amongst books

amongst books

Saturday, July 31, 2010

the small of July

excerpts from a poem series i wrote in my last workshop with rob mclennan in 2008 have appeared in the Windsor Review and most recently in Otoliths.

here's a bit of a statement for the poems i wrote in 08

state, me(a)nt

the small of july is nothing more grandiose than the small of things, like the small of the back, Emily Carr’s the Book of Small, a phantom child. what goes unnoticed or unheard. what is voiceless. too trite to talk about attempts at what? just living forward or still in a post apocalyptic era, submersion in popular culture as a replacement for caring. what about patterns. disrupt them w/ action, w/ silence. how does text fit or does it at all. words & nothing help, yet they are pervasive as cockroaches in a disaster. summer, the dead season where everyone disappears, how heat turns the brain to bogmush. & it’s worst in the city, wreck & dig of bulldozers, teardowns, tunnelunders, rusted pipe, ruined graffiti. everyone disappears to cottages & air conditionement ...abandonment. & yes the l word. (loneliness)

attempts to trouble the pattern of everyday language via juxtapositions, metaphoric hopskips, associations, ambiguities, wordplay


“if i think ‘I’ unifies
I lose,”
--Robin Blaser, “saphire-blue moon, once,” Pell Mell



Here in this city the letters are many and the days are many.
--Nathalie Stephens, the Sorrow and the Fast of It


“And then there is the return and the return again, back to the city, which loses everything...”
--Margaret Christakos, Retreat Diary

30. How is it possible that I imagine I can put that chair into language? There it sits, mute. It knows nothing of syntax. How can I put it into something it doesn’t inherently possess?
--Ron Silliman, the Chinese Notebook

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

a few notes on Rampike's Cultural Mischief Issue

one of the best things about being published in a journal is the complimentary copies, the opportunity to read through a magazine i might not have purchased because i can’t buy them all, as much as i enjoy and am a subscriber to many a mag. i’m in Rampike’s 19:2, the Cultural Mischief Issue and have been enjoying reading thru it over the past few weeks.

this time around when i went thru Rampike, i was thinking of the Jacob McArthur Mooney et al discussion of Toronto’s Scream Literary Festival and avant garde writing over at his intriguing blog Vox Populism. how do i know if writing has failed or succeeded? do i need a set of agreed upon vocabulary to talk about what works and what doesn’t work for me in a poem?

for me if i haven’t engaged with a text, i usually assume it’s a failing of mine, my short attention span, the fact that i haven’t read enough yet, and probably never will. to my mind, a prescribed set of parameters would imply that all readers come from the same background, have the save interests, the same triggers, etc. why so black and white? why a binary: poem succeeds/poem fails?

i can be satisfied if one or two lines, or one image or one combination of sounds leads me to more exploration, to more reading, captivates my imagination or causes me to write work of my own. i try to approach all writing with humility and respect. i hope that i avoid any kind of prescriptive attitude. the problems i have with other people’s writing are usually the same sorts of issues i have with my own. with that in mind i’ve spent a bit of time on Rampike and have documented herein my engagement and response to various pieces.

one other thing before we jump in. i noticed many literary folk don’t like the like/don’t like method of talking about writing.(there’s a delightful irony there). while i want to know more than like/don’t like, i am interested in knowing whether someone likes or doesn’t like a piece of writing or part of the text. it’s a start. it’s a way in. sometimes you can't expect more than that. amazing that anyone is reading at all. it is also instructive to explore what we don’t like and why.

Karl Jirgens’ interview with Frank Davey
i’m disturbed, which is a synonym for intrigued, by the idea (of Davey’s and many others) that all writing is political. is it? is it more political than any other aspect of life? isn’t everything political in that it involves citizens trying to live in a system run by a government? i am often bored by writing with a specific agenda, if it is heavy handed and easy to spot, but i am interested in writing that engages with how much we have been programmed to repeat and believe the same old clichés, the same old slogans and homilies. i am interested in writing that is conscious of that, writers that try to fight the mind control. i like what Davey says here: “if a writer can change or enlarge how language can be used she is changing how the world can be imagined or ‘seen’.”

