amongst books

amongst books

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Young Tambling Tour Comes to Ottawa

October 21, 2013

It was nippy out but temperatures hadn't yet gone below zero. There's something about venturing out in the cold to attend a poetry reading that always feels magical to me. I bundle up; I am often alone with my thoughts before and after to contemplate the words I am about to hear and have heard.

Upstairs at the Carleton Tavern, site of rob mclennan's Factory Reading Series, the features were three American poets on a small tour through parts of Canada and the USA: DJ Dolack. Paige Ackerson-Kiely and Kate Greenstreet. Young Tambling is the name of Kate's current book, hence the tour name. Tambling or Tam Lin is the name of a character in a Scottish ballad who, in some versions, is rescued by his true love from the Queen of the Faeries. Who takes the virginity of young maids in the woods.  There was something of a fairy tale atmosphere at the reading that night. I wore red. I dropped my glove. It was picked up by a handsome prince. In a cottage by the woods…no, it was the Carleton Tavern in an Ottawa enclave.

For those of you who do not live in Ottawa or for those of you in Ottawa who haven't yet had the chance to experience a Factory Reading Series event, let me describe the environment for you: the Carleton Tavern is one of those rare old establishments that serves Labatts Blue and Molson Export in quarts. Some of the servers have coin belts on their pants to make change. Because people there still pay in cash. I see an elderly woman there every time I go. She's alone, sipping a pint, watching the hockey on the big screen tv.

The Carleton Tavern has been a neighbourhood fixture for eons, back in the days when we used to call that part of town Mechanicsville owing to its blue collar population, rather than Hintonburg or Wellington West, as the realtors say. It's a bar with a big heart. There's an annual xmas dinner for those in need, theatre productions, live music, knitting circles and at one point, a swingers' club met there for pre-hook up convo. The pizza is delicious, the smoked meat comes from Montreal and upstairs behind an unmarked door near the phone booths, on occasional Friday or Saturday nights before the downstairs gets lively with the latest cover band, rob mclennan runs the Factory Reading Series.

FRS is an informal series with no stage and no microphones. (Although that night, Kate brought her own sound system.) Featured readers stand as close to the audience as they want and preferably at a safe distance from the dart board. Audience members sit in rickety wooden chairs that are likely older than most of us.  Sometimes the booze comes to you, other times you have to make your way down the narrow flight of stairs to get your own. Guinness, alas, comes in a can.

FRS has a varied roster of readers, mostly poets, sometimes local, but more often than not out-of-towners who rob has published via above/ground press. Thanks to rob's excellent promotion, they end up wanting to visit our small berg and read here. It was through FRS that I first heard and met Kate Greenstreet and her delightfully supportive husband, filmmaker, graphic designer, renaissance man, and right hand man, Max Greenstreet back in 2007. I also met Paige Ackerson-Kiely when she came to town for an FRS talk a few years ago as part of a VERSeFest fundraiser. I had never met or heard DJ Dolack before, but I certainly enjoyed meeting him and hearing him read this time around.

It's months later, so I guess I don't remember verbatim or even close what everybody read, but I remember the congenial spirit of the reading, the warmth and rapport of the readers. 

DJ Dolak read from his book, "Whittling A New Face in the Dark" (Black Ocean, 2013). The work is minimal. thoughtful and yes, somewhat wry. I do like my wry. He's one of those poets who likes to tell stories surrounding his poems. And he's good at it. I remember one concerning living above --I think it was a sausage making business--and having to explain the smell of sausage to his parents.

His poems about New York were exotic to me and at the same time funny. He had the level of absurdity I associate with a Stuart Ross poem or a Gary Barwin poem. He used some reversal techniques I've also observed from Canada's Jason Heroux. "A word falls because I ask of it. [...] The world has been given its fair chance to avoid us." [NYC Postcards]. There was a warmth to the poetry and to his reading. 

The work is also keenly observational. Like watching a film in slow motion. Some of the many memorable lines from his reading: "I love you/how the elderly love bakeries,//in the way they say cake." [What They Want Me To Tell You]; "What it's like to know/your monster/doesn't give a fuck. [...]Sometimes the metaphor/is too good--//So much that it becomes expensive://the ambulance//spinning its weight/in the mud//while the body bleeds out." [For: Never Young].

