amongst books

amongst books

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Visual Poetry – a few introductory and inspiring links

if you have an interest in visual poetry but don’t know where to begin, these links might serve as a decent intro.

wikipedia's list of concrete and visual poets, including Canadians. someone needs to add to this...

VISUAL POETRY: A Brief History of Ancestral Roots and Modern Traditions by Karl Kempton

an article about visual poetry in Canada by Jack David of ECW Press. a good intro to the early days.

the Sackner archive of visual and concrete poetry, including the documentary "Concrete" which is on the bottom left of the screen.

a definition of visual poetry and some guides to a few visual poets

Judith Copithorne is one of the most well known Canadian visual poets

derek beaulieu
specifically check out his gallery and in critical, his essay "An afterwords after words: notes towards a concrete poetic"
you'll also notice on the front page, he publishes chapbooks via his press No Press. not all of them are visual poetry chapbooks.
his on line magazine about visual poetry is also linked from there. it is "dedicated to the dissemination and distribution of visual and concrete poetry."
the difference between concrete and visual poetry is still somewhat lost on me.

Gary Barwin's blog; he posts some of his visual poems here.

David UU

there's a themed issue of Open Letter on vispo from 1999 called "Cantextualities: Contemporary Visual Poetry in Canada"
but it's not on line. don't know if it's still in print.

the Bleed features visual poetry and sometimes the contributors offer statements about their work. i have had work in there.

this is a group blog that i'm in with Satu Kaikonen and others. her work is brilliant.

Satu has many blogs, but this one is a good sample of her work.

this is a group blog i'm in, again with Satu. it's for what is referred to as asemic writing which is visual poetry where the text is evoked rather than directly there...although again there seems to be a very blurred line here.

another asemic blog

the first asemic exhibit in Russia

Mary Ellen Solt's amazing flowers in concrete. i discovered it thru the first issue of Speechless, where Helen Hajnoczky has an essay about Solt's work and the lack of women visual poets being published in the 70s.

a visual poetry magazine featuring Canadian daniel f. bradley and others.

Peter Ciccariello plays a lot with text using a 3D model. he's in an issue of experiment-o.

the Concrete Poetry of Niikuni Seiichi just blows my mind. (and you'll see it is referred to as "between poetry and art" which may be a good inspiration for the exhibit.

the plastic poetry of Hibuno Fumiko. more work that blows my mind.

Tauba Auerbach's Semaphore Alphabet. another mind blower. and is it visual poetry or visual art? hmmmm.

Mara Patricia Hernandez's work. she's amazing. another mind blower.

this is visual poetryDan Waber is an American who does all kinds of stuff; he publishes small chapbooks of visual poetry under this imprint.

a visual poetry magazine that claims to tear down every wall that gets in its way...

Emmett Williams
a well known concrete and visual poet who died in 2007

another group vispo blog

avantacular press
Andrew Topel publishes his own amazing visual poetry and the work of others.

Alexander Jorgensen's visual poetry comes highly recommended.

Robin Biegler's site of works that are beautiful and moving. (my on line chapbook published by avantacular press "a field guide to fanciful bugs" is mentioned!)

Jenny Hill suggested the following links and says:'s visual poetry poster series

"There are currently 25 posters in the series, all from visual poets of different countries." is a good resource for visual poets or those interested in the work as well. Dan started that a couple of years ago and it's really grown. I love to see all the work posted in the galleries. Ted Warnell has some beautiful pieces. There's a forum where you can find information on calls for submissions, vispo in the news, pub announcements, classics, general discussion, etc.

the blog of visual poet, Geof Huth.


Modern Visual Poetry by Willard Bohn, University of Delaware Press, 2000

The Aesthetics of Visual Poetry, 1914-1928 by Willard Bohn, University of Chicago Press, 1993

Further Resources

i highly recommend visiting Rm 302 Books if you're in Ottawa to consult with jwcurry on his collection of visual poetry and other avant garde works. or write to him to get a catalogue of offerings:

#302 – 880 Somerset Street West
Ottawa Canada K1R 6R7
(613) 233 0477

if you have any other great resources, books and links to suggest, please let me know. i have much to learn and love the journey.

