amongst books

amongst books

Friday, February 21, 2020

a few notes on some recent chapbooks


Prathna Lor - 7, 2 (Knife Fork Books, What Queer Reading, 2019)

the sound and rhythm were what first captured my attention about this work but I was also captivated by the force and strength of the lines: “Words like good China/once wasted away turns something like ire/into something like sadness.” The work engages with race and queerness, the ache and burn of love. There’s humour too: “Had a tantrum/then a sandwich” This is a feral and tender work.

design-wise I loved the pink and white of the cover and the pink end papers, the fonts and the layout, the scent of incense that seems to always accompany a KFB chapbook, which is lovely. I loved the drawing of the author created by Lena Suksi. I didn’t love how tiny the font was, but that’s a minor complaint. I can’t wait to read more of Lor’s writing and I’m in love with the WQR imprint of KFB. I’ve enjoyed several chapbooks from the imprint so far, thanks to Kirby.

gustave morin - mice t.v. (unarmed, spring 2019)

I am a collector of sorts of morin’s work. these are stunning black and white visuals perfectly laid out on the page by editor of the press, michael mann. the illustrations remind me of chalk drawings on school blackboards. there are elephants balancing on balls, rabbit heads guarding boards of tiny coded language, tracks, spirals, patterns, ghosts, bats, things a mouse might see on t.v.

Marilyn Irwin – the day the moon went away (above/ground press, August, 2019)

I am a fan and a dear friend of Marilyn’s so it comes as no surprise that I enjoyed this chapbook, from the snail on the cover to its reappearance in a poem, to the poems on not having a baby. there’s a sweet sadness to the work, mixed with a practicality about life and a concern for the environment. there’s concern. I have several favourites in the collection, but I’m particularly fond of “hum,” which begins “the first definition/of suicide/begins/with monks/robes/indistinguishable/from/skin cinder”—an unusual and memorable image. I want a book by Marilyn soon please, publishers. and so should you.

Grimoire (Coven Editions, October 2019)

a beautifully designed collection of poems, spells, witchery, the oversize cover in black with a patterned gold title, “Grimoire” and each person’s contribution beginning with a bio and following with the poem, which is unusual, and I like it. I find having to flip to the back of a book for a bio to be a tad tiresome. I almost always read the biographies first. I see this as a philosophical principle too – to put the writers front and center.

I enjoyed the entire collection and while I am familiar and fond of the writing of several friends in the issue, I admit to being astonished by their work and others in the chapbook. Of particular note for me was Helen Robertson’s “Mallum Mallum” with its unusual vocabulary and fierceness. I want to see a chapbook from Helen soon, and a book. Their work is exceptional. Manahil Bandukwala’s vivid imagery in her poem “Dragon As A Purple Aether” was a joy to read, and the minimalism of the poem seemed to be a departure from her other poetry, for me at least. All of the work in the collection has a fire to it that I enjoyed. I hope there’s a Grimoire 2.

N.W. Lea - Five Mothers (above/ground press, October 2019)

I am a big fan of Lea’s writing. It’s contemplative, unusual and minimal. There is humour, playfulness, unique and powerful imagery and a consistency of tone throughout the chapbook.

Mary Kasimor - disrobing (above/ground press, November 2019)

I began reading these poems and then got so excited by the incantatory and exquisite imagery and sound play that I had to read them aloud. the poem “dropped stiches” stayed with me long after I read it the first time. This is a symphony of melancholy and grief, rebellion. I loved them.

psw, Brandings and Specials

this is a celebration of dry transfer letterings, which has been printed on a mimeograph machine. a memory of the sheets as they exist themselves, when you purchase them in art stores. I love the texture of the cover pages and the variety of the text provided. There are even strange little illustrations from fairy tales, and some of the letters have degraded, as happens with dry transfer, especially when the sheets have been stored and are older. this is part of the charm for those who work with them for visual poetry. I think putting these into a chapbook for a celebration of their variety was a wonderful idea.

