amongst books

amongst books

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

all things Walmsley

I was invited once more to take part in the ten book meme thingy, where you list ten books that have stayed with you. I found myself thinking about how much my writing has been influenced by Tom Walmsley since I first came into contact with him last November...all the books i list here are his & the reasons for this are considerable:

the man has worked in multiple genres & styles from poetry to fiction, to plays & film, even a libretto. I admire his versatility. It is something I aspire to in my own writing. His style ranges from the humorous, to the badass, to the spare to the quietly poignant to the violent, always with keen observations about human nature & the dark places we find ourselves in…

i didn't read What Happened until six years after its publication (it was on my shelf all that time!). after we began to talk in November, 2013, i remembered i had it. i was taken by surprise. it may be that i fell in love with Tom after reading this book. i guess it was a feeling of recognition, of meeting someone of like mind & heart...

What You Do

i like it when you do that like
the way it falls like leaves like
water like it can't wait to touch
me you do that so well like a what in
the night like a something in the
dark like a bird just the wings only
the blue leafy wings of a
quiet violent bird.


the poems are tender & visceral, humble & lyrical, full of intensity & raw sexuality.

an excerpt from "Little Honey":

i learned that with honey too
much had burst in the dark i tried to
retreat i gave him ideas mad & dangerous i
wanted to kneel like our first time
honey stretched on a broken bed a
streetlight giving us the thirties glow of
romance it is so arduous being the remote
hard guy when you're lovers &
when you're not a hard guy

i read all of these poems in one fell swoop & right after I wrote a long poem called "Trouble" in 48 hours & have been working on a life poem called "Paradise" that is an attempt to memorialize, i guess you could say, our love affair, beginning with our first meeting in February until today...


I am not currently writing fiction, but I will return to it & one of the things that Tom’s fiction has taught me is the power of the actual & the immediate. his description of going off into a dream state during a boxing match in Kid Stuff is fascinating & impossible to invent if you don’t know about boxing. I’ve always kind of dismissed my experiences as being not interesting enough…but maybe I’m wrong…

I love this man’s imagination & his willingness to write about the unspeakable, in such works as Shades & Honeymoon in Berlin. it is one of the things we have in common, a willingness to tackle subjects that breach the rules followed by polite society.

one of the images from Tom's writing that remains with me is that of a naked woman walking down a winter street & glowing red. It is from the opening chapter of Shades, entitled "The Passenger":

"Roxanne was standing on a street corner in the middle of the city at 4:30 in the morning and she wasn't wearing a stitch. Snow drifted against her and turned into trickles of water, then escaped as steam. Her body, trim and tense, glowed red from the lone neon sign behind her. She did a quick scan on all sides: not a creature was stirring. She couldn't remember the last time it had snowed on Christmas morning."

i learned a lot about dialogue and timing by reading Tom's plays. they are darkly comedic & fascinating. i wish i could see them performed...

after reading several of his plays, I embarked on an ambitious undertaking to write my own play, "Heaven," which remains a tangled mess of rewrites…stay tuned…there is something amazing about the thought that something I write could be translated into theatre. it’s like going 3D. it opens up myriad possibilities.

since we are two writers on the same wavelength, i don't think it's any surprise that we’ve taken to writing some things together, including a very smutty piece of erotica that may one day be shared with the world, a series of haiku entitled "Dirty Love" & a rather playful long poem,"the Feast." you can read some of these works-in-progress, if you dare, on the sweet fan site, Tom created in my name, which is not just a fan site, but a celebration of this unexpected love & camaraderie that has developed between us.

here in no particular order are all of the books & plays I’ve read, & films i've seen that have been adapted from his writing  & been enthralled by of Mr. Walmsley, who I have the pleasure & honour of calling
my love:






Rabies, poetry

Lexington Hero, poetry

Three Squares A Day, play

Descent, play

Delirium, play


Blood, film based on his play

Paris, France, film

note that there are still numerous plays i haven't yet read but i will...