Friday, August 27, 2010

20 minute rant-the naysayer

“Poetry today is shit” and similar comments burn my keyster. often the person hasn’t read any contemporary poetry and if they’ve read it i have to question whether they’ve tried to engage with it at all.

what i haven’t seen from these naysayers is any attempt to study, read or write about the writing they so easily dismiss.

i’m not saying there’s no such thing as bad poetry. i see my fair share, particularly as an editor. poor imitations of Dylan Thomas abound. i see many narcissistic little diatribes about broken love affairs with end rhyme and precious fonts. however, even in these poems, there is usually a line or a possibility that gives me hope. i hope that these writers try to read broadly and improve. and that is sometimes what happens.

this is common in a lot of early, unpublished work. the best way to improve for these writers is to ignore the loving comments of relatives, attend some workshops and share their work with other writers, learning how to give and receive editing advice.

however most of the negative comments i’ve heard about poetry are directed at published works. one problem with making sweeping pejorative generalizations about poetry is that it can be disheartening to those who spend a lot of time trying to write it. no one wants to pen crap, but if what one has written isn’t good, it is preferable to have the so-called critic explain in some detail what about the poem or the collection doesn’t work.

it also gives the impression that we are drowning in a pool of doggerel and that it’s pointless to read and to write poetry. that is silly and depressing. i don’t always enjoy every poetry collection i read, but i have enjoyed some stellar collections, some poems where lines and images continue to stay in my mind long after i’ve read them and end up inspiring me to write more. when a piece of writing doesn’t work for a reader, it is often or perhaps mostly subjective. i would like these naysayers to recognize this instead of making their sweeping statements. if you make such, i will challenge you. i will ask you for specific examples.

i understand that it is human nature to piss on people’s cornflakes, to act the curmudgeon. by acting such a lot of people think they raise their status with their peers. but i think it is small minded and ignorant to be negative without attempting to engage.

i am very interested in serious engagements with a work. i don’t mind seeing a negative review if it approaches the work on its own terms and reviewers make some attempt to familiarize themselves with the writer’s oeuvre, rather than basing their comments on one single collection or comparing the writing to something it is not trying to be.

but these all encompassing dismissals of poetry make no sense to me. i think the naysayer is missing out. i prefer to have my mind expanded and when i don’t understand or don’t like something, that is usually an indicator that i should explore further.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

falling all over fall poetry

here are a few of the poetry books on my wish list. thank you to the publishers for bravely continuing to publish the good stuff in the face of woes economic and otherwise…

also, these publishers have even more books in their fall catalogs. these are the ones that i’m particularly interested in, but i have an open mind, so please do add to my wish list.

Book Thug
bpNichol, the Captain Poetry Poems
this is a reissue, originally published in 1970 by blew ointment and to quote bpNichol: “[Little presses] are the only true friend of poetry.” a couple of the poems are in An H in the Heart-bpNichol, A Reader, McLelland and Stewart, 1994, selected by George Bowering and Michael Ondaatje (alas, out of print). I didn’t spot any of these poems in the ensuing reader, the Alphabet Game, (Coach House Books, 2007) edited by Darren Wershler-Henry and Lori Emerson. so now i want to read the whole thing.
also there's an intro by bill bissett. yay!

Meredith Quartermain, Recipes from the Red Planeti was hooked on the idea of poems coming from Martians ever since i read about that idea in Jack Spicer’s talk in The House That Jack Built. i wrote my own version of such, Welcome to Earth, (Book Thug, 2008). so yeah, i’m fascinated by what MQ will do with this. the description sounds whimsical, and i am all about the whimsy. i have MQ’s Matter (Book Thug, 2008) and it inspired numerous ideas about classification that i’ve yet to turn into any poems, but it’s brewing. and now to add Mars to the mix. better than the candy bar i bet.(strictly speaking this is fiction, being published as part of Book Thug's Department of Narrative Studies, but i'm going to surmise that it is a poetic fiction, so i'm putting it here. i never much cared for genre categorization anyway)...

