Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Random morning thoughts

What is a world? Jean-Luc Nancy proposes it is a "totality of meaning." Sliced worlds be. Mountain world. As far as eye can see world? As far as I can mean world. Can find meaning? Glacial till world? Moraine world? World out my window which is pine, steel, lumin, wind, fringe of curtain. How does time fold into world? Worlds as bumper cars. Worlds bashing. Worlds and with them land mines and long, wicks. Wish for a benign world. World of quilts. Wish for a world of good intentions. "We watched the pieces go to pieces," Mary Burger writes near the end of Sonny. Is pieces all we have? Are pieces all we can expect?

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Daljit Nagra

Daljit Nagra, pictured here with Priscilla Uppal in Calgary for WordFest last month. Hear the charming Nagra discuss and read from the title poem Look we have coming to Dover!, which won the Forward Prize:
Swarms of us, grafting
in the black within shot of the moon's spotlight,
banking on the miracle of sun to span
its rainbow, passport us to life. Only then
can it be human to bare-faced, hoick ourselves for the clear.
I'm thinking of Daljit Nagra's world. Bringing Punjabi-English to the poetry world. A linguistics reminiscent of Dennis Lee:
To Aeroflot the savage miles
in a moment, tucking under
From the poem "For the Wealth of India," which describes a world of "pongy tailors" that "run like flies," "knobbly-kneed" "bent-neck man who trays us with milky sweets." Ah, a man entering the world of the English, with "cans of Fanta...twisting away with a snarl." The glory of languages, cultural nuances colliding here with reference to Matthew Arnold and Christopher Marlowe. This is great stuff.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Oh, Etgar

You have to love Etgar Keret. Wristcutters, based on a Keret short story, looks like it actually translates Keret's freshness to the screen.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

My father was known to quote Victor Hugo

Burning the candle at both ends these days, and something has to suffer. This week it's the blog. But I've been thinking about work ethic...where it comes from. I've also been thinking of where I come from. A long line of peasants on both sides. Very little other than peasants a long, long way back.
In those cantons where there was a taste for the law, and where the
farmers were ruining themselves with stamped paper, he would say, "Look
at those good peasants of the valley of Queyras. There are three thousand
souls there. Why, it is like a little republic! Neither judge nor
constable is known there. The mayor does everything. He apportions the
impost, taxes each one according to his judgment, decides their
quarrels without charge, distributes their patrimony without fees,
gives judgment without expense; and he is obeyed, because he is a just
man among simple-hearted men." In the villages which he found
without a schoolmaster, he would again hold up the valley of
Queyras. "Do you know how they do?" he would say. "As a little
district of twelve or fifteen houses cannot always support a
teacher, they have schoolmasters that are paid by the whole valley,
who go around from village to village, passing a week in this place;
and ten days in that, and give instruction. These masters attend the
fairs, where I have seen them. They are known by quills which they
wear in their hatband. Those who teach only how to read have one
quill; those who teach reading arithmetic have two; and those who
teach reading, arithmetic, and Latin, have three; the latter are
esteemed great scholars. But what a shame to be ignorant! Do like
the people of Queyras."

Les Miserables, 1862

From the NY Times today

San Diego County, the largest county in California without a fire department, relies on a hodgepodge of local departments that are almost all serving areas where populations are growing faster than their tax bases, and which are often low on money among a constituency that is generally allergic to taxes.
Pay attention people: when you get rid of your infrastructure or don't support it you get rid of your infrastructure and have no support...

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Phebus Etienne

How did I miss this?? Haitian-American poet Phebus Etienne passed away this year. I met Phebus in 2000, at Hedgebrook on Whidbey Island, where she was compiling her manuscript, much of which she had written while at NYU. Beautiful, aching poems that traced her childhood in Haiti, and in East Orange, NJ, with her mother who was a seamstress I believe, on top of her work at a factory, and who had died a few years prior, a loss that left Phebus alone, and inconsolable. Nicole, I believe, was her mother's name, and I hope that her manuscript appears somewhere because those poems were passionate, white hot, and full of rage at a system that had failed her mother. Bastard M.D. was one title.

