Monday, June 29, 2009

Ruelles Verte

I love Montreal alleys...and I'm not alone. Apparently there is a master plan for creating more green space in the plateau in particular. The plateau, where I live, reminds me a little of downtown Brooklyn and also of Philadelphia Center City, the part the juts up against South Philly. The alleys are of varying sizes and lengths of course, but most are lush and after today's rain, filled with exquisite, mossy air. Green cascades down from vine covered patios, canopies from fence to fence, leaps across, sometimes dipping to ridiculous depths. There are rarely cars in the alleys and even when they are wider than the average plateau street--which they sometimes are--there are few cars parked. Most are busy with cats, lots and lots of cats. Others with street hockey, girls on bicycles, dog walkers, cyclists--sometimes on huge unicycles. Sounds of summer drift down from patios, flashes of sizzling meat and pot. Below, the concrete is often calving, wanting to move on, which makes for treacherous cycling. Rifts of chamomile and vetches rise up out of the cracks, long pools of water collect. Garage doors are covered with vines, posters, graffiti, and with the biggest single moving day in the city nearly upon us, the furniture and garbage bags are beginning to pile up. Nowhere is there pressure to move on, no rush, only the cats slinking under wonky fences, someone out with a cell phone, smoking, carrying a baguette. It is certainly a city for the people. Imagine that.


And I think this is the tiniest alley I've found:

Le Montaonard

C'est moi! Ou, non.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Sheryda Warrener reads Karen Solie

Pathology of the Senses
July 2005

Oligotrophic: of lakes and rivers. The heat
an inanimate slur, wool gathering, hanging
like a bad suit. Suspended fine particulate

matter. And an eight-million-dollar ferry shoves off
for Rochester, no souls aboard. I see you,
you know, idling like a limousine through the old

neighbourhoods, your tinted windows. In what
they call “the mind’s eye.” Catch me here
in real time, if that’s the term for it. We work

our drinks under threat of a general brownout.
Phospholipase is activated by bitter stimuli.
Back home, we call this a beer parlour.

I washed my hair at 4 a.m.
, he says. The full moon,
it was wack. He can’t sleep. The woman
who says pardon my French, over and over,

can’t sleep. They are drunk as young corn. Sweet,
white, freestone peaches. A bit stepped-on.
You said we’d have fun. Do I look happy?

Our fingers, our ankles, swell in unison. Word
spreads. “Toronto,” in Huron, means
“place of meetings.” Even now, you may be

darkening my door. On my bike, she says, I dress
all reflective. Even now, you’re troubling
my windbreak. The vertebrate heart muscle

does not fatigue and is under the regulation
of nerves. I’ll wait. First it’s unlike evening.
Then it’s unlike night. Thirty degrees in a false

high noon, no shade when all things lie
in shadow. The lake is a larger mind with pressures
brought to bear, a wet hot headache

in the hind brain. Above it, cloud racks up.
A mean idea it’s taking to, breathing
through its mouth. In this year of Our Lord

your approach shoulders in, the onset
of a chronic understanding. There are rivers
underfoot, paved over. Humber, Taddle Creek,

just the way they sound. To be abyssal
is to inhabit water below 1,000 feet.
I need a good costume, he says, but don’t

know what that entails. Walk the districts.
Misery of historic buildings. Superheated
rooms of the poor. Sorry, cooling station

closed. Lack of funding. I like my feet
covered up at night, doesn’t everyone.
Blinking, naked atop our sheets. Smoke

rises but does not disperse. The air hairy as a fly.
In fly weather. Tight under the arms.
It also depletes your spinal fluid. In your spine.

Aesthetic injury level the degree of pest
abundance above which control measures
should be taken. God, what she’s wearing.

I’m tolerably certain you know the way. Red
tide of the sidewalks. Pass the dry cleaners
and Wigs, Wigs, Wigs! It used to be called

100% Human Hair. That’s right. “Ontario”
an Iroquois word meaning “sparkling waters.”
Like doleful seaweed, our predilections undulate.

