amongst books

amongst books

Saturday, December 31, 2011

new work over at the Railroad Poetry Project

thanks to editor Amanda Eades for including three of my more fanciful poems, written this year & also republishing some of my visual poetry from the series Paradise Lost, first published in the Drunken Boat visual poetry issue in 2009. read the issue here.

this is the third issue of the new online mag & they're looking for more, so send to them pronto.

here's a bit of their mission, cribbed from their site:
"Based in the U.K., Railroad Poetry Project was founded by a writer of ‘beat’ poetry who is sixty-something years late and on the wrong side of the pond. The experience of writing poetry that rarely fits the criteria of most publications and presses encouraged the poet to seek out folk with a similar problem. It quickly became evident that there are many talented and frustrated poets facing the same issue: receiving rejection letters that give such feedback as ‘It’s just not for us’ and ‘whilst I enjoyed reading your poems, which were very interesting, I’m afraid, the style does not fit that of the press.’ The problem is, for poetry that works outside of current trends and contemporary styles, there are few places to submit."[...]

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Favourite Chapbooks of 2011

Chapbooks are 32 pages or less, according to the UNESCO definition. They are usually sewn or stapled, but they can also be perfect-bound, I suppose. They are often printed in a limited edition, hard to get hold of except for at small press fairs or passed by writers & publishers in dark corners of bars. They can be typed, word-processed & laser-printed, photocopied, collaged, written out in lead pencil or crayon or calligraphy pen. Basically they can be anything. For some reason this year I purchased no chapbooks from No Press, derek beaulieu's wondrous small press. otherwise I'm sure there would be chapbooks from such on my list. Here's a list of chapbooks which I acquired this year & enjoyed. They were touching, intricate, elegant, humourous, whimsical, elevated, down in the gutter, imaginative, personal, playful, rebellious wee books made by publishers with some of those same characteristics. [& a small word of joy & praise for Christine McNair's "Notes from a Cartywheel" published by my own AngelHousePress.]

Cameron Anstee - She May Be Wary (St. Andrew Books)

Judith Copithorne - Brackets & Boundaries {Concrete & Other Accretions} (Returning Press, Vancouver, BC)

Pearl Pirie, Between Stations (obvious ephiphanies press)

Stuart Ross - Cobourg Variations (Proper Tales Press)

rob mclennan - C. (little red leaves textile editions)

After the Mountain: the A.M. Klein Reboot Project, Compiled and Edited by Jason Camlot (Synapse Press) [disclaimer, i have pome in here]

Air Out / In Air : 21 Poets for the Guatemala Stove Project, edited by Pearl Pirie (phafours) [disclaimer, i have pome in here]

above / ground press
Paige Ackerson-Kiely - Book About a Candle Burning in a Shed
Dennis Cooley - have you learned nothing Kroetsch
Ben Ladouceur - Lime Kiln Quay Road
Shannon Maguire - Vowel Wolves & Other Knots

Apt. 9 Press
Jim Smith - Exit Interviews
Emergency Response Unit
Nicholas Lea - Actual Girl

Book Thug
Alessandro Porco - The Minutes I-X
Mark Truscott - Form

Pooka Press
Catherine Owen - what is on your mind?
Gregory Betts & others - Three Words Per Poem: Collaborative Poetics from Inside the Book

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

my fav fiction of 2011

I haven't read a lot of fiction from 2011 so I'll call this a favourite list rather than a best of list. & just to be difficult or paradoxical or rule-breaking or something like that. what I like in fiction is fairly straight-forward: compelling stories, characters I can care about in some way (even loathe), not a lot of fooling around with narrative alas. & if the author's style is so odd & heavy-handed that I can't get past it & therefore can't suspend my disbelief & get lost in the book, I tend not to enjoy it. here's the list of short story collections & novels that kept me happily turning pages in 2011.

Clark Blaise, The Meagre Tarmac (Biblioasis)

Matthew Firth, Shag Carpet Action (Anvil Press)

Helen Oyeyemi, Mr Fox (Penguin) (not sure this qualifies as Canadian, but I'll include it because it's so damn good)

Ami McKay, the Virgin Cure (Alfred A. Knopf Canada)

Lynn Coady, the Antagonist (House of Anansi)[i won this thru a CBC Books contest on Twitter. thank you CBC!]

