Friday, November 28, 2008

Gary Barwin, a few words and a poem

LH: I've been following your blog on and off for a few years now. I'm very intrigued by the tooth and deer series, which for some reason I find as disturbing as it is compelling. Can you tell me where the idea for this came from?

GB: I’ve always had a fascination with deer, with teeth, and with antlers. In my walks through the woods of Hamilton, I frequently come across deer. There’s always the—what feels like—rare surprise of encountering a deer in my everyday life. The experience is typically fleeting, silent, and seems like an encounter with a parallel dimension. The deer exist predominantly in silence and invisibility between the trees of my world, hidden except when we come across each other at a gateway between my forest and theirs. I’m also aware that they appear to me as the flesh-and-blood analogues of images that I know from literature and song. It seems like antlers could sprout from anywhere. Teeth. Mailboxes. Toast.

Teeth aren’t surprising, but they also exist at a gateway. The gateway between some kind of unconscious experience, something on the edge of the psyche, and everyday life. They are also wonderfully absurd. When at the dentist, I always wondered, my mouth gurgling and full of instruments, the dentist picking at things and speaking a strange Dental Kaballah to the nurse, if the whole experience was not medical at all, but really a complex performance art piece performed at the expense of the patient/audience.

I’ve quite a few works exploring teeth as imagery. Teeth invoke speech, primal experiences of reality, childhood, and the oral, but are also like letters in an alphabet parallel to our own. Here’s a poem from my book, Raising Eyebrows, called “The Birth of Writing.” There’s a connection between teeth and the alphabet, between teeth and the keys of a typewriter, between teeth and childhood.

Somehow antlers and teeth seem to possess a similar literary weight for me. If one could construct a table like that of the periodic table, a table of weights and comparative properties on the subatomic level for images, they would be in the same family and share the same atomic weight or charge.

I don’t find the series to be disturbing, personally, though I can understand how it might be a bit, um, creepy, to some. I hope for it to be psychically and culturally rich in association and resonance.

LH: In a sense I think of this as nature poetry in the way that it makes us confront the human tendency to either graft whatever we find onto ourselves, or embed ourselves in whatever we see. The "deer and toothhead" for example. How do you see this work as relating to the larger Canadian strands of "nature poetry"?

GB: I’m glad that you make the connection with nature poetry. I do, too. I’ve been interested for a long time in how our experience of nature, indeed the whole notion of nature is mediated or constructed by language and by the arts. Our language, our culture, our image hoard developed from our relation to nature. ‘Light’ is nature. So is ‘dark.’ And, of course, on some basic level, our bodies are nature. The multidimensional spacetime of contemporary signification has rivers of Canadian nature poetry running through it, not to mention a cirrostratus layer of nature painting and music. In a way, I think all of our experience of nature is ‘post-natural,’ and so, while acknowledging this, and indeed relishing the iconography of toasters, dishtowels, and candy wrappers, I hope to reclaim some of the resonant authority of the world of runes, petroglyphs, and lichen, and explore how there is a green fuse of sorts running through our language, our experience, and the light switches of our consciousnesses.

LH: Equally compelling are the poems you have been posting with the visual poems. For example the poem "Inverting The Deer" (which appears at the end of this interview):
the deer of this earth have been doubly inverted
once, and their antlers point toward the centre

(the antlers of inverted deer point toward
the antlers of every other inverted deer)

once again, and their antlers point toward space
and later,
fish swim around the remembered hooves of deer
they understand
they understand
they know
These are funny, poignant poems. In Canada we don't seem able to appreciate humour in poetry. Do you feel you are in conversation with Canadian poets?

GB: Yes. I definitely feel a sense of conversation / dialogue. We have a brilliant tradition of “funny, poignant” in Canada. Stuart Ross and David McFadden come immediately to mind. But we have a wide range of other writers who use humour as a significant part of their work, for example, writers ranging from bpNichol, Kevin Connolly, Hugh Thomas, Frank Davey, to Christian Bok, Robert Kroetsch, Steve McCaffery, Anne Carson, and George Bowering, to list just a few.

I feel that Canadian writers and readers thinking about humour are in more direct conversation with Americans. Or rather the Canadians are in conversation with each other about those Americans. The writers I'm referring to here use humour to question the assumptions of the poetry itself, to bordercross, to investigate the construction of meaning and discourse. It isn’t diversion from 'important concerns' but is an intrinsic and significant part of their overall project.

I have the feeling that the ability to trust humour in poetry is a mark of a confident tradition and an unapologetically sophisticated literary culture. I’m really pleased to see the call for papers for an upcoming Open Letter on humour in experimental Canadian poetry. I think it’s an important beginning.

LH: That is good news about the Open Letter call. Thinking too about the relationship between tone and humour. We can have a lightness in verse, but it seems to need to be of a certain note.... You posted two versions of the "Tooth & Antler" image. One with stars and one without. I thought that the version with the stars revealed a slightly more earnest gesture. Is there one you prefer, and are these part of a larger project?

GB: The continuum from earnestness to irony is an important concern in my work. I imagine exploring ironic earnestness and earnest irony. I’m not entirely sure which image I prefer, though I tend towards minimalist, stripped-down images such as the one without the stars. Recently, I’ve been interested in exploring the complex meanings of apparently simple work. The “Tooth & Antler” images are part of a developing series of such images. For me, series develop haphazardly, organically, chaotically, like choosing a route across a highway busy with cars.

LH: "Molar + A + O" =?

GB: Molar + A + O = Three letters from a parallel alphabet. Three teeth from a parallel mouth. Three icons from a parallel culture.

LH: You teach high school I believe, and from what I can tell on your blog, you're very engaged in pedagogical questions as well as the world around you--recent references to Algonquin and outdoor education. Is there some strand of this thinking in your poetry as well? Do you introduce your students to this work? If so, how do they engage with it?

GB: Actually, I usually teach music in middle school. Primarily Grades Five and Six. However, as my school is from K to 12, I often have occasion to teach high school kids. The main interaction students have with my work is through my children’s writing, both picture books and YA novels. In fact, the Grade Sevens study a YA novel of mine for English. However, more generally, they know me as a writer and I provide lots of creative writing opportunities in my music classes. I do think that allowing creative exploration is important for kids. Too often they are shut down by the goal orientation of the curriculum and by some utilitarian notion of learning. I try to encourage and validate the creative imaginations of my students. I also try to lead by example. Many of my students seem to feel empowered by my appreciation of their flights of ‘wayward fancy’ and their humour. I try to engage with them as young creators or imaginators, not just as ‘students’.


In thinking about these questions, I came up with these brainstorming explanations:


Antlers are diacritic, a growing, a branching, a choosing of routes. A fluorescence, or florescence, something dendritic. They are the potential of things externalized, a thought growing outward, reaching outward. The blooming of the sign, a crowning.

