amongst books

amongst books

Monday, May 12, 2008

Canada’s (Sexiest) Postmodernists

[the disclaimer: the people listed herein were chosen based on their involvement with the Canadian Literature Symposium, Re: Reading the postmodern, which took place from May 9 to 11, 2008 at the University of Ottawa, the Avant Garde Bar and the Atomic Rooster Pub. no claim is made that those listed are actually followers of postmodernism, nor is this list meant to be an exhaustive list of all the sexy Canadian postmodernists who are alive or were alive at one point. the list merely reflects the writer’s fascination with the ideas, the inner beauty and in certain cases the charisma and animal magnetism of those listed. the writer apologizes for not creating lists in the past of Canada’s sexiest female writers, but is left with the conundrum that many of her sisters often feel that referring to women as sexy is a type of objectification and does not wish to create that idea. men may feel objectified but the writer is not sure that they do or if they do, she is not sure that they mind. regardless, objectification of anyone is not the writer’s intent. this is, of course, a controversial subject and the writer is stepping into a pile of doo doo by raising the issue. by not including women, the writer could be considered as guilty of not taking into account their amazing contributions, of which they were legion at the conference and clearly in the field of study itself, for that reason the word “sexy” is in parentheses, so that those of you who do not like its use can remove it and substitute “provocative” or “intelligent” or a word of your choice that is complimentary and reflects your own understanding of a positive assessment. you will note that reverse alphabetization has been used for the purposes of avoiding the uncomfortable position of ranking; the writer of this entry by no means suggests that A is more important in the hierarchy of letters than Z or versa vice and finally, for those who have not been included on this list, it doesn’t mean that you are not sexy, but rather that, overwhelmed with the plethora of sexy postmodernists around her, the writer has missed you this time and this is a flaw of her own.]

Jason Wiens, for his talk “Bowering, Postmodernism and Canadian Nationalism: A Short Sad Book,” which made me think about the role of the narrator in fiction and the idea of “shove over reader,” as quoted from the ever playful Bowering’s book (he should also be here in this list by the way, but he didn’t come to the symposium, alas). who is the reader and who is not the reader? this topic arose for me throughout the conference. at once point a panelist spoke of the reader as a separate entity and this surprised me because the entire room was made up of people who read the works, even as they write about them and study them. seeing the reader as someone outside is to me an interesting and potentially problematic point of view for writing. another SCPM (sexy Canadian Postmodernist) Alexander MacLeod raised the issue that the most well-known criticism of the work of Robert Kroetsch is by Robert Kroetsch himself, once again making me wonder if those who study literature do not see themselves also as readers. another talk on postmodern cultural workers and the institutionalization of Canadian poetries by Karis Sheerer was one in which the role of writers who act as their own critics, whose work and critical work is studied in universities and who publish themselves and others who are in their specific area, perhaps one could say subgenre, was questioned. i have heard this line of argument before and have to say that i find it preposterous precisely because it does not take into account the fact that writers are primarily readers and critical thinkers. if we were to silence ourselves from talking about our work and the work of those we admire, there would be next to no critical writing in existence today. i also thought that Sheerer could have spoken about the role of the internet and the dissemination of writing about writing through blogs, for example, but of course, a 20-minute limit for each speaker made this sort of thing not possible.

Andy Weaver, not just for his fascinating talk on Darren Wershler Henry’s the tapeworm foundry, a talk that played with that hoary old literary concept of the sublime, but more particularly for his fantastic reading at the Atomic Rooster. i was fortunate to get a copy of "were the bees" (NeWest Press, 2005)

Fred Wah, for his brilliant essays and poetry and the innovative nature of his work, as demonstrated by his reading at the Avant Garde bar from his latest collection “Sentenced to Light” see some of the text on Fred here. i discovered Fred through the amazing Philly talks organized by Louis Cabri. it was rob mclennan, my great friend and mentor who put me on to the talks. the one with Fred and Brian Kim Stephens is a fascinating, by the way. i picked up Faking It: Poetics & Hybridity (NeWest Press, 2000) thank goodness, but missed my chance to get a book of essays by Dennis Cooley.