& a special mention to the unputdownable books from 2010 that I read in 2011:
Krakow Melt by Daniel Allen Cox, Fauna by Alissa York, Lemon by Cordelia Strube, Sub Rosa by Amber Dawn, Annabel by Kathleen Winter, Sanctuary Line by Jane Urquhart.
finally particularly for fiction recommendations, but also for a bit of poetry & non fiction, I suggest you take a look at the fabulous Advent Book Blog.

ps. close viewers will note that a book pictured in the photo but not mentioned is "textual vishyuns, image and text in the work of bill bissett" by Carl Peters. this is not fiction, but it happened to be on my desk during book photo shoot. because i am reading it & enjoying it. i won it via CKCU's Friday Special Blend with Susan Johnston & the A B Series. thanks to them!

best of 2011-poetry: the rest of the best

at some point, I would like to write more about the compelling, creative, whimsical, & resonant poetry collections of 2011, which seems to have been a banner year for poetry, & perhaps I will. for now here is my best of Canadian poetry 2011 list….first a small note on the idea of best of lists. I know, it's bogus to some extent. I haven't read all the poetry that came out in 2011, listened to all the music etc, etc, but I feel these best of lists are entertaining & useful. I read them to find out about books, music I haven't heard of. & even better if a bit of detail is provided.

furthermore personal recommendation by people I admire goes a long way to making me want to read a book or purchase a cd. we are in an era where having an opinion is frowned upon. I disagree with that. so I make lists of what appeals to me & sometimes I even provide deets. i'm willing to stand up & support work that I feel holds up to standards of excellence & even sheer joy.

I go to a lot of readings, poetry is one of the few things I spend money on & I don't spend it lightly because I don't have a lot. I think work that stands out is worthy of praise. & i think you should rush to your nearest indie bookstore & buy the titles below. here then is the whole best of poetry list for 2011 according to me. I'd love to hear about your favourite Canadian poetry books of 2011. tell me…

& if i end up enjoying the poetry collections you recommend which aren't on my list so far, at some point i may just write about them here too.

A Doctor Pedalled Her Bicycle Over the River Arno - Matt Rader (House of Anansi)

Post-Apothecary - Sandra Ridley (Pedlar Press)

Apollinaire's Speech to the War Medic - Jake Kennedy (Book Thug)

the id kid - Linda Besner - (Signal Editions)

Pillage Laud - Erín Moure (Book Thug)

Methodist Hatchet - Ken Babstock (House of Anansi)

The Porcupinity of the Stars - Gary Barwin (Coach House Books)

Killdeer - Phil Hall (Book Thug)

I Can Say Interpellation - Stephen Cain (with fabulous illustrations by Clelia Scala (BookThug)

Dance, Monster! - Stan Rogal (Insomniac Press)

Oyama Pink Shale - Sharon Thesen (House of Anansi)

Err - Shane Rhodes (Nightwood Editions)

Earworm - Nick Thran (Nightwood Editions)

The Material Sublime - Carleton Wilson (Nightwood Editions)

Patrick Lane - The Collected Poems of Patrick Lane (Harbour Publishing)

Monday, December 26, 2011


in response to Andrea's xmas hourly photo challenge. notice obsession with turkey, sleeping, turkey, cribbage, turkey...

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Best of 2011: Poetry-Dream/Senses in Sandra Ridley's Post-Apothecary

Post-Apothecary. Sandra Ridley. Pedlar Press.
in her interview with Michael Blouin over at Open Book Toronto, Sandra mentions that she has never been overly concerned with narrative but with tone & creating an atmosphere, the embodiment of emotion. she succeeds in creating a strong atmosphere with this book. somehow deftly she manages to communicate emotion thru the use of recurring imagery, onomatopoeic sound, & an appeal to all of the senses, including pain. the images are so sensory, so visual & emotive, I can imagine the poems being painted as individual scenes from fairy tales, with blood reds & moss greens. I admire Sandra because she does what many poets fail to do; she creates a tension, evokes the dark. it's not all pretty out there. yes, there is a prairie rose, but its petals have been plucked bare.

here's a bit of a jumbled play-by-play as I reread the book & try to type in my notes as I go. being occasionally distracted by the epigrams, by a word I have never heard before & then returning…

in the PROLOGUE, we begin with a she in a poem entitled "Pulse." notice the repetition, the disordered syntax, the medical terms, emotional terms. sparseness. don't bother saying what is obvious & yet it is there. couplets. tension between the real & the imagined.

the first section "REST CURE" begins with light--a Denise Levertov epigraph. poems in sequence numbered with lower-case roman numerals. much space on each page. repetition, mention of nightshade & wormwood, hawthorn, camphor, laudanum, plum cordial & corset gives an old-fashioned feel & the rhythm is incantatory. there is the outside, a topiary maze & then a he. what is real & what is metaphor. it's all very dream-like "his hand pressed/forward/to his switchboard/& mirror"

lovely lush & sensual language:
"A mirror-wrought fetch spins liminal, glooms
cryptic (ii. REST CURE)

lots of lax i's, long o's, diphthongs & short a's. & knowing when to break the long line into fractured pieces. adds to the fretting of the She. her disorientation.

