amongst books

amongst books

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

VERSeFest: a week-long feast of poetry in March

VERSeFest starts on March 8 and goes until March 13 at Arts Court.

i’m looking forward to the opportunity to spend the week steeped in poetry. from the pre-fest events hosted by the A B Series to the Dusty Owl’s event on the final Sunday, and a closing ceremony with music and poetry, this promises to be a jam-packed poetry extravaganza.

this is an opportunity to see varieties of styles of poetry all in one place: most of the events are taking place at the Arts Court Theatre with some workshops being held in the Library. for just $40 you can buy a pass for the week. you should get one.

for more information about the festival, please visit the site. see you there!

Friday, February 11, 2011

a tip from Cameron, for those of you having trouble reading Ottawater 7.0 on line

you can save the PDF to your computer.
for users of IE 8, go to the page setting in the blue bar at the top and click the option save as. this will allow you to override full screen move.

thanks, Mr. Anstee :)

Ottawater 7.0- you should read it

Cameron Anstee’s poem “I want to say” has some lovely lyric lines (despite my horrid alliteration)…

Are these acts deliberate: Ben Ladouceur conversation with Cameron Anstee-one of my fav things about Ottawater is that year after year there are interviews about writers’ poetics. this is something we need more of. His list of early influences: Lynn Crosbie, Christian Bök etc, reflect his own versatility in his writing. If you haven’t got a copy of Alert (AngelHousePress) or Argossey (Apt. 9 Press), you should do it now.

Interesting too to hear about Cameron’s work on his Masters in which he studied the reading series organized by Contact Press in the 60s. There’s a great interview of Cameron by Christine McNair of Literary Landscapes on the project. You should listen.

While Cameron’s poems tend to be very personal, they open up to larger and universal themes, such as the fallibility of the body in Releasing Symmetry and outgrowing a space in Frank St. Ben, on the other hand, uses the I in the Argossey, which is the voice of Odysseus’ dog, as a surrogate for himself. While I’d like to see more writers try on different voices, I see both of these types of writing as legitimate and compelling exercises.

I would have liked to have seen more work from Jamie Bradley. i enjoyed his Newspaper ghazal. He has a way of writing very minimally as if a song in a film, but evoking the whole soundtrack of moods. If you haven’t purchased his chapbook Compositions (AngelHousePress) yet or his joint anthology with Christine McNair, Caleb JW Brasset and Sean Moreland, Dalhousie Blues, you should.

I like the illustration that was placed beside Jamie’s poem too: Danny Hussey, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, it has a graphic comic style that goes with Jamie’s poem. I only wish that the artists and photographers in Ottawater also had contributors’ notes. Not to include them seems like saying their work is just window dressing, rather than a legitimate and essential component of the magazine. There are links to their sites though, which is good.

I love Stephen Brockwell’s Impossible Books poems. He has a good dry wit and a strong sense of humour. I would like to see a new poetry collection by Stephen soon. His last collection , the Real Made Up, was an excellent work. You should get it.

Ronnie R. Brown is another writer with a dry wit and capability to write humorous poems with an undertone of melancholy. Free Associations on Fairy Tales is a creative and contemporary twist on ye olde tales.

I enjoyed Faizal Deen’s cosmopolitan work, Bebi Deen Marginalia with its zany cadence. I love the variety of works in this issue and Ottawater in general. Reminder: Ottawa poets are not all the same. If you didn’t know, reading these issues will tell you. Faizal has a lot of poems in this issue and like Debbie Travis’s confession about not reading all of The Best Laid Plans, I have to admit I didn’t read all of them. I have his book though and will go back to it to explore his work more. If you don’t have it, you should get it.

I’m not going to talk about my own poem or essay on John Lavery’s language or the interview I did with him. Seems I’m not a total promo whore after all.

Other interesting works by Rhonda Douglas, Laura Farina, Mark Frutkin..etc are yours to explore.

So happy to see a charming poem by William Hawkins. Goodness he’s talking about cleavage. You should get his latest chapbook from Apt. 9 press. and the folio too, if you have a bit of dough.

There are some similarities between the works of Aaron Kozak and Alofribas Nasier II, a kind of a working class, Bukowski-esque style that is enjoyable and masculine and matches the dark wood of Marc Adornato’s pieces juxtaposed with Aaron’s work.