Rats come out to sniff garbage blooms
in rat weather. Heavy cloud, colour of slag
and tailings, green light gathering

like an angry jelly. Pardon my French. The city
on rails, grinding toward a wreck the lake
cooks up. When you arrive, you may

be soaked to the skin. A tall drink of water. Darken
my door. All of my organs are fully involved.
He’s a little freshet breeze. We are as any microbes

inhabiting extreme environments, surviving
in the free-living or parasitic modes. Chins above
the germ line. Is it true a rat can spring a latch.

Is it true all creatures love their children. Raccoons
and skunks smell society in decline. That sag
at the middle. Rat weather. Fly weather. A certain

absence of tenderness. Who will you believe.
Bear me away to a motel by the highway. I like
a nice motel by the highway, an in-ground pool.

It’s a take it or leave it type deal. Eutrophic:
of lakes and rivers. See now, she says,
that’s the whole reason you can’t sit up

on the railing, so you don’t fall over. Freon,
exhaust, the iron motes of dry lightning. Getting
pushed, he says, is not falling. Jangling metal

in pockets, you walk balanced in your noise,
breath like a beam. I harbour ill will. By this
shall you know me. Caducous:

not persistent. Of sepals, falling off
as a flower opens. Of stipules, falling off as leaves
unfold. Speak of the devil, the devil appears.

Karen Solie, from Pigeon, Anansi 2009

“Pathology of the Senses” opens into the concentrated heat of a lake-side southern Ontario town. This heat, “an inanimate slur, wool gathering, hanging like a bad suit,” sustains itself through the entire poem. Four pages of tercets, stripped of all exposition and direction, slog onward, unfold. The speaker’s tone is humourless, uninflected: questions are presented as statements, flattened out by the inundating present, left unanswered. As “cloud racks up” above the lake, the poem racks up definitions for oligotrophic, eutrophic, caducous, absyssal, meanings for Toronto and Ontario. There is a repetition of cliché phrases: Darken my door. A tall drink of water. Pardon my french. And the doubling continues, in “fly weather,” “rat weather.” There is “a certain absence of tenderness,” and this intrigues me: What does Solie have in mind, opening the book into this stifling heat, with this unvarying tone?

The poem, in the simplest sense, is about two people wandering through a nameless town by a lake. Having spent some time in Wasaga Beach on Lake Huron, and Port Dover on Lake Erie, I can imagine this place, an “extreme environment,” set up purely for tourist season. The speaker and her companion, “drunk as young corn” and “a bit stepped-on,” have been here before. Fragments of their dialogue are interspersed with the details tallying in the speaker’s mind. They wander through, the speaker feeling a particular sense of melancholy, “the onset/of a chronic understanding.” This, for me, links back to the title, which implies that we are plagued by our senses. I think the more interesting nuance the title suggests is that by studying our senses (paying close attention) we discover the changes that occur through the experience. Here, “Our fingers, our ankles, swell in unison,” and by the end the speaker (and reader) is known for the ill will she harbours.

The last line, another cliché phrase turned poignant, is rewarding, haunting: “Speak of the devil,” the speaker warns, “the devil appears.” This line is, for me, the reason Solie starts this collection here: if the poems beyond this point attend to our most difficult man-made objects (tractors, aircraft, fossil fuels) and human feelings (compassion, disgust, responsibility) it is only because we alone have called them into being.

This poem, I think, is meant to be read slowly, demands the reader’s active attention; “Pathology of the Senses” is at once extraordinary and tough. If it’s hard, it’s because it conjurs up a contemporary North American malaise, which is complicated at best. In her Globe and Mail review of Pigeon, Meg Walker is reminded of Don McKay’s essays in Vis à Vis: Fieldnotes on Poetry and Wilderness. In his newest book from Gaspereau Press, The Muskwa Assemblage, McKay’s thoughts about wilderness continue: “There is, says Simone Weil, an informal part of the soul. I think something like that part is where the wilderness resonates, where we sense ourselves to be, not masters of creation, not technological wunderkinds, but beings among beings.” Here, at the beginning of this book, we are reduced to our senses. A watery mirage rises up from the scorched sidewalk in front of us: a significant change occurs through this experience.

_______________

Sheryda Warrener’s poems have been published in literary journals across Canada, including The Malahat Review, Event, The Antigonish Review, Grain, and The Fiddlehead, and in the anthology Breathing Fire 2: Canada’s New Poets (Nightwood, 2004). This spring, she was shortlisted for the Malahat Review Long Poem prize. A recent graduate from the MFA program at the University of British Columbia, Sheryda lives in Vancouver, where she is completing her first poetry manuscript.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Michael

Oh my. That's a huge loss.


