amongst books

amongst books

Thursday, March 16, 2017

3 Summers by Lisa Robertson, a reading diary - part two

February 21 to March 16, 2017

I liked the startling and rich imagery, the way the book was organized into different sections with recurring themes that weaved back and forth throughout. I liked the illustrations by Hadley + Maxwell. I liked the concept of the work as a hormone, the poem as hormone, the various glands: dandalian, acoustic, enjoyment. I liked the contemplation of the awkwardness of the body, its relationship to form and gender. Rebelling against form but also how form can adapt to fit its content. I liked the investment of abstracts, especially desire with concreteness, with feeling. I loved the relationship of the work to art, the way LR seems to build imaginary art installations. I loved the changeling speaker, sometimes with hoofs, sometimes wearing a sheep or cow’s skin. I loved the colour palette: green, purple and gold. I loved the sutures, folds and seams that brought the outside in, that made me think that nothing is ever really whole, but rather stitched together. I loved the sometimes wry and humourous juxtapositions: poetry, highway robbery.  I loved the quality of the light. This book is beautiful. I wrote and paraphrased over 3500 words when I realized I was oversimplifying, unintentionally clarifying or putting LR’s words into my own words  and I despised doing so, so I stopped.

I loved the flower machine. I am glad I am being converted to a lily. I squandered myself rosily with 3 Summers. I hope you do too.

Next I realize that all along it’s been my body
that I don’t understand
I just have to describe what it means
supernatural, negative and sexual
and blooming on one side. It’s fierce and then
it’s tired. The dog lies on the lawn
eating apples, me crouched in the
luxurious secret, whatever
I have been building, vena cava
threading to atmosphere, psoas
ruffling, everything quiet
rocked only by love, hazard, fate, sleeping—

Like a weak church flung across the matter they scarcely are
each dandy stands prepared to dispose herself
stands sutured to her animal mortality
to make philosophy say
the hummingbird.

from “The Middle” in 3 Summers (Coach House Books, 2016)

Friday, March 10, 2017

Upcoming Reading in Toronto: Poetry Now Battle of the Bards-March 29, 2017

I've been invited to read at Poetry Now's Battle of the Bards in Toronto on March 29. At this event, 20 poets compete for a spot at the International Festival of Authors, which takes place in the autumn.

Here's a link to the event, including readers: Wish me luck & if you're in Toronto, it might be a fun way to spend yr evening...

Brigantine Room

235 Queens Quay West
Toronto M5J 2G8
Cost: $10, Free for Supporters & Students

Monday, February 13, 2017

Toronto: Canthius Issue 3 launch at Likely General

 On February 11, Charles and I took the train to Toronto where I was reading as part of the launch of Canthius magazine's third issue along with the talented Nicole Brewer, Doyali Islam, and Lisa Richter.

First we imbibed in some delicious cider at the Cider House.

 Then we walked next door to the beautiful little gift shop, Likely General, where the reading was being held.

After listening to the engaging and delightful short fiction and poetry of my fellow readers, I opened with an excerpt from "Kiki," read poems from the issue, including one by fellow contributor and amazing poet, Ariel Dawn, then read from a new work in progress, "Lady Lazarus Redux," from "Electric Garden/Grace."

It's a terrifying experience to read to a group of people who I don't know at all, but the audience was kind and attentive, and the hosts, Cira and Claire, were welcoming and made sure everything was taken care of. It was a pleasure to talk to people afterward.

The issue is gorgeously designed by Quentin Mitchell with artwork by Tafui. Thanks to the editorial team of Canthius: Claire Farley, Cira Nickel, Puneet Dutt and Chuqiao Yang for putting this issue together and for Canthius. It's a smart and engaging magazine. I wish it many happy years of circulation.

Thanks to the League of Canadian Poets for underwriting my shenanigans and to the City of Ottawa and the Ontario Arts Council for funding the work published in the issue and WIP. Thanks to Brick Books for the OAC Writers Reserve Recommendation for same.
 On Sunday, we left snowy Toronto

to return to an even snowier Ottawa (28 cms!). I look forward to my next out of town reading in Windsor.

