amongst books

amongst books

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.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

above/ground press fav chapbooks of 2017 - part 2

Sandra Moussempès, From: Sunny girls; translated by Eléna Rivera (March)

“These poems originally appeared in French in the collection Sunny girls, published by Flammarion in 2015” 

I enjoy translations for a multitude of reasons, but in particular because they either introduce me to work in a language I don’t know or because they introduce me to a voice I have never heard before, or both. In this case, I am new to both the poet and the translator. 

I don’t recall ever having read a translation through above/ground press before. It is possible that it has published works in translation and I may have missed. Either way it is a wonderful thing to do for both writers and readers. I commend rob mclennan on doing so.

I appreciate that the English and original French text is included.

I was intrigued from the opening lines, minimal and simple in structure but unusual and often fanciful in nature. By the second poem, which contains the line, “Poetesses who bet on the banal don’t ride mopeds despite appearances,” I was charmed. In French the sound is gorgeous, a real tongue roller.

The work contains a longer prose piece entitled “Momentary Resurgence of Visual Sensations”  which moves slowly through the actions of thought and speech. “I like voices she could say I like not synthesizing not telling not retracing instead of shutting up, I ask myself and my answer is a question that has become a remake of my supposed previous life, track the sound that delayed leaves my mouth track that which spills out in thought, do you think then that one can become a person that will come back that one can come back in thought in the though of those who question you?

I like the repetition and the minimal punctuation in this piece, the way it mimics the way we think, or at least the way I think, a kind of self-talk. There is something Lisa-Robertson-ish about the way the author turns philosophical musings on thought and speech into poetry, into a subject for poetry. The thread of desire.

The poem ends with “and nonchalantly the red sun penetrates the purely theoretical text.” I feel that about Moussemps’ poetry.

The final small poem “I had noticed an unadorned house” is three lines that end with the line “I hear a breath behind me”.  We continue after this poem, after this work. I like poems that end without concluding.

I look forward to reading more of Moussemps’ writing and Rivera’s translations and poetry.

Jessica Smith, The Lover is Absent including poems from The Daybooks (April)

I have been a fan of Smith’s writing since I read her first above/ground press chapbook, “Shifting Landscapes” in 2006. She may have been one of the first writers I’d seen, in addition to rob mclennan, to play with horizontal space on the page. I was excited by the possibilities of reading the text that was opened up via this space and various alignments.

Let me start by acknowledging the beautiful line art by artist, writer and tattoo artist, Alixandra Bamford, which I loved.

I’ve attempted to make a day book before and I’ve failed because my entries are too mundane. There’s nothing mundane about Smith’s poems, which feel tender, slow-moving and lush to me in the way that they unfurl like the vines on Bamford’s illustration.

You know when an artist creates something, and you feel this sense of kindredship with her? This is what happens to me when I read Smith’s work. For example, in “21 March 2015 / Brooklyn [and I apologize for not spacing the poems as they are in the text; get the chapbook and you’ll have the right spacing; also note that this is one reading of the text, there are other ways to read it and include the text on the left-hand side]:

“people still say ‘soul mates’/they mean/ this kind of ghost/longing for the one who fits with you”

or in “28 March 2015 / Buffalo”:

“I am sitting in your attic after Mark/Kaplan’s attic/ patron saint of mad women/fuzzy aqua rug/and perfect light”

Later in the poem, Smith describes perfume as “tiny vials of sensory experience/transparent or slightly golden/interruptive”.

I admire the way Smith takes such close up looks at things, watches and listens with such attention. There is nothing more rewarding to me than being offered the fruits of a good poet’s attentiveness, as I am here.

I love the way she translates desire into images that make sense once you know they exist…in “2 March 2015 / Birmingham” for example, “the boats of us/the same slippery wood/ribs shiny with salt” or “my wide love for you/kept toggle-closed/spreading like too-large wings” in “19 September 2016 / Birmingham.”

I follow Smith on social media and I was overjoyed when she shared her experiments in dyeing fabric, the different textures she used and the natural materials and plants. Her poetry has this appeal for me too: “Swede-blue eyes/against the dark red houses,” “fields of wildflowers,” “slightly blue translucent webs” in “27 June 2003 / Ulvön / Sweden.

In “The Lover is Absent” Jessica Smith offers us the wild, untameable light.   