Ben Ladouceur offers simple and quirky and quiet poems: “I am scraping snails off our door/with the cheese knife/my mother sent us…”

OH and a discovery, which is one of the reasons I enjoy Ottawater. Naomi K. Lewis’s prose poems on different fears are glorious, snappy, illustrative, imaginative pieces. I’ll have to look her up and buy whatever she’s selling.

Mark McCawley interviews Marcus McCann and straightens out the nonsensical blurb on the back of SoftWhere that says Marcus is somehow like Irving Layton. Huh? The fun of this interview is that Marcus shares some of his favourite poems, as well as his own. I, too, like Gunn’s the Man with Night Sweats and it is interesting to see one of my favourite former local pals describe how he related to this book and also Auden’s poem “Lay your sleeping head, my love”. In the end they talk about sex writing and Marcus says something to which I say “hear, hear!” by commenting that sex writing must also be great art.

I always enjoy rob mclennan’s spare, lyrical pieces. something about his writing that always makes me feel like responding with a poem of my own. i haven’t figured out how to write so minimally though. (as witnessed by this blog post)…”if i am remarking tedium recording/the falling rock/ smashing bone & bare branch”…there’s something so exactly right about these lines.

Who is that fellow in the photo by Rebecca Leach? is it rob? no. is it Alcofribas Nasier II?

How lovely to see work by Peter Norman, former Ottawan and still missed by all of us folk here. Manual for a Partial Machine has the zaniness I remember from his work. Why does his work evoke Kurt Vonnetgut for me, particularly Player Piano? I’d like to see some of this work less prosey…don’t like stuff like “poise and confidence” in a poem, would rather see more descriptions of what that behaviour is like. Is it wrong to say I think Mr. Norman could push himself further here? But following is the poem “Ideal,” a strong work evocative of some of the Eastern Europeans, such as Vasko Popa. and I loved “the Pompom Pilot.” I am glad to see a contemporary writer working with rhyme and cadence and making it work.

here’s another interview: Chris Turnbull interviews Pearl Pirie. I related completely to Pearl’s comment: “Some poems can get bearish about being rushed.” I found her description of how she decided on the structure of “been shed bore” to be very insightful. This idea too is spot on, in my opinion: “If there’s only order, it’s sedating. If there’s only play, it’s equally boring. Combining both can have some interest and depth…” This is something I struggle with in my own work all the time. If it isn’t straight narrative, how can the text be anchored so that it is compelling to the reader? Pearl does this very well by the way, anchoring with repetition, with imagery, with repeated syntactic patterns. If you don’t have “been shed bore” yet, you should get it.

I miss seeing Roland Prevost’s work and it’s good to see more here. I’ve always enjoyed his wild juxtapositions: “live banshee in a body bag.” and surprising openings: “Fishnet stockings means business is booming.” My laughter boomed when I read that line.

I have heard Monty Reid’s Contributor Notes before and am glad to see it in (virtual) print. The man has an excellent sense of irony. If you don’t have his books, get them, get all of them. Start with Disappointment Island.

I like how much word play Shane Rhodes has in these poems, particularly the Switch.

In Michael Blouin’s interview with Sandra Ridley, I was very glad to read about her curiosity for discomfort and silence and later, on madness. This makes sense given her work. Sandra, I say, likely with a great deal of bias, is one of my favourite writers. Her work mesmerizes. If you don’t have Fall Out yet, you should get it. I don’t think you can get Rest Cure, her chapbook with Apt. 9 Press. With this writer you have to move quickly, because her books sell out.

I heard Chuqiayo Yang read for the first time at the Ottawater launch and liked her reading so much, I came back to read the poems in this issue. There’s something very myth like and magical in her work, which appeals to me. Her images are unusual and lead me to dreaming.

my only small nit for this issue of Ottawater is that the PDF is at full screen and hides all the commands so that you can’t change the size of the font or go to a specific page. Also, the font chosen is not so good when italicized at this size. It is almost illegible for me, with my aging eyesight. this is a small point however. this issue is very well designed, chock full of excellent writing and art.

so glad that mr. mclennan puts Ottawater together every year. i write this blog entry in the hopes that his work and those in the issue won’t go unsung. you gotta sing about the good stuff. by the way, i didn’t mention everything in the issue. some poems didn’t resonate for me now, but might later. i shall revisit and so should you.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Back in the game

Upcoming Readings

That’s it, I’m done with resting. From now on it’s full speed ahead:

Postscripts to Darkness: Monday, February 14, 2011, 8:30pm, Café Nostalgica, 603 Cumberland. Not sure exactly who will be reading, other than me, but there will be a number of people and it will be a horror-full valentine’s. so bring your bleeding hearts.

