amongst books

amongst books

Saturday, March 31, 2007

bywords interview from special blend

Susan Johnston of Special Blend, CKCU FM, interviewed Bywords editors Amanda Earl, and Marcus McCann and Bywords Quarterly Journal contributor Christian McPherson on Friday.

We talked about Sunday's launch of the spring issue of the Bywords Quarterly Journal, how Bywords works and shared some poetry. The interview opens with the music of our guest musician, Kristin Bell Murray.

Go to for more info about Bywords and to to hear more of her music. Tune in to Special Blend on Fridays for a hodge podge of arts and culture happening in Ottawa-Gatineau:

To hear the interview:

then come to our launch sunday, april 1 at Chapters, 47 Rideau at 2pm

Friday, March 30, 2007

Bywords Spring Reading-This Sunday@Chapters, 47 Rideau

To celebrate the start of the fifth year of the Bywords Quarterly Journal, this event will feature our Ottawa-based editors, plus contributors to the spring BQJ. We'll also hear the music of Kristin Bell Murray.
Sunday, April 1, 2007, 2pm
Chapters, 47 Rideau Street (inquire at info desk if you can't find us)
Contact: Amanda Earl,; (613) 868-1364
Readers include Kelly Clarke, Amanda Earl, Andrew Faulkner, Heather Ferguson, Kathryn Hunt, Marcus McCann, Christian McPherson, Lesley Strutt, Victoria Vernell and Betty Warrington-Kearsley
We'll have copies of the Bywords Quarterly Journal, Ottawa Arts Review and other goodies on hand. Afterwards come join us as we toast year 5 with a pint or six at the Highlander Pub.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Don McKay at Tree, Nat’l Library

last night. lots of people there to see bc poet don mckay (last syllable pronounced like sky rather than day, in case you were always wondering).

as tree readings do, this one started with an open mic set with tree regulars martin levine, bob monsurinjohn, max middle, rob mclennan, rhonda douglas and occasional readers michelle desbarats, jennifer londry, anita lahey, paul tyler, david’ o’meara (let me know if i’ve forgotten anyone).

open mics at readings are always eclectic and this one was as memorable as always with martin’s e-mails to his sister in winnipeg, bob talking about contracting hpv from thong underwear. i particularly enjoyed jennifer’s poem about a hooker and max middle’s new fish poem (max, please fill in the title for me!) as he said, not a love poem, not a sound poem. also another poem from rob’s on-going valentine series and rhonda’s cassandra manuscript.

after indulging in a brie and conversation break, we returned to our seats to hear the featured reader. this is only my second time hearing mckay, who came to the writers’ festival either last year or the year before. he has an excellent stage presence, an easy and comfortable manner and a great sense of humour. the crowd paid close attention to his poems and between poem banter.

he read poems from his newest collection Strike/Slip and also some brand new pieces. he said that given how long it takes him to write his poems, new for him was within a decade.

the poems he read featured a lot of birds, even the new ones (despite his claims to the contrary). mckay writing is articulate, clear and exact. tom pow has an excellent article on mckay’s poetry over at arc. or go to stan dragland's piece in the university of toronto quarterly.

it was lovely to see such a large audience at the event and to chat with folks and learn who has a book coming out in the fall, who’s been promoted to a new and exciting position, and all that. many spectators were regulars of the tree reading series, but quite a few weren’t. let’s hope this event encourages more people to come out to the twice monthly series and read their stuff or listen to us read our stuff. rhonda and dean are doing a fantastic job nurturing (and shaking) the tree.

they’ve got some leafy events coming up. go see their site or the calendar to find out.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

interview with Nigel Beale

a number of months ago, Nigel asked me questions about my smut writing. here's our conversation:

Making Tracks Launch @ Sasquatch

The annual reading from Seymour Mayne’s U of Ottawa creative writing class anthology (ENG 3264) took place in the basement of the Royal Oak II this afternoon. Charles and I attend every year since my own class’s reading back at Tree in 2000/2001 (ENG 3264) and Sasquatch in 2001/2002 (ENG 4398).

