amongst books

amongst books

Sunday, April 29, 2007

The Cinematographic Imagination of Ian Roy

was on display at the Manx on Saturday as part of the very popular Plan 99 Reading Series, hosted by David O’Meara. Before we get to Ian Roy though, I’d like to say a few words about the talented musician Sarah Hallman and her vocals/electric guitar accompaniest Andrea Simms-Karp. Love the small worldiness of Ottawa. Hallman’s voice is incredible, and reminiscent of Ana Egge, one of my favourite singers, with that haunting and lovely tone. Alas a lot of people talked over her performance. It was hard not to, with all the interesting folks around to chat with, but I managed to keep fairly mum and my reward was a beautiful performance that helped set the stage for Roy’s poetry. If you missed Hallman, you can go see her at Bluesfest on July 8 at 1:15 pm, River Stage.

Now back to the movies, I mean Ian Roy and his first poetry collection Red Bird (BuschekBooks, 2007). I’m always pleased when a writer who I’ve read other places gets his first poetry collection published. Some of the highlights for me from the book were about the photos of Francesca Woodman, particularly a poem called the Eel; here’s a tiny excerpt to whet your appetite:

“Imagine the bucket/that carried them to her studio; full and alive,/moist eyes staring up menacingly at nothing; and then dead and slick: a bucket full of darkness.”

When discussing this poem, Roy talked about a Japanese film called Unagi directed by Shohei Imamura and based on a story by Akira Yoshimura. In a discussion about another poem, he talked about the Ingmar Bergman film, The Seventh Seal. The man obviously has some interest in films.

For me, Roy’s poems were like mini films or perhaps the screen plays for the films. They were very visual, such as “When I Think of Leaving,”from the Traveling, Traveling section. I liked the way the feeling of regret due to leaving someone, of not being able to go back, is illustrated with the speaker’s car collision into a flock of pheasants “But I think of it every August:/all those birds—I don’t know how many—and/the blood and feathers stuck to the grill,/and one in-tact wing hooked on/to the bumper./I see it when I close my eyes,/and then it’s gone.”

I liked the humour of Roy’s poems, the casual humility of the language and the accessibility of his work. I think at times he overexplains, and that’s where the screenplay notion comes in. In the Eel for instance, do we really need to hear the speaker tell us that the scene of a woman holding the eels near her naked body wasn’t “erotic exactly”? Some readers do. It’s a stylistic thing I realize, but I prefer a poem to leave some things for me to decide, to mull over.

Roy doesn’t always draw all the conclusions for us in his work and I’m glad. I want the poems to speak for themselves and at times, they are powerful enough to do so. For instance, in the wonderfully titled “Of Places I have Slept and Later Regretted: Exhibit A, or I Sat and Watched It Fall Apart, But I Was No Accomplice,” to say “you hear the thunder and you see the lightning” seems obvious to me and predictable. What else can you do with them? But earlier in the poem, “the light falls through every crack in the pavement, the river dries up, things start to crumble.” That’s a movie opening, and I can taste it.

[stay tuned for a photo of Ian Roy-Charles tells me it will appear on Tuesday-over here.]

still fighting gender discrimination in erotic fiction

here's a call for submission from an australian publisher and my letter to the publisher in response:

Call for SubmissionsFemale Writers Wanted for Lady Smut... A new bi-annual Erotica Anthology.

So you're a woman who likes to write a dirty story? Or perhaps you like to read erotica and want to try your hand at writing? Women of all persuasions and perversions are encouraged to submit saucy erotica in any written form (not pictures) up to 1500 words. The ten-fifteen authors selected to appear in the bi-annual (twice a year) publication will receive (AU)$25 plus a copy of the publication upon printing.

First edition Deadline: May 30, 2007. Submissions via EMAIL ONLY, as a PC-readable MS WORD doc. Send all writing to writingsafari [at]

At the top of your submission, please include your legal name, pen name, address, phone number, and email address.Successful applicants will be notified via email by mid-June. You absolutely must be a female over 18 years of age. You will need to sign a basic contract stating we have permission to print your story, and that you wrote it. You may publish your story elsewhere, and retain full copyright of your work.

