amongst books

amongst books

Friday, December 28, 2018

2018 Favs - Music

2018 Fav Albums

I wrote a piece for the music section of Queen Mob’s Teahouse entitled 5 for coping about 5 of these albums that go together thematically for me. Thanks to Mehda Singh for her patience and editing advice, all of which I took gratefully.

And here are my list of favourites from the 28 albums I acquired in 2018
in order of release…

Superorganism, Superorganism (Domino, Hostess, March)

Haley Heynderickx, I Need to Start a Garden (Mama Bird Recording, March)

Jeremy Dutcher, Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa (Jeremy Dutcher/Fontana North, April)

I Only Ever Listen To the Mountain Goats – All Hail West Texas, various artists
(Merge Records, April)

Snail Mail, Lush (Matador Records, June)

Anna Calvi – Hunter (Domino Recording Company, August)

Conyer Clayton and Nathanaël Larochette, if the river stood still
(Independent, August)

Jennifer Pederson, White Chalk (Independent, August)

Jim Bryson, Tired of Waiting (Coax Records, September)

Rachael Yamagata, Porch Songs (Sony Music Entertainment, October)

Subhraj Singh, Coughing Into My Elbow (Independent, November)

boygenius, boygenius (Matador Records, November)

Ex : Re, Ex : Re (Glassnote Records, November)

Poets Conyer Clayton and Ryan Pratt, two friends who are also music fans, shared lists of their own with me on Twitter. Our combined musical loves for 2018 are on this Spotify playlist.

This is my last favourites entry of 2018. I wish all of you a happy new year. I hope 2018 is joyous, productive, full of love and light. Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

A Year of Whimsy

A book can be almost anything. It can be a piece of paper you pleat like a fan with a single word written on every page. It can be an out-of-date guide book salvaged from the trash, remade by pasting into it images and passages snipped from old magazines. It can be a stack of lottery tickets and theatre tickets and numbered tickets from the meat counter at the store, hole-punched and gathered on a key ring. It can be three autumn leaves tied together with a piece of blue thread.
                                    --Leah Hager Cohen as quoted in the Fairytale Museum by Susannah M. Smith (Invisible Publishing, 2018)

At the end of 2017, I made a new year’s resolution to create individual handmade books in 2018. This plan was in keeping with my general creative and life mission of doing things for the sake of whimsy, exploration and connection. These words are even on my business card.

I thought the project could satisfy all three. For me, whimsy means embracing a spirit of playfulness. I am influenced by Maurice Sendak and Edward Gorey and Lewis Carroll and Carl Jung and Leonora Carrington and Djuna Barnes and a host of other great writers and artists, including contemporaries, such as Caroline Bergvall, Gary Barwin and Steve Venright. Play for me is an important part of my artistic practice and just makes life more fun.

Exploration is pretty straight-forward. It’s about keeping one’s mind open and trying different things, even when that little voice inside says you can’t do this because you don’t have the skills, or some version thereof. I don’t usually have an issue with writer’s block. In my opinion, the way through any kind of artistic block, aside from being around as much art as you can be, is to create and to try different media.

Connection is about connecting with kindred misfits. Those who don’t feel they fit in to conventional society.  This is a constant concern of mine because loneliness is my constant companion. I combat it by doing things like this. I know I am not alone, she says with irony, in feeling lonely and estranged from typical societal values.

My plan was to make twenty-six books over the year and give them to kindreds, keeping one for myself. What ended up happening was that it took my only half the year to create the books because I got excited and couldn’t stop playing.
Once I finished the books, I had to get them to the various recipients. Not all of them were local and some of the ways I contained the work made mailing a bit of a challenge.

Below is an inventory of the books of whimsy and some notes on my philosophies throughout the process of creating them.

 1.         Content: collage combined with unpublished poem; newspaper and found pages; Cover: photo from previous year’s calendar; Binding; staples; Size: 5.5 x 8 “;
Process: glue;
Notes: I am terrible with glue. It gets everywhere and makes a huge mess. Later on I figured out how to use a paintbrush to apply the glue and that helped a bit. But I still made a mess. I just stopped worrying about it.