Chaudiere Books
Pearl Pirie, bean shed bore
Pearl and i have been in poetry workshops together and i have published Pearl a few times too via AngelHouse Press, most recently her chapbook "over my dead corpus"
i enjoy Pearl's word play, sense of whimsy and philosophical musings. i shall be interested to see what she does with more space, more pages.

Coach House Books
Gary Barwin, the Porcupinity of the Stars
i’ve read a wee bit here and there from Mr. Barwin, i follow his blog, especially love his visual poetry, have a few of his chapbooks and heard him perform but for perfect bound books, i own only his collaborative work with derek beaulieu, fragments from the frog pool (Mercury Press), which i enjoyed even though my knowledge of Haiku and Basho is slim. here’s another example of a playful writer a bit of a shape shifter, i might say, in that he adapts to myriad forms from sound to visual to stanza.

Jon Paul Fiorentino, Indexial Elegies
i have most of this Montrealer, former Manitoban’s poetry plus some of his fiction and i’m not going to stop now. why should i? he mixes anxiety with humour so well and i’m always a fan of the self-deprecator.

Jonathon Ball, Clockfire
i have JB’s Ex Machina (Book Thug, 2009) and lately i’ve been watching Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. this seems to be related. i also like to harvest from other sources. some of these poems have been remixed by other writers and there's talk of a Book Thug remix anthology; JB is looking for remixes. see his blog. since i enjoyed the quirky lines of Ex Machina, my mind is open for more from JB. the first thing that grabs me about Clockfire is the title. it evokes all kinds of images for me. a clock with its works burnt up. burning the candle at both ends, burning time. life is short and who knows what else. and then the scenarios proposed: a series of imaginary plays that are impossible to produce. this sounds like fun, something that would feed my voracious imagination.

this is a wee excerpt from the Capilano Review (and i apologize on behalf of blogger and html for the lack of correct spacing…

The actors take the stage, bow to the audience, then slit their own throats.
The audience is horrified. They shriek, call ambulances, flee. But they come back the next night. They come back.

hey, didn’t Jake Kennedy do something similar? i remember reading some of his poems in "Pissing Ice-An Anthology of New Canadian Poets" edited by Jon Paul Fiorentino and Jay MillAr, (Book Thug, 2004). see “Lowry: Introduction”

similar premise but not the same style and content. but i liked that and was hunting around for more of same. Clockfire by a completely different writer (i’m assuming, i’ve never met either one…) seems like it shall fit the bill.

Cormorant Books
George Bowering, Pinboy (memoir)-not a book of poems, but a memoir by Canada’s first poet laureate, an irreverent and interesting writer. i picked up “A Magpie Life: Growing A Writer” (Key Porter Books, 2001) for $4.99 at Perfect Books last year and now i’m actually going to read it in anticipation for Pinboy. i have numerous volumes of GB's work, including one of my favourite little chapbooks, U.S. Sonnets (pooka press, 2007). i don’t have much patience for baseball, and i understand this is of great interest to GB and in this memoir too, but also in the description it talks about his sexual awakening, so my ears prick up there. and his life in the 50s in the Okanagan. that sounds neat. i liked Patrick Lane’s memoir, There is a season, with references to BC of that era. not that this is the same. i’ve seen both of these men and can tell you that they are not the same person at all.

