amongst books

amongst books

Friday, November 26, 2010

Promoting contemporary poetry to young people

The Ottawa literary community makes significant effort to promote contemporary poetry to young people and encourage them to write poetry, but we can do more. Students who win poetry contests or get published in local magazines and journals can go on and in some cases have gone on to become published poets, teachers, and publishers. These efforts are happening in cities and provinces across Canada. Here are a few I know about in Ottawa, provincially and nationally and perhaps you can add others too. Please pass these along to your children, your friends who are parents and anyone else you can think of.

The Ottawa Public Library’s Awesome Authors Youth Writing Contest for writers aged 9-17. This contest has been going on for a number of years. This year there are workshops leading up to the contest. Contest deadline is January 31, 2011.

The Ottawa Public Library has various programs for teens and children at their branches; although i don't see much poetry happening so far. they had a teen authors' week this year and i don't think there was poetry. something to suggest.

Ottawa Independent Writers is funding a scholarship for creative writers at the University of Ottawa.

The Canadian Authors Association, National Capital Region doesn't have a specific poetry contest for youth this year, but they do have a poetry contest. i suggest young people or parents check with them to find out about eligibility.

MASC provides funding and support to bring artists, actors, dancers, musicians and writers to schools in Eastern Ontario and Western Quebec. Local spoken word performer Greg Frankson is one of the artists who participates in this program. in conjunction with the Ottawa International Writers Festival held its first Think Ink Poetry Contest in 2010 for young writers. In addition since has no age limitations, secondary school students and recent graduates often submit their poetry and on occasion their work has been published on the site and also in the Bywords Quarterly Journal. They get the chance to read their work in public and are paid for their work. This is often a writer’s first publication credit and first time reading in public. We also post links to contests and calls for submission specifically aimed at young people.

Ottawa publisher Buschek Books published "In the branches of a mango tree : poems for Haiti" : an anthology / written by grade 4 and grade 5 students at Rockcliffe Park Public School ; edited by Susan Atkinson.

Local poets have visited university poetry workshops and mini-enrichment workshops for high school students.

Bywords' selector JC Sulzenko also writes poetry for children.

Former Ottawa resident, Melanie Little has a wonderful book for young adults in poetry form: the Apprentice's Masterpiece, a Story of Medieval Spain (Annick Press, 2008)

Ottawa's spoken word community has held youth poetry slams.

Reading series such as Tree and Sasquatch have held readings for students of the creative writing poetry workshops offered at the University of Ottawa.

While the local universities do not have creative writing programs, there are workshops and courses offered at both the University of Ottawa and Carleton. At the University of Ottawa there is ENG3264 and an advanced class for those who have taken 3264. At Carleton there are ENG2901 and 3901. Usually you have to submit portfolios in the summer to be considered for these courses.

The University of Ottawa has a journal called the Ottawa Arts Review, a writers’ weekly workshop group on Wednesdays and the blUe mOnday reading series on the third Monday of every month that takes place at Café Nostalgica.

Carleton University has a journal called In/Words, a writers’ weekly workshop that takes place on Mondays and a readings series that takes place the last Wednesday of each month at the Clocktower Pub.There are spin off journals too, including the Moose and Pussy, which publishes erotica, including poetry; and Mot Dit, which publishes French poetry and prose.

Carleton University also has a poetry competition for students, staff and alumni.

Algonquin College has a creative writing certificate program with a poetry writing course offered to students of the program.

On the national and provincial level, I know of the following initiatives:

The League of Canadian Poets Poets in the Schools Program; although i’m not sure how this actually works since i couldn’t find any info on the site…but they do have a contest:
Poetic Licence Contest for Youth 2011-deadline January 15, 2011. The site has an e-zine which features poetry by young people and a list of resources and links for youth and teachers.

The Ontario Writers In the Schools Program funded by the Ontario Arts Council and the Writers’ Union of Canada. This program funds author visits. I think you have to be a member of TWUC to take part.

The Canadian Society of Children’s Authors, Illustrators and Performers (CANSCAIP)apparently offers school visits, but I didn't see any local poets on their list of members.

If you know of any other initiatives that help to teach young people about contemporary poetry in Canada and encourage them to write poetry, please let me know.