2.         Content: published story, collage
            Cover: male angel art;
            Binding: staples;
            Size: 5.5 x 8”    Process: glue.
3.         Content: unpublished fairy story; black pages; gold ink; collage, and paint;      Cover: black with gold ink;   Binding: rings;  Size: 8.5 x 11; Process: frustrated with glue, I used coloured tape and duct tape.      Notes: the tape unstuck itself and the book needed significant repair / glue.
4.         Content: unpublished song parody;
            Cover: black paper, gold ink
            Binding: wire and beads
            Size: 4 x 6 “
            Process: tape and duct tape;
Notes: first book made specifically with someone in mind who had requested a book of whimsy.
5.         Content: found poem from cut out lines from magazines and collage;
            Cover: black paper, silver ink;
            Binding: ring;
            Size: 4 x 6”;
            Process: transparent tape;
6.         Content: collage and erasure poems on file folders;
            Cover: acrylic paint;
            Binding: staples;
            Size: 8.5 x 11”;
            Process: glue (trying again with more success).
 7.         Content: pencil crayon drawings and vispo, rubber stamps and quotes;
            Cover: acrylic paint;
            Binding: staples;
            Size 11 x 17 folded into 8.5 x 11;
            Process: direct drawing and printing; Note: while some of the content of the books is previously composed and saved on my computer, some of it is ephemeral, which means only the recipient of the book will have a copy and not me. I like the idea of creating ephemeral work. It goes against the traditional notion of publishing as the value of multiple copies and permanence. It’s possible that an idea that occurred to me during the creation of an ephemeral work will worm its way into another work that I save and attempt to publish, but not essential.

 8.         Content: unpublished haiku written with red marker;
            Cover: fancy paper scrap;
Binding: envelope style with silver ring and yellow silk wool wound around the book.
Size: 8.5 x 11 landscape
Process: individual sheets and some glue;
Note: I had the concept for this book in mind for a month or so and even wrote a little bit of its opening in the previous book.
9.         Content: wrote out quotes and long poem written in pencil on torn paper;
            Cover: torn paper;
            Binding: staples;
            Size: 4 x 8 “;
            Process: stapled pages together first, then filled them.
10.       Content: handwritten guide, no other copies;
            Cover: acrylic paint;
            Binding: staples;
            Size: 4 x 5 “;
11.       Content: postcards and watercolour paint – imaginary correspondence; ephemeral;
            Cover: red box with blue box inside; gold ink;
            Binding: no additional binding;
            Size: 6.5 x 4.5 x 2.5 “
            Note: I loved using these boxes and will probably do more projects with them. I also began to use watercolour paints and fell in love with them.
12.       Content: watercolour cards and abecedarian;
            Cover: yellow box with green box inside; black ink;
            Binding: no additional binding;
            Size: 6.5 x 4.5 x 2.5 in.
13.       Content: watercolour, quotes and music;
            Cover: pink box and yellow box inside; silver ink;
            Binding: no additional binding;
            Size: 6.5 x 4.5 x 2.5 in.
14.       Content: tiny chapbook with unpublished but recorded poems;
            Cover: small red box, gold ink;
            Binding: no additional binding;
            Size:  4 x 2.
15.       Content: Dark Pines under Water by Gwendolyn MacEwen; watercolour postcards;
            Cover: magic marker painted on envelope;
            Binding: no additional binding;
            Size: 4 x 8;
Note: I sealed the envelope after I made the book and had no recollection of what it contains. Mysteriously, the envelope became unstuck, probably owing to the humidity.
16.       Content: individual watercolour prints and handwriting of The Red Bird You Wait For by Gwendolyn MacEwen;
            Cover: doodled envelope;
            Binding: no additional binding;
            Size: 8.5 x 11;
Note: see 15. Lesson learned. Although also quite whimsical; the recipient made a lovely video of the work, which was seen by another friend on FB. I made a similar work for him.
17.       Content: the summer of blue, a story written in blue fountain pen on blue paper;
            Cover: old incense tube;
            Binding: no additional binding;
            Size: 8.5 x 14;
            Note: it’s fun to look at potential unorthodox containers for the books of whimsy.
 18.       Content: essential reads and matching teas; list typed up;
            Cover: old incense tube;
            Binding: no additional binding;
            Size: 8.5 x 14.
19.       outtake
            Content: cut up paper dolls with words
            Cover: envelope and gold ink;
            Binding: no additional binding;
            Size: 4 x 4;
            Process: learned how to make a paper doll chain and did it badly;
Note: I wasn’t entirely comfortable with this one; while I’m ok with failure as part of my process, this seemed too messed up to me. I gave it to the final recipient because I figured it would be fun for the final person to receive the outtakes.
19.       Content: previous project long poem with art;
            Cover: nice paper with gold ink;
            Binding: staples;
            Size: 8.5 x 11;
            Note: an old project resurrected with someone in mind.
20.       outttake
Content: another freaky cut up with the dolls and paper flowers plus a poem for added value;
Cover: envelope; silver ink;
Binding: no additional binding;
Size: 4 x 6;
Note: same as 19 outtake.
20.       Content: long collaborative poem and photos; not published but stored on my computer;
            Cover: photo;
            Binding: staples
            Size 5.5 x 8;
            Note: made specifically with someone in mind, the collaborator.
 21.       Content: abstract photoshop art and scraps of lines from random poems recorded;   Cover: abstract photo shop art; silver ink;  Binding: staple;
            Size: 7 x 7.   22:       Content: pencil crayoned characters – no copies;
            Cover: nice paper, black ink;
            Binding: staples;
            Size: 5.5 x 8
            Note: I’m a terrible drawer; all of these characters have no hands, but somehow they have character and are interesting when combined with my imagination. I hope.  23:       Content: watercolour and drawn characters; black ink; no copies;
            Cover: nice paper; black ink;
            Binding: staples;
            Size: 5.5 x 8;
            Note: I wanted to explore more characters and try watercolours; this one isn’t a particularly happy one. I might have to add a letter of warning.
24.       Content: photos taken over a year or so and new prose poems (recorded on my computer);
            Cover: photo; gold ink;
            Binding: staples;
            Size: 11 x 17, folded in half.
 25.       Content: art and previously written poems, excerpt;
            Cover: photoshop art;
            Binding: staples;
            Size: 5.5 x 8.
            Note: I made this with someone in mind.
26.       Content: this essay and inventory;
            Cover: old incense tube;
            Binding: no additional binding;
            Size: 8.5 x 11;
            Note: it seemed important to wrap up the project with thoughts on the process and some record of what the books were. I took a few photos on Instagram but that’s all I plan. What the recipients do with these boxes of whimsy when they receive them is up to them. I will either mail them or give them to them in person. It is my hope that some people will end up creating more whimsy and sharing it with fellow kindreds. To quote Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are: “let the wild rumpus start!”