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Lisa Robertson, a reading diary; Part one: Cinema of the Present

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

I have decided to embark upon a reading diary of the works of Lisa Robertson. I’ve purloined  this idea from Benjamin Friedlander whose own reading diary on Lisa Robertson was published in the Chicago Review Issues 51:4 and 52:1, Spring 2006.

Lisa Roberton’s writing came to my attention via a workshop I was taking with rob mclennan in 2006. He gave us links to several sites with poetry and poetic statements to respond to in the form of a poem. I chose a Philly Talk with Lisa Robertson and Steve McCaffrey.

LR talked about her book, The Weather (New Star Books, 2001) and also “From the Office of Soft Architecture,” which became part of Occasional Works and Seven Walks from the Office for Soft Architecture (Coach House Books, 2010). I became fascinated with the idea of creating an entity as the voice of a poem. I tried it myself. The notion of basing a long poem or a suite of poems on a concept was new and intriguing to me. I had only started reading contemporary poetry in 2000.

I begin with Cinema of the Present (Coach House Books, 2014), LR’s penultimate book because it is a library book with a due date. I have renewed the book three times, scrawled in it in black ink and dog-eared it, so I shall have to buy a new copy for the library.

CoTP is a long poem made up of individual sentences alternating between Roman typeface and Italics; these sentences are in the first, second and third person. This method gives the impression of multiple voices that interrupt one another or complement one another. Many of the sentences are about form and language: “Curiosity, limbs and momentum: because of form, you keep playing.” (p. 22). “Form requires of you a reticence.” (p. 30).

This rebelliousness against/exploration of form is one of the reasons why LR’s writing has always resonated with me.

The sentences are a collection of different types: declarative, interrogative, imperative, exclamatory, fragments, reported or indirect speech. I haven’t done a thorough grammatical study of the book, of each sentence to determine whether they are mostly simple or include compound and complex sentences, but the work seems to encourage an examination of systems and patterns.

I read somewhere that LR wishes to corrupt the pastoral in her work. It may have been in an interview in the Chicago Review’s special issue from 2006 cited above. There are instances in CoTP where nature is shown as unidyllic or where it is corrupted by urban spaces and time. “You entered the university of vines and crumpled mosaic, hot sun, the cracks in the walls, the balconies peeling and collapsed.” (p. 63).

LR’s sentences have cadence and sound: “Flanking the clatter and shriek of migrations.” (p. 24).

Running through the entire book is list of the materials that make up a gate. The materials become more and more absurd and textual as the poem moves along. Reminiscent of an art installation. Contemplation of the notion of a gate, what it holds within or shuts out. “A gate made of gold, metal rods, driftwood, glass, concrete, peacock feathers, wood.” (p. 83.) Writers can be gatekeepers of language.

There are several mentions of the present in the poem and its relationship to language, the constraints of language: “You’re interested in the brutality of description: it is the transversal of infinitely futile yet fundamental and continuous space called the present.” (p. 27) This makes me muse about how writing distorts reality. These sentences aren’t linear. They don’t offer an obvious narrative, they aren’t in any kind of conventional order, such as chronological; they don’t tell a story. Don’t think that I’m complaining about this. The way in which to address or not to address narrative in poetry has long been an obsession of mine. Questions I always have come to me as I’m reading this work: Do these sentences work together to form a cohesive whole? If so, what? Is cohesion important? Will readers engage with a text that doesn’t have an obvious narrative? Who is LR’s reader?

“If you speak in this imaginary structure, it’s because other choices felt limiting.” (p. 31).
“That your mouth lovingly damaged the language.” (p. 48).
“Then you felt lyric obscenity both erotic and rhetorical.” (p. 50).
“At times you had only wanted to float upon the norms of a beautiful language, obedient.” (p. 59).
“You had wanted to believe that language needs us to witness its time.” (p. 59).
“You are only lyrical if you’re harsh.” (p. 65).
“You ask what if language is already beyond itself?” (p. 46).
“You may no longer use better words.” (p. 84).
“You carried the great discovery of poetry as freedom, not form.” (p. 75.)