from so many points of view I’m thrilled that Tom has come into my life, but from the point of view of this blog, of things literary, he has galvanized me, is a creative force & my muse...I am awed by his skill as a writer, his versatility,  his brilliance, his appetite for the dark & the forbidden, the duende in his work. may all of it rub off on me. as I’m rubbing against him…but that’s another story…

Monday, September 08, 2014

Canadian Writers Blog Tour: Anita Dolman

Anita Dolman is an Ottawa-based writer and editor. Her poetry and fiction have appeared throughout Canada and the United States, including, most recently, in On Spec Magazine: the Canadian magazine of the fantastic, Grain, Bywords.ca, Ottawater, The Antigonish Review, The Peter F. Yacht Club, The Storyteller Magazine, and Geist. Her short story “Happy Enough” is available as an e-book from Morning Rain Publishing. A new chapbook of her poetry, Where No One Can See You, is forthcoming from AngelHousePress this fall.

You can follow Anita on Twitter @ajdolman.

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I was invited to take part in the Canadian Writers Blog Tour by this blog's host, Amanada Earl, who is also kindly lending me a spot on her blog, since I am, despite the tour, actually blogless. Amanda's willingness to delve into new and eclectic literary forms, and her ability to see both art and life as a source of constant learning is any inspiration to writers, and more than likely everyone else, who know her. I am very much looking forward to her first book-length collection of poetry, Kiki, coming out from Chaudiere Books this fall.

1. What are you currently working on?
I am working on a couple of short stories that I may or may not still try to squeeze into my manuscript of short fiction. I have also, after a long near-hiatus, been returning to poetry. My first poetry chapbook in a decade will come out this fall. I also have some essays and short stories that have recently come out or are about to come out. I actually work on things slowly and in sequence, but when things get published it all seems to happen at once, giving the illusion I’m doing everything all at the same time!

In the back of my mind, the cogs and wheels have also been starting to fall into place for writing a longer work of fiction, but I feel like I'm still building the machinery, and have much tinkering to do yet before I start it up and see if it can make something really interesting happen.

2. How does your work differ from others?
I have been told (often in rejection letters) that my work is "daring" or "ambitious" or "fearless." Which is both thrilling and a bit confusing to me, since I often still see myself as quite shy, and my writing can make me very bashful. I recently read a quote from a famous writer to the effect that, if it doesn't make you uncomfortable to publish it, it's probably not worth publishing. I think that’s not exclusively true, but for me, there’s something to it.

When I was in my 20s and early 30s, I think I wrote mostly to fit in. That may come from an immigrant sensibility, it may be part of a self-protective inclination by some women to search out and maintain a safehold in society. I have finally, however, in the past few years been learning to overcome the fear of standing out, of having my work and the thoughts that led to it scrutinized, and particularly that fear of showing the real self that seems to trap so many writers. Which is not to say that I talk only, or even very much at all, about myself in my poetry, and not at all (directly) in my fiction. But there is something about your perspective that you have to be willing to let come through in your writing, regardless of how you think your readers may react. If you don't, you aren't being honest and you also aren't giving readers anything real to connect with.

3. Why do you write what you do?
I could come up with a lot of answers to that, which is really the same thing as saying "I don't know." In the end, I write what I write because of everything I am and everything I have experienced and everyone and everything I have had the privilege to know. One summer, when I was just out of high school, I had a brief job as a potter's assistant for the Alberta-based potter and painter Jean Sheppard. I was about 18 and I was worried that I hadn't found my own art form yet at the time. She told me to keep trying new forms, because, if you do, eventually you will find the way to express yourself that is right for you. I started writing within a couple of years of that. I count myself very lucky that I found a conduit that works for me and that, hopefully, I do well.

