Saturday, April 30, 2011

"Textual Telephone": Melanie Bell on Susan Holbrook and Nicole Markotić's "Q & A"

Is it worth the portage? Maple or hickory-smoked? Are you serious? Which is worse? You and what army?

Sift words into his package. My apple OR hickey OR most. You're so serious. I changed the Ors. U an I warm the real, open the how.

Oh, Anne's Anne. How's your moist O-ply pummelling? Fresh ground pepper, swift dints in your whisper cage? You're the serious one, pesto change-O. O and O worm the roll, owe the ooh.

O + A = A. How's your math?
Opala! Melt freshly ground Swift into John Cage. Pepper with whistles and serious Presto! To change: O – O = O.

Q + A = A. Who's your moth?
Op art! Freshet swift over Cajun ground. O whippoorwill pest! No means no means no. Oh.

Q & A + whose mouth? Apart.

I met Susan Holbrook at Coach House and Snare Books' 2009 Fall launch in Montreal, where she had the room in hysterics with a witty Oulipo (or “foulipo”) rewrite of tampon instructions:

Take a deep Brecht and relapse . . . . Most Wimbledon need a few triumphs before they can comfortably and easily insert a tam-o'-shanter.

Holbrook's latest poetry collection, Joy Is So Exhausting, is full of such clever, perceptive pieces. “Nursery”, the final long poem, is a compilation of thoughts jotted down by Holbrook while nursing her infant daughter, and merits special note for its melding of Holbrook's typical innovation with true tenderness. Many of the poems, like “Insert” (the tampon poem), engage with various source texts in some form of recombinant practice or translation. Federico Garcia Lorca's poetry is translated based on a combination of meaning and sound. Letters between Gertrude Stein and Virgil Thomson are transcribed with deliberate misreadings (“I am practicing lejibibity, do you recognise it”). News headlines are recombined in Sudoku puzzle format (“Same vote issue sex free on proposes Harper marriage”). Many of Holbrook's poems are worthy of critical attention, but I was particularly struck by “Q & A”, written in collaboration with writer Nicole Markotić. In what resembles a game of textual telephone, Holbrook begins with a series of questions, Markotić translates them based on sound, and on they go through six iterations. The first few lines of each begin this post.

Holbrook's initial stream of questions, peppered with the language of commercialism (“How would you like an all-expenses-paid trip to sunny Cozumel, Mexico?”), makes for delightful play. The addressee shifts back and forth, from intimate to customer to “a handsome mister cat”. Stream of consciousness? It seems more likely that Holbrook was deliberate in crafting consecutive queries that are irreverently irrelevant.

Through the iterations, questions become declarations, letters, snatches of other languages, algebra, and answers:
Are you serious? / You're so serious.
How long does it have to be? / Long: it has to be long.
Why me? / That's why.

There is continuous, and continually playful, conversation here. The diction remains colloquial, with statements and questions aimed outward. There is enough call and response to feel engaged and enough nonsense and shifting to feel like an eavesdropper who hasn't quite caught on. As a reader, it becomes hard to distinguish the two poets' voices. The tone is at once confident and startlingly disjunctive.

Holbrook notes the revelations of self that were part of this process of translation:

“One would think the 'mistaken hearing' of this homolinguistic process would produce text in a fairly arbitrary way. Reading the exchange a few months later, it was clear to us that our psychological preoccupations had determined our hearing; obvious in our 'nonsense' text were intimations of my imminent coming out, Nicole's grief over her father's death, my consolations.” (Prismatic Publics 46)

Indeed, some of the lines sparked by these personal concerns—“But do you see through the Y I gay?”; “Long: it has to be long”—are among the most affecting in a sequence where entertainment is the primary effect.

Collaborative variations on translation are smokin' these days, with Erin Moure and Oana Avasilichioaei's Expeditions of a Chimaera and poet and critic team Emily Carr and Erin Wunker's interlinked Sonnets project. Who else wants to try some?

Works Cited

Eichhorn, Kate, and Heather Milne, Eds. Prismatic Publics: Innovative Canadian Women's Poetry and Poetics. Toronto: Coach House, 2009.

Holbrook, Susan. Joy Is So Exhausting. Toronto: Coach House Books, 2009.


Melanie Bell is a former managing editor of Matrix magazine, graduate of the University of New Brunswick's Renaissance College program, and almost-graduate of Concordia's Creative Writing MA program. Her poetry has appeared in Grain, The Fiddlehead, CV2, and various other publications. She and her book collection live here and there, currently in Montreal.

Friday, April 29, 2011

"If I Was René Daumal I Would Have Mastered Self-Love by Now": Guillaume Morissette on René Daumal.

One Word Is Sufficient (from Le Contre-Ciel)

Name if you can your shadow, your fear,
and measure the circumference of its head,
the circumference of your world, and if you can
pronounce it, the catastrophic word,
if you dare break this silence
weaved with mute laughter, if you dare break the
bubble by yourself
and tear up the plot,
all alone, all alone, and fix your eyes on it
and come blind toward the night,
come toward your death who does not see you,
alone if you dare shatter the night
paved with dying eyes,
by yourself if you dare
to come bare and alone toward the mother of the dead

in the heart of her heart your eyes rest

listen to her call you: my child,
listen to her call you by your name.

I like to google obscure poets a lot. When I type ‘poem’ in my google search bar, my browser remembers past queries and list things like ‘composure poem’, ‘mistake poem’ or ‘empathy poem.’ I owe maybe eighty percent of my favorite poets to a combination of arbitrariness, luck, someone’s search algorithm,, and people’s wishlists at

I learned of René Daumal through the wikipedia entry for Holy Mountain, a surreal/overly random/allegorical cult movie from 1973. The wikipedia entry credits Daumal’s captivating and vaguely odd novel Mount Analogue: A Novel Of Symbolically Authentic Non-Euclidean Adventures In Mountain Climbing) as an important source of inspiration. I read Mount Analogue’s wikipedia entry then read people’s comments at and then ordered it and waited and received it and read it and liked it a lot.

Daumal was a French poet/writer known for his work on spirituality and perception. He spent his youth as part of a collective called ‘The Simplists’ and used drugs to experience the surreal or to expand his understanding of the para-psychological. In North America, he is best known for two novels, A Night Of Serious Drinking as well as the previously mentioned Mount Analogue, in which he argues that transcendental knowledge is attained through an understanding of reality and communion with others. Daumal died of tuberculosis in 1944.

As a poet, Daumal earned the Jacques Doucet prize in 1936 for his debut poetry collection, Le Contre-Ciel (‘The Counter-Heaven’). Spiritual concerns and altered states of consciousness seem to form the ‘fabric’ of Le Contre-Ciel, which also offers reflections on death as a beginning to life rather than an end, ways to expand one’s global understanding and awareness and the bleakness of the superficial.

Le Contre-Ciel opens with ‘Keys To A Poetic Game,’ a thirty-two part series that mixes rapid-fire poetry with analytical commentary. The book is divided in multiple sections and sometimes strays away from poetry only to return to the form later on.

Daumal’s verses, for the most part, aren’t difficult to digest at all. The poetry isn’t tortuous or convoluted or pretentious but instead straightforward and elegant and clear. Poems in Le Contre-Ciel can have a strange metaphysical effect over the reader.


Guillaume Morissette writes poetry and fiction and emails. He is a creative writing major at Concordia, which is probably the closest you can get to majoring in sadness. His work has appeared in Lickety Split, Synapse, Papirmasse, Headlight and other places, also. Some of his work can be read online at He lives in montreal.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Michael Chaulk on First Books

Sarah Dowling's security posture

I first read Sarah Dowling's security posture on a half-empty airplane. There was a long delay, I think forty-five minutes. On one side of me, the window leading out to lengths of tarmac and a longer purple 6am sunrise. On the other, a man in a grey suit watching what had to have been a History Channel documentary about Things On Fire. This is relevant.

security posture, the winner of the 2009 Robert Kroetsch Award for Innovative Poetry and so published by snare books, is coherent as a first book because it leaves you with an impression. It might be an indistinct impression, but it's nonetheless full and it all works toward building it.

This is the way that Dowling formats security posture as well. If they are separate poems, even, they are untitled. Some parts seem to be governed by erasure, and others by grounded things like hair and lamps, but the subject is almost always obscured. There are no sections or headings or epigraphs. It is all one progression, and it has a pulse.

