amongst books

amongst books

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

the Clear Channel Memorandum - my choices

on his blog yesterday Jamie Bradley wrote about the Clear Channel Memorandum, a list of what was thought to be lyrically questionable songs that radio stations were told to not play by their big brother owner due to all the 911 stuff that went on. on September 11, 2001, i was at the end of my 30s.  my whole life had changed in the 21st century.  i had rebelled. this was my moment of anarchy. i was taking an advanced poetry workshop at U of O with Seymour Mayne. shortly after 9/11 i was sitting in Cafe Nostalgica (note that the cafe has recently been demolished: a bit of life mirroring art mirroring life again perhaps.) i was listening to some students talk & they were not talking about 9/11. i eavesdroped & wrote bits of their conversation along with poetic licence into a poem. that poem was published in "A Time of Trial: Beyond the Terror of 9/11" (Hidden Brook Press, 2001)...actually, it didn't make it into the book, just on the accompanying CD. oh dear. probably for the best.

here are my cuts from the Clear Channel Memo's list. (i can't get the embed feature to work in blogger. says my video player is too small. harumph)

The Animals : We Gotta Get Out Of This Place

Skeeter Davis: The End of the World

Carol King: I feel the Earth move

Talking Heads: Burning Down the House

U2: Sunday Bloody Sunday

The Clash: Rock the Casbah

Bob Dylan: Knockin' On Heaven's Door

Monday, May 21, 2012

above/ground press 2012: notes on four chapbooks

Rae Armanrtout's Custom.

This chapbook is composed of four poems, three of which are series poems. In minimal language, Armantrout juxtaposes philosophical musings with tangible and fanciful images. She has a delightful sense of irony: "Someone says, "Dream bigger," handing us/an RPG." America appears as desperate and out of control.  Bored souls hang from the ceilings. There is some syntax play, such as a poem that ends with the adverb "when." Also common expressions are tampered with, such as "Let volumes speak volumes." There is a feeling of strangeness, of not belonging, throughout the chapbook: "someone else's terrain." What we see on screen or in a role playing game vs what is happening in reality, how that changes our expectations to reflect the fantasy. "On screen/men discover/that their mothers/are imposters,/that their world's/unreal." There is a lack of progress, "zero surface tension," "lines of ants," "a string of stragglers on death march," an actress rooting for a lone cloud. "We maintain a critical distance."

Sarah Mangold's Cupcake Royale.
In Cupcake Royale Mangold juxtaposes the language and imagery of cake with the trappings of everyday life:  colour coded medications, compost, stir-fry, sweater-folding. The main form used in the chapbook seems to be accumulation, not necessarily of objects; sometimes short, declarative sentences in the form of objective observation, instructions, same grammatical categories, incomplete thoughts. Somehow it comes across as subversive, this juxtaposition of cake with the everyday: "I'm somewhere in the middle/injectable drugs/vanilla      buttercream". 

Fenn Stewart's An OK Organ Man
In this chapbook, Stewart's wordplay is prevalent, including puns, foreign languages, alliteration, assonance, repetition, words of three syllables or more & anagrams. By taking text from 18th century philosophers  such as Thomas Hobbes, Voltaire, John Locke etc., Stewart has ensured that the chapbook will have an old-fashioned, antiquated feel which is juxtaposed with a general feistiness or rebellion against the conventions of the era from which she is pilfering & gives the work a certain cadence evocative of times gone by. "under what conditions -- say, heroic butchery -- / might I make manifest this trepidation? / what is it but a segment/ or a fluke of sin". The chapbook also contains a level of metatext about language itself: "this ruddy syntax," "for language, beasts, and creatures are conducive," "but really, I'm/your girl for discourse".  

j/j hastain's we / cum ::: come / in the yield fields / amongst statues with interior arms (above/ground press, 2012)
in this chapbook j.j. hastain offers us prose poems that treat abstract concepts as tangible objects: "Liquid light or herds of manic." Much of the work deals with gender as fluid, as a non binary construct: "Gender here, our interactive contour." The text is full of unique & dream-like imagery, poignant observations, provocative paradoxes: "Extracting blossoms from a slaughter house." "A single ant carries the large body of a splayed moth." The poems are chock full of sensuality, poems formed of sentences of varying lengths & styles that careen drunkenly & wildly along. The work is visually strong. I can easily imagine some of these poems being illustrated with paintings or as surreal films" Like the rust colored sunflower that (while soft on its exterior) when cut turns the water it depends on bright pink." The author is a skilled soundsmith, each sentence deliberately muted or  cacophonous, depending on hastain's intent.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Monday, May 14, 2012

