amongst books

amongst books

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Writers are thieves and other miscellany


"Thieves steal your wallet. Murderers steal your life. Writers steal your stories. When people tell me about their virus or their drag queen father or their mother who used to dress up in little girl's clothes I thank them and move on to the next victim." Darren Greer, Still Life With June

Just finished this book and loved it. I have to find his other book, Taylor's Cape.

And gee, isn't it quiet around here without rob?

Can't wait till the autumn literary escapades (not escapes...d'oh) begin. So much to look forward to, especially the Ottawa International Writers Festival.

Happy autumn!

Thursday, August 24, 2006

rob mclennan's fall poetry workshop

is open for registration once more. This time it will take place over 8 non consecutive weeks, which I really like because it gives you time to work on your stuff in between classes.

I recommend this workshop highly. rob is good at freeing your mind of traditional constraints that hold you back from writing. A former prof of mine told me about five years ago that there was something holding me back in my writing, that I needed to let myself go. rob has been able to help me to do that through his workshop.

He introduces various contemporary poets that are under the radar, not taught in typical poetry classes. He facilitates discussions on poetics. He's also a brilliant editor, getting you to question the necessity of words and making suggestions to make your poems more original, to make your readers think and not skip over your words. And then there are the fellow workshop participants. You don't know who you'll meet. All ages, all stages of writing. Some folks haven't read a single poem in their lives. Others have read a lot of traditional stuff, while others are experimental in their work. rob is a patient instructor, adept at dealing with all this mishmosh, not dismissing anyone's questions out of hand. After class, there's the trips to the Carleton Tavern for more conversation about poetry and the poetry of beer, perhaps. You never know who will show up. Could be Joe Blades visiting from New Brunswick, or Stephen Brockwell, or Steve Zytveld of the Dusty Owl. Whoever it is, chances are it will lead to even more interesting discussions into the late hours.

This sounds completely cheesy, but to me, rob's workshop and the beery after bits, feel like the real deal. I've always read about the get-togethers writers have, like Byron, Percy and Mary Shelley in Lake Geneva. This is how books like Frankenstein get written. (Don't mind me, I'm going thru a gothic phase) This is how collaborations get started. Take the workshop. I'm taking it again! Wouldn't it be fun to hang out and swap muses?

Monday, August 21, 2006

Strange Ghosts: essays by Darren Greer

I picked up this book at Collected Works last Thursday and devoured it. Greer is a former Ottawa resident (why, oh why must writers move to Toronto?), and actually he’s was published in the former Bywords too, and has even been a participant in the Ottawa International Writers Festival. Shows you what a small world we live in. I’ve never met him, but I wish I had. Reading his essays makes me want to sit down over coffee with him and just listen. Barring that, I read his essays and recommend them to all and sundry.

Like a good essayist, he touches on all kinds of subjects: coming out to his father, being diagnosed with AIDS/HIV, modern art, experimental fiction, social activism, 9/11, baseball, Paris, Cambodia and Oscar Wilde. Through the whole thing, I felt as if I was reading a kindred spirit, and those are too rare to miss out on.

In one essay called “Elugelab: Canaries In The Mindshaft Of The World,” Greer talks about being a child afraid of the nuclear bomb and being told that he would get used to it and even forget about it. I’m not going to blather on, rather I’ll let Mr. Greer speak for himself:

“Artists are also canaries in the mineshaft of the world—they, we, are people who never learned to express in socially acceptable ways our anxiety for the state of the world.

“So here I am, at thirty-seven years of age, and my teacher’s prediction has, thankfully, not come true. I have never learned, for better or for worse, to live with things simply as they are. I am still that hopelessly inarticulate, socially awkward boy, standing up in front of my audience and crying out for everybody to listen, for everyone to open their eyes and try just for a minute to honestly and truly see.”

