amongst books

amongst books

Monday, July 31, 2006

the one book meme

an intriguing idea via rob mclennan.

1. One book that changed your life:

Michel Faber’s The Crimson Petal and The White, at least changed my approach to fiction writing, in his narrative style. He wrote the book in the late twentieth century, yet uses an 18th century omniscient narrative technique where the authorial voice butts in constantly. People are always saying you can’t do that anymore. You can and it works wonderfully well. Try it! (I’d also wish to mention Jack Keroauc’s On The Road for its freedom from conventional literature and Stendhal’s Le Rouge et le Noir, for its progressive characterizations and fascinating look at revolutionary and pre-revolutionary France, an era I'm stil in love with, really. (all this if I were allowed to talk about more than one book. Cleverly I’ve used parentheses because they don’t count. No one reads the stuff in parentheses, do they? Or the footnotes[1].)

[I think there should be a separate category for Kid fiction that changed my life, so I’m arbitrarily making one:

the Hardy Boys (but not Nancy Drew), The Bobbsey Twins, Judy Blume’s Are You There God It’s Me Margaret and Beverly Cleary’s Beezus and Ramona, to name only a few, gave me such a wonderful opportunity to escape. Without these, I would have been a messed up little puppy. They didn’t have IPODs back in the stone age, so we had to learn to tune out family arguments the old fashioned way…with our imaginations. ]

2. One book that you've read more than once:

With a few exceptions, I am not one for multiples, but…The Story of O by Pauline Réage, Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee, Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger (Oh how I love tales of alienation...)

[Kid book I’ve read more than once: Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett]

3. One book you'd want on a desert island:

Can I say an e-book reader? It would have lots of books on it…ok..no cheating…Gwendolyn MacEwen’s Volume One: The Early Years. It contains my favourite poem, The Red Bird You Wait For. I’d just read it over and over again as my nails lengthened and my hair grew down to my toes. My would-be rescuers would think I was a mad witch, spouting incantations, and thus leave me on the island. Hmmm..maybe I should come up with another choice, some kind of survival skill book.

4. One book that made you laugh:

Robertson Davies, Fifth Business. The man was so witty. I am a Davies fanatic. The only novel of his I’ve never been able to get into is the Papers of Samuel Marchbanks.

5. One book that made you cry:

Must I admit to crying over Little Women by Louisa May Alcott? Beth dies for heavens’ sake.


6. One book that you wish had been written:

Another book of poems by Gwendolyn Macewen, more novels by Robertson Davies, another book by Harper Lee.

7. One book that you wish had never been written:

Scandolously I wish most of Shakespeare’s plays had never been written. I know that’s pretty much blasphemous of me, but the old bard monopolized my high school literature courses and I had to sit thru pimply faced boys stuttering through the plays. I’ve never understood what the attraction is to Shakespeare. Frankly, I prefer Victor Hugo, who wrote more complex characters with plots that weren’t stolen from the Greeks and Romans. There…I’ve said it.

(Also, John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, which I found pedantic , patronizing and too much like a big pity fest. Anything by Ernest Hemingway, Tess of the D’urbervilles by Thomas Hardy: but The Mayor of Casterbridge was fantastic, a great lesson in character portraits.)

8. One book you're currently reading:

Bronwen Wallace-People You’d Trust Your Life To, a series of short stories by this poet.
Mary Meigs-The Medusa Head, about Marie Claire Blais, her lover and their relationship with another woman. Writing Life: Celebrated Canadians and International Authors on Writing and Life, Reynold’s Price-The Collected Short Stories (he has the best openings I’ve read in ages), House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewsky (very weird and experimental, not linear at all)

9. One book you've been meaning to read:

There are soooo many. Hmmmm….Siddhartha by Herman Hesse, Orlando, a biography by Virginia Woolf, The Life and Opinions of Tristam Shandy, Gentleman, stuff by Thomas Pynchon

[9b) Supplement: Most memorable book you’ve read in the last year or so:
The Earthquake Bird by Susannah Jones (a rare murder mystery that I actually enjoyed. It transcends the genre and is a literary masterpiece. The Vintner’s Luck by Elizabeth Knox about an angel and a winemaker, this book is erotic without being graphic and so well-written. I wish I hadn’t read it yet, so I could read it now.[2]]

10. Now tag five people:

Pearl Pirie, David Emery, Kathryn Hunt, Jennifer Mulligan, Marcus McCann


[1] I am not good at sticking to the rules. Note how I’ve rarely mentioned just one book. That’s too much like eating one potato chip to me, or having only one lover. Ever the polyamourist.
[2] See footnote 1

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Martyrology on the Hill

Last night at the Gazebo on Parliament Hill, jw curry performed bpNichols’ the martyrology. You’ll have to ask someone else whether he read from all nine books because by 11pm it was past my bedtime and I had to leave.

The performance was the first in a series of fund-raising informal gatherings to help with publication of A Beepliographic Cyclopedia and its side project a concordance to the martyrology.

