Thursday, May 31, 2012

Feminist Boot Camp #39

Lisa Robertson signs books at Pages, Calgary
You are not alone. You need not limit your poetry to the kitchen, or the bedroom, or the garden, or the relational, or to the singular, or to the daily. Look around you. Look outside of your life. Look next door. Look in your books. These are not dead objects, they live. Throw long ropes with hooks back through time and bring another voice to life. Every poem is an opportunity to introduce your reader to another woman's work. Every poem is an opportunity to think. Every poem is an opportunity to learn. Write what you want to know, not what you already know.

Write who you want to meet. See 75 Reasons to Live: Lisa Robertson on Eva Hesse. Read the essay in Robertson's Nilling.

See other Feminist Boot Camp Posts.

Always already with me...

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

he sensed parts of himself elsewhere

he sensed parts of himself elsewhere, originally uploaded by lemon hound

Posting some of these images from my archives. This piece, titled, Inasmuch As It Is Always Already Taking Place by American artist, Gary Hill, is a sixteen-channel video (black and white, sound), sixteen black and white TV tubes and wires. When I saw it, it was recessed in a wall just near the entrance to the coffee shop on the 3rd Floor at MoMA.

Is this a composition of loneliness? Is this a call for us to consider the passion? Can we think of this as a kind of contemporary iconography, a meditative loop we can play through the way some of us work beads? Might we consider the implications of wholeness. Togetherness. Multitudes. Might we, for a moment, feel compassion for the difficulty of aligning the body to right action? It is the opposite of the sexualized body. It is more a body Beckett might imagine. 

Not a cyborg body, dripping like liquid steel to reform itself in pixels. Also, not a wall of screens as we by now, have come to associate with Christmas displays in shopping malls. There is the unsettling aspect of the the various sizes, the way they tentacle out. Or, like limbs, lay waiting to be engaged. Muscles, delicate as seaweed.

Come, gather yourself together. The blue world awaits. 

Inasmuch As It Is Always Already Taking Place © 1990 Gary Hill

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Mummified Barbies: Toward an Essay on Feminine Exteriority

We cut their hair off. Chew on the breasts. Paint their bodies. Slip a condom over their heads and dip them in Spaghettios. We are never quite so inventive in imagining our own bodies as when we encounter this sterile, unreal version of femininity. Our first canvas. Our first manifestation. Our first bout of hostility or reverence. One girl crying because the other has her Barbie in her mouth. There is something disturbing in this. As if a bear has broken into the den of childhood and dragged it out by the neck. There is little indifference. There is wanting. Accumulating. Assembling. Hour after hour of training on how to be a feminine consumer. How to want. How to walk the mall. How to make of yourself and ornament. Adornment. Slip into pink nodes of modernity. Or here, as the artist EV Day shows us, cocoon ourselves in long syrupy straps of femininity.

I have a long and complicated affair with Barbie. Here are two shots from a series called "Barbie Reaches Out,"which arose from a sense of frustration about the interiority of femininity...I woke from a dream in which it was clear that women inhabited a cave, and that the cave became the mind. The women might be out of the house, but the house was not out of them. How then, do women affect change? How do they connect with the world? I am thirsty, not only for images and narratives that are outside, but outside of history too.

Is the only way a woman's voice is of interest when she enters a male narrative? When she enters a classic text? Must we enter the public sphere draped in Virgil? Sophocles? Pessoa? Does this male cloak mute the domestic, shift the tenor to a more neutral tone? Make femininity a tad more tasty?

Thanks to Kate Durbin for pointing me to EV Day. More thoughts on this in the coming weeks.

barbie reaches out

barbie reaches out

Saturday, May 26, 2012

The red patch smelled like clover

The red patch smelled like clover, originally uploaded by lemon hound.

One of a series from an old group of photos added to a Six Word Stories pool. Not sure that the title is enough to gesture toward a narrative, but it does give a motivation for the movement,  I suppose, and knits together the human and the animal world such as it is here...small moment on a typical Vancouver lawn.

I even miss the slugs...

Friday, May 25, 2012

Jan Zwicky. Possibility of Poetry. 2006

Are you still thinking about lyric poetry? I am. To follow up on Jan Zwicky's post on reviewing here she is talking about lyric and possibility of poetry.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

On Reviewing: Jan Zwicky

LH: What do you think the purpose of a review is?

JZ: To inform people who might be interested in reading the book that it exists, and to offer an imaginatively and intellectually engaged appreciation of it.

LH: If you write reviews, how would you describe your approach, or method?