Farrah too, but Michael. Oh, Michael.

Yes, I know the headlines, the controversies, all of that. The best ones are never easy to love.

Even still

How do you know what a book is? And what it's for? Or how it should be read. I like Richard Nash's idea that a book is more communal than we understand it to be. He points to the one positive growth area in the publishing world--that of the book club. Because yes, reading is a solo act but can it be said to be complete without the discussion portion? There is a part of me that thinks people in the industry are a tad afraid of the power of the book club and of the liberalization of the book discussion--after all, what will they do?

Of course I don't see one thing replacing another. That is to say intelligent discussion is always worth listening in on, and buying a paper, or a pass, or whatever, to be part of it. And that's the point. I don't want to know what your verdict is about a given book, I want to know what you think, what you wonder, what stays with you, what aspect of the text made you pause, what frustrated you, where did it lead your thinking? Did you walk away wanting to "do" something? Think something? Create something?

As for the physical representation that currently is the book--what if that changes? It has changed, and will likely continue to. What is of value is what we value. What is that?

What is a book? What is its purpose? Why are we so certain we know?

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Mandating book reviews and discussions?

Thanks to Bookninja for pointing out This plea for more book reviewing in Canada, and in particular at the CBC. And I agree, Canada Reads is not enough. In my humble opinion the problem has to do with a lack of guts. Yes, guts. It takes guts to be a good reviewer, a good publisher, a good producer and/or editor. One can't wait for someone else to say what's worth reading, one needs to go out on a limb and make more daring choices. And then open up those choices to the common reader.

As the industry gets pummeled this is the very aspect that becomes more scarce. Everyone becomes less daring at the very time when daring is what is needed. The Ceeb, and the Writers Festivals, make more and more predictable choices, taking less and less risks. Piggybacking on the choices of other, bigger literary fish. Not the way to build an interesting literature. The reason Can Lit was so exciting "back in the day" is that people were making bold choices, big bold choices that they believed in, that they promoted and in doing so, created a dynamic literary world

Now they just look at the New York Times, or the London Review of Books, or the prize lists. We're becoming reduced to a people who only discuss books in terms of prizes... Those bloggers who do the work for nothing? Perhaps they are the ones doing that work now, making bolder choices, and actually unpacking texts for readers, not just celebrating the safe and the banal.

Fete nationale du Quebec

Celebrations include drinking, feasting, drinking feasting, concerts, drinking, and many flags. Needless to say the food and drink are very good, and spirits high. Near 30 degree temperatures help. The parks are full, and even in my neighbourhood, further east than most anglos tend toward, there are anglos in evidence. And yes, why not celebrate the survival and thriving of francophone language and culture?

Monday, June 22, 2009

Mavis Gallant, Montreal Stories

Summer reading is good, but what about summer listening? Rattling Books offers unabridged audio books, including Gallant's Montreal Stories, a collection of stories set in a Montreal that is geographically, if not socially recognizable. By that I mean the stories are steeped in their time and that has long passed. But the streets are the same, and the longing, and the human dynamics immediate. Looking forward to the new stories, but can't recommend these classics enough. Like Munro, Gallant gets away with enormous amounts of exposition. Why? Because she is a master of the sentence, aware of her twisting in it, and lovingly structured, each of them. Now, I'm wondering when Rattling Books is going to be available through iTunes because I definitely want more.

Also on the must-read list for the summer, Going Ashore, new stories from Gallant. And what about those selected letters I hear about? That will be interesting. Gallant is, like Elizabeth Smart, a writer Canadians can't quite come to terms with. She's not nice in the way we seem to want our writers to be, not nice enough, not predictable enough. She has opinions. You can't quite guess what she'll say next.

