amongst books

amongst books

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Patty Griffin – Servant of Love (Self Released, Thirty Tigers, 2015)

from the opening title track, Servant of Love, this album mesmerizes with Patty Griffin’s voice & the haunting piano, followed by the echo of a sax. “I want to live, I want to live, by an ocean…held by your silent words from the deep calling to me.”

I love the feisty guitar & matching brass wail of Gunpowder. the song is a kind of blend of country & jazz.

Good as Gone has an Eastern feel to it. Lots of strings, a dark pluck of the bass maybe...I wish I had a knack for figuring out instruments. All of the songs are very intense.

Hurt A Little While has a Chicago bluesy feel to it. Good howling blues & matching electric guitar fuzz. I’m amazed at the versatility of this album. No one song sounds the same. What they have in common is Griffin’s strong voice, which has a smoky sound.

250,000 Miles is my favourite song of the album, after Servant of Love, with its beautiful multi-layering of harmonies & instruments. it’s a haunting & melancholy song.  & midway through we get this Eastern sound.

Made of the Sun opens prettily with bright guitar & then Patty’s voice, honeyed & clear. The sounds are bright yellow for  me, the higher chords on the guitar, the higher notes sung.

Everything’s Changed has a mesmerizing, repetitive and insistent beat. The tone is darker than the previous song and the lyrics are sparse. The song comes across as a chant.

Rider of Days is a pretty ballad that reminds me of Irish folk tunes. It’s a song that reminds us to live in the moment, to celebrate it. The whole album is influenced by this theme. Sunny elaborate guitar work goes well with the smooth and strong tones of Patty’s voice. This song feels like a proclamation.

There Isn’t One Way is a more raucous and feisty song, evocative of Lucinda Williams or Bonnie Rait with a blues-rock feel from the electric guitar accompaniment and rhythm. Bass too & drums. Apparently the album was made with few instruments, but they have a lot of versatility & are used to create a lot of different styles of song.
Patty lets her voice get rougher for this song. Her throatiness here reminds me of Melissa Etheridge.

Noble Ground has an understated opening with Patty singing in a low and quiet voice. Its pacing is slow. Then the song opens up with some fancy piano work and a bit of trumpet. It’s a song of rebellion.

Snake Charmer is a fun & fast song, very playful. Apparently the cool high echoey sound on the song is an omnichord. I’m normally not a fan of album producers; they have been known to mask the strength of the music in fancy complexities, but in this case, the producers were Patty Griffin herself and Craig Ross. the production translates the music well.

You Never Asked Me begins quietly with the piano, is one of the sweetest and saddest songs of the album, about the end of a relationship. Gorgeous voice paired with piano intoning disaster. Lyrically it’s my favourite song of the album.

the album finishes up with Shine A Different Way which begins with bright guitar and Patty’s hopeful voice.

listen to this album when you’re sick of the dark, grey days and you’re curled up on the couch with a lover, looking for solace, comfort & fellow rebels. Patty Griffin’s voice alone, so exquisitely beautiful, makes this album an essential record for the close listener.


this is my favourite album of 2015.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Rampike - last issue still available & back issues available

In my introduction to Brick Books' Celebration of Canadian Visual / Concrete Poetry, I failed to mention that Rampike, although no longer producing new issues, still has plenty of life. 

Karl Jirgens informs me that the current issue (Rampike 24.1) is on newsstands across Canada and the USA, as well as 5 other continents and is for sale all over the Globe.

Previous issues including the last 36 years all feature visual poetics, and can be ordered by customers, via Canada Post.

Many rare and wonderful, current or back copies still available from publisher upon request, just send email order to: jirgens@uwindsor.ca.

My apologies to Karl.  I thank him for the correction.