There are several pages of poetry in the middle which seem to be anchored by the letter f used as itself. These poems are then written in their reversed forms, but because the language itself is so peculiar and dense, it's hard to notice at first. There appears to be some sort of system, but what? Nouns becomes verbs or something else entirely and indefinable. It's pleasing and unfamiliar, and feels more like rolling than reversal.

Here's an example of one of what I call the “f poems” on page 38:

sky, the against
is spread out evening when
I turn over
there I turn
myself, like

soft white walls
you are my
you, everyday
turn, pass her delicate may I

pool I leave it
turn you're what
like stones f
the against like

And then, on page 39, this poem is reversed. Read/write it out yourself: “f/ like against the. . .”

So that's also what can cohere a book: an overall something that cannot be defined (by me), really, but effects you in an itself-nameless way. It reminds you of your relationship with your seat and its thistled fabric, resumes the plane's hums (the thick ones and the thin ones both) in your purview, and makes you (feeling peculiarly more water-based than ever) want the man to look over just once, which he doesn't. You look out at the purples and the tarmac and go “Huh, okay,” as if, for a moment, you might have understood it all, even if you would never have been able to articulate it.

Dowling, Sarah. security posture. Montreal: Snare Books. 2009. Print.


Michael Chaulk is a licensed Canadian seaman, but also a writer living in Montreal above heavy street traffic. He is the Editor-in-Chief of The Void Magazine at Concordia University and the Associate Poetry Editor for the Incongruous Quarterly on the internet. He has work forthcoming in the spring issue of PRISM international.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Robert Fitterman Introduces Sophia Le Fraga, Feminlist


womenthol cigarettes
womanchego cheese
womanila envelopes
Charles Womanson
Marilyn Womanson
Womandy Moore
Paul Newoman
Newoman's Own
sediwomentary rock
womanta ray
praying womantis
womanic depression
womental disorder
Prewomenstrual Syndrome

-Sophia Le Fraga


I am very excited and pleased to introduce the poet Sophia Le Fraga. Her text included here, Feminlist, is a startling poem where each item in a list is embodied with the word woman. This bold insertion complicates and contributes to new ways to think about feminism in conceptual poetry. Le Fraga’s womanlist marks a subtle and convincing insight into the expansion and contraction of language and gender. The list is not meant to be complete, but instead is carefully orchestrated with humor, (womanchego cheese), with commodity (Paul Newoman), and with larger issues of womanhood (womanic depression). In other words, this piece rocks!


Robert Fitterman is the author of 10 books of poetry including: The Sun Also Also Rises, war the musical, Metropolis XXX: The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (Edge Books), Metropolis 16-29 (Coach House Press), Metropolis 1-15 (Sun & Moon Press), This Window Makes Me Feel ( Metropolis 1-15 was awarded the Sun & Moon “New American Poetry Award (2000)” and Metropolis 16-29 was awarded the Small Press Traffic “Book of the Year Award (2003)”. With novelist Rodrigo Rey Rosa, he co-authored the film What Sebastian Dreamt which was selected for the Sundance Film Festival (2004) and the Lincoln Center LatinBeat Festival (2004). He has been a full-time faculty member in NYU’s Liberal Studies Program since 1993. He also teaches poetry at the Milton Avery School of Graduate Studies at Bard College.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Emily Pinkerton's Warholian Dystopia

Writing is changing. In the past few years, the mainstream practice has changed significantly. I've been a champion for the way the Internet is changing writing for quite some time, and I'll continue to be, but when I think of the Internet's impact on culture and how that influences young writers, I get fearful. Great, wrenching fears crash in my ribcage, as I observe that for young writers, the Internet has become a place where your writerly ambition matters far less than your knack for self-promotion. I worry that the Tao Lins and the Megan Boyles and the Bebe Zevas and the Ellen Kennedys of the world will eat my lunch and end up being studied by future generations. This sounds laughable, but I honestly can't think of any other writers my age getting as much media attention.

Is this the new way to make your name? Write half-coherently at all times, paste your gchats into your manuscript or on your blog, vaguely anesthetize everything and obsess over your blog's Google Analytics? That seems to be the game young writers are playing. That's not a game I want to play, but where does it leave me as a writer? As a writer, am I a luddite? There is great irony here: I've been working in tech since 2004; I am the anti-luddite. Yet I can't help but wonder: does the success of the relentlessly self-promoting Thought Catalog-ers foreshadow our future? Does it matter what you do, what you create? Does it matter that I spend time trying to craft writing I believe is beautiful: poetry with meter and rhythm as well as a clear narrative? Prose with proper grammar and a sense of plot? Or does it not matter at all because in the same time it will take me to craft a single manuscript, Tao Lin will write three while on various drugs. And people will buy more of them because he willretweet every Tweet, cross-post his work and any reviews he can get (positive or negative) to Facebook - tracking clicks on every link and optimizing his websites to bring in more traffic and thus more customers. Is this the new publishing industry?

From where I'm sitting, what seems to make or break these artists is how much they're willing to promote what they do, and what extremes they're willing to go to for self promotion. There was a time when Megan Boyle's recounting of every sexual encounter she's ever had would have been ignored at face value: as the writings of someone with the emotional maturity of a teenager begging for attention. Now begging for attention is not only 'cool' and 'worthy of literary merit,' it becomes a self-pereptuating attention machine, which means your everyday minutiae become endlessly publishable content. Simply say "it's tongue-in-cheek," and all your juvenile blog fodder becomes paycheck-worthy and gets you published. Or at least it's passed as reputable enough for Thought Catalog, which is just 10,000 Twitter followers shy of The Atlantic. These numbers are not insignificant. The Atlantic may publish better writing; but if I had to put money on who will get more eyes on their work in the next five years, it's Thought Catalog, and the numbers themselves will give Thought Catalog's particular style of writing more credibility (so get ready for more Muumuu House-type publishers to spring up). If you’re in the 25-35 age range and trying to get work published: your anxiety is justified. As much as Lin & co. poke fun at 'staying relevant' they're onto something: achieving cultural relevance at this moment in history is an absolute joke. The only talent it requires is ability to draw attention to yourself via any means possible. Call it the Paris Hilton effect. Celebrity was once something gained by virtue of excelling at some kind of craft that was in the public eye. Now celebrity exists for its own sake - you can gain an audience anywhere (most easily, of course, on the Internet) and grow it by doing more of whatever you're doing, or doing it in a more extreme way. When you get married in Vegas for the sake of getting married in Vegas but then write about it how do you classify it? Is it A) the same PR stunt a thousand half-rate celebrities have pulled to get themselves more attention or B) a commentary on the alienation of modern writers?

Writing as influenced by Internet culture seems like a bastardization of postmodernist theory, mixed with too much advertising taken to heart, the sum then taken to the only natural conclusion: author as impartial exhibitionist, whose antics, when transposed into words and consumed by an audience, become imbued with a meaning that is whatever it needs to be – usually whatever is most commercially marketable at the moment – and instead of having a critic call bullshit, the work receives an equal number of comments in jest and in earnest, saying "that's deep."


Emily Pinkerton was an exceptional student in my Poetry workshop at Haverford College in 2007. She was already writing and thinking about digital media and poetry at an advanced level. Since then she has moved to San Francisco where she works for Twitter by day and writes by night. She is starting an online journal called Analogous Magazine. (bio via Lemon Hound)

Monday, April 25, 2011

Julie Sheehan Introduces Michelle Whitaker, the Floater

The Floater
I have yet to learn how to hurricane the trees like him,
bend their necks down until the snap
into a migration hidden in all the wrong, wrong spaces.
I watched the boats unstrapped, one by none left on the back waters
like an unbeliever from a billy-goat stare
between his hand and the wild fever away. I saw him do it.
Some nights I try to hide the writhe,
even when striding fingers over ears, I can still hear him,
as a river does trying to keep a royal tone over rocks
but  I can’t stop un-strapping the back waters in replay
while minding the owl who pushes through these rural parts
I’m learning to mind that cockerel head, I’m learning who twisted this man thin
as a kite strung high up up up the wrong, wrong bark.

-Michelle Whittaker


Michelle Whittaker’s imagination is a force to be reckoned with, much as this poem reckons with the force of a hurricane. “The Floater” moves through its watery images to teach us that the subject, that unnamed “he,” floats on air—a lynched body, or a suicide—a victim of our “wrong, wrong spaces” but also a force of his own, haunting the speaker who “saw him do it” and tries unsuccessfully to “hide the writhe.” What I love about “The Floater,” like so many of Whittaker’s poems, is how it engages simultaneously with the image—in this case, quite a potentially overwhelming one—and with engagement itself. The poem’s in the first person, though it could easily be in the third. A lesser poet would perhaps have begun with a line like, “He hurricanes the trees.” Not Whittaker, who immediately puts the image into a relationship with a speaker, a witness, and thus introduces her great subject, justice.