Davey’s propositional method is one way in which he makes us question political, cultural, societal beliefs. i was fascinated to learn that he collects old post cards from various countries at the turn of the century, working his own text onto an image, sometimes using the writing of the postcard writer, inviting that writer in.

what i found of particular interest because i enjoy knowing about the history of Canadian writing and the chain of influences in the interview was the discussion of interactive writing, the Canadian collaborative texts of the mid 80s by Bowering, Marlatt, Kiyooka and more, for example the Pacific Rim Express project. (& i can’t find any info on it by googling…)

the current relevance to Davey’s work is his book Bardy Google published by Talonbooks this year. I had the pleasure of hearing Davey read from this text at the Ottawa International Writers Festival and i enjoyed the way it made me think about common statements, set phrases and how they’re used.

i find this of interest because i think of all sources as data input for my own writing. i also am a fan of the duende as opposed to the muse: even a failed artistic creation can be passed on and result in something better if shared. (yes, paraphrase, short form, simplistic summarization. go read Lorca’s Theory and Function of the Duende.)

There’s another part in this interview, for those who enjoy a bit of scandal, where Davey, with Jirgens’ mischievous prompting, likens literary prizes to dog show prizes (he’s a show dog owner) and muses on whether so and so would have gotten a prize if not for so and so being on the jury. i guess this part is the tension in the interview. i found it amusing, but it must involve a long political history that i can’t enter and don’t want to. i am a fan of what i’ve seen of Davey’s writing and i find Open Letter, which he publishes, to be a useful and compelling resource.

there’s a lot more to this interview and i’ll let you read it without my palaver, if it be your will.

Excerpts from: O Resplandor by Erín Moure

i haven’t purchased O Resplandor yet. i have a few of Moure’s books and have enjoyed hearing her read several times, including at this past spring’s writers festival. that being said, i have to admit that i am often overwhelmed by Moure’s writing. i have to read it in small doses. there is so much and it is strong, compelling work, but again it is a question of my deuced poor attention span. i blame myself for this. the excerpts in Rampike help. Two poems and a journal entry called Crónica Three. i can handle that much. i appreciated that the poems were juxtaposed with the journal entry. i enjoyed the way Moure plays with identity in the journal entry and in other of her works.

Splay with a Stone and Cold Fulguration, the two poems published in Rampike, also compelled me. “Such lucre trampled into light doubly-amazed, / yearly, / looped to a cord, the wings of the evening / make their foam in another higher cavern, / such wings of evening, evening of evening.” from Cold Fulguration. my appetite for strong sound and image was satisfied in these two poems.

Norman Lock’s Alphabet of Desire and Sorrow from "A Book of Imaginary Colophons" captured my imagination and sense of whimsy. i enjoy when a journal introduces me to a writer i haven’t experienced before. Lock has written a number of books and plays and sounds like a writer i would like to read more of. i like the exotic nature of the excerpts he’s shared in Rampike, the novelty of the way he presents things such as kites and geckos, concepts such as death, rapture and silence.

Louis Cabri’s Noun Free (sung to the tune of Born Free) didn’t captivate me right away. i had to go back. but when i did i was rewarded with Cabri’s playfulness, references to songs, popular culture. is the environmental aspect, the consumerism aspect a bit heavy handed? nah, because he’s doing it in a fun way. Cabri used to live in Ottawa and founded “the experimental writing group” with Rob Mannery and wasn’t there a publication too? i got to tell him at the Post Modernism conference a few years ago how much i enjoyed Philly Talks, which he curated. it is via these talks that i first heard of Lisa Robertson, in her talk with Steve McCaffery. does it make me more willing to read someone’s work if i’ve heard of him? sadly, yes. this is a problem. i shall work on rectfiying it.

“Ou, a language game” by tENTATIVELY cONVEnience
a version of this already captivated me in a previous issue. it is ingenious and brilliant, but i’m not sure that more was needed in this issue except for those who haven’t seen it yet, i guess. the idea is to take the words Ou, Li & Po and find their translations from other languages into English to construct texts.