More information is available on Rampike's site.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Heather O'Neill - Daydreams of Angels (Harper Collins, 2015)

i loved this short story collection. the author gives us fairy tales & fables which manage to convey grief, hope, loss, love. they are absurd, highly imaginative & humorous stories that complement her novels quite well. there are stories within stories told by parents and grandparents to children. there are talking bears, misbehaving angels, cloned ballet dancers, soldiers with clockwork hearts. they are both fanciful and at times political, but they are always entertaining. reading these stories was pure joy.

it's good to see contemporary writers taking on the fairy tale again. i'm thinking also of Helen Oyeyemi (Boy Snow Bird, Mr. Fox, etc), Barry Webster's the Lava in My Bones & in the last century, Angela Carter's the Bloody Chamber.

i highly recommend this collection to all readers. they will remind you of the joy of reading you discovered as a child.

If Angela Carter & Kurt Vonnegut had a daughter, she would be Heather O'Neill.

[reposted from my Goodreads note]

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Daniel Allen Cox - Mouthquake (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2015)

[reposted from my Goodreads note]

another marvelous work by one of my favourite contemporary writers & a dear friend. elements of fairy tale, fable. a series of moments in the life of a boy who stutters & encounters various kindreds in Montreal. somehow evocative to me of Marie-Claire Blais' La Belle Bête. poetic. insightful. how language distorts, the difficulty of expression. provocative & sensual. delightfully humorous. a character with an on going story. i hope we see him again.

part of the ongoing narrative of dystopian Montreal from contemporary writers. heads up: i'm going to be writing about Heather O'Neill's Daydream of Angels soon.

this is also a good time to re-mention that my reading with Daniel, Marcus McCann & Billeh Nickerson at Venus Envy last September was a highlight of the year. 

more information about "Mouthquake" here & here


Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Michael e. Casteels – solar-powered light bulb and the lake’s achy tooth (Apt. 9 Press, 2015)

Beautifully designed by Cameron Anstee, this chapbook is a combination of concrete and lexical poems. Form is intrinsic to each of the poems as part of their content. 80 copies were created in a limited and numbered edition. I got number 53. The chapbook contains 30 poems on individual sheets. The poems were typed on a typewriter. I’m presuming a manual typewriter.

William Carlos Williams said that “a poem is a small (or large) machine made out of words.” That’s the first thing I thought of when I read these poems. They are tiny economical machines with nothing redundant or wasted.

What I love about them and what will make me return to them is their elegance and their shape. White space and the shape taken up by each poem is part of the beauty of this chapbook. The poem “night scene” is the word “owl” spread out on the page with the o in the blank sky-like space and the wl crouched in a corner. “night scene 2” adds an h to make the word “howl.”

There is humour and word play, a different way of looking at the world. The poem “full moon,” for example, is “light bulb tulip” and the title is also illustrative of this uniqueness.

The poems are inspired and influenced by Canada’s great minimalist poet, Nelson Ball, with other influences and inspirations, such as Dom Sylvester Houédard--and by association, Basho--and Stuart Mills.

The untitled suite of poems evokes Geof Huth’s one-word poems or pwoermd. As Geof says to Gary Barwin in his Jacket2 interview, “the pwoermd is made for the hyperliterate, for those so deep within the word that they have forgotten the sense of words except abstractly, for those sensitive to the meaning of a serif (and it is there), for those sensitive to not only the sound but also the sight of the word. For those who can smell the size and weight of a word with their eyes closed.”

When I read the poems in this chapbook, that’s exactly what it feels like: being deep within the word. I can still see these poems with my eyes closed. I feel that the author of these poems is a great listener and a watcher of the world, attentive to its small details, the ones that most people generally miss. There is a stillness to the poems and it is reflected in the design.

Michael e. Casteels is doing great things with his own work and with Puddles of Sky Press and Cameron Anstee is doing great things with his own work and with Apt. 9 Press. The pairing of these two poets/publishers in the making of this chapbook is genius and lovely. I hope they collaborate on more work in the future.


I hope Cameron won’t mind that I stole the photo of the chapbook cover from the Apt. 9 Press blog. My photos of same were abysmal.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Oana Avasilichioaei - Limbinal (Talonbooks, 2015)

Limbinal” is inspired by and engages with the Romanian poems of Paul Celan. What excites me about the work in particular is the vocabulary, invented words, “heightitude,” “enemy” as a verb, and especially its gorgeous imagery. I am a glutton for imagery. I know I’m supposed to give you some kind of description of the book, its structure etc, but I’m just going to ramble on a bit, quoting bits & pieces of startling imagery, turns of phrase.