I’m not going to comment too much about the poetry this time; readers included Kelly Clarke, Wojtek Copija, Marley Davidson, Andrew Falkner, Lindsay Foran, Joe Hickey and Janice Thurston from Making Tracks, Lesley Strutt and Betty Warington-Kearsley from ENG 4398. See my comments on Making Tracks in I’ve had two pints of Guiness...enough said.

What I will say is that it is always heartening to hear these students. There are usually two readings: one during the term and then another when the anthology is launched, which can range from a few months to even a full year after the course is over.

In the interim between the two readings, some groups grow closer together, such as my own class where a number of us went on to restart Bywords or get involved in other literary (ad)ventures. In this case the energy of the most recent group has created the Ottawa Arts Review and from what I’ve heard will be involved in other literary activities in the near future.

One of the most important aspects of Mayne’s workshops is that the group bonds together and inspires each other to continue writing or to become more active in the literary world outside of the classroom. There have been many from Mayne’s classes who have done so, particularly in the last few years.

I seldom go to the Sasquatch Reading Series since Juan O’Neill’s death a year ago. Mayne said it best today when he said that he feels a kind of doubling, both Juan’s absence and presence. I think Juan would have been pleased to hear the talented young writers today. There was a particularly strong creative energy coming off these writers.

I want to see these young dynamos go on to write, to run publishing companies, to teach and to encourage other writers in the community. I challenge them all to come out to upcoming readings, to send their writing out for publication, to stir things up.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Angela Carr and Melissa A. Thompson

I have never seen so many people at the Factory Reading Series. Turns out most were there to see Thompson, who has a large (and obviously quite supportive) extended family in the area.

Both writers came to read from works published by Snare Books of Montreal. Snare is a Matrix Magazine spin off. Carr and Thompson payed homage to the editor of their books, recently deceased writer Robert Allen.

I already had a copy of Carr’s poetry collection, ropewalk, which I purchased from Expozine last fall. When she introduced the book, Carr talked about the subject in the main section, Louise Labé, a French sonnet writer in the sixteen century. The section on Labé is built around acrostics, with the name Louise cleverly sewn in to the centre of the poems. Carr likened the creation of these pieces to sewing together pieces of a textile.

The tone and style of section one of ropewalk is older, perhaps reminiscent of the writing of the period Carr is describing. She refers to ropewalk as intertextual because it refers to Labé’s texts. This conjured for me the concept of a continuous line through generations of writers pointing back to the past and into the future.

The other two sections of the book: empty cups and mountenance of a dream are more modern in their subjects and less constrained in form. I don’t believe she read from the other two sections, but I could be mistaken. Some things were lost in the rather poor acoustics alas.

I have to say that I enjoyed the book and was inclined to find the last two sections more interesting than the first section. I admired what Carr was doing in the first section, but the other two were free form and stylistically I simply prefer that. Carr has a sense of whimsy that suits my scattered brain:

Empty Cups

For the first year there was a party. Take red weddings and bland weddings
because a man rents an elk. His two eyes appear black stars see the elks
shine them palpate them re-light them. The air is a species a ghost.

For a real review of ropewalk, it is better to head over to Sina Queyras’ blog.

Thompson started her reading with a poem to Robert Allen from Matrix Magazine’s tribute issue.

The main part of Thompson’s reading was from her first novel, Dreadful Paris. She read the first section and I enjoyed it immensely.

It seemed apt that since Thompson’s book was about a woman who takes photographs, that Charles was taking photos at the same time. His lovely photo of Thompson appears here.

The characters of Dreadful Paris are compelling and well-developed, the situations absurd and the language exquisite.

“Gran pulled her eyes out of the wallpaper and leaned over to pour some very stiff coffee into a tea cup. She set the silver coffee pot back very carefully and began plucking the currants out of a tray of scones. She did this not with the passion of someone who hates currants, but with the impatience of someone who no longer smokes and is having second thoughts.”

I jumped up and purchased the novel as soon as the reading was over, getting a chance to have a lovely chat with Ms. Thompson. I didn’t have an opportunity to speak to Ms. Carr alas. What I really wanted to do was to sit down with both of these women over pots of tea. (Irish breakfast is my favourite.)

