amongst books

amongst books

Thursday, September 30, 2010

music this month

downloaded from emusic

Rae Spoon Love is a hunter
John Coltrane Blue Train (Prime Cuts)
Kristin Hersch Cats and Mice
Vicky Cristina Barcelona soundtrack
Daniel Johnston’s Electric Ghosts by the Electric Ghosts
Bent by Nature, Glass Eye
Standard Bitter Love Song # 8, another track from Ghana by the Mountain Goats

My Picks for the Fest

here are the literary events that i’m particularly looking forward to at this fall’s Ottawa International Writers Festival, which takes place from October 20 – 26, 2010:

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

With music by John Lavery; Hosted by Kenneth J. Harvey
The Barley Mow, 1060 Bank St. 8:30pm

The Relits are always great fun and this year’s has the added bonus of John Lavery’s excellent music and taking place in a pub.

I don’t have any opinions about who should win for fiction; for poetry, I’ve read only Lisa Robertson’s Magenta Soul Whip so far and am curious about the other work on the list, so I am looking forward to hearing the winning poet’s work, whoever she or he may be.

Friday, October 22, 2010

With Peter Dubé, Lisa Foad, Amber Dawn and S. Bear Bergman
Hosted by Marcus McCann
Mayfair Theatre, 1070 Bank St., 8:30pm

I’ve only met Foad once and heard her work once at the Naughty Thoughts Book Club. Her short fiction collection, the Night is a Mouth, is excellent. I’m looking forward to hearing the other readers because Marcus always makes interesting choices and expands my reading knowledge. I always hope these events will be racy too.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

With Ken Sparling and Sheila Heti; Hosted by David O'Meara
The Manx Pub, 370 Elgin St., 5pm
Nice of the organizers to include this as part of festival programming. I wish more event organizers would have their events become part of the festival rather than hold competing events. I’ve heard the buzz about both Sparling and Heti’s work and I’m interested in hearing them read.

With James Moran, Glen Hirshberg and Peter Atkins
Mayfair Theatre, 1070 Bank St., 8:30pm
I think Sean Moreland is hosting this, but am not sure. His fine hand is involved, I know that much. I’ve heard Hirshberg before, reading from a few of his works, including the chilling and compelling novel the Snowman’s Children. I haven’t heard James Moran read in ages, so it’ll be good to see his dark side come out for this event. I know nothing of Peter Atkins.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

With William Gibson; Hosted by Kate Heartfield
Mayfair Theatre, 1070 Bank St, 2pm
I missed Gibson’s reading the last time and ended up reading and enjoying not only Spook Country, but an article of Gibson’s on writing, so this will be fun. And that Gibson will pack the house with diehard fans, which is always fun to experience.

Sandra Birdsell, John Lavery and David Bergen; Hosted by Sean Wison
Mayfair Theatre, 1070 Bank St., 8:30pm
I’m looking forward to hearing Lavery read from his new book, “Sandra Beck.” I enjoyed the book immensely, as I do with all of his writing. I’m a Lavery groupie, a Laveryist. I just might rush the stage…

Sunday, October 25, 2010
[this is our municipal election day, so i hope everyone gets the chance to vote before coming to the events.]

Featuring Marcus McCann
Music by The Companionship Registry
Hosted by Amanda Earl
Southminster United Church, 15 Aylmer Ave.
Clearly I’m biased about this one. I have to keep the names of the winner and honourable mentions secret for a few months and I’m bursting to tell. The Bywords team has been working with Marcus all year on his chapbook and I’m looking forward to publishing the results of all that work and hearing him read. I chose James Missen (the Companionship Registry) to perform the music because I heard him at Café Nostalgica during a New Stalgicia Reading Series night last year and thought he was fantastic and wanted to treat the Bywords’ audience to some incredible talent that they probably haven’t heard before. As always we’ll have readings of some of John Newlove’s poems. This is the city’s opportunity to celebrate the work of an excellent poet who lived in Ottawa for the last 20 years of his life. I always feel humbled and inspired by the strength and honesty of his writing.