4. How does your process work?
I read. A lot. And I try to listen a lot, too. Eventually, everything I've soaked up leads to an idea or two. I write these down in my notebook, or write a line or two in an email to myself. Then I let it percolate for a long, long time. At some point, when I sit down to write, it's that idea that I go back to, and I realize I've started a poem or a story. Once I have written something, I need more time and distance, anywhere from a few weeks to several months, before I can approach it again for an edit. I usually edit it at least twice myself for short fiction, and up to dozens of times for poetry. The difficult thing for me is gaging when it's ready for me to let it go, and when it honestly does need some more work.


Next up on the Canadian Writers Blog Tour, I have nominated Ottawa poet and fiction writer James K. Moran, whose Tour post will be available on his (Re)Viewed blog as of Monday, September 15, 2014, at http://jameskmoran.blogspot.ca. James’ first novel, Town and Train, will be out this November from Lethe Press. He is also my husband, but I would love his writing even if he weren't.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

My Picks for the Ottawa Folk Festival

I don’t know how many of you know that I’m a music freak. I don’t take the time to see many live concerts because I’m not much of a night person, but on occasion I’ll go out to some of our great music festivals or concerts. I love the folk fest. here are some of the musicians I’m particularly looking forward to next week; although one thing I love about festivals is unexpected discoveries, so I’m sure I’ll hear some other great music I’ll love; maybe I’ll see you there:

Wednesday, September 10  

M. Ward. I have & love Duet for Guitars #2; also enjoy She & Him. He’s a softspoken singer & an aces guitarist.

Thursday, September 11

Jill Zmud, a hugely talented Ottawa singer-songwriter who performed at last year’s Bywords John Newlove Poetry Award at the Ottawa International Writers Festival. I love her voice

Serena Ryder, once again, her voice makes me weak in the knees.

Friday, September 12

Lee Fields and the Expressions, ahhh soul.

The National – I love Matt Beringer’s dark voice; it’s so damn sexy. I have three of their albums. I’m a fan.

Saturday, September 13

Seasick Steve, I love the slide guitar & this fella will give it to you. I have never seen him live.

Neutral Milk Hotel, a gorgeous combination of instruments, heady voice of lead singer & quirky lyrics. what more do I want? I don’t have any of their albums … yet…

Sunday, September 14

Hurray for the Riff Raff – I only discovered Alynda Lee Segarra & I love what she’s doing with the blues. feisty!

Coeur de Pirate – a dear friend gave me one of her songs & i thought her voice was quite sweet & fun.

the Gaslight Anthem – the variety of music styles at this festival, I tell ya…these guys play in a kind of speedy alt punk style


this is going to be so much fun!

Monday, September 01, 2014

Canadian Writers Blog Tour: Amanda Earl

Former Ottawan, Lori Garrison asked me to participate. I first met Lori when she read at a Bywords reading, when she published poems with us back in 2011. After that, we exchanged brief snippets of conversation in between her job as a server at the Highlander Pub in the Byward Market. Later she moved to the Yukon where she met my Doppelganger, also a writer & publisher. I'm happy to see her continuing her writing & exploring new spaces.

I think I’ve done some variation of this before, but the answers are always changing.

What are you currently working on?

Poetry: St. Ursula’s Commonplace Book, for which I am grateful to have received funding from the City of Ottawa this year. It’s a sequel to a broadside published by Pooka Press & my chapbook, which I published with my micropress, AngelHousePress.  According to legend, Ursula may have existed in the 4th or 5th century. As she was crossing the ocean to marry a pagan prince, Ursula, along with numerous virgins, was attacked & beheaded by the Huns. there are variations of this story.

Ursula was a name that jumped into my head when I observed a homeless woman walking along, trailing a shopping buggy & spouting verses from the Bible.

Then I discovered the saint.

How does your work differ from others?

One way in which it differs from the work of some poets I know is that I work mostly in the long poem or poem series format. Another is that I like to work with voices other than the autobiographical.

Why do you write what you do?