JZ: I do review, but not frequently because I do a lot of editing; and the work in the two cases is very similar. That work is founded in an attempt to listen — to make myself available to the voice, to pick up on its gestures of address. Sometimes this is extremely difficult, sometimes it is breathtakingly easy; sometimes it involves a mix of work and recognition. One aspect of listening is trying to remain alert to the tastes and preferences I bring to the situation, and this is particularly important if I find myself distanced from the book for some reason.
            Here, I should make a distinction between two types of books that I review and edit: philosophical books and books of poetry. Nearly all philosophical books are arguments of some kind: I try to expound the argument as clearly as I can, and then to engage with it critically. (That’s critique in Kant’s sense, which does not mean throwing rocks, but unfolding the argument’s fundamental, nearly always unvoiced, assumptions.) It is my hope that by doing this, if I’ve got the argument wrong, the author, at least, will be able to see this and then inform readers. If I think an argument is not compelling, I say so; I try to do this without rancor and, of course, to give a thorough account of my reasons.
            Poetry, on the other hand, is rarely structured as an argument. The lyric poetry that I most frequently review and edit is resonant in form, and needs to be approached as one would approach music. (I take this resonant form, rather than the presence of some introspective “I”, to be defining of lyric thought in any medium.) I still attempt to provide readers with information about the book — its preoccupations, its tone, its style, the tradition in which it might be located — but I try to do this much as one might attempt to describe one friend to another. If I can’t make friends with a book of poetry — if I feel there’s too much static for me to appreciate the project — I recuse myself. If I don’t ‘get’ a work of art, I believe the most helpful thing I can do is to step out of the way and let someone who does get it show me and others how to attend to it.
            That, I believe, is the secondary function of reviews of lyric art: to assist others in attending to that art. If one can’t attend well oneself, it is unlikely one will be able to assist others. Making a display of one’s insensitivity is graceless — irritating to most readers and ultimately embarrassing to oneself. There are exceptions to this general observation, of course. A truly great reviewer can write a review of a book she doesn’t like and still assist readers in appreciating it. But this requires deeply focussed attention, extensive quotation, and a lot of self-knowledge on the part of the reviewer.

LH: What do you think makes for a successful review? Is there an aspect, a stylistic choice, or perspective that necessarily produces a more significant document?