With Peter Norman, Sandra Ridley, George Murray and MT Kelly;
Hosted by Stephen Brockwell
Mayfair Theatre, 1070 Bank St., 8:30pm
I know three out of four of these, haven’t heard either Norman or Murray read in ages, so that’s going to be fun. And Sandra is a dear friend with exquisite writing. I am pleased that she gets the chance to share Fallout, her poetry book with Hagios Press, with Ottawa poetry enthusiasts and festival goers. Her work will surprise and delight. She’s an excellent reader too.

Monday, October 26, 2010

With Anchee Min, Emma Donoghue, and Alexander MacLeod;
Hosted by Michael Blouin
Mayfair Theatre, 1070 Bank St., 6:30pm
I am a big fan of Donoghue’s and I like some of Macleod’s work. I haven’t heard of Min, but that’s one of the reasons I enjoy the festival: exposure to new writers.

I may go to other events; I may not go to some of the ones I’ve listed here. Stuff happens. Buy passes for yourself and your loved ones. You’ll have an inspiring and enriching experience and likely walk away with a pile of good reading material for the upcoming cold Ottawa winter.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

a follow up

I’m not suggesting that writers should lie about what they are trying to achieve in order to placate evaluators, not at all. I’m suggesting that they learn how to write about their work and convey these thoughts to evaluators by means of the project description.

Oh, and one thing that tends to burn my ass is the creation of binaries. For example, the idea that either you write project-based poetry, and that sucks, or you write random, unrelated poetry, and that’s excellent. Some work is perceived in book lengths and other in poem lengths. I don’t see one as having a higher quality than the other. It depends on the work.

For myself, my work is often project-based. I find trying to write random, unrelated poems difficult and forced more than I do with long poems or poem series. The long poem and the poem series are long standing traditions within the Canadian canon. When I am working on a series or a long poem, I still have to reject crap. I’m not going to force work into a project if it’s no good. That’s just standard writing procedure.

Furthermore, the idea that a writer should be able to receive public funding based on reputation alone irks me. I don’t believe in that. I think the funding should be based solely on the merits of the work itself, including the writer’s ability to provide a cohesive and coherent statement about her work.

Since we’re talking about reform to the grant application process, one change I would like to see is the elimination of the writer’s publication record in the application. Why? Because I think grants should be awarded based on the quality of the work and not based on some sense of entitlement based on what the writer has done before. I know many a talented writer with limited publication credentials because the status quo journals haven’t seen fit to publish innovative and unusual writing. The insistence on having to be published in recognizable paying publications leads to poetry homogeneity.

There is a case to be made for awarding money to those with proven records of having been paid for work and completed books. Even now, many grants award more money to established writers than to emerging writers; however, I still believe emerging writers should have access to funds to give them a chance to show what they can do, based, of course, on the quality of the work.

Finally, i should have linked to the post which I’m responding to, which was written by Zachariah Wells on his blog.

Project Descriptions-another POV

For almost 20 years, I’ve been writing proposals to secure government money. First as a co-owner of a small engineering consulting firm in the R&D field and now as a creative writer. R&D companies respond to statements of work drawn up by civil servants working in particular areas of expertise and gone over by other civil servants from Public Works whose job it is to ensure that Canada gets the best value for money (in other words, to drive contractors crazy and make their lives a living hell). These Statements of Work or SOWs as they are often not politely referred to by contractors are often absurd, contain much redundancy, are poorly written and intensely bureaucratic. A contractor bidding on the proposal can ask questions but all of these questions and their answers will be provided to all bidders, so it is often unwise to do so, hoping that the ambiguity will work in your favour. Sometimes these absurdities are necessary in order for Public Works to justify granting a contract to a particular supplier. In these days of economic austerity (and austerity has been going on for a long time), the public is crying out for justification and wary of anything that seems like a waste of taxpayers’ money.

