amongst books

amongst books

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.”

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Unarmed Journal - a small & punchy little magazine you should read

Michael Mann of St. Paul, Minnesota publishes a small magazine entitled “unarmed journal” & some chapbooks. 

he recently was kind enough to send me gratis issues 66 & 67 & chapbooks by Fungo Appetite & Tom Wiegel. I have been fortunate to have had some work in previous issues & other poetry pals, such as Pearl Pirie & Kemeny Babineau are regulars.

the first characteristic that differs from standard journals is that author names are not published alongside the work. to find out who wrote or created the work you have to go to the back of the issue. I like this idea. in fact, I wouldn’t mind it at all if no names appeared, but I can understand that it’s nice to receive credit for your work. with that in mind, I will credit the creators when I refer to work here.

Issue 66 begins with a striking piece of art by david spinelli entitled “shrine of st. rochs.” it is a colourful assemblage of rusted metal shoes with braces, angel wings, a heart, moulds for feet pictured in front of crumbling stucco walls. it provides a promising beginning to the issue.

the back cover is entitled “Anti-Ham” & is a colour collage with indecipherable handwritten text, stenciled “DA revolution” & D / A, some Asian characters, a red seal, a portrait of a man with his insides revealed. again this back cover seems fitting in that it is eclectic, provocative & not easily mapped to some specific answer or method.

if I could make any overall comment about the aesthetic of unarmed, I would say that the poetry tends to be without ornamentation or fluff, conversational rather than high brow. I’ve always been heartened by that fact.

the issues are always chock full of work. Issue 66 has 25 pages; while Issue 67 has 28.
here are a few notes on a few pieces in Issue 66:

what’s left by kent taylor is a quiet & meditative poem that has haiku like qualities.

Before Sunrise by jonathan brannen (1950-2013) is a lovely, meditative & touching piece. what drives a lot of these poems, in my opinion, is the willingness not to be certain or for things not to work out perfectly: “I would want to talk/before sunrise/of rooms/in clumsy times…unteachable/wet roads” & “though sometimes the voice of a thought/is so soft that the sound of spoken words/is enough to drown it.” brannen was active in poetry, visual poetry & music. see an interview with him here in Altered Scale 

Symphony for Sorrowful Songs by tom kryss is a spiritual & quiet prose piece.

Love in Pattee Canyon when I was a Red Headed Witch by debbie florence is a fun, yet ironic piece about love. I like its repetition & imagery.

Yeshiva Code by tom weigel begins as a dissasociative list of odd juxtapositions that culminates in a life observation that brings everything together. it’s a nice technique.

Rio Arriba Bulletin & Rio Arriba Bulletin #2 by michael kinkaid are spare poems with haiku qualities & insightful observations.

Doppelgänger’s Lament by Camille Martin is a playful & imaginative piece that feels like a kind of short form based on a crime novel.

Picasso’s Binoculars by john olson is a fun, witty, imaginative & visual piece.


I suggest you contact Michael Mann to see how you can order copies of Unarmed. i enjoy that I get a chance to discover writers/artists that I would never have heard of before. for more info contact, Michael at unarmedjournal at comcast dot net.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Smut Break: My Husband Toys With Me

is a story of mine that has just been published by RavenousRomance in its “Bad Boy Ménage” anthology. the story is about a woman, her husband & their encounter with a blond hot bi guy they meet in an elevator who likes to kiss. the anthology includes hot stories by Giselle Renarde, Shane Allison & more. BBM was edited by the dedicated & supportive F. Leonora Solomon, a  writer & editor living in New York City


stay tuned for more smut news.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Help Chaudiere Books Rebuild

My publisher has started an Indiegogo campaign to raise $5000 to help them in their challenging rebuilding year. There are some lovely perks in exchange for your support. I hope you’ll help them out.

I say often enough how much I love Ottawa’s literary community & rob has been one of its key driving forces. Not only does he promote, publish & support writers, but he also promotes our literary activity to the world by writing reviews & essays, organizing readings, & distributing books & chapbooks hither & yon.