Why would this speaker want to “learn how to hurricane the trees”? Why can’t the speaker “stop un-strapping the back waters in replay”? The move from a future state of knowledge in the first line’s “yet to learn” to a present, continuing state at the end (“I’m learning…I’m learning”) suggests that engagement with the other, no matter how shocking or foul, through contemplation is the first step toward forming the kind of humane judgments that can account for suffering and the capacity to inflict suffering. Do we doubt this poet’s capacity to contemplate suffering, to “mind that cockerel head”? Not for a minute. Armed with an inventive syntax where parts of speech slide into each other, a musician’s ear for the sound words make, and a taste for justice, Whittaker meets the extraordinary violence and outrage of our man-made landscape with violent beauty, much “as a river does trying to keep a royal tone over rocks.”


Julie Sheehan’s three poetry collections are Bar Book: Poems & Otherwise, Orient Point and Thaw. Her honors include a Whiting Writers’ Award, NYFA Fellowship and the Barnard Women Poets Prize. She teaches in the MFA program at Stony Brook Southampton.

Michelle Whittaker is a pianist, teacher, and Liberal Arts Chair for Patchogue Arts Council. Her poems have recently appeared and are forthcoming in The Southampton Review, Drunken Boat, Xanadu and Long Island Quarterly. She received the 2009 Jody Donohue Poetry Prize and a Pushcart Prize special mention. Currently, she is finishing her MFA at Stony Brook University.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Jacob McArthur Mooney Introduces Mathew Henderson, the Tank

The Tank

Squats three days at a time in white brown mud
that sticks and sucks like a mouth against
everything it touches. The long battle,
the bit by bit of urging steel to the centre
of the earth. Dreams of sinking
past the slow riot of oil, sand, and stone,
to the bottom of the prairie shield.

Rig out. The pylons packed, extinguishers
strapped, the guy wires of the stack plucked
to swing loose again against the sky. Everything ends,
briefly, and the iron world moves on.

Only the tire ruts are left, six inches
deep, wet with water and an oil sheen,
and even those are eaten over by wheat
and flax and mustard seeds.

No mark survives this place: you too will yield
to unmemory. Give everything you are
in three-day pieces. Watch the gypsy-iron
move, follow its commands,
tend the rusted steel like a shepherd.

The Hound has asked me to introduce two poems written by an associate of mine, a Mr. Mathew Henderson, originally of Prince Edward Island. These two poems are from a sequence called “Oilfield Poems” that made it to the shortlist for the most recent round of CBC Literary Awards. I’m a fan of Matt’s work, so this is a privilege.As mentioned, Henderson is a Prince Edward Islander, and this suite of poems inspired by his time spent working the oil patches of Alberta would appear to come right out of his province’s richest poetic vein: the so-called “work” poetry of Milton Acorn, through to Richard Lemm, all the way forward to the more contemporary examples like David Hickey’s debut book, In the Lights of a Midnight Plow. This is fair for a piece of genealogy, though it’s a little too closely informed by geography to be trusted as a helpful introduction. Surely, much of what Matt has written so far has been framed by a fascination with the physicality of work, specifically the close-up sensuality of manual labour. There are traces here of early John Steffler, and maybe Alden Nowlan. I understand these are all male poets, and I would never put Henderson’s work on a gender uniformity kick, but working from what we’ve come to call “work poetry”, we often end up, accidentally, in the sub-division known as “work poetry, written by men.” The source of this mistake is largely cultural, as the physicality of work, when presented by a female poet, tends to be given different names reflecting that work’s different economic valuation: the domestic poem, the mothering poem, etc. There are female poets writing bout paid manual labour, of course. But they are outnumbered by people like Sharon Olds, she being very much a work poet, though one of the unpaid economy. Olds employs all the same mechanics and tropes and tricks of a, say, Tom Wayman.The role of metaphor in the poem above is to suggest a paranoid danger, Henderson’s polyphonic machines are always threatening to come apart into their component pieces, to shudder into something unpredictable (that “mouth” in the first stanza, or the personification of oil as something that “riots). Unlike, say, Steffler’s benevolent pipes, Henderson’s drills are not to be trusted, they are always just a short paradigm shift away from monsterhood.

Oilfield Love Poem

Town is his wife. His daughter: Elizabeth.
Out here is just pussy: shower, shave,
condoms, call home, goodnight I love you.

You hear big hands on the door,
the sway of the housekeeping sign.
Listen with closed eyes to the quiet
liquored fucking one bed over.

You hear the wake up call, an engine
choked from sleep, the whistle of the gas
and the nightshift pulling up. His phone—
goodnight, I love you, and you love her too,
like she’s the last woman not in the patch.

I’d like to suggest another tradition for the reading of Matt’s work. If you take the prosody of the work poem, add in the element of travel, the loneliness, and the stiff and faceless camaraderie of young men, you end up in the neighbouring tradition of war poetry. It’s not hard to hear Yusef Komunyakaa’s Vietnam experience licking at the edges of Henderson’s oilfield lyrics. The fear of the machine, the paranoia, the loneliness, the hollow machismo of youth, these and more are shared ingredients. Henderson’s self-discovery via drill bit is similar in its sensuality and bluntness to Wilfred Owen’s morbid fascination with his rifle.There’s a politics, there, somewhere. And if it’s not there on the page, then here’s me giving it to you: war is a consistent cultural escape valve for our many narratives about lower- or middle-class youth from the fringes of the nation hoping to make good. Speaking as someone who has seen the entire rest of his residence floor from his freshman year of university (Memorial, Class of 2006. Go Seahawks) since move west for work in the oilfields, I suggest that the dreams of the quick dollar, the identity offered by legion, and the independence that drives the erstwhile young man of Galveston to the Marines drives that same man to the patches if he happened to grow up, as Matt Henderson did, in Charlottetown. The rumble and confusion that follows each of these adventurers shares a core vocabulary.Hendo is presently extending his suite of Oilfield Poems into his thesis at the University of Guelph’s MFA program in Toronto. It should be fun to watch them grow and expand.


Jacob McArthur Mooney lives in Toronto. His books are “The New Layman’s Almanac” (McClelland & Stewart, 2008) and “Folk” (M&S, 2011). He maintains the poetry blog called Vox Populism.

Mathew Henderson grew up in P.E.I. and now lives in Toronto where he spends his time writing poems about the prairies. He is currently completing his MFA in creative writing at the University of Guelph, and was shortlisted for the 2011 CBC Literary Award in Poetry (English Language).

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Robert Majzels Introduces Indra Singh, Regretfully Excerpted

Disappearing Scene

The scene is blank. Gaia enters. She regrets not having better personal growing conditions. Words pipe in light, oxygen, and dirt. Gaia sighs, and starts to bight her skin, moving along her arm. She pulses along the fat, swathing deeper to the muscle. The hair tickles her mouth—she grins then suctions her skin, then grins again from the saltiness of her salt lick. She continues down her arm. As she reaches her wrist, at contact, her cheeks expand so large, she is forced to swallow. Surprised, she sits still. Her gaze reaches out, but she startles as her eyeballs oscillate. Her mouth opens as her eyes shut. She remembers this familiar territory-the eyelids a limit at one end and her thoughts, the chatter behind the scenes, on the other.

Sonic Bloom

Turtle receives a message at work, flatly laid out. It is a survey request. Edgy, but doesn’t draw her. She is too-underneath her breath.----Gaia. Emerson?....Mmmm…Gaia. She prints it off, uses it as a sketch pad as she greets her clientele. Turtle and her handmade knowhow draws attention to blanks.

“Gaia-this one’s for you, Sonic Bloom.”

She opens her eyes and shuts her mouth. This is her scene-it’s now on her lap:

quest for participants
drs. omi lou and ocean sommerton invite you to call into question. since you don’t know precisely what is happening, we are drawing you in. choose some letters, hide as much as possible, then see what surfaces for questioning. we are interested in your soil’s responses.

        -Indra Singh

[Editor's Note: This section of text excerpted from a 10 page suite in the book-length project Turtle Crumbles the Visible.]