I know that if I had any clue as a high school student that the fun and playful poetry of writers like Robert Priest or Christian Bök or Gary Barwin existed, it would have made a huge difference in my horrid high school existence and hopefully pointed me in a creative direction earlier.

I wish we had a young people’s liaison thru the Ottawa Carleton District Board or the City of Ottawa or elsewhere to help those of us outside the system make the necessary connections to support and promote young people in their efforts to write and learn about contemporary poetry. If there is such a person, please let me know…
here's a directory from the OCDSB.

In the meantime, I offer a challenge to all local reading series, small presses, radio shows and magazines to incorporate young people into their programs.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

An Open Letter to Scott Griffin Regarding Poetry in Voice

Dear Mr. Griffin,

On behalf of only myself, a reader and writer of poetry, I would like to thank you for the Griffin Poetry Prize and its activities, including book donations and literary festivals. I appreciate what you and the trustees have done and continue to do to promote poetry.

At this time however, I want to comment on your new initiative to start a national poetry recitation contest for students. While I think the idea is wonderful in spirit I have some reservations which I hope you will address:

1. Choice of poems-perhaps it is a question of copyright, but I don’t understand why all the poems had to be from the 19th and early 20th centuries only. These are the typical poems found in student anthologies. Why not allow the students to choose poems on their own and make their selection part of the criteria? Why not include contemporary work so that the students will understand that poetry is alive today and written by living people whose concerns are similar to their own?

2. Memorization: You mention in information about the prize how your father would force you to memorize poems as a form of punishment. This is a very Dickensian way of treating a child and doing so today seems unnecessary and cruel. To associate poetry with punishment at all is unfortunate and not what one would hope to see the children remembering as adults: poetry = pain.

3. Recitation: a recited poem is an unnatural poem, Mr. Griffin. The vowels are elongated, the tones are rounded, the r’s are rolled. This is reminiscent of the days when elocution was taught at school and it’s weird. Poems are best when read naturally as if they are part of a conversation you are having with your audience, not as if you are up on a podium and preaching as a minister to your parish or a king to your populace. You say you don’t wish for poetry to be seen as elitist and yet recitation is surely an example of elitism. Do they get extra points for having an aristocratic British accent?

My request to you is to open up the contest to the reading of contemporary poetry, to dispense with this idea of memorization and recitation and to consider channelling your excellent energy and wealth into letting young people explore contemporary poetry by funding programs that allow Canadian poets to come to their schools, fund the distribution of contemporary anthologies to our school system, for example the Griffin Poetry Prize Anthology.

I believe your heart is in the right place, Mr. Griffin, but I think your actions are not. Poetry in Voice is a throwback to an earlier era when children were allowed to speak only when spoken to and young ladies learned how to behave properly. I know that the schools will eat up your Poetry In Voice contest with a fork and a spoon. You are validating their outdated poetry curricula, their outmoded learn by rote system of education and their continued efforts to educate children by turning them into parrots or automatons, incapable of thinking or creating for themselves. Please either reconsider this contest or change it to include contemporary poetry.


Amanda Earl

ps-if other Canadian poets feel the same, I urge you to write your own letter to Mr. Griffin and post your thoughts on your blogs etc.

pps- i have e-mailed my concerns to the only e-mail i have available alas, a general e-mail :
info at poetryinvoice dot com

my rocky relationship with poetry

the recent announcement of Scott Griffin’s new Poetry In Voice initiative, a national bilingual poetry recitation contest for students has made me think about my relationship to poetry from childhood to now.

“Who has seen the wind” by Christina Rossetti was probably one of the first poems i ever heard. my father used to recite it to me, drawing out the words to make me laugh. he recited others too, mostly Victorian morality poems or little adaptations from Alice in Wonderland:

I speak severely to my child
I beat her when she sneezes
She only does it to annoy
Because she knows it teases


Godfrey Gordon Gustavus Gore
No doubt you have heard his name before
Would never remember to shut the door

At every moment there were poems and bits of Shakespeare:

When icicles hang by the wall…and greasy Joan doth keel the pot.