Don't believe me? Here are a few random comments I found on line. This first from a piece on her in Walrus:
Her name elicited high regard in both Canadian and American settings. But across the board, there was comparatively little in the way of particulars. “I love ‘The Ice Wagon Going Down the Street.’ It was in an anthology. I really should read more of her stuff.” “I enjoy her stories. They used to come in the New Yorker all the time, years ago. But I never knew what to make of them by the end.” “Gallant? Oh yes, she’s one of those writer’s writers...”
More from random places, blogs:
"I kind of don't like Gallant, but don't tell her that."
--Toronto writer
"She carries into every encounter a reputation of ruthlessness, of one who doesn't suffer fools at all — gladly or otherwise."
--part of excerpt chosen by BookNinja from a globe piece.

Here from the Toronto Star:
Neither a Leon Rooke, a Glover, an Atwood, nor a Mavis Gallant made the list. (The latter name is not as surprising an omission as it may seem – Gallant being one of those writers whose work is universally respected and admired, yet which nobody – be honest – really likes.)
Here's John Metcalf on Gallant via Steven W. Beatty:
"Alice Munro’s career has been more visible but many readers and writers think that Mavis Gallant’s rather cold eye and stringent intellect will age better.."
Also from Steven W.Beatty, Alex Good who thinks the latter description of Gallant is “dead on:”
“I respect Gallant, but that cold eye, the way she seems to despise so many of her characters, puncturing their selfishness and snobbery in disdainful, ironic prose (a bit of the New Yorker house style?), gets to me.”
Here, thankfully, in response to this, a comment:
  1. Janet | August 27, 2008 at 7:48 pm | Permalink

    It baffles me that anyone would complain about Mavis Gallant’s lack of humour. I recorded and edited her Montreal Stories for Rattling Books and often laughed aloud while working on the tape. As for cold, I was impressed by her humanity. She knows how utterly ridiculous people can be and pokes merciless fun at it all while eliciting compassion. Far from cold.

Is it fair to say gender is somewhere at the root of this? I would think. It seems quite acceptable to couch any discourse around Gallant in terms of her person, her perceived person. Imagine framing discussion of Ondaatje, Carver, Ford, Richler, that way?

And by the way, the Montreal Stories audio book from Rattling Books makes a round trip from Toronto Montreal downright manageable. It's about 11 hours of listening.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

pre Oulipo

Okay maybe not. Still. What she said.
Absolute cuteness. JD Samson et al.

Moricetown Canyon



One of my favorite places in Northern British Columbia. The salmon weren't there yet, hence no one hanging over the cliffs with a spear, fishing. I can't recall being there so early in June before, so a different order of wildflowers if you look close on that rock.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

David McGimpsey


The Duke of Carleton, originally uploaded by johnwmacdonald.

Rock on Mr. McGimpsey.

KoKo

There was no doubt about my boss:
he was one of the great defectives.
He claimed our poor profits in the recession
stemmed from his ‘fear of circus clowns.’

You have to be careful around a guy like that:
test your breath, shoelaces Oxford-style—
one winter afternoon, about a month
after the operation on my foot,

I limped aggressively into the office
and finally told a co-worker to shutup.
My boss overheard, grabbed me and said,
“you’re not the sharpest pencil in the box, are you?”

The irony was I ended up working as a clown
in front of a flower shop right there on 6th avenue.
And the boss would walk by, smelling like Paco Rabanne
And I was going shutup, shutup, shutup.

From Lardcake, by David McGimpsey.

Check out Arc Magazine where Alessandro Porco offers a reading of McGimpsey's poem.

Trees, Northern British Columbia

These are taken mostly on Ferry Island, in Terrace, British Columbia, but there are a few from Kleanza Creek too.


Fittingly, Ken Belford on poetics below, and a link to a pdf on Belford's work, and a more recent essay by Rob Budde on Belford in the excellent new poetry journal Poetics, out of SFU.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Fantasies of Summer Reading

It's the time for summer reading lists. Here's a slightly different take on the genre. First, a list of the books that would make it into my suitcase if I had an unlimited budget. I'm not a fan of lists i in this sense, but there you have it. No order, no bests, just what I'm curious about.