Amanda Hurtado - S ACE P , First Chapter (Plaugolt SatzWechsler and Timglaset Editions, January 2020)

The first of the Typewritten artists’ books series imprint, a collaboration between the two publishers, which I look forward to seeing more of, this chapbook is handbound, and printed by psw on an old mimeograph Gestetner 360. In S ACE P, Amanda has retyped the first chapter of Clark Coolidge’s 1970 book SPACE by separating each word into its left or right placement on the typewriter. It’s a fascinating idea and I found myself trying to reassemble the text, which is fun!  The book is well conceived and well-made. it inspires me to think of other playful adventures with text and the typewriter.

Eric Baus – Euphorbia (above/ground press, January 2020)

i enjoyed these microscopic observations and musings of/on nature. These are powerful prose poems that delighted and fascinated me. The only thing I didn’t like was the font , which could have been Futura or Arial, I’m guessing but probably wrong, and what appears to be boldface for the entire collection. It is the opposite of the work for me. It is shouty and brash. That’s not what I’m reading. I’m reading softer, more subtle and delicate observations and musings.

Here are two of the poems that resonated greatly with me:

Pattern Anguish

Hawks glide above other hawks to kill escaping sky, a faraway star burning their faces.
Hum, Hurts

So the rosin, as the rain was, flowered its watts, precipitates a leaf, has been one, exhausts the teeth of animal speech, a siren under wool, hums, hurts.

Lessa Dean – the Desert of Itabira (above/ground press, January 2020)

This is an excerpt from a novella in verse entitled Manuelzimbo; a found poetry project based on the work of Elizabeth Bishop. I can’t wait to read the entire novella. The excerpt is mesmerizing. It evokes the desert paintings of Georgia O’Keeffe for me, extremely visual and startling: “We are taken to a red temple/a woman in a cloak of bones/greets us in a language/none of us know”.

I am in love with the dark imagery of this work: “The dynasty of violence threads our sleep/leaves bruises each night we shower ourselves/in superstitious rituals drink snake blood/   leave on the drowned green light”

This work also evokes the haunting imagery of the poetry of Sandra Ridley. I envisage a collaboration between Dean and Ridley. I think it would be wing-swept and haunting.

Friday, May 31, 2019

Whitman anagramed

on the occasion of Walt Whitman's 200th birthday, i give  you this anagram of the first part of Song of Myself


1
Bright eyed clit is once
timid foe;        Earth’s overnight helmet is heartening homes;
No methodology—the persimmon let theft flit well with it,
tightwad counters that high rpm fluorescence halfhearted old Hum.

Oh revolutionaries, wildebeests: stop two, watch botched hornets cum, “death,
ah,” he disadvantaged.            The wooden heads offered white hell feasibility.
He dashed. bottom ouchless day’s foundation.
Hotty wolf eater buns wish oiled sheath end out.

2

Electro healthy woman’s bones fly acoustic vodkahood.      Buff’s kabob malcontent
Ms Tete-a-tete theatrical fleshpot chiffon fed feather map.

Fuckathon bop eats sex, aches reflection.
Hush compassionately baffled apex.  Man, we open interrelations.
Illusionist insists jism ship fissions hid reincarnationist body.          Whoa! Hilts jut.

Whorish eighth's wide ex daffodil's kink kit toes—
aha, Eros’ disenfranchisement silence has it;
Photographic hunk's tuft welts eloquently, degenerates art,  thins honest lash;
Psychotherapeutics’ reassessments behoove ma'am’s hemp op.
Pleasurable needs present a hot shot list under soft head, whiff sheet of moonless down. Shower. Stress disinterest.     Affect downy less rap.            How? She’s Dr. Hot Bath.

Thigh wanks to deter inner highness; whang conversationalist humps new merriments. Wee troll hat has his sane wolf, heartedly ate a fahrenheit pro tender fetishism hub.
Frown, he’s odd. Heartbreaking twohandedness coordinators hail rims’ brawn web fad.
Gee, minicomputers’ sore hole helps trash ink referrals.
Burglar hoe proofed estates think how representation whale minnow titteased in vee tint
ridge,
domesticating hell. Why? Hard gag feather dash red: our reinforcement oath.
Who'd frig Dr X? Counter revolutionist hetero, geneousness childishly high.             Gogh, whig her.

She buds down earthquake’s sea grotto solo, rectally bittersweet twofer fawn nut nutritive core. Pop! End gluttony vow non tantra row.

Stand down. She won ashes. Alternative? C’mon, dab receptor coat, chef.