At the time i thought my father made all these up. And in the case of the poem above, it was clearly my father’s invention because my mother’s name is Joan.

i spent a lot of time by myself at the age of 4 reading from books like A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson and other nursery rhymes. i would take the poems and turn them into little songs with my own melodies.

i think it was in grade 1 that i wrote my first poem, a limerick:
There once was a martian with six toes.
How he got them, nobody knows.

poetry was so integral to my upbringing, along with music, that i never gave it a second thought. it was second nature to me. i didn’t even use the word poetry. i don’t remember my father ever saying, “today we’re going to read poetry.” he just did it and it was part of everything else, the stories, the songs, my childhood.

i don’t remember much about grade school. if we read poetry, i don’t remember it. then in junior high, in Grade 6, i had this wonderful teacher named Mr. Vogel. he told us stories about the adventures of blue jellybeans and had us sing songs by the Carpenters in the afternoons. it was a fun and creative time.

all that changed in Grade 7. my teacher was Mrs. F. she seemed very mean and rigid. the meanest teacher i’d had up to that point and i think the meanest one i ever had. i don’t remember much about her classes except one time when she decided we would study Wordsworth’s The Daffodils. i remember being mesmerized by the accompanying beautiful picture of a field of yellow flowers. i don’t remember much about the poem except her attitude. she asked students questions and when they stammered and didn’t understand, she was harsh, ridiculing and unyielding in her point of view about what the poem meant, what we should be feeling, etc. it went on and on. i remember thinking that if this was poetry, i wanted no part of it.

in grade 8, the teacher, whose name escapes me, had us read some wonderful book about the Roman empire and Haidrian’s Wall. i was rapt. i had always loved English class, except for that nightmare with Mrs. F in Grade 7. i was a devoted reader, usually in the advanced class, and also reading a lot at home.

and then in Grade 8 we started Shakespeare, the first of what would be one or two plays a year for the rest of my education until university. the play was the Merchant of Venice. the teacher asked the students to read out loud. they were poor, poor readers many of them. it was awkward and awful. and then came the task of memorizing. he gave me Portia’s speech, “the quality of mercy is not strained…” i was full of dread, went home and told my mother. i don’t know why my father didn’t help me memorize it, but for some reason it was my mother i turned to. i failed at every turn. each word, each line was meaningless to me. i was lousy at math and all of a sudden i was lousy at English too, a subject i had excelled at up to that point. in class everyone was the same. none of us could memorize and classes became fraught with tension.

if we studied poetry in English other than the poetry within Shakespeare’s plays after that, i don’t remember it at all. i had shut myself down to poetry in English. i also took French, Italian and German however and i did enjoy les Fables de Lafontaine, la Divina Commedia and some of the German music my teacher played. i didn’t seem to mind learning to memorize in other languages. it seemed easier somehow. i think i just loved the sounds my mouth could make in other languages that i was able to repeat over and over and memorize as a matter of course.

at university unfortunately i thought at the time, i had to take a French poetry course. i was studying to become a translator, but that meant i had to do a Bachelor of Arts in Language, Literature and Translation. i was ok with language and translation, but dreading the literature part. i was 18 years old, a long time hater of poetry who was introduced at that point to Baudelaire and Rimbaud.

another bit of relevance is that i have synaesthesia, a blending of senses, in my case colour and the letters of the alphabet, known as grapheme synaesthesia. when i first heard Baudelaire’s Correspondances in which he blends nature with various senses, i was rapt. and then Rimbaud’s Voyelles in which he assigns colours to the alphabet. i was happily surprised. this was the first time i’d heard of anyone else with this abilty.
unfortunately i still wasn’t big on poetry and i was 18, distracted life as a young woman at the University of Toronto’s downtown campus, so i didn’t really get into it that much.

oddly from the time of that first limerick i was always writing. i just wrote. i didn’t call it poetry. much of it had line breaks, played with sound and rhyme. i filled journals with my writing, but never shared it with anyone.

then in my mid 30s when i was going through a major life change, i began to look around for solace. i found some poetry on line that eased some of my pain, particularly Mary Oliver’s Wild Geese, some poems by Sylvia Plath, Lorna Crozier and Gwendolyn MacEwen. one of the things that made me not realize my work was poetry before was that i didn’t recognize me in the poets we’d studied: Wordsworth, Shakespeare…they just felt far removed from where i was. but then with Plath et al, i could relate to the feelings they expressed and to the passion in their poems, particularly as expressed through intense colour imagery as i’d briefly flirted with with Baudelaire and Rimbaud.