Palimsest Press
Elisabeth Harvor, An Open Door in the Landscape
i do a terrible thing. i confuse Elisabeth Harvor with Elizabeth Hay. both are writers, both live in Ottawa. they are both Eliz/s/abeths and their last names begin with an H. both write fiction, but Harvor also writes poetry. i thought i would be reading the poetry of the writer who wrote one of my favourite Canadian contemporary novels, Late Nights on Air, but this is not the case. i feel bad for confusing these two writers and would like to read Harvor’s latest poetry collection and hopefully i will not make such an ignorant mistake again. i seem to have a running theme on the literary doppelganger…

Artie Gold, The Collected Books of Artie Gold
apparently Artie Gold is a made up character from the series, Entourage, but that is not the author of this collection. the poet, Artie Gold, died in 2007 on Valentine’s Day and alas it wasn’t until then that i knew anything about him.
since then i have acquired “cityflowers” Delta, 1974. the front cover is a close up portrait of the poet when he had a full head of hair and he reminds me of Stuart Ross in this photo. the work inside is reminiscent of Leonard Cohen to me. the Spice-Box of Earth Cohen rather than the Book of Longing Cohen; some of the lines have similar structure and length, the images meander too. i like a good meander and i’m curious to read more Gold and see how his writing progressed after the 70s.

Charles Olson, Muthologos-Lectures and Interviews (essays)
i have read bits of Olson’s selected letters, read snippets of his theories on projective verse and proprioception and read his Maximus Poems. other poets such as Daphne Marlatt refer to him and i would like to have a better grounding in his thoughts on poetry. i am interested in the connection between poetry and the body. another book i should have put on my favourite Canadian contemporary poetry list is Fred Wah’s Music at the Heart of Thinking, (Red Deer College Press, 1987) for just that reason. poetry as a kind of drunken tai chi, i paraphrase from faulty memory… yes, i agree with that.

Wolsak & WynnCatherine Owen, Seeing Lessons
i have Cusp: Detritus (Anvil Press, 2006), a collaborative poetry/photo project with Karen Moe. and i should have included it on my list of favourite contemporary Canadian poetry. i also have Frenzy (Anvil Press, 2009), which i adored. "Cusp: Detritus," i love for its melancholy. "Frenzy" i love for the way it made me want to write. i wanted to write poems below CO’s poems, her lines build up almost like melodies. an accumulation of images and stories. there’s an edginess to both of these books, there are taboos and an underground feel. Catherine was kind enough to send this book along as a gift when i was in hospital, so perhaps that makes me biased, but she had me at Cusp: Detritus. i’d like to read all of her work. Seeing Lessons is based on a real person, Mattie Gunterman, who walked from Seattle to Beaton, BC. i am fascinated by the eccentric individual and i am a walker. as someone pointed out to me recently i write a lot about wandering or homeless women (Eleanor (above/ground press, 2008), Urusula (AngelHousePress, 2009) and my work in progress Kiki). makes sense i would be interested in Seeing Things. all the ingredients are there to make this book a must have for me.

which poetry books are you looking forward to this fall?

Sunday, August 22, 2010

a quickie note on my fav cdn contemp poetry

how these writers have taught me that playing around with structure, narrative, lyric, words, linearity, humour and persona are fine pursuits in the game of poetry
i’m missing a bunch of stuff and may add to the list at some point

Elizabeth Bachinsky: Curio Grotesques and the Electronic Age (BookThug, 2005)
playfulness, versatility, sheer fun, especially the SpyCam section which plays around with narrative, reversing it and telling a whole different story

Anne Carson-pretty much anything but most recently “If Not, Winter-Fragments of Sappho” (Random House Vintage Books, 2002).
the annotation of what’s missing; the fragments, the beauty of the language

Dennis Cooley, many books but especially “the bentleys" (the University of Alberta Press, 2006)
the multitude of voices, the sensuality of the language. this book brings the prairies to me and i have no experience of the prairies...

Michael Dennis, This Day Full of Promise (cauldron books, Broken Jaw Press, 2002)
i love the intelligence and the tell it like it is-ness of this writer. there’s also versatility: comedy, tragedy, suspense…

Phil Hall, the Little Seamstress, Pedlar Press, 2010. i blogged about this book in July: it is humble, no big enunciations; it is astonishing in places with gorgeous sound play and image play, and a whole bunch of humour. in his Open Book Toronto interview with Pedlar Press publisher Beth Follett, Hall says "It is true that I encourage my poems, increasingly, to subvert the expected, whether that be sentiment, next word, or rhythm. I especially have it in for verbs these days. In syntax, they are the wax. Verb wax. A verb keeps nouns from torting each other. I don’t think the poem wants to go anywhere. It wants to stew in its own juices." this is why.