Humans, animals, letters are trees, antlers, are the fractal shapes of crystals, are signs, experiences, realities in flux.

And punctuation lives in quiet symbiosis around the walls of the castle of letters, the mystic serfs of the alphabet, sworn to silence, to breathing only.


All these glyphs reveal a secret art, an alchemy outside the church of words. And a tooth is a new letter, an alternate sign, a resonant archetype from a parallel alphabet.

These images connect the tooth to the alphabet, an alphabet connected to the mouth, to the tongue, to the place where the sounds of consonants are formed. But yet the tooth is a letter, a sound, a meaning extracted from the mouth, fallen. It is a sign out of place, removed from the locus of signification, from the place of utterance. It becomes itself, its own talking head. It is a megalith, a dental henge, an inukshuk.

The mouth is an alphabet of teeth. The air is an alphabet of potential antlers.

LH: Do you know Tim Lilburn’s work? He has an ongoing and intense relationship to deer as well, and though it still falls in the rubric of the romantic poet, it’s nowhere near as romantic as someone like Mary Oliver; her much cited poem, “Picking Blueberries, Austerlitz, New York, 1957.” Here the deer “stumbles” against the poet who surmises that the deer is “busy with her own happiness…” I am deeply troubled by the representations of animals in contemporary poetry…it seems we have no ability to describe our relationship.

GB: Yes, I know Lilburn's work, though not well enough. Some of his work is wonderfully overgrown and brambly.

I am intrigued by how we represent animals and by extension, ourselves and our relationship to the things around us. In fact, representations of our representations of animals have occurred throughout my work; my first full collection was called “Cruelty to Fabulous Animals” (Moonstone Press). The magic thinking of traditional cultures is based on the idea that our relationship with the things around us is filled with the potential for fluidity and change, the transformation from human to animal, vice versa, and states, both physical and mental, in between, and how animals may talk or enter into non-hierarchical relation to humans in these tales. One day a ‘wild animal,’ one day a ‘talking animal’ in a fable, one day a coat. Of course, I’m also interested in how our notion of animals relates to the possibility that our shag carpeting may talk to us. Or that our appliances may look at us with the steady, gentle gaze of deer. I found a hunter squatting by the kitchen sink, eyeing my refrigerator greedily.

Is our relationship to animals hierarchical? Are we fellow travellers? Are we ought-to-be-humble pilgrims on a permanent pilgrimage through the sacred wilderness of the universe or are we at the top of food/value chain? Is it as we joke in my family when not feeding table our dog from the table, “Sorry Dude, better luck with evolution next time. We won.”?

In terms of value, I don’t think that the contemporary world, generally, has sorted out our relationship with animals, and with nature in general. We are nature but yet we’re not natural. Animals aren’t us but yet they may be us in our stories. Animals may be more closely connected to ‘nature,’ or they may be our belts. Or both.

LH: I wonder about the relationship of metaphor to eco-poetry. You mention that your students “seem to feel empowered by (your) appreciation of their flights of ‘wayward fancy.’” I’m wondering about imagination as a force of eco-poetics. We seem focused on “capturing” in some way the natural world before it becomes “unnatural.” Again, thinking of Canadian poets such as Don McKay and Jan Zwicky for example. Here we see metaphor as a kind of flight of fancy, but it seems to operate within a very specific, representative system...

GB: I see an analogy between how we think of ‘vision’ and how we represent our relationship with nature. Vision is a paradox. When we look, it’s not that our vision beams out at the world as if our eyes were headlights, but that light from the world enters into our eyes, though we tend to conceive of it otherwise. We have the same paradoxical relation with nature. We’re caught between imagining that we shape it with our vision (shining our conceptual light upon it) and having it shape our vision.

To go back to our discussion of deer, I think that when we see a real world ‘deer’, it is a sign, a signifier, and not the signified. When we look at nature, it is as if we are looking into a massive dictionary. Under ‘deer,’ there are many definitions, and its various meanings can be cited from contexts throughout history. We can’t look at a deer, or at anything at all, and see some objective and pure notion of that deer or that thing.

Just as ‘history teaches that history teaches,’ I feel that ‘writing represents that writing represents.’

I see the imagination not as shaping nature, or capturing it (or indeed as some kind of conceptual taxidermy, but rather, as being nature. The history of everything is the imaginative unfolding of the universe. Evolution is the brainstorming, the free writing of the natural world.

A few days ago, I was gardening at the end of my yard, when a bird flew onto my shoulder. We spoke about going green and about the environmental impact of each of our species. It was worried about its nest. We talked about our instincts and our interest in novelty and imagination. I talked about evolving a new language for my poetry. It spoke of becoming a new species. It gave me a gift of some feathers. I taught it how to create nouns. Then one of us flew away.

From Gary Barwin's blog serif of nottingblog "Inverting the Deer"

for Craig Conley


the deer of this earth have been doubly inverted
once, and their antlers point toward the centre

(the antlers of inverted deer point toward
the antlers of every other inverted deer)

once again, and their antlers point toward space


do not touch deer
and you will not touch deer

do not walk on deer
and you will not walk on deer

do not mourn deer when you are dying
though their noses are against the glass

do not mourn deer when you are dying
though their minds are edgeless


fish swim around the remembered hooves of deer
they understand
they understand
they know


antlers grow toward deer
the deer which grow toward the ground

the wind rustles the hair of deer
the deer are a harp


when the first trees
whose home was the water
whose home was the sky
began to die
the deer did not know what to do

and so, their smooth heads wrinkling
their hooves beating the water
their hooves beating the air
they ran through the world weeping

until they planted the branches
and ran over the world
trees growing like memories
from the tops of old televisions
from the tops of old brown heads


there is only a single vast deer
and there is no longer sky

the deer has but one season
and the hunters wait for it

after a great while
they become trees
and bullets lose their green

night falls in the skyless rivers
& a deer’s breath warms the sky

Gary Barwin is a writer, composer, and performer. His music and writing have been published and presented in Canada, the US, and overseas. He received a PhD in Music Composition and was the recipient of the KM Hunter Foundation Artist Award for his writing. Seeing Stars, a YA novel, was a finalist for both Canadian Library Association YA book of the year, and an Arthur Ellis Award. His poetry includes Outside the Hat and Raising Eyebrows (both Coach House) and, with derek beaulieu, frogments from the frag pool (Mercury) His fiction includes Doctor Weep and other strange teeth and Big Red Baby. The Briefcase Hand, a new poetry collection, is forthcoming from Coach House. Lives in Hamilton, Ontario and teaches music at Hillfield Strathallan College. He can be found at and

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Jason Dewinitz: Conversation ending with a poem

LH: Jason, thanks for agreeing to this little dialogue. I want to start by saying how much I enjoyed Greenboathouse, not only the beautiful chapbooks, but the website itself. There is a big gap in Canadian poetry now that your site is inactive. It was one of the few sites that one could click on and find consistently intriguing work and positive energy. I know you have your reasons for moving on from the web venture, but I wonder if you can comment on the experience of the web, internet publishing, and whether or not you see anything dynamic happening online now.

