amongst books

amongst books

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Oulipo Promo

my plans to participate in a National Poetry Month activity run by the Found Poetry Review are discussed in the following articles/blog entries:

Chaudiere Books Blog

Apt 613 site 

Peter Simpson, "Breaking Poetry News" the Ottawa Citizen, Saturday, March 22, 2014 [can't find a link to the article


Wednesday, March 26, 2014

When Poets Write the Unspeakable

Honeymoon in Berlin - Tom Walmsley with  illustrations by Sandy McClelland (Anvil Press, 2004)

I have been enamoured with the writing of Tom Walmsley (& the man himself, frankly) since I read his poetry collection What Happened (Book Thug, 2007) last year. That book inspired me to write a long poem in five acts. I went on to read & enjoy his novels, Shades  (The Whole Story of Doctor Tin) (Arsenal Pulp Press, 1992), Kid Stuff: a novel (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2003), Dog Eat Rat (Mansfield Press, 2009), and more recently several of his plays.

What is consistent about his work is the combination of raw honesty, minimalism, humour,  vivid descriptions, a knife-edge's sharpness & wit, & above all, passion. This passion is prevalent in Honeymoon in Berlin, which couples dark desires with a fear or,  perhaps a realization would be more accurate to say, of death. What is it that causes humans to go to extremes? The need to taste life perhaps?  This book is full of ghosts. At any given moment, someone is walking over our graves. Honeymoon in Berlin has been described as dark. Duende is at work in this book, which sticks its tongue up Death's ass.  Perversely perhaps, I see Honeymoon in Berlin as full of light, full of honesty, rather than the usual politesse & repression. A hunger. A celebration of tiny crimes…

Yes, Loretta
I've done things in darkness
drunk
the night swallowed them up
& I showered them off at sunrise.

Bloody Jack - Dennis Cooley (Turnstone Press, 1984), republished with additional poems & an introduction by Douglas Barbour (University of Alberta Press, 2002). [Note that I own the original, not the 2002 revision.]

Reading about the boxing in Kid Stuff reminded me of Dennis Cooley's "Bloody Jack," about John Krafchenko, a professional wrestler & desperado from Western Canada. 

This book defies genre, like many of my favourites.  Bloody Jack is an attempt to tell the unwritten story of a man who perhaps one could say has been robbed of his own chance to tell his story, who couldn’t read or write. "Blood Jack" continues Cooley's brilliant lyricism, prevalent in all his works. One of the things I enjoy about Dennis Cooley is his ability to embody other voices. 

See, for example, The Bentleys (University of Alberta Press, 2006) where Cooley renders the voices of Sinclair Ross' characters in As for Me and MyHouse (Renal & Hitchcock, 1941)

In the voice of Jack, Cooley's language is violent, muscular, masculine: "you are the oil can/melts my rust." Poems give a full picture of Jack, via his voice, an omniscient third, seemingly factual newspaper articles, interviews & witness testimony, to his hanging, for instance, & various people who knew  him. 

This book is a precursor to Rob Winger's Muybridge's Horse (Nightwood Editions, 2007), which provides accounts of Muybridge from his friends, families & associates. There's variation in style & tone, colloquialisms, formal language in both books.

in his tangerine skin
we buried him
in mint condition
on his eyes
two georges
they shone like hen's eyes
he inhaled the dark
bbbbgg bbggg
engorged it
like a badger breathing
for blood
when we shovelled him in
christ he was a gorgeous man
the eyes were breathing
& shining blood



Monday, March 17, 2014

My Writing Process - Blog Tour

Thanks to my pal, rob mclennan, for inviting me to do this. he writes about his writing process here.

1) What am I working on?

I'm working on a lot of things at the same time, but for the purposes of this assignment, I will focus on one: a genre-blurry trilogy called Trouble, Heaven & Paradise.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I don't even know other stuff in this genre. it's not one genre. It's part poetry, part rock opera, part theatre, part who the fuck knows.