Huh? He pretendedly huddled underprivileged homotransplantation herb, eh.

Transcendentalists? They’ll scan mischief epics, rot Homer weightless, hunt competitors raw, fragment anus tofu hue...ow!

// written in 2011 and not published anywhere, if memory serves. thought i would share it today. i remember reading Leaves of Grass and being surprised by all the rah rah America stuff. There's a bookmark at the place where i stopped, p. 250 - it's a bookmark business card that says what type of person i am: bad apple - made for Gabe Foreman's A Complete Encyclopedia of Different Types of People (Coach House Books, 2011)

Wednesday, May 08, 2019

The Morel of the Story – Urban Foraging with Bryan Dowkes



On Wednesday, May 8, 2019, I went on a whimsical urban foraging walk with about a dozen people under the expert guidance of Bryan Dowkes, a forager, educator and writer who runs a group called Foraged Ottawa [Meet Up: Ottawa Foraging: Wild Plant and Mushroom Walks].


We met at Strathcona Park near the Adawe Crossing Bridge.

It was a great day for a walk near the river, still a bit chilly but sunny and dry. Bryan started by sharing some foraging books, including The Forager’s Feast:  How to Identify, Gather, and Prepare Wild Edibles by Leda Meredith, which he said was a great intro to foraging. For some reason this made me think of The Worrier’s Feast by Wax Mannequin. In fact during the walk, I found myself thinking of songs that went with a few of the plants we talked about. There needs to be an urban foraging playlist! 
dandelion bud

The walk took us from Strathcona Park to beneath the bridge at the Queensway, almost to Hurdman and back, about 4 kms, give or take my walking time there. We covered 14 different plants on the official tour and a few more on the way back from the tour. It was a lot of fun and very whimsical. I made a few puns (see title), and made a little small talk with fellow tour participants.


Here are a few of my photos and notes. Any inaccuracies or errors are all mine.

One of the key things I learned during the walk was that it is important to understand a plant’s entire cycle. I was delighted to discover, for example, that dandelions begin as buds that are edible and delicious. I should mention that we were advised to be careful about eating the plants in the park or surrounding area due to dogs, traffic, etc. 
wild violets
We saw and discussed dandelions, garlic mustard, Japanese knotweed (which tastes a little like rhubard – Bryan gave us samples from knotweed he’d already cleaned., wild violets, day lilies, burdock, trout lilies, motherwort, ground ivy, white pine, mullen, mica cap mushrooms, wintercress, and stinging nettle.
mica cap mushrooms
Bryan with spring pesto

Bryan kindly offered us some of his delicious spring pesto, made with wild leeks, stinging nettles and garlic mustard. It was really garlicky, but had no garlic in it. Yum. Recipe is on the Foraged Ottawa FB page.
































spring ephemeral – fragments from a walk


Inside a locket worn by
Napoloean, a strand of
Josephine’s hair and dried
violet petals

let’s feast until the demise
of a day lily’s bloom
we will stuff it with goat cheese,
drink dandelion wine

tasty new growth abounds
but there is poison too

pay close attention to the
margins of the leaf

cut the violets as if you’re
a barber or a deer

disturbed soil
a recipe for wild horseradish
unfettered pony
heart-shaped beliefs
escaped colonies
the endangered trout lily
tenderly discussed

foraging is an all season love affair
but I would like a fling

I do like bitter things
beware forager’s certainty

palmate leaves shaped like the hand
with five fingers five leaves
numbers and nature

the properties of pine pollen
lamb’s ear
fuzzy leaves
gregarious mushrooms
if you cut them they will bleed

If you have the chance, I encourage you to attend one of Bryan’s walks. He’s knowledgeable and friendly. The walk was great fun. Visit the Meet Up group or the Facebook page to find out more details.


Friday, December 28, 2018

2018 Favs - Music


2018 Fav Albums

I wrote a piece for the music section of Queen Mob’s Teahouse entitled 5 for coping about 5 of these albums that go together thematically for me. Thanks to Mehda Singh for her patience and editing advice, all of which I took gratefully.