this is a book to be read aloud in a quiet voice:
"In a cocoon of luna moth or star-shroud, she lies or wings there in her hectic flush,
tenterhooked & breathless -- coughs, seethes. (iv. REST CURE)

you get the impression of much research to get the era right. even though time isn't explicitly mentioned. "strapped to her hemlock pasteboard pocket flask" (ix. REST CURE). "Before Cerletti & Bini" (Tincture of Mandrake in APOTHECARY) to do with a new method of electro convulsive therapy back in the 20th C. (google says)…

in this book we have touch, taste, sight, sound & smell

sight is often obfuscated, rooms spin. Star whorl. "Moon slit slipping in & slipping out of gaunt pine" (Posset of Foxglove in APOTHECARY), a merry-go-round. there is ether mist & vapour. the colour palette is red, violet, black, pearl, Obsidian with mother-of-pearl, pale, cherry smoke, blue ribbons, red stripes & white, "When white is not white but blue-blue." (Restrain the Body : Rest the Mind, POST-APOTHECARY).

for touch the she is constantly shrouded by material, by night, smothered & restrained. we have textures: pine planks, lamb's wool, leather, plaster, silk, stone, slick wet fur, "A husk of blue-veined cocklebur" (Blood-let-APOTHECARY), suction cups, gooseflesh bristling, fat scraped off bone. withered branches suspended by chain, "when the worm twisted & twisted under wet gauze" (ii. PHANTASMAGORIA), the air wet with skin (Weaken : Swoon POST APOTHECARY), red palimpsest congealing on stone floor (O Ophelia : O Crazy Jane POST APOTHECARY).

for sound, there is silence, things are muffled & distant bells ring. voices recede. a sequence of broken glass, car crashes (Phial of Morphine, APOTHECARY), buzzing overhead

for taste: honey, syrup of violets, horehound & tar feather & cod liver oil. a bitter of angelica & artichoke with carbolic.

for smell, burnt tinge of mothball (ii. PHANTASMAGORIA)

the image of flowers recurs:
some of them are part of the treatment from an apothecary but others are not:
Willow-straw & wildflowers in sparrow-nested hair; a welt of primrose.
"A prairie rose./Pale bud plucked petalless." (O Opheilia : O Crazy Jane, POST-APOTHECARY)

the image of the fawn recurs. the image of a girl not found for days. (Anterograde : Retrograde, POST-APOTHECARY). wings. feathers.
at the end of REST CURE, the image of a fawn, "sun-struck" "hind legs buckling" (xii. REST CURE).

the space considerations are well thought out. every indentation, every placement seems to fit with the emotion & tone of the text, from long lines, to last fragments, hanging off the edge of the page.

APOTHECARY begins with walls, an epigraph from a poem of Nicole Brossard's. each poem in this section is titled. the poems have long lines, take up the entire top half of the page. the pace feels faster. in Blood-let, the first poem, there are hard b's & t's repeating & repeating. images become more violent in this section, dreams of a tree killer, deliberate destruction, containment behind barbed wire fences. frenzied delusions, again the tension between what is real & what is imagined. "Thin man with a broken accordion tips his top hat toward her & bows." (Decoration of Sassafras - APOTHECARY) "sparrow skull held between fingertips" (Paste of Bear Paw - APOTHECARY)

PHANTASMAGORIA begins with seeking & finding the you. an epigraph from an Adrienne Rich poem.

This short section is lower-case roman numbered prose poems with end stopped lines to make squares on the page. there is still a he & a she but suddenly an I and a my, an empty bed, his footsteps coming up the stairs. "my sugar cube in her mouth keeps his taste away." (iii. PHANTASMAGORIA). memories of the outdoors, black-eyed susans, a cold lake, swimming away. escape.

short uh sounds of the quick, short, tense breath. in & out. phrases punctuated by a colon. a sense of flight. liquid sounds, el & nasals em, continuous ess. (v. PHANTASMAGHORIA)

in vi. there is now a you and a me: "if you would have just talked & not/held me down & if she I were not I but you by those ivied walls."