Cohesion comes from the repeated subjects, and also from repetition of sentences. Several of the sentences are repeated numerous times. These repetitions act as a refrain, become incantatory. I’d like to reread this book to note the sentences that are repeated.

While the sentences seem objective, emotions, such as sorrow, loneliness, scorn are mentioned. There is a feeling of constraint however: “Time is short; you need to constrain your feeling for the sentence.” (p. 59).

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

I have long been fascinated with the concept of “plenitude” or abundance, the horror vacui fear of the blank page. Somewhere LR talks about inflation and in CoTP, “Sometimes the concept of plenitude is a help.” (p. 46).

I enjoy the way the sentences cause my mind to wander, lead outward:
“The countess of prose in your abandoned orchard.” (p. 49 and repeated.)
“You’d rather be a dandy than a writer.” (p. 50).
“Tattered Europe caking up in the corners of abandoned rooms.” (p. 60 and repeated.)
“Let feminism be the girl raging at a chandelier.” (p. 80.)
“So you came to nilling.” (p. 98). [the title of an entire book: Nilling (Book Thug, 2012).

The role of the pronoun is also the subject of several sentences:
”The I-speaker on your silken rupture spills into history.” (p. 50).
“Its pronoun plays a social rupture.” (p. 59).
“What is a pronoun but a metaphor?” (p. 62.)
“An unknowing expands within your pronoun but it feels convivial.” (p. 89).

The poem contains references to sex, to the body, to feminism and to being a woman.  It also examines the concept of the city. There’s so much here. I could do a study on the use of the gerund alone, the verbs/nouns: “becoming/burning/trembling/rotting/crumbling” as states of being, of transformation.

As Stephanie Gray writes in her review in Jacket2, there is a cinematic quality to the text, each sentence moving from one frame to the next, a kind of unreal quality to the present, as if one is watching it rather than participating in it per se. The sensing of the present, the present as character in an avant-garde Man Ray film.

Cinema of the Present made me want to also collect and assemble sentences, to try to engage with the ineffable, the inchoate, the ludic. In answer to the question, who is Lisa Roberton’s reader, I will say that I am. I’m fascinated by the concept of assemblage, the collage of concepts, ideas and images that aren’t obviously related, the interrogation of form, playfulness in language, lush imagery, attention to sound.

See also

Ella Longpre’s review in Entropy:

Stephanie Gray’s “Moving image, moving text, never past, look in mirror (repeat)” in Jacket 2:

Jacqueline Valencia’s essay “Poetry as the Conceptual Experiment of Language” in AllLitUp:

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Upcoming Readings - travelling poet

I'm thrilled to have been invited to read at upcoming readings in Toronto and Windsor.

 On February 11, I'll be one of four poets reading at the Canthius Issue 3 launch at Likely General, 389 Roncevalles, Toronto.

Doyali Islam
Nicole Brewer
Amanda Earl
Lisa Richter

i'm excited!
Then on March 2, I will have the pleasure of opening for André Narbonne who is launching his poetry book "You Were Here" published by Flat Singles Press in Windsor, Ontario at Biblioasis, 7pm. 

Hope to see you at one or both of these readings. Drop by, say hi, buy a book, schmooze. 

Monday, January 30, 2017

Flat Singles Press publishes my essay on prose poetry on its blog

What did you do over the holidays? It was a quiet time for me. I had the opportunity to respond to Flat Singles Press's excellent series on fullness in poetry. Thanks to Joe LaBine for his fine attention to my writing and editorial improvements.

You can read "Sentenced to Poetry: Fullness as Accumulation and Rebellion in the Prose Poem" here.