Many of those poems appeared in journals over the years, and Phebus was particularly happy to have been chosen by fellow Haitian American writer Edwidge Danticat, for the Beacon Best of 2000. It is a curious fact that poets can go so long without placing a manuscript. I know she had a hard time with that. But like most of us, she moved toward lightness, and loved to laugh. Other notes are found on blogs, including the wonderful Cherryl Floyd-Miller, and on Poetry Foundation and Cave Canem. Damn.

CHAINSTITCHING

After I buried my mother, I would see her often,
standing at the foot of my bed
in a handmade nightgown she trimmed with lace
whenever I was restless with fever or menstrual cramps.
I was not afraid, and if her appearance was a delusion,
it only confirmed my heritage.
Haitians always have relationships with the dead.
Each Sabbath, I lit a candle that burned for seven days.
I created an altar on the top shelf of an old television cart.
It was decorated with her Bible, a copy of The Three Musketeers,
freesia, delphinium or lilies if they were in season.
My offering of her favorite things didn’t conjure
conversations with her spirit as I had hoped.
But there was a dream or two where she was happy,
garnets dangling from her ears,
and one night she shuffled some papers,
which could have been history of my difficult luck
because she said, “We have to do something about this.”

She hasn’t visited me for months.
I worry that my life is an insult to her memory,
that she looks in and turns away
because I didn’t remain a virgin until I married,
because my debts will remain unforgiven.

Lightning tattoos the elms as florists make
corsages to honor living mothers.
I think of going to mass at St. Anne, where she was startled
by the fire of wine when she received her first communion.
But I remember that first Mother’s Day without her,
how it pissed me off to watch a seventy year-old daughter
escort her mom to sip from the chalice.

Yesterday, as the rain fell warm on the azaleas,
I planted creeping phlox on my mother’s grace,
urging the miniature flowers to bloom larger next year
like the velvet petals of bougainvillea that covered our neighbor’s gate.
I crave a yard to plant lemon and mango trees as she did.
Tonight I mold dumplings for pumpkin stew,
add a dash of vinegar for spice as she taught me,
sprinkle my palms with flour before rolling the dough between them.
I will thread my needle and embroider a coconut tree on a place mat,
keep stitching her presence in my life.


Phebus Etienne

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Weekend Round Up

Just when I was beginning to give up on Helen Humphreys it looks like she has completely invigorated her approach to fiction with this new book...I must go and get this one. I have all the others, and some of them are fabulous, but I had decided that was it, I wasn't going to get the new one as a matter of course. Anyhow, never say never and all that. And a new publisher...maybe that has something to do with it. In any case, go Helen. I'll report back on that.

Well, who knew Kay Ryan was a lesbian? I didn't think the New Yorker published lesbian poetry, but they do publish Ryan. I heard her at the New Yorker Festival in Bryant Park a while back. She's very funny, but not in that Billy Collins way. Here she talks to the NYT about writing, and the experience of belonging to a vanishing tribe:
Sometimes I go to look for myself in inferior bookstores – at airports, say – and I find I don’t exist. Sometimes my entire people does not exist.
Oh yes, we know that feeling. She means poet, not lesbian...

It has come to my attention that most Canadian poets don't know Marie Ponsot. Here is a beginning. David, if you're reading this, can we talk about Ponsot and her influence on your generation of NY writers?

Anansi turns 40. That means Coach House is the older sibling. But hmm, who is leading the way here? Just teasing. I'm not sure there is any real rivalry between these two presses which are both historically important, particularly to Canadian poetry, which isn't vanishing, not quite yet.

And 50 years ago today, Ginsberg's Howl was deemed "not obscene."

A climate change book that's uplifting...hm...meanwhile the NYT Magazine informs us that the world is drying up.

Susan G. Cole on the failure of Canada's GG Award jury...I agree that Lawrence Hill's book is impressive. Hey New York, he's coming your way November, 11 at the KGB.

Meanwhile the International Festival of Writers is on in Toronto, though I hear they are relegating poetry to single-shot warm up acts for fiction writers...maybe we are disappearing...

I recently discovered Dani Couture's Good Meat. Nice little book, both in design and content. I laid it out with about half a dozen newish titles by young Canadian women under 30 that I haven't already mentioned on this blog, and well, it stuck out like neon. A few poems can be found here.

Poetry and film in Toronto.

Oh, Joshua. Clover that is. More on the company of poets.