JD: When I started Greenboathouse Books I had absolutely no experience with publishing. In terms of production, for the most part I was simply hacking together things with paper and staples, embarrassing attempts that left me entirely unsatisfied. The web, on the other hand, was a relatively simple and inexpensive media to learn and utilize. Sitting in a quiet room and tinkering with code fit my temperament, and I found the maze of late-90s html intriguing.

I was also going through an intense feeding stage with Canadian writing and I just couldn’t seem to get enough of it. A shift seemed to be taking place then towards a more crafted, form-driven poetry, and yet it was simultaneously exploring content that I found far more interesting because it was working with a looser understanding of meaning and meaning creation. The poststructural notion of disparate reference systems was becoming ingrained in contemporary writing (whether the authors knew it or not), and these new webs of understanding were resulting in some very unconventional and often surprising work. This sort of stuff was ideal for the web, and from a purely means-of-production position, the web was where I was able to work at the time.

Thus, while producing the Greenboathouse Reading Series in Vernon every summer, I had a fairly steady flow of new writing coming my way in the form of visiting writer from across the country. I was also keen to look in on as many literary events as I could, and, at about the same time, I was also going to school, first in Victoria, then Edmonton, and then touring a book, so I was coming in contact with some very intriguing people cranking out really intriguing work.

The result of this was first the Greenboathouse Poetry Archive (on the website) – along with the evolving series of chapbooks from Greenboathouse Books – and eventually the Variant Project, which Aaron Peck and I came up with to see what a random group of writers might do with a single thematic referent. Again, the web was ideal for this project as the reader could jump from one poem to another, quickly, and explore a variety of investigations of a given topic, which is what the web is all about.

All of this was a lot of fun, and I was also working freelance designing websites for a variety of clients, so, again, from a Marxist point of view, the economics of working as a freelance designer was keeping me involved with the web, and thus at least some of my creative energies were thriving there.

During this time, however, I was also falling in love with fine-press books, and I began to realize that this was the direction I wanted to move in, and away from the web. The reading series and the website did, it seems, serve a sort of community purpose, and I’m glad they’ve done so, but after half a decade, these projects were becoming repetitive from a personal-creative position, and thus were no longer challenging me.

I realized that it was time for a fairly significant change. My book design interests were beginning to take solid shape, and thus the activity of the Greenboathouse website began to slow. I have no regrets about this, because around the same time all kinds of other, similar things were popping up. The blogging world was beginning to take off, with BookNinja, Lemon Hound,, and dozens of other contemporary lit sites popping up, offering a more interactive environment to look at new writing; each of these has taken on-line Canadian poetics much further than the Greenboathouse site ever did, and it’s great to see these sites cranking out the discussion. Facebook has allowed for the creation of book clubs and small-press publishing groups, and all of this is creating a new literary community that, ironically, I find myself shying away from more and more.

LH: Greenboathouse won several design awards, not surprisingly. One of which I believe was for a chapbook of mine in fact. Or, rather a chapbook that contained my work because clearly the artifact was your brainchild. If I recall, the dialogue around that chapbook went on for a year or so, with several intricate proofs following discussions on design etc. I mention this because clearly you have a sense of work ethic combined with an intense perfectionism. Can you comment on how difficult that process is to maintain, and how you think chapbooks of this quality fair in the publishing world.

JD: Again, as above, I’m not particularly concerned with how the books fair in the publishing world. In fact, the publishing world is a rather disparaging place, and, frankly, I don’t really want much to do with it. Which isn’t to say there aren’t folks out there hammering away with very good intentions, but that the economics of publishing make it nearly impossible to maintain any kind of good intention. Most of the books we read in Canada – that is, the objects we hold in our hands – can hardly be called books. They’re usually cranked out by someone in-house who has little or no design or typographic background, and everything is deadline-based and economics-ruled. Publishing is a business, after all.

That said, there are a handful of publishers working hard to push back. Gaspereau has been very successful at combining quality writing with quality book production, Coach House and Anansi still put out a nice book (although not the books they each once made), Pedlar is doing very nice work, Nightwood (with Carleton Wilson’s help) have put out some solid books, and Jay Millar (Book Thug) has taken the leap from micro-press to trade. But, for the most part, the technical and economic realities of trade publishing are just too demanding to do anything all that interesting. I don’t mean this to sound like a complaint, it’s just the way it is. If you want books in as many hands as possible, to get the work out there, it becomes about money, and, to my mind, money is antithetical to quality when it comes to books.

To actually answer the question, though, the print runs have always been small with Greenboathouse titles, and thus most of the books are sold before the project is even released. Sometimes it takes a bit of time, but they move – mainly, I think, to folks who have picked up our books before, or have heard about them from friends. I’m not all that keen on promoting, or selling for that matter. I end up giving half of the books away. Once I’m finished making a run, my main interest is the next project, so what happens to those already made is relatively incidental. This might sound like I don’t care if anyone reads the books, which isn’t the case at all. As I said, they sell and are given away, and I like to think (guided by feedback) that the people who wind up with them take them as a breath of fresh air. They’ve been small, humble, but nurtured slowly and with care, and I do hope they feel good in the hand while being enjoyed for what the writers have put up for offer.

As for maintaining a combined productive urge and a slowing perfectionism, the two seem to maintain each other. Every book is a challenge, and, honestly, I usually have no idea what the thing will become. If I did, I wouldn’t bother. It’s the mild panic with each project that I enjoy, the risks, the potential blunders, and the crisp moment when it comes together. It’s very similar to writing, I suppose, but lately I’m enjoying this more than writing. Perfectionism certainly doesn’t have a lot to do with it: there’s no such thing, of course, but I do suppose I try to find the right way to get something done. Of course, the challenge and risk has recently been taken up about 100 notches with the shift to hand-set letterpress production. Which leads to your next question.

LH: You are moving on to bigger and better things. Will we see a resurgence of your online presence in tandum with your new venture?

JD: There’s a new site developed, almost finished actually (to be launched early in the new year), but it won’t involve much in terms of on-line publishing. The site is massively expanded, but focused far more on the fine-press world: plenty of information about letterpress printing, a growing photo gallery documenting the setting-up of the print shop, type specimens of all of the metal faces in the cabinets, etc., etc. But between teaching, freelancing, and production, I just don’t have the time anymore to keep an ongoing web project running. Reading on the web has never been something I’ve enjoyed anyway; like most, I think, I want something made of paper in my hands if I’m going to sit back to read.

LH: In terms of your own sense of poetics, I notice that you are a poet not engaged in a specific school of thought, but rather a ranging attention to aesthetic and intelligent inquiry. Do you see a place where this kind of discussion about poetry is fostered in Canada?