Indra Singh is completing her MA in English at the University of Calgary, with a poetry thesis under my less than super-vision. She already has a degree in Environmental studies from the University of Manitoba. Her work might be described as post-humanist eco-feminist language based writing. She uses cutup and mashup methods to combine bio-texts related to soil regeneration with posthumanist theory and her own reflections. Indra herself speaks of her project thus: "I view the soil as a location of tension. It is the site at which the pastoral superimposes itself, at which political economies are mapped onto and ownership defined. By shifting (sifting) soil through a space of poetry, the disciplinary boundaries which often contain discursive cross-fertilization, might be re-inscribed as a location of translation, of openings, of ecotone or ecosystem boundaries where contaminative effects across discourses produce a regenerative affect, thereby softening impact. Within the series I crumble these discourses together. As I work through the process of writing these poems, I am primarily engaged with the following question: from the language that emerges from a process of experimentation with language, is there any possibility to imagine the soil as an artistic medium, as installation?" I believe Indra Singh's work is opening up new ways to think and write, and feel privileged to be working with her. The patagraduates to which she refers in her brief bio are a collective of creative writing graduate students in the English Department at U of Calgary working together to find alternative approaches to studying and writing practices.


Robert Majzels is currently committed to a strict self-promotion-free diet.

Indra Singh is currently studying genre infiltration, intervention, and
recombination tactics under Robert Majzels at the University of Calgary,
with much assistance from fellow patagraduates.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Kerri Cull on Michael Crummey's "Her Mark".

Her Mark (from Hard Light)

I, Ellen Rose of Western Bay in the Dominion of Newfoundland. Married woman, mother, stranger to my grandchildren. In consideration of natural love and affection, hereby give and make over unto my daughter Minnie Jane Crummey of Western Bay, a meadow garden situated at Riverhead, bounded to the north and east by Loveys Estate, to the south by John Lynch's land, to the west by the local road leaving countrywards. Bounded above by the sky, by the blue song of angels and God's stars. Below by the bones of those who made me.
     I leave nothing else. Every word I have spoken the wind has taken, as it will take me. As it will take my grandchildren's children, their head full of fragments and my face not among those. The day will come when we are not remembered, I have wasted no part of my life in trying to make it otherwise.
     In witness thereof I have set my hand and seal this thirteenth day of December, One thousand Nine hundred Thirty Three.

Ellen X Rose

Newfoundland and Labrador seems to undulate at the eastern edge of Canada like a myth: the row houses of St. John's overlook the ocean that from time-to-time seethes with anger; the eastern coast of Labrador is the shore for seal carcasses, cause of death unknown; Labrador West disappears into Quebec as quickly as you can say iron ore; and a lone polar bear vanishes into the water off the coast of St. Anthony, while Gros Morne watches majestically and then disappears in a fog. One writer who I deeply admire, whose love of language and appreciation of landscape never ceases to inspire, whose meditations on culture and the mythology of memory is Michael Crummey. This short prose narrative illustrates the theme of work and the power of landscape that has shaped a people. Like Ellen Rose, my grandfather never did learn how to write. He could write two words only—his name—and all that is left of him in my house is his dictionary where he signed his name in ink around the time of Confederation, around the time my father was born. In a province like this where the work culture has left us little free time, the writing, just like the people, has been shaped and in some cases defined by the landscape, what it has given us but also what it has taken away.


Kerri Cull, originally from Corner Brook, NL, has had the pleasure of studying under John Steffler, Randall Maggs, Mary Dalton, and Stephanie McKenzie. After completing a Master of Arts at Memorial University in 2004, she worked mainly in radio and print media, and spent a lot of time taking in the music and words of the St. John’s arts scene before moving to Labrador City where she teaches, writes and tries to stay warm. Soak, her debut poetry collection, will be released in 2012 by Breakwater Books.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Clint Burnham Introduces Mercedes Eng

Mercedes Eng is a thirtysomething writer and activist in Vancouver. She’s been at Simon Fraser University for a few years now – maybe longer than I have – and is finishing up a graduate degree in English. She’s also one of the brightest young writers on the Vancouver scene, whose work combines tart insights into gender and racial relations, a playfulness of language not always found in political poetry, and a fine ear.

Mercy has two chapbooks out, both with black construction paper covers, both published by herself (in a loose collective that includes her confreres Peter McDonald, Emily Fedoruk, Cecily Nicholson). One came out during the Winter Olympics and is called February 2010. It documents, more or less, Eng’s activism during that heady time, when homeless people lay in Red Tents and demonstrators organized outside the opening ceremonies, knuckle-to-knuckle with cops from across the country. Into this mix, Eng throws the following stolen text:

When you become a police officer, people trust you with their property and with their lives. Law enforcement is more than just a job – it’s a calling. Is police school calling you?

It’s calling someone


“Later in the morning, Constable Peters recalled Constable Kojima making the comment, ‘now that was the shit you signed up for’.”

What works so well here is the reader’s uncertainty about when Eng is sampling an ad and when it’s her voice. That’s the point – the lack of difference between what is surely an advertisement for a police academy (perhaps the Justice Institute in New Westminster, B.C.) and what is Eng’s own commentary. Perhaps “It’s calling someone”, probably the slashes (used throughout the chapbook); but then the actual quoted statement, framed in quotation marks, makes us wonder if the first verse-paragraph is a quotation. Perhaps Eng just made it up, make a fake sample like Dr Dre used to with those wicked flutes on The Chronic.

Mercy’s second chapbook is untitled; it has an image of brass knuckles screenprinted on the cover. It is concerned with, on the one hand, B.C.’s “Highway of Tears” (a northern highway along which dozens of women, mostly aboriginal, have been found murdered), and Ontario’s “Highway of Heroes” (a stretch of highway along which the bodies of Canadian soldiers who died in Afghanistan are driven). So we have the institutionalization of B.C.’s missing/murdered women (in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside as well as the north) and the commemoration of war heroes. Again, Eng works through appropriation, in a brilliant sampling of war reporting that is pitch-perfect:

Paul Strand: We’re, I would say, dozens of miles from Baghdad. I just talked to our commander, and he asked that I not be too specific about direction or distance; I think you can understand that. So far, everywhere we’ve gone we have seen artillery ahead of us and then artillery behind, and we’re getting reports that there’s fighting in all of the cities we’ve been through. So, I guess if this were the Old West, I’d say there were Injuns ahead of us, Injuns behind us, and Injuns on both sides too.

Conceptual writing, flarf, and the like use quotation as a way to indulge in what Slavoj Žižek would call the idiocy of our enjoyment – the sublime obscenity of post-internet culture. But Eng’s program is a little different. She uses their method – sampling, quotation, pastiche, call it what you will – both to implicate the hegemonic discourse of neoliberal police militarism (racism at home is tied to racism as foreign policy) and to keep herself in that mix, part of the problem. She’s angry, yes, but also too smart not to realize that some of that anger has to do with herself.

A final comment: when I was typing out the quotation above, MS Word didn’t try to correct my spelling of “Injuns.” Looks like Mercedes Eng still has some work to do.


Clint Burnham teaches in the Department of English at SFU. His research
interests include contemporary literature, cultural studies, Marxism, and
psychoanalysis. He is at present working on two book-length projects: one on
the Kootenay School of Writing, and another on Slavoj Zizek. His published
works include book-length studies of the Canadian poet Steve McCaffery and
the American theorist Fredric Jameson, and articles on imperialism &
contemporary art, bpNichol, and hiphop.

Monday, April 18, 2011

"Sinew of Fire and Flint:" Lise Gaston on Steven Price's "Anatomy of Keys".

XVI (from Anatomy of Keys)

sleek sashcord, escapologist's skin,
umbilical cord of the drowned, shrouded hood
hanged men bladder and drag and stretch out in;
wildfire ripple of rumour through a crowd;
sheath, frayed bloodline, sinew of fire and flint,
asleep in one's lap like a child or a cat
and like a child all ululation, all wailed lament;
rope of muscle, rope of bone, the elbow of it
ever unbending; black intestine or spleen:
dark many-cornered flesh a knot can be.
A kind of thread and weft he worked behind,
what bound us and unbound him, God to man:
Holy of Holies, spell, sky, prayer, wrist:
the shaking of his father's hands in his.

A confession: as one of Steven Price’s students a few years ago, I had not yet read his poetry. Even his ability to click open a poem with a single phrase in workshop, or his meticulous attention to diction and syntax, did not fully prepare me for the profundity and linguistic abundance of his book-length poem about Harry Houdini, Anatomy of Keys (2006). The numbered pieces, from which the above is an excerpt, spool and weave through the book, locking and unlocking each other, bound through language so rich it begs a tongue to pronounce it.

