amongst books

amongst books

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Poetry at the Zine Off

February 5, 2014 - Pressed

Pearl Pirie's broadside "POLYVOCA" combines whimsical sound play and unique turns of phrase with poignant thoughts, such as "what we have in comma/is this:/the om in/commotions/the calm in commotions/the mot in it/the moths in us/with a broken wing/inside breath, yes breast,/yes breath"

Nina Jane's chapbook is "an investigation into the meaning of hips with a particular focus on the pelvis…" & includes images, facts & poems.  The poems here are sensual, physical & kinetic, full of life. NJ offers some fine slant rhyme & sound play in her poems.

Avonlea Fotheringham's beautifully made little book entitled "Acknowledgements and Poems" comes with a CD recording of some of her longer pieces. There's a depth and passion to her writing that I admire. My favourite was the playful "On Falling in Love with Dead White Guys, which imitates the styles of poets Eliot, Keats, cummings, Rimbaud & Donne.

Jeff Blackman & Justin Million collaborated on a collection called "leg brain," which features a sexy fishnet stockinged leg in a high heel, covered up with a lamp shade, reminiscent of a surrealist's collage or piece of visual art from that era.  the work inside is playful, humorous, sexual, down-to-earth with poems about strip clubs. the two poets work well together. both have a sense of the absurd & the beautiful.


Chris Johnson's "Barrier, III Well" is a small blue book with stapled title square in newsprint & insides covered in coffee stains. It begins with a melancholy epigraph from Nadine McInnis' "Two Hemispheres"  & continues the theme of madness from McInnis' book with small poems articulating madness, alcohol, anorexia,  melancholy & estrangement. Johnson's body of work so far is full of elusive love & the speaker's sexual activities. These poems have a great deal of bite & tension. there's a poignancy to this work: "the barrier between me and well."

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

The Elephant in the Room

In/Words, January 30, 2014, the ClockTower Pub on Bank Street

At the time of writing this post, I had attended two In/Words readings in its current location & with its current editors, Matt Jones, Maria Demare and Chris Johnson at the helm. Both times, someone has taken off his clothes.

The first time I went, I was the featured reader. The second time I chose to brave the cold and the ungodly late hour (readings begin sometime after 9pm & on a school day!) to attend because of the features: Davie Currie and JM Francheteau. I have rarely had an opportunity to hear Mr. Currie, but whenever I do I am always entertained by his humour, which is often inappropriate. JM is a very skilled writer. I'm starting to think he can write just about anything & make it great.

The reading opened with Dave in an elephant suit, yes…an elephant suit. After some struggles with figuring out how to get the microphone beneath his trunk, he proceeded to talk about issues such as poverty, human trafficking, slave labour etc. His collaboration with JM consisted of stories they told about one another. Dave's long tale of a relationship between a bear & a duck was punctuated with stories from JM. I can't make this stuff sound as hilarious & odd as it was.

After the break there was an open mic. I really love the In/Words open mic. The hosts and audience are warm & attentive & the readers & performers are truly talented. What stood out for me in particular at this open mic was the beautiful voice of Kimberly Dawkins who sang "Images" by William Waring Cuney. Lynette Wilsonplayed guitar & sang in a beautiful & smoky voice. I always enjoy it when music is included in an evening of primarily poetry & prose.

But there were other highlights too. Liam Burke reminded me quite a bit of Sean Moreland: good sound play, dark lyrical poems. Michelle Louise's poem about the bathroom floor, Marilyn Irwin & Cameron Anstee both read short & powerful pieces. The open mic set was gargantuan, so I can't begin to remember all the excellent participants.

In/Words has a new tradition with the current group of giving out prizes to open mic participants, which is such a caring & supportive thing to do. Congratulations to the recipients of bacon, a book on cheese & finger puppets. Yes, that's the kind of a night it was…& the kind of series. 

In/Words readings remind me very much of the old Café Nostalgica's Thursday night open mic series. Friendships made at that series have endured & some of its participants have gone on to become well-known performers. I can see that happening here with In/Words.

A note about the venue: the event takes place downstairs at the Bank Street Clocktower. The bar tender is a really great guy who runs around like crazy getting everyone's beer & food. He seems very supportive. The place the night of the reading was packed. A lot of the attendees were students at Carleton or former students, plus there were numerous members of the literary community there.


