amongst books

amongst books

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Arjun Basu and Joshaua Auerbach

[no links added today, blame it on Mojitos]

read at Sasquatch today. It was cool to have Steve Luxton, the publisher of DC Books from Montreal out to introduce the readers. The room was packed, mostly with Joshua’s friends and family, but also with a few ardent fans of literature who skipped the beautiful almost-spring weather to sit in a smelly basement (rotting shellfish says Lynne Alsford, raw sewage says I) and listen to the literary stylings of Arjun & Joshua.

I talked to a couple of people, who, like me, received little cards announcing the reading from DC Books. Aside from being weirded out that the DC Books folk had our addresses, we went mostly because we got these cards, and they looked beautiful and red. Never underestimate the power of the mail, folks.

The open mic set was really fun, especially a poem by Rona Shaffran about ice and Susan McMaster’s reading from her memoir The Gargoyle’s Left Ear about a CBC poetry face off where she dared to read a poem about sex. Was nice to hear mention of folks like Kris Northey and Anthony Bansfield, who has one of the sexiest voices of Ottawa's spoken word poetry scene. Also of note, a rising poetry star, Pearl Pirie whose language play made for a memorable poetic adventure.

After the break, the room filled with Joshua’s family and friends, which was nice to see.

I have to admit that I’m always torn about going to Sasquatch. I still see my friend and Ottawa’s friend Juan O’Neill there at the front table, with his kindly introductions of those of us who read during the open mic and his own voice, singing a Spanish love song. So it’s hard to be there.

I enjoyed Arjun’s story Johnson’s Johnson about a baseball player who gets to the major leagues and ends up on a baseball card with a hole in his pants and his cock showing. Of course Arjun was much more polite about it than I would have been. Fun story. Will be great to read his short story book in April when it comes out. He’ll be at the Ottawa International Writers Festival too.

Joshua Auerbach, who is also co-editor of Vallum, one of Montreal’s literary journals, read from his poetry book Radius of Light. I was happy to hear translations of poems by the surrealist Paul Eluard. Steve Luxton introduced him (Joshua, not Paul Eluard) explaining that his work was outdoorsy and how much he liked that himself.

I watched Steve close his eyes during some of the open mic readers’ poems and also during both the featured prose and poetry, but with Joshua, I also saw Steve counting on his fingers, perhaps syllables. The most interesting poem for me was one that Joshua described as difficult. I’ve had my fill of nature poems frankly. It’s really hard for me to get into them anymore. But Joshua wasn’t writing with the same cliche reverence that tires me. I liked his repetition of sounds, his imagery, which sounded very much like a painting and the way he glanced up and looked at the audience. He had a strong presence. I wanted to him hear without interruptions though. Why do people order fries during readings? Why do they come late? Why do they read their own papers? Ugh. I need silence to hear someone read their work. I felt like I could have been immersed in some sort of green dream with Joshua’s work. It had that potential, but real life in the form of fidgeting humans kept getting in the way. Still though, there was something there. When he read the difficult poem he said that it’s important to be challenged. He also said clarity is important. I guess that is my problem with a lot of poetry these days. I don’t care about clarity as much as I care about being lost in the spell of sound and imagery. I feel that Joshua’s work had some of that.

On Sunday, March 9, Sasquatch is having a founders’ reading and they are honouring the spirit of the poetry cafe, the beatnik poetry of the 60s. Might be a fun time to go there and celebrate the dream spirit of getting lost on the road to poetry and honouring those who made that spirit happen in Ottawa, including folks like Jane Jordan and Juan O’Neill.

Friday, February 15, 2008

A B Series # 5

featured Jay MillAr, Monty Reid and Emily Falvey tonight while the cold was raging outside.

Emily read three short poems and her story, "Swamp Water," about a man’s childhood reminiscences of his rebellious friend. Emily paints vivid pictures of the awkwardness of childhood in her story and packs a punch with provocative and tight prose such as this:

“Hair-lipped Billy Bolivar was proud of three things: a scar above his left temple, which he got in a knife fight (actually, his brother threw a rock at him for shooting his ass with a bee-bee); a brown, imitation leather jacket with Motley Crew scrawled on the back; and the age of his mother at the time of his birth (she was only thirteen). Billy seemed to derive a slight conceit from this last fact, like he had impregnated her himself and was thus the rapist author of his own creation. It was compensation for his father, who didn’t seem to exist.”