JZ: In my experience as a reader — which is broader than my experience as a writer — there is no recipe for a successful review. But there are two ingredients that have been present in every good review I have read: a wide-ranging articulate intelligence and respect. The latter is not equivalent to agreement with the author’s views — indeed, in philosophical and political contexts, a review can, often must, express deep and trenchant opposition. But a good review will always convey respect for the process of discussion; it will be clear that its own standpoint is particular. (Here I think of some fine reviews I have read by Gary Wills.) In the case of art, a good review always conveys respect for the attempt to make art. If forced to address work by which it finds itself repelled, it proceeds with the awareness — which it communicates — that its voice is one of many, that there is room for disagreement, that it may be missing something. (There are tyrants of the mind as well as of the body politic. Behind most trashy reviews is someone who wants to run the world.) Darren Bifford has expanded on this, writing, “Critical attention is characterized by respect in at least two ways: we acknowledge that the poem’s existence has inherent worth; and we acknowledge, in its existence, a mystery, which entails a mind that climbs toward that which it attends. The result is a criticism that seeks illumination rather than the priority of its own attitudes over all materials. The latter, even when it’s negative, involves a kind of consumption for pleasure or entertainment — it uses a work.” This is a striking way of putting the point — it sees the respect that characterizes a good review as analogous to respect for persons.
            But — someone might say — doesn’t respect require honesty? Doesn’t honesty demand plain speaking? If somebody has exhibited a urinal in a public gallery and you find the gesture offensive, shouldn’t you scream your outrage from the rooftops? Take aim in every public organ available to you? Confront the so-called artist in person and call them a sniveling idiot to their face? —I’ll wager that at least some of these suggestions strike most of us as excessive. Why? Perhaps because plain speaking, despite its reputation, is a nuanced business.
            I’d like to offer two true stories as illustrations of this point. A family I know tells with great relish an anecdote about one of its least-liked members, a self-righteous and manipulative woman who always needed to be the centre of attention. This woman, herself overweight, apparently went up to a well-liked woman at a church supper once and said loudly, so as to be overheard, “Carol, as your friend, it’s my duty to tell you you’re fat.” Why do we laugh? Isn’t this a perfect illustration of virtuous plain speaking, founded in a wholly laudable commitment to public health?
            My second story: I was teaching Plato’s Republic and, hoping to shake students out of their unreflective hero-worship of Socrates, had asked them to reflect on his teaching methods. In Book I, Socrates matches wits with a brilliant adolescent male, a self-styled ethical nihilist who isn’t afraid to speak (what he thinks is) the truth about morality: it amounts to nothing more than the ability to enforce your will, might makes right.  Socrates (of course) doesn’t agree, and seeing the boy as an example of the rot that has infected imperial Athens, fences with him verbally in front of a crowd of other young men, adroitly cornering him and forcing him to drop his rhetorical sword. The kid is deeply ashamed, blushes furiously — a fact to which Socrates calls attention — and stops arguing. From that point on in the dialogue, whenever Socrates attempts to solicit his opinion, he says, “Oh, of course, Socrates, whatever you want me to say, Socrates”, in sneering imitation of Socrates’ acolytes. I asked the students if they thought Socrates had achieved anything by taking the kid down in public. To my astonishment, roughly half the class said they thought being publicly shamed was an effective way of learning; a couple of students even volunteered that it had happened to them, and that it had been a salutary experience. The other half of the class was appalled, claiming that it was a terrible way to teach, amounted to bullying, and served only to entrench bad feeling. And now, what seemed to me at the time to be the kicker: the split in the class was cleanly, and without exception, on gendered lines. The gals thought public shaming was pointless and destructive, the guys thought it had merit and was potentially effective.
            Of course it was just one class, on one day. The gender split could have been a simple coincidence, or it could have been the superficial manifestation of a deeper non-gendered phenomenon (maybe all the women had been abused in some way, and none of the men had). But even if it wasn’t coincidence, even if it reflects something profound about how a majority of young adult women and a majority of young adult men think, the deeper issue transcends this distinction. For I know men who loathe public displays of the sort Socrates stages, and know of women who enjoy them. Although the gender split in my story must give us pause, serious pause, the deep lesson that we, as a reviewing community, must draw is that people have different reactions to being humiliated in public. In a different dialogue, Plato argues the most general version of this point: if you are really concerned to effect moral improvement, he says, you have to cut the speech to fit the soul. And what I think my second story ultimately underlines is that a passionate commitment to the health and beauty of literary art entails almost nothing about how to bring it about in a particular case.
            If, then, we regard reviewing as, in some manner, a moral calling — the duty of respect entailing honesty entailing plain speaking, and all this in aid of reforming backsliders and encouraging paragons so that the art we love and honour may remain undefiled — we need minimally to be aware that the culture in which we practise this calling is no simple thing. If we are serious about improving matters, we need to do more than bang pots or hurl insults. Moral reform is a subtle business because people are subtle beings; their situations are subtle, and our interactions with them are more complex than our interactions with toasters. Further, we must be wary of the presumption that we ourselves are somehow especially fit to accost the alleged poetasters of the world. As Sophocles says: May no one arrive at my fireside who will not wonder what he is and does. In evincing respect, a good review conveys its susceptibility to this doubt.
            Complementing respect are two other ingredients I’ve noticed in good reviews. One that seems always to be present (where word limits allow) is extensive and careful exegesis and quotation. And a fourth ingredient that is common, though not ubiquitous, is generosity. A failure of generosity is often ugly; but even a failure of insight need not sink a review if the reviewer is generous. Here, I think of a review of Franz Wright’s God’s Silence by Helen Vendler. Vendler herself, it seemed to me, did not understand Wright’s project. But I was able to discern this — and immediately bought the book — because of her generosity. The seriousness of her attempt to understand revealed things about the book that she herself apparently did not see. 

LH: When you review, do you focus on a particular text (poem, story), the book at hand, the author’s body of work? Do you think this choice of focus influences criticism, or your own criticism, and if so, how?

JZ: Where there is context for an individual work, describing this context nearly always broadens understanding. It is hard to imagine how it could be irrelevant. But the way in which context is provided can be quite various, just as treatment of background in painting and photography can be various while remaining, in every case, a fundamental aspect of the work.

LH: How different is the way you approach reviewing or critical writing to the way you approach your own “creative” writing?

JZ: Because I am not aware of an ‘approach’ I bring to my creative work, at first I did not know how to respond to this question. But on reflection, I think the answer is probably straightforward: there’s not much difference. In both cases, what I’m trying to do is to listen with as much imaginative reach as I can muster. In one case, I’m trying to attend to the world, in the other to a piece of writing.

LH: Have you been in a position where you have had to write about a book that you don’t care for, or a book that is coming out of a tradition that you are perhaps opposed to, or resistant to on some level? How do you handle such events?