5 minute rant: holidaze

I have no problem with the idea  of people celebrating their good mothers on any given day; however, holidaze always make me uneasy. when I used to watch television regularly, I also became queasy when I was faced with an onslaught of commercials for gifts & greeting cards to help the masses celebrate these "special" days. now with social media, the onslaught of sameness when encountering holidaze, celebrity deaths & discussions of reality tv makes me wary. I call this a Halmark, a play on words with the Hallmark greeting cards & the "mark of Hal." Hal being the robot that takes over in Arthur C. Clarke's Space Odyssey saga. To me the masses' preprogrammed response to holidaze is a worrisome example of group think, of conformity & of a lack of individuality. Of having a time dictated to us when we should celebrate, of thinking that buying a greeting card & taking mom out for a bucket of deep fried chicken is a substitute for showing her love. I do know that this is not what it means for some, but this is what makes me queasy, uneasy. I'd like to see evidence of celebration that is not preprogrammed by some external authority.

a wise & lovely friend on FB who also happens to be a mother pointed out to me that Mother's Day comes from a pacifist reaction tothe American Civil War, which is excellent, but that's not what it has become. if on this day mothers, fathers, grandparents, sons, daughters etc engaged in massive protests against war, against the current right-wing inhuman governments across the world, voter suppression etc, I would be very much in support of such a celebration.
someone else on Twitter mentions that the reason to celebrate mothers is because we wouldn't exist without them. while this is true, I can't help thinking about children who have been abused and murdered by parents, shoved in buckets & drowned, sold into sexual slavery. I can't help thinking about wonderful people who would make excellent parents, but who suffer miscarriage after miscarriage, who don't have the big bucks necessary for fertility treatments or adoption. I can't help thinking about children whose parents died or parents whose children have died & these damn holidaze are reminders every year of how much they ache for the ones they love. so yes, holidaze make me uneasy.

at the same time, I do enjoy rituals & celebration (but I will also eat turkey in the middle of July) & I also paradoxically enjoy knowing that there are people out there who share my thoughts & my values. I am fortunate to be married to a man who is my kindred spirit, thank goodness, because without him there are times when I think I'd have to become a hermit, so disenchanted am I by the bah bah bahs.
Another FB friend and her husband don't celebrate these arbitrary celebrations but they find that they miss celebrations, so have come up with their own, such as Big Orange Rock Day. I like the idea of this. I think celebration is important. I am a big fan of International Yarn Bombing Day or holidays that haven't been co-opted by Halmark, but that incite creativity & individuality.

Another group of friends organized a poetry show in support of mothers & I thought that was fantastic. I think there's great scope for love, creativity & imagination in this world.
to some extent, I am disappointed by social media. I thought when I joined FB that I would see evidence of creativity & individuality, when what I've seen most is evidence of similarity, of group think & bandwagonism. there are some rays of light around though & I cling to them.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Mainstream Media Gender Bias

Recently Natalie Zina Walschots wrote about not seeing a lot of reviews of poetry books by women in the National Post in the last few years. See her article here.
In her article she listed poetry books written by Canadian women in that time period. I was not impressed to see how many of these books were not reviewed in the NP. Was it an example of gender bias? Lots has been said, mostly over on FB about this, but I wanted to offer my own thoughts here.
Years of neglect of culture by mainstream media have resulted in my looking for articles about such elsewhere, so I pay little heed to what the National Post or the Globe and Mail include in their arts sections. A recent need to fill online space has led to a resurgence in arts coverage by these newspapers.