For local recipients, I handed out the books of whimsy at my home, in food courts, cafes and restaurants over cocktails, dhal, dumplings, in their homes, and at readings. It took until December, 2018 for me to distribute the books. The books found homes in Ottawa in Hintonburg, Alta Vista, Lower Town, Orleans, West Ottawa, Mountain, Montreal, Gatineau, Alberta, British Columbia, Hamilton, Toronto, Welland, and Paris, France.

I didn’t make the books with any kind of response in mind, nor did I have expectations of any kind. I just wanted to share the books and celebrate whimsy with kindreds. I had some lovely surprises, including a request for a book, a video made of one book and one of the recipient’s children making me my own book of whimsy, which was such a touching response.

 Both the process and the content have inspired new ideas, including the novel I began
in August.

At times of anxiety and trouble, I found it helpful to work on the books. The process
and colour soothed and distracted me.

I’ve begun volume 2, which is mostly maniacal doodling in pre-made sketch
books. I’m not putting any deadline or expectations on the project this time, other than
I’ll make 26 of them and give them out as they’re finished.
 I encourage you to make your own whimsy (MYOW) and give it away to others, so that
they can make their own and share it. A kind of whimsical domino effect of art and
whimsy and exploration and connection. We’re all kindreds in one way or another. 
 Thanks to all of the recipients for accepting these books of whimsy. 

Sunday, December 16, 2018

above/ground press 2 - more fav chapbooks of 2018

above/ground press 2018 – part, the second

Jenna Jarvis, year of pulses (July)

Yes, I’m biased. I’ve loved Jenna’s poetry since we first published her on seven years ago and I had the chance to help edit her first poetry chapbook, The Tiger with the Crooked Mouth (Bywords, 2013).

There are only six poems in this chapbook. They are quirky and smart and humorous at times. I had to look up words.  Expectation is suspect, and beauty is paired with ugliness: “kantō” “the mall punks sulk at a deluge/they’re expected to crave//but rain binds them and clouds/of fresh smoke to the entrance//I vomit over an empty stomach…” There’s a feistiness: “we decided that la famiglia was/a mob of stone butches who sulked in parking lots…” (24 Fried Foods You Have To Try In This Lifetime) so yes, lots of sulking in public spaces.

There’s lots of pairing in these poems: beauty with ugliness, local with international places, humour with frankness.