In “poorsong one” (March), Lisa Robertson writes “You May Pleat This Verse/or cut across freshly/To Make Any Sort of Refrain/That may be needed/Very Often/We are in Great Error.” I’d like to have this as a stitching sampler on my wall. This type of humility is one of the many things I admire about Robertson’s writing.

Another is her engagement with texts from earlier ages, particularly Medieval France. This chapbook opens with the cover of “Les chansons de Guillaume IX, duc d'Aquitaine (1071-1127), this edition published in 1927, known as the earliest troubadour and he wrote in the Occitan language.

I love this chapbook for its whimsy, for the possibilities of rearrangement, for the collage-like nature of the accumulated imagery, for the oddnik phrasing and the list-like nature of the poems. “The Current Enlivened/Between Comet and Cricket/Between the Bark and the Core/Wildrose and Girl.” From Scarce Dawn/Rimes Person with Song*”

Poems are formatted like songs, centred with title caps on each word and titles in uppercase. In the above poem, we are told in a footnote that “She appears wearing Pucci” and “52 out of every 154 syllables / Are bound into Pattern.”

Each page of this chapbook offers surprises, whimsical and beautiful juxtapositions. The relationship between the offerings and the songs of Guillaume X? You’d have to ask the fox of joy.

Buck Downs – the hack of heaven  (July)

There’s a humility to these short, spare poems. “I’d settle/for getting my tail/pinned back on –” (a Loop is not a circle), “life that beats/the philosophy/out of me” (switchborn cinder) and “I do not know/what I am talking about/and I am talking about it –” in handyman of the spirit. I almost get a feel of blues music with lines like “a curious crow/born to quick picking//lay down raging/wake up running/back to my home door” in bottom wheel and “it ain’t no sin/to keep on living” in dragon slider or “that fool made a man out of me” in Lamentude. The style is intimate. I feel like the listener the speaker is writing to in a poem such as the earth is rent: “silver bells are ringing/a dirge for those who yearn.”  There’s a lyricism and loveliness to some of the imagery: “hybrid means/to a shared end//twin cats in the wild//like some relative/I didn’t know I had//bruise colored hay/we made” in sweet reaction. And a  quirkiness too: “kisses like pop tarts,/sugary/& crisp where they/burn the mouth” in what I did not plan/to do today.
There are engagements with song. Stevie Nicks song lyric from Dreams as poem title and word play of You were always on my mind becomes “always on my grind.” There are philosophical musings about death and time and love here. The whole chapbook has a laid-back feeling. Kind of Kerouac/modern day Beats.

Sarah Dowling – Entering Sappho (July)

The cover is a map, which hints that we are not talking about Sappho, the poet. A note introduces the poetry at the beginning of the chapbook claiming that “the town was named by the original family that settled here in the late 19th century, and they were fond of Sappho’s poetry.”  I was hoping that this town was made up, but it is real, located in Washington.

This is a long, incantatory and sensual poem that opens with a list poem chant of numbers and places and a disappearance and this form appears once more in the middle of the poem and then again toward the end. Like Sappho’s poems, this feels like a song. The work is evocative of Anne Carson’s translation of Sappho, If Not, Winter. I confess that Carson's translations of Sappho are the only Sappho translations I have read. 

These are long, serpentine couplets, and  the content has to do with the body’s reaction to desire, to love. Here this desire also translates as agony, anxiety and cold sweat. I loved the sound in this poem, the buzzes and the sibilance, the liquids and the repetition, the rendering of the madness of yearning. I cannot do justice to the energy of this poem, but here is one example for me of this coiled up energy about to break free: “My  heart in my chest—thousands of/bees hovering around hives—all//invisible—then it is a subtle fire whose/scents radiate through my skin—"

Monday, January 15, 2018

above/ground press fav chapbooks of 2017 - part 1

i've been a subscriber to above/ground press for more years than i can remember. my shelves are full of magazine holders that are bursting with yellow and blue and orange and green covered chapbooks by poets i would have never have heard of, had it not been for the prolific publishing of rob mclennan through above/ground press. as part of its catalogue, above/ground press also includes several titles of mine, for which I am extremely grateful.

since 2018 marks the press's 25th anniversary, no mean feat!, i thought i would go through last year's subscription and write about a few of the chapbooks that  i most engaged with. by my count there were 39 chapbooks in 2017, which is a helluva lot for one publisher. i'm going to be writing over a period of time in dribs and drabs about these chapbooks. bear with's part 1... and it's in no particular order.