Both books are beautifully designed: Carr’s by Jon Paul Fiorentino and Thompson’s aptly by herself and her husband Gerard Cleal. The two run a design company.

I’m sure we’ll see more innovative books from Snare in the future and more from these two very talented young women. As usual rob mclennan’s Factory Reading Series continues to deliver the good stuff.

The next FRS on April 12 features Mark Abley, Blaine Marchand & Nadine McInnis for the launch of "When Earth Leaps Up", selected poems of prairie poet Anne Szumigalski. (I have her book, A Game of Angels (Winnipeg, Turnstone Press, 1980. I love it :)

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

in/words very sexy party on march 29

so the young and handsome in/words lads will be hosting an open stage as usual on the last thursday of the month and launching their final issue of the academic year. except it’s not as usual. apparently they’ve published more poetry in the latest issue than they did in the whole of 2006. they want to celebrate and suggest we should all join in.

they have a bunch of free chapbooks including one by this saucy young man:

Mark Sokolowski

Don’t try
and tell me Mother
Nature’s not
into kink –

I’ve seen the red
and purple welts
left from the way
she makes the
sun go down on her.


i’m not sure that’s what elton john meant in his song.

another carleton publication called blank page will also be featured. blank page is for first year students. what a sweet and nurturing idea.

i haven’t been to an in/words open stage in many months. i like the atmosphere. i like the location, the avant garde on besserer. i like all the handsome boys.

i might go and read something from my collection of smut, if that’s the game for the evening. why don’t you come?

ok, i’ve done my part. now where’s my party favour?

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Peter F. Yacht Club Sails to Calgary

PFYC # 5 (or 6 apparently-see rob's march 12 entry) is the newest issue from the Peter F. Yacht Club workship, a group of writers plus guest yachtsmen and yachtswimmin (their words, not mine).

I thought I had all the previous issues, but I am missing #4.

Stuff I dog-eared in the newly released issue, with ex-Ottawan Laurie Fuhr at the helm:

The playfulness of Montrealer David McGimpsey in Cherry Red Bus Pass which makes me think both of Raspberry Beret and Little Red Corvet all at the same time.

Anita Dolman’s haunting poem, Focus. There’s beautiful language here, vivid imagery and a story in moments. Dolman is so skilled at evoking tone through her writing. She has these little gems: “the elation of cold glass” and “Daniel’s story goes unpassengered.” Stuff that is supposed to be perfect is; stuff that is supposed to be choppy or clunk is.

Stuart Ross’s accumulation piece, I Open The Lid. Yep, there’s his trademark humour and surrealistic bent and strong rhythms and words that makes me laugh out loud in a melancholy kind of way.

Jennifer Mulligan’s side by each poem “xorcizm” with its interesting repetitions and old ghosts. I like the experimentation here very much.

ryan fitzpatrick ars poetica piece “the Metaphorist” mainly because I love this: “...These galleries begin/as poems.” fitzpatrick’s morse code style of fragments works perfectly in this poem in paragraph form for each stanza. I find this piece refreshing. “Just before the canoe hits the paddle,/the water paddles itself.” I don’t know if that’s deep or not, but it struck me as very profound and yet not to be taken too seriously.

Sharron Proulx-Turner’s excerpt from the long poem “your wind a song & deep inside the hand hills”. A title like that makes me curious to read more. I like the play between paragraph and stanza and the image of playing hopscotch underwater. A lot of Calgarians are talking about water.

Richard C. Gorecki’s “winter oak” interests me because of the uniformity of his imagery: still, cold, death and this lovely little stanza: and when the wind rises/you whisper secrets of rebirth/speaking in confident tones/about source and circle”

Weyman Chan’s poem “Shawl” got me hooked by the second line: “the fighting fish are plumes in their bowls.” and then later “and the dew drop of my mother’s passing/held the spine/of its elder snowflake.” Powerful language and imagery that lingers with words that are straight forward and unpretentious.