I follow my curiosity. I have a need to explore. The larger question is why write at all. I breathe, I write. There is no reason other than writing is part of me.

How does your process work?

It differs all the time, but it always includes some kind of gleening process: the collection of images, scraps of conversation, art that captivates me, assemblages or collages of some sort or another that work their way into poems or stories or visual poems.

For the current project it involves research. Aside from reading about St. Ursula, I am also reading bpNichol’s the Martyrology, which is composed of the lives of made up saints, such as St. And, St. Ream etc. Some of the questions that have come from this reading:
Does the Martyrology have a magic realism bent?
What other poetry includes magic realism?
What the heck is magic realism? It doesn’t seem that prevalent in Canadian contemporary poetry.
What are some poets who work with spirituality & mysticism?
What are some poets with mental disorders and how does it affect their work?
How can I incorporate ekphrastic poetry, poems inspired by art?

All this from this character of Ursula that came in part from observation but mostly from my imagination.

Reading the Martyrology has made me wonder about the role of the sacred in bpNichol’s work & has sent me off to special issues of Open Letter on bpNichol.

In an essay by Rob Winger, I’ve discovered the Japanese poetic form, utaniki, a type of combo of poetry & prose & journal.

So my branches for research are
1) Saint Ursula
2) magic realism
3) mental disorder & homelessness
4) the sacred
5) art
6) poetic form

the combo of 2 & 3 have led me to the writing & life of the Quebec poet Émile Nelligan, who had a severe psychotic breakdown & whose works tended toward the symbolic & the visionary.

some of these branches will be thrown out or replaced by other branches, but I will be reading a lot of poetry, among other things.

from research I go to scrawling down things that stick. if I say the voice of the character speaks to me, it’s going to sound weird, but there you have it. I found the same thing when I worked on my chapbook, Eleanor & my book, Kiki. I immerse myself in the character until I can see the world the way she does.

I am fascinated with the concepts of the Other and Duende. Whatever process I use will be to try and transport myself somehow. Death and the dark are always present. I hope that what I write is full of life. That’s the intention anyway.

Amanda Earl is the author of Kiki (Chaudiere Books, 2014) and “Coming Together Presents Amanda Earl” (Coming Together, 2014). Her chapbooks have been published in Canada, the UK and the USA, and her poems appear where you least expect them. Find her on Twitter @KikiFolle & visit her site: AmandaEarl.com.


The next participant in the tour will be Anita Dolman, an Ottawa writer of both poetry and fiction. I’ll be posting her answers here on Monday, September 8. Watch this page!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Adventures in Oulipo

For April's National Poetry Month, I decided to sign up forthe Found Poetry Review's Oulipost challenge. Every day in April participants would have to respond to an Oulipian prompt with a poem created from text in their daily newspapers. The exercises we were to use came primarily from a book entitled "The Oulipo Compendium," edited by Harry Mathews & Alastair Brotchie (Atlas Press, 1998).

Oulipo stands for Ouvroir de littérature potentielle or Workshop for Potential Literature. It was started in the 60s by a group of writers that included Raymond Queneau to combine abstract restrictions with imaginative literature. Some of the participants are math nerds while others are word geeks. I'm no math nerd, but I am indeed a word geek & I always love the opportunity to stretch my poetic wings a little further. I also have a taste for the absurd, the whimsical & the truly goofy, so this challenge inspired me.

The Found Poetry Review has been offering challenges related to found poetry for National Poetry Month for three years. What I find delightful & comforting for this challenge was how supportive the group was. I received regular e-mails from Jenni Baker, the editor & these e-mails included advice & links to tools created by another editor Doug Luman. A FaceBook group was created & we all had the chance to introduce ourselves & ask questions about challenges that seemed particularly difficult to us.

