How Can I Begin
How Can I Begin?
so many skins
of silence upon me.
Not that they blunt me,
but I have become
walking like a pregnant woman
alive yet remote.
though less articulate
still have in them
something like a skeleton,
a durable beginning
I would ask
you: learn as I learn
patience with mine
and with your own silence.
--Pat Lowther, Milkstone (Borealis Press, 1974
the Ottawa Room is on the third floor of the Main Branch of the Ottawa Public Library and began in 1955.
here are just a few of the amazing treasures you can find there...
Arthur S. Bourinot, the Quick and the Dead: Views and Reviews of Poetry, 1955
Bourinot was the editor of Canadian Poetry Magazine. Aside from a bunch of reprinted editorials from CPM about Archibald Lampman and Charles Sangster and the like, he also mentions a few well known writers who used to hang out at Kingsmere, including Alfred Noyes, Rupert Brooke and Duncan Campell Scott, the latter two in 1913. (and why are there so many chapbooks and books by Bourinot?]
Janet Pollock Graham, From Hill and Dell: Little Nature Sketches of the Ottawa Valley don’t know what year, but listen to this from the intro...
“[Janet Pollock Graham]... is a farmer’s wife and busy with congenial household tasks in her home on the beautiful banks of the Ottawa River in Argenteuil County, where sitting in the lovely garden, sipping afternoon tea, one may relax amidst the riot and fragrance of bright-hued flowers and watch the never-ending procession of motor cars on the broad highway across the Ottawa.”
the historical records: anthologies by creative writing classes at the University of Ottawa under Seymour Mayne over the years: Mythos, Booming Ground, Drum with early poems by Anne LeDressay and Mark Strand (that Mark Strand? the guy who wrote The Making of a Poem? did he live here?); Algonquin College in 1974, various high schools such as Darcy McGee in 1977 (alas i didn’t recognize any familiar names from the last two, but maybe someone else will, various anthologies by existing writing organizations and poetry workshop groups including “Strength for Tender Journeys: Prose and Poetry Celebrating Love (Tansy Press, 1999) with poems by Terry Ann Carter and Barbara Myers.
earlier works poetry by living and dead Ottawa poets, including chapbooks and anthologies such as “Auguries, a continuing anthology of the arts” (Commoner’s Publishing Society, 1976) edited by David Conrad and including poems by Marianne Bluger and poetry translations by George Johnston; Colin Morton’s “Printed Matter” (Sidereal Press, Camrose Alberta, sometime in the 70s??, republished in 1982?) i love the tomato poem. books by Henry Biessel, rob mclennan, Seymour Mayne, Susan McMaster, Ronnie R. Brown, Pat Lowther, John Newlove and of course, Archibald Lampman, including the wonderful collection of Toronto Globe articles from the 1800 assembled into At the Mermaid Inn in chapbook form, Elizabeth Smart’s poetry:
Pub Poem 2 : Treacherous Surfaces
I said : ‘All surfaces are treacherous
All depths are well.
Hold my hand while I tell.’
But he was lecherous
And broke the spell.
I see : all art is unnatural.
--Elizabeth Smart, Ten Poems, printed in a limited edition of 100 copies at Bath Place Community Arts Press, October 1981.
[an aside...we need an anthology of pub poems, particularly those inspired by or written about the Royal Oak II on Laurier; maybe we need to write them there, who’s in?]
the recordings: tape of the Bard Reading series called Bard Celebrates Ottawa Poetry from 1995 featuring folks such as Robert Craig, Seymour Mayne, Gwendolyn Guth, Juan O’Neill and more, tapes of Ronnie R. Brown “On Falling Bodies” and Michael Dennis “Only the Smoking Signs.” (i should have asked if they had cassette players)
the many Ottawa-based publishers over the years, including Commoner’s Publishing Society, the Golden Dog Press, Borealis Press, Tower Books with its Peace Tower logo, The Graphic Publishers in 1929 with its Thunder Bird Logo and slogan: “The Thunder Bird-A Mark of Canadian Quality,” and some still in existence including Oberon Press, above/ground press, pooka press (formerly of Ottawa, now in Vancouver), Bad Moon Books, not sure of Buschek Books was there, or Chaudiere Books either.
the ooh and aww
“bpNichol the cosmic chef, an evening of concrete” (Oberon Press, 1970, Ed. bpNichol) comes in a green box with work by many writers, including bill bissett, Nelson Ball, Barbara Caruso, Victor Coleman, Greg Curnoe, Seymour Mayne, Andrew Suknaski, Phyllis Webb & more! what’s neat is that the actual pieces are published without attributions. bpNichol’s notes in the back of the book are particularly interesting. he says “...confronted with the request to do an anthology i was tempted to refuse because it seems to me that concrete is just beginning to open..”
i wish i knew more about this particular book. you can see The Cosmic Chef by bpNichol in the Alphabet Game, a bpNichol reader (Coach House Press, 2007, edited by Darren Wershler-Henry and Lori Emerson..
Elements: Gravures de Vincent Théberge; Poèmes de Mario Pelletier; limited edition of 50 copies, all signed; loose sheets, each one folded twice and hand stitched; amazing prints.
a blue box inside which is a book with marble tile front and back covers: Bank Love and Dove by Childe Roland, 1976 (hmm a variation on the fairytale Childe Rowland...an Ottawa link to an old Scottish ballad and fairy tale of Merlin and the Dark Tower found inside the Ottawa Room...the place is magic, i tell you).
rare little chapbooks in envelopes such as Robert Craig’s Kukoo in the Great Outdoors, Friday Circle, 1996; “4 views” and “5 or 4 poems” by jwcurry (above/ground press, 1998); Anne Stone / rob mclennan “Inflections of Desire / Bridge of Sighs” (Is Been Books, Vancouver, 1991). this is a beautiful wee chapbook with red painted shadows of a man and a woman on the cover. who did that, i wonder?
All her lovely meat
I am lying in my bathtub, fluid with the loss of a stranger. In the last forty-eight hours, I’ve also managed to somehow misplace two lovers, but am lying here, sunk in the loss of a stranger that would be everything.
Anne Stone, “Inflections of Desire”
oh and William Hawkins, a lot of his books and chapbooks, including “Hawkins ....Poems 1963-1965 (Ottawa, Nil Press, 1966). In his introduction to Hawkin’s Dancing Alone, Selected Poems (Broken Jaw Press, 2005) and also on http://www.poetics.ca/, Roy MacSkimming writes “Cleverly designed by Bob Rosewarne at his Nil Press, the poems looking raw in typewriter font, as if yanked straight from the manuscript, the book again received distribution through Shirley Leishman Books.” MacSkimming’s collaborative chapbook with Hawkins “Shoot Low, Sheriff, They’re Riding Shetland Ponies” can also be found in the Ottawa Room, as can Hawkins’ “Ottawa Poems” published by Nelson Ball’s weed / flower press in 1966 and many other volumes of William Hawkins’ poetry.
bill bissett, Medicine my mouth's on fire. Ottawa: Oberon Press, 1974, complete with a 45 single slipped in the back. amazing collages, typewriter font shaped text. is there a record player in the Ottawa Room?
if you haven’t been to the Ottawa Room or even if you have, you should go. and then go over to Druxy’s for a smoked meat sandwich. if we had a vintage clothing store in the area, we would almost feel like we were time travelling to the 60s. i love these indications of what a strong and vibrant community Ottawa had and how wonderful that it is strong again, n’est-ce pas?