“XVI” is a dynamic list poem; one metaphor actively slips to the next, so the men who hang by the “shrouded hood” initiate the rope as “ripple of rumour through a crowd.” As a sonnet, the poem is both rippling and tight. Price keeps close to iambic meter while jamming in extra stresses for syntactical density. He gradually unspools the rhyme scheme into progressively slanted pairings, until “knotting” a perfect couple at the close. Form itself binds and unbinds language, alongside escape, faith, and family; it, too, becomes what the poet “work[s] behind.” The sonnet’s final turn toward the personal is pulled back from sentimentality by the bodily language that has anchored the familial in the physical: “umbilical,” “bloodline.” Houdini's dying father's body haunts the book: “the harrowing of your father’s / ribs and hair, a kind of brittle prayer / made bone of” (XXXIX). Physicality also resides in the language’s aural compactness and alliterative excess: “all ululation, all wailed lament.” In an interview Price explains the preoccupation with the body’s “dark, many-cornered flesh:” “So much of what Houdini was was anchored in the body, anchored in the flesh, anchored in the struggle to escape from or to remain in the flesh.” Thus keys are “knuckled like fingers” (XV); rope is not only “skin” but also what lurks under it, “black intestine or spleen.”

Price’s language is lavish, inventive, and unabashed: this bravery in linguistic risk extends to decisive thematic engagement. Price says that in wanting to write his own family “mythology” (his family has owned a lock and security company for generations), “It seemed as if, too often, the poems were becoming devoured by the ‘I’ or the ‘me’ that takes over the poem.” Avoiding a dominant personal “I” is also perhaps what allows Price to take declarative stances regarding traditional lyric concerns—love, death, grief, faith—that many young poets, myself included, barely gesture toward, too timid to dive into collective experiences that Price’s poetry barrels into and splashes around in: “True faith comforts / no one, it confounds, is stubborn, it terrifies / in its immensity. No heart is huge enough” (XXXV).

Works Cited

Price, Steven. Anatomy of Keys. London, ON: Brick Books, 2006. Print.

Price, Steven, and Carlin M. Wragg. “The Architecture of Persona: Steven Price Writes Houdini.” Open Loop Press. July 2009. Web. 8 April 2011.


Lise Gaston completed her B.A. at the University of Victoria and is a current M.A. student at Concordia University in Montreal. Her poetry and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in journals including The Malahat Review, Arc Poetry Magazine, The Fiddlehead, and Prairie Fire.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Michael Chaulk on First Books

Jacob McArthur Mooney's The New Layman's Almanac

About from leftovers to the weight of citizenry, the other side of the first-book battle. Jacob McArthur Mooney's The New Layman's Almanac is a fine example of the first book as often having an all-pervasive and anchoring conceptual unity. Except, he also combines that unity with tweaks of form and structure: Mooney rotates the book so you have to read with two hands or an elbow up, but also so he is able to use more page-space. He then also uses line breaks in a way he wouldn't otherwise be able to. And he didn't turn it into a phone book sized monster (however beautiful/incredible) the way Charles Olson did with similar page-space intentions. It fits in a bag with other things too. The best thing about the formatting is that it doesn't feel like a book when you're reading it, which is all good for Mooney, because it isn't a regular book of poetry.

It consists of three sections: the section of Guides to many many things, Appendex A (26 poems based on a form-tribute by Robert Pinsky, each having 26 words which begin with A and end in Z and are surprisingly far from only that), and Appendix B (“Contrast Negotiations” or The-Difference-Between poems). This is what makes up The Layman's Almanac and is far too much for me to talk about in the space I have. It's fun and hearty too. And people on public transportation look at you like you're one of those Stand By Me boys hiding a centrefold in a topographic atlas or something.

I really like that I would have probably guessed (being, but not because I'm, a Nova Scotian myself) that Mooney was a maritimer. There is a certain closeness to the land that grounds some of the poems with a nostalgia that wouldn't quite work for me if they were rooted otherwise. Maybe I just read this way because I spent some time growing up there. But even then, that's something too. “See also:” his guides to THE PHYSICAL DEVELOPMENT OF THE STORM, RURAL ROUTES, REFRACTION, LIFE CYCLES, etc.

And this part of “A Guide to THE HOUSE AT 6 ARTHUR HATT ROAD”

The 2nd door led outside,
through it our neighbour came on Christmas Eves,
decked in red and white.
Starting in 1987,
he would show up every year
all whiskey and festive, floppy cheer.
His elfin wife, four-foot-eight
would often sleep all week,
but on good days she'd
gladly throw assorted balls
across out broken fence with me, and
explore the foundations of dead houses
in the woods behind the kitchen door.

There's something distinctive about Mooney's poetry that reminds me of the maritime provinces. Like how there's nature and the land and there is community and the people of the community, and a place will have a unique integration of these things. Mooney's poetry shows some of these integrations and the characteristics of a place which, like any place really, cannot be properly transferred to another person (the wet fences, the dogs, the gravel ditches), so then I guess poetry, right?

Mooney, Jacob McArthur. The New Layman's Almanac. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart. 2008. Print.


Michael Chaulk is a licensed Canadian seaman, but also a writer living in Montreal above heavy street traffic. He is the Editor-in-Chief of The Void Magazine at Concordia University and the Associate Poetry Editor for the Incongruous Quarterly on the internet. He has work forthcoming in the spring issue of PRISM international.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Michael Nardone: On Colin Fulton


What are the phonemes within phenomena? What is their speak and how are they sounded? How does a phrase issue outward from event? What is the name of the pleasure that overcomes one when a string of words fastens itself to some unintended destination? How is it that a sentence takes hold?

Colin Fulton's work is a barrage of present atmospheres: verbal, historical, sensual. These elements, each within its own climate, converge upon the plane of the poem, the page, and, page to page, accumulate, and therefore begin to describe, not some overall poetry, but poetries.

That poetries must abound within the poet is one of the finest provocations continually underscored in Fulton's poems, that to have some well-defined preconception of what it is that a poem does is to limit the poesis of the poet.

Over these lines, limits dissolve. Whole worlds arrive, momentarily, and then, once grasped, at last, comes the shift and clatter of new sounds, new affections.

-Michael Nardone, Victoria


Colin Fulton is twenty-four. After growing up in Nova Scotia he moved to British Columbia, where he alternates between studying at the University of Victoria and working in the orchards of the Okanagan Valley. His work can be found in Grain, The Incongruous Quarterly, and ditch.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Sharon Thesen Introduces Rebekah Croker, All Movable

All movables of wonder

like you Little Breath; I watch rise and fall, a sawing log,
as last night’s story tingles from the printed pages
dropped, from hands to dreams to heart
and slits of light from the window blinds
connect your closed eyes with Italian tales of talking wood,
crickets, and paw-less cats, and blue fairies. But you’re more than pine or oak to me.
I worry, seizures, palpitations, water pushing at the back of my eyes
of when life will carve you out and string you up an adult,
one with seizures, palpitations, and mallets for hitting crickets.
But today you breathe slow, and push your blanket off, carelessly subconscious
of life without warmth, or of lack of fabrics, or of carefree hours starting at three,
or cookies with smiley faces who say nothing of claims and weights and now.
I sigh and woe with envy, adjusting the stuffed zoo around the bed skirt,
miniature socks and princess panties lie in wait,
and I speak out loud, “Time to get up babe.”
You say, “Can I stay in bed today?”
and even with you only six, I tie a string, the master puppeteer,
and tell you, “No.” The idea of Toyland Donkeys are an abomination here;
and your mother would have my hide,
if I didn’t pull up the blind and clap you out of childhood ease. I can feel my nose growing

-Rebekah Croker

[Editor's Note: This section of text excerpted from the longer serial multimedia poem The Day the Uber-Marionette Baffled.]


Rebekah D. Croker has taken writing courses from Jake Kennedy and
Sharon Thesen at Okanagan College and UBC Okanagan. “The Day the
Uber-Marionette Baffled” was written to fulfil an assignment to write
a serial poem using rules or procedures, or what George Bowering calls
“baffles.” Rebekah’s 8-year-old niece volunteered to be the
constraint and the “baffles” Rebekah decided were her bedtimes, rising
times, mealtimes, play spaces, rules, etc. With now such shocking
awareness of the parental role in relation to the child/poem, the
speaker identifies herself as a reluctant master-puppeteeer. The poem
follows a 6-line, 6-line, 8-line stanza pattern for 7 pages of poem
and an eighth page of bibliography and the cut-out caption, “Craig’s
term Uber-marionette was obviously inspired by Nietzsche’s concept of
the Ubermensch, the superman who achieves the strength of will to
overcome his own weaknesses and rise above the limitations […]”. I
think Rebekah is a marvelously talented poet.