Bias is something we all have. If a reviewer decides to write reviews based on loving or hating a work, which is a pretty standard & reasonable way to decide what to review, cultural biases will come out. It's writers' jobs to write about whatever piques their interest. However & probably naively, we readers expect national media, such as newspapers, television & radio to offer unbiased or at least balanced coverage. This is the job of the editor. When the National Post was receiving so many reviews about books by men, it was the editor's responsibility to solicit other reviews. I have a hard time believing that much money is allocated to columns about poetry, much less reviews & I am dubious how much money can be allocated to editors who do more than approve the paucity of content they receive on the subject. If for some reason publishers weren't sending the National Post reviewers books by women; although that's hard to understand, then perhaps the editor or whoever received books might consider asking for them.
One of the annoyances about this whole issue for me has been to hear the reasons offered by both those who believe the lack of reviews of women's writing is a result of gender bias & those who don't. In both cases it has been suggested that women are not writing reviews or submitting their writing as much as men because we women are just too damn timid about sharing our work, we lack confidence or that there's something inherent in men's biological nature which makes them more willing to send out work. This raises my hackles as generalizations always do. It amazes me how often people revert to stereotyping.

Instead of generalizing, I prefer to look at individual situations. Some of the women I know who have been fairly prolific writers & activists in arts & culture are in new relationships, just had babies, work full time and don’t have the time to write. What if one reason for a lack of work submitted by women might be that they don't have the time?
Finally, although I think that the bias in the National Post was pretty clear, albeit inadvertent (as most bias is, that's why it's so insidious), I think we should focus on where we do find arts & culture leadership & excellent writing by women. I'm thinking of initiatives like headed by Margaret Christakos, collections of essays by Catherine Owen, ErĂ­n Moure & Shawna Lemay, blogs by local writers such as myself & Pearl Pirie, rob mclennan's blog which features reviews of writing he finds striking & includes a substantial number of women. There are numerous examples of women at the forefront of arts & culture, but not so much in the mainstream media. Personally I gave up on giving a rat's ass about mainstream media with its right-wing biases & lack of journalistic objectivity years ago.

I've witnessed years of incidents where the mainstream media has been estranged from art, culture, music & anything that doesn't support the white picket fence ideal of regular paycheques, one man, one woman & 2.x kiddies in a house they own, who spend their evenings watching reality tv. I don’t want to be part of this mainstream myself. I opted out years ago in favour of forms & media that welcome individuality. I cheerfully embrace my outsider state. For those who think it's important for women to be involved in mainstream media, Sina Queyras offers a few suggestions on how that might be possible, in her essay "The Gatekeepers and the Glass Ceiling, Notes Toward an Essay on TheCount."

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Disappearing - John Lavery

for KR

which way to the airfield?
tell me can I get there from here?
I’m travelling last class
to Betelgeuse, Deneb, Altair
and points beyond

learn to live without, learn to live within
hep, the motto of the cosmic traveller
sleep tight between the spirit and the skin
make your home the horizon

I’m disappearing
tell me can I get there from here?
I’m ditching my high time,
my single space, and my androsphere
and I’m moving on

nothing to recall, nothing to declare
hep, the visa of the cosmic traveller
thanks for choosing Labyrinthine Air
we kiss your abyss any new where

we’re six-shooting starlings
we’re blonde, blue-eyed crows
junkyard swans caked with mud

we can’t talk
if you hold me down

white, prairie petrels
we’re larks lost at sea
brownbirds of paradise

the word is
when birds die
they fall to the ground

Did you sleep well?
The kitchen’s closed,
I don’t cook for bed lugs.
It’s cold. You’ll have to
make some yourself.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Cocktales at the Ottawa International Writers Festival

this event took place on Sunday, April 30, 2012 at Venus Envy with readings by Tamara Faith Berger, Nerys Parry, Daniel Allen Cox & Jasmine Aziz. Megan Butcher was also scheduled to read, but unfortunately  couldn't be there.

i had the pleasure of hosting this event at the spring festival. i thought i'd post my intro here, including the truncated bios of the authors from the festival site, for those who couldn't be there & also for those who were there & would like to read it. i've included Megan's intro too, simply because i want to celebrate & inform you about her excellent writing.

before the reading i had the chance to read all of the books--thanks to the Writers Festival-- & i enjoyed them immensely. here's the intro...

cocks pissing on 16-year old girls, cuckolded cocks, flutes, cock-like, shoving into cunts, cocks in pink lubey sleeves that fly out of control & hit our protagonist in the eye, overheated cocks, cocks that tease...

