amongst books

amongst books

Saturday, December 08, 2018

above/ground press 2018 – a few favs so far

The 25th anniversary means a lot of celebrating to do. My magazine folder overfloweth. I start the day thinking I have too many above/ground press chapbooks. I decide to cull. I haven’t had a chance yet to read the chapbooks published in 2018 as part of the subscription package, so I start to do this. This is one of my December rituals. The problem is…I can’t give away or throw any of them out, as usual. I like too many of them immediately and the others I know I’ll probably enjoy when I have more patience, more time. So I have to put them on the shelves. Here are a few favs so far from the early months of the year. I shall write more about others later, all being well.

Adrienne Gruber, Gestational Trail (February)

There’s something beautiful and exotic about this suite of poems that are set on the West Coast Trail in BC. Gestational because the speaker of the poem is pregnant during this hike. For example, in Darling to Tsusiat Falls, we learn of another woman who hadn’t realized she still carried a fetus and delivered it. There are apt and unique descriptions: “Boots etch the sand” and “A potato singes my palm” in Tsusiat Falls to Cribs. I love the sensuality of the work and feel compassion for the speaker, who wants “a cold crisp one so badly, dense with wheat and calories” in Cribs to Walbran and wipes “between thighs/wince until the paper comes out clear.” in Tsusiat Falls to Cribs.

Gary Barwin and Tom Prime, gravitynipplemilk (March)

I enjoy Gary’s work and especially the collaborations. Admittedly we did a vispo collab together (Bone Sapling, AngelHousePress 2014). A Gary Barwin production often contains antlers and this chapbook is no exception. These are poems to smile over and exclaim! This chapbook is fearlessly silly and there’s something profound about the poems too: “mountains are nothing but light/nothing but light and argument” in Rain Song. It would be easy to dismiss the work here because of this delightful play, but don’t do it. I don’t know Tom’s work at all but I know that often behind the silly in Gary’s work lies a depth and compassion for the world that bears paying attention to. Such is the case here in this collaboration. These are contemplative, metaphysical poems with a heaping spoonful of humour: “we’re all a little greasy/carbon, fallen angels, gold---//it’s a lot of pressure/capitalism: “Take my life…please” in Dial the Dinosaur Option

Gary Barwin and Alice Burdick, Pleasure Bristles (March)

Another collab? cool, cool. When chameleonic wordsmith GB grafts his shapeshifting skills onto another surreal amiga, AB, styles change yet again. Don’t get me wrong, there’s still loads of silly here, but there’s more macabre as well, more creepy: “how would you choose to live if/the world was a forest of large-headed clowns?” in Release the Tortoises. There are pale ghosts and detached hands, old gods who scream, red moons. These are dreamy moonpoems.

Alice Notley, UNDO (March)

I read the Descent of Alette last year and now I’m hooked on Alice Notley. I like the largeness, the largesse of these poems, not overly wordy but generous in their description and what they reveal about the speaker. They move from micro (description of emotion and states “Almost sticky grace envelopes you in Jan 8) to macro (philosophy): “Like fingertips or pebbled surface knowing a mirror’s essence” in Malorum Sanatio. Blurred vision causes a dream of “spontaneous irregular spirals” and vision and streetlamps to look crooked in Souls on M├ętro while the speaker is tired “of having separate senses”. There is a breathlessness in the unpunctated Alice’s Soul and the accumulation of the long poem Malorum Sanatio. It is incantatory with gorgeous bits such as “I had no form before I was madly born” and “I remember being this soul the spy and savior”. 

These poems are haunting. They are compassionate. They acknowledge the world’s brutality and our shared sense of trauma. Sometimes, like in Green and Gold, they are heartbreaking and breathtaking: “I can a savior save you collage of fishers/Whose eyes are     outer space   magenta   fiery for/               Green gold cerise”.  I love the colour here and in Agonites. There’s something about the way the poet disorders conventional syntax here that is so masterful, so brilliant. I am full of envy. As she writes in Undo, the title track, as they say, “To let poetry inhabit your body is to heal yourself.” I am inhabited. I am not healed, but healing…I could go on and quote line after line, these poems are exactly what I  need/ed: “we’re all     poetry because   we’re compressed and lyrical” in All The Souls In The Cigar Box.