Stories should primarily be written with a female audience in mind. And they should turn us on! Themes might involve solo, group, gay, lesbian, trans, bi, voyeurism, machine, phone/internet chat, hetero, D/s, drag, as well as other non-classifiable categories. No bestiality or underage characters.If it's saucy, we want to read it!



I recently saw your call for submission "Female Writers Wanted for Dirty Smut"

I wanted you to know that I, as a female writer and reader of erotic fiction, have some concerns about this call. This e-mail is not meant to be offensive or angry in tone, simply a statement from someone who is still puzzled by a publisher's need to limit calls for submission according to gender. Here are a few thoughts...

In the world of erotic writing, women account for a much larger segment of published writers than men. So the gender inequality is actually the other way around from other fields and professions. Also gender is not something that proves what a good or bad writer someone is.

How do you check to see if someone is a woman and what constitutes a woman? Even if you verify according to someone's legal name, you have no way of knowing whether or not this name is female or male. Michael for instance is a name that is gender neutral. Someone who is preop transgender for example with a male body is still a woman if inside her heart she thinks of herself as one.

And men who write erotic fiction, such as Mike Kimera, M. Christian and others, write incredible and moving erotic fiction, some of the best I've ever read. Don't you think your audience deserves to read erotic fiction which is of the highest quality possible? Don't you think that you should opt for the best writing rather than care about what gender a person is?

I just find it odd in this day and age to see gender discrimination, especially in the field of erotic fiction. If a publication asked for heterosexual writers only, they'd be barbecued at the stake. Even for GLBT fiction, most calls do not discriminate according to sexual orientation when requesting stories.

As a woman writer, I don't want a special category in order to be published. I want my work to be judged based on its own merit. I do not submit my writing to any publication that advocates gender discrimination.

I hope that you change your mind and open your call to all, regardless of gender. I realize that your rationale for narrowing the field to women writers only may have to do with marketing concerns, with keeping the number of submissions down, with all sorts of possible justifications, but it doesn't's still discriminatory and I urge you to change your mind.

best wishes,
Amanda Earl

Thursday, April 26, 2007

challenge-show ottawa has vibrant culture

"Can you do 50 arts activities in a year? You may think you’re not an “arts person” but have you ever thought about how art figures into your day? Here is your opportunity to tell Canadians about your 50 arts adventures in 2007-- be they serious, extraordinary, official, ridiculous or sublime."

please help me bombard the site with as many very specific ottawa events as possible in the areas of art, culture, literature and whatever else you can think of to demonstrate that we are not some cultural backwater as the media here insists. show your pride in ottawa as canada's cultural sweet spot.register and upload activities.

be specific, name drop and mention websites and blogs of ottawa cultural icons, movers and shakers.

oh yeah, it's for the 50th anniversary of the canada council of the arts ;)

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Canada’s political capital is not its cultural capital

(as unwilling as Ottawans are to admit it). - Quote from Ottawa Citizen's Lives of Letters and Politics Editorial. Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Is this blog starting to take on a rant like tone? Enough!

What I’m looking forward to this spring in Ottawa:

on -going poetry workshop with rob mclennan

April 28 – Ian Roy launches his new poetry collection at Plan 99

May 7 – Ron Sexsmith at Centrepointe Theatre (I have seat front & centre, dude!)

May 10 – Rhonda Douglas and Kate Greenstreet at the Factory Reading Series at the Ottawa Art Gallery.

May 18 - Emily Falvey, Matthew Firth, Gabriella Goliger, Alison Gresik, John-James Ford, Clare Latremouille, John Lavery, Nadine McInnis, rob mclennan and Ian Roy at the launch of Decalogue 2: Ten Ottawa Fiction Writers (I'm sure some of these people will likely be there) at the Mercury Lounge

May 22 – Suzanne Buffam, Tree Reading Series

May 26 – Ravenswing’s Craft/Zine Outdoor Extravaganza at Minto Park on Elgin

May 27 – the Great Glebe Garage Sale

May 31 – Feist at the Bronson Centre

June 8-10 – Westfest with the music of Lily Frost, Kathleen Edwards, Lindsay Ferguson, Angela Desveaux, Marie-Josée Houle, Ana Miura & more!

