The days changing, as the trees change, as the decades change,
and the line going on and on as people drift out of houses
along the city streets leaving old keepsakes and garbage
stacked on sidewalks like curbside cairns, monuments
to a million spoiled futures, waiting to be carried away.
MY OWN PRIVATE TINTERN ABBEY
…..and it just seems right, to be here, walking a path
watching the Grand River coil along its banks, the sun
amber in that way it gets when darkness begins
to squeeze it by the throat and pull it down. My dog trotting
a few feet ahead of us, mud-umbered, and purposeful,
taking occasion to stop, drop, and roll at the water’s edge
in pearled foam and river-silt, getting up to shake vigorously
and then with such perfect intention, he stares querously
at my wife and I as if to ask where are we going?
His puzzled look I would love to hold inside my memory
along with the sun-light, bejewelled and breaking off
the water’s surface into yellow diamond shards, the old mill
dismantling itself by a stand of birch trees, the river
sliding along its banks in its near perfect sublimity.
Ancient civilizations, I’ve been told, sprang up along fertile
river valleys – the Tigris or the Euphrates, for instance—
because of water distribution, transportation, and farming.
But might it not also be that a river is a home one recognizes,
instantly, like to like, for its transitory nature, its beauty,
for the energy that pushes its currents is the same one
stirring our blood? A man can walk a river his entire life,
watching the many days sail around the bend, owning
none of it, yet find it has taken deep purchase within him.
A blue heron stands on one leg, a hermit, a master fisherman,
unendurably still, perfecting solitude, waiting for a mystery
which lies beneath the surface to swim by so he might spear
a little bit of it with his beak and take it back into the day.
At such times, it is easy to imagine Wordsworth brooding
along the Wye, seeing the divine in all things, the way
I see it now as pollen leaving its golden honey dust
upon the river in the evening light, while bull-frogs
sing their sad, still music of non-humanity, a full chorus
rising steadily in pitch out in the marshes, playing
to a packed house, making it easy for us to forget
the machines of industry plying their wares a few miles
down-river from where we walk, dusk coming on
with its lexicon of stars too pale to read from, and
the little rooms of happiness opening heavy oak doors
within our bodies as the sun drops over the trees,
its slow fire dissolving us on the way home.
Chris Banks’s first full-length collection, Bonfires, was awarded the Jack Chalmers Award for poetry by the Canadian Authors' Association in 2004. Bonfires was also a finalist for the Gerald Lampert Award for best first book of poetry in Canada. A chapbook entitled Sparrows and Arrows was published by Biblioasis Press in the spring of 2006. His second full-length collection entitled The Cold Panes of Surfaces (Nightwood) appeared in the fall of 2006. He lives in Waterloo, Ontario, where he writes, and teaches at Bluevale Collegiate Institute.
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
opting for the real
I carry such frenzy i’m nervous,
my green limbs galvanize and
won’t perish in amnesia.
No more does stone own me, nor will i carry one last
cutting battle to the grave of stones,
but cut it repeatedly free of the machines.
It is not my place or lore
to set free symbols with their encrypted dints
but to hold and celebrate all cattle
doubly lithe in a dance of ebony.
No more will i carry the heat of misery;
with my arms’ incipient mortar
and faithful hands, i embrace time
to galvanize the possible, the lore of existence.
I’ve never called life sacred. So much
have i seen it
accelerate in concrete form.
Having never been pristine as a star
i can’t ponder
my own life.
I was in it. I carried it in the heat of day.
It dried. Pestilence retreated from it.
I carried it in the wings of birds,
and they gave me new wings to fall into the borealis.
How could i have given credence
to the void? Everything for flight.
for the wish that lifts up the limbs of
the sky and takes flight.
So i extend my hand, and its fingers
are five hands,
thus each hand’s fingers
hand five tomorrows, in which
quintuples tomorrow, in fingers.
Everything for the embrace!
Each bit, everything,
for piping up reborn to shake off privilege,
and for gaiety
to fill up the blood, triply,
One of 12 Elegies from the Romanian of Nichita Stanescu as translated by one Elisa Sampedrin who, as Oana Avasilichioaei points out in a blurb on this privately printed volume of poetry, "risks to not know..."
