amongst books

amongst books

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

on reading American poets

Recently I read Stuart Ross' book "Confessions of a Small Press Racketeer." It's a wonderful book, an honest portrayal of the small press scene. Ross recommends that writers read
American poets from the 60s and 70s. Throughout the book he references folks like Ted Berrigan. I've read stuff from that era; primarily male poets and I have to say that while I admire the language skills, I'm never that involved in their work. It comes off for me mostly as cold, and stuff I can't really relate too: the existential angst that French writers like Camus and Sartre already dealth with much more proficiently for me. Really I guess it's a personal preference, but I prefer poems about moments, rather than those that make arcane and obscure illusions to mythological characters such as those by John Berryman. And also I find the ramblings to be very prose like. Doesn't do a thing for me. Give me a Sylvia Plath or Gwendolyn Macewen any day. I need strong, strong images as much as I need a few glasses of full bodied red wine. The male Yanks I've read from the 60s and 70s just sound kind of pretentious to me, self involved, clever. There's one thing I really can't stand is show off poetry. It doesn't feel like it's from the heart at all. Many people say poetry should transcend the personal in order for the reader to feel it..for it to become a kind of universal experience, and I'm all for that. But that doesn't happen to me with these poets. Instead I just marvel at the distance, the coldness. It makes me shudder, but not in a good way. I wonder if women can really relate to this kind of distance writing? I can't. For male poets, give me Metis poet Gregory Scofield, or Torontonian Robert Priest. Give me emotion. Give me moments. Give me imagery that sticks with me, not long three syllable abstractions and mean comments against other writers. Just not my thing.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Ottawa Small Press Book Fair

on Saturday--got some neat stuff, really creatively made poems by Samuel Generoux (especially Just which is bound in its own hand-made box (you can't find stuff like this in bookstores), the latest Dusty Owl Quarterly, Chapter Three of Steven Zytveld's novel, The Passing of Arthur King. I love the fact that he's publishing this as a series, a la Dickens, a la King (but not chicken a la king), this novel is very Robertson Davies, very Fifth Business. Stuart Ross' Confessions of a Small Press Racketeer. As We Try & Sleep Press's first chapbook: an elegant black "carnage" by rob mclenann. Plus Bywords sold a heep of stuff and although my voice was gone, I did get a chance to chat with friends old and new, not to mention enjoy hanging out with the Bywords team who always shows up en force for the fairs.

For more on the fair, go to John MacDonald's blog:

There are some amazing small presses out there and these fairs are often the only way to find out about them. Stay tuned for next Ottawa one in the fall. You'd be a fool to miss it.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Which Modern American Poet Are You?

You are Wallace Stevens
You are Wallace Stevens. You love everything,
especially the sound of things. Too bad you
are so obscure that at times even you don't
understand what the hell you have written.

Which Famous Modern American Poet Are You?
brought to you by

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Capital Slam Finals

Friday night at the Universe City Pub on Besserer. That was the most people I've seen at a literary event since the Armitage/Babstock reading. Spoken wordsters are the friendliest group in Ottawa's literary scene. The four who are going to Vancouver for this year's Spoken Word Limpics are Steve Sauve, John Akpata, DJ Morales and Kevin Mathews. The alternative will be Oni The Haitian Sensation. Other competitors included Free Will, Devon and Ritalin (Greg Frankson, the organizer). Akpata won the local championship. Such an energetic evening! Performances ranged from heavy issue topics to light comedy with some well-crafted poetry in between by Kevin Mathews.

These people are all skilled performers. The event was fast and well-structured with two rounds, judges and the light-hearted banter of CBC radio host, Alan Neal. Nobody was snoozing at this event. I think the current spoken word scene is the heartbeat of the whole literary scene.

I enjoyed the evening tremendously and will be back for more. The next big event in spoken worddom is the National Capital Throwdown at the Gap of Dunloe on Wed. June 22. Need I say, check the Bywords calendar?

Monday, June 06, 2005

finding the meaning in a poem

For a great discussion of how to read and interpret a poem, go to Ron Silliman's blog entry today (June 6).
I once belonged to an online poetry workshop group where almost every single person's first question was what does this mean. There was no attempt to do an analysis, no attempt to look at the sound patterns. The idea was that if there wasn't a clear and explicit meaning in a poem, it wasn't a good poem. I thought that was hogwash and quit the group. If clear and explicit is the main criteria for poetry, why write a poem at all? Why not just write an encyclopedia entry or a news story? For me a poem's imagery and language has to get into my bones. I have to feel it. I don't always understand the writer's intent, but I can get a sense of the tone and often long after a poem has disappeared from my memory, its tone, its colour, texture and ambiance stay with me. Sylvia Plath and Gwendolyn MacEwen had that effect on me. Plath's Dark Wood, Dark Water for instance. The only thing I can remember now without reading it is the lake, shining coins dropping. A feeling of bottomlessness, of dropping.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Griffin Prize Winners

I'm happy that Roo Borson won the Griffiin! I didn't know her work until I'd read a BQJ poem by Chris Pitre called "After Hearing Roo Borson Read." Looked her up and really enjoyed her work. I like the way she starts with an image and then moves outwards.