And here are my list of favourites from the 28 albums I acquired in 2018
in order of release…

Superorganism, Superorganism (Domino, Hostess, March)

Haley Heynderickx, I Need to Start a Garden (Mama Bird Recording, March)

Jeremy Dutcher, Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa (Jeremy Dutcher/Fontana North, April)

I Only Ever Listen To the Mountain Goats – All Hail West Texas, various artists
(Merge Records, April)

Snail Mail, Lush (Matador Records, June)

Anna Calvi – Hunter (Domino Recording Company, August)

Conyer Clayton and Nathanaël Larochette, if the river stood still
(Independent, August)

Jennifer Pederson, White Chalk (Independent, August)

Jim Bryson, Tired of Waiting (Coax Records, September)

Rachael Yamagata, Porch Songs (Sony Music Entertainment, October)

Subhraj Singh, Coughing Into My Elbow (Independent, November)

boygenius, boygenius (Matador Records, November)

Ex : Re, Ex : Re (Glassnote Records, November)

Poets Conyer Clayton and Ryan Pratt, two friends who are also music fans, shared lists of their own with me on Twitter. Our combined musical loves for 2018 are on this Spotify playlist.


This is my last favourites entry of 2018. I wish all of you a happy new year. I hope 2018 is joyous, productive, full of love and light. Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

A Year of Whimsy


A book can be almost anything. It can be a piece of paper you pleat like a fan with a single word written on every page. It can be an out-of-date guide book salvaged from the trash, remade by pasting into it images and passages snipped from old magazines. It can be a stack of lottery tickets and theatre tickets and numbered tickets from the meat counter at the store, hole-punched and gathered on a key ring. It can be three autumn leaves tied together with a piece of blue thread.
                                    --Leah Hager Cohen as quoted in the Fairytale Museum by Susannah M. Smith (Invisible Publishing, 2018)






At the end of 2017, I made a new year’s resolution to create individual handmade books in 2018. This plan was in keeping with my general creative and life mission of doing things for the sake of whimsy, exploration and connection. These words are even on my business card.

I thought the project could satisfy all three. For me, whimsy means embracing a spirit of playfulness. I am influenced by Maurice Sendak and Edward Gorey and Lewis Carroll and Carl Jung and Leonora Carrington and Djuna Barnes and a host of other great writers and artists, including contemporaries, such as Caroline Bergvall, Gary Barwin and Steve Venright. Play for me is an important part of my artistic practice and just makes life more fun.

Exploration is pretty straight-forward. It’s about keeping one’s mind open and trying different things, even when that little voice inside says you can’t do this because you don’t have the skills, or some version thereof. I don’t usually have an issue with writer’s block. In my opinion, the way through any kind of artistic block, aside from being around as much art as you can be, is to create and to try different media.

Connection is about connecting with kindred misfits. Those who don’t feel they fit in to conventional society.  This is a constant concern of mine because loneliness is my constant companion. I combat it by doing things like this. I know I am not alone, she says with irony, in feeling lonely and estranged from typical societal values.

My plan was to make twenty-six books over the year and give them to kindreds, keeping one for myself. What ended up happening was that it took my only half the year to create the books because I got excited and couldn’t stop playing.
Once I finished the books, I had to get them to the various recipients. Not all of them were local and some of the ways I contained the work made mailing a bit of a challenge.

Below is an inventory of the books of whimsy and some notes on my philosophies throughout the process of creating them.


 1.         Content: collage combined with unpublished poem; newspaper and found pages; Cover: photo from previous year’s calendar; Binding; staples; Size: 5.5 x 8 “;
Process: glue;
Notes: I am terrible with glue. It gets everywhere and makes a huge mess. Later on I figured out how to use a paintbrush to apply the glue and that helped a bit. But I still made a mess. I just stopped worrying about it.