Jason Christie, glass language (excerpt) (July)

Also biased, I like Jason’s poetry and on rare occasions we have coffee together. I can hear his voice as I read this. He astonishes right from the beginning: “Writing it’s like/Snowfall,…” and “poems like/the look of molten metal/or friendship.” You think: “weird, but …yeah…” There’s a sweetness too in the way Jason lets his life into the poem: “Hey Emmett Starts daycare” and “kindness is a child full of packed weather, grammar in a tide he calls joy a rock/we coalesce”

I love the accumulation of odd similes and light, the lack of articles doesn’t make for telegram type lines as it sometimes does in some poetry. here they would detract from the associative feel. Weather is here. the word “Unbegun” is repeated. “i have no time to have time.” I feel empathy. This language as fragile as glass, but also containing a lot and looking beautiful in the light.

Bill Mavreas, A Mercy of Signs (August)

11 black and white visual poems made no doubt through a manual process, perhaps copied multiple times. Mercy towards imperfection as seen in drip, imperfect black lines, degradation of image, bleed of black and grey, overlap of keys, such beautiful signs. Also while I haven’t made note of most memorable readings of the year, Billy’s interpretation / explanation of his process during the above/ground press 25th anniversary celebration last August was wondrous and bears mentioning.

Stephen Brockwell, Immune to the Sacred (August)

I have been a great admirer of Stephen’s writing for many years and include this chapbook as a reason why. The poems in the chapbook balance reflection and depth with play and vigour.  These poems address border crossings, the environment, social media, immigration, personal history, the wonder of nature, metaphysics. These are comments on nature vs technology or man vs nature depicted in ironic wonder and beauty. “so many colours even the worst days/are flecked with one beautiful/but toxic unrecycled utterance” in “Convocation Address.”

There are poems in which we see the subject as a manipulator of nature for his own sake, such as in “Sad Child, Happy Child,”: “You logged an old forest/to clear a small plot/for your cottage. The flames a beautiful sight,/the stumps a fine source of fuel.” Or in “Silent Uses for Trees” in which we find the title of the chapbook when the speaker talks about cutting down a tree for Christmas: “Peter spooled the saw up/through the branches./Swaying, he topped the crown./Maybe we’re immune to the sacred./ […] We burned the tree on New Year’s Eve.”

There’s a wryness to these poems, which respond to contemporary politics, the destruction of the environment and social media. For example in the poem, “Questionable Social Media Metaphor” in which the social media cliché of migrant children interned in camps have been likened to butterflies: “I won’t shake my fist/in a public square./Your neighbour won’t. One of his kids might,/Ashley not Cam. Look: a hummingbird/darting between the columbines and panies/patriotic blooms for July!”

One of the things that impresses me about Stephen’s poetry is his ability to move from understatedness to emotion without seeming to be emotional at all. For example the poem, “Ceiling” beings by talking about a corporate ceiling and moves to the speaker’s “mother’s ceiling” to a wish to burn down the house. The emotion builds and builds until it explodes. I admire this type of control. It strengthens the poem. And it echoes some of the techniques used in Stephen’s last book, “All of Us Reticent, Here Together” (Mansfield Press, 2016) which uses various methods to deal with trauma, including accumulation.

The poems in this chapbook contain specific and unflinching descriptions.
“Out of the shell,/slugs make their way through/human tracts,//hasty, eviscerating.” in “My South Florida Vacation.”
There’s plenty of humour and word play in the collection. “all the fallen angels/eat ripe damson plums/and watch Ted Danson wash glasses.” in “We all have Wants.”

“Immune to the Sacred” is a collection of poems that refuses the view of the world as if through rose-coloured glasses or perhaps accepts that these glasses probably were made by sacrificing something in nature. The speaker of these poems has rejected Pangloss’s optimistic philosophy and is embracing a shared culpability for the state of the world, perhaps one could say he is attempting to cultivate his own garden.

Might there be a final part 3? Let's hope so. I still have a stack of chapbooks to go through.

Saturday, December 08, 2018

above/ground press 2018 – a few favs so far

The 25th anniversary means a lot of celebrating to do. My magazine folder overfloweth. I start the day thinking I have too many above/ground press chapbooks. I decide to cull. I haven’t had a chance yet to read the chapbooks published in 2018 as part of the subscription package, so I start to do this. This is one of my December rituals. The problem is…I can’t give away or throw any of them out, as usual. I like too many of them immediately and the others I know I’ll probably enjoy when I have more patience, more time. So I have to put them on the shelves. Here are a few favs so far from the early months of the year. I shall write more about others later, all being well.