Sean Braune, The Cosmos (March)

Biased perhaps because AngelHousePress published Sean’s the Story of Lilith but I really enjoy Sean’s word play, sense of humour and eccentric associations. This is part of a larger work called “accelerated reading,” “a frenetic reading practice of the text.” I find myself reading that way too and laughing over a line here, a line there, skimming a bit. In this chapbook and with this concept, the author gives readers his permission to skim. I appreciate that and so I do from this long poem that shows the absurdity of the cosmetics industry and advertising by isolating and remixing ad excerpts…

“one smooth swipe emma stone wears HD gladiolus love”

“you’re fearless you’re worth it/live in copper”

“light lime lemon-ade-rita fiesta”

“road trip picture it:/   you your girls four wheels and one wild ride outside your fashion comfort zone”

“now the world is my runway, klondike”

kate siklosi, po po poems (April)

It’s great to see younger poets making visual poetry and it’s great to see small press publishers, such as above/ground press (who published my own The Vispo Bible: Mark this year) publishing vispo. These are energetic, sophisticated and elegant Letraset works. Very few visual poets I know of work with Letraset because it’s becoming harder to find.

More later…in the meantime, shouldn’t you subscribe?

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

The Chapbook As An Ephemeral Publication

I made the decision recently to end chapbook publication for AngelHousePress/DevilHouse. I did this because the time, and energy required to produce chapbooks is taking its toll. I am finding that I have less and less time for my own writing and something had to go. So I chose chapbook publication.

In the meantime, I’m seeing people talk about the chapbook on social media. Some feel that limited editions are not reasonable. They talk about scarcity economics and seeing the chapbook as a commodity. I am normally on the side of abundance, certainly in love and desire, I believe that both are infinite, but like everyone else I understand that time, energy and money are not infinite.

I see the chapbook as a fling rather than a marriage. It’s a medium for experimentation.
For AngelHousePress/DevilHouse, we make 50 copies and don’t do reprints. We could either reprint a sold out chapbook or work on something new, introducing a new writer to our readers. I chose to do the latter. I didn’t ever want to be just a printer, folder, stapler, mailer. I wanted to publish writers who were either working in new ways from their usual or those who were just starting to experiment with words, form, content.

I don’t believe that my aesthetic should be adopted by other small presses. I have complete admiration and love for above/ground press, Ottawa’s local chapbook publishing engine that could, run by my dear friend and publisher, rob mclennan. He’s published 6 chapbooks of mine and I’m grateful. I love that he makes print runs of 250 and 300 copies and has a healthy list of subscribers, including me, who receive these great chapbooks, and that he hands them out freely to other writers, editors and publishers. This is marvelous, but we’re talking about a pretty much superhuman effort and devotion to the chapbook and to the writers he publishes. We’re talking about 25 years and 12-hour days at a copying machine, we’re talking about a whole room devoted to chapbook storage in a house he and his wife own.

Not everyone has that devotion, superpower or owns their own home. Not everyone can spend that much money, time and energy on such activity. I can’t. And more importantly, I won’t.

I admire publishers such as Apt. 9 Press who create chapbooks by hand-sewing them and even sometimes do letterpress designs. These are gorgeous and limited editions. Sometimes Cameron Anstee, who runs Apt. 9, will also do reprints. I respect that too. I hope these additional print runs sell out so that he has room to make more chapbooks.

New Ottawa presses have started up in the last few years. They run the gamut from folded and stapled to handsewn, from the traditional 5.5 x 8.5 size to variations, to broadsides with little seeds inside for planting. The point is that there are many ways to make and publish chapbooks. I respect and support all the different ways there are.

I respect the work of the writers we have published, but the only time a run sells out is when they buy it out or they promote the hell out of the work and their friends and family buy it. Many writers take only their 10 complementary copies and buy no more (at half price for authors), nor do they promote the work at all. In at least two cases, I haven’t even received an acknowledgment or thank you from the author upon receipt of the work.

AngelHousePress/DevilHouse chapbooks have never been shortlisted for any awards, and very occasionally have they been reviewed. My taste as an editor is not mainstream. I like raw stuff, ragged edges and rebels. I am not a huge fan of minimalism as a chief aesthetic. I like accumulation, hems and haws, flaws, broken fragments. I love the attempt.