JD: Interesting phrase: “where this kind of discussion about poetry is fostered…” As though such a discussion requires “fostering.” Hmm. Anyway. Where do I see such discussion taking place? Your site, of course. Actual conversations with other writers, one on one. I don’t really know what’s going on in the academic or lit. scenes these days; I gave most of that up after my MA. I’d had enough. Enough of talking about things. Makes me think of that Pound quote: “What is the use of talking! / And there is no end of talking— / there is no end of things in the heart.” I love the double take on that, but, for the most part, I prefer the angle that speaks to the uselessness of talking (yeesh). Barry McKinnon had this great book in the 70s called I Wanted to Say Something, and in college I wrote a paper on it called “I Wanted to Say Nothing.” While I suppose I might still be called a writer, I’m drawn more and more to this idea of saying nothing. Who the hell am I to say much of anything? And, for better or worse (most likely for the worse), I find myself less and less interested in what any particular “scene” has to say. It’s mainly self-aggrandizing and/or bitching about other camps anyway. Blah, blah, blah.

LH: You recently began teaching at the Okanagan College. I love your pedagogical statement. Particularly the idea of "finding a balance between various literary conventions (including the mechanics and structure of writing) and a critical approach largely rooted in hermeneutics." Looking back at my own experience in creative writing classes I realize that no one was talking about poetry as a way of engaging intellectually, or as a continuation of reading and thinking. To think of craft, for example, or voice, as the crux of a poetic journey, seems stilted. Is your pedagogical position based on your experience in the classroom, or in your own thinking/working and community thinking?

JD: Again, this is somewhat personal and biased, but I find myself really quite uninterested in what an author is attempting to do, because quite often when I ask authors about their work, they clearly weren’t aware of half of what they were doing anyway. The text is the thing, right? And I appreciate it and am fascinated by it for what it is: a strange matrix of letterforms on a page that construct a certain kind of meaning one moment to one person, and something quite different in and to the next. The poststructural slate-cleaning struck me as a wonderful kind of freedom (although I’ve seen it cause some pretty serious panic in others), because it helped to kick ego a bit further down the hole. If there’s no truth, there’s no need to seek it, and there’s certainly no reason to inflict it on others, whether it’s “the” truth or some kind of misguided “personal” truth. And so, I’ve become more and more interested in how meaning is created, rather than whatever the particular meaning might be. This, of course, also feeds my interest in typography, and it certainly guides my pedagogical approach, not only in teaching English, but also creative writing and design.

LH: The question of poetic camps keeps coming up in various ways for me these days. For my own part, I have never been able to be part of a school of anything, or a posse of anything. Nor could I figure out why one might want to secure oneself to one way of thinking about, or approaching poetry, or anything for that matter. Recently it occurs to me that one reason might simply be a matter of having support for one's opinions, a constant stream of reassurance that one is on the right track (or helpful nudging of one along a particular track). Tempting as that is, I prefer to set my own course, and I refuse to choose sides in these poetry wars (to the extent that one can *not* choose sides...). I sense you have a similar experience and wonder if refusing the dominant discourse of one's time necessarily makes one prone to being a loner, or an outsider, and if so, whether this is a positive experience.

JD: I’m right with you on this (which is a bit funny, given the topic). The thing is, I killed myself from 17 to my mid-20s trying to figure something out, and by my mid-20s it became fairly clear that there was no figuring it out. It’s all a big shit-show, really, and, to me, when writing becomes an attempt to edify a reader, I get queasy. Scenes do the same thing, or try to. They have a tendency to become agenda driven, and perhaps that is, as you suggest, simply about validation. But validation is all ego, just ego in disguise. Most of the ‘scenes’ I’ve come across have something they want to privilege, hence the group formation to champion a given cause, and in turn to pump up one’s own sense of worth. But isn’t the point to both recognize that all causes are groundless, and to move towards a cause-less exploration? What kind of exploration can there be if it’s limited by a cause? There’s so bloody much I don’t know, and this enormous gap will, I know, keep me busy, too busy to sit in one camp shouting slogans. And so one whittles it down, I suppose, and focuses on the things that provide a sense of personal challenge and reward. And then it’s time to move on.

For my part, this movement has led more and more to a pursuit of something really quite ridiculous: setting metal type by hand, one letter at a time. A good lamp, the CBC, and a few hours of this and I’m really quite happy. Kevin (McPherson) comes by sometimes, and we talk about type and books and other things, and we work while we talk, and it is in the doing that we connect. But, for the most part, I’m less and less inclined towards group activities these days.

So, to answer your question (finally), I have no idea if being a loner is necessary to resisting a common (that is, bland, widely-held – I’m not big on the notion of ‘dominant’) discourse, but it probably helps. I just can’t seem to shake the idea I’ve had since I was 15 that if lots of folks dig it, it must be crap. And that goes for literary trends and movements too.

LH: Is there someone you are reading right now that is exciting you? And on the matter of reading, how do you approach that as a writer? I'm thinking of the tendency toward intertextual readings. Who we read simultaneously can have such an impact on our reading and writing.

JD: For the last couple of years I’ve been reading non-fiction almost exclusively, in particular books on books, typography, the history of printing, etc. This has turned into a bit of a fixation, scouring ABE for rare titles and staying up late reading pages that stink of dust and damp. Such books, however, wouldn’t make for interesting discussion here, but I’ll mention that I’ve been especially drawn to books on Nicholas Jenson and the early Venetian printers of the 15th century. Aside from this stuff, I’m reading bits & pieces here and there: things that come into Greenboathouse (including recent manuscripts from Jan Zwicky & Robert Bringhurst), other things I find at used stores, chapbooks from a variety of very small fine presses, etc. I can’t remember the last time I read a book of poetry or fiction from start to finish, but I tend to have a half dozen books on the go at any given moment. At the moment I’m reading 3 different translations of Dostoyevsky’s Notes from Underground, as I’m planning to print an edition in a couple of years. It was a pivotal book for me in my late teens, inflicting considerable psychological damage, but I’m wrapped up in the idea of setting it by hand, perhaps as a way of exorcising it. I don’t know if this speaks to your comment regarding intertexual readings, but this mixture fits with my temperament, in that I tend to have a lot on the go most of the time, and mixing texts this way both informs and inscribes each page I’m looking at, just as my various activities do the same. I suppose one could make some sort of comment about multiplicity or juxtaposition or the always shifting poststructural matrix of language and meaning, but at the end of the day it just makes for a more interesting experience while breathing.

LH: Is it possible to end this interview with a poem from you?

Perhaps it’s better that your night vision is getting worse;
that you can’t tell if the road is giving way to a slow decline
or leading you to the edge of a cliff.

Perhaps the deer you see at the last second as the car passes
had meant to conceal themselves; not interested in
your prying glance, your inflicted romanticism.

Perhaps the moon, distracting you repeatedly
thinking it an oncoming car – one headlight burnt out,
the other cracked – is trying to tell you something.