Paige Ackerson-Kiely has friends in Ottawa and many of them attended the reading. I'm always amazed at what a small world we live in. Paige first intrigued me with her above/ground press chapbook, "Book About A Candle Burning in A Shed" 2011, and then continued to intrigue me when she talked at the FRS lecture series about her interest in Admiral Richard E. Byrd and the subsequent book she wrote, "My Love is a Dead Arctic Explorer" (Ahsahata Press, 2012). This is also what she read from. She may have also read from her other book, "In No One's Land" (Ahsahata, 2006) or that may be wishful thinking on my part. 

Paige is a mesmerizing reader, still & quiet, allowing the words to sink in. The piece that has stayed with me over the winter is the one page prose poem, "Lake Effect:" "You're at the bar again, trawling. The net of your eye catches the man in a wheelchair, sitting next to you. Forget pity, it's for the full-bellied. Forget how the northern Lake conceals not only fish, but also trash, petty currents, your foot in the mud sinking lower…" The imagery of this poem moves me still.

Before the readings, I had the fortune to talk a bit to Kate and to her husband, Max, who asked me a series of questions about four things I couldn't do without. I later discovered that Max had created "My Own Eyes"  a wonderful short film for Kate's last book, the Last Four Things.  It was all part of the magic of the night.

Kate gave an enchanting and compelling performance from "Young Tambling"  (Ahsahta Press, 2013). She didn’t so much read from the book as flip through it and riff off of it. She has an artist's way of looking at the world: close up, from different angles. The book is part fairy tale, part poetic memoir. There's an innocence, a kind of child-like naiveté to Kate's writing, partially because the speaker's memories of childhood are there, but also because of the way Kate observes things: "Not a paper frontier. The world/reflected in the place you are,//something you need to see that you cannot see directly." ["unshot"]; "A shadow broke the light beneath the door." ["open voicings"]; "My room had a counter running the length of one wall--I loved this counter, the top was red linoleum. I used it mainly as a place to build small shrines." "I am sending you a book that might be useful./Red is the devil. Gold is God."

One of the images that stays with me from Kate's reading is the long sequence about a deer. I am in no way doing the piece justice by excerpting a small portion here…:

"I was outside and inside at the same time. We were all sitting at a table, in  a way, but we were also out on the street and there was a dead deer  in the street. I went over to it and sat down on the curb. The deer lifted himself then, his bloody head and all, into my lap. I didn't know what to do. He seemed to be talking to me, in a language I couldn't understand. "

On the inside cover of the book, there is a tracing of Kate's hand. When Kate signed her book for me, she made an outline of my own hand on the left-hand page across from her own. Our hands were almost a perfect match. There are people whose world you simply must be part of. I felt that way that night, about Kate and Max, especially.

"--Do you think of poetry as useful?
--Yes, it has been to me.
--Tell me some of the ways it has been useful to you personally.
--It makes me feel that being human is a good thing. Being human, and even just being the way I am..I'm not completely alone."


A lot of people wonder what the point of going to a reading is. The standard response is that it's a chance to hear the writer's work in her own words and that's true enough, but for me, what is more important is achieving a connection with kindreds, as I did that night. Also, I should say that this reading was my favourite of 2013.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Francheteau on Randomage

Local poet JM Francheteau & co-organizer of the latest Ottawa Zine Off has good things to say about my recent offering for the Zine Off, "Amanda Randomage."

Friday, February 14, 2014

VERSeFest Schedule now online

VERSeFest is Ottawa's annual poetry festival & will include, to name a few, Elizabeth Bachinsky, David McFadden, Tim Bowling, Souvankham Thammavongsa, local poets Marilyn Irwin & Selina Boan, American poet Mary Ruefle & …me!

I'm excited to appear at my first festival as a feature, not a host, not a part of a long list, but just as me, as part of the VERSeOttawa Hall of Honour ceremony in which spoken word poet & initiator of good things, Danielle Gregoire & I are inducted as recipients of the honour. To say I am chuffed is an understatement.