Robert Kroetsch, again many books, but especially Completed Field Notes (the University of Alberta Press, 2000)
versatility of styles, playfulness of language, puns, innuendo-esp. the Sad Phoenician and the Winnipeg Zoo. speaking of especially, the Hornbooks of Rita K. was one of those rare poetry books i devoured from cover to cover. this doesn't happen to me often. i loved the voice, the mystery, the fragments.

Daphne Marlatt, This Tremor Love Is (TalonBooks, 2001)
the gorgeous imagery, the delicious cadence, the lush language-the whole book is simply mesmerizing. i like the way Marlatt’s poems don’t give us an obvious context, start in the middle

Camille Martin, Codes of Public Sleep (BookThug, 2007)
i love her unusual juxtapositions, which open the imagery up for me and also surprise me. i adore being surprised in a poem.

rob mclennan, stone, book one (Palimpsest Press, 2004)
the images are vivid and original here. the text is minimal but says a lot. i like the shape of these poems. again the unusual juxtapositions surprise and delight.

Robert Priest, Scream Blue Living (The Mercury Press, 1992)
first contemporary poetry book i ever read, it was thrown at me by Phil Jenkins at the Ottawa Valley Book Festival at Roosters at Carleton in 1993. i didn’t know anyone there. took the book home and enjoyed, still enjoy its humour and imagination.

Monty Reid, pretty much everything but especially “Disappointment Island” (Chaudiere Books, 2006)
i like the minimalism, the wit and the tone of these poems. the writer’s ability to simplify complex things and to make everyday things beautiful.

Lisa Robertson-pretty much anything but especially “The Weather” (new star books, 2001). Robertson like Nathalie Stephens, another of my favourites, challenges the notion of genre, of what a poem is and can be. i love how Robertson plays with the sentence as a poetic form.

Stuart Ross, Hey Crumbling Balcony (ECW Press, 2003)
i love the sheer zaniness of these poems. talk about surprise. you never know what to expect. in these poems, a tornado can sit in a chair. Ross opens open a world of possibilities for me. it’s just so freeing.

Steven Ross Smith, the fluttertongue books, especially fluttertongue 4 adagio for the pressured sound (NeWest Press, 2007)
much in the way Marlatt starts in the middle, doesn’t provide context, lush imagery and sound. at a reading at the Manx Pub a few years back, hearing Smith read out loud was wonderful. he read the silences.

Nathalie Stephens, pretty much everything, but especially “Je Nathanaël” (Book Thug, 2006)
i like the idea of “l’entregenre” between genres, not necessarily of one or another. it works too with gender in this book. and then there are the small questions posed, addressing the reader.


[i posted this on facebook a while back and have decided to repost here, now that the blog is back]

Saturday, August 21, 2010

20 minute rant-not me, but the work

i don’t speak for anyone but myself. i am a woman, but i do not represent any other woman or women in general. what i say applies to me alone.

i do not want my work to be published because of who i am, but rather for the quality of the work. i respect other women’s decisions to be published in women’s only publications if they desire. i don’t know what they have gone through and how or if their voices have been silenced and what leads them to agree to be part of such. but for my own work, i want it to be considered based on its merits alone.

i have written work in the character of males, females, FTMs and MTFs, gays, straights, lesbians and bisexuals. i have written in the voice of the living, the dead and an alien. clearly there is a part of me in all of these voices because i am part of the world. i am not divided from others in the world by means of my gender or any other category i’m slotted in.

