amongst books

amongst books

Friday, January 25, 2008

adding to Sandra Alland’s 14 Reasons To Love Stuart Ross

i’m a frequent reader of Sandra Alland’s blog and i was very happy to see her post with 14 Reasons to Love Stuart Ross, excerpted from 1001 Reasons to Love Stuart Ross.

i wanted to add a few of my own reasons right’s a shorter list but only because i haven’t known Stuart for as long and he doesn’t live in Ottawa.

Stuart is a doer and an innovator. have you attended any of his poetry boot camps?

I consider Stuart a mentor. his writing shows me that you can be creative, you can have fun and you can play around.

Confessions of a Small Press Racketeer (Anvil Press, 2005) was one of the most fun, most interesting pieces on the small press that I’ve ever read. actually other than Stuart and rob mclennan, nobody says much about the small press, do they?

Stuart promotes other writers such as Michael Dennis, David McFadden and Ron Padgett to name a few. how many writers, publishers and editors do you know who do this?

Sometimes at readings, Stuart brings stuffed monkeys.

Stuart is not afraid to tell it like it is. this comes at great personal sacrifice at times. truth tellers are needed and should not be muzzled.

If Toronto doesn’t want Stuart, i’d like to request that he come to Ottawa. we need more shit disturbers, more promoters, and more innovators.

Ottawater 4.0

was launched last night in the Firestone Gallery of the Ottawa Art Gallery, surrounded by the colourful artwork of the late Norval Morrisseau. Monty Reid hosted the event. Reading last night were Rhonda Douglas, Ann Le Dressay, Chris Jennings, John Lavery, Christian McPherson, Peter Richardson, Marcus McCann and Sandra Ridley.

It was a cold night but that didn’t stop the seats from being filled, including the benches. It was great to see a good turn out and sad not to see rob there, even though Monty was a great host. Also somewhere in the audience was Ottawater’s designer Tanya Sprowl. I wish i’d been able to spot her later to commend her on her beautiful design job, not just on this issue but on all of the Ottawaters. The artwork in the issue is amazing too. Ottawater is one of the most well-designed and attractive online literary magazines out there.

I enjoyed all the readings. I’m always impressed with the variety of styles of Ottawater’s contributors. It’s a good cross section of the Ottawa literary community.

Of particular note for me with my fetish for risk taking, experimentalism, strong imagery and sound play was the work of Marcus McCann who had the most marvellous title for a poem The Very Most Montreal St John's Prodigal Couple Arrival Movie Log (thanks for the help with that, Marcus). Sandra Ridley continues to impress me with her imagery and variety of voices. John Lavery read Quickeye, which is also in the issue. I absolutely love his word play and the two voices in the poem. He’s got such a unique style and pace and way of looking at things. I hope he writes more poems and yes, more fiction too. He delights me.

Other things I appreciated – the understated humour of Anne Le Dressay in a poem about a woman who commiserates with a cashier who cannot stand the music of Celine Dion, her poem What Angels Look Like (in the issue too) about a server in a cafe with his androgenous good looks, Peter Richardson's Kitchen Song (in the issue) with the very unusual refrain "the noccini are coming." Chris Jennings' playful Epimetheus Unbound, Epimetheus being the brother of Prometheus, Chris explained. His Zucchini Stand stuck with me for some time too, as did Rhonda Douglas’ poems about her husband. I left the room with a head full of imagery and syllables, which I’m keeping for later.

Check out the latest issue of There are 156 pages of poetry, interviews and reviews. I'm really looking forward to reading the interviews with both Anne Le Dressay and David O'Meara, Anne's conducted by rob and David's conducted by Stephen Brockwell.

I tip my toque to mr. mclennan, the instigator of all these shenanigans and all the contributors. This is the kind of thing we need to demonstrate Ottawa’s literary fervour to the world out there and in here and to promote the skilled and creative folk in our city.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Elizabeth Hay

read from Late Nights On Air (McClelland and Stewart, 2007) as part of the Ottawa Public Library’s Literature with Lunch Series at the Main Branch on Metcalfe & Laurier.