Both AngelHousePress and DevilHouse will continue to exist in the form of online activity where we get a lot of unique views and response. I admit that none of these online initiatives have received awards or reviews either, but that’s standard in the literary world.

I have no more room in my apartment cupboards to store chapbooks. If I’d made more than 50 copies, I would probably have had to throw out books at this stage and I never want to do that. Instead AngelHousePress/DevilHouse has published great titles and some of them are sold out. Some of them are still in my cupboards though and I’d like you to read through the descriptions on the site and support the authors by buying their work.

We’re having a 2 for 1 sale right now. Please visit and to see what great chapbooks you can get at the low price of $3-5 per chapbook. Yes, you probably won’t find most of these authors in the pages of CanLit or at galas in snazzy clothes. You’ll find them at work on their next creation. And if you come across a title that is sold out, Google the writer and buy their other creations. The important thing is that readers support writers and writers create work that resonate for readers. Not all readers are going to enjoy the odnik prose of DevilHouse or the quirky pomes of AngelHousePress, but maybe you will. Give it a shot.

Once I’ve accomplished all the tasks on my 2018 to do list, I shall revisit returning to offering the AngelHousePress Close Reading Service for New Women and Gender Queer Poets and I may even expand it. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, support your local and not so local chapbook presses. Buy the chapbooks and review them on GoodReads or other places that review chapbooks, such as Arc Poetry Magazine and Broken Pencil Magazine. The chapbook is an excellent little book that kicks against the mainstream pricks and gives you something you won’t find in Chapters or on Amazon.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Leonard Cohen, notes towards a flash haiku

On the night of November 7, 2016, Leonard Cohen died at his home in LA. That night, coincidentally, I was in Montreal, his home town, to do a reading as part of Vallum Magazine’s Issue 13.2 – The Wild launch at Bar Sans Nom/The Emerald Bar on Av. du Parc. I didn’t hear about his death until I left Montreal. I was off the grid, taking long walks and savouring my time in a city I fell in love with in part because of Leonard Cohen. Earlier on the 7th I had walked past the Parc du Portugal next to where he lived for 40 years and paid tribute in my own way (“As the mist leaves no scar on the dark green hill…)

I have enjoyed his music for many years and his poetry in the last few decades. I appreciated that he existed. I admired his view about the sacredness of language and the rituals he adapted for his creative and spiritual practices, often one and the same thing. And while it isn’t in vogue right now, I admired his reputation as a ladies’ man. I related to it. I have always wanted such a term for myself, but a mens’ lady doesn’t have the same ring to it and anyway, I’m no lady. I also adore Montreal and would live there were I single and young and capable of regularly climbing stairs and mountains on a full stomach of red wine, espresso, garlic laden everything and pastries.

On November 8, I returned home to Ottawa where I heard of the news of his death and later that night the dreadful news of the American election. For the rest of the week, these two stories would follow one another on CBC Radio, which I was listening to for tributes to one of Canada’s greatest and most well known poets and song writers. It was a strange combination of grief, grieving for Canada and those who loved Leonard, while also grieving for our neighbour to the South, to see the death of liberal and compassionate values as a megalomaniacal authoritarian rose to power, or at least to sense that this is the way it was going to be.

On the tv and in social media I saw photos of tributes, candles and cards and flowers heaped up against the door of Leonard’s house in Montreal and in Parc du Portugal. I listened to people singing Hallelujah and waving candles, coming together to  share theirgrief.

Two years later, I still feel the lack of this enormously talented artist and I’m still grieving for the state of a world without Leonard Cohen, David Bowie and many other great musicians and artists. And I link this lack of great and creative spirits to the death of kindness, openness, generosity that I associate with the results of the 2016 election in the USA.

When the opportunity came up to write something for the Blasted Tree’s flash haiku contest the weekend of July 7-8, a haiku about Leonard Cohen was the first thing that came to my mind. It was a Saturday night, I was noodling around on FaceBook, trying to ignore all the bad news of what the Ogre in the House of White is doing, of what Ontario’s own Ogre is going to do and I don’t know, maybe my ITunes shuffle landed on a Leonard Cohen song.
I’m thrilled that it was chosen as the winner of the contest and for publication.