Much ado over the "real" Carver stories. When I teach Carver I like to include both versions of a story where possible. It's an interesting question. He cuts back in one. He fleshes out in the other. He reacts to an editor who is reacting to a market. All part of writing. Why pretend it doesn't exist?

The cynical might think Rowling is courting the gay audience...but of course Dumbledore is gay...and she doesn't need to court any audiences does she?

What is up with this show?? I thought I slipped twenty years back in time...

And finally, a new, nifty little site on Canadian Arts & Culture.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Niels Hav

Danish poet Niels Hav, seen here at the University of Calgary with Priscila Uppal, has a new book out with Bookthug, translated by Patrick Friesen and P.K. Brask . One of the great potentials of festivals the size of WordFest is the attendance of people such as Hav, and in this case even greater since the book has crossed over into the Canadian literary landscape and will, in some senses, remain here.

I first encountered Hav at Wordfeast in Calgary and then in his after dinner pipe smoking ritual. There is something very old world and still about him, concise and optimistic. And of course, what a romantic! No wonder Patrick Friesen, one of the most romantic poets writing in Canada, loves him:
I prefer writing
with a used pen found in the street
or with a promotional pen, gladly one from the electricians
What an antidote to the incessant commercialism we endure.
Problems have a disagreeable tendency
to become personal
These poems are at once personal, but very external, not the myopic personalism we get in so much "romantic" or "lyric" verse that mourns a simpler time. These are poems written by a man who walks his daughter to school every morning, and won't travel much until she is old enough not to need him daily. A man who gets out of his head, who gets out of his self. I wonder what our literary landscape would look like if translation was part of the dominant poetic discourse? If we Canadians could get out of self?

Bravo to Jay Millar for publishing this book. Canadian poetry can stand up in the world. It's high time we let the world in, and got the word out. We'll all benefit.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Speaking of Rocky Mountains...

On the way to Banff I kept thinking of one of my favorite Anne Carson poems, included in Open Field. Here's an excerpt from "Short Talk On Reading:"
I glimpsed the stupendous clear-cut shoulders of the Rockies from between paragraphs of Madame Bovary. Cloud shadows roved languidly across her huge rock throat, traced her fir flanks...
GG Finalists announced this week. The poetry list is a fairly good mix. Dennis Lee is the Hound's choice--particularly since he should have been nominated for Un a few years back. Congrats to Rob Winger, and though I am an Atwood fan...

Congrats to Erin Moure and Robert Majzels for landing on the translation list with Nicole Brossard's Notebook of Roses and Civilization. This is a great list, including Nigel Spencer for his translation of Marie-Claire Blais' Augustino and the Choir of Destruction.

The fiction list is fairly safe: Michael Ondaatje, Barbara Gowdy, M.G. Vassanji, but welcome David Chariandy, Heather O’Neill....

Germany has a poetry jet set? Move over Manhattan. To the right, Toronto.

The ubiquitous Stephen Burt takes a look at Elizabeth Treadwell's Birds & Fancies and Canadian poet Mary Dalton's The Red Ledger in The Believer.

The other Simic. CBC interviews Canadian poet Goran Simic.

What's selling in Canada?

And what about short fiction? Over at Maud Newton's there is much hullabaloo about Stephen King's dissing of the literary form of the story and attendant journals. I haven't seen his selection for Best American Short Story yet, but imagine that Lydia Davis, or any unconventional writers for that matter, aren't in it.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Priscila Uppal

I thought I should blog a little about my fellow Wordfest participants (the poets largely, because poets don't get quite as much attention as the prose writers, or so they all thought). Toronto writer Priscila Uppal's Ontological Necessities was a finalist for the 2006 Griffin Prize. Don Quixote, Wordsworth, Freud, mother, father, it's all in here, and generously spare and open. "This is difficult for me to admit, but the poem/can be completed by anyone," Uppal writes, but in order for that kind of reader to appear one needs sufficient intellectual engagement. There is sufficient engagement here. And then some.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Christian Bok is blogging on Harriet, the blog for the Poetry Foundation. Thank you PF for including a variety of voices on your blog, if not your monthly journal... And for those non-Canadians out there, check out Bok's recent post on Greg Betts and anagrams.