I was surprised to see a packed auditorium on a weekday, but it makes sense. Lots of people work downtown, it’s at lunch and Elizabeth Hay’s Giller Prize, not to mention the rave reviews the book has been getting must be contributing factors.

I heard Elizabeth read at the OIWF this year and meant to buy the book then. This time around I did. She read from a section about a canoe trip in the 70s and the main character’s scary encounter with a bear. What I particularly enjoyed about Elizabeth’s writing was the vividness of her descriptions, the moist huffing of the bear as it stood over Gwen, how Gwen could hear its saliva bubbling. Ugh. Amazing stuff.

Another earlier scene describing the tenderness Harry felt for Gwen, his rubbing cream into her dry and chapped skin was beautiful and demonstrated a real understanding and compassion for people.

During the Q&A I asked Elizabeth how much research informed scenes like the one described above. She said that she did a lot of research, but didn’t google, preferring instead to do her research at the library (how apropos!). She read a lot of books about people’s encounters with bears, did have an experience with a bear on her own canoe trip (but not like the one in the book) and also used her imagination to extrapolate.

There were other really interesting questions. One woman asked whether Elizabeth wrote journal entries. Elizabeth said she’s been keeping a journal since the early 80s in which she writes down things that will be useful to her fiction.

Sales for the book by Collected Works were brisk and many people got Elizabeth to sign their copies.

If you are downtown on Wednesdays at lunch, check out this series. The next featured reader is Mary Borsky, who wrote the wonderful short story collection, Cobalt Blue (Thomas Allen Publishers, 2007). The reading takes place on January 30.

Steven Heighton

read last night at the Tree Reading Series and was breathtaking. He chose passages from his first book, The Shadow Boxer (Vintage Canada Edition 2001), a new and hilarious work in progress about someone who teaches English in Japan, and poetry from his most recent collection The Address Book (House of Anansi Press, 2004), an older collection called The Ectascy of Skeptics (House of Anansi Press, 1994) and new poetry in progress.

What impressed me most about his reading was the pacing of his work and its music. There’s something about the rhythms and line breaks, the language that he chooses in both his fiction and his poetry that creates an intensity and urgency to the work.

I’ve been a fan of Steven’s since I heard him read from The Address Book at the Ottawa International Writers Festival in 2004. (I know the date because he dated my copy of the book when he autographed it; I wish more authors would do this.)

His writing is very sensual, particularly in works like the Shadow Boxer (I confess I just started reading it yesterday and haven’t had time yet to get past page 9) where he evokes so many different senses in his descriptions. At the reading he mentioned that this book changes from a lyrical and descriptive narrative to something hard and minimal as the book progresses.

Two of the poems he read from the Address Book were requested by Rhonda Douglas (who is stepping down from Tree alas! we’ll miss her.) and they were the ones I’ve heard him read before and particularly like: Constellations, about a child who dons those glowy stars and stands in the dark to show her parents and Address Book about the process of transferring addresses from an old into a new address book. The latter he read after he was asked for an encore, which is the first time I’ve ever heard an audience at Tree request such. He also read Like A Man (Catullus), which is part of the 15 Approximations section of the book, and Drunk Judgement, A night address, which had some fun rhythms and word play. What stands out in these poems are the lyrical moments.

A new poem in progress about the gap that one feels when realizing that money, love and even a good fucking can’t fulfil one’s life. I believe it was called Memo to a Self, the famished chasm.

He read the cover poem from the Ecstasy of Skeptics. I enjoy his sound play and his imagery in this and other writing in his body of work, which encompasses 9 books and counting. I like the way Steven plays with traditional forms like the sonnet, like our own Stephen Brockwell and also George Murray to name a few.

I’d like to leave you with the Ectasy of Skeptics poem but my abilities in blogger don’t allow me to get the spacing right, so instead I’ll just end with the final line of the poem and say that his reading did leave me blazing with inspiration.

“Now, love. This way. With the lights on. Blazing.”