June 16 – Ottawa Small Press Fair – spring edition at Jack Purcell Community Centre

June 23-24 –the Dragonboat Festival at Mooney’s Bay

Reading upcoming issues of Arc, Capital Xtra, Ottawa Xpress, Ottawa City Journal, the Dusty Owl Quarterly & the Dusty Owl Solstice Issue, the Ottawa Arts Review

And there are lots more activities I’m likely not able to attend such as tonight’s Tree Reading celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Canada Council featuring Canada’s Poet Laureate John Steffler and Newfoundlander Mary Dalton, Mayworks readings on Thursday at the Cube Gallery and the In/Words open mic both going on this Thursday.

I think some of the Citizen columnists and editorialists who write about Ottawa’s lack of culture simply aren’t attending events. With the exception of folks like Kate Heartfield and occasional columnist Phil Jenkins, and former columnist Wes Smiderle, I’ve rarely seen Ottawa Citizen columnists and journalists at events. Is it possible that the ones who don’t attend are the ones who complain about how culturally impoverished Ottawa is?

If they keep repeating this Hog’s Back hogwash, it doesn’t make it true.

Ottawa is alive a live o. What events are you attending this spring? And if you write for the Citizen and do attend cultural events, let's see more coverage about these events in the Citizen, eh?

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Citizen’s Robert Sibley Hasn’t Read Contemporary Poetry That Causes Neck Hair Erections

I’m really tired of Citizen columnists who opine/pine away about the great poetry of the old daze and complain about contemporary poetry when I’ve never seen signs that they even read it, since there are few reviews done by them in the paper, and I don’t see them attending or covering readings. This Sunday, as the incredible and poetry filled Ottawa International Writers Festival drew to a close, Sibley’s column on The Power of Verse appeared in the Citizen. He talked with fond memories of the poets he learned in school, Robert Service, T.S. Eliot et al. These are the folk that made Sibley want to be a poet. Is he one now?

He goes on to say: “I’m no scholar of poetry either, so I can’t offer a critical judgment. I use a more primitive standard: Does the poem make the hair on my neck stand up? I cannot think of a contemporary poet who amazes me.”

Would someone, anyone or a bunch of ones who read this blog please send a letter to the editor listing at least five contemporary poets whose work amazes them? Please! I doubt they’ll publish me yet again on this subject. Do we have to send the columnists a poetry book a month a la Yann Martel with the PM?

Here’s my own list of poets whose work I discovered at the writers festival that we just had. Was Mr. Sibley there? I doubt it. I find that detractors of current poetry are usually people who haven’t attended a single reading since 1962 or haven’t even cracked the spines of poetry written in this millennium. Yes the writers below were able to amaze me and yes they are still alive. Here’s the list of the poets who awed me in just the last week...with a few observations on their ability to give me poem-shiver:

1. Dennis Lee, Yes/No (House of Anansi Press, 2007)
He twists his tongue, he twists my mind.

2. Nicholas Lea, Everything is Movies (Chaudière Books, 2007)
as meditative, flexible and muscular as a yoga pose

3. Erin Mouré, O Cadoiro (House of Anansi Press, 2007)
Angels and ghosts from the Middle Ages find their way back.

4. Jean-Paul Daoust in Seminal, The Anthology of Canada’s Gay Male Poets
(Arsenal Pulp Press, 2007)
Egypt is reborn in modern eroticism

5. rob mclennan, The Ottawa City Project (Chaudière Books, 2007)
Revelations in small, spare packages.

6. Barbara Nickel, Domain (House of Anansi, 2007)
cobwebs, circles, a crown of sonnets and the moon

7. George Murray, the rush to here (Nightwood Editions, 2007)
tumbling out of constraints and spilling from convention

8. Simon Armitage, Tyrannosaurus Rex versus the Corduroy Kid (House of Anansi Press, 2007)
music, spellbinding rhythm, sound traveling speed of light

Two Poets Who Appeared at the Plan 99 Reading Series, just before the Writers Festival

9. Steven Ross Smith, fluttertongue 4: adagio for the pressured sound (NeWest Press, 2007)
the art of silence and an audience's awe

10. Shane Rhodes, The Bindery (NeWest Press, 2007)
here is the beauty of the deliberate.

I challenge Mr. Sibley or any other Citizen columnist who yearns for ye olden days of poetry to devote as much time and study to contemporary poetry as they studied in school. They'll see that the comparisons are not fair. They haven't really studied the current poets like they did in school. Take a poetry workshop, Mr. Sibley et al, read a few pounds of contemporary poetry books, come out to some of our local readings, then come back and talk to me about your neck hairs.