Sharon Thesen is a poet, editor, and writer who was based in Vancouver, BC, before coming to UBC Okanagan in 2005. She is the author of eight books of poetry, the most recent The Good Bacteria. Her books include a selected poems, News & Smoke, and several titles from the 1980’s and 90’s from Coach House Press in Toronto.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Silver Car Sessions, Episode 18

Poet, publisher, and most recently a proud "the all-new Cruze"-driver, Peter McDonald--en route from Salmon Arm to a poetry reading in Vancouver--told us many wonderful, brilliant things about suffering and hubris, diachronic/synchronic axes in ancient Greek poetry, Hector's spurious courage, Montaigne's love of Latin, and the horrid stench of Philoctetes' post-production, however, we found iMovie Sound Effects. Peter has not authorized this video.

We missed 17, but it will come soon.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Marilyn Bowering Introduces Elizabeth Ross Through a Window

Looking Through a Window Through a Mirror

Tonight the sky—two glass panes
pushing blue into each other—

blue the evening thinks of, turning
into itself before sleep.

There’s not enough light
to separate

the original. Which
should I believe?

Our bed’s navy melancholy,
streaked sheets, smudges on pillows.

The absence of your breath
guiding mine

to sleep. I’ll wait for the moon
to rise in its tarnished polish—

dusk is not the word.

-Elizabeth Ross


My former student Elizabeth Ross’s poems seem, to me, to inhabit a transition zone. They are often situated in ordinary domestic moments, but it’s as if there’s a little swinging door inside them and the reader finds herself stepping first to one side, then another as the poet switches views. Liz, herself, is rooted in this stance—a trustworthy observer of the goings on, a witness to the troublesome aspects of the ultimately impenetrable nature of the symbolical, and the potential razor-thin splinter of ice within the commonplace: this is subtle, and a too-quick reader might miss it; but it’s always there to make the gentle meditative robe of the poem’s language feel a wee bit uncomfortable.

Looking through a window through a mirror makes us think, immediately of a painting and a moment of self-reflection and (of course) of uncertainty as to what is real. The poem is a little dozy, just going off to bed, but the poet lets us know there’s an unusual, intentional consciousness involved and that what it forces for the poet is the necessity of choice: ‘Which should I believe?’ I don’t know, in fact, quite which she means by ‘the original’—is it separating the mirror from the sky when the sky is reflected in the mirror? But this makes the mirror ‘the original’ which raises further complexities. And I certainly don’t know what to believe—but the poet’s answer is in the details about the bedding and its suggestions of sexual, tearful, heartache. Someone’s gone. I know I could choose to read this romantically—but the mirroring and lack of light warn me not to. To answer the belief question the poet says she’ll wait—for the moon (what else would a poet wait for) to be clear about what’s what in all those reflections. But what kind of ‘answer’ would that be? What, possibly, could embody more deception than the ‘polish’ of a tarnished moon?

The last line is both stray and perfect: I’m not going to try to explicate—but it sends me dizzyingly back and forth through the little door I mentioned until I feel the ambiguities of this moment, caught –sandwiched—between two pushing blue panes and with the knowledge of what has happened in that bed off to one side, incomplete but very real.


Marilyn Bowering Marilyn is an award-winning novelist, poet and playwright whose first novel, To All Appearances A Lady, was a New York Times Notable Book of 1990. She was born in Winnipeg and grew up in Victoria, BC. She has lived in the United States, Greece, Scotland, Spain: she now makes her home on Vancouver Island.

Elizabeth Ross’s poetry has appeared in The Antigonish Review, Contemporary Verse 2, the Vancouver International Writers Festival website, and is forthcoming in The Malahat Review. She was the 2009/10 poetry editor of PRISM international and completed her MFA at UBC. She just moved to Toronto and is a sessional instructor at OCAD University.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Jessi MacEachern on Lisa Robertson's "She Has Smoothed Her Pants to No End"

She Has Smoothed Her Pants to No End (from Debbie: An Epic)

This is the light Debbie steps into. Her
toffeed flanks roll with greatness and sustenance
in their sockets and her hearty hands bear
the bruised sea. Mighty amazing beauty
moves her and all the whirling majorettes
are her marvellous squadron: their bare throats
spill analysis.* Dactylic
eastern desks pom-pom
from puddles of yellow
mud. For rhetors bathed
in scent of chrome and split hide her senses
coin dictions:

If Luck’s nameless girls love me
I’m happy. My city
minting history

Whence! giddy swish so skin-like
as a dress
trailing theft
as a spill

Riddled, cloaks
this pink text:
for her we could
be female

The poetic line is an opportunity to test an otherwise tacit observation. Providing lasting and resonating sound, it envelops an inquiry in sensory detail. Paranoia grounds itself in reality, for better or worse; infatuation sheds its rose tint, catapulted full tilt into the self being consumed by another; physical illness finds its complementary emotional gust; and all is enacted in the jostling of words and phrases. In the sensuous landscapes of Lisa Robertson’s poetry, those lines and swerves are rife with intellectual and cultural consciousness. With Debbie: An Epic—my first confrontation with Robertson (soon Magenta Soul Whip and R’s Boat were wondrously gifted upon me, while Occasional Works and Seven Walks from the Office for Soft Architecture would accompany me through peregrinations overseas)—the poet manages to displace and disperse the tropes of the traditional epic so that the ancient male politics of Virgil’s Aeneid undergo a female subversion. Amidst the dense reading history of the canonical text, Robertson asserts a new tension: she exploits the usual binary between intellectualism and emotionalism. In the poem “She Has Smoothed Her Pants To No End,” the accumulative and abstract descriptors, such as “Mighty amazing beauty,” and the acknowledgement of a reading body, as in the call to action “Toast!” are undeniably antique gestures. Made with a self-aware hand, they indulge the form’s available affirmations. “Toast!” is simultaneously a celebration of the rituals of epic form and a checked response to the exclusionary acts it has wreaked. Occurring in the verse footnotes of the poem, it directly addresses the lines: “their bare throats / spill analysis”. What is most remarkable about this movement, from the body of the poem to its margins, is the immediate scrutiny of the gore. The frightening nature of these bared throats is less the disfigured human flesh than the dehumanized response to the matter pooling from the destruction. Modern propulsion toward dehumanizing the individual is the inspiration for Robertson’s call for communal action. And communal action, for Robertson, necessarily includes the act of writing.

Despite Robertson’s use of a loaded conceptual frame, she is not entirely wed to any rigid constraints. Entrenched allusions and prescribed movements consult the individual speaker and not vice versa. The resulting gestures are her own. For example, the title “She Has Smoothed Her Pants To No End” heralds not the Aeneid but a vulnerable female figure manufacturing an appearance through a personal and physical tic. Through an overabundance of adult and animal flesh, the poem explores the troubling decadence attributed to the female form. The female becomes recognized as “toffeed flanks”, “sockets”, “waxen heart”, and “marble marrow”. But amidst this physical imagery and its list of body parts are “Erin’s vowels”, and these female utterances puncture the surrounding discourse so that the flesh can become a speaking subject.

In subsequent sections, the language continues to burst at its self-imposed seams. Spliced instances of an outside discourse and rhetorical questions knock up against the firm caesuras and drop individual lines into dizzying breaks. “In My Heart as Drooping Pith” employs a single overflowing stanza in which Robertson’s various strains of intellectualism and emotionalism smash together. Unwilling to exclude a personal urge to commend nature’s splendours, the critical feminist speaker of this epic insists:

I am never free of
those beautiful woods – they excite
me powerfully as does the ultra
clear manufacture of girlhood.

Both romantic imagery and the dilemma of female identity spark excitement. This dilemma will persist as an ideological thrust persists throughout the remainder of the modern epic, even in instances when the speaker feigns otherwise. For example, “For Girls, Grapes and Snow” begins with the following lines: “Pardon me if I throw myself / absolutely outside my sex”, but if such a gesture of catapulting outside one’s sex is made, it is only to ricochet back with greater force. The poem is a testament to the drenching discourse of the feminine, steeped in a sexuality that is unblinking, naked and dancing against its limits and clichés.