I love stories and storytellers. People like Greer and Ivan E. Coyote give me faith that not everyone in the world has their eyes closed. Not everyone in the world is indifferent or unloving. Some people are actually alive and able to communicate what that means to the rest of us.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Too Many Things To Blog About…

in reverse chronological order and briefly

Ron Sexsmith at the Ottawa Folk Festival on Saturday, August 19 plus Ridley Bent, Eliza Gilkyson and The Sadies..woo hoo! Go to my music blog if you want to read more on Ron et al.

above/ground press Lucky Thirteen at the Mercury Lounge on Friday, August 18: highlights for me—the soon-to-be-wed (to James Moran) Anita Dolman: her story poems were mesmerizing and haunting. I miss hearing her read. Hope she does it more again!
Stephen Brockwell: a reprise of "Whip Lightning," comparing a lightning tattoo to the mark of cat-o-nine-tails. (a whispered ooo is allowed here, isn’t it?) From Purdyesque (above/ground press, "Ingredients For Certain Poems By Al Purdy." His humourous poem 13 Congratulations for Things Above Ground to commemorate the anniversary was great. He had the whole audience laughing over the notion that the letter carrier makes more money delivering poems than the poet makes creating them. The pièce de résistance was feature Phil Hall who, among other things, made mincemeat of clichés. The only word I can really think to describe this poet’s reading is “loving.” You simply have to buy “An Oak Hunch and while you’re at it, get the above/ground press chapbook just published: “Pronounced or Baby Pictures of the Country Stars.” Heck…go get all of his books! See rob mclennan's blog entry for a much more thorough description of the festivities and hijinx.

Synaesthesia at the Arts Court Theatre on Thursday, August 17: I was in this, as part of Last Tracks, Songs to Listen to Before You Die. Had fun, other readers were beautiful and inspiring. Take a look at Dusty Owl Kate Hunt’s blog about this.

This week I’m looking forward to Andrew Steinmetz at the Tree, Reading Out Loud-A Celebration of GLBT Literature at Venus Envy, the music of Rozalind MacPhail and Andrea Simms Karp of the Vanity Press at Rasputins. See you at some/all of these?

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Hear me read this Thursday at Synaesthesia, Arts Court Theatre, 7pm

SYNAESTHESIA Thursday, August 17th, 2006 Arts Court Theatre and Lounge (2 Daly Ave.) 7:00 PM - 11:00 PM All Ages An exercise in overlapping artistic disciplines (music, theatre, word, photography and paint). Featuring performance sets by: My Dad vs Yours "The band's soft and self-possessed all-instrumental style mimics movement through melancholy and well-orchestrated instruments. Self-described hymns, the tunes never cease to shimmer and dance." - Ottawa Xpress Hear My Dad vs Yours online at: www.myspace.com/mydadvsyours DECA Playwrights' Fringe comedy "Love Me...Now!" SPEED DATING: the 21st Century solution for love. Watch the sparks fly and fall as a motley cast of crazy, fragile, and often world-weary characters look for love in the fast lane. For more information on DECA, visit: http://ca.geocities.com/decaplaywrights@rogers.com Last Tracks: Songs to Listen to Before You Die Spoken word performances by local writers on the last song they'd ever want to hear. Featuring Cameron Anstee, Natalie Blagden, Amanda Earl, David Emery, Festrell, Peter Gibbon, Ian O. Graham, Marcus McCann, Holly Price, Esther Splett and Sean Zio ...and Visual Exhibits by: Liz Fox, Kathryn Jetté, Michael Norton, and Andrea Stote. Tickets are available in advance at the Arts Court Box Office (2 Daly Ave.) for $10. A limited number of tickets will also be sold at the door for $12, so make sure you get yours early. Visit http://www.capitalsyn.com/ for more info, and 613-564-7240 for tickets

Monday, August 14, 2006

Last night's Poetic Desserts: friendship, chocolate and words to savour

Charles, Pearl, Michelle, Sebastien and I shared devil's food cupcakes, little eclairs, a blueberry loaf and some kind of Asian gelatinous fruit like thingy (thanks Pearl!) while enjoying the words of Marianne Moore, some poems on vegetables, sex, love, lots of sea themed poems and the beginnings of the beautifully worthless, a book in poems and letters by Ali Liebegott.