POST-APOTHECARY begins with forgetting. an epigraph from Daphne Marlatt. forget. the poems in this section are titled. some go on for more than one page. some are prose poems, some are couplets, some are spaced to give the text room to breathe.

once more there is a you. & a she. a sense of awakening from a dream, from death. there is the catafalque, the calla lilies (Weaken : Swoon). "She is ready./She is ready." (O Ophelia : O Crazy Jane, POST-APOTHECARY). the I & the my become prevalent. poems become more linear, more narrative, less-fragmented. we return to repetition of the beginning: "Summon the body still moving at the edge of the road. Summon lung-song, nocturned breath. Summon howling… (Concatenation) until "Yes. I am breathing on my own./On my own. (Wounds : Sutures). we have the fawn, the she & the fawn come together in Concatenation & the my. moth & mouth. water returns from its earlier role when the she swims into a cold lake, floating her dead man. now "Water does not grab & hold her under./It is the depth & the cold & the dark that convinces her to close her hands.// Give in." (Current : Calm)

the EPILOGUE repeats the sentence: "I thought I heard a girl's voice in the woods." thirty times--twice on a line for 15 lines. daring. effective. chilling.

CLINICAL NOTE beings with a quote from the work of Dionne Brand. night. enclosure. a note. the author's last name, "Get a hold our yourself Ridley." the final line. "I am happy."

thru out the whole book, there is a sense of play with point of view, with the I, with the subconscious. if I knew more, I'd be writing about Jungian archetypes, power animals, water, stone & dreams.

a special note on the inner cover art, the gorgeous apothecary bottles painted by Holly Farrell.

I can't praise this work enough. there are layers & layers & layers. every time I go back to it, I find something more.

a happy nod also to Ottawa's own Apt. 9 Press, who published Rest Cure as a chapbook earlier.

I haven't yet had the chance to get myself copies of the other Pedlar Press poetry titles published this year but I am looking forward to them.

Peter F. Yacht Club Annual Regatta/Xmas Party

The Peter F. Yacht Club regatta/reading/christmas party
lovingly hosted by rob mclennan;

with readings from yacht club regulars + irregulars alike, including: Amanda Earl, Pearl Pirie, Vivian Vavassis, Monty Reid, Janice Tokar, Roland Prevost, rob mclennan + possibly others,

at The Carleton Tavern (upstairs)
233 Armstrong Avenue (at Parkdale Market)
Thursday, December 22, 2011
doors 7pm, reading 7:30pm

copies of various issues of the journal will be available; check here for information on the journal, along with a bibliography

info: rob mclennan at 613 239 0337 or rob_mclennan (at) hotmail (dot) com

Monday, December 19, 2011

Best of 2011-poetry: Circles within Circles: Apollinaire's Speech to the War Medic by Jake Kennedy

Apollinaire's Speech to the War Medic. Jake Kennedy. Book Thug.

In his BookThug interview, Kennedy says that the first part of the book is object studies inspired by the mid-20th Century French writer Francis Ponge, who bridged the gap between the essay and the prose poem with meditations on everyday objects; the 2nd section, Light & Char, is, according to Kennedy, a goofy way of trying to think thru some abstractions. Kennedy is fascinated by metaphor because it brings together two seemingly dissimilar things in a kind of magical way, which is thrilling, perhaps part of the inspiration for the book.

I think what fascinates me about the book right from the first poem, "Study of a Claw Hammer," is how image laden it is…the way Kennedy presents ideas in ways i hadn't thought of. & juxtaposes very unlike objects: "the opposite of the claw hammer/is the lapsed will,/a yolk that tears itself on the shell's tooth/and globs outside the pan". "There are a bunch of pronouns now, flashing. They live on a screen in the middle of the night." (The drive-in is Real); "lake of cigarette tinfoil/lichen of psoriasis…mud of a Datsun's interior/beehives of winter exhalations" (Forest Studies). "That's the pestle grinding raspberries for the passion; the lopped leg of the rabbit and the neck of the chicken, dripping into the offering bowl" (Blood Study); "the flies have the nature of asterisks spinning in turpentine." (On Death (Paint)). "the pitcher pored an absence into the glass while the shadow couldn't stick" (On Justice (Rooms)).

also the work tends to be very visual. & there are many references to visual art. i can imagine these studies as surrealist paintings or collages. "…the motes glide in on their incandescent beam - they drift between the spaces of the garbage drums." (The drive in is Real). "the moon comes through the eyes and courses down the black hill of the throat." (History of a Tiger); "the moment when a school of fish scatter in order to demonstrate shattering glass." (Displacements).

I am also thinking when I read this book about Jean Cocteau's Orpheus film trilogy, particularly Blood of a Poet, its mirrors & darkness, rooms of surprises, bells, a hand with a mouth & moving lips. this book is full of surprises, surprises of image, of motion, of geometry, of emotion.