Debbie: An Epic clamours with aesthetic excess. But the poems lure the mind beyond the flourish, for they are never merely language for language’s sake. Robertson exploits each angle of a poem’s frame, whether the epic or the lyric, not only utilizing its available strength but also inquiring into its weaknesses. The antique gestures subverted by Robertson prepare her poetic sphere for the tension between intellectualism and emotionalism. The poems simultaneously reel in the empathy of the reader and evoke his or her critical response. The poetry moves from the body of the text, from its footnotes, and from its margins, into a continued call for engagement. The struggle behind the text rises above the capture of the moment, becomes raw under exposure, and risks the radical pulse of its every utterance.


Jessi MacEachern is in the process of completing her MA in English (Creative Writing) at Montreal’s Concordia University. She reads poetry, writes poetry, and dreams poetry.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

a.rawlings Introduces Joan Guenther in Time


a.rawlings: In December 2010, I facilitated EAR KNOWS THROAT, a workshop for the Toronto New School of Writing held at the beautiful scholarly and antiquated bookseller OF SWALLOWS, their deeds, & the winter below. On the final day of the workshops, participants were invited to perform an erasure exercise on one page of Eye Weekly (a local arts and culture newspaper), followed by a cut-up technique to rearrange isolated material. Joan Guenther’s resulting poem, “in time,” was the focus of enthusiastic discussion.

in time

worse than inside

the world in but” stumbling when

from start for weeks not war

or ever

But things along sign-offs but things his two come with

without wasn’t or secret you get the picture

the arts into simple to his crew perhaps and

to wipe was a but not it wasn’t!

to bring in various

Fellow participants Lindsay Cahill, Dare Shapiro, and I read Joan’s initial erasure aloud, our polyphony combing through the words and layout instinctively. We were all struck by the intact idiom “you get the picture” housed within the mass of disjunction. Lindsay volunteered to read the revised version, and again we agreed on the contrastive anchor-strength of this idiom amidst a sea of familiar yet syntactically estranged/estranging words/phrases. We got the picture that we didn’t get the picture at all. Lightning bolt!

And then there was deep pleasure as we identified other attracting moments in the text, where the juxtaposition of similar word-sounds in unexpected formation made our scalps tingle. We noted every instance of ‘in’ whether short- or long-vowelled, whether solo or embedded in another word and we noted the frequency of sister-constructions ‘im,’ ‘ing,’ ‘ign,’ and ‘it.’ We flagged the befuddling familiarity of the repeated “but things,” a murky phrase somehow clear-crystallizing through its second iteration within the same line (usually a no-no in the realm of letters but it gave us a decided yes-yes). And the first ‘but’ and then the towering ‘But’ and a later, smaller ‘but’ perhaps they would have been wiped if only they’d grown an additional ‘t.’

Joan Guenther: the poem as is has got the rhythm of ordinary speech which i love and the clunking syntax that goes halfway somewhere over and over again making me smile...catching up the reader/speaker (i hope) and carrying her forward thru the permanent confusion of having too much to say...and always absolutely nothing to say...except for the ‘bingo’...i’m always tempted by the bingo...phrases so empty and so loaded at once and whoever authors anyone of one and everyone...those phrases...i read them and hear them... are like feathers that sort of float down dislodged from birds fussing or striving overhead...pinch the feather out of the air and when you look up the birds have settled down or they’re long gone…


Joan Guenther is a reader and writer who lives in Toronto who considers her mentors and teachers to have included Ken Babstock, Margaret Christakos, Erin Mouré and a.rawlings. She reads Kate Eichhorn and Karen Mac Cormack and Rachel Zolf a lot. Joan has been a writer and editor for the on-line poetry magazine Influency Salon. Joan spent 20 years teaching elementary school in West Toronto and fifteen years as an activist with her teachers’ federation. She is a graduate of St. Francis Xavier University and York University.

Poet, arts educator, and interdisciplinarian a.rawlings has presented and published work throughout North America, Europe, and Australia. In the last decade, she held the position of assistant publisher for The Mercury Press and hosted a season of the television documentary series Heart of a Poet. Her first book, Wide slumber for lepidopterists (Coach House Books, 2006), received an Alcuin Award for Design and was nominated for the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award; the book is being translated into French by François Luong. Her works-in-progress Environment Canada and Rule of Three have been exhibited in the Simon Fraser University Art Gallery, Niagara Arts Centre, and Infusoria in Belgium. As the recipient of a Chalmers Arts Fellowship, angela spent 2009 and 2010 in Belgium, Canada, and Iceland working on her next manuscripts, researching sound/text/movement with special emphasis on vocal and contact improvisation, and collaborating with local artists. angela’s current collaborators are experiential theatre company bluemouth inc., Belgian artist Maja Jantar, Canadian musician Nilan Perera, and Canadian dancer Julie Lassonde. a.rawlings @ wordpress, myspace, twitter, tumblr: no slumber for volcanologists, tumblr: here north wrote.

“Feelings of helplessness drove me to fantastic and ridiculous extremes.": Celyn Harding-Jones on Mei Mei Berssenbrugge's "Four Year Old Girl".

Four Year Old Girl


The “genotype” is her genetic constitution.

The “phenotype” is the observable expression of the genotype as structural and bio-chemical traits.

Genetic disease is extreme genetic change, against a background of normal vari-ability.

Within the conventional unit we call subjectivity due to individual particulars, what is happening?

She believes she is herself, which isn’t complete madness, it’s belief.

The problem is not to turn the subject, the effect of the genes, into an entity. Between her and the displaced gene is another relation, the effect of meaning.

The meaning she’s conscious of is contingent, a surface of water in an uninhabited world, existing as our eyes and ears.

You wouldn’t think of her form by thinking about water. You can go in, if you don’t encounter anything.

Though we call heavy sense impressions stress, all impression creates limitation. I believe opaque inheritance accounts for the limits of her memory.

The mental impulse is a thought and a molecule tied together, like sides of a coin.

A girl says sweetly, it’s time you begin to look after me, so I may seem lovable to myself.

She’s inspired to change the genotype, because the cell’s memory outlives the cell. It’s a memory that builds some matter around itself, like time.


Feelings of helplessness drove me to fantastic and ridiculous extremes.

Nevertheless, the axis of her helplessness is not the axis I grasp when I consider it a function of inheritance.

Chromatin fails to condense during mitosis.

A fragile site recombines misaligned genes of the repeated sequence.

She seems a little unformed, gauze stretches across her face, eyelids droop.

When excited, she cries like a cat and fully exhibits the “happy puppet” syndrome.

Note short fingers and hypoplastic painted nails.

Insofar as fate is of real order here, signifying embodiment, the perceived was pres-ent in the womb.

A gap or cause presents to any apprehension of attachment.
In her case, there’s purity untainted by force or cause, like the life force.

Where, generically, function creates the mother, in this case it won’t even explain this area.

She screams at her.

A species survives in the form of a girl asking sweetly.

Nevertheless, survival of the species as a whole has meaning.

Each girl is transitory.

[Editor's Note: the rest of the poem, less directly addressed by the response, can be found here]

A change spread in my own poetic thinking when I encountered this poem. At the time, my own work was fumbling with ways of writing and thinking about inheritance and illness, but was suffering from a bout of emotional sappiness. My first impression of Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge’s poetry was that in between statements of abstract and scientific language, shocking moments of tenderness pierced through the flat surface of the page. “Four Year Old Girl” is an attempt (a poem as an attempt) to understand and grapple with a very personal struggle with genetic disease, traced through mother-daughter relationships. In an interview with Zhou Xiaojing, Berssenbrugge states that the “principle of unity” in her poetry is the “emotional statement” (MELUS, 204). So how does she succeed (in my opinion) in expressing the emotional statement through “concretion of the informed substance of language” as she relies “less on metaphor, sound, or image” (AWP, 62)?