Stephen Brockwell’s flawless language in “Scarecrow.” This poet does not careen, he marches along a straight line. This is a tight poem: “the relentless crush and stretch of freeze and thaw” is exactly how it is. I can hear and see winter through the eyes of the narrator. The poem evokes pathos about aging and frankly, it scares me a bit. A powerful piece of writing. I admire Brockwell’s perfection, but there are times when I’d like to see his words off balance, a bit clumsier, more drunken. What would happen if he let loose? I think it would be a powerful thing too. [hoping he doesn't mind my saying this, she whispers]

rob mclennan’s long piece “a map of the obscure” with its repetition, accumulation and the hint of lyric scattered throughout. The words here could seem careless in places, but they are deliberate. After a standard phrase like “a dead horse or dog,” you get “a dead house.” That makes you jump a bit and read again. Then there’s the beautiful bits: “a breath that became you”, “a comfort of trees”, and the silly bits: “a studhorse hydrangea.”

Jesse Ferguson’s (Re) Vise is a saucy and playful little number. It’s good he feels comfortable taking risks. That’s as it should be.

Joanne Underwood’s “culture choc” is a grand juxtaposition of food I absolutely want to eat: “milk medallions nuts-on top for you” with wonderful rhythms, and words that snap together like Lego bricks.

What I like best always about the PFYCs is that the writers push themselves and share work that is risky and pushes their writing. In other words, they go overboard. (Couldn’t resist a final nautical pun, me heartees.)

Pick this new issue up before it goes out of print via the store or via rob. It just might inspire.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Steven Price at Tree

Last night the place was packed. Dunno if it was the spring weather or if Mr. Price has many fans; either way it was squeezing room only.

Open mic was hosted by rob mclennan since Rhonda is in Egypt and Dean was in his creative writing workshop. (Dean, fellow classmates Betty, Janice and Lindsay and Prof. Seymour Mayne dropped by in time for Price’s reading after their class).

Open mics are always an adventure. What more is there to say? I ran into some of the editors of the Ottawa Arts Review and took an early break, missing Michelle Desbarats read, much to my complete displeasure. I need more chatting time at these things.

Price’s book, Anatomy of Keys is about Harry Houdini. At the same time, he explained that it is also somewhat autobiographical, but that he felt as a young man it wouldn’t do to write about himself directly. He comes from a family of locksmiths, so he was surrounded by locks and keys in childhood, making Houdini a fascination for him.

What was interesting is the little stories he told about the poems. He referred to Houdini by his real first name, Erich and talked about little known facts like Houdini’s mother fixation.

The language was precise and the work felt like a mesmerizing story of a life. Knowing that Price combined his own world with that of Houdini’s makes it more interesting. The book itself is a series of poems with numbers instead of titles because Price felt it made the collection hold together better.

What is it about men’s fascination with Houdini? Not that long ago, I read Leo Brent Robillard’s excellent novel about him, called Houdini’s Shadow. I’ve known at least two more men with an interest in HH. I’ve never heard a woman express similar interest in the man. All I remember is this movie years ago about him with Starsky from Starsky and Hutch. I remember he looked cute, and that was about it.

I’m always happy to go to Tree and hear the feature, especially when he’s from out of town. It was great to see the room so busy. One very attractive tall blond stranger in particular, but then I vanished into the night. Must have been a magic trick.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Hugh Thomas at the Carleton Tavern

Saturday night a crowd of familiar and unfamiliar (to me) folk gathered together to hear New Brunswick math prof and poet, Hugh Thomas. He looks familiar. Maybe he’s read before in town? Did he read at the Shift and Switch launch at Mother Tongue?

I liked his stuff. Plain language, seeing the world thru fresh eyes, playful experimentation and all that.

Some of the highlights of his reading for me were:

from Mutations, Book Thug, Toronto, 2nd Printing 2005

Pablo Neruda Poster Poem, a found poem made up of words showing on a poster, hidden beneath other posters.

Pantoum, which starts out with the funny and ingenious line: “Once again, this poem turns into a pantoum.”