above/ground press favs of 2017

Matthew Johnstone, ( Kiln ) (December)

When I think of a kiln, I think of an oven that heats up glaze and clay in order to make solid ceramic objects that are either purely functional or artistic. I think of something that contains and transforms, the change of state from liquid to solid, impermanence and permanence: “thing/lays now unthing,”(Kiln’s preface). and how the metaphor of the kiln extends to the body (Muzzles). The poems lead me to a metaphysical musing on the nature of existence, the ephemeral and the eternal, our miniscule status or place in the larger scheme of things. I like the way the chapbook moves from minimal spare spacy poems to prose poems, all offering tangible and sensual imagery: “other country/metal wet” (station, wound) and then back to the minimal and spare poems again ( strobe, opposite what ).

Natalee Caple, The Appetites of Tiny Hands (November)

I’m already hooked by the title. I think of ee cummings, “nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands” from “somewhere I have never travelled, gladly beyond.” The chapbook is a reprint of the 1997 above/ground press publication. I’m glad because I wasn’t reading contemporary poetry back then nor was I aware of the interesting publications coming out of above/ground press. I have had the pleasure of reading Natalee’s “A More Tender Ocean” (Coach House Books, 2000). These poems remind me of the poetry in the aforementioned book. There’s a gentle and understated quality to the work. The poems are at times playful and at times deep. The imagery is stunning, dreamlike and visual. These are hopeful poems and I’m glad they’ve been brought into the world once more. The afterword, written by Natalee in 2017 as she looks back on herself a decade before is quite lovely to read as well.

Philip Miletic, Marginal Prints (January)

As someone who is an inveterate dog-earer and scribbler in the margins of books, I was already interested in this chapbook from the opening quote by Dorothy Livesay,
In the margins are all the notations
sniffs of sun, sand
ribs of your bony structure
strands of your colourless hair
these beckon curl and wind
words to the edge of the page
fly out all over
                                                from enchanted mouths

Dorothy Livesay, “This page my book”

which follows Philip Miletic’s dedication to “all of those whose prints were left behind.”

Philip Miletic begins by making a connection between reading and the body, reminding me of Je Nathanaël by Nathanaël (Book Thug, 2003).

This 20-poem sequence (counting the x that precedes the numbered poems) is an erotic and intimate love note from the speaker of the poems to an unnamed you who has left notes and marks inside a book or books. Theses are spare poems with lots of space in between the words for breath. I have dog-eared a poem that resonates:


a ghost of pause
                        time without
and within

Sarah Fox, Invisible Wife (February)

I’m a sucker for a good opening quote or epigraph. After a dedication to
the Great Goddess and to the memory of Alicia Hughes, this chapbook begins
with a quote by dancer Eiko Otake about the role of loss in art. I’m
already simpatico with both Otake and Fox.

I found the poems in this chapbook to be creative, whimsical and relatable.
I liked how the poet engaged with artists such as Frida Kahlo and Ida
Applebroog, an artist I hadn’t heard of before. It was clear to me from the
opening quote that I was going to enjoy the work and discover kindred artists.

These are feminist poems. Many are poems that deal with a woman in her later years, which is refreshing to me, as I am in my mid fifties. I found the need to write about each poem because, although the themes carry throughout, each poem is very different in style, emotion and tone.

The irreverent or questioning tone of the work is present from the beginning. In “The Bluebird of Happiness,” a poem about Frida Kahlo, we are told that “A woman’s Virgin Mary is a patriarchal thought//built into her womb,” A book’s contents are likened to a fetus.

In “The End,” a poem written in response to fellow Brooklyn poet, M C Hyland’s poem of the same title, a poem that is also influenced by other poets, Fox offers a witty series of short sentences that move from mortality to capitalism and then back to mortality again. The images are concrete and visual. They accumulate. There’s a sense of anger. There are plays on phrases, such as “Conceal and miscarry.” The association with the colour red and endings is present throughout, from the “end of menstrual trauma and bleeding on my bank statements” to “These garden plots red with beetroot and affirmation” to “Opening the red carpet, your beautiful gown, your jeweled sacrarium.”

