amongst books

amongst books

Friday, March 28, 2008

Mike Blouin and Naomi Guttman

read last night at the Factory Reading Series hosted (in rob's absentia) by Monty Reid.

Mike read first from his new poetry collection “I’m not going to lie to you” (Pedlar Press, 2007) and then from a novel in progress that no one had heard until last night.

One of the things I enjoyed about his poetry was the way in which he combined the sacred with the ordinary, the way in which while we’re living through the small and seemingly unimportant moments of life, somehow there is beauty. For more on his poetry collection, go here.

The novel excerpt Mike read from was so compelling that I didn’t want him to stop reading. What I enjoyed about the excerpt was the voice of the main character/narrator, Raymond, a young boy growing up with a father who takes him out to the driving range where the father “hits a bucket of beer” and a mother who is in a coma. It was the exquisite details of the novel that linger: the description of the yellow and orange golf balls in the red wire basket, looking like Easter eggs, the crazy t-shirt slogans his father invented and his own: “Stop, stop, stop, stop, stop, stop...reading my shirt.” I like the way Mike weaved this detail into something sad later in the novel. He is able to make us feel compassion for Raymond and for his father.

Former Montrealer Naomi Guttman read next. The pairing of these two writers was an inspired choice on organizer rob mclennan’s part. they both dealt with the ordinary and the sacred in their work and also with family.

Naomi read from her second book of poetry “Wet Apples, White Blood” (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2007). I have to mention the cover of this book, which was particularly striking: completely red except for one white drop representing milk. The milk represents breast-feeding, the subject of a number of the poems in the book. I loved the inventiveness of these poems: a poem about the creation of the Milky Way, another about the wet nurse of King Tut. Naomi also read stanzas from a long poem about a baby in hospital with pneumonia. She was able to articulate the helpless feeling of that situation for a mother with details such as watching the IV man trying to find the vein on the tiny baby’s arm or coming in to find the doctor thumping on the baby’s chest to help him breathe, calling him buddy, its association with the bud of a flower. i was reading recently that one shouldn’t use the word poignant, but here i go using it again. Naomi’s poems were poignant.

Through the use of exquisite detail, both Naomi and Mike were able to translate their words into feelings and experiences the reader can empathize with, turning the central figures in their books into people we could feel compassion for.

The main thing I took away from the reading is something that Naomi talks about in her interview with rob when she says that readings are part of an ongoing conversation and also that poetry is an emotional history of the world. I walked away from that reading feeling moved by the work of both of these writers.

While I missed Alberta rob and temporarily Nova Scotia Emily, Monty and the two organizers from the Ottawa Art Gallery (sorry I didn’t get their names) did a terrific job. I have to mention also how wonderful it was to be back in the Contemporary Art Gallery. The current exhibit, Buildup is amazing. See Charles’ photo of Naomi Guttman, with one of the pieces in the background for a wee taste.

Upcoming readings this weekend: the A B Series tonight featuring Ottawa's spoken wordsters, Sunday's Dusty Owl featuring Bywords' 2007 John Newlove Award winner, Sean Moreland.

Monday, March 24, 2008

jwcurry mentioned

in this cool documentary about the visual art/concrete poetry collectors Ruth and Marvin Sackner.

about half way thru the film, Marvin opens a thick envelope from Canada, telling the audience that it is from John Curry, who he collects a lot. he sniffs the envelope and says “this guy’s a smoker.” he shows the little pamphlet “Do you read your garbage” and also some artists’ trading cards Curry made. Marvin explains that he, himself, doesn’t trade, he just keeps them.

the documentary is a must see for anyone interested in concrete poetry and visual art. the Sackner’s home is filled with amazing treasures and they tell stories of how they managed to procure the items. one item is a deluxe version of a book, signed and coloured by Apollinaire in 1917, another includes a handwritten note by Gertrude Stein.

i would LOVE to see an exhibit of concrete poetry at a gallery here in Ottawa. what you’ll see in this film will astound you.

remember if you get the chance, go over to jwcurry’s store. he’s got an amazing collection of material to do with bpNichol, for starters. you should buy stuff.

speaking of concrete poetry, something i’m looking forward to is Decalogue 3 to be published by Chaudiere Books. it will feature Ottawa’s visual poets. can’t wait for that.

some of the best sources on line for concrete poetry that i've run into are

the Material Poem
dpqp, Geoff Huth's blog
Other Cl/utter, Jenny Sampirisi's blog
Dan Waber's site: minimalist concrete poetry

perhaps you have others that inspire, please suggest.

i’m currently working on my own version of an artist's book, all hand-made, no high tech, inspired by artists like Max Ernst and Joseph Cornell. if you have any artists' books, you like, i'd love to see them.

watch the documentary, it may just inspire you to create some concrete poetry.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Stephen Brockwell

was the featured reader at the Dusty Owl yesterday. after reading a few poems from his Blackberry, which was very fitting since some of his poems in his latest poetry collection were created thru automatic handwriting recognition, he read from said collection “The Real Made Up” (ECW Press, 2007).

what i enjoy about this book is its versatility, the fact that it can’t be pigeon-holed into one type of poetry. there are short witty and imagistic poems, there are poems written in the personae of invented characters, there are poems of constraint, but most of all there is play and risk. the whole collection is informed by the quote at the beginning: “Mimesis sutures the real to the really made up—an no society exists otherwise.”—Michael Taussig, Mimesis and Reality.

some of the poems that particularly stood out for me upon hearing Stephen read were

Scarecrow-i loved the vivid personification of the residential neighbourhood and its association with aging: “but in this neighbourhood the arteries/clog with identical mansard-roofed red brick houses”

Bill McGillvray’s Cap, Joanne’s Medium Format Camera-these poems demonstrate Stephen’s ability for compassion, for empathy.

the Karikura poems, such as Karikura Gives Advice. Karikura is my favourite of all the characters in this book, he states the obvious in a matter-of-fact way, gently chiding us for our silly questions, yet there is kindness there and a poetic sense of beauty and once again compassion.

Four Electronic Handwriting Recognitions are fun examples of what serendipitous connections can be made to generate a poem. this is something that writers have been experimenting with since at least as early as the Cut and Paste experiments of the Dadaists, perhaps even earlier. i think the idea of combining the random play of experimentalism with contemporary technology is ingenious and it’s a creative way to illustrate mimesis. good to see a Canadian and particularly a local poet playing with text in this way.

Stephen didn't read the Randomized Oxford Exploration poems, short poems that I would love to know more about. I wonder how they were put together. They seem epigram-like and full of fun vocabulary and wit.

we need more play in poetry. we need more writers willing to take risks and experiment. artistic innovation leads to progress. and particularly with "The Real Made Up" Stephen Brockwell has become one of Ottawa’s literary innovators, along with Max Middle, John Lavery, jwcurry, and up-and-comers like Nicholas Lea and Marcus McCann, to name only a few. who’s next?

one short aside-i’ve been very disappointed with the reviews i've seen of “The Real Made Up” which ignore or dismiss the experimentalism throughout this book. such reviews do nothing to encourage a writer’s attempts to play and to experiment, the reviewers preferring always the old familiar (of late) Governor General pablum poetry and bemoaning anything that innovates. where are the Jon Paul Fiorentinos on the GG list or a. rawlings? it’s been 20 years since Erin Moure won the GGs, for heaven’s sake.

for an interesting interview of Stephen by rob mclennan, go here and for another more in-depth interview, go to 3.0