Girls Who Eat Flowers and Fail Their IQ Tests, based on Thomas mishearing “guerillas who eat flowers...”

and from a self-published chapbook, Joyce’s Walking Stick, 2nd Printing, Corrected Version, October 2006, an edition of 40 copies numbered 31 to 70:

My Glass Father (from the Swedish), a translation from a language Thomas, who is a translator, doesn’t know.

Act of Thanking (from the Galician) for Erin Mouré, based on the Galician glossary in Little Theatres. Galicia is a region in northwest Spain.

Additional readers were Sandra Ridley and Max Middle.

Ridley’s poems about nuclear site testing were the ones that lingered with me most. These poems were playful, using devices like repetition to emphasize the drama of the nuclear bomb. I liked them better than the more narrative stuff she was reading. There was a kind of letting go in these nuclear poems that wasn’t in the earlier set of narrative poems. I’m happy see her coming out more to read these days.

Max Middle performed his standard set of sound poems, many of which are crowd favourites such as moon potatoes, and one i think was called run scrummy or something like that. It reminded me so much of those old Dick and Jane readers. See Spot run. Whenever I hear Max perform, my main feeling afterward is one of complete freedom. I want to come home and write something without limits. Alas I came home and slept.

rob mclennan, organizer of the reading, did a great job of matching poetic styles by inviting these three to read. it was exotic to go to a reading in the upstairs of the Carleton Tavern. we had the run of the entire upstairs area with two rooms. the readers read near the dart board. no one seemed to want to throw any darts, probably a good thing.

It’s great when we have the opportunity to hear little known writers from other places right here in ottawa. we have rob mclennan to thank for much of this. he’s so well published and so involved in literary scenes outside of ottawa, outside of ontario, outside of canada even, that people find out about us and come.

See the photographic stylings and words of Pearl Pirie for more on this event.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Transpoetry-Noel Taylor's column in today's Citizen

[I sent this letter to the Ottawa Citizen today, but since I have another letter appearing in this Sunday's Citizen in the spotlight, I doubt they'll publish this one so I post it here; I encourage all of you who want more than just limericks and poems that rhyme on city buses to write in.]

Poetry on the Fly Should Be Light-March 9, 2007

It was good to see Noel Taylor advocating the idea of Transpoetry on Ottawa buses, but does he really think Ottawa residents are so incapable of enjoying anything but light verse, rhyming couplets and a rhythmic beat?

I don’t think Mr. Taylor and I live in the same city. Where I live there are art galleries that are more than paint by numbers exhibits, there are plays that are not just recreations of the Cat in the Hat, and there is a strong and vibrant literary community with activities like the Ottawa International Writers Festival. The festival occurs twice a year and brings in literary figures such as Michael Ondaatje and Margaret Atwood. More germane, it is popular and often sells out to capacity when writers like Alistair MacLeod come to town. We have many other literary activities too, two universities with strong English literature programs, national and local literary publications, and reading series, such Tree and Sasquatch that have existed here for twenty five years.

Why is it that the Citizen continues to underestimate Ottawans? Articles like Mr. Taylor’s remind me why the Citizen’s coverage of Ottawa’s dynamic and growing literary scene continues to be sparse or non existant.

post letter afterthought:

it's been brought to my attention by a writer who i admire that my link between taylor's yearning for light verse on ottawa buses and the citizen's flimsy arts coverage is thin. here's my attempt at creating a stronger link:

given the coverage the citizen has of arts, i think that the person who makes the editorial decisions about what to cover and what not to cover must think ottawans' literary tastes are pretty unvaried, if not pedestrian. not so much for the visual arts and the music scene however. that's why i linked the two. while the coverage is more comprehensive in visual arts and music, coverage for books is mostly about mystery novels. And while there are some really great mystery novels, there's just so much more to write about.

really i was just using taylor's article as a way in to the most important point. i should have also mentioned that when transpoetry was up, many people i know who are not generally poetry readers or writers talked to me about it and said they enjoyed it. is it difficult to read interesting poetry on a bus while it's moving? I find it harder to read the government ads myself.

Unplanting tongue from cheek however....I think it would be interesting to see concrete poetry on Ottawa's buses. What about this one from bpnichol?