& then there is the humour, for which Kennedy makes use of form poetry. take for example "Bushestina" with its short & simple declarative statements in the form of a sestina & you think to yourself, "what a good idea": "Texas is good./I love the place./You can barbecue./You can golf./I like dogs./I feel safe." or "Pantoum for Standard Keyboard"

the endings of the poem are sometimes dramatic, sometimes understated. you get the impression that Kennedy can apply a hard brake to a poem or a gentle tap. I get the impression of control. of fine pacing. a poem can be very fast all the way thru & then move into slow motion toward the end. take a look at the motion of this poem, "Study of a Dog Print in Snow":

Study of a Dog Print in Snow
the sun going down
teeth of the miter saw

in a prison wall

having been to a place
and needing to go on,

well, do it: exit
despite the bad-ass years

under a crown of shadows
with four drops of rain

falling into the mouth
of the stone well

the spatulate leaves
around the manhole

silhouette of the carnival wheel
before an eclipse

Apollinaire's Speech to the War Medic contains lots of shapes & motion, particular the cycle, a circle, broken or unbroken & the nest, the notion of containers & objects inside other objects, ideas within ideas:

"a yolk that tears itself on the shell's tooth" & the pan (Study of A Claw Hammer);
"within the acorns there are lanterns" - a nested image (Study of a Bowl of Squash)
the bowl, the squash, "here are the skulls/in a bowl made of apple wood."
"the mouth of the snake," "the mouth of the pot" (Study of 'Black Snake Pot')
the circle of argument in poems such as "Sea Study": "and so there is no solution. And so --",
the rotunda in (Newly Free Translation);
bike tires, coins, chalk (Study of a Subdivision Sidewalk);
" and the boat that turns on the anchor's axis also turns the/big and little hands of the clock" (Pallid Sortie, Sure);
"Wanting, seeking, and finding, we know, is not a linear enterprise. As the morning rises in the shape of an eyeball, all beliefs are new. The sunlight offers a version of the way the world used to see itself yesterday -- one way of illuminating the future, over and over again." (History of a Tiger);
"Luke and Hans both at a loss in site of a loss/as if working inside the irony" (Study of Town Dump).
"as in a cuckoo clock/that explodes its doors/with a boing of wires:" (Study of Steel Wool).
"it takes a turbine to animate the bodies" (Pastoral Poem);
the zero of the prime meridian (Study of Nail-Polished Toes): (always knew) how to walk barefoot/against the prime meridian//and all intimations/of immortality";
the screw, the red apple, the knee (After John Cage);
"That the owl knows exactly what will occur/merely by believing in circularity," the 360 degree spin, the feeling of déjà vu, "to look with scavenger eyes" (Nature Study);
"in order to experience panic, the tornado stills itself" …"there is a tenderness/according to the movements of the field//and according to the hours/that drum the moon across the sun" (After Viewing Cy Twombly's "Fifty Days at Illiam");
Tree Ring Study;
"a crystal bowl on the pond's floor" (Peace Talks);
"to put a hand on a circle/in order to feel like a god/wielding an ideal form" (Study of an Iron Frying Pan);
Nest Study;
"death amongst cornflowers" (Study of Butterflies);
"thought bubbles/ in want of text" (Sheep Study);
"one day the bullet will grow its own skull/and reside inside it" (Apollinaire's Speech to the War Medic);
the sun in the Preamble to Light & Char;
"And when the mother saws the rope from the son's neck…" (On Difference (Knots));
a cloud, a cyclone and the everyday swirl (On Linearity (Bridges)).

sound: a clinking streetlight, a runaway alley can (Lung-Beckett)
"the blocky voices" of hungry children (Open This Door)
"'not this, not this' being the sound of crows wings/worked against sugar air…"
"a clucking of rapids against rocks" (Study of Abstractions)
"Study of the Sound of Ripping Grass/(Handfulls)
"the rocks of the inukshu/clacking in the wind" (Sore Throat Study)

& then there is language, the speech act as unsatisfying, the gap between word and action, there is pain, there is grief & there is emotion. running thru all of the poems. Apollinaire's Speech to the War Medic, a bullet inside a skull, words within poems, inside a book, hurtling & nested inside the brain.

On Pain (Funerals)

for Georgie and Don Summerhayes

Cross-section of the ant farm: the Franklin Gothic in a
book set by a drunkard. It reads, uh, "What tree does the
blood fall from today?" Is that right? Out of a maple and
into a maple. Scooped, conciliatory as a canoe: use me,
because this coffin travels…Or, clicking off the Orpheus
radio. those who are expecting to be floating on gusts of
supremely good karma consider that even the darkest of
poems will never save the corpse from the rot of light and
air. So how does this work again: look up… stars tighten
into fists -- and they too can't hold on.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

a small note on faith & scepticism

as a writer of obscure poetry & creator of even more obscure visual poetry, it is in my nature to be sceptical. what I do is not part of the mainstream & doesn't fit in with societal convention about what I should be doing.