JZ: Yes, this has happened to me as a philosophical reviewer. Not often, but it’s happened.
            First, I take a big breath — I try to set down my resistances, and to ask whether this book might open to me a perspective that has previously been closed. Once or twice this has worked, but by no means always. If it doesn’t, step two involves trying to be honest about my bristly-ness, and laying it out for readers in a way that invites them to think through the issues themselves. But I certainly don’t always succeed here either. Step three is thus crucial: I ask at least a couple of friends, who share my sense of the importance of respect, to read a draft and to tell me where I’m not being fair. (Or where an attempt at wit has turned flippant.) I’m sure even this hasn’t always worked, but it’s saved me from at least some lapses into ham-fistedness.
            With poetry, so far, I’ve been able to say no to review requests when I’ve been unsympathetic to the project. In editing situations and workshops, though, I haven’t always been able to avoid speaking to manuscripts I don’t like. But I’ve been astoundingly lucky. So far, I’ve found in every case — every case! — that if I ask the person whose work I’m resisting to explain their goals, to help me understand what they’re trying to do, the door has opened. I’ve discovered common ground; it has turned out that we share some significant commitment. That commitment has led the author in one direction, and me in another; but we’ve been able to map this out, and speak across the distances. I have no idea how to explain this, unless it’s that the decision to engage with poetry selects for people who are in tune on fundamental matters.
            Or maybe it is just luck. If so, I hope it holds.

LH: What is the last piece of writing that a/ convinced you to reconsider an author or book you thought you had figured out, or had a final opinion on or b/ made you want to buy the book under review immediately?

JZ: I’ve mentioned the review by Helen Vendler that made me go out and buy God’s Silence; it’s not the most recent example, but it’s one of the most memorable. The other day, I ordered Gjertrud Schnackenberg’s The Lamplit Answer on the basis of a review by Doug Beardsley. In general, Tim Lilburn, Sue Sinclair, M. Travis Lane and Warren Heiti are writers who frequently manage to stimulate me to buy a book, or to pick up a classic that’s already on my shelves. As for reconsiderations, Northrop Frye recently convinced me to have another go at Wallace Stevens. Stevens still eludes me; but this is not Frye’s fault. He really made me want to try, and helped me make a serious attempt. (I remain hopeful that enlightenment will strike some day.)

LH: Is there a quality you are looking for in a review that you haven’t found?

JZ: No.

LH: Critical work is increasingly unpaid work; will you continue to do this work despite the trend?

JZ: Since writing poetry and philosophy are also unpaid work, and since editing them is, at best, grossly underpaid, my time is limited. But if I’m flush, and have the time, yes, certainly I’ll continue. I have no principled objection to unpaid work. Quite the opposite.

LH: What do you hope to achieve by writing about writing?

JZ: To promote clarity of thought about fundamental philosophical and political issues, in the hope that increased clarity might lead to beneficial change. And to convey my love or enthusiasm for a work of art that’s changed my life.

LH: Do you believe that reviews can actually bring new readers to texts?

JZ: Yes. They’ve done this for me.


Jan Zwicky' most recent book of poetry, Forge, is a finalist for the upcoming Griffin Prize for Poetry. She has published eight collections of poetry including Songs for Relinquishing the Earth, which won the Governor General’s Literary Award in 1999, Robinson’s Crossing, which won the Dorothy Livesay Prize and was shortlisted for the Governor General’s Literary Award in 2004, and Thirty-Seven Small Songs and Thirteen SilencesHer books of philosophy include Wisdom & Metaphor, which was shortlisted for the Governor General’s Literary Award in 2004, Lyric Philosophy, now in a revised second edition, and Plato as Artist, a non-specialist celebration of Plato’s writerly talents. Zwicky has published widely as an essayist on issues in music, poetry, philosophy and the environment. A native of Alberta, she now lives on Quadra Island, off the coast of British Columbia.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Lady Poets & All Their Lady Parts

Thanks to Don Share these are, respectively,  Edna St. Vincent Millay, Aline Kilmer, Sara Teasdale, Zoe Akins, Lola Ridge, Amy Lowell...for more see Poetry's Tumblr.

I get it. Getting called Critic Bitch, referred to as a smelly Margaret Wente, minimized, undermined (that's the most popular form): Ladies, when the assholes start calling you names and tweaking out on you on Twitter you know you're doing something right. It's a bitch. It's a nuisance. But it means you have a voice and you are taking up public space.

Oh, and we love us some assholes. Hemingway, you don't scare me. I still think you're fabulous.