As the poem is quite long, and packed tightly into six parts, I’ll focus on Part 1. I have also integrated quotes from Berssenbrugge’s notes on the poem. The poem begins with two definitions explaining two genetic types: genotype and phenotype. One is a characteristic of the gene that creates what is seen, the other, a characteristic that makes what we cannot see, but what we inherently are. Genetic disease is defined objectively, as “extreme genetic change” (AWP, 53), removing the word ‘disease’ from its negative connotations, putting it into perspective as an extreme on the scale of variability as compared to “normal” genetic structuring. Medical jargon, without the emotional slant. Berssenbrugge then introduces the human subject, “[s]he believes she is herself, which isn’t complete madness, it’s belief,” (AWP, 53) hinting at the disjunction between two concepts of self: physiological or genetic vs. emotional or spiritual. Faced with this binary, the problem of representation in this poem “is not to turn the subject, the effect of the genes, into an entity” (AWP, 53). The speaker confronts the challenge of writing a subject (made up of genetic strands) that does not become representative of a whole—like a symbol representative of something larger (a metaphor) or like a strand of DNA itself, representative of the subject. Perhaps this reluctance to engage in traditional poetic devices like metaphor or the symbolic image is to instead find a way to express emotion in its purest, rawest form: free from the overused or romanticized symbols.

Yet without this “entity”, all that is left on the page is the subject and her genes. There is a space “between [the subject] and the displaced gene” (AWP, 53) that doesn’t become the effect of the genes, but the “effect of meaning” (AWP, 53). This meaning, as Berssenbrugge describes, is “contingent, [on] a surface of water in an uninhabited world” (AWP, 53). For the subject, meaning becomes a poetic image that is present in a world free of people to perceive it. Unlike a symbol or metaphor, this is a meaning that cannot be expressed, or perceived by us, but which only the subject is conscious of. Bringing us back to the concrete reality of the subject’s body, Berssenbrugge reminds us that we “wouldn’t think of her form by thinking about water” (AWP, 53). Representation becomes inaccurate. Further, by suggesting that “you can go in, if you don’t encounter anything” (AWP 54), Berssenbrugge creates a world free of representation: encountering the world would force us to describe it, represent it in words. And so it begins.

Berssenbrugge’s prose-like sentences act as ripples, or impressions on the page, each with its own force and momentum. Just as the effect of a displaced gene and the effect of meaning will be effecting/affecting a mother, a daughter, and a granddaughter. Inheritance is inescapable. And like Berssenbrugge’s lines, a constant reminder of what is at stake for one line of genetic beings. Lines like “A girl says sweetly, it’s time you begin to look after me, so I may seem lovable to myself” (AWP, 54) rings a strong note of emotional impact. Of course the speaker is “inspired to change the genotype, because the cell’s memory outlives the cell”. (AWP, 54). After the body is gone, or the mother has died, the pain and suffering of genetic disease still haunts the family through memory, cellular memory. This desire to change inheritance, “the emotion [of] the hopelessness and guilt of illness, of passing on illness and screaming” (AWP, 61) is acted upon through the poem. And finally, after an interrogation of intellectual and medical reasoning, the speaker rests on the idea that a poem, “like touch, one cell can initiate therapy”. (AWP, 56). A powerful negotiation, an emotional punch.

Master of this poetry, I am not. I still think that the poet says it best: “a ribbon of the heart untying”. (AWP, 61).

Works Cited:

Berssenbruge, Mei-mei and Zhou Xiaojing. “Blurring the Borders between Formal and Social Aesthetics: An Interview with Mei-mei Berssenbrugge”. MELUS, Vol. 27, Contested Boundaries (Spring, 2002), pp. 199-212. January 31, 2010. .

Rankine, Claudia and Juliana Spahr (eds). American Women Poets of the 21st Century: Where Lyric Meets Language. Middletown, Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press, 2002.

Berssenbrugge, Mei-Mei. I Love Artists: New and Selected Poems. Berkley, California: University of California Press, 2006.


Montreal native Celyn Harding-Jones' poetry and fiction have been published in Incongruous Quarterly, Headlight and Soliloquies and she won an honourable mention for an essay in Arc. She’s a poetry editor for Headlight, and a freelance editor for Pearl Press (UK). Concordia University considers her a "Master" in English Literature and Creative Writing, but she's not sure one can master such things. She wants to thank you for reading.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Daisy Fried Introduces Jeneva Stone, Female Parent

Jeneva Stone’s poems are domestic, political, colloquial and literary; I admire their range and intensity, their intelligence and lyricism, their alertness and rich uncertainty. Stone describes herself as “a poet, blogger, mother, editor, practical g/i nurse, interpreter of EOBs, queen of medical necessity letters, keeper of the family exchequer, unlicensed physical therapist, knowledgeable wheelchair mechanic.” She also writes gorgeous essays on writing, literature, and parenting two children, one of whom was severely disabled. Her poems and reviews have been published/are forthcoming in Pleiades, Literary Mama, The New Hampshire Review, Colorado Review, Tigertail, Beltway, Beloit Poetry Journal, Poet Lore, and Cimarron Review. She lives in Bethesda and blogs at Her poem “Female Parent” first appeared in qarrtsiluni.


Female Parent

for Mary Shelley

1997 : I bid my hideous progeny go forth

and prosper. I have an affection for it,

for it was the offspring of happy days

when death and grief were but words

which found no true echo in my heart : M.S., 1831

The anxiety cupboard of suburbia : houses gestational pods

daddies scatter for work in their suits and ties

mommies finish breakfast dishes wipe faces push strollers to the park

the daddies return : sometimes : it is dark : sometimes

light : it depends on the season : close the door on your unnecessary fears

Natura nihil frustra, is the onely indisputable axiome in Philosophy (T. Browne, 1643) . . .

The delivery room is like this : light & dark : dark & shadows

tightening & relaxing pain crenellating then : easing

sometimes the room goes : white brilliants dancing around

loved face in the center : dark : a spotlight masked faces

all around the margins then you are : stitched

. . . there are no Grotesques in nature nor anything framed to fill up empty cantons, and

unnecessary spaces . . .

Forced through barriers love comes : eerily beautiful like God's breath

beauty a sort of barricade : behind it crouches something unaware

1816 : Invention does not consist in creating out of

a void, but out of chaos—it can give form to dark,

shapeless substances, but cannot bring into being

the substance itself : M.S.

Mary nurses William on the summer shores of Lake Geneva,

Percy and Byron's laughter bouncing back to shore in bursts as

the sail inflates, deflates, inflates, a human heart tacking—

The rain drags with it evening sheeting toward the manse,

at the hearth flames grope like hands, clasp and unclasp,

Mary's imagination birthing, dilating upon so very hideous an idea.

Harriet will drown herself in amniotic waters of dark November,

will force her lungs full with fluid, percolate it through

cell spaces of her brain, her heart, breath after blue breath.

December's end, cusp of the year, Mary and Percy wed—

vows constellated like a barricade, behind which

Clara forms, cellular spark tindered with a dark breath.

1998 : Dream that my little baby came

to life again—that it had only been cold & that

we rubbed it before the fire & it lived : M.S., 1815

The Pacific is cold in June—his feet balance on packed sand,

the tide undermines them, a thrill of fear as water surges—

our last snapshot from a great distance, framed icon of normal.

A day in July and he cannot crawl—body now a hospital puppet,

we prop it up, curl around it at night: by day, punctured, digitized

and monitored, tapped for secrets. We ask the wisp inside to stay.

August and still we hold arms down on a white table

too long for him, while the PICU nurse looks for a vein—

his cry is measured, repetitive—resignation, defeat.

September, an end to imagination: reality is nimbler,

quick past this stunned body, disassembled brain—

not what we made, but what love in making requires.

. . . There is therefore no deformity but in monstrosity, wherein notwithstanding there is a kind of beauty, Nature so ingeniously contriving those irregular parts, as they become sometimes more remarkable than the principal Fabrick . . .

My heart is a cupboard filled with love and fear : doors snap

open and birds flock out : black pressure rising throngs

a thousand childish vees : half-hearts bursting

as around us small perfect bodies skip a beat while

Victor has pushed and pushed his dogs : sled's runners slicing

rust slough behind them gasping : cold

air burning down : acid air wrenching up blood

exertion : brains flame against the polar ice while

Clara : William : Percy—dead—1818 : 1819 : 1822

blue tongues : fevered pores : the brain shuts down

on the sight of blinking lights on shore : or

a face framed with damp black hair while

. . . to speake yet more narrowly, there was never anything ugly, or mis-shapen, but the Chaos

ahead of all, the monster leaps nimbly

from floe to floe shrieking

a falsetto promise

to burn himself


- Jeneva Stone


Daisy Fried is the author of two books of poems, My Brother is Getting Arrested Again (2006) and She Didn’t Mean to Do It(2000), both from University of Pittsburgh Press. She was awarded Poetry’s Editors Prize for Feature Article in 2009.