If you’d like a copy of the haiku, please visit to acquire a copy of the haiku as a lovely mini-leaflet or just to read it. I hope he would like it.

Shortly after he died, I was attending the Sawdust Reading Series, the bartender accepted a request to make Red Needles, Leonard Cohen’s favourite drink, which he created: tequila, cranberry juice, ice, and lemon. Many of us had brought in his poems to read during the open mic. It was a good night. If you are an alcohol drinker, please toast with your own Red Needles cocktail (or a mocktail, if not) and know that I’m toasting back.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Attention Canadian Poets: Poetry 100 - postcard exchange

Attention Canadian poets, would you like to participate in a Canada-wide postcard poetry exchange?
E-mail me at amanda at amandaearl dot com and i will send you the instructions.


I received a box of 100 postcards (Postcards from Penguin - One Hundred Covers in One Box)
via Ottawa’s Sawdust Poetry Reading Series door prize,which I won on May 23, 2018.
I’ve decided to send out 100 postcard poems from a series of 100 short poems I am writing entitled “Clare,” inspired by the book titles.


E-mail me and I will send you a link to a Google doc with addresses and instructions.
As addresses are added, you can send out and receive more postcards.
You can send poetry, prose, song lyrics or a hybrid. Genre doesn't really matter. It has to be short enough
to fit on a postcard.

You can send as many or as few postcards as you like; no obligations.
I am limiting the exchange to Canadian addresses only due to mailing cost expense.


Thank you to the wonderful and always inspiring Sawdust Reading Series for the door prize
and for its series, which takes place at Bar Robo on the 3rd Wednesday of the month year-round.
I appreciate the way it includes both established and emerging poets through its poem-off contest
and its open mic. Jennifer Pederson, the host and creator of the series is one of the friendliest and
most welcome hosts I've ever encountered for a series. She makes sure the audience claps all the way
up when a poet is coming to the stage, for example.
For more information about the series, please visit

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Lady Lazarus Redux reviewed

My chapbook, Lady Lazarus Redux (above/ground press, 2017) received a lovely review from Michael Dennis on Today's Book of Poetry. Thanks, Michael and friends for the kind words.

Last year, Greg Bem was kind enough to write a good review of the chapbook on Goodreads. Thanks to Greg.

Lovely to see this chapbook getting some love.

Friday, May 11, 2018

for those who love colour - an update

i wrote this post back in 2011 and i still have cause to refer to it today. i thought i would update the post, since it continues to be relevant. I can't read enough about colour, dye, textiles and paint, so please feel free to make more suggestions.

On, there's a list called The History of Colors you  might enjoy.

Colour: Travels Through the Paintbox (also called a Natural History of the Palette) by Victoria Findlay

the first book i ever read specifically about colour. it’s full of wondrous tales about colour in art, fashion, design, health, music, pretty much everything you could imagine. there’s a wee bit of science for the layperson too, explaining how colour works. here is the story of colour from the cave to the canvas, from the indigo workers to the Spanish ox-blood coloured fatty beef stew. this is a collection of fascinating stories.

A Perfect Red: Empire, Espionage and the Quest for the Color of Desire by Amy Butler Greenfield
the history of cochineal, the brightest, strongest red in the world

The Primary Colors: Three Essays by Alexander Theroux
blue, red and yellow in history, art, textiles, literature. love the way this book wanders and takes imaginative leaps from one instance of blue to the next. from eye colour: Hitler’s eyes were blue to a blue vegetable dye made from human urine. Given to me by a dear friend when i was in hospital in 2009. She knows me well.

And The Secondary Colors, also by Alexander Theroux

On Being Blue by William H. Gass (recently deceased). This book had more to do with expressions that used blue in them, rather than about the colour's history and properties.

by  - a beautiful coffee table book given to me by a dear friend, the same who gave me the Primary Colors

Kandinsky's Concering the Spiritual In Art has a big section on the psychology and theory of colour from 1911.

Pigments Through the Ages
a brief description of the history of specific pigments and their symbolism, often with references to art.

Crayons: Crayola colours

the colour clock represents time as a hexidecimal colour value.