Christine is a brilliant writer in her own right & a skilled book designer. This combination is powerful & I can’t wait to see what they create together. Especially with the assistance of young Rose, their darling almost toddler.

If you are regular followers of my blog, you are likely involved with books in some capacity, whether a reader, writer, small press publisher, literary event organizer, librarian etc. I don’t have to tell you how challenging it is to run a publishing company today, especially one that specializes in literary fiction & poetry.

Chaudiere Books has already achieved a great deal in its first few years. One of its authors, Monty Reid, was the recipient of the Archibald Lampman Award for the Chaudiere Books title, Disappointment Island. Other books from the Chaudiere Books catalogue have been shortlisted for awards.

What is more important to me is that the books that Chaudiere has published so far have been engaging & if Chaudiere wasn’t around, I’m not sure these books would have been published.

I am ever so pleased that they are publishing Kiki, a book I worked on for several years & put my heart & soul into. Without them, this book wouldn’t be experiencing the brush of your fingertips over its pages in the near future.


I stand behind Chaudiere Books & its goals to foster writers & to share great writing with the world. I hope you will join me in doing so by contributing much needed funds to its campaign

Poetry at Ottawa’s spring literary festivals

as I write this it is early May. it’s raining, the Ottawa International Writers Festival spring edition has just ended. But when you are reading this, in the future, it is mid-July. so try to imagine or remember those early cold spring days & nights after the long hard & what felt endless winter. how fortunate we were at that time to have two literary festivals almost back to back: the aforementioned Writers Festival in April & VERSeFest, Ottawa’s annual poetry festival, third year, in March.

I had the pleasure of being one of the featured readers at VERSeFest & also one of the inductees, along with the talented Danielle Grégoire, into the Hall of Honour. it was a moving experience. everyone was attentive, welcoming & supportive, as this community always is, but it’s not something to take for granted.

the strength & fascination of this festival for me is its versatility. I’m not really talking about the fact that the program includes both spoken word & poetry, I’m talking about its inclusion of poetry choreographed with dance, as demonstrated by Ian Ferrier’s reading of his sea-fully wonderful poem, accompanied by the guitar with dance by Body & Light, their movements on the floor like that of Sirens rattling on the sea bottom & creating grotesquely contorted shadows on the walls.

Sandra Alland’s combination of poetry with video also had me wrapt. Then there was the delightful & unassuming Mary Ruefle with her silent poem demonstrating how to fold a fitted sheet. 2 Dope Boys with their psychedelic talk opera The Anthropocalypse. An absolute joy to witness & mull over afterward.  Sarah Clancy was fascinating & funny, also insightful. I really don’t know much about Ireland or its current battles with economic disaster. Stephen James Smith was charming & his poems made me laugh. 

The BC poet, Sarah de Leew’s book “Geographies of  A Lover” with its erotic content mixed rather brilliantly with the wilds of BC. I sought her out after, told her we were kindreds. Lenelle Moïse gave a powerful reading & performance from her book, Haitian Glass. her poem about Noah’s Ark is still in my mind, a few months later. David McFadden was resilient & humourous with deadpan delivery of his haiku & autobiographical poems. 

Tim Bowling’s poem about poets like worker bees was entertaining & humourous. I love the way Tim plays with form. His diction is pleasing & soundy. Vincent Colistro was quite amusing & witty too. Michael Burkhard was a discovery for me. I enjoyed the sensuality of his work & his compassion was lovely.


the Ottawa International Writers Festival Spring Edition had three poetry events. The poetry cabaret with Rob Winger, Adam Sol & Sina Queyras held my attention. I loved the variety of the work, the insightful & visionary answers to questions about the future of poetry. I purchased all three books & will likely be writing about them more a future post. Adam Sol got off the stage & dipped a bit into the audience to read. I liked that. It went with his poetry. 

The  off-site poetry event held at the Manx pub & hosted by David O’Meara of the Plan 99 reading series featured Brecken Hancock & Aisha Sasha John. Both poets gave powerful & moving readings from their books.