The twist in your stomach is not from the coffee after dinner,
the rush to get back to Sundre before
1am, the flashing signs
warning of animal crossings up the 22 past

It is not that you can’t see where you’re going.
That uncertainties threaten disaster. It is not that an animal
might lift its head, turn to your rushing headlong, and devour you.

Maybe it’s that you are returning,
again, to what you’d thought, at last,
you’d left for good and all.

Jason Dewinetz is a writer, publisher, graphic designer & typographer originally from, and now living back in the Okanagan Valley. The author of The Gift of a Good Knife (Outlaw Editions), In Theory (above/ground press), and moving to the clear (NeWest Press), Jason's poetry and fiction have appeared in literary anthologies & journals across Canada including Grain, Prairie Fire, PRISM International, The Pottersfield Portfolio and Descant.

With Michael O'Driscoll he is also the co-author of A Bibliography of the Black Sparrow Press Archive, a detailed catalogue of the University of Alberta's collection of the Black Sparrow Press' first 94 publications.

A past instructor at the University of Victoria (Publication Design), and currently at Okanagan College (English/Creative Writing/Publication Design), Jason is also the founding editor, publisher & designer of Greenboathouse Press, a small letterpress shop publishing limited edition chapbooks by writers from across Canada. Jason's design for Greenboathouse has brought in multiple consecutive Alcuin Award for Excellence in Book Design in Canada, and in 2008 he served as one of three judges for this national competition.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Ryan Fitzpatrick reads Katie Degentesh


when Serbs get mad, they talk
about a small town like Grace

Stop laughing; I’m serious
Grace is all I can afford on my nursing home wages

I pity her for the thankless job of building
A nation of Americans conceived in petri dishes.

Whores are disposable.
They get strangled, beaten, tortured, raped ...

in old motels, diners, train stations, or whatever,
and I think about Capri Sun bags when it happens.

As he unzips his pants I realize that I’m
what happens to us when the curtain goes down

no one cares much for the body parts
murderer creeping up behind her

Look, poetry, painting, writing ...
People don’t get it like they should.

But it exists because it’s a link to what we can
accomplish through our Academic Plan

no mattter how public it all seems
there’s a forced casualness to this conversation

I’ve been out here shooting long snough
I know even a public toilet will net you jail time

Because when it comes to that word, “nigger,”
- I know that this is illegal -

it’s like the emergence of yet another guilty, white Southern male
as the fat lady continues to sing

“when they were first created the thing
was to make them as white as possible”

as long as we are laughing
at Rush Limbaugh’s addiction

remember that Mt. Rushmore was itself
the creation of an ardent member of the Ku Klux Klan

from The Anger Scale

I’d like to begin by going back to something Jason Christie said in his post: writers are “beginning to effortlessly switch between avant-garde writing and lyric writing without the hand-wringing that usually accompanies such a movement.” While Jason writes specifically about my writing in his post, this is something that has been on my mind as well. How might a writer bring the tools of the lyric to bear on an experimental or radical writing? Most of the writing that inspires and engages me combines these impulses, especially in texts that create provocative spaces that are both post-humanist and post-avant; in other words, I am interested in poetic spaces where the writing suggests possible syntactic utopias without ignoring the social particulars of contemporary life.

One of the recent contemporary strains of poetry that strikes me in this way is Flarf. Despite its seeming randomness and reputation as deliberately stupid, Flarf represents a poetic deeply invested in affect. At its best, the work associated with Flarf produces complex matrices of voices (human or not) enveloped not in socially and syntactically accepted structures of meaning (though often flirting with social logics of different types) but in shifting and exaggerated versions of those structures evoking the more something than something that Baudrillard proposes in Fatal Strategies:
What might also make us wonder is this going beyond the social, the irruption of the more social than social – the mass; this is a social that has absorbed all the inverse energies of the antisocial, of inertia, resistance and silence. Here the logic of the social reaches its limit – the point where it inverts its finalities and reaches its point of inertia and extermination, but at the same time approaches ecstasy. Masses are the ecstasy of the social, the ecstatic form of the social, the mirror where it is reflected in all its immanence. (p. 29)
Flarf is more social than social and I am attracted to Flarf for that reason. It interests me when Flarf (and other types of writing) finds places where the extreme introversion of the paranoiac meets the extroversion of the activist. In other words, one of the concerns of Flarf is the intersections between public and private languages, between the social mass and its anti-social impulses, and between the over-personalized truths of a lyrical humanist poetic tradition and the anti-humanist impulses of the avant-garde. The one project that I find particularly striking in Flarf writing because of these issues is Katie Degentesh’s exemplary book, The Anger Scale, where Degentesh examines public definitions of normalcy as set against the individual language used to describe, interact, justify, and cope with those definitions.

The interplay between public and private in Degentesh’s poem is important. When, at the end of the poem, we are asked to “remember that Mt. Rushmore was itself / the creation of an ardent member of the Ku Klux Klan,” we are also implicitly asked to consider the implications of the intersection of the extreme patriotism of Mt. Rushmore and the virulent racism of the Klan. In 2008, this detail is striking. As I watch the current American election and the thought of an African-American president very quickly becomes possibility, I see a mass coalescing, retroactively evoked in these final lines of Degentesh’s poem in an individual, that acts as a kind of hive mind. The mass of individuals recently gathering at McCain/Palin rallies – or at least the representations of those groups on services like YouTube or in stories later related on more traditional media – act out of a communal self-interest – a spirit of “let’s call the other guy an A-rab Terrorist, so he doesn’t make us communists.” This is a mass invested in harm and that owes a debt to a series of wheezing and failing ideas.

Coming out of this idea of self-interest is another pair of contrasting ideas that dominate Degentesh’s text: care and harm. “Care” is fronted immediately in the title as an important concern, but it is framed in a negative way and the poem follows this thread, being about not caring or actively harming or the reciprocal fear that comes with either of these. Immediately, Degentesh opens her poem with this fear when an early voice in the poem mentions that “when Serbs get mad, they talk / about a small town like Grace” and the fear of harm is obvious. What might these “Serbs” do? Degentesh’s use of “serb” as a mark of foreignness could be compared to a conflation of “muslim” and “arab,” but might more usefully be compared to the current conflation of “Obama” and “Osama.” “Serb” is a negative word not because of any real political or cultural meanings, but because it sounds foreign. In contrast, the name of the town they talk about in anger is a word filled with positive connotations.