With my first poetry book coming out with Chaudiere Books this year & this honour, I feel ridiculously fortunate.
Every success that happens to me in my literary career has meaning to me. I am always somewhat uncomfortable with praise, but overall I am happy when good things happen. Yeah, I'll say it…failures don't mean shit. Actually I don't consider rejections failure. So I haven't really felt that I've failed other than I've tried a few things that  haven't worked…yet…

Reading at a festival, receiving an award…that's pretty heady stuff. The first ever feeling I had that what I was doing, this writing poetry thing, was somehow real was a few years ago when I was doing a reading in Toronto for Book Thug to launch my chapbook, Welcome To Earth: poem for alien(s). In Toronto's Now Magazine, a free paper I've always picked up & read, even as a teen, I saw my name listed as part of the launch in the events section. I said to myself, "baby, you have arrived." I'm easy to please. I like my ego stroked a little bit. So right now, I'm enjoying the stroking.

To view the festival schedule, go here. Soon tickets will be on sale. I'm reading & accepting my award on the last day, Sunday, March 30 at 7pm. Hope to see you there. I did a lot of readings last year, but it's such a rare thing normally for me to be on stage as something other than the host of a reading. So yeah…I'm pretty jazzed.


It's also fun to say things like "I'm meeting with my publisher." Makes me feel all giggly. I do feel like an imposter. Like Lily Tomlin as Edith Ann, a little girl in the big over-sized rocking chair on Laugh In. "And that's the truth." 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Gleanings from the Web


According to its about page, "THE VOLTA is a multimedia project of poetry, criticism, poetics, video, conversation (audio), and interview (text)."

This online magazine is a prime example of why the Internet can be such a perfect vehicle for the design, publication and dissemination of creative works. It has 8 separate and voluminous sections and not all of them are purely two-dimensional text-based.

This issue focuses on what lies beneath layers of detritus; taboo, unexpressed thoughts, a poetics of wasted life, mourning, desire, the subversion of administered language.

As a wanderer who discovers found objects such as silver spoons at construction sites & various neglected bits & bobs, and a pornographer (a dear friend tells me this word means writer of taboos) I find this issue very alluring, including but not limited to

the surprisingly delicate fan collages layered with garbage from Parisian streets by Alice Notely & subsequent interview:  "I started doing this in Chicago a long time ago, not with fans, but with rectangles; and I used a lot of newsprint, those pages in the Sunday papers advertising hedges and flowers were a favorite. […]There isn’t a lot of garbage in Paris. When I first arrived here I kept finding pearls (faux) on the ground, so there were a lot of pearls on the fans. Women seem to lose pieces of jewelry here more than they did in New York."

Evening will come, a sub-section of the issue is chock full of compelling writing by poets on the how & why of their projects, including but by no means limited to…

Allison Cob's  intriguing excerpt "Garbage" from "Plastic: an autobiography" about a WWII bit of plastic, a Navy ID tag, that had been found inside a dead albatross in the Philippines. "What still exists, we know this—the plastic bits from inside the bird’s body. Maybe they sit in the landfill on Molokai. Or maybe they’re back in the water—washed down a storm drain or blown from a trash bin. The plastic will outlast the bones, the sand, this writing. How long? No one knows. Five-hundred years? A thousand?" Cob first saw the photo of the albatross carcass with the plastic tag inside in a photo in the National Geographic.  The image haunted her…a loose end, along with other loose ends, such as one of her journals, missing from the journals she had  rescued from the rain, after having second thoughts about throwing them out. How does paper break down over time? How does plastic?

CAConrad's quiet feral interiors, a tale of rating semen entitled "Suspension Fluid Magnificence"…its mix of taboo, pathos and humour. "How is wilderness memorized into the body? What lens does it provide? I went to where the wild is mostly hidden."

a. rawlings'  "Rusl: Trash in Iceland," a work centred around the idea of what we choose to delete and which includes an breathtaking slide show of ice, beach stones, degraded plastic bottles, cigarette butts, drift wood, rope. "The island was covered with what the ocean dumped onto and the weather dragged over it. Net buoys, shipwreck wood, rope, plastic containers. I looked closer. Swan death, unidentified bones. The Atlantic pulled green and red seaweed onto the shore, deposited it. I photographed bodies and parts of crabs, freshly dismantled by gulls during tidal recession."