I question everything & can understand & relate to other's scepticism about religion & metaphysics. I am not a joiner, don't belong to any groups unless I am leading them or working with those with sympatico minds & values. as part of my vocation as a writer, I test & I push limits. & I can't abide any evidence of group mentality, such as is found too commonly via social media, alas.

however, as a creative person I also dwell in the land of metaphor & symbol. I can stretch my own imagination beyond the literal into the realm of mystery & the unknown.

I don't know what I believe in but I have faith. somehow the world moves forward. I recognize that it is a fucked up place, that we humans are responsible for the worst kinds of crimes against humanity, creatures & the earth. is there some greater force at work? I am not sure. empirically I can't prove it & yet I have faith.

while I was undergoing my health crisis, doctors told my husband that I would die. that was certain. I am still both incredibly grateful that I survived but also unnerved by how close I came. the delusions I experienced in the intensive care unit were excruciating & unbearable. I moved from one into another with a fucked up sense of time & location. & I moved from these nightmares into periods of blankness. frankly, these were what scared me the most…the oblivion. I believe that these moments were when I was closest to death. if I had died, the world would have moved on without me. while that is a sad thought, it is as it should be.

regardless of all the horror & mess of the world, it moves on. it will move on in some form long after we are all dust. I have faith.

as a final thought, I'll leave you with this story I heard many years ago:
a man sits in a bar and says to the bartender, "I know there's no god." the bartender says, "why do you say that?" the man explains that he was travelling up north when his car broke down. he stood in the cold & prayed to god to save him, but it didn't happen. the bartender asks, "how did you end up here?" the man says, "some guy came along on a skidoo & rescued me."

Monday, December 12, 2011

Best of 2011: Poetry: The Eye-&ear-ballery of Linda Besner

the id kid. Linda Besner. Signal Editions, an imprint of Véhicule Press.

the book starts with a bit of dialogue between the devil & Bobby Gould from the David Mamet play "Bobby Gould in Hell" & sets up expectations for humour & hopefully dark humour.

Besner read from the id kid this year at Plan 99, the excellent reading series hosted by David O'Meara at the Manx Pub & this is the first time i'd ever heard her read. what struck me right away during the reading was Besner's sense of imagination, fun & play. she read one poem (i believe it was "Discarded Chairs") in a New York accent, not afraid to dare to try something madcap.

the book title was inspired by those commercials for the Ove Glove, causing Besner to play with the odd rhyme for other words. I enjoy Besner's sense of word play in such poems as Umbrella, the opening poem in the first section, Knick Knack. & her quirky descriptions, seeing objects from a point of view i hadn't thought of. Besner is good at the turn & the surprise ending. She also shows a lot of sass in her poems.

Besner is excellent at long lines, many of them punctuated by short phrases & sentences within the line. Many of her poems are about objects, especially those found on construction sites. We had a post-reading chat where we both admitted a love of construction sites. She gives these objects voices in poems such as Demolition Site: AIDS, 1990 with objects such as a plastic sheet, the scaffold & caution tape speaking, each with a different voice, different rhythms, different vocabulary. The scaffold, for example, has a rather lofty vocabulary, whereas the caution tape offers imperatives without preamble or hedging. The pit offers short & staccato lines with hard k sounds & dark imagery.

the id kid, like pop rocks, is fun for your mouth but it's much more than that. in the book, you will find wit, intelligence, self-deprecating humour, a sense of awe, wondrous word & sound play & a great sense of fun.

Besner reads Moonlight on Komatsu Extractor here.

i'll leave you with one of the poems from the book, but you should read Michael Lista's more erudite & comprehensive review of the book over at the National Post.

After the Operation

It was minor, really--a quick lancing of dense matter, removal
of obstruction to the cochlear passageway--

but now everything is in major key, every object
a previously empty house where, suddenly, frying pans sizzle

and toasters bolt awake, the kitchen window open
just at ear-level.

Pot-lids now clang, the gas stove lights with a whoosh, a quick
redness lands whistling on the bird-feeder, feathers aslant
to the wind.

Almost as surprising are things that look noisy, but aren't:

peach pits, their fire alarmish quills mute
unless tossed into a metal trashcan;

rocks, dumb unless shattering windows,
unless dropped.

Then the way some things steal sounds meant for others:

the thrum your curly hair ought to make displaced
onto the fuzzed bugling of bees;

your cheekbones' cymbal crash
the clarion clapping of keys.

What to make of the bodiless instruction to wit: to woo
delivered in darkness, a pinecone dropping as a branch lifts?