2.         Content: published story, collage
            Cover: male angel art;
            Binding: staples;
            Size: 5.5 x 8”    Process: glue.
3.         Content: unpublished fairy story; black pages; gold ink; collage, and paint;      Cover: black with gold ink;   Binding: rings;  Size: 8.5 x 11; Process: frustrated with glue, I used coloured tape and duct tape.      Notes: the tape unstuck itself and the book needed significant repair / glue.
4.         Content: unpublished song parody;
            Cover: black paper, gold ink
            Binding: wire and beads
            Size: 4 x 6 “
            Process: tape and duct tape;
Notes: first book made specifically with someone in mind who had requested a book of whimsy.
5.         Content: found poem from cut out lines from magazines and collage;
            Cover: black paper, silver ink;
            Binding: ring;
            Size: 4 x 6”;
            Process: transparent tape;
6.         Content: collage and erasure poems on file folders;
            Cover: acrylic paint;
            Binding: staples;
            Size: 8.5 x 11”;
            Process: glue (trying again with more success).
 7.         Content: pencil crayon drawings and vispo, rubber stamps and quotes;
            Cover: acrylic paint;
            Binding: staples;
            Size 11 x 17 folded into 8.5 x 11;
            Process: direct drawing and printing; Note: while some of the content of the books is previously composed and saved on my computer, some of it is ephemeral, which means only the recipient of the book will have a copy and not me. I like the idea of creating ephemeral work. It goes against the traditional notion of publishing as the value of multiple copies and permanence. It’s possible that an idea that occurred to me during the creation of an ephemeral work will worm its way into another work that I save and attempt to publish, but not essential.

 8.         Content: unpublished haiku written with red marker;
            Cover: fancy paper scrap;
Binding: envelope style with silver ring and yellow silk wool wound around the book.
Size: 8.5 x 11 landscape
Process: individual sheets and some glue;
Note: I had the concept for this book in mind for a month or so and even wrote a little bit of its opening in the previous book.
9.         Content: wrote out quotes and long poem written in pencil on torn paper;
            Cover: torn paper;
            Binding: staples;
            Size: 4 x 8 “;
            Process: stapled pages together first, then filled them.
10.       Content: handwritten guide, no other copies;
            Cover: acrylic paint;
            Binding: staples;
            Size: 4 x 5 “;
11.       Content: postcards and watercolour paint – imaginary correspondence; ephemeral;
            Cover: red box with blue box inside; gold ink;
            Binding: no additional binding;
            Size: 6.5 x 4.5 x 2.5 “
            Note: I loved using these boxes and will probably do more projects with them. I also began to use watercolour paints and fell in love with them.
12.       Content: watercolour cards and abecedarian;
            Cover: yellow box with green box inside; black ink;
            Binding: no additional binding;
            Size: 6.5 x 4.5 x 2.5 in.
13.       Content: watercolour, quotes and music;
            Cover: pink box and yellow box inside; silver ink;
            Binding: no additional binding;
            Size: 6.5 x 4.5 x 2.5 in.
14.       Content: tiny chapbook with unpublished but recorded poems;
            Cover: small red box, gold ink;
            Binding: no additional binding;
            Size:  4 x 2.
15.       Content: Dark Pines under Water by Gwendolyn MacEwen; watercolour postcards;
            Cover: magic marker painted on envelope;
            Binding: no additional binding;
            Size: 4 x 8;
Note: I sealed the envelope after I made the book and had no recollection of what it contains. Mysteriously, the envelope became unstuck, probably owing to the humidity.
16.       Content: individual watercolour prints and handwriting of The Red Bird You Wait For by Gwendolyn MacEwen;
            Cover: doodled envelope;
            Binding: no additional binding;
            Size: 8.5 x 11;
Note: see 15. Lesson learned. Although also quite whimsical; the recipient made a lovely video of the work, which was seen by another friend on FB. I made a similar work for him.
17.       Content: the summer of blue, a story written in blue fountain pen on blue paper;
            Cover: old incense tube;
            Binding: no additional binding;
            Size: 8.5 x 14;
            Note: it’s fun to look at potential unorthodox containers for the books of whimsy.
 18.       Content: essential reads and matching teas; list typed up;
            Cover: old incense tube;
            Binding: no additional binding;
            Size: 8.5 x 14.
19.       outtake
            Content: cut up paper dolls with words
            Cover: envelope and gold ink;
            Binding: no additional binding;
            Size: 4 x 4;
            Process: learned how to make a paper doll chain and did it badly;
Note: I wasn’t entirely comfortable with this one; while I’m ok with failure as part of my process, this seemed too messed up to me. I gave it to the final recipient because I figured it would be fun for the final person to receive the outtakes.
19.       Content: previous project long poem with art;
            Cover: nice paper with gold ink;
            Binding: staples;
            Size: 8.5 x 11;
            Note: an old project resurrected with someone in mind.
20.       outttake
Content: another freaky cut up with the dolls and paper flowers plus a poem for added value;
Cover: envelope; silver ink;
Binding: no additional binding;
Size: 4 x 6;
Note: same as 19 outtake.
20.       Content: long collaborative poem and photos; not published but stored on my computer;
            Cover: photo;
            Binding: staples
            Size 5.5 x 8;
            Note: made specifically with someone in mind, the collaborator.
 21.       Content: abstract photoshop art and scraps of lines from random poems recorded;   Cover: abstract photo shop art; silver ink;  Binding: staple;
            Size: 7 x 7.   22:       Content: pencil crayoned characters – no copies;
            Cover: nice paper, black ink;
            Binding: staples;
            Size: 5.5 x 8
            Note: I’m a terrible drawer; all of these characters have no hands, but somehow they have character and are interesting when combined with my imagination. I hope.  23:       Content: watercolour and drawn characters; black ink; no copies;
            Cover: nice paper; black ink;
            Binding: staples;
            Size: 5.5 x 8;
            Note: I wanted to explore more characters and try watercolours; this one isn’t a particularly happy one. I might have to add a letter of warning.
24.       Content: photos taken over a year or so and new prose poems (recorded on my computer);
            Cover: photo; gold ink;
            Binding: staples;
            Size: 11 x 17, folded in half.
 25.       Content: art and previously written poems, excerpt;
            Cover: photoshop art;
            Binding: staples;
            Size: 5.5 x 8.
            Note: I made this with someone in mind.
26.       Content: this essay and inventory;
            Cover: old incense tube;
            Binding: no additional binding;
            Size: 8.5 x 11;
            Note: it seemed important to wrap up the project with thoughts on the process and some record of what the books were. I took a few photos on Instagram but that’s all I plan. What the recipients do with these boxes of whimsy when they receive them is up to them. I will either mail them or give them to them in person. It is my hope that some people will end up creating more whimsy and sharing it with fellow kindreds. To quote Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are: “let the wild rumpus start!”
 Post-script