Susan Holbrook has three poems in the issue and i enjoyed her facility with language, the playful nature of Transcribing the Letters of Gertrude Stein and Virgil Thompson and the way she switched between contemporary and older English in Red Coral-to Wet Castanet. I haven’t read her Coach House book, Joy is So Exhausting, but will add it to my list.

that’s as much as i want to write about Rampike’s Cultural Mischief Issue, but not because there aren’t other interesting texts in the magazine. there are. my attention span again…

one last note on agreed upon vocabulary or parameters for a piece of writing: i don’t know about you but when i write i like to follow René Char’s advice, “Cheat at this game”, so i like to have some kind of knowledge about what is considered to be good and bad poetry by critics. and i like to play with that. so when i read other people’s work and i recognize that they are working against preconceived notions about what a narrative poem should be, what a lyric should be, i find that interesting. the idea of some kind of authority’s opinion dictating whether a work succeeds or fails tends to bug me and i don’t usually buy it. back to what Davey said in his interview about literary contests and how they’re determined. what is resonant for me in a poem might not resonate for you. i’m ok with that.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

hot summer reads

Rhapsodomancy by kevin mcpherson eckhoff (Coach House Books)
a mix of visual poems and text, optical illusions, translations; an exploration of symbols, graphic comic, whimsy and a chance to learn Unifon and Pitman Shorthand too.
i enjoy how this book makes me look at the alphabet again.

from the Afterword, about the Apantomancy section

“Apantomancy refers to divination through whatever objects lie at hand. These poems imagine a relationship between Shorthand and divination, which seeks to make sense of the world by reading for traces of heavenly knowledge within particular objects or action. The practices of Shorthand and divination seem to me analogous to those of the poet.”

my only complaint about this book is that i wanted more. but i find by going thru the book again and again, i am almost satisfied.

this seems like a daring publication for the current CHB. is it my imagination or has the poetry catalogue become more adventurous in the last year or so? there is Rachel Zolf’s Neighbourhood Procedure, for one, which i haven’t yet purchased but have heard her read parts of. a text that continues to resonate for me, in other words, i found it memorable.

Glenn Piano by Gladys Priddis by Jason Dickson (Book Thug)
this wee 6 x 9 publication from BookThug’s Department of Narrative Studies had me at Glenn Piano. what an intriguing character name and why didn’t i think of it? the design is molto bello and not that you should judge a book by its cover (but who doesn’t?)…this cover is gorgeous. back to the soft textured covers that i prefer not those glossy ones. personal taste i guess, but glossy covers make me think of those wretched self published books that are usually 700 pages long and talk about monsters in capital letters. but back to Glenn Piano by Gladys Priddis, both a mystery and a romance. the language is entertaining and the book harkens back to an earlier era of perhaps 18th century or 19th century romances? i don’t know. but it sounds good.

and then there is the text within the text, the poems of Gladys Priddis, which i enjoyed. her musings on water. perhaps feels like a parody perhaps just jejeune, but joyful too.

my only complaint is the attempt to reproduce cursive for Gladys’ poems. it is difficult to read, very difficult. i understand why it was done but with the tight spacing and the cursive, i struggled to read this bit.

The Little Seamstress by Phil Hall (Pedlar Press)

i have been a fan of Ph since I picked up An Oak Hunch (Brick Books, 2005), and then White Porcupine (Book Thug, 2007). not to forget the wee chappie The Bad Sequence (Book Thug, 2007). so it is no surprise that the Little Seamstress would appeal to me. Why? it is humble, no big enunciations; it is astonishing in places with gorgeous sound play and image play, and a whole bunch of humour. perhaps the Little Seamstress is my favourite so far of what i have read of Phil Hall. i love the rhythm and pacing in this book.

here’s a wee excerpt from the poem “Ylang.” you must buy this book to read more. and i am certain that you will buy it…

Inside your voice bees huddle honey behind a falls

Only I know where the hive is & why the cataracts smell of
buckwheat clover

Last night I dreamt that while I slept alone in the dark on
my back—uncovered—naked—with the fan on full-blast—my
short-hairs genuflecting to the winch of the snowstorm—you
kissed me—right where my pelvic bone juts for you to kiss it

i don’t think i have any complaints about this book at all. i plan to read it and the other Ph works again and search out more of his works also.

oh, and you must read this wonderful interivew Ph did with Beth Follett, publisher of Pedlar Press over at Open Book Toronto.

[i apologize for the link to amazon rather than to the publisher, but i cannot find a web site for Pedlar Press and i know that the books are distributed by LPG but that is one hellacious uninformative site, yikes.]

is this blog alive again? perhaps. that is the word of the day and the year.

a minor side note

Dear creators of art and workers of the word,

i hope that i am respectful to what you do. i hope that in my opination and exuberence, i do not dismiss your work as gibberish or call you huskers. that is not my intention. should i do so, you have my permission to abuse me with words but perhaps not with physical violence. i am no surrealist and not capable of wielding a sword. unlike Hemingway i do not look good in boxing gloves.