Lyric Conceptualism: A Manifesto In Progresss

The Lyric Conceptualist has moved beyond the indigestible and the unreadable, in fact, beyond all gestures that have made pleasure the enemy of reading.
The Lyric Conceptualist remains true to her politics of inclusion, appreciating the thinkership of conceptual poetry, the revelations in mass assemblages that concretize the ephemeral textuality of daily life.  Still, she stubbornly continues to bask in the reverie of solitude.
Lyric Conceptualism indulges in the excess of language while appreciating the clean lines of the minimal.
Lyric Conceptualism does not confuse clarity with simplicity.
Lyric Conceptualism rejects naïve notions of truth and beauty.
Lyric Conceptualism is not simply expressionism.
Lyric Conceptualism does not accept that content does not matter and still appreciates the way that content does not always matter.
If the Lyric Conceptualist lives in a forest it may be a concrete one, or a forest planted and coiffed by humans as much as animals, though she is not ready for the merely virtual or textual.
The Lyric Conceptualist likely has one foot in the gallery and one foot on the earth. She can make the distinction between floor and ground. She knows a book and how to read one in myriad forms.
Lyric Conceptualism understands that insight and revelation are difficult to come by no matter how the poem has been conceived.
Lyric Conceptualism suggests that to argue for the death of anything is not really that interesting.
Lyric Conceptualism accepts the tension between the self and the poetic subject, wrestling always with the desire to give over to the poem and to be the poet in the poem.
The Lyric Conceptualist looks longingly at those who enjoy the benefits of community but turns away from the gated community.
Lyric Conceptualism is a voyeuristic mode.
Lyric Conceptualism is informed, not enslaved, by theory.
Are you writing it or is it writing you?
Does the form evolve or constrain?
Is your poetry always already written?
Are your ideas always already thought?
Lyric Conceptualism accepts appropriation and re-contextualization as useful, if not essential gestures but does not confine her process to these gestures.
The Lyric Conceptualist does not buy that an abandoned constraint constitutes failure.
On the other hand, the Lyric Conceptualist looks to where she is acquiring her content.
Mud is mud is mud, or the thinking of a poem is the poem.
On the other hand, density does not necessarily lead to complexity and found language is not necessarily more interesting than mined language.
Many conceptual poets are models for Lyric Conceptualism.
Many Language poets are models for Lyric Conceptualism.
Many lyric poets are models for Lyric Conceptualism.
Lyric Conceptualism, then, is not new.
Lyric Conceptualism is not bound to appropriation. It is not bound to indoors. Or to the archive, though it often originates there. It is not bound to mind alone, nor is it bound to chat rooms or search engines, though again, it often originates there.
The Lyric Conceptualist acknowledges her debts to multiple strands of contemporary poetics, art, design, architecture, philosophy, environmentalism, unions, students, modernism, postmodernism, conceptualism and romanticism.
The Lyric Conceptualist is a master of collision, she is not afraid of entering into other texts.
The Lyric Conceptualist is not necessarily a feminine body, but it has the stink of the impure, a certain irreverence for the master, therefore it is by default, feminine in construction.
Lyric Conceptualism is as much WalMart as Zaha Hadid as suburbia and Andrea Zittel.
Lyric Conceptualism is a poetics of the sentence, but it does not turn its back on the relationship between words, nor the power of prosody, nor the possibility of lyric propulsion. On the other hand, nor does Lyric Conceptualism shy away from the knotted and the complex.
Lyric Conceptualism imagines herself a boat, fluid, without handles, able to slip through definitions, anchor at will.
Lyric Conceptualism is interested in achieving the sculptural.
Lyric conceptualism is comfortable existing outside of dominant narratives. In fact lyric conceptualism makes good use of cast off texts and remains of genius.
Lyric Conceptualism is unable to turn away from the problems of the earth and yet committed to thinking through the way we think about the problems of the earth. Yes, Lyric Conceptualism still believes in world.
To that end Lyric Conceptualism doesn’t shy away from being used as a protest tool and is not adverse to being occupied or called to action.
The Lyric Conceptualist is most often a spectator, though not necessarily in retreat.
The Lyric Conceptualist is an excessive elegist.
The Lyric Conceptualist is a trough that catches the excess, the off cuts, the remnants, the offal of language.
Lyric Conceptualism is interested in fun but not wedded only to the ironic, the distant and mocking.
Lyric Conceptualism’s goal is to create openings rather than closures. It offers itself as a courtyard, stadium, meadow, and variously, a reclaimed parking lot, a battlefield made food coop, a factory turned performance space, a transitional space, reclaimed land, an idea with no end.

Initially posted Harriet iPoetics on Monday, April 9th, 2012 by Sina Queyras.

Quebec Students Reminding Canada of the Possibility of Canada

The Charest government should have learned from Gilles Duceppe. I live in his riding. I saw him several times during his last election, slipping in and out of his car, looking very smug indeed. Not a bad man, Duceppe, but a man who had become completely out of touch with his riding, with the moment...

Charest I can't even say I feel warmly towards, but that's not the point. The point is he is out of touch. Sadly out of touch. The entire Liberal movement in Quebec is out of touch. Very sad. The times have changed and the generation at the helm hasn't bothered to notice. Time to go.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Under Rich Earth

Thinking of this in relation to all the Occupy movements...and in particular the northern pipeline opponents. Wish this was screened in every town along the Skeena.