I also tried out some of the exercises using classic poetry as a warm up. One exercise is called N + 7. In this challenge, you replace every noun in  your source text with the seventh noun following it in the dictionary. I noticed right away that doing so made me read the source poems closely & note some of the tricky ways in which nouns can be used. I asked myself whether it made sense to replace a noun used adverbially with one with a different grammatical category. Is a noun used adverbially still a noun?  How strict did I want to be? Did I want to replace a noun like milk with a compound like milkweed; did I need a word to be not the same root but different? In the end it came down to writing poems that were the strongest, so in my practice exercises, I would break rules if the creative aspect of the poem required it.

One of the most difficult exercises was la Belle Absente or the Beautiful Outlaw. In this exercise you choose a name from your source text. Each line of poetry corresponds to each letter of the name in order. The letters from the name cannot be used in that line but all other letters of the alphabet must be. Thankfully Doug created an Excel spreadsheet to help sort that out. But it was still difficult. My tendency to fool around with line breaks made me mess up the warm up exercise. I hadn't kept the intermediary version. To show the group, I had to redo that version, thereby learning a valuable lesson: show your work.

One of the interesting things about a number of the Oulipian constraints is that they have been around for a long time. The Cento, for example, comes from Roman times. It was a patchwork cloak used to befuddle enemies. According to George Perec, the first lipogram was created by Laos of Hermione in 6th C. BC.

The Lipogram exercise on April 2 was particularly challenging because it involved using letters only that were not in the title of the source text, in my case the Ottawa Citizen. that gave me very few letters to work with. thinking out of the box, I decided to create a visual poem. I had one of those eureka moments where I realized that I could be as wild & creative as I chose for this & still satisfy the letter & the spirit, especially the spirit, of the exercise.

As I'm doing these exercises, especially the Fibonacci sequence variation, I'm starting to think a lot about deconstruction of fixed concepts. These Oulipian techniques are a great way to pinpoint & unravel propaganda.

On April 3, I had the opportunity to try out some of my Oulipian efforts on an audience at the A B Series reading. I realized that N + 7 could be used for common songs that people know. I made up variations of N + 7 for "My Bonnie Lies over the Ocean" (My Bonnie Lieutenants Over the Octagon) & for "Amazing Grace" (Amazing Grammar) & sang them to the audience, which was great fun. I didn't restrict my substitutions to nouns.

Amazing Grammar, how swill the souvenir,

That saved a wrongdoing like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blob, but now I see.

T'was Grammar that taught my hearty to feeder.
And Grammar, my feeders relieved.
How precious did that Grammar appear
The household I fistful believed.

Through many darts, tombolas and sniffs
I have already come;
'Tis Grammar that brought me sailing thus far
and Grammar will lead me hone.

The Lotus has promised good to me.
His working my horror secures.
He will my shipbuilder and posse be,
As long as lift-off endures.

Yea, when this flinch and hearty shall fail,
And mosque lift-off shall cell,
I shall possess within the venture,
A lift-off of juggle and pearl.

Yes, when this flinch and hearty shall fail,
And mosque lift-off shall cell;
I shall profess, within the vail,
A lift-off of juggle and pearl.

By April 10, my strategy had changed from cherry picking interesting articles to starting with the first article on page A1 & proceeding by trial & error. The lipogram exercises were the most difficult. They often require dme to search through numerous articles. The results often surprise me. They force me to focus on sound more than images or trite content.

I used some of the exercises I discovered for another project, response to Michèle Provost’s “ROMAN FEUILLETON,” artwork & text based on four classic Quebec literary works. I used the Chimera technique where you take a source text, substitute nouns from another text, verbs from another text & adjectives from another text. I also tried out N+7 on a few texts & Beautiful Outlaw. 