It was a wonderful evening. I can't think of a better way to begin a new week than to be inspired by poems and comforted/entertained by friends. I spend so much time isolated out of necessity for writing, I'm always looking for opportunities to socialize with a community of like-minded individuals. Not so easy to find, but I'm working on it ;)

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Women and Publishing

Do women need a special category in order to be published? Jessica Smith and I are having an interesting debate about this subject over on Gregory Betts' blog. She informs me me that men outnumber women 2:1. Not sure whether she means in publishing in general, in poetry, or in the avant garde world of poetry.

She also informs me that Toronto is an old boys club and that women in the literary scene there face sexual harrassment. If this is the case, I'm glad I don't live in Toronto, because anyone who tried to harrass me sexually would experience much ridicule, public humiliation and a law suit. I've met the occasional idiot in Toronto, and haven't had the chance to go to more than a handful of readings there, but on the surface, it looks like it has a thriving scene, full of both males and females working together in harmony. Is this all a charade? If so, why does no one come forward and deal with this openly? I mean no disrespect, but I hear rumour and innuendo and the so-called harrassment in Toronto is being used to substantiate the need for women's only presses and publications, something I find highly objectionable and patronizing to women, turning us into victims.

I'd love to hear from anyone in the literary scene who has opinions on this.

My own belief is that I don't want a special category in order to be published. I want my writing to be the basis for publication. Am I being naive? In Canada I see plenty of female poets published. Am I wrong? Is it not the case in the States? Are women not published down there?

Friday, August 11, 2006

Tired of sexism in the publishing industry

I'm so tired of publications that don't allow submissions from men. The rationale used is one of equalization, that there are more men being published than women. I find this hard to believe. The notion that because I am a dim-witted, weak little female and I can't get in to a publication based on the merit of my work, but instead, have to have a little booster chair to help me compete with those big ole men out there is just ludicrous. I continue to ban publications that discriminate based on age, sex, race, gender, and sexual orientation. It's the 21st century for heaven's sake, must we continue with these old fashioned notions? My gender doesn't have anything to do with the quality of my work. If a publication decided to ban women, there would be an uproar and calls of sexism, but when one decides to ban men (I'm thinking of the poetry journal Room of One's Own and the erotic imprint Black Lace by Virgin, specifically), it's just making sure that women are adequately represented. That's balderdash and it offends me. I will neither read nor submit to these publications and I encourage any one who feels as I do, to do the same. We're all humans here, let's try not to be so divisive.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Erotica's Bad Reputation

Recently Nigel Beale pointed me to an interview with graphic book writer Alan Moore about his new book, Lost Girls. Here's his quote about erotica:

“Certainly it seemed to us [Moore and Gebbie] that sex, as a genre, was woefully under-represented in literature. Every other field of human experience—even rarefied ones like detective, spaceman or cowboy—have got whole genres dedicated to them. Whereas the only genre in which sex can be discussed is a disreputable, seamy, under-the-counter genre with absolutely no standards: [the pornography industry]—which is a kind of Bollywood for hip, sleazy ugliness.”
—Alan Moore, interview with Science Fiction Weekly


I wonder if this man has read any modern erotic fiction. I wonder where he gets this stuff from. Like every other genre, erotica has its crap. You only have to take a look at some of the web sites out there to feel that Moore has a point; however, there are also scads of excellent novels, stories and on line sites dedicated to publishing great erotica.

What’s this about no standards? When I submit stories to a publisher, I have to comply with certain guidelines, more so than in mainstream fiction that I’ve seen: no bestiality, no rape, no incest, for example, along with standard editing requirements for good writing.

Some of the best contemporary fiction I’ve read lately has come from the genre known as erotica. Take a look at Mike Kimera’s book of short fiction “Writing Naked.” This is a man whose insights into human frailty make his characters as compelling and complex as any Casterbridge or Kurz.

How about the powerful imagery in a story called “Come for me, Dark Man” by Anne Tourney in Lisabet Sarai and Seneca Mayfair’s Sacred Exchange? The humour in Patrick Califia’s Mortal Companion? The originality of a story like How Takai Found His Wings by Hilary Jaye in Garden of the Perverse?

I don’t know what the hell Moore is reading but it isn’t contemporary erotica. Even if he goes back in time, there are so many wonderful and well-written erotic novels and short stories, such as the Story of O by Pauline Reage, Anais Nin’s Little Birds, …the list goes on and on. These books have gone on to be considered as literature today, and are studied as such.