tales of clandestine rendezvous on hotel rooftops, sex toy parties, tales of death by fire, water, earth & wind, tales of uncontrollable urges, lethal desires, bruises, blood, rape, murder, bubble bath, pasta salad...

surprising twists & turns, fugues, awakenings, explosions, teen porn, sk8r boys

From Key West, Florida to Head-Smashed-In-Buffalo-Jump, Calgary, the Kootenays, from New York to Los Angeles, in airports, elevators,  garbage dumpsters, motel rooms, libraries, hospitals, film sets  & a suburban living room

ball gags, boxes of tea, moths, vibrators, ocarinas, spilled chutney, manta rays, Glenlivet, supreme assholes, nice white teeth, samosa cunnilingus, clits, black light bowling, bunnies, steel cabinets, xylophones, zippers being slowly pulled down
humour, compassion, betrayal, wit, wonder, grief, sex, yes….plenty of sex, &
most of all compelling stories crafted by our readers this evening.
Jasmine Aziz is a retired vibrator seller.  She worked as a consultant for four years doing in-home party presentations.  In that time she met many amazing and diverse women and was inspired by them to write a novel that would help both men and women navigate the subtle complexities of the modern woman's life.  Her debut novel, "Sex & Samosas" was released in October 2011 and sold out its first print run in only 4 months. The Citizen's review said "What saves the book from deteriorating into the gratuitousness or banality often found in chick lit is the earnest way the sex scenes are treated - with information, kindness and hilarity - and the surprisingly poignant family anecdotes."
In "Sex and Samosas," a sex toy party is the impetus for Leena's sexual awakening.  To do so she has to overcome the traditional values of her South Asian family, self-esteem issues about body image, and shyness with her husband Manny. The resulting journey is turbulent with lots of humour and misunderstandings along the way, but ultimately acceptance & orgasms.
Nerys Parry's debut novel, "Man & Other Natural Disasters," was a finalist for the Colophon Prize and tied for seventh in the Giller Prize Reader’s Choice Awards. Her writing has been described as “gorgeous throughout,” “compulsive reading, “engaging and thoughtful," and has been shortlisted for  several awards, including the Kenneth R. Wilson Canadian Business Press, Event Creative Non-Fiction, and FreeFall’s Fall Fiction Awards.
In "Man and Other Natural Disasters, "Nerys Parry offers us stories within stories. Simon Peter repairs broken book spines and torn pages in the Calgary City Library & lives with his senile & aging roommate Claude. Minerva, a young co-op student at the library, is the catalyst for his awakening. I found this book impossible to put down.
Megan Butcher is a librarian, sex educator and writer. She's the author of three chapbooks, most recently "Here, There Home," as well as co-author of a zine entitled "A Guide to the Mannerly Wooing and Winning of the Object of Your Affection. Her work has also appeared in Herizons, Capital Xtra, Ottawa Xpress and SMUT Magazine.
I've been smitten with Megan since I first heard her read, sometime in the early aughts, could have been at the former Dirty Girls, a series run by Nichole McGill. Matthew Firth said Megan's poetry chapbook, "this is what she said," published in 2004 was "a perfect mix of blunt sexual imagery and sharp concise language." Her story, "The Apiary," which appears in the Cleis Press "Best Bondage Erotica 2011," is sensual and steamy. Megan specializes in brief, erotic scenes that engage all the senses, whether it be the scent of wild onions or acrid sweat, or the image of someone bound in a chair, their short, blunt tongue stretching to meet a clit. In "Here, There, Home," Megan is the master of the vignette. She takes us to airports, to airplane bathrooms on erotic plane trips from Ottawa to New York to Amsterdam to Toykyo to Montreal. In clear, straight-forward prose, Megan gets straight to the kink. In these sexual quickies, Megan gives us a bon voyage.
Daniel Allen Cox is a Canadian novelist shortlisted twice for a Lambda Literary named Daniel one of its “Favorite Gay Canucks.” He was a columnist for Xtra Ottawa from 2008 to 2011. He lives in Montreal, where he works as a writing mentor. He's the author of "Tattoo This Madness In" (Dusty Owl Press), "Shuck," "Krakow Melt" & "Basement of Wolves," the last three published by Arsenal Pulp Press.