Friday, January 18, 2008

The Jays Meet Eh & Bee

Josh Massey and John Lavery were the features last night at Max Middle’s A B Series at the City of Ottawa City Hall Art Gallery. Josh arranged Bridgehead coffee/tea and John made flan. What a lovely welcome.

Josh is known for writing about trees and I guess it wouldn’t be untoward to call his work, at least certain aspects of it, ecopoetry. Last night was a luxury, hearing him read for longer. I’ve heard him often at Tree and witnessed the development of his writing over the years. What really excited me about Josh’s writing were the voices: there was a ballad that sounded like it came from a medieval troubador, there was a cowboy poem with words like Missy in it, there were those environmental poems that mentioned oil and above all there was sincerity and intensity that shone through.

When it was John’s turn, he brought a chair close to the audience, took out his guitar and played a few songs. Not only does he make fine flan, but he also plays a mean guitar, actually a very melodic guitar and writes excellent lyrics that are not that far off from the language and wit of his fiction. It was a joy to hear him perform his music. He read an excerpt from a novel in progress about a man named Paul-Fran├žois and his eccentric lover. I found the story so compelling, I wanted it to go on. I’ve heard John read three or four times now and each time I am left feeling excited about the possibilities of fiction again; his is innovative, unusual and unique.

This was the third of the A B series and it’s really coming along well. There are several readings taking place in the next few months and they sound tantalizing. Check out the blog for further info and come out to the next one, taking place on February 3 at the Mercury Lounge and featuring sound and language poets Mathew Timmons from Los Angeles & j.s. makkos from Cleveland. Isn’t it neat that the A B Series is exposing us to writers we wouldn’t normally experience?

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Sunshine after the Fog-Camille Martin @ Tree

Camille Martin read at the first Tree of 2008 last night. Camille is originally from New Orleans and moved to Toronto in 2005 where she teaches literature and creative writing at Ryerson University.

In addition to her poetry, she takes photos and makes collages. Sometimes these acts are combined. Her chapbooks include seasame kiosk (Potes & Poets, 2001), rogue embryo (Lavender Ink, 1999), magnus loop (Chax Press, 1999), and Plastic Heaven (Fell Swoop, 1996).
She read work from her first full-length collection, Codes of public sleep (Bookthug, 2007), sonnets from West Coast Line and some additional poems that may have been new work

Codes of public sleep is a wondrous book full of wordplay, imaginative juxtapositions, soft, soft language, dream like states and lyricism. I like the way Camille makes use of repetition to create a trance-like effect. There’s a formality also to her syntax that contributes to the dream-like cadence of the lines.

She read one poem from West Coast Line that was a series of lines with end rhyme or internal rhyme. I’m not often a fan of end-rhyme, but this poem was really well done. Nothing awkward about the rhyme or the word order. Another poem was a nesting poem that went from a tree, to a bird, to a nest, to baby birds and ended with seeds. The accumulation created a dramatic and powerful effect.

Some of the most effective poems were those that Camille plundered from her dream journal. One of the sonnets was inspired by post-modernist Gilbert Sorrentino’s book, the Orangery (University of Texas Press, 1978). I loved the way Camille ended many of these poems in the middle.

The idea for Codes came from working as a librarian at the New Orleans Public Library where she’d seen everything, including men masturbating in the art section and peeing in the sports section. This made her think about the type of acts that people commit privately. The text of Codes of Public Sleep has also been combined with photographs Camille has taken in New Orleans, some of homeless men.

I have to say that I loved the book and I really enjoyed hearing Camille read from it and from her other work. There was something surrealistic and dreamlike in the way she assembled the words, particularly the abstract concepts. Her poems did feel like collages to me. The work reminded me somewhat of Jan Allen’s Personal Peripherals (Buschek Books, 2006 and Stanzas, Volume 1, No 32, above/ground press, 2006) in the way in which abstract language was juxtaposed with concrete images.

Another writer that sprang to my mind when reading Codes was Roland Prevost. He plays around with abstracts in a similar way in his chapbook MetaFizz (Bywords, 2007). There is also a similar formal cadence to his lines.