Jonathan Regier's "Dogleaf": "The historian of astronomy tells us that if a glass cathedral existed, it would be a tremendous and communal work, transmitted from generation to generation like sensitive, everlasting grapes."

There's so much magic in this issue. I'm going to stop here & let you discover for yourself.

The February issue is also something to sink your teeth into. It's a special issue on anthologies.

A poet I admire named Lisa Jarnot (read Black Dog Songs) has a list of 50 things for the new year, which includes such activities as knitting one hundred hats & defiant lightness. 

The eighth issue of 17 Seconds, a magazine curated by my dear friend, rob mclennan came out this past fall. It continues the defunct site, Poetics.ca which was run by rob and  Stephen Brockwell. the idea is to spark conversations about poetics through interviews, reviews, essays etc. It's a way to get more critical writing about poetry out there. I am all in favour of such. Hence the AngelHousePress essay series…
The 8th issue of 17 seconds has contributions from 6 poets in Canada and the USA.

Amy Dennis' offers entrancing work in her "Composition c. 1950 Wols.), an ekphrastic series on the art work of Wols (Alfred Otto Wolfgang Schulze), a lyrical abstract painter I had never heard of before and will now seek out. I have to say that there is something of the Duende in Amy's poetry, a kind of dark magic. Given my own fascination with colour, it's not surprising that I would glory in lines such as these: And although/a part of me believes//in the roots/of that dark blue flower/drinking from my inner wrist, I say to myself/there can't be such a bloom//living in my body;" (ii. Wols. mashes lilac and geranium/into the circumference of a mauve bruise). But it's not just the colour, don't get me wrong. In this work the poet shows savvy observation abilities and a capacity for deep thought: "So much/of him was gypsum on the wet fingers/of Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir who helped him/brawl hangovers" I love the unsualness of the verb "brawl." "All Wols had//was abstraction and an absent father who left/him thinking God preferred flies to men."  I have published Amy's work in the most recent issue of Experiment-O.com, Issue Six. I think she is a writer whose work deserves more attention. Thanks to rob mclennan for bringing her to mine.

Phil Hall has a piece which muses over/critiques/questions a review of Sue Goyette's latest poetry book, "Ocean." The review was written by Chad Campbell and published in Maisonneuve. I haven't yet read "Ocean" but after reading this review of a review and hearing Sue Goyette talk about the book with Sheila Rogers on a recent edition of CBC's the Next Chapter, I have added it to my wish list. Sue describes the as a biography of the ocean, which is a novel idea to me. I found Phil's argument to be both logical and impassioned. He takes apart the notion that there is something wrong with confessionalism in poetry and defends metaphor. I am a fervent admirer of Phil's work. I like the fact that he is willing to passionately come out on the side of a fellow poet in a thoughtful piece that isn't at all a hyperbolic lauding of  the writer's work, but also includes some critique. I'd love to see more critiques and responses to critiques written in this way. It isn't an attack of the reviewer; it calls into question the reviewer's point of reference: academia and offers a few other possibilities.



I was pleased at the opportunity to read more of Joshua Marie Wilkinson's poetry. I have been a fan of his since I first read, "lug your careless body out of the careful dusk: a poem in fragments"(University of Iowa Press, 2006) and winner of the Iowa poetry prize.  I have dog-eared many pages of this books owing to the sensual imagery therein. & lines like these: "Cities are for/breaking you into several people/ at once." The poems in 17 seconds are a series entitled "the Easement" and they are full of lush and beguiling imagery: "In the deepening twilight, the earth swims into its nets/to bring old lovers kissing in a woods,/a street corner,/a beach head with kids oohing/& cheering, a starfish gleaming/a tidepool to the eye of a drifted dog trot/trotting sandy, sort of lost,  happy, lost & alright."