In/Words is a very active part of the community, not only holding these readings, but also showcases that include music, poetry & spoken word, a weekly writing workshop & publishing a chapbook series & a magazine. I have learned from personal experience that the more you put into something, the more you get out of it. I think it's very clear that In/Words is a labour of love for the organizers & they receive a lot of love in return.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Oulipost Exit Interview

Oulipost Exit Interview:
Oulipost Ends Where the Work Begins

Question 1

What happened during Oulipost that you didn’t expect? What are the best (or worst) moments for you?

I wasn’t expecting to engage with a community of writers. I envisaged simply responding to the prompts on my own, living mostly in my head, not interacting with others.

The best moments were when the poems really clicked, when the challenge resonated & I was able to use my imagination, such as for the Confabulation exercise. I ended up creating a snippet of dialogue which could be part of a play. With this exercise & a few other recent experiences, I have had an epiphany about one direction my writing can take that it hasn’t gone before: theatre.

With the antonymy exercise I also had a eureka moment when playing wildly with the idea of opposites & loosely translating what opposite means. For the Prime Minister’s Office I invented the Last Clerk’s Cupboard. I can imagine writing a whole series of poems entitled “Notes from the Last Clerk’s Cupboard.”

I had another eureka moment when I realized I could apply the Oulipo techniques we worked with to another project I’m involved in that I was uncertain how to address. Oulipo can save your life.

I was also really glad that I acquired the Oulipo Companion. It was a big help in responding to the challenges & also taught me more about Oulipo, which I was admittedly completely ignorant of when I started out.

There weren’t any really bad moments in this whole experience. I was intimidated at first by some of the more challenging exercises, such as the blank verse amidst the prose, the sonnets, beautiful outlaw. But it ended up being fun. And the fact that other Ouliposters were also having trouble was comforting.

I had some small technological difficulties when I took my Oulipo ass on the road & tried to use an unfamiliar laptop on the train: small train table, large laptop, inquisitive seatmate. Also in my temporary abode, I had some issues with my cell phone, which I was using to connect to the Internet, but patience & good distractions with a loving companion assuaged any flights of temper or frustration. I ended up completing my assignments on time & under budget. Ok, there was no budget for this, but…

Question 3

What does your street look like?

Fog-covered at the moment. It’s been raining for a few days. Besides, I haven’t been out to look at it much. I’ve been in front of my screen, Ouliposting. but this will be rectified in the month of May when I intend to wander my neighbourhood, gathering rosebuds & consorting with vagrants & hipsters.

Question 4


Who is your spirit Oulipostian?

I chose a non Oulipian to start: Anne Carson because of her genre blurriness & her seemingly limitless imagination & unique way of looking at the world.
Now, given how much I enjoyed reading the poems of my fellow Ouliposters & felt like we were operating as one entity, perhaps my spirit Oulipostian is the Chimera: one big body with several heads, the heads of my fellow poets who took part in this project.

Question 5

What are the top three poems you wrote during this project?

1.    the dialogue of Martha & Peter (Confabulaiton) (April 21)

2. Notes from the Last Clerk's Cupboard (Antonymy) (April 22)

3. once upon a time (Patchwork Quilt) (April 29) 

Question 2

What questions do you have for your teaspoons? What questions do your teaspoons have for you?

as luck would have it, I’ve already had a conversation with a spoon & this is what ensued:

“the spoon doesn’t want to resemble every other spoon. in the back of its mind, it questions why silver, why a bowl shape, why a handle. is envious of forks with their spiketine ability to stab meat & the knife, well the knife is the god of cutlery. can cut, draw blood. the spoon feels dull & ineffective. is tired of soup & yellow. lives only for the lift, the glorious tilt to the lips.”
the small of july, 2010

Question 6

What will you do next?


reheat the coffee. 
go outside. 
check the Oulipost FB group obsessively to see what everyone’s up to…
write more poetry. 
publish chapbooks of others thru AngelHousePress, my micropress & its imprint, DevilHouse in perparation for the ottawa small press book fair in june. 
try to go on…somehow…hand melodramatically over forehead, small white handkerchief at the ready to catch the torrents of tears I shall shed…
but seriously, I shall miss reading everyone’s poems daily & trying to conjure up my own. thanks to all involved.