For local recipients, I handed out the books of whimsy at my home, in food courts, cafes and restaurants over cocktails, dhal, dumplings, in their homes, and at readings. It took until December, 2018 for me to distribute the books. The books found homes in Ottawa in Hintonburg, Alta Vista, Lower Town, Orleans, West Ottawa, Mountain, Montreal, Gatineau, Alberta, British Columbia, Hamilton, Toronto, Welland, and Paris, France.

I didn’t make the books with any kind of response in mind, nor did I have expectations of any kind. I just wanted to share the books and celebrate whimsy with kindreds. I had some lovely surprises, including a request for a book, a video made of one book and one of the recipient’s children making me my own book of whimsy, which was such a touching response.

 Both the process and the content have inspired new ideas, including the novel I began
in August.

At times of anxiety and trouble, I found it helpful to work on the books. The process
and colour soothed and distracted me.

I’ve begun volume 2, which is mostly maniacal doodling in pre-made sketch
books. I’m not putting any deadline or expectations on the project this time, other than
I’ll make 26 of them and give them out as they’re finished.
 I encourage you to make your own whimsy (MYOW) and give it away to others, so that
they can make their own and share it. A kind of whimsical domino effect of art and
whimsy and exploration and connection. We’re all kindreds in one way or another. 
 Thanks to all of the recipients for accepting these books of whimsy. 

Sunday, December 16, 2018

above/ground press 2 - more fav chapbooks of 2018


above/ground press 2018 – part, the second

Jenna Jarvis, year of pulses (July)

Yes, I’m biased. I’ve loved Jenna’s poetry since we first published her on Bywords.ca seven years ago and I had the chance to help edit her first poetry chapbook, The Tiger with the Crooked Mouth (Bywords, 2013).

There are only six poems in this chapbook. They are quirky and smart and humorous at times. I had to look up words.  Expectation is suspect, and beauty is paired with ugliness: “kantō” “the mall punks sulk at a deluge/they’re expected to crave//but rain binds them and clouds/of fresh smoke to the entrance//I vomit over an empty stomach…” There’s a feistiness: “we decided that la famiglia was/a mob of stone butches who sulked in parking lots…” (24 Fried Foods You Have To Try In This Lifetime) so yes, lots of sulking in public spaces.