The Gazebo at sunset was the perfect location for this reading. each section revealed another glorious view of the setting sun and then, in the middle, under bright light, stood curry. The gazebo is a bit of a secret to anyone but tourists, who come upon it accidentally. A few tourists came by, read the sign for a different performance featuring old-time costumes, and walked away bemused. The sound and light show in the background was not as loud as the crickets. The prettty fireworks from the Casino du Lac Leamy gave an opportunity for a break during book 2.

The audience changed over the time we were there. Some of the listeners were rob mclennan (in a corner on the bench, then later on the floor), Stephen Brockwell (sprawled comfortably on the floor), the Dusty Owl folk: Kate Hunt (wedged in the window), Cathy MacDonald-Zytveld (with picnic basket, stretched out on the bench), Steve Zytveld (nipping out now and again for a smoke), Anita Dolman and later James Moran, a quietly attentive Monty Reid, Carmel Purkis and a friend from out of town.


It seems to me that the martyrology just begs to be read aloud. there’s so much wit, so much sound play and so much drama in it. hearing curry read it was like listening to a play.

“In The Martyrology different ways of speaking testify to a journey through different ways of being. Language is both the poetís instructor and, through its various permutations, the dominant ‘image’ of the poem. The [nine] books of The Martyrology document a poetís quest for insight into himself and his writing through scrupulous attention to the messages hidden in the morphology of his own speech.”

I’ve only read the first book myself. It’s probably one of the key texts for those interested in the evolution of poetry and in writing and reading avant-garde poetry today.

Recently in my on line fiction writers’ group, there was a discussion/debate about poetry. Once again people rabbited on about how there was simply nothing around today as good as say, Elizabeth Barrett Browning. This attitude is really tiresome to me. I’m so relieved that there’s a literary community in Ottawa who isn’t spouting this nonsense and actually trying to reach past the 1800s.

To help support jw curry’s efforts to publish the cyclopedia and concordance, you can send heaps of money to jw curry, at the following address: room 302 books, 880 Somerset Street West, Ottawa, Ontario, K1R 6R7. It’s one of the most exciting and interesting projects to come out of Ottawa these days and worthy of our support.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Pat Lowther Birthday Tribute

RANDOM INTERVIEW by Pat Lowther (Time Capsule, Pole Star, 1996)

1, the fear
the fear is of everything
staying the way it is
and only i changing

the fear is
of everything changing
and i staying the same

the world expanding
branch tunnel cell
more and more
precious and terrible

while i grow only more
fragile and confused

the fear is my own
hands beating
like moths

my eyelids stuttering
light breaking into
meaningless phrases

the fear is of you
patiently elsewhere growing
a blood shape
of all my wishes

2, i am tired

i am tired of pain
i am tired of my own pain
i am tired of
the pain of others

i am tired of lives
unwinding like a roll
of bloody bandage
i shall roll up
the sky, pinch the sun

i go out to the cliff pours
of stars, the tall
volumes of stars

i go down
to the grains of soil
to bacteria
to viruses
to the neat mechanics of molecules

to escape the pain
to escape the pain

3, what i want

what i want is to be blessed
what i want is a cloak of air

the light entering my lungs
my love entering my body
the blessing descending
like the sky
sliding down the spectrum

what i want is to be
aware of the spaces between stars, to breathe
continuously the sources of sky,
a veined sail moving,
my love never setting
foot to the dark
anvil of earth


In 1975 the husband of poet Pat Lowther stopped her pure and original voice from ever singing again. He murdered her. Death is always tragic. Brutal murders are more so, and to the small literary community in Canada, it was a huge shock and caused much grief. Pat was well known, being the first women elected to head the League of Canadian poets who later established an award in her memory. This year's award was won by Sylvia Legris for Nerve Squall.

Last night I decided to attend her birthday celebration at Mother Tongue Books hosted by Toby Brooks (author of the biography Pat Lowther’s Continent). I wasn’t sure what I would find: a group of people still mourning long after her death, sad poems about loss or long speeches on what Pat had contributed to the Canadian literary landscape.

Instead of all the sadness, I found a group of poets, reading from their works in progress and published collections. I asked if Pat had been an Ottawa resident or had any connection to the City, but apparently not. So why a tribute in Ottawa? She touched these poets deeply and they don’t want her to be forgotten. Other readings have taken place in various cities across Canada throughout the years.

Ronnie R. Brown (who it turns out when to the same elementary school and lived in the same Massachusetts town as the host, Toby Brooks) was the first to read, with poems that were funny, erotic and dark, always witty, always stories you want to hear more of. Terry Ann Carter came up next and read from her new book, Transplanted. She also offered gifts of haiku to her fellow readers. For Ronnie:

Basho’s frog
ready to jump—
into my breasts

had everyone laughing, not realising that the necklace Terry Ann wore was made by Ronnie and held a carving of Basho.

Michelle Desbarats read next. I have to admit that I am always looking for the opportunity to hear Michelle read. Not only are her poems beautiful and delightful, but she, herself, is a delight. Toby introduced her with a story about how Michelle had attended first grade in a one room schoolhouse. One wall in the school was covered completely with a stained glass window. On the first day, the nun told her students the school was scheduled to be demolished at the end of the year, including the window. She had the children face the window and told them that their job that year was to love the window. As Toby said, this may explain where Michelle’s light comes from.