Meanwhile in Banff all the big names have gone and a few of us remain, groggy this morning after the Wrap Party at which much beer was consumed and many authors relaxed, and some even danced, interpretive dance no less. Yesterday's final event included Nancy Huston and Helen Oyeyami. Mexican writer Daniel Sada, and Lawrence Hill reading from The Book of Negroes were the highlights.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

The Hound is in Banff

But if you're in New York this is the reading to check out:

Special Announcement: Contemporary Chinese Poetry Co-Sponsored by Belladonna*

Another Kind of Nation: an Anthology of Contemporary Chinese Poetry , Talisman House Publishers, ed. by Zhang Er and Chen Dongdong, can be ordered from Talismaned@aol.com

Oct. 16 and 17th at Poets House, NYC. 7 pm, 72 Spring Street, Second Floor, New York, N.Y. 10012, (212) 431-7920:
Against All Odds: Chinese Poetry Today: http://poetshouse.org/progcoming.htm

Oct. 16th
The Evolution of Contemporary Chinese Poetry: A Panel Discussion.
Zhang Er, Cris Mattison, Eleni Sikelianos, Jennifer Feeley & Sun Yi

Oct. 17th
Beyond the Ideogram: Readings from Contemporary Chinese Poetry.
Martine Bellen, Charles Borkhuis, Caroline Crumpacker, Joseph Donahue, Zhang Er, John High, Bob Holman, Ma Lan, Charles Laughlin, Rachel Levitsky, Cris Mattison, Leonard Schwartz, Sun Yi, Jennifer Feeley & Zhang Zhen

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Lessing wins the Nobel...more excellent women

You have to love Doris Lessing!

But lean years for the British novel...

Alice Notley in the New York Times.

Peacock on Atwood.

4 out of 6: poetry bash, word fest

Fabulous audience and great reading, despite a very sore throat for yours truly. Reading to a white light that claps and giggles is an odd feeling. But it's one I could get used to. Thanks to all the great volunteers and tech folks, and to my fellow readers: Herménégilde Chiasson, Daljit Nagra, Laksmi Pamuntjak, Sina Queyras, Priscila Uppal and Tom Wayman...

Friday, October 12, 2007

Thursday night wordfest

Poets rock. That really should be the theme of this blog in terms of its relationship to WordFest. Now, if only everyone else knew this... Word of mouth featured poetry of all kinds, and one novelist, Andrew Wedderburn, who fit right in with the word-attentive crowd. Toronto poet Stuart Ross nailed his performance (a wow), Newfoundland poet Agnes Walsh, looking very Edwardian in her brocaded jacket, nailed more than a few linguistic and imagistic east coast moments in a delicate, yet forceful reading. The regal Valerie Mason-Jones brought us a snippet of her one-woman show, Queenie, an exploration of a bi-racial royal which remains a thorn in the royal family's backside...and then there was an Australian hiphop artist to close the show.

Tonight the Hound reads in the Poetry Bash following the Anansi reading and the Showcase event at the Vertigo Theater.

Meanwhile in Philadelphia

Photographer Zoe Strauss, who I interviewed here on Lemon Hound a few months ago in Philadelphia, posted this yesterday...if you don't know her work you should, and thankfully she posts a good deal of it on her blog, so check it out.

New Official Control Trailer

24 Hour Party People is one of my favorites...wonder if this one will be as good...which is to say I'll be seeing it sooner or later...but sooner is Wordfest. More soon.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

WordFest Encore, Encore

Two readings yesterday: Chasing the Muse, hosted by Christian Bok up at U of C, included Niels Hav, Laksmi Pamuntjak, Stuart Ross and Priscila Uppal followed by a good discussion about writing practice, muse or lack of muse. I hadn't heard Pamuntjak before and was quite taken by the rhythms of her reading.

Wednesday Night Showcase featured Peter Robinson, Roberta Rees, Marie-Claire Blais, A. L. Kennedy and James George. Ran into Gail Anderson-Dargatz on the way in and sat with her for the first bit before she had to leave to tuck her children in for the night. I don't want to say how long it's been since I sat across from her in a writing workshop at UVIC, but let's just say we didn't recognize each other without the name tags. The reading itself was diverse--Robinson is a crime writer and I thought for a moment that we had slipped into an episode of Prime Suspect, only the gaze was not (DCI) Jane Tennison, but DCI Banks... James George read a monologue, Roberta Rees pulled off a difficult child's pov, A.L. Kennedy is very dry, and very funny. For me the highlight was hearing Marie-Claire Blais read from Augustino and the Choir of Destruction. What a wonder. What an absolute wonder. She's reading today in French which will be even better--not that I'll be able to make that. She read last night in English, which was difficult, and more difficult given that the whole reading was one long continuous sentence...