3) Why do I write what I do?

I'm always playing around. In this case, I had the pleasure this winter of discovering the brilliant writing of Tom Walmsley, some of which includes plays & a libretto. I've always been interested in the theatre. As a youngster in university I took a few courses on the Theatre of the Absurd. 

I am also really fascinated by the work of Anne Carson & the way she mixes genres. Her translations of Greek tragedy in An Oresteia are so poetic & contemporary. This work mixes in the mythology of Eurydice & Orpheus with the Bible.

4) How does your writing process work?

For part of this project, I edit using an electric guitar. Part 1 was a long poem written in 48 hours, responding to "What Happened," a poetry collection by Tom Walmsley while I listened to the music of Tom Waits. I often write in a crazy quick way while listening to music.

It's always a matter of feeling an urgency to respond to something that has affected me in some way. Could be a line or image from a poem or a novel or a short story, a combination of sounds in a piece of classical music, song lyrics, a painting or a sculpture, a tidbit of conversation. I listen, I look around, I take it all in.

Next week's blog tour participants are


Rachel is an Ottawa-based poet whose work has appeared in Canada, the United States and abroad. Currently, she enjoys writing from a blanket-layered radiator beside a drafty window overlooking a quietly eventful street.


Carol A. Stephen is a Carleton Place poet, shortlisted 2012 3rd place winner in Canadian Authors Association National Capital Writing Contest,.authored of Above the Hum of Yellow Jackets, and Architectural Variations.


Margento is a Romanian poet, performer, academic, and translator who has performed and lectured in the US, SE Asia, Australia, and Europe. 


Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Anne Carson Leads Me Astray

Anne Carson - Nay Rather (The Cahier Series Number 21, Sylph Editions, London, 2013) Text by Anne Carson with illustrations by Lanfranco Quadrio.

What I love about Anne Carson is her ability to lead me astray and yet somehow, everything comes together. In this chapbook we move from Homer to the the silences of translation when a target language isn't able to cover a reality that exists in the source language to the voices heard by Joan of Arc, to attempts to avoid narrative to Francis Bacon's painting of a scream without painting the horror to Paul Celan. 

All this in the first essay: "Variations on the Right to Remain Silent," while on opposing pages we have "By Chance the Cycladic People"  an essay about a civilization from the Neolitich Early Bronze Age where the order of the lines has been determined by random number generation. The essay is another example of Carson's modernization of myth or early human civilizations. 

The second piece is accompanied by drawings and goaches by Quadrio, an Italian artist known for illustrations of myth. When reading these side-by-side essays, I found myself having to stop with one train of thought & move to the other. A kind of disruption of the narrative, which was apropos for the subject of "Variations."

In "Variations…" Carson talks about the meaning of the word "cliché: "a French borrowing, past participle of the verb clicher, a term from printing to mean 'to make a stereotype from a relief printing surface.'" Since it is supposed to mimic the sound of the printer's die striking metal, it is not translatable in English.

Carson is concerned with two kinds of silences: physical, when parts of a manuscript have been destroyed, and metaphysical, when one language cannot be rendered by another. I found it very moving when she discussed Joan of Arc being forced to explain by her inquisitors where her voices came from. The voices were not explainable in terms that made theological sense to the judges. Joan did not speak Latin but Middle French and so her words were often mistranslated, to her detriment. At the same time, Joan rebelled against the narrative: "Light your fires."

Francis Bacon  also raged against the cliché, particularly, according to Carson, in his series of paintings of the pope screaming. Carson points out that while he is a representational painter, he is attempting to convey the facts differently: "By 'facts' he doesn't mean to make a copy of the subject as a photograph would, but rather to create a sensible form that will translate directly to your nervous system the same sensation as the subject."  