From here, the poem moves through a series of references to disposability: “Whores are disposable,” Americans are “conceived in petri dishes,” abused women make the speaker think of “Capri Sun bags.” Even the opening lines, delivered with such seriousness, are immediately undercut by the thought that someone off screen is laughing at them. Through much of the poem, Degentesh successfully evokes a culture of disposability, a culture of indifference, and a culture of not caring. It’s striking then, when later in the poem, Degentesh notes that “no matter how public it all seems / there’s a forced casualness to this conversation,” which suggests that even in public discourse there is a culture of indifference and even in a situation where we might deeply care about an issue, we might find ourselves forcing an air of “not caring.” Strangely, care here is attached to self-interest and a desire to “make them as white as possible.” Normalcy and deviance make up an important thread of ideas across Degentesh’s book, so the evocation of the deviant (whores, non-whites, culturally unsanctioned “poetry, painting, writing,” etc) as disposable suggests to me that a casual-minded public face of caring for these deviant groups may be symptomatic of a greater desire to ignore or, worse, harm those whose deviate from a normative position.

Working in a poetic that is both multi-valent and articulately human, Degentesh creates a space that casually articulates an anger toward the casualness we use to describe the politically grave – a space that, to paraphrase Baudrillard once more, is more casual than casual. Degentesh avoids the blunt obviousness of much political poetry in favour of work that focuses on the strange and idiosyncratic human impulses that grow out of larger political structures. Degentesh’s work is as portrait of North American society as a mass that is focused not on our human faces, but on how we react to the debts we owe to the spectral forces that haunt and possess us. It is a portrait of impressions and acts, of investments and debts, of blank eyes and irrationality.

fitzpatrick lives and writes in Calgary. He is a former editor of filling Station magazine and is co-curator of the Flywheel Reading Series. His first book, FAKE MATH, was released by Snare Books in the fall of 2007.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Meredith Quartermain reads Margaret Christakos

queen (9-10 p.m., Eastern Standard Time)

I was just trimming the beard about my sex
(Sorry if you did not know royal women do this)

And nipped in error the skin between my mound and
Thigh, a tissue cleavage as soft and unhurt

As any among my husband’s old properties. An alcohol
Pad is there pressed, and stings me, burns

Bacterial moat-hoppers that could get exited
About trouncing the king to the velveteen purse.

He says he should be the only one to course
Me, that the belt is the equal of one hundred

Warships in the South Pacific. He boasts
I am lucky. When I first eyed the silver scissor

I thought to slice my wrist, but a vast canopy
Of solitude brought me to my vanities, and how

My fusspot maidens were having tea just then. To groom
Any part of my own flesh is sure subversion. So

I choose the nearest I can pinch to my blackish
Hole, and begin by candlelight, in a commode, to snip.

Margaret Christakos, What Stirs, Coach House 2008

When I read this poem in Christakos’s latest book, I thought how much it epitomizes the sexy-saucy feminist narratives I’ve found in her other work. She once commented to me that narrative is a wonderful form precisely because you can stretch its envelope to include all sorts of other material; “Queen” is a good example of this.

Christakos gets our attention by talking about what polite society doesn’t mention: intimate grooming, especially that of a queen trimming her pubic hair. Yet the queen has snipped her own flesh; this makes the poem doubly fascinating to me -- how can one make a poem or a story out of sordid details like cuts and alcohol swabs? These images are startlingly mingled with sensual, erotically suggestive words like “cleavage” “mound” “thigh” and “nipped,” which jostle against the surface narrative of cuts and the elegant form of the poem, its stately couplets so befitting a queen.

There is an angry undercurrent to this poem emerging with the link between the queen’s body and her “husband’s old properties.” The thread continues with “bacterial moat-hoppers”; the poem imagines bacteria leaping the moat to the king’s castle and thus beating the king in the competition for the prize, “the velveteen purse” (i.e. the queen’s vagina). The queen’s status as property is further emphasized by the king’s idea that he should be the “only one to course/ Me.” The word “course” is stunning here. I dug out the old Oxford (the one with the magnifying glass) and found many meanings for the verb “course” including the following: 1. to pursue or hunt game with hounds; 2. to chase, run after; 3. to persecute, worry, trouble; 4. to chase or drive with blows, hence to drub, trounce, thrash; 5. to run, gallop; and 6. to steer or direct one’s course. This single word “course” used as a transitive verb makes the queen’s body into a race course, a place to hunt game, a place of drubbing and trouncing, something to persecute and worry, or something in any case to direct and steer.

No wonder the queen is so despairing that she has considered suicide (“I thought to slice my wrist”). The king sees his “belt” (I assume a chastity belt) as equivalent to the guard of a hundred warships. He thinks the queen is lucky. But clearly the queen does not agree. However, the queen is determined to defy her status as property in whatever way she can within the confines of her existence: “To groom/ Any part of my own flesh is sure subversion.” By the time we reach the end of the poem, the defiance of the queen has merged with the defiance of Christakos herself -- in the provocative image of the queen’s “blackish hole” -- a queen sitting on a commode, the seat of other vulgar bodily functions. Christakos leaves us with a portrait of sexual oppression: a queen may be royal but she is still someone to be fucked; she is still locked in as husband’s property, as are many many women in the world today.

Christakos adroitly cross-cuts interestingly archaic language (“eyed the silver scissor” “moat” “trounce” “course” “flesh”) with erotic and sensual language (eg. “burns”) as well as startling images. This is Pope’s “Rape of the Lock” revisited with a vengeance.

Copyright © 2008 Meredith Quartermain

Meredith Quartermain's Vancouver Walking won the BC Book Award for Poetry in 2006. Matter, her playful riff on Roget, came out from Bookthug in Spring 2008, and Nightmarker is just out from NeWest. Her work has appeared in The Walrus, CV2, Prism International, The Capilano Review, West Coast Line, the Windsor Review, Canadian Literature and many other literary magazines. She is the co-founder of Nomados Literary Publishers.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Zhang Huan, notes toward an essay on

Whenever someone tells me I'm intense, I think of conceptual artist Marina Abromovic, and one of my favorite discoveries of the past few years, Zhang Huan. I discovered the latter quite by accident, having already made my tour of Chelsea, and heading down 10th Avenue to the village I passed by Max Lang, a gallery I had never been to.
The above image called out to me as I passed, and I think it's difficult to argue with its power. For Huan, the image itself is evidence of the performance. His work over the years has included covering himself in honey and sitting in an overused, unsanitary bathroom near his studio as flies covered his body, prostrating himself across a wide swath of concrete, lying on a bed of ice as you see below, and so on. Clearly he's more performance artist than photographer, but he's also a poet, crafting and reenacting representative imagery and movements that provoke and startle. Images such as "To Raise the Water Level in a Fishpond," for example, which featured a line of men in a pond, or "My Boston," which documents the artists under a massive weight of texts, "Family Tree," in which calligraphers drew all over his body. Recent work features large scale sculptures that have, to this viewers mind, more emotional impact than ten David Altmejds...
He's everywhere now--Saatchi's in London, a recent stint at the Vancouver Art Gallery, Men's Vogue is offering a slideshow of his work. He's no less intense. Though Huan's intensity comes from lived experience and carefully crafted artistic practice. Here is a quote from a piece in the Telegraph:
The most notorious of these is his 12 Meters Square (1994), for which he covered himself in honey and fish remains and sat for one hour in a filthy public lavatory in Beijing, while people continued to use the facility, and flies amassed on his flesh.