Much buzz about Ameen Merchant's performance last night, and his novel, The Silent Raga. He'll read again on Friday night with Kiran Desai and others prior to the Poetry Bash, which includes yours truly.

Today I'm missing Gil Adamson, a fabulous poet with her first novel, Andrew Wedderburn, and Jacqueline Baker, who I met last night and look forward to hearing in Banff...much going on but I have appointments all afternoon.

Oh, and yes, Meg Tilly blogs.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Wordfest, Wordfeast, very brief report

It began with a bang last night. Calgary is already full of writers and too many events to try and catch all at once...now there are five times as many..and the problem of how to be in two places at once. Yes, I want to hear Marie-Claire Blais, but it's at the same time as another must attend, yes I need to hear William Gibson, Nancy Huston and Kirin Desai but there are friends and former Banff folks such as Ameen Merchant bringing out his first novel, a former UVIC classmate, Canadians I haven't heard read yet but need to such as Michael Winter, and newcomer Wedderburn. Then there are the poets! Priscilla Uppal, Stuart Ross, Dennis Lee, Neils Hav...

Many new faces too: Valerie, and this guy...and this guy.

Monday, October 08, 2007

According to Jan Zwicky...

Interesting post over at Rob McLenann's blog regarding a recent talk at the U of A by Jan Zwicky. Consider the following statement:
Living Canadian poets whose work speaks directly of their love for and involvement with the natural world.

Jane Munro, Roo Borson, Lorna Crozier, Robert Bringhurst, Adam Dickinson, Tim Lilburn, Sue Sinclair, Don Domanski, Liz Phillips, Don McKay, John Steffer.
With two others added:
Mary Oliver (US)
Robert Grey (Australia)
I'm not sure what is more surprising--the vast number of Canadian poets left off of this list, the rather conservative nature of the list, or the fact that Mary Oliver is on the list. To be fair Zwicky isn't saying this is "the only," but the way McLennan reports her presentation it seems so.

What does it mean to "speak directly to" anything? What does it mean to love? Who would recognize what someone else's love for "the natural world" is? Or looks like? Or how it would manifest in any way? What is the natural world? What is other? Is other simply looking at a mirror of ourselves? Poetry as we see? Natural world as we see? When was the last time anyone was in the natural world? Where is natural in the US? Why are all these poets "lyric" poets? Why do we have such a limited understanding of what lyric is, or can be? Why are we so busy building corrals? Why are we so invested in keeping others out of them?

Oh, and Happy Thanksgiving. Or is that Happy Canadian Thanksgiving?

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Saturday, October 06, 2007

George Murray and Christopher Patton, other strands of American influences

Ox, Christopher Patton
The Rush to Here, George Murray

I missed Christopher Patton in the New Canon. Perhaps because the poems chosen for that anthology had such tonal similarities that after a while it seemed they were all varieties of the same poem (and at points that Canada was populated only by one kind of poet and no diversity whatsoever). In any case, the poems in Ox leap off the page with their ecstatic longing for communion with nature. They seem divined to view the most minute details and report back with verbal acumen. Not, as the book cover suggests, a whole new scale of Canadian nature poetry, but rooted in it, and in Gerald Manley Hopkins, and in the American school of quietude as well (and the Columbia/Paris Review tradition too).

The problem with this variety of poetry is that it is often beautiful, but emotionally vacant, or as some have suggested, "about nothing." Funny that "about nothing," is seen as such a terrible aspect of language poetry, or the avant garde, but if a verbally innovative poet can keep a sense of realism, suddenly it's fine to just be about nothing, or about sound... (Is Hopkins about nothing? Of course not. Is Heaney about nothing, of course not, but many of those working under their influence certainly are.) But okay, fair enough, the book is described as being a "new scale" of nature poetry, so what is it about? What moves here below the surface of the ear? What depths does the poet, and therefore we plumb? "A seed is a sound," the poem "Seed," begins, and we get beautiful alliteration, a whisper over ice, over seed pod, rattle of fall, a few flashes of wind, but nothing transforms. Nothing surprises after the first line: a seed is a sound. Yes, it is a sound, wonderful, and then?? A carafe is a blind glass. That's a new scale. I also kept thinking of Stevie Wonder's Secret Life of Plants, circa 1979 which knocked me out, but more practically, I thought of Lilburn who does this while taking us inside the sound, inside the smell of earth...

