amongst books

amongst books

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Sandra Ridley & Erín Moure Open the A B Series

Twas a crisp night in early October when I strolled to the bottom of Gloucester Street & into Ottawa’s City Hall where, aside from being given the opportunity to vote in the upcoming municipal election, I had the choice—a much more interesting one—to attend the opening reading of the A B Series’ 8th Season. Ok, it wasn’t a choice at that point, I’d already decided that this was my plan.

The reading took place inside the recently named Karsh-Masson Gallery with an exhibit by Karsh Award recipient, Chantal Gervais. I love it when readings are in galleries. As E.  pointed out, when S. read, two arms from the photograph behind her surrounded her, as if they were buoying her up.

There’s a visceral rawness to Gervais’ work, triptych of a naked man’s body, photos of a neatly organized garage with a canoe suspended from the ceiling, x-ray type bodies, an examination of the other…the self…

 “C has burrowed far into bodies—into intimate fat, flesh, the crooks of bones, injured limbs, her own scared, scarred heart…” from the catalogue & fitting for the evening’s readings.

S. read from new work & texts from recent responses to the art of Michèle Provost & the photography of Pedro Isztin. The new work was poignant & powerful. Sandra works primarily in the long poem format & the work is minimal. She reads carefully, gives the work space, given the readers time to breathe & take in her words. The Prairies were prevalent in both poets’ readings. & there were other intersections as well: music lyrics, fathers…

E. read from her latest book, Insecession a dual book with Chus Pato's Secession. C. writes in Galician. E. translates, adding her own parallel text. Biographies alongside notions of poetics.

Both poets work in the form of the fragment, don’t complete, don’t answer questions. This is satisfying to me. & then the organizer, Max Middle, took a photo of the two of them, side by side, jumping in at the last minute to be part of the moment. 

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Kiki launched in Ottawa, a dream come true

 I don’t remember when I first dreamed of having a poetry book published. I kept it to myself, tried not to imagine it because I never believed it could happen, but on January 1, 2014, I received the great news that Chaudiere Books would be publishing Kiki.

This year has been full of splendour & goodness, but it started with that first bit of happy news.

The books were delivered personally by my publishers, rob mclennan & Christine McNair of Chaudiere Books.

Friends sent pictures of the book on bookstore shelves. A few people have even written kindly about the book. 

I've even been interviewed already about myself & the book's creation & development.
The launch lived up to the dream. I had the pleasure of reading with two friends, also launching that night: Roland Prevost & Monty Reid.  The room was full of supportive & dear friends; my two loves, Charles & Tom surrounded me & kept me calm. & I had great fun reading a section of the book with Tom.

Thanks to rob & Christine, dear friends & publishers of Chaudiere Books, to Sean, Kira & Leslie of the Festival, to Mike, who did such a fabulous job on our sound for both this event & the Bywords John Newlove Poetry Award, to Carmel, our tireless book seller, to all who attended & showed their support. Ottawa’s literary community is sweet as pie & enriches me.

I'm hoping to read a bit further afield, if invited, but i'll never forget the kindness & support shown to me by Ottawa's  poetry enthusiasts.

[photos by Charles Earl]

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Natalie Zina Walschots: Doom, Love Songs for Supervillains

Gosh, I love feisty poetry, don’t you? I’m not a particular aficionado of supervillains in popular culture but that didn’t stop me from enjoying "Doom, Love Songs for Supervillains"(Insomniac Press, 2012). But if you do love DC & Marvel Comics, you'll probably go ape-shit over this book.

First of all, I enjoyed the honed down poppety pop sound play. You can read these babies aloud to your pals & they will laugh. I have to admit that it’s refreshing to read poems that aren’t autobiographical. it’s not that I’m against autobiography. I write a fair number of them myself, but sometimes you just want well-written poems that have fun & icksnay on the woe is me-isms, if you get my drift. I’m writing like this under the influence of NZW’s poetry.

These poems are smart too: they use some highfallutin’ scientific lingo.  

I read a heck of a lot of unrequited love poems & hear the same at open mics. They all have the same references to the moon, the wistful tone…Doom, Love Songs for Supervillains is parody of such without being cruel. It has off-the-wall similes & metaphors: "envious as a viaduct" (Dr. Octopus), "voicebox a soup can" (Joker); the opposite of praise: "face only a geneticist could love" (Doombot)...

How many of you have read “Thumbscrews,” (Snare Books, 2007) NZW’s first book, winner of the 2007 Robert Kroetsch Award for Poetry? It explores the concept of constraint in terms of poetic form and BDSM. It’s a helluva kinky little read. This follow-up collection has its share of kink too; nothing like a little degradation & humiliation & brattiness to spice up a read:

General Zod

kneel before
                obeisance buys lives
                so I knowtow
                press my forehead to your boot tip
                slobber and grovel –

or do you prefer me unbroken?
                I’ll grudgingly genuflect
                sweetly sneer
                as you wrench back my hair
                twist me to bruised knees


The whole idea of constraint from the last book is applicable here too, in my opinion. There’s a discipline to these poems in their minimalism, choice of diction & form. These poems do not wander; they get straight to the point.

They are smart too. Take a look at this one from the first section “Rogues Gallery: Domination”:

Jekyll and Hyde

you speak in third person
and enraptured by your dichotomy
I crave triad

all grey area
the swooping arch
of the coin caught

the in-betweenity
before chance

I long to be
your indeterminate

let me be the pause

the second part of this collection, "Strong Hold," which describes various fictional settings from the Marvel/DC Comics universe, seems to pour on the Gothic: hell never lets in a draft/never lets a hearth grow cold/never quails before collapsing towers” (Latveria).