I've had a mad crush on Daniel since I first heard him read about smurfs and Jehovas Witnesses from Tattoo This Madness In at a Writers Festival event  in 2007. & the crush only deepened with his next novels. Whenever I read one of Daniel Allen Cox's novels, I feel as if I am in a conversation with a fucked up & brilliant friend. His books are always eloquent, poetic, turbulent and engrossing, allowing us to satisfy our voyeuristic curiosity about worlds we haven't a clue about . His writing is cinematic & visceral. I can still see in my mind's eye, the main character's house on fire in all its hideous beauty from "Krakow Melt." In Xtra, Daniel said "“Sex and writing are both always on my mind... “Text is like fluid, so it’s inherently sexual. When bodies are interacting with text, whether writing, editing, translating or consuming, it’s like the exchange of bodily fluids. In my life, both sex and writing are liberating. So I like to mix them up and see what happens. The results, I hope, are sexy. Whatever they are, I get off on the process.”
In "Basement of Wolves" the main character Michael David is an actor who has just turned 40 & questioning his self worth after he loses a role to another actor. He's hired to work on a bizarre film with an eccentric director  who works with no script, changes the plot without warning. When the film is over, an encounter with a potential stalker, sends Michael David into hiding.  The book is a gritty, dreamy, witty, zany and humorous parody of the film industry, of popular culture, of hotels, of internet hook-ups  and of relationships.  It's a study in the loneliness of celebrity & the dangers of smoking. Its dark & twisted paths make unexpected turns.  
Tamara Faith Berger was born in Toronto. She wrote porn stories for a living and attempted to make dirty films before publishing her first book, Lie with Me, in 1999. In 2004, The Way of the Whore, her second book, was published. In 2005, Lie with Me was made into a film. Maidenhead is her third book. Berger is presently working on a novel about a Russian hired killer. She is a graduate student at UBC working on her Masters of Fine Arts.
Mix a little Georges Bataille with 21st century sensibilities & you have Maidenhead, a molotov cocktail. Imagine an innocent young girl in a Victorian erotic novel led into sexual corruption by a svengali, then give her intelligence, raw hunger, a will of her own & Internet porn & see what transpires…In her Globe & Mail Review, Sheila Heiti said "With so much focus in our world on what young female sexuality ideally looks like, it’s a relief to see this portrait of what young female sexuality honestly feels like. Maidenhead is a mesmerizing and important novel, lying somewhere between the wilds of Judy Blume, Girls Gone Wild and Michel Foucault. It’s a thrilling, enlightening and really hot place to be.
& due to nerves, aside from mangling names, i didn't spend enough time on thanks, so here's what i would have said at the end..
thanks to Sean Wilson of the Ottawa International Writers Festival for inviting me to host this event & to the festival in general for giving a home to all forms of literature. thanks to this event's predecessor, Transgress, which took place for a number of years at the festival & was organized by Capital Xtra. given the excellent turn out at Cocktales, it's clear once again that opportunities to hear authors read boundary pushing literature are needed & that this literature is well received by audiences & readers. the event was held at the wonderful Venus Envy, Ottawa's best & most welcoming sex shop for all.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Catharine & Me e-book : Poetry Free For All

as part of the Poetry Superhighway's E-Book Free for All, 73 poets have made their chapbooks available on line, but it's a time-limited offer. You have til midnight tonight (I think that's Eastern Standard Time) to download them. All kinds of poetry is up, including a chapbook apparently by Jerry Garcia. The chapbooks are listed alphabetically according to chapbook title.

i've put up Catharine & Me, an excerpt from my longer work in progress, "All the Catharines." Some of these poems have appeared in unarmed (USA), Sunfish (UK), the Dusty Owl Quarterly (Ottawa, Ontario CANADA), poetryzown (Cobourg, Ontario, CANADA), the PROSE Poem (USA).

this is the section of the work that explores the idea of character & creator as opposed to other sections which embody the voices of various historical & literary Catharines.

you can download Catharine & Me & other chapbooks by clicking on this link.

thanks to the Ontario Arts Council Writers' Reserve Program for funding in 2010/2011.

thanks to Rick Lupert of Poetry Superhighway for this initiative.