Still, about something, new in scale or not, this is lush poetry and a absolute pleasure to read. One of my favorite sections is "Weed Flower Mind," a further venturing,
of viscious, noisome feelings, unprofitable graine
encombring good corne: darnel, onion grass,
crabgrass; surging useless.
Untangle me.--Lost in the fallow,
you swing a rusted sickle and it takes you down.
But look, self-heal, heal-all. You are your own
poison...
Beautiful syllables rolling on the tongue, very fresh. But, remember the first time you saw Microcosmos and wondered how a filmmaker could create such drama out of a ladybug, such erotics from a snail? Remember hearing Un for the first time? Well, this doesn't give us that kind of wonder, doesn't leave us shaking in newness. It it is beautiful. I'm making much of this because I think presses should be held accountable for their blurbs, particularly when they seem intended to diss what has come before. Why? To what end is that a good move?

But also because it's simply an interesting question. Here is a poet furiously at work and it isn't his fault that his work is being spun a particular way. His work is doing this--this sound, this line, this beauty. Fair enough. Line after line of it, a delight to the ear: "breeds and breathes; scythe and seethe," just gorgeous. Not leaping off into a new way of thinking about anything to do with seed pods, "Weed-leaves hiding leaf-faces...", no, not quite new--as we might find with someone like Dennis Lee, for example, or as many-stranded, as we find in Steven Price, but lovely. Another impressive debut. One you must check out.

George Murray's Rush to Here (which I keep reading as Rush to Hear, an equally apt title) is a collection of sonnets. The sonnet is one of my favorite forms,and perhaps the traditional form most often attempted, though rarely made anything new of. There is sonnet as in Marilyn Hacker sonnet, and there is sonnet as in Ted Berrigan, or Bernadette Mayer, or bp Nichol. I've had the pleasure of listening to Hacker talk about the sonnet on many occasion, and for her the thing barely contains the emotional and lyrical force of her buckling against and into the world. Hearing her read can be like time traveling because she really is writing out of the 16th and 17th century, she really is speaking to Donne as much as Gwendolyn Brooks. There are those who question the relevance of the form for our time, but I'm not one of them. In the right hands any form is exciting. The sonnet can transform, can take the quotidian and give it a graceful vessel, particularly when met with equal force in terms of voice and content. It can also clunk like nobody's business. George Murray, in his latest book, just out with Nightwood, and a much more emotionally engaging and present book than his earlier two with M&S, soars.

Perhaps this is a poet coming into his own, a poet back in Canada, a poet settling into poetry, but there is more lightness here, more range, and a directness of voice--clear the speaker, clear the audience, that line, very direct. These are companionable poems. Mind, they aren't a perfect companion for this poet, but I can certainly recognize their companionability and further, can imagine them being carried around and dogeared. For this poet, that is the ultimate compliment. There's a reason why smart bookstores don't shelve Bukowski: he's companionable, irresistible to the poor young penniless poet, irresistible to the 5 am fop in the all night bookstore (the one in my mind...).

What makes this poetry interesting to me, aside from its formal concerns, is its willingness to wonder about the human condition, not simply to describe, or tell (more on this as I work on an essay on lyric, Jan Zwicky and Anne Simpson). I can go far with any voice that creates a space for me in a poem, a poet that invites me into their world (world that rings true). I grow so weary of the faux revelations in poetry, the earnest tone that mocks sincerity. There's none of that here. Take the poems "Collusion" and "The Corner," for example:
The crushed grass evidence of collusion:
the animals fuck themselves to bleeding.
Ouch! But there is a real attempt to see the angularity, the rawness, and not just that Mary Oliver pirouette of wonder (at what? at what?), but pushing it further. In "The Corner:"
The child's conception like a struck match,
an axe ringing off knots in trunk wood,
cloudy brains forming in the sky. The twin
of today is yesterday, or will

be tomorrow, yet each continues/follows,
different from the last/next. Like obstinate
math problems we line up, waiting, in effect,
for a dark age to pass; to be made public, fixed.
The poem is about many things, and none of them simple. In fact they are knotty, stubborn, surprising, not wholly knowable, beyond the glint of recognition: "I've met my match in my son, the mirror/image of his face constantly separating/from mine..." Very nice. There are wonderful surprises here. Even the line breaks are a pleasure--and so much contemporary poetry either abandons or forces line breaks these days.