i ended up gathering together some of my poetry and sending it off for consideration to a university workshop. i was accepted and have been studying and learning about poetry ever since, from Dylan Thomas to ee cummings to T.S. Eliot to Canadians like Irving Layton and Leonard Cohen and eventually through workshop discoveries in rob mclennan’s workshops to contemporary poets such as Nathalie Stephens, Lisa Robertson, Phil Hall, Leslie Scalapino, Cole Swensen and others.

i am not one of those people who can say i love poetry. i don’t. a lot of it i still loathe. i don’t like the sweet sentimentality of much of it, the placement of man above nature of much of it, the egotism of some of the voices. i am not one of those people who can say i am a poet. all i can say is that i write. but most of all i read. i am excited by word play, by risk. by humour and various ways of looking at external and internal landscapes. all i want to do is play and explore in both my writing and my reading. and i take pleasure in the discovery.

i have done better with poetry when it has been a natural part of my life, rather than something institutionalized and dictated from authorities. i still hate being told what is and what isn’t poetry. i rebel against it. and i worry about kids being told the same. let them discover in their own way and when they want to explore, they’ll explore. it may not be the stuff you want them to learn and that’s what we call progress, moving forward…

Friday, November 19, 2010

been shed bore by Pearl Pirie

In been shed bore (Chaudiere Books, 2010), Pearl Pirie shows herself to be a keen listener and observer of people: their speech patterns, their conversations, tones, gestures, and language. She samples from life and from the written and spoken word.

In a series of seven poems entitled “working at parse purposes” throughout the book, Pirie takes words and phrases from a variety of contemporary poems and uses them as springboards for her own poetry. She then creates poems around these source texts. What Pirie does here is a variety of “plunderverse,” a term I first heard via Gregory Betts:

“Plunderverse makes use of the wealth and waste of language by exploiting the unattended information in a source text. It makes connections and variations of a previous author’s words to create a different poem from the original piece. But, whereas found poetry and the like celebrate the random connections discovered by abstract rules or unconventional readings of source texts, delighting in the dissolution of communication and the disjunctive semantic fragments that survive, plunderverse celebrates the possibilities of speaking through source texts.”

Some version of this has been going on since the ADs at least, when ancient Romans and Greeks took lines from other poetry to form their own poems in the form of a cento. Or when in the 20s, Tristan Tzara suggested he could make poems by pulling random words out of a hat. Or in contemporary context, when Greg Betts takes Shakespeare’s Sonnet 150 and erases much of the text to form minimal and highly dense poems (The Others Raisd in Me, Pedlar Press).

Using this method of taking words from other poems, Pirie is able to juxtapose unusual images, disrupt common expressions and conventional syntax, and use the sound and word play of the source texts to inspire her own sound and word play. She calls this style of plunder verse “in-filled plunder.” In the following poem, the source text is Alice Oswald’s Dart (Faber and Faber, 2002) and the text has been plundered in reverse order, which I’m assuming means that Pirie began at the end of Dart and moved to the beginning. The plundered words and phrases are in italics.

working at parse purposes 2: river-high

omission of else is not
admission of this-love:
trees among memory
springback- undergrowth
nodes walkway slatted us
a corduroy strobe
the apples of mounds
little rise fills and
fill’s level around hours
of foot slips & pauses

the into takes up decades
night’s cinema’s riverflesh
surrenders the missing

in give only lackjaw
unlucid dream on this slide to
about wrong, a drunk dialing
the continuity being water

ledge-root boulder grip –
dayshift light how this
blacked-out into inch

the shale too can walk
wade, gather watergnats
to sitstill from the inner

work the skimscum
of dripdripdripdrip
praises of beauties re:
dundant, conducted
sufficiently. insist on these
moments the wave lines
of hips gestures, a part
restored to water, blink

Other poems also respond to external stimuli. There are ekphrastic poems such as “obsessively relational” which is a response to an exhibit featuring Michelle Provost’s art at the Ottawa Art Gallery. Pirie reshuffles Edna St. Vincent Millay’s “Renascence” in “harem, scare ‘em” and plunders bpNichols’ “talking about strawberries all the time” in “kind is a skin naming saints,” “all the time i wanted to” and “a contradiction.”