Lilac, the color of half mourning, doomed hotels and fashionable feeling by Katie Kelleher, the Paris Review 

The Racist Message Hidden in a Masterpiece by Kelly Grovier in BBC Culture (thanks to Eric Schmaltz, author of the wondrous Surfaces (Invisible Publishing, 2018) for this link.

The Color Thesaurus by Ingrid Sundberg

The Life and Death of Mummy Brown by Philip McCouat in Journal of Art and Society

From Crushed Bugs to Cow Urine - the History of Colours in Pictures by David Coles in the Guardian

part of my interest in colour comes from my synaesthesia. i have grapheme synaesthesia which means i associate letters, numbers, people's names, days of the week, months and a few other things with colour. for example pain for me can be a green ache, a yellow throb, a white sharp jab and sometimes other colours like brown, purple and red come into play.

Diane Ackerman's A Natural History of the Senses has a great section on synaesthesia; in his memoir Speak, Memory, Nabokov talks about how musical notes evoke textures for him.

Another good book is Blue Cats and Chartreuse Kittens: How Synesthetes Color Their Worlds by Patricia Lynn Duffy.

As a child, i didn't know that i was doing anything unusual when i mixed up colour and names, for example i would sometimes call someone green if their name was Steve. i got 4 and 5 confused because they were blue and green and that seemed similar to me. at some point, i was trotted out at parties and asked to tell people what colour their names were, like a child psychic or carny act. my sister wrote down the correspondences and would test me on them every once in a while and they stayed constant. i've done tests and my synaesthaesia seems to be still very high. if you'd like to do a test, you can take one here.

after being treated a bit like a circus act, i figured i was the only person with this thing, i didn't know it was a condition and i didn't know it could be quite extreme for some people. some people have severe physical reactions to colour or smell or other senses. at 18 in university, i was exposed to Baudelaire's Correspondances and Rimbaud's Voyelles, two poems where senses are blended. Voyelles was particularly exciting for me and confusing. Rimbaud's matches were not my own.

how does this show up in my writing? when i first started to workshop my poems with others, i was told that my colour associations were arbitrary and made no sense. they probably still don't, but it's not something i have heard in the last 5 years or so.

i'm also quite gaga for visual poetry and visual art where colour is prominently featured, such as abstract expressionism, Mark Rothko's pieces.

i found it difficult when i was in hospital due to the lack of colour or the lack of strong colours. everything was white, pale blue, pale yellow. these pale colours were also in my delusions.

if you know of other sites or books on colour or synaesthesia, please let me know. and if you are a colour lover like me, you're a kindred spirit. i'd love to hear more about your colour proclivities.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

above/ground press 2017 – final favs – Ottawa

N.W. Lea, Nervous System (November)

The cover is a visual poem of a flower with a brain at its centre and a spine for the stem It’s the work of poet, visual poet, musician and former Ottawan, Jesse Ferguson and it’s striking and fits with the poems in this collection, particularly the title poem.

These poems are minimal and quiet, apologetic and humble, but they pack a punch. There’s a playfulness in poems like March List and An Ecstasy and beneath the playfulness or at times brushing off of feeling is depth of feeling. The imagery in Nervous System is vivid and active. For example, in The Wound: “The wound is a rune. Sobbing goblins tend its fire.” Or in Nervous System “this sketchy head/fused to the landscape/betraying whole civilizations.” And “rain-slick alders in fall,/ the blooded dusk of an amalgam town. Night’s freak//beater of stars.” In Pyscholyric. Why am I thinking of Gord Downie and the Tragically Hip now? Cue Wheat Kings.

To a certain extent, these poems represent a Millennial experience: malaise about world events, self-doubt, loss, an emptiness, observation as if from a distance. “Then you recall/and have to re-feel/the serrated embrace/of young panic.” (Pyscholyric).

Whenever I get the chance to read N.W. Lea’s poetry, I always feel a certain relief. I’m no Millennial, having been born at the dregs of the baby boom, but I relate to these poems and they reassure me that I’m not alone.