Poetry is your bitch

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Fraser Nixon: The Man Who Killed

Not a great quality video, but content is good, and The Man Who Killed is a great read. The best thing I can say about this book is I have recommended it to several people, including one person whom I urged to buy the screen rights. My most succinct review: I read the whole thing and it didn't irritate me. I read the whole thing and remained interested, aside from one minor hesitation that was more about my own impatience as a reader than the book itself. I read the whole thing and still liked the protagonist even though he killed and was a lout. I read the whole thing and found the sentences pleasing. I read a few paragraphs out loud to my partner. When a book insists on this generally it is a great book. I like the writing. I liked the tone. I like his sentences...and I'm thinking a lot about sentences. What makes a good one. And not.... 

Here's a bit:
An itch played in the palm of my hand. Money coming my way. I scratched a lucifer on the rough stone of the station to light a smoke. Ninety-seven dollars and change. Now what to do? Might ride a trolley across the island and back. Instead I remembered what I’d read in the ’paper yesterday and hied uptown to mooch in the little park beside the new Forum.
When the hour came ’round I dropped fifty cents for a seat in the stands at Atwater Park to see the ball game with Ruth and his ringers playing for both sides of two local all-star teams, a sort of Vaudeville turn. Assembling to watch, we were a good-sized crowd, it being the last time to enjoy outdoor sport before the weather turned completely. Before us was Ruth at home plate, warming up by blasting baseballs out of the park, one after another. Scampering children beyond the right field fence fought over each ball like dogs for a crust.
This wanting to read it out loud is not the usual occurrence when reading novels. Dare I say, Canadian novels, but also, in general, novels. Often I find the sentences so irritating I stop reading. I see the author's hand. I see the influences too readily (and perhaps not consciously enough as we see here). There is not enough paint on the canvas, or too much, too thick. I read one per paragraph, or page, thinking it may be a dull patch in an otherwise alive piece of work and I'll just skip along, entertaining myself (as I'm doing here), until I find a better patch and try again. I go on like this sometimes, like a loyal dog, and then, when no more interesting patch of words appears to be grazed upon, very abruptly, I give up. I have stacks and stacks of such books. This book isn't on that stack...

(I should write about a few of these interruptions. Most recently I put Solar, by Ian McEwan aside about half way through. Generally I am a fan of McEwan, a man who knows how to write. Sometimes overwrite, but generally he can turn out a good novel that is both thoughtful, but also structurally inhabitable. My version of beach reading. Not so with Solar, though it does possess a scene that is probably one of my favourite of the last few years....and I digress.)

The fact is I did not put The Man Who Killed aside, well, not for more than a brief skirmish. It was structurally sound. Unity of time and place, etc. though what irritated me momentarily was not quite getting the why of it, and feeling a lack of motivation for my narrator I became restless...this is normally when I fall out of a book...that Why am I reading this? moment. 

Reading can feel like being an inchworm. Or a dew worm. Dangling into someone's mind. If there are not enough branches, the wind comes up and swaying reveals a lot of cavernous thinking. 

I want gaps, yes, but when they are impossible to navigate, there isn't enough sugar to warrant the effort.

Or conversely, the sentences roll out like a floor plan for a new shopping mall. You might be temporarily distracted, but you know you'll come upon an HMV any moment and away you go.

In the case of The Man Who Kills. The writing itself is a character. It's chewing away at a lot of cliches of the genre, but it chews them well: "We hotfooted it to Sherbooke," "The puncture points along my arm gave a phantom throb," yes, he's a junkie too. As I say, he's chewing away at a lot of old turf:
I laughed and looked at him, blowing smoke. " Well, someone's always the scapegoat. He hiccoughed. I asked him his line of work. "Brassieres. A very uplifting profession." 
Clearly an ode to the noir (I'm a fan of noir...). Our narrator is hunched on street corners with his hat down and collar up. He has a thing for a dame. He muses:
Concentration became difficult. There weren't any women and I needed one to prove I could still love. A living carcass at the bawdy-house on the Mountain would suffice, or a two-dollar tumble on Bullion... 
It's about Montreal too. Packed full of well researched details about prohibition era Montreal (when the novel is set). The novel also sports a vast, and well thought out sense of the expanse of Canada and the ways in which the west feature in the development of Montreal at this time. Also the tentacles of crime networks, how long ago they settled in. the author is also an interesting character. It made me think expansively enough out of this world. It gets at the sort of corrupt underbelly of the city, and the strange ways in which politics seems divorced from its people...particularly in the scene that takes place in a whorehouse on rue Chambord (at Mont Royal) a building I know well, and walk by every day on my way to parc Lafontaine...

(Note that this is my blog, not a national newspaper. I am writing a review in a style that would never appear in a national newspaper. Nor would it appear in any major source for reviews, such as LRB or NYRB. Note also that I am aware of that. I am having fun writing this review in which I am being myself. Totally myself. I am also  being a little of other people who could have wrote reviews if they had not been busy writing their own books and also surviving major wars...)