i respect that publishers will sometimes make use of these categories in order to make a work more marketable. right now it’s a trend to publish all women publications. there is Coach House’s Prismatic Publics: Innovative Canadian Women's Poetry and Poetics, Matrix Magazine recently had an all women’s issue and Room is an all women’s journal. i won’t participate in gender segregation, either as a writer or a reader.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

the 20 minute rant, a new feature

[thanks for the inspiration, Rick Mercer]

this is a new feature on my blog. when i have something that irks me, i have 20 minutes to write about it. no research, probably not much backing up my arguments with supportive examples and likely great leaps in logic. just 20 minutes to pull that irksome burr out of my craw. yeah, mixed metaphors too. here goes…

you know what bugs me? the binary accessible/inaccessible, especially when used to critique poetry and other literary works. and by accessible i think i mean being able to access the poem or the prose from the get, right away. i find this idea daft and it doesn’t seem like a very rewarding or enriching way to read something.

what about being willing to spend time with a piece of writing, about coming back to it more than once instead of giving it a few short minutes of your time? what about exploring the piece, following up on its allusions to other works, letting your mind wander? what about the space in between?

seems to me the greatest works of literature, art and music were those that were criticized for not being accessible to the audiences of the day, such as T.S. Eliot’s the Wasteland, yet it has stood the test of time. it is a work that can be studied and read myriad times in myriad ways. it even apparently inspired Lovecraft to write a parody. any art that inspires more art has done its job, in my opinion.

yes, of course as a writer i want the work to be compelling to readers, i want the work to have anchors to make it cohesive and a hook to bring the reader in, but when a work is dismissed as not accessible that says to me that the naysayer didn’t really spend much time with it, that the person already had preconceived expectations.

labels are for marketing. in order to sell books, publishers have to put them into certain categories, i guess. labels like avant garde, experimental and innovative, for example turn off readers and critics who believe that such terms equal inaccessible work. if you’re already starting with a chip on your shoulder, how can you even begin to engage with a piece of writing? my suggestion is for the reader to put the label aside and give the work a fighting chance. don’t worry about whether or not you understand, whatever that means, a work right away. give yourself a chance to let it resonate for you. expand your horizons just a wee bit.

and those of you writers who cling to surface meaning like you are sinking on the Titanic and sense is the last lifeboat, i’d like to see what would happen if you let go of that. i recently saw a review of a book that’s been getting rave reviews and i was interested to see the reviewer say the problem with the book for the reviewer is that things are too well explained. there’s no space for the reader’s imagination. i would like to see what kind of result you would get if let go of sense and surface meaning, just once. i know you’re likely writing it and then editing it to make sense. i’ve heard two writers in the last year talk about how they wish they could let go of sense. do it, honey, shirk of that sense jacket and drop it on the ground. see what the water feels like on your bare skin. enjoy the sensation of floating.

great works such as Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow (i haven’t read it thru yet, but it’s on my list and the excerpts i’ve read make me want to read it) are worth discovering for yourself. don’t listen to other people when they use the A word. maybe they’re just assholes with inferiority complexes.

Monday, August 09, 2010

The Fiddlehead Spring 2010

another loaner by a friend, the Fiddlehead is not a mag i’ve read in detail. this issue surprised me with no less than six poems that were tight, had great sound play, weren’t full of romantic stock imagery about nature and scored high on the whimsy scale.

i didn’t read the short fiction in the issue. i wanted to concentrate on the poetry.

New Zealander James Norcliffe has a good booze poem called “Hamlet nurses his beer.” when flipping thru a lit mag on a monday morning before the caffeine kicks in, what grabs your attention, what makes you stop and read? a catchy title helps. this guy mentions both Hamlet and beer and i’m drawn in from the get.

there’s an irreverent style to the poem, the kind of writing that kicks against the pricks and doesn’t hold kindly with namby pambyism. there’s some fine sound play in the piece, crispy line breaks and a wee bit of philosophical musing that suits the subject and enough allusion to Hamlet to please fans of the Bard. here’s a wee taste from the opening…

“It needs must be strong and black
from some honest microbrewery,
none of that Wittenberg weissbier;

that’s the sort of cat’s-paw cat’s piss
he would drink before he paws and
paddles at her roiling royal flesh.”

i was pleased to see a coupla poems by former Ottawan Andrew Faulkner in the issue. you’ll know Andrew as one half of the Emergency Response Unit, the small press in Toronto which he runs with Leigh Nash.