“Say Something: A Performance for Ida Applebroog,” is a poem in three parts, which is to be continued past the publication of the chapbook. Applebroog is a New York artist and filmmaker, who is now 88 and whose work explores the themes of gender, sexual identity, violence and politics, according to Wikipedia. She is known for her drawings of her vagina made in 1969 and not exhibited until 2010.  I can imagine this poem as a chant at protest rallies. In the poem, Fox talks about freeing Pussy Riot and refers to “testicle detritus.” The tone throughout the three sections is one of disillusionment and despair.

“Invisible Wife,” the title poem, is a long poem in three parts. It opens with a quote from James Baldwin that invokes passion, and a quote from John Colburn’s book of short fiction “Invisible Daughter.”

The poem has the tension of a bad dream and opens with the image of a stone snake unwinding, unescapable. The second section begins like a fairy tale or fable, “Once there was a husband who took leave/of his wife and walked into the forest.”  The wife became a glimmer, every tree in the forest. The third section concludes with rancid butter, loneliness and the husband’s fingertip being bitten off by a bunny.  The invisibility of women is a theme throughout. “My heart is also invisible, to me./But it sings in tune.”

“Index” is a series of prose poems that ask questions and share grief and memories from girlhood to wedding to loss of virginity to ageing. They rail against age and defy expectations. There are certain repeated motifs throughout the chapbook and they are collected here, references to religion, to outer space, the references to animals: “my animal body,” a horse that has to be harnessed, (horse mentioned in the previous poem), the theme of escape, running away from, “the prolonged scream of an owl mauling a rabbit” and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony #4  in Fm in conjunction with being at the gynecologist’s: “These violins and woodwinds sound like children’s literature. Matriarchy and wild boars.” “Fox and cat chase scream.”

“First Aid Kit” is another piece that engages with art and with the need for artists to assert their voices. In this case the art work is “Dream Disaster, an installation by Maiza Hixson and Lauren Ruth” which includes a wedding gown with a red fanny pack labelled “First Aid Kit.” Not surprisingly, given its inspiration, this is a poem of protest about marriage between a husband and wife and the misogyny of the current American president. It is a forceful and angry poem at times and a thoughtful, compassionate poem at others. It contains my favourite lines of the entire chapbook, “My fake heart //shriveled-up. I reached deep/inside my wedding/and tugged it out.” And then later, “I’m imaging a tail on the wedding dress./A whip. Something ugly like driftwood./Something like a deer climbing out/of driftwood. Someone lifting/the driftwood up out of the river/they were crying into…”

The penultimate poem, “Save Me” is a gorgeous poem with long, energetic lines. It is a dance in place of death. It contains words in Spanish. It made me think of the mass shooting in Florida at Pulse in which queers were killed. It is a poem filled with energy and compassion, a kind of reimagining of creation.

The final poem, “WORDS FOR WINTER,” is a list of individual phrases in capital letters, that play on signs and to my mind at least, bumper stickers, but these are louder, and sadder and more hopeful.

Invisible Wife is a ride through anger, grief, delight, and frustration with the state of the world. It is imaginative and thoughtful. It is timely.

stay tuned for more! and more importantly, subscribe today!

Friday, January 12, 2018

Close Reading Service extended to prose

DevilHouse, the AngelHousePress trangressive prose imprint hasn't received submissions by women in a long time. Any submissions. This concerns me. I don't want the imprint to be a voice for men only. I want it to share the works and voices of misfits and outsiders from the queer community, from people of colour, from non-binary and disabled writers and from women. 

Through, AngelHousePress, i've been offering a free close reading service for new women and genderqueer poets since 2016. You can find out more about that service here. Now I extend this offer to prose via DevilHouse.

Announcing a free close reading service for new women and gender queer prose writers. 

WHAT:  I will read up to 1000 words of your prose (fiction or creative nonfiction), offer editing suggestions and possibly suggest prose to read;

WHO:   new writers, not yet published with a press (chapbook or spine), who identify as women or genderqueer; 

HOW:   send doc, docx, rtf or pdf file to; name a contemporary influence;

WHEN:           anytime; work read on a first come first served basis, one writer per month;

WHERE:         wordwide;

WHY:             lack of chapbook submission by women and genderqueer writers; an attempt to encourage and mentor;

COST:             free.


If you know of anyone who might benefit from this or the poetry close reading service, please share this with them.