There are many books and too few good reads, though what a good read is for one person is not necessarily a good read for another. (As a writer I wish I could get my book into the hands of those who would find it companionable and skip those who wouldn't...but that is a very unprofessional aside...). There are, as I say, too few good reads. This is one of them because it has everything in the right proportion among other things: great ration of movement to musing, of attention to language without being over-written. It's hard-hitting, and verges on too much detail here and there (I know it's well-researched, but like a good movie, the babies end up on the cutting room floor in sad piles....but those piles of images and/or words are not gone...they inform the remaining scenes/ trust your instinct and cut, cut, cut...).

I have a few more thoughts on this novel, but no more least not for awhile. So I leave you here. Oh, but wait.  Idea for a mind-altering essay? Read this book along side Gail Scott's Obituary. Discuss.

Full Disclosure. The author appeared on a short list with Nixon. Neither of us won. We met at the ceremony. We'll likely never cross paths again, but it would be fun if we did. Couple of losers. 

Friday, May 18, 2012

DONNA SUMMER - I feel love (1977) HD and HQ

Ah, the late 70s...not a better time, or more simple, but I did have time to wear down a few LPs. Donna Summer's double album was one.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

How about a little applause?

For the bloggers out there in Canada who keep posting, often to a very limited audience...who are sometimes the only ones to pay attention to a book that falls through the formidable mainstream cracks. These are blogs that focus on content. Not comment. They are about the books, fancy that, not the posturing in the comment stream, not careerist tools for positioning the author as authority. Big round of applause.

Rob McLennan is there day after day. You kind of want him to be more discriminating. You tell him, take more time, be more thorough, but that's not his gig, his gig is touching lightly and often, and pretty much everything. So here's to Rob. Steadfastly who he is.

Vicki Ziegler on 49th book shelf. Come on? Tireless blogger of books.

I'm not sure who David Godkin is, but occasionally there is something insightful here, and whoever the author is, he crafts his posts well, and thoroughly. Agree or not, he makes his points.

Kerry Clare has been reviewing fiction for some time. Smart. Funny reviews. Actual thinking content.  And interviews including Zoe Whittal, Jennica Harper, Heather Birrel, Alison Pick...oh wait, no men! Is that why we don't hear about her blog in the national media?

Michael Bryson has been reviewing fiction in Canada for years. Lots and lots of interviews and reviews. Tireless. Insights. I would love to see this site working with a constraint though: say everything you want to say in 500 words. Boil it down, but bravo.

Mr. Beattie I presume? We don't always agree, and sometimes his flash of rage puts his readers on the defensive, but it's worthwhile. He is a man who knows his positions and I respect that. He makes statements, backs them up. Third year of daily posts offering readings of a short story for the month of May.

Paul Vermeersch!

Stephen Rowe.

Chris Banks keeps at it. He is largely interested in the quietest strands of the quiet, and many American poets that are not my cup of tea. But again, sometimes there is a point to his appreciation of a poet that illuminates me. I would love to see a larger arc in these posts (I mean overall in the blog, not the individual posts). Some frame, or constraint. This is my preference for writing that is attempting to achieve multiple goals...and who is really, really thinking about the notion of consciousness in lyric poetry? The problem I find in discussions of lyric is it quickly falls into sentiment.

Just discovered this one. Well thought-out response to recent Lilburn review in the post.

Oh and then there's Vehicule Books Blog. Mostly to promote it's own authors, which makes sense, and hard to find a post about a woman (even their own authors), but it's there and keeps posting.

Natalize Zed! Bookmark her.

Upstarts such as Rover are worth a bookmark too...and I will add for free if you post links in the comments etc.

GARY BARWIN! I'm not going to get them all...but we all love Gary.

Pearl (adding this one too): Ottawa has to represent.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Critic, know thyself

What is lacking in Lista’s polemic is what would make it criticism, namely an autocritical moment. An illuminating literary criticism would—should, to my mind—always relativize itself, openly acknowledging the aesthetic grounds from which it makes its judgements and, as importantly, articulating the aesthetic grounds that orient the practice that it would evaluate. 
I am happy to see this. I don't know Bryan Sentes, but I think it's refreshing to see some intelligent response to a review that isn't just "atta boy," or "he's a genius," or "rock star," or "good read," which is what the conversation has been reduced to of late. And why not grow from criticism of yourself? Critic? What's it all about if not to squarely face our critics and learn from it/them? 

I would love to have a review from someone who understands what Lilburn is doing. Not a gloss. Not a rave. Not a wow, he's the best thing ever....those aren't reviews either and how on earth can those who purport to be in favour of critical rigour fall for that over-the-top praise? It's beyond me. I hear that praise I run for the hills. I don't want to hear praise. I want engagement...I want to learn from an editor, or a review. I want a reviewer to understand the project, illuminate me. 