How is this relevant to applying for grants in the field of creative writing? First of all I feel relieved that I don’t have to waste time on the absurd SOWs that plagued me in my former life or deal with the gang of Monty Pythonesque civil servants whose every moment was spent “protecting the taxpayer” by asking absurd questions and wasting the time aka money of contractors. A project description is a small price to pay in the scheme of things. It helps justify that the expense is valid and it gives the civil servant charged with justifying the existence of these grants to auditors something to work with.

If you refuse to write a project description then you are telling the civil servant that you refuse to help her do her job and you are eliminating yourself from the competition. And even though these creative writing grants are tiny and not any kind of subsistence for a writer, the fact is there’s lots of competition. So sure, don’t follow the rules and people like me who are good at holding our noses in the stench of absurdity will have an easier time getting a grant because your proposal will be rejected easily. Imagine you’re part of a jury and you have a stack of proposals to read. Wouldn’t it be good if there was an easy way to eliminate them without your having to wade through the mess? If you don’t include a project description or disobey any of the rules, you’ve just made it easy for your work to be rejected.

The problem is, of course, not all writing is project-based. Grants should be awarded to good writing, regardless of whether if fits in a neat little box. Unfortunately that’s not how a system which receives money from the taxpayer can work. Justification is necessary. And as a creative writer, you should be able to figure out how your series of random and unrelated poems might be able to be described as a project in that little project description box.

In reality the evaluators who are usually writers themselves take into account the quality of the sample pages you’ve given them but that project description is still necessary, not just for the short term, but also for long term justification when the Grim Reaper of arts cuts, currently known as Stephen Harper, arrives at the door of the funding agency.

It would be groovy if we could get a grant and take off to Greece and drink Ouzo all night. But this isn’t the 60s and I still hear angry taxpayers using that example when they talk about why the arts don’t deserve funding.

Also, I would hope that the evaluators would judge a proposal invalid if it didn't follow the same rules as the rest of us have to follow; otherwise that would be unfair. Changes to subsequent years would be reasonable.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Fresh Stuff- Sept 20-24 (sort of)

Renegade is a new visual poetry blog run by the talented and prolifiic Andrew Topel who runs avantacular press and creates many amazing vispo artifacts.

Graffiti Markup Language turns physical graffiti into virtual 3D gorgeousness. Take a look at the video and then hit the Projects links.

A Guy Walks into 365 Bars: this guy goes into a bunch of different bars in NYC, some famous and some obscure, and people send him Paypal donations. brilliant idea! interesting photos, but you'll end up craving a beer or seven.

Sandra Ridley's ghazal suite published in Fallout (Hagios Press, 2010) read beautifully on Saskatchewan's CBC Radio Sound Xchange. You can hear the reading at about the 10min mark after the jazz.

Friday, September 17, 2010

fresh stuff: Sept 13-17, 2010

in which i crib brilliant and inspiring links from pals on FB and Twitter

Literary Landscapes with Christine McNair
Christine interviews John Lavery about his new novel Sandra Beck. First time I’ve heard John read from the novel. It’s a terrific book and Christine asks insightful questions that will make you rush out and buy it right away.
[NB Christine is one of 4 hosts. the others are Kathryn Hunt, David O'Meara and Neil Wilson]

Also in the archives: her interview with Cameron Anstee, who did his MA thesis on the Contact Press Poetry Reading Series that took place in Toronto in the early 60s and Christine’s interview with Pearl Pirie who has a forthcoming poetry collection Been Shed Bore with Chaudiere Books.

Speaking of Been Shed Bore here’s the lovely site where you can find out about the book and Pearl.