Amanda Earl's fiction has been published in the short story collection, "Coming Together Presents Amanda Earl" (Coming Together, 2014) and numerous erotica anthologies, including the Mammoth Book of Best New Erotica, Volumes 12, 13, 6 and 7, edited by Maxim Jakubowski and numerous Cleis Press anthologies edited by Rachel Kramer Bussle. She is a former member of the Erotica Readers and Writers Assocation and many of her stories appear in the ERWA Treasure Chest. She also self-published a novella entitled "A World of Yes" (DevilHouse, 2015). Amanda is also a poet, whose poetry book "Kiki" was published by Chaudiere Books in 2014 and several of her chapbooks have been published in Canada, USA and UK. For more information please visit or connect with Amanda on Twitter @KikiFolle.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Joan Hamilton (1932 - 2017)

When I think of my mother, I think of creosote and oxtail soup first. These are the items she brought to my first apartment in Toronto when I was twenty and living with my boyfriend. Creosote to clean the apartment with and ensure there were no bugs; oxtail soup because we had very little money and she wanted to make sure we had something to eat.  Let me tell you that soup sustained us over a cold winter.

I’m not going to pretend that I had some sort of idyllic family life. When I was growing up, my mother spent a lot of time and energy trying to deal with my father’s moods and issues. He was a difficult man. As I grew to adulthood, I increasingly resented my mother for not leaving him and trying to placate him instead. I didn’t see her as independent because she refused to leave him, when she seemed capable, competent and strong. I didn’t value these aspects of her at all, I’m afraid. Nor did I value how hard she worked to ensure peace in the family. Instead I distanced myself from blood family because I couldn’t handle the way stories were revised to gloss over heated arguments and high emotions, alcohol battles and depression.

It wasn’t until the last eight years when we began a correspondence that I had the chance to become better acquainted with my mother as a friend. I learned that she loved to dance and socialize. She also loved to walk, which is something we share. She confided in me. I would say that by the end of her life, we were friends. I’m glad of it.

If my mother taught me anything, I suppose, it was to be a realist and to prepare for the worst. When I asked if Santa Claus was real she said that my parents had to pay for everything but he delivered the presents. I saw her shoulder the burden when my father grew ill and they lived in an isolated town up north. There were many things she simply accepted as the way life had to be. She ate black toast at four in the mourning before her factory job. At the end of her life, she said that she had a good life. I admit that I didn’t always know about the good when I was growing up, so I’m glad she managed to find some joy.

The thing I most admire about my mother is that she combatted adversity ferociously. In this life, you have to be tough and you have to fight to protect your loved ones and yourself from ogres and bastards. You have to love fiercely and find joy where you can.

My mother died on December 22, 2017 at 85 in Brantford, Ontario.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Fav music of 2017

Folks, by now you all know I’m a list maker. Some people hate lists. I understand that. But I am a list lover. There are some great lists out there for 2017, especially for music. My fav list of best music is Bandcamp’s list of 100 best albums of 2017. Start with 100 and make your way to the top, wishlisting a bunch of records as you go.

If it isn’t clear by now, I’m addicted to music. I love a good melody, combined with great lyrics, a mellifluous voice or three and some fine instruments. In 2017, I purchased--or obtained as free samplers--85 albums, 25 of which were released this year. So here are my arbitrary favourite ten:

1. Ghostpoet – Dark Days + Canapes [Pias Recordings, BRITAIN]

I love Obaro Ejimiwe’s voice. It’s low and sexy as hell. I only found out about him earlier this year, probably from someone else’s list. I immediately purchased Peanut Butter Blues and Melancholy Jam, which I always want to call Peanut Butter Soul and Melancholy Jam. Dark Days + Canapes continues the low key vibe I learned to love in PBB&MJ with songs about the injustices of the day. It’s the perfect album for this time. Put this on your dark playlist along with Leonard Cohen’s You Want It Darker and you’ll be ready for the apocalypse.

2. Cherry Glazerr – Apocalypstick [Secretly Canadian, USA]

Your quintessential don’t fuck with me girl band out of LA. Reminds me of Girl in a Coma and Girlpool, two other favs. Clementine Creevy has a fierce voice. The music has a steady beat and some sick licks. I think of the Runaways. Marc Maron should interview Clementine on WTF.