I'm sure there are ways in which Lilburn, like anyone, could be critiqued in a constructive way, rather than making it be all about how smart the reviewer is...or how he is placing himself in a lineage of reviewers with similar views. I'm sure Lilburn, like all of us, would like a sober read, a bit of acknowledgement, a few hard questions to wrestle with when he returns to the empty page.

(updated 10:38)

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Eruption - I Can't Stand The Rain (1978)

For your pleasure, and because I long to give a reading in any one of these outfits, which proves you can take a girl out of the 70s but...

Candice Brietz

A student sent me a link to this piece by Candice Brietz, an artist I first discovered back in 2005. She's doing something similar to Christian Marclay, but with a feminist bent. At least in this video where we get to see the range, or the limitations, of roles available to Meryl Streep. With all this discussion about women and reviewing, the following is an important little interlude:

Is this excessive interiority conscious or unconscious? That's my primary question. Do women ever sense themselves outside of their narratives? These are questions I am thinking about for an essay and probably shouldn't say too much about. Here's one of the videos I refer to back in 2005. I love it.

When the Hound met Ms. Place

A little bell rang in the center of her mind. It is the only time such a bell has rung.
Another one of Darboven's maxims: "I write with numbers, I count with words." What do numbers write? Dates, yes, but dates as equations, as representations broken down into other signs, other representations. What do words count? "Today" is written often, and often crossed out, like a date on a calendar, and the present counts (always) as one, just as the past is just another present, and any one throws us back into the notion of the written number, to another "one," to citation, which is always representation without representation. "I write and don't describe. One one is one two 2 Two is one two 2."17 Darboven's infamous "u" is typically read as either banal graphic symbol or simple repetition, missing the material point that "u" in German works as an ampersand in English, as the graphic equivalent to "und" ("and"). The metronome drone uuuuuuu... thus becomes the plainsong &&&&&&&..., and its crossing-out, the enactment of a present-tensed past. Sign as word, word as number, number as written, counting words. Signifier signifying in the old-school sense of deploying a variety of contradictory rhetorical moves in a single, frequently quotational, gesture.
Happily, if one gets the bell in one's lifetime, one is lucky.

Here's Ms. Place appreciating Hanne Darboven.

I am always appreciating Ms. Place. As is HTML Giant.

Oh, and Happy Mother's Day, Vanessa.

Marina Abramović: An Artist's Life Manifesto | MOCA Gala 2011

Abrovomic 101. Happy Mother's Day to all the artists who chose their Art. Complicated little decision.

Friday, May 11, 2012

I do not possess that limitless brain that she has...

My new favourite thing is women appreciating other women. I would like to see women discuss other women with half of the enthusiasm my male peers exhibit discussing their male peers...even if they aren't, as above, incredibly articulate.

On a poetics of exclusion

I have erased all women except those I desire. I didn't think about it. Art is easy. The world unrolls, blue sky, endless, perfect clouds.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

A few more questions regarding women, reviewing and power structures

Here are the original four questions:

But there are a few more questions we need to ask about the relationship of women's reviews and the larger editorial infrastructures that make up the literary world. I know, it's a dirty business that no one wants to actually discuss, but I think it's time. I would sincerely like to hear some discussion about the amount of mentorship that goes into those poets who have public literary profiles. I would like to hear some men talk about this specifically. How did you get the opportunity to review? It would be good to hear from women as well. What I am curious about is this:
  • How many women hold editorial positions and are assigning books reviews on a national level, not on a minor level, not in a journal designed for women (the general public as such don't read those)?
  • What is the relationship between writer/editors assigning book reviews and those who they assign book reviews to reviewing their own books favourably? A long series of promoting each other ad-nauseum. 
  • Realistically, how many core reviewers were asked to review, versus, the reviewer pitching out of the blue? 
  • Who is currently setting the standard for what constitutes a compelling, effective critical frame for reviewing and thinking about literature? Why do we imagine there is only one such frame? 
  • How many literary women, poets in particular, hold institutional power and are using it to build an army of defenders and acolytes who will write about and support them? 
  • How are those relationships impacting general poetic discourses? 
  • Do we want to know the infrastructures of critical review assignments? 
Or, do we let those power structures go uninterrogated and focus on creating a generation of poet critics who can move outside of the increasingly small world of poetry and into mainstream sources? In other words:
  • How can we get women writing more reviews? 
  • How can we get women into positions of institutional power so they are assigning and directing discourse? 
  • If I organize the critical boot camp I have long been talking about, will women come? And will women  make like the Admiral butterfly and inundate the national media with their voices???
  • Yes, I am serious about the boot camp.