Laynie Browne’s essay On the Elasticity of the Sonnet and the Usefulness of Collective Experimentation, in which we are encouraged to write a series of sonnets in order to build movement and momentum and help us to get comfortable with process. She provides an inspiring list of sonnet experiments; Ron Silliman’s piece Unlearning to Write” which talks about unburdening ourselves from the ghosts and beliefs of what writing is, published from a new book “Poets on Teaching: A Sourcebook” edited by Joshua Marie Wilkinson

The MAGIC Of Bulgarian Voices & Music - Malka Moma / Little girl - LIVE (Gold collection)

convince me to sit here by samar abulhassan in Dusie 11- 22 beautiful fragments: refugees and tamarinds, grief and the sea

David Foster Wallace Archives, including a note on “David Foster Wallace’s library: Dog ears, coffee rings, duct tape, and heavy markings”

the poetry of Tom Raworth by David Caddy on MiPoRadio. i listened to this podcast while walking along last week in the sunshine and laughed all the way through. Caddy talks about this British poet’s influences and gives us excerpts from Spike Milligan and Monty Python.

Dispersions of Sound Waves in Ice Sheets from composer and sound artist Andreas Blick’s wonderful blog of sound samples and thoughts. i heard this ages ago, but it's so good it deserves a mention again.

and finally the Chinatown gateway thru the lens of Robin Kelsey

Saturday, September 11, 2010

the Sad Phoenician's Other Woman & the missing h poems

Mark McCawley, Edmonton writer and publisher of Urban Graffiti and Greensleeve Editions offers this review of the Sad Phoenician's Other Woman, a long poem i wrote a few years ago that was published by above/ground press.

here also is my essay "Notes on The Sad Phoenician‟s Other Woman:
Experiencing Robert Kroetsch‟s Poetry In A Fever

and finally a story. i modeled my chapbook after the Kroetsch book, including the alphabet sections for each of my sections. too bad my alphabet skills are so damn poor. it wasn't until after the publication came out that i noticed i had missed the letter h. i suspect people thought that was deliberate. after all, the cover is the letter h in phoenician and means man or unknown. so it makes sense. but it was just an accident. since then, i've written a few poems for the missing h. poems that were written in the present rather than the past. one of them was published by pooka press, as part of the chapbook anthology "some assembly required." as to the rest, perhaps one day, i'll share them.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Sept 5-10: Fresh stuff

here’s a new and likely occasional feature. brilliant, inspiring stuff that has come to my attention in the past week.

Charles Bernstein argues for the need for innovation in poetry, citing Petrowski “Form follows failure” rather than function. “Innovation should be seen as responses to historical and contemporary particulars, as situational, not universal, more like the weather and one’s everyday adaptation to it then like the forward march of scientific knowledge.” He talks about the benefits of disruption and the difference between disruption and refinement, not one better than the other but with different readers and goals. He says a lot of other wise and inspiring things, particularly about the new possibilities produced thru the digitalization of poetry, for example. [note this is very slow to download…but it will eventually and you’ll be happy you were patient. thanks to Jamie Bradley for posting this link on FB; and check out Jamie’s blog entries this week for elegant and rotund prose. ]

Satu Kaikkonen produces some new and gorgeous lettervis poems.

Gary Barwin gives us The Universe Without Chairs

No Press publishes two new chapbooks

Shawna Lemay talks about the isolation of writing, Kafka and shows us a really lonely red typewriter on an empty road. (Let’s hope it doesn’t get squished!)

Jerome Rothenberg gives us Mark Weiss-3 poems and an excerpt from “A Provisional Poetics” on his blog Poems and Poetics. I like the idea of cleaning up the mess of false starts and dishonesties. The idea that poetry is a form of possession seems to fit with Spicer’s idea that poetry comes from elsewhere. Fascinating too to hear of Weiss’ seizures that showed up as fragments, magical seeming, a shadow sketch of the world. Rothenberg’s blog by the way is sizzling and provocative, just the way i like them.

a follow up to my last rant: what you can do

if you live in the Ottawa area and attend literary events,

1. let those who write about arts and culture in Ottawa know about any upcoming events you're looking forward to


Ottawa Arts Newsletter

Ottawa Start

Ottawa Focus

Unfolding - Arts in Ottawa

Girl About Town
e-mail kite at girlabouttown dot com

2. If you have a blog, talk about the literary events you've attended or promote those you are going to.

3. Send notice of literary events to events at bywords dot ca.

4. Post events to events calendars yourself:


Ottawa Citizen Events page

City of Ottawa Spotlight Events Calendar

5. E-mail the Ottawa Citizen, the Sun, Xpress, Capital Xtra, Metro, Ottawa Life, Where Ottawa and advocate for more coverage of Ottawa's vibrant literary scene.