3. Shilpa Ray – Door Girl [Northern Spy Records, USA]

She has an amazing voice and the music feels like a throwback to the 50s and 60s with a 21st century doomy sensibility. I think of Dusty Springfield or Skeeter Davis. There’s a feistiness to the music that pleases me. You can dance to Morning Terrors Nights of Dread. The lyrics are catchy and witty. She's also really hilarious.

4. Juliana Hatfield – Pussycat (American Laundromat Records, USA]

First off, I like her voice. It’s soft yet clear, kind of buttery yellow without being overly rich. I like the lyrics and subjects of her songs, which are unapologetically sexual, especially Short-Fingered Man.

5.  Ron Sexsmith – the Last Rider [Cooking Vinyl/Compass Records, UK/USA]

It’s no secret that I have a sweet old fashioned crush on this man, so it should come as no surprise that I love his latest. The combination of his voice and the great melodies he composes have created another memorable record. Some of the stellar tracks on the album for me are Worried Song, West Gwillimbury (we can do a playlist of Ron’s place songs alone, which would be fun!) and Shoreline. The album is reminiscent of Whereabouts in its melancholy but with a happier tempo. It’s great to see Ron producing his own album, along with the talented Don Kerr.

6. Jack Pine and the Fire – Left to Our Own Devices [Jack Pine and the Fire, CANADA – Ottawa]

Speaking of crushes…

This album mixes an easy slow understated sound with some jump up and dance numbers. The voice of Jack Pine (aka Ottawa singer, song-writer, producer, Gareth Auden Hole) reminds me somewhat of the country troubadour sounds of  a young Russell De Carle of Prairie Oyster. 

He’s got the range in those lovely melodic slides. The lyrics are fun, thoughtful, sly. The band makes a solid contribution on the album with fiddle, guitars, and drums. I especially love Lone Wolf, and Make Up or Break Up, both on his previous EP; however here the back up vocals and added instruments add texture and give the songs a different tone. I like both versions, although the fingering on the EP pleases me a little more. The video below is an older rendering of the song.

7. Bill and Joel Plaskett – Solidarity [Pheremone Recordings, CANADA]

Beautiful lyrics, great melodies and voices, there’s something extra special about this CD, a collaboration between father and son. Makes me think of cabins in the woods, the smell of wood burning in a fireplace. And just when you think everything’s mellow you get some wild electric guitar in there and sweet sweet fiddle music, then accordion…if Ghostpoet brings you down, get uplifted with these two fellers and accompanying musicians, Mo Kenney, Erin Costelo & more!

8. Emm Gryner – Only of Earth [CANADA]

This is an achingly beautiful album. Emm’s voice is so resonant and haunting. I’m starting to think that the main thing my choices have in common is a touch of melancholy and a dash of maverick. Emm went her own way to create this album, just as Jack Pine did for his album. It’s a record with a lot of variety from the more plaintive tracks, such as the Passing of Ayro to the upbeat Imagination. This will be the first of what we all hope will be a trio of albums. ““Only of Earth” is a soundtrack to a story, inspired by true events and fiction. Inspired by the the mystery of childbirth, the work of motherhood and the intrigue of love, life and loss, “Only of Earth” is a multi-media experience that will incorporate music as much as sketches, videos, a book and eventually, a live show.” from PledgeMusic’s updates.

this video is not from the album and i have no explanation.

9.  Fiver (Simone Schmidt) – Audible Songs from Rockwood [Idée Fixe, CANADA]

I had the pleasure of hearing Simone for the first time at a Basement Revue performance at the International Festival of Authors last autumn. I was blown away by her beautiful voice and the songs from this album, which are haunting and substantial. The inspiration for the album were the case files of patients at the Rockwood Asylum for the Criminally Insane between 1854-1881. My favourite is the acapella song Yonder White Mare. I’d love to hear Simone do a duet with Sam Amidon. She’s nothing short of amazing.

10.  Wesley Stace - Wesley Stace’s John Wesley Harding [Yep Rock Records, UK]

I want to end with a bit of a quirky one and why not? This guy is also a novelist. So he’s already in my good books, not that I’ve read his work, but judging by these songs, he’s a good writer and he’s got a superb voice. The Jayhawks are also involved here. Note that he has in the past gone by John Wesley Harding, to make matters confusing or fun, if you’re like me. I could go on and talk about even more confusion in regards to the album of the same name by Bob Dylan, but let’s move on…His voice reminds me of Elvis Costello, especially in You’re A Song, which could be Elvis’s follow up to Good Year for the Roses or Baby Plays Around. Wesley/John has a lovely voice. I can imagine him singing madrigals in a choir as a youngster. I love the song, How to Fall. The whole album brings  me great joy. It’s quite and I don’t think it received much acclaim, but here it is…getting acclaim from me!