I’ve loved Oana’s work since I first encountered her translation of Nichita Stӑnescu’s Occupational Sickness (Buschek Books, 2006). Her book, “We, Beasts” (Wolsak and Wynn, 2012), mesmerized me.

In “Borders,” “Fish bend the river into its undulations, spring curves.”

“In thinking of a tender her, contours ripple.” There’s a kind of reversal of typical ways of thinking. “Hybrid as a space of doubt.” …”No word is a virgin. Hybrood. Nationmood.”

I love the questioning that goes on, the feeling that nothing is absolute. Nothing is perfect. All is curiosity and imagination, the antithesis of borders, boundaries. “The child wades into the river, curious for the other side, daring the farther of one shore, the closer of the other.” “We are exalted and broken.” “a leader calmly drinks a morning’s conflict.”

“Partitions” combines lines of the poem in grey and black so that they mingle. I’d love to hear these read aloud, as a kind of chant. “Into a glass in one single gloss silence unfreezes.” The grey and the black exchange places.

“Mouthnotes” contains some resonant sound play and uses footnotes, is very sensual: “we made us wet supine in the pond we tuft / woodswollen mossheavy with gesture / margin the bushy aftermath of” “the barbarians are gathering, glutting the streets, the firewires, cellular signals, anticipating a gluttonous feast”

I’m always going to be on the side of work that questions authority and understands that language is an unwieldly communicator.  “we strew a sentence along a limb’s passage/deceived into believing/we’ve accomplished something”

I have dog eared every page of “Line Drawings”: “Petals of thought blew gusts around us. Small creatures guarded our solitudes.” “Upon arrival we clothed ourselves in the same series of movements.” “we entered into what would become a long, arduous and possibly futile search for the miraculous.” The poet does magical things with the sentence in this section. She manages to make prose poetry that works on the level of the sentence and the phoneme, still focused on sound.  There’s such ferocity in this work. A piling up of existing values toward war and then a destruction of them.

In “Thresholds,” in the poem “Blazed,” “Frozen lake slowly unfastens its glass doves.” Imagery and vocabulary we will also see in the translations of Paul Celan’s poems. There’s an urgency to this work, a clamouring, the quickened rhythm of the heart.

And then we have a series of photographs in “Itinerant Sideline”: blurred lights, fences, barred windows surrounded by walls of rusty perfectly geometrical shaped squares, sky as reflected through glass, each square of sky divided by black borders, buildings distorted through glass, hexagonal shapes. You have to admire the level of commitment to consistency without being pedantic, all sections question rigidity in one way or another, through the content and through form. The photos echo the text, for example in “Ancillary”: “the house’s mirrors constantly bend to collect your shadow…”

In “Borne” we are given poems in combined languages, French, English and Romanian. One language bleeds into another. “Breathing, I come to you, in you. Ton territoire deviant le mien.”

“Ancillary” is subtitled “Paul Celan’s Romanian Poems in Translation.” These poems, prose-poems and fragments offer the reader a compelling estrangement via imagery. The feeling of getting lost. The images of glass birds, frozen lakes, apricot eyes and a blaze recur in the rest of the book. “mourning drunk from a glass or mourning drunk from a palm—and the maddened week falling asleep upon hearing your answer.” “Poem for Mariana’s Shadow.” These are wild, untamed poems, poems of migration, poems of those who are denied entry to a new country.


“Riverine””Overpass”  is from correspondence between Nelly Sachs and Paul Celan with commentary by Oana Avisilichioaei. This section, like the rest of the book, inspires questions, which, in my opinion, is what good art should do. I’d like to know more about the relationship of Paul Celan and Nelly Sachs, the Jewish-German playwright and dear friend of Paul Celan’s.

the rest of the subsections use  the vocabulary of water: river, floods, city’s infrastructure, conduits, reservoirs, the decay of a city with lines that cross the boundary of the page, individual lines, sentences, prose paragraphs that skirt the edges of the page. crowd the bottom or the top, leaving plenty of space, a white sky. a fable of a girl by the river in the rain, “Green eddies of rot infiltrating between her toes, slithering as if penned in a fold.”