"I lived and worked in a tiny studio, five blocks from that toilet," he says. "Nobody had their own – everyone had to use the same one. It was so dirty and there were so many flies. For that performance I only thought of how to forget real life – to leave my body and transcend it."

The social protest of Zhang's work has brought him into conflict with the government. His 1993 performance protesting against the outlawing of abortion in China led to a group show at Beijing's National Museum being closed down, and the artist receiving a hefty fine.

Artistic expression became the subject of particular scrutiny and suppression following events in Tiananmen Square in 1989. So when Zhang was invited to make a performance at New York's PS1 Gallery in 1998, he and his wife got on a plane to the USA, with virtually no money, and stayed "in a tiny room with a shared bathroom and kitchen, in a bad part of Brooklyn".

By the time they returned to China, eight years later, they were millionaires.

"In China, people thought I should be in a mental hospital," says Zhang, smiling. "In New York, they understood what I was doing as art."

Friday, November 07, 2008

Obama on Flickr

Have you seen Obama's flickr stream? Some of these look so much like Jeff Wall recreating the night...and there are other Obama related streams:

message for obama, originally uploaded by happeningfish.

The people have spoken...and they're posting their photos about it too.

Brenda Schmidt reads Kerry Ryan

all day

i wait all day
for these ten minutes
awake in our bed,
your minted breath,
lick of dark
across my eyelids,
and the little clicks
your glasses make
as they’re folded
and set on the nightstand
from Kerry Ryan’s The Sleeping Life

For years it’s been my habit to spend the first part of each morning alone at my office window. With the east light upon me, I drink coffee and read poems. Whenever circumstances prevent me from doing so, as they have of late, I feel unsettled. Uncomfortable.

Being a selfish reader, or simply selfish, I want the poem to meet my needs. I generally prefer to begin the day with a poem that allows me to explore and exercise my imagination. I want the poem to offer openings. Gaps. Opportunities to wander and wonder. To freefall into the gullies of my mind. To leap.

Of course life itself presents all sorts of openings and gaps. All sorts of reasons to leap. Dealing with the loss of a loved one makes the openings appear much smaller, the gaps bottomless and unbelievably wide. Leaping seems almost impossible when one feels so heavy. What poem can possibly serve a time like this?

As a voracious reader of poems, it surprises me that I completely lacked the desire to deal with poems in the week following our loss. Only today did I wake with the urge to resume my habit. As I scanned my books, wondering where to begin, Kerry Ryan’s poem “all day” came to mind. Even before I pulled the book off the shelf, I could picture the poem’s tidy shape. The lower case letters are unassuming. The lines smooth and clean as the sheets the speaker lies between. The love tucked in.

So there I sat, reading the poem, wondering why it had called to me. Ryan’s book The Sleeping Life is a fairly new addition to my collection and I’d only read the poem once or twice before today. I remember being struck by its brevity and how clearly it spoke. How I’d dwelled on the meaning of “all.”

Today the poem speaks to me differently. The commas after “bed,” “breath,” and “eyelids,” the only punctuation in the poem, cause me to pause now more than before. Or perhaps I’m just more conscious of the pausing. The significance of those words. Each implies a pause of sorts. I think about my own bed, a bed I’ve shared with my husband for more than 20 years. All the breaths we’ve taken there, all the closings of eyes.

Then I remember that other bed. That final breath. That final “lick of dark.” It’s the “lick of dark / across my eyelids” that I fear. That life eventually ends is nothing new, yet those ten minutes of “all day,” a finite and terribly short amount of time, force me to look at mortality through newly-opened, middle-aged eyes.

Then again, maybe the poem simply reopens my eyes. Grief is something we all must deal with time and time again. That’s a given. It’s a time when anxiety heightens the senses, making the “minted breath” smell so much fresher, so much stronger. At times like this memories come forward, the mind leaping from present to past and back again on the back of even the most mundane, routine experience. The “minted breath” made me realize I know exactly how long it takes my husband to brush his teeth. I know the sound of toothbrush against glass. The washing that follows. The sound of the towel on the towel bar as he dries his hands and face. Every sound he makes on his way to bed is a sound I know, a sound for which “i wait all day.” A sound I dread one day I will not hear.

No doubt my activities of daily living are ingrained in his mind as well. “[T]hese ten minutes / awake in our bed,” night after night for all these years, I often take for granted, but at times like this I am awake enough to realize what I have and all that I stand to lose. At times like this I am listening. I hear the poem’s hard clicks (awake, lick, dark, across, clicks, make). I hear the t’s and the l’s. I hear all the a’s. But that’s not all. These sounds leave me longing. I want to hear every little thing that clicks or doesn’t click in our relationship, both literally and figuratively.
and the little clicks
your glasses make
as they’re folded
and set on the nightstand
I trust he, too, hears the little clicks my glasses make. Especially now.

While “all day” brings me to my senses, it offers no comfort, but perhaps comfort is not what I’m after right now. As I look at the poem on the page once again, I marvel at its brevity. Like life, “all day” passes quickly. It leaves us with the sound of glasses being “folded / and set on the nightstand.” I can see the folded arms against the frame. My frames. And I can feel the weight of two frames on the frame of the bed. Our frames. And I know there is no period for closure, no final rest. There’s just the clicking. The setting down. The knowledge that corrective lenses are no longer needed. At least not for the moment.

Brenda Schmidt lives in Creighton, a mining town in northern Saskatchewan. Her third collection of poetry, Cantos from Wolverine Creek, was published by Hagios Press in 2008.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

New Day

Jesse Jackson's face seemed to sum up the night. Eight years of disconnect, decades more of neglect, an ugly knot is undone. Integrity makes a comeback.

Congratulations everybody.





Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Angela Carr talks to Phil Hall

A Volatile Solid: Excerpt from an Interview with Phil Hall
By Angela Carr

“There are sprites & hooks (& what Henry Miller calls “islands of repair”) between each syllable, line, stanza.

My practice has grown to be: stay dubious enough to hear those islands-of-repair cleanly, without the static “his(s)” of me needing to own them.”

Phil Hall, Dubious: On Performance

Phil Hall is to poetry in Canada what style is to reason. What fate is to regret. What necessity is to poverty. What a lamp is to a lamprey. What the neck is to the gesture. What the irrepressible is to the present. What evaporation is to residue. What a request is to humility. And this is him: intelligent, witty, resolutely humble, a vegetarian.

We met at a cafe to talk. He was already drinking tea. He put away his notebook. The shirt he wore was patterned with small square frames and in those frames, I noticed after some scrutiny, were fish hooks, decorated with feathers or quills. We shared bread with walnuts and grapes sunken in the top.