In “29 red,” a poem of nine sections spread throughout the book she reshuffles the text of her own poem in various patterns over and over. The changed syntax and rearrangement, repetition of words, of the colour red attached to different aspects of family life give the poem the effect of a quiet well-known hymn and evoke a tone of nostalgia; memory is reconstructed again in a series of rearranged stanzas.

Another way in which Pirie samples the world around her is in a series of sonnets at the end of the book that present a group of people and their relationships to one another from the point of view of each person in the group. The last lines of each are repeated in the next until the final sonnet combines lines from the other sonnets. In these sonnets, Pirie's dialogue is very natural and realistic, and changes for each type of character: for example, the dialogue of a friend, “BFF Karen:” “big frowny face, kiddo!”, a therapist: “Dr Barb,” “you’re each frustrated with silence,” a daughter: “Kaylen”- “Yes, MO-therrr. (huff), tone. So-rry. (eye roll)” and others. These different tales remind me of the Canterbury Tales. There is humour, pathos and tension. In all of these sonnets, Pirie uses traditional sonnet techniques such as the end rhyme in some cases, but also contemporary language, alliteration, sound and word play.

I’ve only touched upon a few brief examples here, but been shed bore is packed densely with poetry, with sound gymnastics, brilliant wordplay, with stories, recurring themes such as the difficulty of communicating, loneliness, and awkwardness caused by dealing with prejudice and societal convention. There is tenderness here, eroticism, joy of language and life, sadness and compassion. It’s a book to pick up again and again and find something different to ponder and to enjoy.

This is not a review per se, but an engagement with a book by someone who has been my writing colleague since 2006 or so when we first took poetry workshops with rob mclennan. And for a few years when we worked together as part of a not officially named workshop group called &mpersand with Nicholas Lea, Marcus McCann, Roland Prevost, Sandra Ridley and Christine McNair. As publisher of AngelHousePress, I have had the opportunity to publish Pearl Pirie’s work in a variety of printed works and on line and most recently I have had the pleasure of publishing her chapbook over my dead corpus. I have seen Pearl’s work grow and change as she explores and immerses herself more in all forms of poetry, including Haiku. been shed bore is an excellent first book from someone whose writing continues to grow. I can’t wait to see what she does next.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

20 favourite chapbooks

(this is leaving out a lot and particularly AngelHousePress chapbooks, which i’ve left off for obvious reasons, but the authors of such already know i adore their chapbooks because i published them…)

1. Sandra Ridley, Lift - Ghazals for C.; prints by Eric Slankis (Jack Pine Press, 2008); 33 of a limited edition of 75.
2. Ben Ladouceur, The Argossey (Apt. 9 Press, October, 2009) # 34 of 50
3. Michael Blouin, Two Boys carrying a box through a field .going somewhere (Apt. 9 Press, November, 2009) # 33 of 50
4. Jay MillAr, the small blue-volume odd and volume even (Book Thug, September, 2003). 52 copies
5. Monty Reid, Sweetheart of Mine (Book Thug, January, 2006) 100 copies
6. Pissing Ice, An Anthology of ‘New’ Canadian Poets, Edited by Jon Paul Fiorentino and Jay MillAr (Book Thug, August, 2004)
7. Shannon Bramer, Fishings (Book Thug, June, 2007) 100 copies
8. kate greenstreet, Rushes (above/ground press,2007) 300 copies
9. Lea Graham, Calendar Girls (above/ground press, March, 2006) 300 copies
10. Steve Zytveld, the Passing of Arthur King Chapters I –IV (hoping they’ll publish more!), (Dusty Owl Press, 2004)
11. Squirt, the Ketchup Collection (Dusty Owl Press, 2004)
12. My Lump in the Bed, Love Poems for George W. Bush, Edited by Stuart Ross, (Dwarf Puppets on Parade, a division of Proper Tales Press, 2004) 300 copies
13. Eric Zbyoya, Vecteur, Un coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hazard (No Press, April, 2010) 40 copies
14. H.N. Werkman, Mit Schreibmaschine 1923-29 (No Press, 3rd edition of 30 copies, August, 2010)
15. Erin Moure Elisa Sampedrín, & (No Press, April, 2010) 50 copies
16. Jessica Hiemistra-Van der Horst, Anatomy for the Artist (Greenboathouse Press, during the mild heatwave of 2009) No 26 of 126 copies
17. matt robinson, Against the Hard Angle (Greenboathouse Press, as spring fills the shop with its warm light, 2009) 26 of 126 copies
18. Warren Dean Fulton, Saints & Serpents (The Kamloops Poets’ Factory, 1999) 50 copies
19. George Bowering, Some Answers (Laurel Reed Books, 2007) 100 copies
20. cole swensen, ghosts are hope (Observable Books, 2006)