Her poetry was also great to hear. In her interview with Click Here radio host Mitchell Caplan on Wednesday, Emily mentioned that she adored words and especially unusual vocabularies. One of her poems was a sonnet based on a book of paperweight art.

Her fiction can be found in Decalogue II (Chaudiere Books).

Monty read a few apropos poems from “These Lawns” (Red Deer College Press, 1990), one about near-Valentine’s day called “February 12,” another called “Spring Weather” and five poem sequence called “Pre-Maturity.”

He then read from a new manuscript which is an approximate translation of “El Gran Zoo” by Nicolás Guillén. The zoo is a place where one finds the ferociousness and beauty of humanity and nature. I was particularly affected by a poem describing the North Star as ice melting down on us. This image stayed with me as Charles and I walked through Confederation Park and contemplated the Winterlude ice sculptures in all their frozen colours.

Jay was the final reader. He used his education in information science to structure his reading according to the various methods his information was organized whether it be numbers in the Small Blue (Snare Books, 2007), letters Lack Lyrics (Book Thug, 2007) and “Sporatic Growth, being a third season of fungal threads” (Nomados Press, 2006) and "Double Helix," the micro-fiction book he co-wrote with Stephen Cain (Mercury Press, 2006). Jay’s work is dry and witty at times, and at other times very poignant.

I have an earlier version of the Small Blue (Bookthug, 2003) in which numbers are skipped. I was pleased to get the updated version with poems written in the space where the blanks once were. In his interview with Mitchell Caplan, Jay mentioned that the title came from a line of Apollinaire’s “le petit bleu.” To update “The Small Blue,” Jay researched various things with that name, including a type of butterfly and a set of constellations. Jay’s writing is creative and unbound. It was a pleasure to hear him read.

It was a pleasure to hear everyone read!

The next A B will feature Ottawa writers. There are a pile of interesting A B events coming soon. Check the blog for more info.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

magazines that don’t send word

to acknowledge, reject or accept work are a pain in the ass, aren’t they? this happens too much these days with literary magazines. the thing is these are often mighty fine publications, content-wise, but their management skills are the pits.

it’s important to at least let writers know when their work has been accepted, if nothing else. how many times have you, dear writers, opened up a magazine only to find your work published? or found it online for that matter?

and those rejection e-mails or’s ok if they take time (although a year is pretty crazy), but not to send them out at all is bad.

i’ve seen some of these aforementioned publications begging for submissions and i’m not surprised. after a while if you treat people with disrespect, they will no longer participate in your endeavour.

yep, most in small press publishing are volunteers or very poorly paid, but that’s no excuse. if the number of submissions is overwhelming and thus making it impossible to respond, editors should figure out a way to manage the submissions: find someone or a webtool to automate the system; communicate that a submission won’t receive any acknowledgement unless it’s accepted or that the writer must find out by awaiting publication. this helps to manages expectations. editors can also allow for simultaneous submissions. they can post updates about delays on their website or blog. they shouldn’t say they will respond within four months when there’s not a cat in hell’s chance that this is the case. after four months, i’ve queried, only to be ignored some more.

i see this issue from both sides because i also wear the hat of Bywords' managing editor and i’m the one who receives all the submissions (about 100 poems a month via e-mail). i’m happy to say we have an excellent record of handling submissions. if you don’t receive an acknowledgment from us within 48 hours, something has gone awry.

the whole system of submission, selection and publication depends on communication. if something breaks down, the system is shot to hell. perhaps it’s easy to take those who submit their work for granted because there are so many people dying to get their work published, but this runs the risk of alienating them. while invited calls are another way to acquire content, if guidelines claim to consider unsolicited work, that work needs to be taken seriously and handled with respect.

personally, i’m tired of sending work to magazines and hearing nothing back. nothing at all. there are a few Canadian magazines i simply won’t submit any more of my work to.

the main thing is to communicate and treat those who submit work with the respect and attention you want the publication to receive. it’s a working relationship and both sides should treat one another with professionalism and respect.

and if you’re a writer, i’d like to say that if you follow the guidelines, write the appropriate query letter, format your submissions properly and follow all instructions to the letter, you’ll receive equal professionalism back. alas it doesn’t appear to be the case, but you should do so anyway.

here are a few dos and don’ts for writers who wish to submit their work:


1. include your name and contact info;
2. include a bio only if it is requested;
3. follow instructions about attachment types;
4. title the work within the body of the text and not just using a file name;
5. write a cover letter which lists the titles of the work you are submitting;
6. keep track of your submissions;


1. exceed the maximum number of pieces specified in the guidelines;
2. ask the editor about his or her personal response to your work;
3. take a rejection of your work personally;
4. submit simultaneously if the guidelines specify not to;
5. submit previously published work (that’s a bit of a grey area...some consider self- published or self-blog published to be published and some don’t.)

i’d suggest you send query e-mails, but the chance of a response is pretty unlikely.

if you have any success or horror stories about sending work to a literary magazine, feel free to comment. if you have any constructive ideas about how to make the whole submission process more workable, be you publisher, editor, writer or all three or a combination thereof, i’d love to hear your thoughts. how can we improve things for everyone involved?

What To Do When You Have The Flu

The good news about being sick is I can usually while away the time reading. My brain is too woozy to do much else, but I’ve had three great fiction experiences in a row:

Steven HeightonThe Shadow Boxer

Michael WinterThe Architects Are Here

Elizabeth Hay Late Nights On Air

Heighton’s book was perfect for the early flu. There are a few chapters towards the middle-end where the main character is holed up in a lighthouse on an island in hallucinatory fever. How lovely to find a character to commiserate with. I didn’t have to cut off any appendages thank heavens. You’ll have to read the book to see what I’m talking about. It’s a great book, much in the Romantic spirit of a 19th century novel such as René by Chauteaubriand.

Winter’s novel is the third one I’ve read of his and while it isn’t my very favourite (I loved the Big Why), I enjoyed it. The plot gets more and more bizarre and gruesome. For a sick person, it’s good to know that worse things can happen. The main thing I enjoy about Winter’s writing is the style. There’s something very informal and conversational about it that lulls me into a sense of contentment and then WHAM a really terrible thing happens. I recommend it for the middle stage of the flu, rather than an early stage. In the middle, your synapses are numb to surprises but you can appreciate them from afar.

I have to admit I’ve only just started Hay’s novel, but I’m really enjoying it. It’s so engrossing. Hay has such a depth of understanding for the way people think and how they handle their lives based on these mindsets. The book feels exotic to me: it concerns a bunch of people who are basically isolated together in an exotic locale, a radio station in the far north. Each person has a history and we learn about it slowly over time. I find solace in their isolation. Definitely a towards the end of the flu book, since it is a bit of a page turner and hence not for the sluggish brain.

Another pastime I recommend highly for the sick and weary is listening to podcasts. I have never had much patience to wait for an interesting program to come on the radio. I’ve always been frustrated that you can’t set a timer and tape a show like you can with a VCR and television. A podcast is a great way to hear shows that you missed out on or sometimes to hear additional features on the same show. My favourite podcasts are all from the CBC. Words at Large has been doing a special feature on the Canada Reads books. I heard a fantastic rebroadcast of an interview of Timothy Findley by Peter Gzowski on Not Wanted on the Voyage.

I also enjoy the podcast Outfront. For this podcast, the general public submits their true stories and they get picked for the show. I heard a fascinating story about a bush pilot whose plane crashed and killed a grandfather and a grandson, his visit to the grieving mother years later. Another tale told of a former prostitute and heroin addict who helps women today.

And then there’s my favourite non CBC podcast from is a wonderful Canadian online music store that also offers a free sampler of music each month. For the podcast, every month, Dave from Halifax gives us a rundown of the most recent music they’ve acquired. I’ve discovered all kinds of amazing music this way by folks like Megan Hamilton, Mardeen, Wax Mannequin, Jen Grant and Royal Wood.

There are lots of other great podcasts around too, also for poetry, but I find I have less patience for listening to podcasts for poetry. I’m not sure why. Penn Sound is good, and miPoRadio isn’t bad either, but for some reason when I’m sick I can’t seem to take in anything to do with poetry. Another site where you can hear authors reading is the very aptly named Authors Aloud which has both podcasts and direct access to the files.

If you just want to try one, you can just go to the site and listen, but you can also subscribe. I use Itunes for that, but there are other ways, including RSS feeds.