I haven’t read a lot of comic books, but I’ve seen a few of the Marvel Comics films. One of the things that I noticed about these poems is that they seem to be an alternative rendering or viewpoint of what happens to the female characters, such as

Danger Room

and it is because she
her body an abattoir
smeared with rank slaughter

and data became senses
as flamethrowers shrieked
and radiation splattered

and her spine was destruction
each rib a welded hell
heartbeat a hologram

and with each invasion and tamper
each rape of her circuits
the heroes befouled her

and their filth swelled into form
the shape of metallic consciousness
her processor’s core gone synaptic and cold

a bullwhip breaking the sound barrier
a live wire touching your tongue
and she said: “Shall we begin?”

“Rogues Gallery: Girl Fight” features supervillainesses, such as Catwoman, Poison Ivy & Lady Deathstrike. I have to say that these poems are poems I wish I’d written. I wish I could write like this: powerful, brooking no argument, insightful, playful, argumentative with the status quo.

The next section, "Bondage," is about the prisons where these villains are housed. There’s a short section of two poems called “Bang” and a final section, “Rogues Gallery 3-Destruction.”

I’m impressed with the power of these poems & the creativity, playfulness & intelligence that went into them. I should also mention the superb illustrations by the very talented Evan Munday.

On a personal note, I remember when Natalie came to town to read, along with Ryan Fitzpatrick & William Neil Scott at the A B Series on November 1, 2007. It was the inaugural event of the darling A B Series. I wrote about it here.  afterward we chatted & drank at that back of the Mayflower pub that no longer exists. Dear friend Warren Dean Fulton was there too. It was a heck of a good time. I dearly wish Natalie, Neil & Ryan would return. We'll have to find a new pub though. 

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

hunting for the dark: above/ground press...2014 so far...

on an unseasonably rainy & cold night in mid-August I had an appetite for the above. I wanted to look in less obvious places. I have a stack of above/ground press chapbooks published in 2014, since i am a subscriber…i was curious to see if any of the authors had a penchant for the Gothic, etc. what i found primarily was an overriding tone of anxiety concerning the monotony of 21st century existence. seems scary enough to me...

Sarah Rosenthal’s "Estelle Morning Star" fits the bill nicely with descriptions of women carrying “dying dead things” “emaciated/mangled/animals” I love her turns of phrase & odd juxtapositions, a sense of the macabre amongst business like celebration: “hard core birds in the / ballroom throw themselves/at convention windows/clatter to the table      their/colours running out.” she paints a vivid picture. Estelle wears mary janes.

Hugh Thomas gives us absurd portraits of anxious composers pursued by fierce demons in "Albanian Suite."“When I was with you, the ravens/and milktrucks made such music.” a fun use of black & white. in “Epithalamion” there are bite-marked necks, the monotony of waiting. “It misunderstands today’s poetry/overgrown with wildflowers to forget these sojourners.”  “Poetry is a pagoda, built of friendly embracings, like a square dance complicating society” … a ticket to days of radishes/and saliva” not to discount the beauty in these poems. it’s there between ice-cold moments: “Time, you murderous sun fills my lungs with honey,” there’s something sweetly chilling about that image. & another from “Selfportrait Unwilling to Sit”: “a tramcar apocalypse/on the move/dragging behind dissonance, divine regret.” there’s something Gothic about that image. & in “Metropolitan”: “The two sicknesses frequent in this epoch are heat and isolation.” Thomas’ poems alternate between the tiniest, spot on observations to elaborate, absurd images. I have to say, this is one of my favourite chapbooks this year so far. some of the poems are translations.

In "Present!" N.W. Lea opens with a gangster with rubber extendable arms holding someone up like a baby. an absurd image & not without its horrifying effect…followed later in the next poem in the sequence by “the swans of hurt/burn circles in the snow” there’s lots here about the terror of mundanity, of the burbs…even a littered cough candy is menacing: “a pale pink/half-sucked lozenge/on the pavement/glinting//plus us//have to contend with the teeth of the neighbourhood” you are “snug in your death-sweater.” there are “great swarms/of dusk-bats” "Present!" is a sequence of estrangement.

there are some menacing animals & a kind of helplessness, a monotony in Camille Martin’s "Sugar Beach:" “A leap of leopards under a crescent moon/happens without us, but we’re there/just the same.” “Newfangleness” Sharpshooters are juxtaposed with picnics in “Blind Engine.” In “No Such Identical Horses,” Martin writes, “I was counting on my favourite superstition/to endow the mirage with authority.” There are rotted leaves, wormy fruit, a beast stampeding down a trail, “the chitinous exoskeleton of a locust” & in the title poem a feeling of wasted extravagance in an image of a rusty tanker scooping “mounds of raw sugar.”  “Machine in the Ghost” evokes a cemetery scene. The poems in this chapbook are sound & image collages.

Eric Baus gives us fanciful nightmares of octopi with burned tentacles, ghosts, insects in “The Rain of Ice.” I loved how imaginative & unusual these prose poems were.

In “Many forms in water,” Rachel Moritz gives us white coffins, bitter flowers, gathering storms, “the ribbon of heat rising past digits black in air.” In “The finished forms in the sand record movement that has ceased,” this is a particularly grotesque image: “I carried her through the woods, slept in waterlogged leaves with her body on my chest.” This poem & the others manage to create a tone of melancholy, grief, poignant emotions. I’m quite enamoured of these poems, especially imagery like “How we carried the bell down irrevocable stairs, passed our sentence of doubt and kept moving.” in “Flowing water encounters a widely submerged outside.” 

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,, 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.


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 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!