Lisa Robertson is coming to town!

I’m excited because Lisa Robertson will be reading in Ottawa, along with Jeramy Dodds, at the a b series this Friday night. And I haven’t heard her read in person before. When she read at Tree last year, I think I was still in the hospital or at home recuperating.

My excitement comes from the fact that Robertson is one of the writers whose work inspired a turning point in my own writing. I had been writing for decades, much of my writing inspired by anything but contemporary poetry.

I first encountered Robertson’s work thru a workshop I was taking in 2006 with rob mclennan. He pointed students to a wonderful series of sound recordings called the Philly Talks curated by Lois Cabri. Serendipitously I picked Episode 17: Steve McCaffrey and Lisa Robertson because I’d heard of McCaffrey and was curious.

After hearing McCaffrey and Robertson I began work on something completely new and off the wall for me called Marauders of the Fold presented by deadstreet Gallery, a series of doodles and text combining French history, art and culture with popular culture.

rob had us write short pieces related to our work and the Philly Talks we’d listened to. here’s mine:

“Marauders of the Fold” by dsG is an attempt to explore the following concepts from the talks and from the two writers’ works and discussions:

1) McCaffery’s view that poetry is about playfulness and risk-taking;

2) the use of an alternate persona, as accomplished by Lisa Robertson with the Office for Soft Architecture; of getting out of the way of one’s writing and allowing it to have its own identity,

3) the idea that literal meaning can be sacrificed for other aspects, such as sound patterns, the musicality of language, and underlying symbolism;

4) the notion of becoming-meaning, by creating a new entity. creation is the act of bringing something into existence that wasn’t already there; I think therefore I am, I exist, therefore I have meaning;

5) Robertson’s concept of the concurrence of times, of the paradox of time as something ephemeral yet fixed, as depicted in The Weather and also in McCaffery’s Pastorals; if time is ephemeral and relative, then elements of time, history, art, music and literature can be plucked or marauded from their fixed period and folded into other times, arts, etc.;

6) the notion of the fold as discussed by McCaffery and originated by Leibnitz and Deleuze, being the idea of a confluence of elements, introducing detours, inflexions and instabilities and leading toward a new consciousness.

The above concepts continue to be part of what I am trying to achieve with my writing today. I continue to attempt to disrupt the narrative and I play around a lot with voices. The concept of the unreliable narrator pleases my sense of mischief and my occasional impatience with the I as poet voice.

When Robertson talked about her then manuscript The Weather (subsequently published by new star books in 2001), I was fascinated. First I hadn’t yet heard writers talk specifically about the way in which they created their poems and secondly because Robertson used a source text: British shipping news reports of the weather and I hadn’t thought of such as being inspiration for poetry or even the concept of source texts. And finally because of the text itself. It was repetitive, accumulative, ordinary and mesmerizing. First the weather, a topic of conversation that is used to break the ice when things are socially awkward. She weaves in the names of people, a litany of female saints, awkward subjects. The bulk of the text is in prose rather than free verse form. Robertson’s sentences with their accumulation and repetitive syntax made for a mesmerizing text and reading.

I am currently working through a series of prose poems and thus have been rereading some of Robertson’s work. In particular I have unearthed my two copies of The Apothecary (Tsunami Editions, 1991, 2001) and (Book Thug, 2007) in which, in part, the narrator describes her difficulties articulating in words which goes perfectly with what I’m trying to achieve in my current work in progress.