6. If you know of any other blogs or sites or media to add to the list, please let me know.

Whether you like mystery, romance, poetry, spoken word, non fiction, memoir, or literary fiction, it's all here. Writers are coming here daily to read, to to sign books, to sell their books and to meet you. Make sure that others know about it so that publishers will keep sending them here and writers will want to come. Why do outsiders think Ottawa rolls up its sidewalks at 5pm? Because no one tells them otherwise.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

20 minute rant – literary events’ lack of coverage in O-Town

Apt613 is a great blog. it covers all kinds of events and cultural curiosities in Ottawa, anything from spoken word to theatre and art openings. there are other blogs and websites and magazines covering Ottawa too. and what’s great is that one of them will post info on an event and then suddenly the others will too and on a blue moon in a month of Sundays, so will the Ottawa Citizen. that means the event has a bunch of coverage, which is excellent. that’s the idea. what’s the rule of advertising? something has to be mentioned three times in order for people to buy it.
bandwagon jumping works.

but this is not the case for literary events in Ottawa. granted the Citizen included literary series in its recent annual feature on fall events and that’s wonderful, but as a rule, it doesn’t include in the print newspaper Tree events, rarely includes the Dusty Owl, or many other readings happening in Ottawa, with the exception of the Ottawa International Writers Festival (which i believe it sponsors, thank goodness). (she says with some bias, obviously) tries to provide coverage of as many literary events as possible happening within the National Capital Region with both literary and NCR applied very broadly so that we include cook book signings in Almonte if we know about them.

rob mclennan offers a great list of literary events in the city as does Patrick Meikle thru Writers Deadline, but there aren’t bandwagon jumpers. Apt13 and other new and up and coming young blogs simply don’t promote literary events. When i’ve mentioned it before to other bloggers, i’ve been told that the bloggers don’t know about the literary scene in Ottawa so can’t write about it. and yet apparently they know all about theatre and slam and art and music so feel comfortable writing about those. i don’t buy it. it’s a kind of reverse snobbery. the label poetry makes a lot of people turn their noses up. i hate generalizations and prejudice. this is an example. this town is prejudiced against poetry and fiction. the media won’t cover these activities if there doesn’t seem to be any interest. and without bandwagon jumpers, it sure looks like there’s no interest.

and yet when you look at a month of events on the calendar, there are so many readings, book signings, slams, workshops and more. lots of stuff is going on in the literary community but the general public doesn’t know about it. events are still pretty well attended anyway, which shows you how great the scene is, but if you write a blog that covers culture and recreation in Ottawa, i urge you, no, i beg you to cover the literary events. it doesn’t take much, simply go to the calendar and cut and paste from there. as an extra step, google the writer and put in a link. pretty please? pretty please with sugar on top? or how about a bite on the ass?

Thursday, September 02, 2010

this month in music

the Last Day of Jimi Hendrix’s Life, Ghana, the Mountain Goats

Drug, the Ugly People vs. the Beautiful People, the Czars

Head over Heels, But This Chicken Proved Falsehearted, Samamidon

Beauty On, Operation Infinite Joy, Martin Tielli

Pretty Dress, If Songs Could Be Held, Rosie Thomas

Ophelia, Pilgrims’ Progress, Kula Shaker

Choir of Angels, the Black Dirt Sessions, Deer Tick

Baby Lee, Paste Music Sampler # 63 (June), Teenage Fanclub

Heaven and Earth, Music Sampler # 63 (June), Blitzen Trapper

Things I Used to Know, Music Sampler # 63 (June), Riley Etheridge Jr.