Would pack:

Reborn: Journals and Notebooks, 1947-1963
, Susan Sontag, FSG 2009

Heaven is Small, Emily Schultz, Anansi 2009

Amphibian, Carla Gunn, Coach House 2009

Coventry, Helen Humphreys, HC 2009

Calm Things, Shawna Lemay, 2008

My Vocabulary Did This to Me: The Collected Poetry of Jack Spicer, Wesleyan 2008

The Bruise, Magdalena Zurawski, FC2 2008

The Age of Iron, by J.M. Coetzee, Penguin

Rising, Falling, Hovering, C. D. Wright, Copper Canyon Press 2008

Advanced Elvis Course, CA Conrad, Soft Skull 2009

Varieties of Exile, Mavis Gallant, selected by Russell Banks

Grief Lessons, by Euripides translated and with introductory essays by Anne Carson

The New York Stories of Edith Wharton
, Selected and with an introduction by Roxana Robinson

Why Photography Matters as Art as Never Before,
Michael Fried, Yale UP, 2008

Andrea Zittel: Critical Space
, Butler Moriani, Smith, Prestel 2005

Jeff Wall: Selected Essays and Interviews,
MoMA, 2007

The Hidden Wordsworth,
Kenneth Johnston, Norton 1997
Dorothy Wordsworth: A Life,
Frances Wilson, FSG 2009
(not sure either of these are the best choice for Wordsworth bios, still looking)

Already packed (and started, and even in some cases, read several times):


The Letters of Samuel Beckett: Volume 1, 1929-1940,
by Samuel Beckett

Fences in Breathing,
Nicole Brossard, Coach House, 2009

In Cold Blood,
Truman Capote

Buying Cigarettes for the Dog, S
tuart Ross, Freehand 2009

La Medusa,
Vanessa Place, FC2

Poems of Nazim Hikmet,
Persea 2009

Selected Poems, Robert Bringhurst, Gasperau 2009

P.S. While I look forward to not having any internet--yay! I would take Wordsalad's playlist of the day with me, thanks Paul. I'm going to take Jorie Graham with me as well, Sea Change, and Materialism. Hear Graham read The Errancy.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Boats made from garbage

A woman after my heart!
Venice was settled originally by refugees fleeing the barbarian hordes—who, apparently, didn’t like water. But that was then. This week, Swoon, a 31-year-old Brooklyn artist whose name is Caledonia “Callie” Curry, is leading a waterborne invasion of the Venice Biennale (she didn’t bother to try to get in officially) with a crew of 30 artists, musicians, and miscreants in tow. Though they have raised some $150,000 for this crash party, the money won’t show in the boats they’ll travel in, because the boats are made of trash—a symbol of the freedom that comes with radical self-reliance, and one that is meant to effect change. “Throughout history, pranksters have been looking at fences and then pushing them aside,” Swoon has said (the name came to an ex-boyfriend in a dream, in which he imagined her future as a graffiti artist long before her career began). “Through action, you can move the perception. It’s almost like a magic trick.”

Thanks to Jen Scappetone for the tip.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Capilano Review

Dear TCR,
Thank you for your ongoing excellentness. For the cover of the current issue, sliding out of the envelope this morning to reveal paint-splotched tires and pallets in a shrubby wood. Thank you for the smell of the ink and paper (no doubt toxic but I inhale deeply), and for including photographs in a literary journal, for including essays, catalog copy, non-fiction, all manner of text. Thanks for Karin Bubas (her name appears again), and the essay on "Stump Skulls" and the photo of "cart bombing" (downhill on Barclay is very good fyi). Am I simply nostalgic or is the thinking about architecture, art, and poetry reaching some kind of golden moment on the other side of the Rockies?

Thanks for the Ian Wallace shots from the early 70s, and for Colin Browne's "Kingfisher Annex: An Excerpt":
Time tells, time's table, a flock-shore horses, dunlins. Who asks! (Whose ask?) Time's ache. The
flood of what roars in and out grips and lets go, taking, with it, us, and lets us,
taking, take, narrows, furrows, currents, crusts, arches, tidings, herring gyros....
Thanks for Michael Turner on Malcom Lowry, and one of Lisa Robertson's walks. I'll take the Ron Thom house, (page 161), and happily retire. It's one way to shut me up.

Awesome issue. Between West Coast Line, TCR, The Malahat, Geist, and Canadian Literature, the west coast seems to be enjoying a golden moment...and I haven't even finished this issue of TCR.

Monday, June 15, 2009

I'm with Dave Eggers

I don't believe print has to end. I don't believe it will.

I don't believe people want to read books on Kindle, or any other such device, or perhaps not "only" read them there, or online.