Some of Robertson’s other works that are currently piled on my desk for a reread are Lisa Robertson's Magenta Soul Whip (Coach House Books, 2009), The Men (Book Thug, 2006), Occasional Work and Seven Walks from the Office for Soft Architecture (Clear Cut Press, 2003; Coach House, 2006). On my wish list is Debbie: An Epic (new star books, 1997).

So yes, you could say I’m excited that Lisa Robertson will be reading at the a b series on Friday. And Jeramy Dodds too. I will be interested to hear what new work he has after Crabwise to the Hounds (Coach House, 2008), which was fun to hear him read at the Writers Festival a few years ago.

Friday, November 12, 2010

praising rob mclennan

rob’s recent win of the Ottawa Xpress’s (Best of Fiction, Non Fiction,) Poetry category for his poetry collection Wild Horses (University of Alberta Press, 2010) is an opportune time for me to offer a word of appreciation for all rob does for this city in terms of publishing and promotion, and for contemporary literature in general.

you’d think a man who spends his days as a working writer wouldn’t have time to do all rob does, but somehow he

publishes a daily blog in which he offers a plethora of literary reviews of writers who tend to be missed by the mainstream media.

runs above/ground press and publishes chapbooks with a subsequent unnamed fairly regular reading series at the Carleton Tavern.

& thru above/ground press started the ottawa small press book fair. & subsequently a blog that promotes book fairs across Canada.

started, an annual PDF magazine of local and former local writers.

started with Stephen Brockwell, which later led to 17 seconds with Roland Prevost, an online journal with interviews, reviews and writers’ statements.

runs Chaudiere Books with Jennifer Mulligan, publishing poetry and fiction so far.

runs an excellent 8-week poetry workshop at Collected Works, two or three times a year.

promotes Ottawa, particuarly with his book Ottawa, the Unknown City (Arsenal Pulp Press)

& likely a bunch of other things that i'm forgetting.

not only me, but a number of other emerging writers i know in Ottawa attribute rob’s activities to their literary education and training. rob is the lynchpin in Ottawa’s literary community.

there are other hard-working and involved members of this community: organizers of reading series, workshop facilitators, small press publishers, juries for awards and grants...and i commend them for all they do, but i think rob’s efforts are above and beyond. and i tip my little red toque to him.

he gets a lot of flack here in Ottawa and elsewhere but nobody could deny that the man is a tireless dynamo when it comes to promoting, nurturing and sustaining emerging writers here in Ottawa and elsewhere.

thank you, mr. mclennan!
[photo by Charles Earl]

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

rant: online lit mags, layout, publisher fuck ups

recently a writer talked about limitations of the web in publishing poetry and it irked me. first of all any good web designer can properly reproduce a writer’s layout. of course, some writers don’t know how to lay out their work. if you want non standard alignment, don’t use spaces, use tabs or if it’s that wonky, don’t use a word processing program, use something like photoshop and create a jpg. and if an online journal doesn’t accept jpgs, that should tell you something. likely they don’t have the time to fiddle with your wonky layout.

these days a lot of online poetry publishers are choosing to publish poetry via pdf. i’ll point you to for some good examples of variety in style as a pdf. or for non pdf stuff both of these are published by my own small press, AngelHousePress, so i suppose i’m biased, but we’re not the only ones who can handle difficult formats on line. Online magazines offer an exciting flexibility and possibilities with format that a print magazine can’t often afford to do, such as colour…Take a look at these wonderful online lit mags.

Influency Salon


Forget Magazine




Incongruous Quarterly

not that layout can’t be fucked up. we all make mistakes: writers, editors, publishers. recently i had a couple of poems published in an anthology, was given the proof, approved the proof and when i received the book, my couplets had been ruined. and before that a title of mine in a literary journal was messed up, and before that another literary journal had the wrong page listed for my poems in the table of contents, and then another small magazine wrecked my line breaks too. the point is the web doesn’t have any kind of exclusivity on fucking things up. and it bugs me that people use that excuse not to publish on line. a handy rule of thumb: before you send your work to any publisher, take a look at their design and layout and see if you can live with it.

there’s a reason i publish some of my own work. i enjoy having control over the design and layout of my stuff. on the other hand, it’s good to give my work to others and see what comes out.