Adrienne Gruber, Gestational Trail (February)

There’s something beautiful and exotic about this suite of poems that are set on the West Coast Trail in BC. Gestational because the speaker of the poem is pregnant during this hike. For example, in Darling to Tsusiat Falls, we learn of another woman who hadn’t realized she still carried a fetus and delivered it. There are apt and unique descriptions: “Boots etch the sand” and “A potato singes my palm” in Tsusiat Falls to Cribs. I love the sensuality of the work and feel compassion for the speaker, who wants “a cold crisp one so badly, dense with wheat and calories” in Cribs to Walbran and wipes “between thighs/wince until the paper comes out clear.” in Tsusiat Falls to Cribs.

Gary Barwin and Tom Prime, gravitynipplemilk (March)

I enjoy Gary’s work and especially the collaborations. Admittedly we did a vispo collab together (Bone Sapling, AngelHousePress 2014). A Gary Barwin production often contains antlers and this chapbook is no exception. These are poems to smile over and exclaim! This chapbook is fearlessly silly and there’s something profound about the poems too: “mountains are nothing but light/nothing but light and argument” in Rain Song. It would be easy to dismiss the work here because of this delightful play, but don’t do it. I don’t know Tom’s work at all but I know that often behind the silly in Gary’s work lies a depth and compassion for the world that bears paying attention to. Such is the case here in this collaboration. These are contemplative, metaphysical poems with a heaping spoonful of humour: “we’re all a little greasy/carbon, fallen angels, gold---//it’s a lot of pressure/capitalism: “Take my life…please” in Dial the Dinosaur Option

Gary Barwin and Alice Burdick, Pleasure Bristles (March)

Another collab? cool, cool. When chameleonic wordsmith GB grafts his shapeshifting skills onto another surreal amiga, AB, styles change yet again. Don’t get me wrong, there’s still loads of silly here, but there’s more macabre as well, more creepy: “how would you choose to live if/the world was a forest of large-headed clowns?” in Release the Tortoises. There are pale ghosts and detached hands, old gods who scream, red moons. These are dreamy moonpoems.

Alice Notley, UNDO (March)

I read the Descent of Alette last year and now I’m hooked on Alice Notley. I like the largeness, the largesse of these poems, not overly wordy but generous in their description and what they reveal about the speaker. They move from micro (description of emotion and states “Almost sticky grace envelopes you in Jan 8) to macro (philosophy): “Like fingertips or pebbled surface knowing a mirror’s essence” in Malorum Sanatio. Blurred vision causes a dream of “spontaneous irregular spirals” and vision and streetlamps to look crooked in Souls on Métro while the speaker is tired “of having separate senses”. There is a breathlessness in the unpunctated Alice’s Soul and the accumulation of the long poem Malorum Sanatio. It is incantatory with gorgeous bits such as “I had no form before I was madly born” and “I remember being this soul the spy and savior”. 

These poems are haunting. They are compassionate. They acknowledge the world’s brutality and our shared sense of trauma. Sometimes, like in Green and Gold, they are heartbreaking and breathtaking: “I can a savior save you collage of fishers/Whose eyes are     outer space   magenta   fiery for/               Green gold cerise”.  I love the colour here and in Agonites. There’s something about the way the poet disorders conventional syntax here that is so masterful, so brilliant. I am full of envy. As she writes in Undo, the title track, as they say, “To let poetry inhabit your body is to heal yourself.” I am inhabited. I am not healed, but healing…I could go on and quote line after line, these poems are exactly what I  need/ed: “we’re all     poetry because   we’re compressed and lyrical” in All The Souls In The Cigar Box.

Sean Braune, The Cosmos (March)

Biased perhaps because AngelHousePress published Sean’s the Story of Lilith but I really enjoy Sean’s word play, sense of humour and eccentric associations. This is part of a larger work called “accelerated reading,” “a frenetic reading practice of the text.” I find myself reading that way too and laughing over a line here, a line there, skimming a bit. In this chapbook and with this concept, the author gives readers his permission to skim. I appreciate that and so I do from this long poem that shows the absurdity of the cosmetics industry and advertising by isolating and remixing ad excerpts…

“one smooth swipe emma stone wears HD gladiolus love”

“you’re fearless you’re worth it/live in copper”

“light lime lemon-ade-rita fiesta”

“road trip picture it:/   you your girls four wheels and one wild ride outside your fashion comfort zone”

“now the world is my runway, klondike”

kate siklosi, po po poems (April)

It’s great to see younger poets making visual poetry and it’s great to see small press publishers, such as above/ground press (who published my own The Vispo Bible: Mark this year) publishing vispo. These are energetic, sophisticated and elegant Letraset works. Very few visual poets I know of work with Letraset because it’s becoming harder to find.

More later…in the meantime, shouldn’t you subscribe?