There’s lots of pairing in these poems: beauty with ugliness, local with international places, humour with frankness.

Jason Christie, glass language (excerpt) (July)

Also biased, I like Jason’s poetry and on rare occasions we have coffee together. I can hear his voice as I read this. He astonishes right from the beginning: “Writing it’s like/Snowfall,…” and “poems like/the look of molten metal/or friendship.” You think: “weird, but …yeah…” There’s a sweetness too in the way Jason lets his life into the poem: “Hey Emmett Starts daycare” and “kindness is a child full of packed weather, grammar in a tide he calls joy a rock/we coalesce”

I love the accumulation of odd similes and light, the lack of articles doesn’t make for telegram type lines as it sometimes does in some poetry. here they would detract from the associative feel. Weather is here. the word “Unbegun” is repeated. “i have no time to have time.” I feel empathy. This language as fragile as glass, but also containing a lot and looking beautiful in the light.

Bill Mavreas, A Mercy of Signs (August)

11 black and white visual poems made no doubt through a manual process, perhaps copied multiple times. Mercy towards imperfection as seen in drip, imperfect black lines, degradation of image, bleed of black and grey, overlap of keys, such beautiful signs. Also while I haven’t made note of most memorable readings of the year, Billy’s interpretation / explanation of his process during the above/ground press 25th anniversary celebration last August was wondrous and bears mentioning.

Stephen Brockwell, Immune to the Sacred (August)

I have been a great admirer of Stephen’s writing for many years and include this chapbook as a reason why. The poems in the chapbook balance reflection and depth with play and vigour.  These poems address border crossings, the environment, social media, immigration, personal history, the wonder of nature, metaphysics. These are comments on nature vs technology or man vs nature depicted in ironic wonder and beauty. “so many colours even the worst days/are flecked with one beautiful/but toxic unrecycled utterance” in “Convocation Address.”

There are poems in which we see the subject as a manipulator of nature for his own sake, such as in “Sad Child, Happy Child,”: “You logged an old forest/to clear a small plot/for your cottage. The flames a beautiful sight,/the stumps a fine source of fuel.” Or in “Silent Uses for Trees” in which we find the title of the chapbook when the speaker talks about cutting down a tree for Christmas: “Peter spooled the saw up/through the branches./Swaying, he topped the crown./Maybe we’re immune to the sacred./ […] We burned the tree on New Year’s Eve.”

There’s a wryness to these poems, which respond to contemporary politics, the destruction of the environment and social media. For example in the poem, “Questionable Social Media Metaphor” in which the social media cliché of migrant children interned in camps have been likened to butterflies: “I won’t shake my fist/in a public square./Your neighbour won’t. One of his kids might,/Ashley not Cam. Look: a hummingbird/darting between the columbines and panies/patriotic blooms for July!”

One of the things that impresses me about Stephen’s poetry is his ability to move from understatedness to emotion without seeming to be emotional at all. For example the poem, “Ceiling” beings by talking about a corporate ceiling and moves to the speaker’s “mother’s ceiling” to a wish to burn down the house. The emotion builds and builds until it explodes. I admire this type of control. It strengthens the poem. And it echoes some of the techniques used in Stephen’s last book, “All of Us Reticent, Here Together” (Mansfield Press, 2016) which uses various methods to deal with trauma, including accumulation.

The poems in this chapbook contain specific and unflinching descriptions.
“Out of the shell,/slugs make their way through/human tracts,//hasty, eviscerating.” in “My South Florida Vacation.”
There’s plenty of humour and word play in the collection. “all the fallen angels/eat ripe damson plums/and watch Ted Danson wash glasses.” in “We all have Wants.”

“Immune to the Sacred” is a collection of poems that refuses the view of the world as if through rose-coloured glasses or perhaps accepts that these glasses probably were made by sacrificing something in nature. The speaker of these poems has rejected Pangloss’s optimistic philosophy and is embracing a shared culpability for the state of the world, perhaps one could say he is attempting to cultivate his own garden.


Might there be a final part 3? Let's hope so. I still have a stack of chapbooks to go through.