Camille’s work was a delightful surprise for me. One of the signs that someone’s poetry is affecting me is when I start to write a poem in my head in the middle of reading one of theirs. This happened to me with Codes of public sleep. I found myself composing a poem as I was reading. Camille’s poetry reminded me of what was possible, that there are no limits to what one can do with words. This is the reaction I have with experimental poetry. I feel open and want to join the party.

I’m not going to show any of Camille’s poems here because she has a wonderful Internet presence. Here are just a few of the sites/publications where her work is featured:


awww heck, i can’t help myself. here is one of the poems from Codes of public sleep that she read last night and that i particularly enjoyed. from the section Letter Letters:

ii. ex-i

hello, i’d like to sleep in a little puddle
during the hot season under a suspension
bridge, the childish ruse of a morning strewn
with straw to un-name beasts
and their shadows, a faint song to waft
from a bell jar. i’d like a savage birth
in fields of sharp grasses, false
islands beckoning to lost swimmers visualizing
their cameo appearance among archetypal palms.
even as colours parade emptily
through my durable eyes, i’d like flaming
patterns to stir nothingness in my smiling brain, bones
aglow to dispel the game of granite mist, a candle
at the edge of prison to illuminate
the perforated moments of my pretended liberty.
and if my attention wanders
from the episode requiring the estrangement
of my character in which my solidly
collective life form winningly mimics
its own role if my attention wanders, i’d like
to be acted superbly by extras, resolute
if deluded that i dwell in countless earlier stages.
and even though memory is bluntly mimetic
of a derivative intention, dislocated
from my stockpiled personal activity, i’d like
to protect its inevitable rhythms, if not my threadbare
belief in the precise analysis of jumble.
it’s hard to find a self to cheer up,
but i’d like to encourage the obvious, and then
split, incidental, if true.


Monday, January 07, 2008

2008 Starts With Fiction & A Challenge

The first reading of the year that I attended was the Dusty Owl, featuring Toronto short story writer, Kate Sutherland. Kate read from her most recent book of short stories, All In Together Girls (Thistledown Press, 2007).

The story she read “Checking Out” was a compelling tale about a woman with a n’eer do well lover, a familiar story many women can relate to. I enjoyed the story very much, particularly Kate’s wit and the voice of the main character.

I’ve dipped into a few more of these stories and I must say that they are very engaging. One in particular, “Making Love While the Kettle Boils,” was lyrical and sensuous with provocative and memorable imagery. Of particular fun & wit were the apropos crossword puzzle clues and answers throughout the story. Kate’s writing reminds me somewhat of Katherine Govier’s Fables of Brunswick Avenue, something about the intimacy of they way both of them write, the attention to detail and the gentle humour. There’s an edge to her writing, which also reminds me of Matthew Firth’s stories, particularly those in Suburban Pornography.

Speaking of Matthew Firth, Black Bile Press, the small press he runs, recently published three fiction chapbooks , which I read just after the holidays: Hemingway, Early and Late by Gerald Locklin, Being A Greek by David Rose, and The Four-sixteen by Virginia Ashberry. I enjoyed all three of these short stories, particularly Virginia Ashberry’s story about an elderly woman who becomes paranoid and the worry she causes her daughter. I loved the way the trials of this woman ended up tangling with the lives of other lonely people: her daughter, and an old nursing colleague of her daughter’s. All three stories stayed with me.

In the latest issue of Front&Centre (Issue #18, featuring stories by Mark Fleming, Katherine Coldiron, Parker Dorris, Tom Johns, Donald Avery, David Rose and Blas Ulibarri) editor Matthew Firth points out that no Canadians were published this time around. He wonders whether Canadian writers are “destined to go the route of the polar bear: drowned and subsequently silenced amidst the widespread slush of sappy, middle-of-the-road, warm and fuzzy fiction.” Matthew seems to be issuing a challenge to Canadian fiction writers. Send him your edgy stuff and show him we aren’t all huggy bears.