A reminder that you can sign up for my newsletter to get updates on readings, publications, poetry tips & other musings by going to

Sandra Ridley - My Poetic (m)Other appears on Many Gendered Mothers

There's a wonderful new project/blog curated by a group of folks, including Adèle Barclay, Nat, Natalee Caple,Klara du PlessisClaire Farley,Jane Eaton HamiltonSonnet L’Abbérob mclennanHazel MillArJacqueline Valencia + Erin Wunker   Natalee Caplee. 

"many gendered mothers is a project on literary influence featuring short essays by writers (of any/all genders) on the women, femme, trans, and non-binary writers who have influenced them, as a direct or indirect literary forebear."

I chose to write about dear friend and daring poetesse, Sandra Ridley.

Please read the piece and the previous three essays and all the essays that come after.

My Poetic (M)Other 

thanks to rob mclennan for insightful and helpful edits.

. . 

Saturday, December 17, 2016

A Gift Guide For Unholidaze

For synaesthetes, art dabblers and the insatiably curious

Alexander Theroux, “The Primary Colors: Three Essays” (Henry Holt and Company, 1994)
given to me as a gift while I was in hospital in 2009 by a dear friend, this book is a delicious and splendid rumination on red, blue and yellow with a serpentine meandering through art, literature, music and film, if memory serves.

For Justin Trudeau’s dead father and others who walk in the snow

Brightly coloured boot laces from (I admit I got this from Oprah’s list, but purchased them earlier this winter for a certain husband who does a lot of walking and gets tired of all the dark colours.

For Purdy fans and sweet fangs, (No, I don’t mean Al)

Purdy’s Himalayan Pink Salt Caramels. I have purchased these locally at the Rideau Centre location. They are divine and delectable treats for anyone who enjoys the combination of sweet and savoury.

For those who spend a lot of time indoors with lovers on long winter nights

“Love Where the Nights Are Long: An Anthology of Canadian Poems,” edited by Irving Layton (McLelland & Stewart, 1977). Let Leonard Cohen and gang inspire the libido of a potential lover.

For the sipper, not the tippler

Pilliteri Estates, Niagara-on-the-lake 2013 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Icewine, a taste of sunshine so sweet and light, it will lighten any dark night of the soul.

For the housebound, who needs a trip to Spain

Miles Davis, Sketches of Spain – the man plays the flugelhorn. Davis was an experimentalist who amped up jazz and this album is no exception. Bitches Brew is my favourite Miles’ album, but this one leads the mind to sunny climes, elevates the spirit.

For those unable to resist wounded birds

Born to Be Blue, a film about Chet Baker. this film came out last year and seems to have been lost in the usual Hollywood big-box of bland. Ethan Hawke plays Baker skilfully & even sings.  Baker was a troubled soul. that trouble is reflected in his performances and in Hawke’s rendering.

For Miss Lonelyhearts who never dines out

A gift certificate to North and Navy, one of Ottawa’s most delectable restaurants. It’s a beautiful place, the food is exquisite, Italian old world and new . $30 will provide a platter of varietous cichèti, each one no more than a mouthful and an aperol spritz with its lovely orange sweet and bitter tastes. She can sit at the gorgeous marble bar at the back of the restaurant and chat up the waiter.

For the explorers, the rebels and questioners of convention

“The Ethical Slut: A Practical Guide to Polyamory, Open Relationships and Other Adventures” by Dossie Easton and Jane W. Hardy, 2nd Revised Edition (Celestial Arts, 2009). I actually prefer the first edition, but this one will do. A helpful guide by example for those who wish to explore relationship types other than monogamy. It is a book I have given away a few times now and one I go back to help others interested in opening the cage and seeing where they might fly to.

For unsatisfied lovers

“When Someone You Love is Kinky” by Dossie Eastn and Catherine A. Liszt (Greenery Press, 2015). I have an earlier edition of this book and don’t know what has changed, but I highly recommend it for anyone who has a partner who might want to engage in adventurous, more than  missionary…sexual activity. It’s a way to communicate with them and understand their needs. It doesn’t speak down to those who are not into sexual exploration, it just helps them to understand.