Michelle’s poems were wondrous. One about Eve had a beautiful line, which I should have written down…something about the bite of the apple, broken like the snap of the day. It was much better than that. She also read a poem about the Bubble Boy which will be part of a series to be published by rob mclennan.

Next reader was Paul Tyler, an associate editor of Arc. I have never heard any of Paul’s poems before and I was pleasantly surprised by his charming sound play and romantic nature poems. They were intense and sensuous. I managed to snag the only copy (2 of 20) of his chapbook, Vocal Landscape (Red Specs Press, 2004, which includes drawings by Patricia Brown, whose artwork has appeared in Arc. The two decided to create a collaborative collection based on one another’s work.

Seeing The Dance

Wind-lapped, slight
licks of green
weave into
dry fluted reeds
and thick water;
rock, just chip
and silt, slipped
through with root-curls.

Finding us tangled
here in lines
dancing sun-revealed
you must have
looked until
seeing was animal.

You remade yourself
into folds of light
to see motion
quake from granite:
our grass-husk bodies,
slips of water
and slivered lines
wavering in their names.

from Vocal Landscapes.

“I was…trying to work out the role of the narrative in art. I concluded that in my life the landscape has a story to tell me, and that it parallels an inner landscape. I was repeatedly pulled back to the same little muddy group of trees by the lushness and the drama of the place. There was the wonderful smell of wild garlic, damp ground and warm wood.”
Patricia Brown, Baltimore 2003

“Language is a desire to know, but is not in itself knowing. We throw our words up in the air, hoping they fall in a pattern from which we can derive meaning, however uncertain that meaning may be. In our world of declarative walls and verbal barriers, how seldom do we use language for what it best allows: not certainty, but a declaration of unknowing, a desiring stumble toward beauty.”
Paul Tyler, Ottawa, 2004

I found Paul’s poems to be so magical and lyrical, I think he and Michelle should collaborate on something. There was something similar in their writing, the sensuous descriptions of nature, the elements of magic realism.

The reading continued with Toby Brooks reading a poem from Vancouver poet Heidi Grecco. In the open set, J.C. Sulzenko read Pat Lowther’s poem, “Cloud Horses” and Toby read “Regard to Neruda.” There were familiar faces in the open set and some young women I had never seen before. I think they were Carleton students.

The evening ended with watermelon. What more can you ask for? It was a loving tribute offered by a community of caring writers. I felt like I too had stood in front of a stained glass window, at least for an hour or two.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Sunday's Bywords Reading at Chapters

Not that this space is meant to be a promo blog for Bywords, but I can't help singing the praises of the readers and musician Scott Edmonds at yesterday's reading. For a hot summer day, it was incredible that we had such a huge turnout. At one point, during Scott's second set, I counted at least 60 people, including CJOH newsman, Max Keeping (there to see Michael Sweet). It was especially wonderful hearing the young poets from Jesse Ferguson's poetry workshop read. I wish I were that poised at their age, or even now, frankly. There was an intense vibe at the reading, that I've never felt before. We always have great readings, but this one was definitely the most memorable. Catharine Carroll will have a more detailed report in next month's Bywords.ca, but I just had to sing out. Thanks to all participants: Scott, Jesse, Eleanor, Christine, Tabatha, Gary, Jamie, Heather, Marcus, and Michael, who drove in from Montreal to read. The poems were astouding, the music tight and spell-binding and the place was packed! And thanks to Charles who keeps everything on an even keel, as always. Chapters is wonderful to give us such a great place to read, for free...they even schlep all those tables with books on them, give us a table with tablecloth, a mic and speaker and are friendly and organized each time. It was a hoot and I can't wait to do it all again next quarter.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Monty Reid and Stephanie Bolster

Another great reading at the Factory Reading Series, Ottawa Art Gallery. Stephanie Bolster, three weeks away from giving birth, read last from Biodome, her above/ground press chapbook and from a collection she's working on on zoos, some of which was in Ottawater 2.0. Monty Reid read several new poems from upcoming collections by Brick Books and Chaudière Books. He was both funny and sad at times. Sometime he was creepy, reading poems about bacteria and worms under the skin. Those were very effective and memorable poems and will give me trouble sleeping tonight. Of particular note were poems called The Luskville Reductions, very compelling. Luskville, where the caves are. Monty Reid goes heart spelunkering. One poem about a lemon left in the fridge when a couple leaves their home and separates seemed perfect to me, lingers on still:

A fine blue mold
with delicate struts
and fires
has appeared
on the partially-squeezed
lemon you left in the fridge.
To survive
it doesn’t need much
but it will never
be satisfied with survival.
It wants everything.
Everything in the fridge
and then some.
Ottawater 01 January, 2005

Oh and uh...I definitely have a new addition to my list of Canada's sexiest male poets. The man's voice alone...sends shivers down the spine (and not in that creepy bacteria way he was talking about).