Peter Thompson, for his innovative paper on ecocriticism, which made me think about the role of reverence in contemporary Canadian poetry, something that i find difficult to understand not only because it feels so old and unprogressive, but also because it distances the writer/readers from nature to such an extent that it makes it difficult to believe it is a healthy way of looking at the environment as something outside ourselves or remote from ourselves. Thompson remarked that ecocritics are not taking into account writing that deals also with urban environments and that this is problematic. this made me want to return to some of the nature poets i have read before but haven’t been able to get into, because a) i have never seen a cormorant and b) i don’t really like lichen all that much.

Christine Stewart, not only for her provocative and powerful talk on Catriona Strong’s Low Fancy, and the consideration of whether language is already charged or whether the writer puts the charge in the word through a consideration of different translations, but also for her reading at the Atomic Rooster of “bridges,” which was captivating and mesmerizing. i snapped up a copy of “from Taxonomy,” her chapbook from West House Books and am looking forward to reading it. i already have and suggest you should pick up “The Trees of Periphery” Alberta Series # 3 (above/ground press, 2007)

Jenn Stephenson for her talk on metatheatricality in Canadian millennial drama. i found the concepts used by the playwrights in these plays to be a rich and imaginative territory to explore in writing. reminded me very much of the concepts of Pirandello’s play Six Characters in Search of An Author from the 1920s. interesting to me that these concepts of metatheatricality and metafiction are posited as something new and yet they aren’t, but perhaps haven’t been taken up as much as they should have by contemporary writers.

Robert Stacey, the orchestrator of the event and the hands-on co-ordinator. so much thought and attention has gone into the making of this symposium. the man is enthusiastic, hard working, friendly, supportive, a force and damn easy on the eyes. a shout out also to his graduate students and all they did, particularly Malcolm Sutton. i can’t say enough either about the internal and external beauty of the University of Ottawa team. to be subject to the exquisite combination of beauty, caring and intelligence is heady and inspiring.

Sylvia Söderland, for her audacious paper “F#&% the Ineffable!: the Allegorical Intention in Ghostmodernism.” i don’t recall the audience ever being given the finger over and over at a conference before, but then I was a child during the early Trudeau years.

Karen Sheerer, for her talk on the institutionalization of Canadian poetries; see entry on Jason Wiens. i was surprised she wasn’t challenged more by the audience.

Susan Rudy for her keynote address on Why Post Modernism Now. i believe it was Susan who mentioned the social activist poetry of Jeff Derksen. if i could add a category for sexiest audience members and their questions it would go to my friend Mark Schaan who asked an intelligent question concerning the role of poets, social activism and caricature. personally and sadly, mostly when i read do gooder poetry, it makes me yawn with its banality and reminds me of the position on high of writers from the 19th or 18th centuries. i find it patronizing to be told what to think and why i should think it by anyone.

Ian Rae, not just for his talk on Anne Carson’s the Fall of Rome from Glass, Irony and God, but also for his provocative and intelligent questions throughout the panels.

the Max Middle Sound Project composed of Max Middle and John Lavery for their performance at the Atomic Rooster. i love this stuff they do. i had never been exposed to any sound poetry until i first heard Max at Cafe Nostalgica back in 2002 or 2003. later on i would get to hear the amazing jwcurry and be blown away also. i would love to have the lack of self consciousness to do what they do. i worship sound and especially sound which as Steve McCaffery (who would be on the list if he were at the conference) has said shifts the pattern of meaning from the literal.

rob mclennan, who is on every sexy list i have because he is beautiful, intelligent, inspiring, supportive and just plain fun, and whose reading at the Mercury Lounge on the eve of the conference was enjoyable as always. see his entry on the conference here

Alexander MacLeod, not just for his robust talk, mentioned above, but also for his the fact that almost every panelist referred to him in their discussions and also for his excellent and engaging questions and the raw physical beauty of these maritimers always stuns me.

Robert Kroetsch, for so many things, the sensuality and double entendres in his poetry, his kindness and approachability, his wonderful reading at the Atomic Rooster and his talk at the end of the conference about the creation of boundary 2. see an intense photo of Robert here.