Heard of Glaring Omission?

The documentary Heard of Poets by Ben Walker and Josh Massey debuted yesterday at the Ottawa International Writers Festival. There were some good bits; I enjoyed seeing the various styles of Ottawa poetry brought together, from spoken word, sound to more traditional narrative. I enjoyed the outside scenes and person-in-the-street interviews on the relevance or irrelevance of poetry in their lives, the cows in the fields. However throughout the whole documentary I kept wondering ... and ... as I left the auditorium, the only thing running through my mind was where was rob mclennan?

In Ottawa, he is the most active and engaged poet, attending more readings, reading as both a feature and at open mics at reading series. He also is the biggest promoter of Ottawa poetry to the world, to Canada and to other Ottawans.

To Canada and the world outside Ottawa’s literary scene, rob mclennan is Ottawa poetry. His work has been published worldwide; he has toured Canada and the UK. Likely the US too. He engages in dialog and poetry exchanges with poets from all over the world. At the Writers Festival, you’ll notice that every major poet who attends knows rob. His writing is a major contribution to contemporary poetry and poetic theory today.

The documentary wasn’t focussed on how poetry stuff was organized, so it was understandable that event/reading series organizers, publishers, poetry journal editors et al were left out, but it made no sense at all to exclude Ottawa’s most prolific and well known poet. It made the documentary less successful at doing what documentaries are supposed to do: to capture and preserve a moment in time. In the period the filmmakers showed, as is still the case, rob was very involved.

And when I watched the documentary, I noticed that rob was still very much present: his voice was in the Morin firework bit; his broadsheets and poetry books appeared in the background at readings. He is such a pervasive and necessary part of Ottawa’s literary scene that the filmmakers couldn’t succeed at erasing him entirely from the landscape.

[note that there are no links in this entry; that's what happens when i'm royally pissed off]

[go to for my entries on the writers fest poetry events; likely entry there on last night's poetry cabaret later today]

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Alan Moore's Amazing and Inspiring Essay on Pornography

i take away every mean thing i've ever said about this man. he's my new god.
go to this essay in which he discusses the evolution of pornography up to the present day, motivations for its existence and societal attitudes towards it. it's a bit boring at first, but it gets really good.
Here's my favourite part and one that articulates so much better than I could ever about my rationale for writing about sex and sexuality in my fiction and why I am working so hard to get my sexually explicit fiction published in mainstream literary journals.

"If we could redefine erotica, restore it to the venerated place in art that it was once accustomed to, this might defuse a number of our personal and social tensions with regard to sex in much the way it seems to have done at the dawn of western civilization. Realised properly, pornography could offer us a safe arena in which to discuss or air ideas that otherwise would go unspoken and could only stale and fester in our individual dark.[ ...]

In the end, it’s in the hands of individual people, individual artists, writers, film-makers or poets. If they have the nerve to plant their flags in this despised and dangerous terrain despite its uninviting nature, then in time the dismal wilderness might be transformed into a scented garden of enduring value. The erotic might be elevated from her current status as a hooker everyone keeps chained up in their cellar but nobody talks about, unmentionable but available, back to her previous position as a goddess."

Yes, I want to be your porn goddess ;)

thanks remittance girl, great pal and best erotica writer i know, for the heads up on this

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

a toast to the writers fest wilsons

during my stint as host sunday night i neglected to thank sean, neil, kira, thea, leslie (whose last name is wilson but who is not related to the other wilsons), the staff and volunteers. this bothers me because i really wanted to say out loud once again how much i appreciate all they do for this city. the writers festival is the highlight of the year x 2.

the ottawa international writers festival is a role model that shows us all what can be done when one has vision, dedication and is willing to work hard.

charles has a very cool photo of sean on his site today.

i raise my big mug of Guinness to the Wilsons. this city wouldn’t be anywhere near as interesting without them.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

congratulations bookninja contest winner

Pearl...Thank you to everyone who participated.