“Bar Fight” is a tight, amusing, saucy number that evokes for me the sound play, fresh imagery and syntactic shenanigans of Andrew’s former writing collaborator Marcus McCann. Marcus, Andrew and Nick Lea published a great chapbook a number of years ago together called the Basement Tapes.

Another Toronto poet, Tim Prior offers up an excerpt from his poem sequence “the jesuit relations” with his poem “la chaloupe (the boat). man this guy has cadence and timing skill. strong hard consonants, robust rhythms and effective use of repetition of syntactic structure. here’s a bit:
“this is the sturdy keep, these the curving ribs
this the pulled saw’s snarl, the keen edged plane
skimming curled shavings on the floor[…]”

and now for something that i found disturbing from M. Travis Lane’s review of The Essential Don Coles, selected by Robyn Sarah, the Porcupine’s Quill. and did i mention i like to be disturbed? i love it when writers and critics make pronouncements about the way poetry is supposed to be. i apologize for taking this out of context, but i can’t type in the whole review. to be fair to Ms. Lane, she uses examples from Coles’ poems to substantiate her argument.:

“At the moment writers in English range themselves across a perhaps wider spectrum of seriousness than ever before. If, on the one hand, we have all those splendid essays by contemporary Canadian poets on Poetry and Truth, or Revelation, or our proper Relation to Nature (a recent example: Anne Simpson’s beautiful Marram Grass), we have, on the other, the poets who win prizes and acclaim by refusing to be serious, who publish meaningless frivolities largely intended, I rather think, to make fun of the serious poets. A recent issue of Poetry is full of the unserious stuff, intended to be amusing, without emotional resonance, or beauty – topped by an arduously inscribed joke by Bök, a perfected example of an admirable poem nobody will ever want to memorize or weep over.”

question: who are all these writers writing about poetry and truth, yada yada? i would like to read Simpon’s Marram Grass though and thank Lane for pointing it out.
who are these dastardly unserious prize winners with their conspiracies to make fun of serious poets? how do you determine what is serious and what is not?

Lane has the answer:
“I admit that I often quite like some kinds of trivial poetry, light verse, or genial amusements. But there is a great difference between serious poetry and light verse. What makes a poem major is largely style (since a serious subject alone can’t do it), but style so focussed to the subject, the understanding, that the form and the subject are whole. And if it is to be a major poem, the subject must be taken seriously, even when it is taken lightly.”

major poems, serious poems. glad we have the arbiter of all this to straighten us out.

on the flip side, (and dare i say, the hopeful side?) take a listen to Christine McNair’s informative interview with Stuart Ross who talks about his new poetry imprint with Mansfield Press, about how he wishes there was more humour in current poetry, how he advocates for more goofiness and sees poetry as an adventure and a risk.

there were a number of poems in the spring Fiddlehead that were adventurous goofy risks. hallelujah for that. and these poems make me want to write my own. that’s one of my desires for poems, i want them to inspire me to write and to read more. not to memorize and weep over them like i would over the recently departed.

in his lectures published in the House that Jack Built, Jack Spicer talks about poetry as a disruptive force, something that comes not from heaven or god but from elsewhere, from across, not something to be held up on a pedestal but to be constantly questioned.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

devouring Brick

a friend recently loaned me Brick, a literary journal-no. 85, summer, 2010. i admit i have passed this magazine by many times, to my detriment. i had the opportunity to spend a few weeks with the current issue.

i was intrigued by the opening article about an underground group who hosted films in the Parisian catacombs and fixed the Panthéon’s clock without permission. The Lizards, the Catacombs, and the Clocks by Sean Michaels was written in the form of an exposé about a roué named Lazar Kuntsman and his group known as La Mexicaine de Perforation (LMDP) which is part of a larger organization called UX whose aim is to give people expériences in the French sense of the word, which also means experiments. We first encounter this group upon the discovery of an underground theatre in the catacombs which they claim responsibility for.