The form of the book is working well with its content. short staccato phrases.  strong verbs, such as overflowing, gushing, lots of sound play, “strident screams, heels murmuring on pavement.” an engagement with nature and the city.  “The river carrying winter on its back.” we are told in the notes that “Current” and “Overflow” come from “transcriptions between the O and the Part exceeded from Jean Daive’s conversant walk with Paul Celan. […] “The syntax was lifted, then spilled over.”

The book ends with a series of statements, explanations perhaps. “Because the music arrived in ochres, greens and yellows//Because I wanted the music to articulate me”

I want to type in every line, every sentence, but I resist…just buy the book.


Limbinal is full of wonder, of questions, of beautiful language and imagery. It’s more than I can possibly know or write about. Which is the best kind of book there is.

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

David Constantine - In Another Country (Biblioasis, 2015)

David Constantine is an expert in precision: precision in language, in image and in character. His story "The Necessary Strength" illustrates vulnerability better than anything i've ever read, and it brought me to tears. At the same time, there is a dream-like quality to these stories, and there is wonder: he offers the reader a dictionary of light, a field guide to the sea and the lost map of human nature. I worry that this will sound hyperbolic, but I don't remember ever relating to or empathizing with characters as much as i do through these stories. The protagonists or the subjects of the stories are often broken and they know it. Or they are attempting to heal. this was my introduction to Mr. Constantine's writing. I will seek out more of it, especially his poetry. This work is, above all, a work of poetry. (reposted from my GoodReads review).

Thanks to the Ottawa International Writers Festival for inviting David to read at the fall edition. 

Monday, December 07, 2015

Girlpool, Before the World Was Big (Wichita Recordings, June 2015)

The internet tells me that Girlpool is an LA folk punk band made up of Cleo Tucker on guitar  and vocals & Harmony Tividad on bass & vocals.

First of all, I love the harmonies & I especially love the bass, which threads all the songs together in a kind of melancholy undertone in contrast to the melodic voices. Some of these songs are short frenetic bits of joy, others are mellow & full of langour. 

Girlpool reminds me of a 21st century Indigo Girls & the Juno soundtrack but with a Lou Reed edge & a Hope Sandoval mellowness. They lyrics resonate for anyone who has ever felt awkward & young & still feels that way. “Is it pouring out my body, my nervous aching. I like that you can see it.”

“And if I told you I loved you, would you take it the wrong way? … Do you feel restless when you realize, you’re alive.” “I am nervous for tomorrow and today.”  Chinatown.

“Tranquilize me with your ideal world.” Ideal World. (& then some fancy guitar work at the end.)

In “Dear Nora” they break into an acapella line & it’s gorgeous: “Dear Nora, A lot has changed this year. I’m still thinking about swimming in Seattle.”

I love the rhythm of the title track, "Before the World Was Big." “Walked around my neighbourhood, one hundred, one million, one billion, one trillion times. Every crack on the sidewalk below my feet…” “I just miss how it felt, standing next to you, wearing matching dresses, before the world was big.” There’s are a lot of really cool observations & unique terms of phrase in the lyrics. They sing that last line in a kind of round that reminds me of Row, Row, Row Your Boat & all those little kid songs you sing in the round.


Listen to this album when you’re walking down Bank Street (or whatever your version of Bank Street is, non-Ottawans), navigating afternoon civil servants on route to their coffee breaks. 

Favs of 2015 - an intro

best of lists are bullshit. they leave out too much goodness. because we can’t listen to all the music, read all the books, watch all the podcasts, tv & movies, eat at all the restaurants etc in a given year. but despite all that, I like lists. I like reading them & I like making them. they serve as an opportunity to find out about what’s new to you & to review the year.

as Bob Dylan may have said, according to the Internet, “Chaos is a friend of mine.” So until the end of this month, I’m going to write sporadically about some of my favourite things of 2015. a list of lists in the form of blog entries, not particularly linear or cohesive. stay tuned for my random favourite things of 2015. & if i show you mine, won't you please show me yours?