Recently I wrote an essay on contemporary Canadian poetry for Gulf Coast Review (should be out any day...), and this sense of unhinging the word is one of the things I was looking at. It's an aspect of Canadian poetry that seems very strong, very original to me. Not that American poetry doesn't do this, but perhaps not in such a visceral way. I think this is evident in Open Field, and many of these new books would be at home in that field as well.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Anatomy of Keys

Steven Price, Anatomy of Keys, Brick 2006
Very intriguing to follow up Rob Winger's Muybridge's Horse with Steven Price's Anatomy of Keys. Both debut books from authors unknown to this reader, both falling into the category of "long poem," or "book length" poem; both engaging with historical figures, but otherwise very different. In fact, in some ways, while they don't identify the opposite ends of the long poem/prose or poetry debate, they do provide some useful counterpoints.

To be pointed, the poetic elements I yearned for in Winger's book abound in Price's. Here is a text in which the author appears and entangles, in which the author takes great leaps, stretching the narrative into a variety of philosophical and perhaps even moral, investigations, skittering as if the text were a great sheet of ice and reveling in alliteration and the reinvention of words. Fitting for a text about an illusionist. (Is it just me, or has Job from Arrested Development completely altered the word "illusionist?" Difficult to shake the residue of his performance--which, come on, has to be one of the great ones? But no, contemporary television does not belong in poetry, nor in a review of poetry... I have no idea why there are so many asides in this, which after all, is a serious review of a serious book.... Really. I'm sorry.)

Okay, yes, it's fitting for a text about an illusionist, this investigation of not only the language, but the poetic, which Price seems to be as open to scrutinizing as he is flaunting its inner elbows. And yes, I mean elbows, because this writing is not just muscular it's erotic and gymnastic: you get these intimacies
All autumn I lay between them, tangled in their cot
like a stiff, shrunken limb
and direct addresses: "be wayfarer, be water in this life," you get beautiful word groupings, a "snort of horses," a "slaughtered ruck of meat," and then "his dark arched carriage creaks across this page/and halts." Wondrous leaps.

What matters more to this reader than school of poetry is craft of poetry, and no matter what corner of the ring you start, or end up, it's the dance, the time in the ring that proves the text--lyric or non. This is a well-crafted text, full of play, full of questioning, very low doses of sentimentality. In fact it was a rare note I found "They say that blood-oranges/ weep when peeled..." for instance, but Price doesn't let that hang in the air, pregnant, he digs a rough thumb in and pushes deeper, deeper into the idea of blood, of tears, of surface, of words and their sonic relationship, as much as the gait of meaning.

This is one fine book. I have notes on every other page, and most of them pleasant responses, some questions--some wonderings about who is where and why. But largely they are scrawls of delight:
the stories key could tell,
still, of the rusted throats of cells, skeletal keys,
and keys knuckled like fingers, keys harsh-voiced
and stunned like a blaze of cold bells...
and of love
She'd tie his wrists
in sackcloth, tug
and lash each fist.
The burlap sagged.
Readers of this blog will think that I have nothing but love for the fall books we have darting at us with tremendous speed and frequency. Given the number that have not made an impression I would guess that the percentage discussed is still relatively low, but I admit there have been some strong offerings, and perhaps more delightful because I hadn't anticipated them.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

we can be adults in a crisis....

FYI: I haven't read it yet, but I hear great things about Naomi Klein's new book, and if you check out http://www.cbc.ca/ today you can catch a snippet of her on CBC's the hour.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Anatomy of Keys

Further to Muybridge's Horse we have Steven Price's Anatomy of Keys, which has preoccupied me for some weeks now. The number of book length prose poems published in Canada in the past few decades is as impressive in numbers as quality. We do this good. More on Anatomy to come....