He told me, “voice is a volatile solid,” something that endures, like the stone tablets of oral culture and simultaneously something that can explode: flying particles, migraine-white. We talked about trauma. When he was a child, his father made him shoot his dog. For years, he dug for the line, “I should have shot my father.”

We talked about the impoverished townships where he was raised, in the Kawarthas. He came from those townships running. “I asked the guidance counselor in high school what would be the farthest place I could go, and that was Windsor. University was good for me, for plumbing and books.”

Hall often draws self-portraits to gauge how he’s feeling: how close or dangerously unlike himself he appears. Writing is recovery of that self who was “not supposed to have a voice.”

“Self-portraits are a way of taking my own temperature. Blind drawing, expressionism. Not necessarily faithfully how you look, but how you feel about how you look. Or perhaps how you feel because of how you draw how you look. It’s a bit embarrassing, but it’s easier to keep myself still than most things.

“I like the tactile, so I also make a lot of little cards and collages. Montages with words.

“I tend to work from titles, single lines, aphorisms and mis-hearings. When I lived in Vancouver, I kept a little orange notebook called Mistakes where I wrote down what I saw or heard wrong. Is that a chewed canary on the sidewalk? No, it’s a gnawed peach pit.”

“I like that,” I said, “I recently misread a sentence about entering the room of the wake. I read the wake of the room. That was a good mistake; it took me somewhere.”

“All the people coming and paying their respects to the room, which has died.” Phil said.

“Yeah, I like those too. They hark back to childhood. They’re cracks through the expected.

“Right now I’m drawing fish hooks. Imaginary ties for fly-fishing. Those are tiny and esoteric and beautiful and lethal, like poems. I can put anything on the hook I want to. I can give them any invented bug-name I want. A series of little cards. Sometimes I put coloured threads on them, or I use stamp-edges.”

“So you put words on the fish hooks?”

“Yes. I feel safer if I’m working very small. For years now I’ve mostly worked in long forms, as a challenge to myself, because I get very insular, want to keep little boxes inside little boxes, so that nobody would ever see them. And they’d be safe. And I’d be safe. From what? So I string the poems together, to be more generous. It’s personal work, though, and people don’t admire the personal much. Not any more.

“I let the poems pickle, so they can separate from me. I keep working toward a language that’s hermetic and private. So that if you take the phrases twenty miles out of their range, nobody understands them. John Clare had this limitation-blessing. In another way, so did Aimé Césaire, in French. (He recently died. His poems: revolutionary exotic local plants!)

“I like those kinds of poems. Whether it’s the nature of the language, the nature of the subject or the nature of the details. If a poem’s that deep in its origins, sometimes it’s an actual imaginary creature, a thought-fox (as Ted Hughes says). As specific as possible, torqued private until it flies.

For the rest of the interview please pick up a copy of Matrix, which features a fabulous image of Shari Boyle's work. There is also a brilliant piece by Jonathan Ball. You can hear Phil Hall read from An Oak Hunch, shortlisted for the Griffin Prize for Poetry in 2006.

Angela Carr lives and works in Montréal as a writer and a translator. Her first book, Ropewalk, was published in 2006, and her second is forthcoming with Bookthug in 2009.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Samuel Beckett

Samuel Beckett, originally uploaded by jags parbha.

from "Not I"
how she survived! . . and now this stream . . . not catching the half of it . . . not the quarter . . . no idea . . . what she was saying . . . imagine! . . no idea what she was saying! . . till she began trying to . . . delude herself . . . it was not hers at all . . . not her voice at all . . . and no doubt would have . . . vital she should . . . was on the point . . . after long efforts . . . when suddenly she felt . . . gradually she felt . . . her lips moving . . . imagine! . . her lips moving! . . as of course till then she had not . . . and not alone the lips . . . the cheeks . . . the jaws . . . the whole face . . . all those– . . what?. . the tongue? . . yes . . . the tongue in the mouth . . . all those contortions without which . . . no speech possible . . . and yet in the ordinary way . . . not felt at all . . . so intent one is . . . on what one is saying . . . the whole being . . . hanging on its words . . . so that not only she had . . . had she . . . not only had she . . . to give up . . . admit hers alone . . . her voice alone . . . but this other awful thought . . . oh long after . . . sudden flash . . . even more awful if possible . . . that feeling was coming back . . . imagine! . . feeling coming back! . . starting at the top . . . then working down . . . the whole machine . . . but no . . . spared that . . . the mouth alone . . . so far . . . ha! . . so far . . . then thinking . . . oh long after . . . sudden flash . . . it can't go on . . . all this . . . all that . . . steady stream . . . straining to hear . . . make some-thing of it . . . and her own thoughts . . . make something of them . . . all– . . . what? . . the buzzing? . . yes . . . all the time the buzzing . . . so-called . . . all that together . . . imagine! . . whole body like gone . . . just the mouth . . . lips . . . cheeks . . . jaws . . . never– . . . what?. . tongue? . . yes . . . lips. . . cheeks . . . jaws . . . tongue . . . never still a second . . . mouth on fire . . . stream of words . . . in her ear . . . practically in her ear . . . not catching the half . . . not the quarter . . . no idea what she's saying . . . imagine! . . no idea what she's saying! . . and can't stop . . . no stopping it . . . she who but a moment before . . . but a moment! . . could not make a sound . . . no sound of any kind . . . now can't stop . . . imagine! . . can't stop the stream . . . and the whole brain begging . . . something begging in the brain . . . begging the mouth to stop . . . pause a moment . . . if only for a moment . . . and no response . . . as if it hadn’t heard . . . or couldn’t . . . couldn't pause a second . . . like maddened . . . all that together . . . straining to hear . . . piece it together . . . and the brain . . . raving away on its own . . . trying to make sense of it . . . or make it stop . . . or in the past . . . dragging up the past . . . flashes from all over . . . walks mostly . . . walking all her days . . . day after day . . . a few steps then stop . . . stare into space . . . then on . . . a few more . . . stop and stare again . . . so on . . . drifting around . . . day after day . . . or that time she cried . . . the one time she could remember . . . since she was a baby . . . must have cried as a baby . . . perhaps not . . . not essential to life . . . just the birth cry to get her going . . . breathing . . . then no more till this . . . old hag already . . . sitting staring at her hand . . . where was it? . . Croker's Acres . . . one evening on the way home . . . home! . . a little mound in Croker's Acres . . . dusk . . . sitting staring at her hand . . . there in her lap . . . palm upward . . . suddenly saw it wet . . . the palm . . . tears presumably . . . hers presumably . . . no one else for miles . . . no sound . . . just the tears . . . sat and watched them dry . . . all over in a second . . . or grabbing at straw . . . the brain . . . flickering away on its own . . . quick grab and on. . . nothing there . . . on to the next . . . bad as the voice . . . worse . . . as little sense . . . all that together . . . can't– . . . what? . . the buzzing? . . yes . . . all the time the buzzing .