1. The Friendliness of the Alphabet


2. The Denial of the Alphabet


3. The Sanctimoniousness of the Alphabet


4. The Self-Centredness of the Alphabet


[bpnichol-an H in the Heart]

Thursday, March 08, 2007

an interlude brought to you by jack kerouac

"I have lots of things to teach you now, in case we ever meet, concerning the message that was transmitted to me under a pine tree in North Carolina on a cold winter moonlit night. It said that Nothing Ever Happened, so don't worry. It's all like a dream. Everything is ecstasy, inside. We just don't know it because of our thinking-minds. But in our true blissful essence of mind is known that everything is alright forever and forever and forever. Close your eyes, let your hands and nerve-ends drop, stop breathing for 3 seconds, listen to the silence inside the illusion of the world, and you will remember the lesson you forgot, which was taught in immense milky way soft cloud innumerable worlds long ago and not even at all. It is all one vast awakened thing. I call it the golden eternity. It is perfect. We were never really born, we will never really die. It has nothing to do with the imaginary idea of a personal self, other selves, many selves everywhere: Self is only an idea, a mortal idea. That which passes into everything is one thing. It's a dream already ended. There's nothing to be afraid of and nothing to be glad about. I know this from staring at mountains months on end. They never show any expression, they are like empty space. Do you think the emptiness of space will ever crumble away? Mountains will crumble, but the emptiness of space, which is the one universal essence of mind, the vast awakenerhood, empty and awake, will never crumble away because it was never born."
Selected Letters 1957-1969, excerpt from a letter to his first wife, Edie.

Monday, March 05, 2007

ottawa arts review launch on friday night

the night cleared up and it was a beautiful evening to be out for a reading. a few readers didn’t show because of bad weather and flu, which was too bad, but we still had a fine turn out of five readers plus musicians.

i was asked to read first, being a veteran reader (aka likely the oldest in the room). after me came daniel bosworth, newly published and reading newbie chelsea edgell, chris jennings and good pal marcus mccann.

i’m sorry to say i wasn’t paying as much attention to the reading as i should have been; instead i was quietly chatting with some of these people (nicholas lea, genevieve, marcus, crysta (hands in front of face to avoid charles' camera!)l, haley and jeremy diaz (hidden) glenn nuotio and erin quibell(next table). [here's a scoop-glenn might be performing at a bywords reading some time in the future...stay tuned! i am crossing my fingers and excited at the possibility...aside from being a fantastic musician and new ottawa resident, the man is a moleskine rebel who actually rips out pages from the sacred journal; gosh, that can't help but make me a fan (she gushes).

i also nodded hello to shane rhodes, who seems to be at many of the same readings as me of late.
i didn’t catch the names of the opening musicians: a boy who played guitar, another who played fiddle/violin. john kelly played and sang too. always great to hear him and chat. i was happy to hear a steve earle tune.

the design of the first issue of the ottawa arts review is quite lovely. i like the cover image by jessica st. amour. and i wasn’t expecting a perfect bound publication. very nice. the o.a.r. team (splendidly talented poet andrew falkner, bywordian kelly clarke, reading hostess marley davidson (wonder if she rides a harley) and the others who you can find out about by going to the site of the ottawa arts review) have done a fine job.

lovely to read poems by other friends in there too: rob mclennan, melissa upfold, jesse ferguson, sean moreland.

i liked this poem by kenneth pobo:

Elegy for A Manhattan Gay Bar

One Potato, gone. What happened
to the cat that strolled among diners?
We walk toward the Hudson. Fish

don’t ask directions, seek no subway. Night,
about to be poured.

i would have liked to have read the bios of the contributors. that to me is essential in a publication. I was a tad disappointed that this year’s group changed the journal’s name from yawp, but each new group has to do its own thing.

originally they went with Heat and i must confess i was looking forward to going around and saying “I’m in Heat.”

you can send your submissions of poetry, prose and visual art to the ottawa arts review. soon copies of o.a.r. will be available for sale on the bywords on line store (got a lot of cover scanning to do)

let’s wish it a long and healthy journey.