Van Gogh’s Ear Reading: Friday, February 18, 2011, 7:00pm, Collected Works, 1242 Wellington St. Gabrielle McIntire, rob mclennan and me.

I also plan to attend readings, vernissages and concerts starting this Friday night:
Friday, February 11, 7-10pm- Michèle Provost: playlist, Dale Smith Gallery, 137 Beechwood;

Sunday, February 20, 7:30pm Mercury Lounge: David McFadden and Angela Carr at the A B series.

Saturday, March 5, Gallery 101, 7:30pm: A B series: Steven Ross Smith and Sandra Ridley; plus playback, a poetry reading with Christine McNair, Sean Moreland, Glenn Nuotio, Carmel Purkis, Sandra Ridley, Steven Ross Smith & Grant Wilkins who read, reconfigure & respond to artist Michèle Provost’s new work: playlist.

VERSeFest, March 8-13 (at least some of it)

While I’ve been recuperating I’ve been writing and thinking and planning new opportunites and reading lots. Life is too short to welcome me back folks, I’m back in the game.

[you can find info about all these readings on the calendar of literary events at]

no pies here, but plenty of women

Recently in the USA, VIDA, Women in the Literary Arts, published the results of their analysis of the number of women published and reviewed in 2010. With pie charts they depicted small slices of blue pie for women in the major mags, like the New York Times Literary Review.

So how does that relate here in Canada?
I can only provide a few small non pie examples from my local experience but here goes:

As the publisher of and the Bywords Quarterly Journal for the March issue I have received so far 41 poems and 26 of them have been from people with female sounding names. [By the way, since I don’t know these people personally, I can only tell if they’re female if their bios use the third person feminine and they often don’t]

As the publisher of AngelHousePress doing a call for visual poetry for and inviting submissions from all countries, I have received submissions from both women and men, but only one third of the visual poetry submissions so far are from women, and by the way, none of the women are Canadian.

In my small circle of innovative poetry writing peers in Ottawa, I have noticed that the women writers tend to send out their work quite frequently and get it accepted by what I consider to be our major literary magazines. [We have no New York Times here and I certainly wouldn’t count the Globe and Mail’s paltry contribution as a major literary publication.]

I have also seen several of these women go on to publish others, win awards, participate in festivals etc.

In magazines that I read: The Capilano Review, Matrix Magazine, Precipice, FillingStation, Rampike, etc, I note many women writers being published. I also see publishers devoting whole books to women’s writing, such as Coach House, and magazines such as Matrix devoting whole issues to women writers. And furthermore, much of the innovative writing in Canada is being produced by women: Nathalie Stephens, Erín Moure, Margaret Christakos, Pearl Pirie, Sandra Ridley, Meredith Quartermain, to name a few of my favourites.

Now on to me. I have a confession to make. I rarely send work to literary journals. This is for a few reasons:

1. I write mostly long poems and series poems and they are difficult to extract. [Witness a recent rejection by an Ontario Arts Council Writers’ Reserve Recommender Magazine that complained that the samples I sent weren’t coherent and fluid…that’s the problem with excerpting.]

2. I don’t feel that the work I’ve produced fits well with many of the styles I’ve seen published in magazines such as Arc, Descant, the Malahat Review, Fiddlehead, Prism, Prairie Fire, etc….

3. Many of these magazines are still in the 20th century, requiring snail mail submissions and that’s daft to me. Also they take a ridiculously long time to send out rejections, if they do so at all. Why waste time and energy if the editors of these magazines aren’t willing to spend the time?

4. Finally, I prefer to make my own opportunities, so I run AngelHousePress; I publish people whose work pushes limits.

My advice to women who believe that they are being left out is to make your own opportunities and make them for other women whose writing you admire. Start a small press, a community blog, a reading series…but don’t sit around and wait to be asked. Do something. For those who feel that such activities do not constitute a major literary endeavour, I invite you to go suck eggs.