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.