Bacon depicts people  screaming in a medium that cannot transmit sound. Once more the evocation of silence. "There is a tendency for story to slip into the space between any two figures or two marks on a canvas. Bacon uses colour to silence this tendency." …"Bacon has another term for this stopping: he calls it 'destroying clarity with clarity'. Not just in his use of colour but in the whole strategy of his compositions, he wants to make us see something we don't yet have eyes for, to hear something that was never sounded."

The essay goes on to discuss the idea of violence in Bacon's art, then the colour purple, which comes from the Greek porphura or purplefish. Its ancient Greek name kalkhē derived a verb and a metaphor that is troublesome to translate. The verb kalkhaienin, meaning "to make purple" also conveys the idea of profound and troubled emotion. This caused difficulty for the translation of Sophocles' Antigone by Friederich Hölderein who chose a literal translation: "You seem to colour a reddish purple word, to die your words red-purple." 

His translation of the play made him a laughing stock and he eventually had a nervous breakdown.  This leads to Carson asking a question about the relationship of madness to translation.

Her method of discussion, asking questions and then providing evidence is a compelling and forceful way to make an argument. Bacon threw paint at his paintings in the end as a gesture of rage. Carson refers to these as free marks and connects them to Eve's putting a free mark on Adam's apple. 

"Maybe she was catastrophizing. Adam had just performed the primordial act of naming, had taken the first step towards imposing on the wide-open pointless meaningless directionless dementia of the real a set of clichés that no one would ever dislodge, or want to dislodge -- they are our human history, an edifice of thought, our answer to chaos. Eve's instinct was to bite this answer in half."

The final section of the essay is devoted to a poem by Ibykos, from 6th Century BC and Carsons seven translations of fragments using only words from particular works: John Donne's Woman Constancy, Bertolt Brecht's FBI file, page 47 of Beckett's Endgame with the phrase, "Nay rather" used in all translations.

"In spring on the one hand" becomes
"In woman, on the one hand" [Donne]
"At a cocktail party attended by Communists, on the one hand [Brecht's FBI file]
"In your kitchen, on the one hand" [p. 47 of Beckett's Endgame]
"In the end, on the one hand, all those who sit behind us at cash desks"
[Conversations with Kafka by Gustav Janouch]
"At the excess fare window, on the one hand" [stops and signs from the London Underground]
"In hot snacks, and appetizers, on the one hand" [Manual of my new Emerson 1000 W microwave oven]

Anne Carson continues to be innovative with a firm foundation of the antiquities and the classics behind her thinking and innovations.

The second essay, on right-hand pages, "By Chance the Cycladic People" is a kind of echo of the first essay, feels like a translation, includes such objects as mirrors and stones. There's a stillness to the behaviour of the Cycladic People that mirrors the silence, the stops, the free marks of the Variations essay. 

At the same time the poem concerns the dying of a culture. In some ways, it feels as if Carson is still concerned with the notion of undoing as she wrote about in Decreation, her response to the work of Simone Weil. There are mentions of mirrors, handbags, honkytonk, cumberbunds, frying pans, William S. Burroughs and Proust. There is plenty of humour in this piece also. Anne Carson leads me astray. It bears repeating. How I love to be lead astray.

Reading "Nay Rather" has once more whet my appetite for Anne Carson and in particular: Decreation: Poetry. Essays. Opera (Vintage Canada, 2006)and Plainwater: Essays and Poetry (Vintage Books, First Vintage Contemporaries Edition, 2000)  I have always been a fan of how she blurs the boundaries of genre and the way she looks at history and culture with both the rationalist's eye and the poet's eye.


A word too about this gorgeous chapbook by Sylph Editions under their Cahier Series imprint. It is beautifully designed: 44 pages, 16 colour illustrations, the book is sewn and includes a dust jacket in fine paper, most likely bamboo, but I'm hypothesizing or just dreaming. The Cahier Series is a co-production of Sylph Editions and the Centre for Writers and Translators at the American University of Paris. If I receive more royalties from my nefarious writing shenanigans, I will purchase more from Sylph Editions.