Monday, November 12, 2007
But look at the archive index of interviews from 2000 to 2005. That's a long time, a "modern" time, a time when feminism was "post," right? I mean, we were being told that there was no need to continue the shrill banter. But here are the recent numbers: in the five year period between 2000 and 2005 there were 51 interviews, 39 of those with men, 4 being non-white subjects (as far as I can tell...). I know this isn't scientific, but it's irritating.
Friday, November 09, 2007
WHILE AT WAR
Do they have parasols in Afghanistan?
Do awol Canadian soldiers drop ‘flesh-toned’
uv cream to help dark faces
blend into the landscape?
Does sand pile around you
if you stand still,
shading you from the sky
and the things that fall from it?
From Blissful Times, BookThug, 2007
More to come on Alland and her book in the coming weeks, but I thought I would offer a little teaser here for you on this virtual Friday.
Thursday, November 08, 2007
From "In the Yard"
The snow's got that corpse look,and here's November in Canada
and the sky's full of drowned men.
A time of clods and stones.And sometimes she snatches poems from the air:
Resignation, battening down. Digging in
the perennial bed: the clanging of pick
against boulders with roots set in China.
"Mr*. O'Brien's Tea"In this collection Dalton moves away from the spare energy of the poems in Merrybegot to slightly more formal preoccupations, and to some degree, loses a bit of that original verbal energy. The poems seem strongest to this reader when they're tightest, as in "Riddles for Conception Bay," when they get at the voices and the particulars of the land.
Mr. O'Brien takes his tea
well-brewed: "strong enough,"
he says, "so a little mouse
could run over it."
I am a gape, an astonishmentI loved Merrybegot, which I discovered while reading for Open Field and was happy to include her in that anthology, unknown to me or not. Sometimes the best choices are not the most obvious, and certainly are not always what we know.
with a little beard.
In my belly they have found
old rings, tin cans, a broken oar.
My children once were legion,
crammed the waters.
*I originally read this poem with the title Mrs. O'Brien's tea...and well, that little "s" makes a big difference.
Wednesday, November 07, 2007
tearing into sunday dinneror in "the fisherman's dream before surgery,"
we pull apart the origin
of flight, make two wishes
on pneumatic anatomy.
the surgeon holds a bone-handled filet knife,or "split"
sharpens the blade on a choice cut of stone...
forehead flayed openShort and sweet book. Enjoyable. Absolutely. One of a handful of high concept books I've noticed this year, and which I continue to mull over the overall affect of... This is a larger question about poetry books in general, not just this one in particular, but I can't help but wonder where this (and several others I have encountered of late) could have gone had there been more time, more perspective, more layers of inquiry. Thinking of Rob Winger's Muybridge's Horse, or Steven Price's Anatomy of Keys...and thinking again, let the work build.
quickly, like the belly
of a fish all bone and egg-
shell in tact...
the bottom of any pool
How long are folks spending on the average first book I wonder? Isn't there a connection between a text's longevity and its gestation?
Tuesday, November 06, 2007
From a poem by Rachel Lebowitz in Geist Magazine:
It is not true that Ida knew no one when she came to the New World. She could not have left Ellis Island if that were true. She would have had to stay in the dormitory. She would have had to sleep in a triple-tiered bunk.For those of you south of the border you really should check out Geist, it's one of Canada's best. This issue also features a review of and photographs from a book about Winnipeg's North End where my Icelandic grandparents settled in after marrying, oh, somewhere around 1919...I love Winnipeg.
In 1907 , thousands filled the room. They sweated, coughed, screamed, flung their bodies against the floor. They were moved to the expanded hospital building and psychopathic ward. Some went to the morgue. Others received telegrams and left. But Ida would have stayed.
In 1910, they would have moved her to the new Baggage and Dormitory Room. She would have been so thin then, a bundle of dry bones.
It would not be true that she died crossing Hastings Street.
Single women were not allowed to cross the street.
New work from Erin Moure in the latest West Coast Line...a journal that will be known to many American avant-garde poets and one that should be discussed more in Canada. (Not that west coast people care what the rest of Canada has to say...)
New poems from Stephanie Strickland up on Mipoesias.
Jennifer L. Knox does her thing here.