I very much enjoyed the opportunity to meet and speak with George Murray. I’d blog more about it but I had to listen too actively to take notes. From the reaction of the audience, friends, organizers and featured guest, event went well. Lots of great questions from the audience too. Was fun to hang out in the treehouse for a bit.

If you haven’t as yet checked out, go there now and then visit regularly for information, entertainment and to be part of the discussion.

for the remainder of the festival, look for my entries on the poetry cabarets at

thanks to the writers festival for being supportive and well organized. and the chocolate is delicious.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Steven Ross Smith & Shane Rhodes

at Plan 99 at the Manx this afternoon read to a packed audience.

One of the most memorable moments of the reading for me was when Steven Ross Smith read from fluttertongue 4: adagio for the pressured surround (NeWest Press, 2007). he read a 12 minute section, the lines were spare and full of silence. the audience responded by being silent in return, probably one of the best responses a writer can get to his work. Silence is an important and effective part of Smith’s poetry. The lines are original and meditative; like an adagio in music, this long poem is slow and graceful; like an adagio in dance, this poem is a sequence of controlled and graceful movements, but not overly controlled, thanks to the silence:

“scavenging an inkdrop, squeezing featherdry alphabet for juice”

each section whether it be one line or a short paragraph carries an idea or an image and accumulates:

“surrounded by years, self-looped in trees, bush and moss cushion
shores, and here, a stump, a rock, a grazed shin, a breath in the
philosopher’s grove

words should come to ease, shaped as great thoughts”

Accumulation is also a big part of the writing of Shane Rhodes. The Bindery (NeWest Press, 2007). His poems repeat and accumulate to the point where you think you know what he’ll say next, and then he changes. The rhythms are gorgeous and at times possibly even end or internal rhyme? I thought some in a new poem Rhodes read about the Botticelli painting the Birth of Venus.

I had to go back to my university poetry text books to figure out that one of the techniques Rhodes uses quite often in his writing is anaphora, which is when two or more lines begin with the same word. The poem “On Travel” uses this technique, such as in the opening lines below:

For anyone who has been sung to in Hebrew by a naked Israeli / at 2 in the morning.
For the girl learning Spanish from English who only spoke / Japanese.

I was happy to hear Rhodes read one of my favourite poems of his “To Elizabeth Bishop” where he dances with repetition and uses it to make tiny changes which change the whole meaning of something:

“Here is a trade. Here is a woman in labour.”
“Here is a trade. Here is a woman’s labour.”

Rhodes blends sensitivity, pathos and humour within tight, yet not predictable, structures.

To me, the two poets’ work seemed to fit together as a whole. Rhodes even mentioned that they approached some themes similarly. There was a yin yang balance to Smith’s silences and Rhodes repetitions. It is good to see a publisher of poetry publishing two very different writing styles.

ps. see Charles' photo of Shane Rhodes here.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Anne Szumigalski-When Earth Leaps Up

at the Factory Reading Series, cross-pollinated with Tree, lovingly hosted by rob mclennan and Rhonda Douglas (this was a kind of tree factory then)...a special occasion, the launch of Anne Szymigalski’s posthumous poetry collection When Earth Leaps Up (Brick Books, 2206) edited by her literary executor, Mark Abley. See Charles' photo of him here.

Local poets Blaine Marchand and Nadine McInnis read from the collection and also told stories about their experiences with the poet. Among other things, Marchand spoke of her love of dancing; McInnis of her nurturing and empathetic nature.

One of the poems Marchand read was the opening poem Untitled (“glory to the queen”) with this apt ending “by tomorrow she hopes to leap / easily out of this skin and into a new one / a skin like petals like leaves”.

McInnis read a poem called (Untitled “When I think of him...”) which she was hesitant to read because it was a very personal poem about the death of Anne’s husband, Jan. Abley explained later that the poem was not one he had found when he went through Anne’s manuscripts and computer disks at home, but rather it was in a collection of papers she had donated to the University of Regina archives in 1991. He was hesitant to publish the poem in this collection, but in the end opted in favour of publishing it. And we’re glad he did. And you have to buy the book to read it ;)

It was also fun to hear McInnis and Abley read from "A Catechism (or Conversation)" in which we learn that god is an Italian speaking androgynous crocodile (as we all suspected).