Honourable mentions: Aimee Mann’s Mental Illness, Mount Eerie’s A Crow Looks At Me (already on a lotta lists, so doesn’t need to be here, Laura Marlin’s Semper Femina).

There’s still time to buy music for your dear friends and family for the season. I highly recommend and to get great tunes for all and sundry.

I may be back with more favs of the year lists or I may not. What are your favs? Drop me a line or a message or whatever you like.

May you find joy, love, comfort, an appreciation for the absurd, empathy, whimsy, good pals, a soft kitty, the best fudge ever and a secret garden in 2018. 

yr pal,

Saturday, December 02, 2017


as part of AngelHousePress, i'm offering a free close reading service. the service was active from june 2016 to august 2017 and i took a break over the autumn because it's a busy time. but mentoring is important to me and i'd like to do my part.

WHAT:           I will read five pages of your free verse or prose poetry, offer editing suggestions and possibly suggest poetry to read;
WHO:             new poets, not yet published with a press (chapbook or spine), who identify as women or genderqueer writers; must be avid readers of contemporary poetry;
HOW:             send poetry to as pdf, doc, docx file; name a contemporary influence (poet, work of poetry);
WHEN:           anytime; work read on a first come first served basis, one poet per month;
WHERE:         wordwide;
WHY:             lack of chapbook submission by women & genderqueer writers; an attempt to encourage and mentor;
COST:             free.


 If your work resonates with me, I’ll invite you to submit a chapbook (20 pages or fewer) for consideration to AngelHousePress, which publishes limited editions of 50 copies, no reprints. You receive 10 copies and can buy additional copies at half price.

 You are under no obligation to submit a chapbook.

I reserve the right to suspend the service if I get overloaded, but wouldn’t that be great if that happened… I see this as a great opportunity for AngelHousePress to discover new writers and to share that discovery with the world.

I've edited the original call to clarify that I am also thrilled to read work by trans writers (FTM and MTF and gender fluid writers). And I want to make sure that people of colour, disabled and indigenous peoples feel welcome to ask for help with their poetry as well. Basically I want to help to create a world where artists that are not heard or paid attention to as much as they should be have every possible tool in their arsenal to get their creative work out there and be heard. 

Cis men, I adore you; you send queries, you send chapbook manuscripts; you are courageous. I appreciate your support of AngelHousePress and I hope that you continue to support the press with your work and by sharing our calls and information with others. 

 In 2015, in response to our call for long poems and poetry series, out of thirty submissions/queries, only three were by women. I want AngelHousePress to be a place where all poets feel welcome to send work for consideration. This is an experiment to see if mentorship and encouragement will lead to more women sending work our way. And we have received more work by women, so it’s going well. Perhaps other presses could consider a similar idea or have other mentorship methods they would like to share.

AngelHousePress, together with its transgressive prose imprint, DevilHouse, publishes two to four chapbooks a year in the spring and fall, but that depends on our schedule. We sometimes publish more chapbooks. We also have an online essay series, and a monthly podcast, we host in April and in November. We publish raw talent, ragged edges and rebels. We are always interested in essays, rants, manifestos, interviews, reviews and poetic statements for the essay series. For more information on the press, please visit

In particular I’d love to read dark and playful work in unique voices. I enjoy work that engages with art, film, literature, music and the world. Everything I do is for whimsy, connection and exploration...and...of course...for love.


Amanda Earl is a Canadian poet, fiction writer, visual poet and publisher. Her most recently published work includes Kiki  (Chaudiere Books), The Book of Esther (Puddles of Sky Press), wintered (shreeking violet press), Lady Lazarus Redux (above/ground press and poems in Arc Poetry Magazine, Matrix Magazine, the Windsor Review. Her poetry has also been published in American, Australian, British, and French publications on line and in print. Amanda is the managing editor of and the fallen angel of AngelHousePress. Her manuscripts have been shortlisted for the Robert Kroetsch Innovative Poetry Award. She was inducted into the VERSeOttawa Hall of Honour in 2014. More information is available at Or connect with Amanda on Twitter @KikiFolle