The downside of having the flu is missing out on all the great readings and events around town, like tonight's launch of Cheapeats Ottawa and last night's Tree with Ian Roy. I'm hoping my fellow bloggers will keep me informed. I definitely plan to go to the A B series on Friday to hear Jay MillAr, Emily Falvey and Monty Reid. You can hear Emily and Jay on Mitchell Caplan's Click Here radio show this afternoon at 5pm. I wish it were podcast ;)

Saturday, February 09, 2008

what's up with the Citizen?

and why do they have such a hard time getting the dates of events right? this time around they got the next A B Series wrong in today's Going Out Section. the last A B event was on Sunday, so they make this one on Sunday too. but no, the next on is actually on Friday, February 15. see the difference, Citizen data entry people or whoever you are? Friday is not Sunday.

i've seen the Citizen screw up Bywords listings with the same type of error, reprinting the readers from the previous event instead of copying in the new ones that I send them, Dusty Owl listings with the features from the previous time and other literary events screwed up time after time.

i appreciate that the Citizen could just say to hell with putting listings up at all and i suppose i should be grateful, but for god's sake...get it right. or hire someone who can. this is ridiculous.

why am i so annoyed? because those listings are a very valuable and necessary resource for the literary community and for the audiences who time and again are betrayed by inaccurate information. i know it's normal to get things wrong on occasion, i accept that, but this often? sorry, that's just incompetence and neglect. it shows a lack of respect for the entire literary community to treat our events in such a cavalier, ham-fisted manner. and for audiences it's a betrayal. they can't trust the Citizen to accurately post events. that sucks.

i actually enjoy the Citizen a great deal. i'm a fan, which means i hold the paper up to a higher standard than this sloppiness. i wonder how other cultural activities in the community fare? i hope they don't get such error-prone listings.

Friday, February 08, 2008

do harsh reviews help?

in his blog yesterday, Marcus wrote a very interesting entry about reviews. i thought i’d just stick my oar in ...

i don't see the point of harsh reviews in poetry. for one thing, those who writes harsh reviews often seem to have a bias, for example they may dislike experimental poetry and often with no background as readers of it or its theory. they judge based on the same criteria they use for narrative poetry.

the general public doesn't give a rat's ass about poetry. so if the only thing they ever hear about it is how bad it is, it doesn't make them buy poetry for themselves or anyone else. perhaps if they heard about the great poetry out there, maybe a few people might actually be convinced to buy it, but with poets turning on each other like a pack of wild beasts, that doesn't happen.

if people who wrote within a particular sub-genre would do critical reviews of one another's work, that would be interesting. they have the knowledge and background to really understand what the writer is trying to do with a particular work, but of course the literary world is so incestuous, when someone does do a review of another person's work within the same narrow sub-genre, it is considered a form of nepotism and not taken seriously.

there are always biases in poetry reviews. and having harsh reviews doesn't show objectivity nor give the reading public, whoever they might be, the opportunity to make an informed decision based on an objective review. there are no objective reviews and there are no objective reviewers.

i am in favour of promotion rather than reviews. i think that's what we need more of and that's what i do.

Monday, February 04, 2008

i'm reading this afternoon at 4pm at U of O may be more like croaking. i've got a cold and my voice is really awful. but...other people will probably have better voices...soooo,

University of Ottawa Reading in support of International Development Week:
Global Citizenship: A Framework for Development

Monday, February 4, 2008
4:00pm - 5:30pm
University of Ottawa, Faculty of Arts, Rm 509

RAY DEONANDAN (Prize-winning Caribbean author of Sweet Like Saltwater and Divine Elemental. A medical scientist associated with the University of Ottawa.)

BETTY WARRINGTON-KEARSLEY (Singapore-born Chinese-Canadian poet. Recent first book, Red Lacquered Chopsticks.)

AMANDA EARL (Editor of and Bywords Quarterly Journal. Author of recent chapbook Eleanor.)

LISE CAREAU (Poet-performer and Coordinator, Maison des auteurs, Gatineau.)

CYRIL DABYDEEN (Former Poet Laureate of Ottawa and author of Imaginary Origins: Selected Poems. Recent winner of the Guyana Prize for Fiction for Drums of My Flesh.)

I also recommend checking out other activities at U of O for the week. They include an NGO fair in the university centre, speeches by Stephen Lewis and Michael Ignatieff, a reel world movie festival, an Amnesty International letter writing fair and even a fair trade food posting.

For more info go here