In an interview, Moore claims to have been reading erotica for the past sixteen years, but then goes on to talk about sexual repression and shame in American culture without mentioning any specific erotica he's read. I think he's blending erotica with American culture, when the erotic genre is not part of mainstream culture, but on its fringes, much more anarchistic and threatened by the prudish American authorities and right wing Christian fundamentalists.

My own stories deal with sex openly and treat it as something to be celebrated, not to be ashamed of. And I have no trouble getting them published by reputable publishers who also publish mainstream fiction.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Canadian Poetry Publishing

The Tree gang is doing something new, at least new to me, by inviting a publisher to come and talk. Last night John Buschek spoke about the state of Canadian poetry publishing. Buschek Books started in 1996 with awards right off the bat for its authors. Apostrophes: woman at a window by E.D. Blodgett,the first poetry book published, won the Governor General’s award and sold 2,000 copies. Unfortunately that’s unusual rather than the norm for poetry.

He talked about the need to increase readership, about signs that even in the literary community, current poetry is being given short shrift. The audience participated in an impromptu discussion. I’d like to see more discussions with publishers at Tree, but more of a Q & A thing. As someone who has vague ideas about one day getting a manuscript published, (although I wonder why) it would be more interesting to hear about the details of that.

One of the things I’m learning about poetry publishing in Canada is how much it has to rely on the authors to purchase copies (at discount prices), since it’s difficult to make sales required by the Canada Council, which requires 500 copies be sold; although according to Buschek this number might be lowered. In some cases, if a publisher can’t get the author to purchase something like 200 copies, he won’t publish. That to me is quite inappropriate; although I understand where the need comes from.

I find it hard to understand why anyone would become a poetry publisher. I don’t mind a labour of love where you can’t make a significant return on your investment, but I think you have to at least break even, and I don’t hear a lot of publishers saying this is the case. Or are they? If they at least break even, then poetry would be getting in to the hands of those who wanted it, writers would be getting their stuff published. Seems ok, just barely, but ok for those who have the money and time to take this white elephant on.

I understand the notion that poetry needs new readers, but this is an old song I’ve heard too many times before. That isn’t going to happen on a large scale. You can’t change the world. Outside of the small literary community I’m in, when I suggest to anyone they might like to try reading modern poetry, say…sometime after the 19th century, they look at me as if I’m advising them to eat paste. You aren’t going to succeed in getting the Da Vinci Code reading public to like and purchase poetry.

As a former business person in a profitable but niche business with a small market, I learned that you have to market to your current customers, sell them fries with their burgers, then get them to act as emissaries to others they think might appreciate the product also.

I like what I’ve seen publishers like Brick Books, Greenboathouse Books and Bookthug doing of late: selling annual subscriptions. It’s something above/ground press has being doing for years, since the beginning I think. I don’t know whether this would be a profitable market model or not, but if it does succeed, it would provide a steady inflow of revenue and advance sales.

Distributors take 40%. Bookstores take their cut. So what’s left for the author and the publisher? Readers of today’s poetry purchase stuff on line, they read websites and blogs. They buy poetry from Abebooks and other sources. It’s still important to get books into bookstores, but if you can bypass the distributor, do so. I have a pal who ran a small magazine. His US distributor went bankrupt and poof: a bunch of money owing and sales into the States completely ruined. That was all it took for his small magazine to tank.

I wonder how the small literary community can help support our publishers. Yes, we can buy books and we can make sure our literary loving brothers and sisters know about what’s going on. But what else? I think one thing is to talk it up. If you like a book, write a review. If you go to a reading, blog about it, tell your friends.

If your friends have kids, get them to lobby to put Canadian poetry on the curriculum. I was astounded to learn that in 2006 schools are still teaching secondary school students to memorize the Raven by Edgar Allen Poe. They need to hear stuff from their time. Until I was in my twenties, I didn’t even know a thing about any poetry except dusty old tomes written in the stone age.

Other than that I’m a firm believer in the Internet to get a buzz going about books. There’s this crazy book called House of Leaves. It was first published gradually over the Internet where it developed a cult following. Once it was published as a book it became a best seller immediately. There have been similar phenomena in Canadian poetry, think Eunoia by Christian Bök. Apparentlly the book sold more than 15,000 copies in less than twelve months, but this is an anomoly, isn't it?