How odd that, skimming over the wet grass,
a voice and its thing come easily untwined, so we are still unable

to point out to each other, to say with certainty,
yes, that's it,
that one,

a cardinal.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Best of 2011: poetry--Erín Moure: Belonging to Bliss

Pillage Laud. Erín Moure. republished by Book Thug's Department of Reissue in 2011 & first published by Moveable Books in 1999.

in her Book Thug interview, Erín Moure describes her book as a pillaging and a praising, selecting from computer generated pages to create lesbian sex poems. sentences used as the unit of composition. back in 1997. rhythms. limited structure. emotionally compelling yet generated by machine. phrases that appealed underlined. text passing thru my human apparatus & i'm making a gesture, performative. combine phrases but used in the order in which they were generated. chapters come from place names, including an area on the dark side of the moon. ideal reader is anybody who hates clicées. the computer program is incapable of generating a cliché because it has no culture.

as someone who is driven crazy by clichés, by the wholesale swallowing by the masses of programmed convention, i am very happy about Pillage Laud & other attempts to avoid such. what i find in this book are surprising juxtapositions, a sense of play & transgression. Moure's work is always very daring, & this book is no exception. to attempt composition from computer-generation, to derive from it emotion & fun, even the idea of lesbian love / sex poetry. evoking Sappho. the work gives us a timeless quality of the modern & ancient eras.

what i enjoy about these poems is the unique & memorable imagery. the rare & beautiful gems are mined from text generated by machine. how the personal can come from the impersonal. "Her white pearl earring so base shimmered/Making daylight a realm of incandescence//I wanted to be that daylight/It was night & an earring was enough for me" PILLAGE 1 ("Oakland")

The book appeals to me in particular because for a long time now I have been interested in the poetic practice of chance operations, practiced by such poets as Jackson Mac Low in 22 Light Poems. He began with names for light & cross-matched them with playing cards & women's names. In Pillage Laud, Moure combines systematic method with intuitive choice, keeping phrases that appealed to her.

I love the sense of fun & whimsy in this book: "Don't violas count as vulva zombies?" PILLAGE 9 ("Burnside").

Language is a snapped yoyo, a dilemma between the pain and a failure, breaks out of restrictions.

There's so much in each poem, in each line, so much to ponder, so much that arises from the unusual combinations, that I find myself lingering. "Vocabularies were those empires./Wit inside wounds." PILLAGE 1.

The book is a lovely combination of depth & playfulness: "She is their watcher during the rules' restriction when/the clarinet is dreamed, the noun would surrender." PILLAGE 2 ("High Prairie"). I think about the role of language in society, the arbitrariness of naming, fixed expressions. how this work unbuckles, undoes convention. "Time travel meant: small indelible birds./ Until some were nothing, a dialect belongs to bliss."

There is so much sensuality in the book. & that sensuality is juxtaposed with the phrasing & vocabulary from various disciplines as art, psychology, music & science. "Certain theorems are the libraries of bitterness." PILLAGE 1 ("Oakland"). The vocabulary of narrative, libraries & the grammar of the text. "The muscle of her flesh was heat; my vagrants/are senses." ... "While you drank me, museums vanished." PILLAGE 3 ("Roselawn"). "My lover bends. No, means to bend. I tarnish her. This escapes. PILLAGE 4 ("Bowness").

The final two sections "In Tenebris, or The Gate" & "to exist is reading" are different from the rest of the book, outside of the vocabulary grids listed in the front of the book. "to exist is reading" is one block of uninterrupted text generated from the computer program, while "In Tenebris" feels like an afterword, a love poem, not a rationale or explanation but a kind of apologia.

I could spend this entire blog entry just quoting from the book, from individual & evocative lines. The whole work accumulates to create a symphony, or a collage. I am perhaps guilty of hyperbole here, but I can't help myself.

rob mclennan offers his own excellent engagement with Pillage Laud here.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Best of 2011 - poetry: the Gravity & Grace of Matt Rader

This month i'd like to spend some time revisiting certain poetry books i read in 2011 & writing about them in a bit more depth than i have over the year with my incessant lists. i explore these books with you because they are works that have affected me, taught me a thing or two in my ongoing attempts to learn how to write poetry. i approach writing very humbly. i have no answers, only questions. sometimes i have nothing but joy in the language to express & share.

Often these works haven't had very much attention & this should be rectified. i am doing my small part to bring them to your attention... Note that these studies of mine will in no way be exhaustive, but will merely bring attention to certain aspects of a book that stood out for me due to my own interest in emotion, in sound & rhythm perhaps, in whimsy, in play, in imagery & other things I will learn along the way. I hope you take the opportunity to read the books for yourselves.