Jason Christie, random_lines = random.choice (January)

Speaking of minimal, here’s Mr. Christie with 9 poems that from appearance make me think of Twitter and of code. I’ve always admired the profound nature of Jason’s poetry. In these poems he blends the everyday with philosophy and receptive file formats and a pinch of absurdity. There’s a tenderness to his poetry that always catches me off guard. I expect a kind of cool objectivity and then I get “tin”y song islands/replete with music: you gotta watch your own back.” In # morning fragments, for example, or a portrait of a grey day and then “Emmett playing the piano,/hidden stars in our time/lapse” in #anvil and a swing timer. These are contemplative poems by a parent and a poet: “the child/inside considers itself whole -/family he recognizes into/bells and song bells -/his music to be a joy to.” In “ day – what does a child. Despite the guilt and shame and despair we all feel, there is music: “Through amber Snow/we sing we sing to create.” In # hitch And every A hitch. I loved this line in # ballad highway “Unbegun is the most/all three of us can manage/at this time of day.” In many of these poems the light is juxtaposed with grey, with metal with bleakness with gravel and it works. “you let it burn through.” In # encumbrance at dawn. “hope shedding months of /drudge and resist” in “from that great game of bridges. Something I repeat often in February is that life is mostly pain, suffering and tedium punctuated by moments of joy. Jason’s poetry always gives me moments of joy.

natalie hanna, dark ecologies (October)

These square prose poems offer long sentences that wind over dark sleep men in suits, along ants that crawl on a woman’s calves into a winter forest. There’s a sensuality to Natalie’s work that I have always admired, a keen eye for detail and a compassion. This compassion that launches itself into full blown anger in poems like syrian aperture and blue, bad mothers. The speaker of these poems and the poet herself is a ferocious bad-ass and the poems show that, while at the same time, quieting down just long enough to smolder. I can smell the smoke when I open the pages.

rob mclennan, It’s still winter (August)

This chapbook contains 18 lyric prose poems that engage with the sentence. “I awake myself to sentences: common, and unmoved” in “My daughter is in New York City.”  I like the rhythms of these poems: “The poem is the distance between early morning rustlings: the toddler, cat.”  There are juxtapositions I hadn’t thought of before, “Skin like a cobra, a keyboard.” in the title poem and “When might depression feel like fire?” in Brockwell Madrigal. I enjoy the playfulness: “I’m feverish. I’m lovin’ it.” in the title poem. Many of the poems mention the work of the poem, of writing, contemplating the nature of sentences and prose and silence and grammar, scattered notes. The sentences in these poems are often short and staccato.There are lots of questions and fittingly, no answers. I enjoy the thinking behind these poems and the way the sentences are put together.

Marilyn Irwin, north (March)

The cover of the chapbook is a woman with a ribbon in her hair, possibly a fascinator, in the dark water up to her chest. She is gazing up at the dark sky, the moon and a sprinkling of stars. The words “Les Ondines” and “Madeleine Morel” are attributed to the image, but I could find no info via Google search. I was intrigued. As I’m rereading the chapbook, I am listening to Timbre Timbre, attributed as the soundtrack to Marilyn’s writing, editing and life. These are beautiful, soft acoustic songs, swampy ragged blues, says Wiki. No Bold Villain, one of Timbre Timbre’s songs is the epigraph for north: “One of us is not normal/And it might not be you.” So I am fully prepared for the dark quiet lady of the swamp offering up her blues.

These are small poems. This is Marilyn’s speciality. I have been a fan of all of her poetry for several years. 23 poems begin with (&) and then we have an epilogue. They are precise and sharp, often wry. The opening poem (&)/he said he wouldn’t speak/to me ever again/if I killed myself” gives you an idea of what to expect. I wonder if the woman on the cover is about to drown herself while gazing up at the moon and the stars. Another poem describes the room inside a hospital, another an unhappy spider plant: “it turns away from the sun/it is trying.” There’s a feisty fuck-you-ness to these poems amidst the despair. I believe that the woman on the cover climbs out of the water onto the other side. To paraphrase the final poem, she chooses north.

Faizal Deen, Open Island (March)

Three poems in this small ocean blue chapbook offer startling lines and imagery, perfume and a modern soul. There’s an energy to this work, to all of Faizal’s work and a push against conventional tropes of literature. I think of Shakespeare’s the Tempest when I read these poems and the speaker as Caliban. I love the beauty of the open island with its ghosts and jasmine, the films, the hippogriff. These poems give off the feeling of the misfit, not just any faggot. I love the energy and the magic of these and all of Faizal’s poems.