Philippe came home from a discreet God;
he was sharp, well aware, had picked to run with it.
His acute, shaken simpleton watched her later brother.
Pomme would suddenly look him in the stories.
Poor mother, how he must have run!
From the old ritual of people, he already knew
how to start soon through nerve, reconstructing
an eye of bubble to avoid getting sat on.
For him, there cloaked only Her; she was his icy wall,
his back breach. Pomme was deploring her latest something
in her pocket; her superior eyes against any cart
from the outside croaky. Philippe called low and odd.
He’d been terrorized, had no dead to imagine
 in the mind of his mode under the day
of some angry street, as the beauty wasn’t secret
for distant forest. Pomme wasn’t stitching it
so well, but for once, Philippe had returned
his minute down; she had to lean on, like he had.
However north the dump, the hope changed.
 I may be shrugging too much into this,
but his soul replied to me more like a straight cesspit,
warm, happy and somewhat impure.
 source text: p
nouns: q
verbs: r
adjectives & adverbs: s

technique: chimera

I think these Oulipian techniques are great strategies for engaging with source texts, but in the end I still feel that more work is needed to create a poem from such techniques. It may be that a line or an unusual image can be found from these processes, but just sitting around & thinking will result in the same thing or better for me usually. I do like that these techniques get me away from autobiographical poems & from fixed expressions. It’s good to know them for that reason.

INTERESTING & RELATED

Stefan Themerson's Semantic Literature practice
The Fib Review - an online journal devoted to poems using the Fibonacci Sequence

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Coming Together Presents Amanda Earl - my smutty tales are yours

I am pleased as punch that my first book of erotic fiction has been published through Coming Together Presents. All proceeds from the sales of my book will benefit GMHC, the world’s first and leading provider of HIV/AIDS prevention, care and advocacy.

With 24 stories, 245 pages, and a lovely introduction by my editor, Lisabet Sarai, the book includes the dark, the shameful, the fanciful & the just plain fun.

The book is available in both print and e-book formats.

My heartfelt thanks to my brilliant editor, Lisabet Sarai, to Alessia Brio & the team at Coming Together, to the Erotica Readers and Writers Association, helmed throughout my time there Adrienne Benedicks. What a supportive & encouraging group. And endless kisses to my sexy muses, Tom & Charles.

Lisabet has described the book as not for the faint of heart. I would also say that it is not for the faint of groin either. I wrote these stories over a period of ten years. In them I explore the nature of desire. To quote Lisabet's fine introduction:

"The stories in this book run the gamut from raw and transgressive ("Sir North", "Daddy Complex") to wistful and tender ("Typing for Jack", "Mercy and the Man in the Dark Suit") to playful ("Cinderella and the Glass Dildo", "Jesus,Melinda and the Undead") to desperately dark ("The Vessel", "Sex with an Old Woman"). In these pages, you'll find humor and irony, satire and philosophy, and pretty much every shade of pleasure imaginable. Amanda's fiction explores lust in all its compelling urgency and celebrates the incandescent experience of mutual sexual satisfaction. But don't look for romance; although her characters may share affection, respect, the thrill of recognizing common or complementary fantasies, she's not really interested in happily ever after."


I hope you & your lovers enjoy this book. May it inspire days of wanking, zipless fucks, love making & stories of your own.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Ruth Stone - In the Next Galaxy

Ruth Stone – In the Next Galaxy
Copper Canyon Press, 2002

if you feel like reading
contemplative poetry.
perhaps you have just
returned from an early
morning blood test.
after your 12-hour fast
you drink glass after
glass of water to make up
for your thin veins, your
thin skin. there is someone
you should read, a woman,
Ruth Stone. her book,
In the Next Galaxy, is dog-
eared. if you want close observation,
poetry that listens, expressions
you haven’t heard of before that
make sense in way that makes it
seem as if the author is having a
private conversation with you.
she is the second Stone poet, the
first is Anne Stone, except that Anne
is described as a novelist, but they share
similar tones from what I remember, the
tone of silence & of space between thoughts
something that I always need but especially
in the summer. not all subjects are easy,
comforting. “every death breaks you apart”
writes R. Stone. in “Shapes.”