What I liked best though was the talk by Abley, who was a young university student in Saskatchewan when he joined Szumigalski’s unnamed poetry circle, unnamed because she welcomed every form of poetry and didn’t want to be thought of as the leader of the group.

Abley gave us the flavour of life of the poet,who was born Anne Davis in London, England. Her father was a Christian and her mother a Wiccan. This explains the spell-binding qualities of her work, perhaps.

Her family had what Abley referred to as “an income.” which must be a translation for they had money. They lived in Hampshire, a small English village where Anne was home-schooled. She learned many languages and also did some nurse training, which made it possible for her to become an interpreter and medical auxiliary for the British Red Cross during the Second World War. She encountered some of the horrors of the Holocaust while at Bergen-Belsen. Later she would write extensively about the Holocaust, not only in her poetry but also in a play called Z. She met and married Polish refugee Jan Szumigalski with whom she had four children. The family moved to Canada, to Saskatchewan, where she was involved in literary initiatives, such as helping to start Grain Magazine.

Abley let me know when I talked to him that Szumigalski wanted specifically to support publishing houses in the Prairies, so much of her work was published out west. He seemed concerned that perhaps us Central/Eastern folk might not be too familiar with her. That’s what readings like this one are for; rare opportunities like this one are to be seized and treasured.

While When Earth Leaps Up contains her poetry, Abley has plans to publish more of her work from novellas to libretos.

I first encountered her writing in A Game of Angels (Turnstone Press, 1980) which I picked up for a song (no dance) at one of those Ottawa Public Library sales. Then just recently a kind friend let me take away some poetry books from her collection, and there was Dogstones: Selected and New Poems (Saskatoon: Fifth House, 1986).

When you discover a poet in this manner, serendipitously, there’s a connection there.

by Anne Szumagalski

have you noticed
how they roost in trees?
not like birds
their wings fold the other way

my mother, whose eyes are clouding
gets up early to shoo them
out of her pippin tree
afraid they will let go their droppings
over the lovely olive
of the runnelled bark

she keeps a broom by the door
brushes them from the branches
not too gently
go and lay eggs she admonishes

they clamber down
jump clumsily to the wet ground
while she makes clucking noises
to encourage them to nest

does not notice how they
bow down low before her anger
each lifting a cold and rosy hand
from beneath the white feathers
raising it in greeting
blessing her and the air
as they back away into the mist

A Game of Angels, Winnipeg: Turnstone Press, 1980

Abley wanted to make sure we all understood just how full of life Anne was, how unpretentious. She sounded like someone I would have enjoyed knowing.

Oh and I’m supposed to say now that the acoustics were absolutely smashing, darlings.(how was that, Emily?)

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Building a Better Blog with George Murray-prizes for best question!

what do you want to know about

if i like your question, or can ask it without blushing, i’ll use it in my talk with mr. murray and i’ll mention your name. the person who asks the best question will receive a $25 gift certificate for Nicholas Hoare Books, the festival bookshop and two free tickets to the writer’s festival event of your choice, both courtesy of the Ottawa International Writers Festival.

e-mail me your question at amanda underscore earl dot storm dot ca . deadline is midnight, thursday, april 12, 2007.


on saturday, april 15 as part of the ottawa international writers festival, i will be the host of “Building a Better Blog with George Murray.” Murray is the founder of, a log of literary doings gleaned from world wide online sources such as the Guardian books section, along with intelligent and sarcastic commentary from the site contributors and discussions from readers (some of which is also intelligent, a lot of which is quite sarcastic).

there’s also a magazine with interviews, articles and reviews and at one point, comics by murray. (this one with a caption written by our own john macdonald is my fav). it’s a very cool site and must take a lot of work to produce, yet there’s new stuff daily.

i have a few ideas for questions, but i’d really like to get some questions from you, dear blog readers.

here are a few links to existing interviews with the bookninja founder:

abebooks interview

bloggasm interview

after our event, murray, who also writes poetry, will join rob mclennan and george bowering in conversation with stephen brockwell.

have you checked out the writers festival schedule yet? it rocks. (as the dusty owl folk might say ;)