Matt Rader. A Doctor Pedalled Her Bicycle Over The River Arno. House of Anansi. I've written about this poetry collection already on this blog somewhere. Specifically about the wonderful sound play in poems such as "Gravity & Grace." Rader lends gravity & grace to the whole collection. Grief is well rendered.

I especially admire Rader's craft with long lines broken up by punctuation, by grammatical structure to add memorable rhythms that reflect the tone & subject matter of the poem. i ask the question-what is the rhythm of grief, how it interrupts, blends or doesn't with the every day. the powerful difficulty of grief mixed with getting on with life in "Ablution" for S.L. If you read just one poem from this book, read this poem.

I admire too the juxtapositions of war & horror w/ contemporary everyday life, such as in the opening poem "Music," or the next "The Latin for Hunger: "The year they uncovered our three-year-old/Neighbour silent in the wooded easement/Behind her apartment I learned to identify/Those trees by the Latin,..." & the way Rader closes his poems, ingeniously ties in the opening horror, the Latin tree names, love making, the grief following a brother's death.

What I love about these poems is their emotion, the vulnerability of the speaker. I relate to the intensity of the grief. The opening quote by James Agee from "A Death in the Family" epitomizes the humility of the voice in this collection: "All my people are larger bodies than mine, quiet with voices gentle and meaningless like the voices of sleeping birds...By some chance, here they are, all on this earth ... Remember them kindly in their time of trouble; and in the hour of their taking away." The long lines have tight sound & image play, the sound fun reminding me quite a bit of Marcus McCann's poetry. Take a look at the first stanza of "The Second Born":

A quiet ordeal. No gob of gawkers on the second go.
Only the slobber faced firstborn.
With the goat horn rattle and the goat
With one horn, the carpenter and the gobsmacked girl on her back.
In the barn goading the little god out of her
Through the open gate of her hips into the open ark.


I like this kind of attention to sound, a hint at formalish rhyme almost. It goes on with the repetitions of hard k sounds, open & lax vowel sounds, bumpy rhythms creating by the breaking of the line by punctuation or grammar, such as prepositional phrases & asides, lots of playful alliteration. This is beautiful & attentive soundcraft. Plus facility with language levels, switching from fairly formal in some poems to a colloquial language. Rader gives us tight disciplined syntactic structure plus strong descriptive imagery & mythological allusion.

There's lots of variety in this collection, take the whimsical word play of "Freaks, Irregulars, Defects Oddities." "Placido/Domingo/on the stereo with merlot/And fettucine alfredo."

Or the sensuality of "Ocean's Love to Oregon": "As the Pacific backs beach to cliff-face//Then surges against her into the mouth/Columbia, plashing her long neck, her caves/And coves caressed into shape//By his tongue, till all his ringlets are/Breathless sweat and scent blessing her linens/Of sand like incense, mist, lifting"

Not at the end of the book, but a poem that means a great deal to me for its honesty, is "I Acknowledge," which the poet read here in Ottawa at Anansi night during the Ottawa International Writers Festival. "I do not believe in property./ I believe in propriety." A beautiful moment. This poem is written in a very different style from the others, not concerned with any kind of rhyme or sound play but as a series of statements, such as one would find in a legal document. It has weight.

The weight of emotion in Rader's poems is why I keep returning. For example in "Present & Future," there's an accumulation of detail that leads to the culmination of the poem, its passion. I love this idea of alternating between the present and the future. How to move past the grief. Here's an excerpt from the poem, from one of the P. stanzas:

[indented to just past mid page] Faceless, I am what stands
As your wake, what wakes only to this moment
And knows nothing else. This soil is our covenant
And it collects everything: tithings of rain and snow,
Root scripts, the tatters of wedding gowns fruit trees throw
From their shoulders in spring . . .

In this collection there is sensuality, there is colour, there is allusion, there is history, there is guilt, there is emotion, there is sound play, there is attention, humility & syntactic strength, all amounting to passionate & intense poetry. When I am bemoaning the lacklusterism of my fellow humans, this is a book I can turn to, to remind me that somewhere a fire is still burning.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

above/ground press broadside #309

my untitled broadside, an homage to Phil Hall, now available from the lovely Ottawa press above/ground press
along with other broadsides & chapbooks. pick 'em up &/or subscribe to get all the wonders.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Ilk Journal: we are your kind

i have a coupla vintage poems in this new on line journal from the UK here.

this was a few years back when i was reading quite a bit of Phyllis Webb. glad to see these finally out there. a few more of these were published in Pith & Wry and the site Sugarmule.

looking over that manuscript i see i have a bunch i haven't even sent out yet. now i'm flying a little closer to the ghazal (sun), working on a series of ghazals called Ghazals Against the Gradual Demise. we'll see what happens...