Linda Hutcheon for her perspective as someone who is no longer involved or not very much involved in postmodern literature anymore and yet one of the primary writers about postmodernism, even if she didn’t write much about poetry, i learned, and for her raising of other contemporary literartures. when she talked about the start of the graphic novel as being Art Spiegelman’s Maus in 1981, i did wonder whether she had given any thought to the surrealist and dadaist works of the early twentieth century, such as the work of Max Ernst. to me this is really the beginning of the graphic novel, or perhaps the cave painting is.

Frank Davey, for the way in which he disrupted his own narrative at both his reading at the Atomic Rooster, by placing an alternate text on the screen to pay attention to as well as his reading, and when his papers fell to the floor and they were unpaginated, so that he read from them pell mell. this caused me to think about starting a new literary movement which i refer to as pellmellism. also a fascinating talk with him and Cheryl Cowdy Crawford, and later Christian Bök about sound poetry and voice recognition software and translation.

Cheryl Cowdy Crawford for her paper on reading the suburb as a (Canadian?) (postmodern?) space, which made me think about treating cartography as language and also made me think, as Peter Thompson’s paper did, about urban spaces and how to translate them into text or even visual poetry.

Dennis Cooley for so many things, including his essays and poetry, of which i am a huge fan, but also for his friendliness and approachability throughout, his talk on the postmodern writer abroad and his reading from Bloody Jack at the Atomic Rooster.

Stephen Cain, not just for his powerful reading at the Atomic Rooster in which he played with Marx on Lox a la Seuss’s Fox in Sox, but also for his fascinating talk on feeling ugly about the postmodern condition, the way in which he situated the pre and post 1985 writers, which was provocative and also the mention of numerous works that are not critically studied and should be, such as Lynn Crosbie’s book Paul’s Case about Paul Bernardo and Daniel Jones book Obsessions. i wanted to ask him for a bibliography. the man is a delight to my brain and i intend to read his work with a finer ear than i admittedly haven’t had in the past.

Andrea Cabajsky for her talk on the new formalism and Canadian historical fiction. i have to say that the main thing i took from this talk was the concept of paratext, the pages and pages of endnotes in a Quebec novel she cited (the name of which escapes me at the moment). i have tried in the past and failed so far to read Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves with all of its paratext. i love the idea of footnotes, front matter and backmatter as a form of unreliable authentication of reality and have myself worked before with text in this way and plan to again, excited but its promise of troubling and messing things up, because i love to mess things up.

Pauline Butling for her keynote address along with Susan Rudy. of particular interest to me was the section on Rita Wong’s Forage with the embroidered text around the edges of the text body.

Russell Morton Brown’s talk on the narrative of Robert Kroetsch. i haven’t even gotten to Kroetsch’s novels yet, so enamoured am i by his poetry, but Brown gave me a way in with his reading of the fiction as if it were a series rather than individual books. and later Fred Wah’s comment about perhaps seeing the fiction as one long poem, which appealed to me very much.

Christian Bök, again for so many things, for being a visionary, for not being afraid to speak his mind and for saying that the role of the poet is to have imagination, something echoed by Robert Kroetsch in his address at the end of the conference. also for his amazing performance at the Atomic Rooster which had me bouncing in my seat, and his support of his fellow readers with animal calls and hardy clapping. see a wonderful photo of Christian here.

Gregory Betts for his talk on visual and concrete poetry and his reading at the Atomic Rooster; this is the third time i’ve met Greg and each time i am fascinated by his work and by him. it is because of him that i began to dabble in variants of plunderverse, an exciting and inspiring form that helps to carry on the conversation.

i could also mention my friends and fellow audience members: Emily Falvey, Pearl Pire (who has blogged about the conference here), Sandra Ridley and a few new friends who it turns out are readers of my blog, such as Correy Baldwin of Vehicule Press and lastly the very dynamic and sexy Sean Moreland, who should be on my sexiest Canadian male poets list and will be next time, i update.

For this weekend we were postmodernists and we were damn sexy ;)

1 comment:

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