I think poetry has a respectable following by a small segment of the population and I just can’t see it growing significantly. I do worry about the survival of publishers who are somehow philanthropic and altruistic enough to bother publishing this stuff and I wonder whether new publishers will bother getting in to it. I don’t have any answers to this, only…this is an age old conundrum, yet poetry keeps on keeping on. John Buschek's company has been around for ten years and others too. That says something to me.

If you’re crazy enough or committed enough to get into publishing poetry, you need to be very innovative and you need pals with deep pockets. If you are in publishing to make large sums of money, think again. If you want to make money, go into the parking lot business. It’s a guaranteed moneymaker.

I should mention that Jan Allen, the feature last night, was excellent. She read from Personal Peripherals (Buschek Books, 2006) and also her latest stuff, which was vivid, full of imagination, sound play, gorgeous language…I enjoyed the open mic too. It was great to hear Stephen Brockwell read some new work. One of his poems, Whip Lightning, was enthralling and stayed with me this morning.

Next Tree reading on August 22 features Andrew Steinmetz. Be there or be square.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Poetic Desserts This Sunday, Contact Me



While you're waiting, listen to the Semisonics "Sunshine and Chocolate all over me"

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Upcoming Poetry Publications In Canada (Don't Ask the Ottawa Citizen)

In the Ottawa Citizen’s Arts and Books section on Sunday, July 30, 2006, there was a guide to upcoming fall book releases. The usual plethora of mysteries and military tell-alls abounded, but there was no mention of poetry. I’m not surprised, because the Citizen rarely gives poetry much coverage,despite the fact that there’s evidence of an increased market for poetry books. (Take a look at the shelves of the downtown Chapters, you’ll find a whole wall of Canadian poetry. Nicholas Hoare Books sells lots of poetry at the Ottawa International Writers Festival. Take a look at the numbers on the bywords.ca’s webcounter where visits are anywhere from 500 to 700 distinct urls (not hits) weekly with over 53,000 visitors since we launched the site in January, 2003. That’s a lot of poetry readers.)

Here, as a service to those who actually read poetry(because apparently the Citizen's readers don't), is a peek at what’s coming your way this summer and fall. Note that there are both first time poetry book authors and those who’ve had numerous books published. The list includes publishers from all across Canada and writers from all over the country, including a few current and former Ottawa residents.

(I'm not linking to all of these, because it's hot and I'm lazy. Copy and paste in your google search for more info, svp.)

Brokenjaw Press (New Brunswick)
"aubade" by rob mclennan (Ottawa, ON)
"Dark Seasons: A Selection of Georg Trakl poems" translated by one of the Malahat Review's founders Robin Skelton (Victoria, BC)
Funambule / Tightrope a bilingual collection of poetry by Canada's parliamentary poet Pauline Michel, translated by Nigel Spencer (Montreal, Quebec)

Gaspereau Press (Nova Scotia)

“Two Or Three Guitars: Selected Poems” by John Terpstra (Hamilton, Ontario)
“Types of Canadian Women” by K.I. Press (Winnipeg, MB)

Véhicule Press (Quebec)

“How We All Swiftly: The First Six Books” by Don Coles (Toronto, ON)

Black Moss Press (Windsor, ON)

“Night Echoes” by Ronnie R. Brown (Ottawa, ON)

Brick Books (Toronto, ON

I Nadja, and Other Poems by Susan Elmslie (Montreal, QC)

ECW Press (Toronto, ON)

The Invisible World Is In Decline by Bruce Whiteman (California, USA)

The Mercury Press (Toronto, ON)

“Avatar” by Sharon Harris (Toronto, ON)

Nightwood Editions (Madeira Park, BC)

Hitch by Matthew Holmes (Sackville, NB)

Talonbooks (Vancouver, BC)

“Vermeer’s Light: Poems 1996–2006” by Canada’s first parliamentary poet laureat George Bowering (Vancouver, BC)

Thanks to rob mclennan for the Brick Books and Nightwood Editions upcoming release information.