another article, a kind of elegy to the recently deceased Kate McGarrigle by Carl Wilson was very moving:
“Whenever I hear the first twist in the lyrics of Kate’s early classic “Talk to Me of Mendocino”—“And the trees grow high in New York State, and they shine like gold in autumn / Never had the blues from whence I came, but in New York State I caught ‘em” – I picture Saint-Saveur-des Monts between the wars (the one in Europe and the one to come with Quebec’s Quiet Revolution)as the Town With No Blues, just greens and white sky and brown dirt under nails. But without that dose of cerulean poison contracted out in the world, Kate’s music would have been merely heavenly, a mere aerie, rather than a static-charged plane upon which serenity stared danger down—as a John Cale album title once had it “seducing down the door.”

i found the non fiction articles to be of the most interest for me, particularly the reviews of books and writers i have never heard of such as Rawi Hage’s review of the Writings of Rachid Al-Daif, Linda Spalding’s review of Trauma Farm by Linda Spalding for example. Later I was in Collected Works and almost purchased Trauma Farm based on Spalding’s review. I’ve noted and added to my wishlist. what i liked about these reviews is that they were more than just reviews, they were good writing

I was also fascinated by the article on the films of Eric Rohmer by Damion Searls, the interview of Javier Marías by Juan Gabriel Márquez, the passionate piece on Patti Smith by Joseph O’Connor, Alison Harris’ dark photos of Il Teatro Sociale di Camogli, a theatre built in Genoa in the 1800s. There’s a whole world out there and i find it exciting to read about Arabic culture, Spanish soccer and chefs who sell 1000 copies of their books in Toronto bookstores.

there was an interesting article on Michael Murphy’s Proust in America by Eric Karpeles, which discusses in detail the American influences on Proust’s A la recherché du temps perdu. We had to study Du côté de Chez Swann in high school and i’ve been meaning to read the whole thing one of these days. i’ll probably switch to English and give it a go for my 100th birthday or something.

then there was Eleanor Wachtel’s interview with Zadie Smith. I keep meaning to read her On Beauty and now i hear she has a collection of essays on Kafka and others.

Layne Coleman’s piece “Oais of Hope” about being infatuated with writer Carole Corbeil was highly entertaining. I enjoyed Coleman’s style and the voice of Corbeil, who i’ve never read and now just might have to.

the whole magazine was like a dinner party with engaging and sophisticated friends. i suggest you get a copy of the current issue, crack open a bottle of my favourite Rioja and imbibe…

Sunday, August 01, 2010

music on my mind

R.L. Burnside - Rollin’ and Tumblin’
i love the blues, especially the Delta Blues and mainly because of the slide. it’s the perfect music for a hot summer afternoon. if i wasn’t abstaining from booze these days, i’d be drinking a few glasses of whiskey with this one. “the river was whiskey and i was a diamond dog”

Patty Griffin – Live from the Artists’ Den
about time i obtained a PG CD. don’t know what’s taken me so long. i do love a strong rich voice. imagine her in a band with Neko Case and Margo Timmins, lordy, lordy. ”Get yourself another fool”

The Black Keys – Rubber Factory
i have two of their albums already, so getting another one wasn’t a big stretch. some musicians are worthy of collection and the BK fit this category for me. strong rhythms, sexy voice, mesmerizing guitar… can’t go wrong. i’ve only listened to this a bit since i downloaded this morning and so i’m waiting for it to hit as strongly as their first CD The Big Come Up did. doesn’t hurt that they play Burnside covers such as Busted.

Samantha Cain and the Midnight Shivers– You (Understood)
never heard of before. love the voice(s) (similar to the Heartless Bastards), the lyrics, the music. & hey, there’s a banjo! “I wake up all rewired…”

so what’s all this got to do with literary stuff? maybe nothing to you or maybe something. for me, it’s all related: music, art, literature...from spark to spark.