I just don't buy it. And I don't think we have to buy it either.

And the new magazine store that opened up on Mont Royal very near me tells me I may be right. I have said it before, and if I'm wrong, I'll eat my words.

I really hope I am not wrong about this, but I have to ask, why must it be so? Because someone, or some corporation wants to make a lot of money by patenting the technology that will "handle" the next generation of books? Just because something can be done doesn't mean it should be done, or that we have to support it being done, or that this new technology need replace other ways. If nothing else, we can certainly learn that fact from the 20th Century.

And because I don't buy it, or don't buy it as the only future, once again I urge everyone to simply keep buying and supporting the book, the magazine, the writer, the publisher, because yes, things are changing in markets the world over, but change is not necessarily a bad thing, and of course, change doesn't end either.

Perhaps newspapers have been complacent in the face of all this change--like the east coast fisheries that kept on fishing itself out of Cod, knowing all along it was coming and doing nothing differently. And perhaps literary journals are too, and worse, perhaps we the consumers are a bit complacent, accepting the presence of such things without doing much to support the publications we love. It's hard, and it's expensive, and isn't there a way to find other sources of funding?

Speaking of all this, an interesting lack of coverage in the literary world around the recent Magazine awards in Canada. The Malahat did very well but sites such as BookNinja etc., didn't even bother reporting. Do magazines not matter? I know, I know, I keep saying this, but personally I love it when The Walrus, or Geist, roll in through the mail slot. The Griffins are all well and good, but would we have those without the literary journal? How do we get from beginner to prize winner without small publications? Without magazines?

On the other hand, guess how many copies of Malahat are sold annually? Something like 800. Can we increase that? Can Malahat bump its circulation by adding an online portion? The fact that I can get the New Yorker online doesn't stop me from having the print version and I don't aniticpate canceling my Malahat if they could give me an online archive. The future of print is not "out of our hands." Technologies come and go people. Do you want kindle? And if you do, how do you want it?

As for the matter of subscriptions, etc. How many students of Canadian literature have a subscription to The Malahat, or West Coast Line, or The Capilano Review, or The New Quarterly--journals all doing an exceptional job of publishing new and established voices. Those of us teaching creative writing can include an issue or two on our syllabus and bump up circulation that way and also let the kiddies know the value of these publications.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Banff

Updated slide show of trees in and around the Banff Centre. Deleted accidentally now for the second time...

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Pleasurable Moments in Poetry

Tydsdal, Swift, Solie
Daniel Scott Tysdal, Predicting The Next Big Advertising Breakthrough Using a Potentially Dangerous Method, Coteau, 2006

So few books take the risk of breaking out of predictable poetic form--on the level of the book I mean, as much as the poem inside. Tysdal's book looks more like a gallery catalog than poetry book. The last book that I recall successfully challenging the constraint of the bookshelf was Rachel Zolf's Masque (and Robert Majzel's Akoporo's Sleuth). Tysdal's poems are dry, humorous, concise. Post prairie, in Jon Paul Fiorentino's terms, and having fun with it, as above, the poem changes shape when folded. There are other, more conventional kinds of fun too:
According to most popular legends
the prairie poet is the one for whom
the universe is broken into two:
the half that is ground the way direst is ground
in the cerise of a blistered popping;
and the other half that is more like air,
neither drawn in nor exhaled, but grasped at;
and the answer to the question "Many
or One?" is most definitely many
plus one..."

From "What Prairie Poets Do and How They Watch The Sky"
Other poems resemble a frenetic newspaper page complete with contrasting quotes--George Bush and Guy Debord, varying fonts, advertising jingles, logos. Not easily replicated in a blog post. Others march across in columns, and everywhere there is a sense of revealing the aural and etymological echoes in language, intended and unintended.
they are cumming

and they are going
to cum


the woman sits


on her folded

lower

limbs

from "Faces of Bukkake 6"
The poems tickle, what can I say? And I like the images, the suggestiveness, the playfulness.


Todd Swift, Seaway: New and Selected Poems, Salmon Poetry, 2008
Communal Garden

May takes hold of summer's handlebars and wobbles on.

I love a one line poem. Twitter or no there is something satisfying about nailing an idea in so few words. Haiku's are good, and sometimes the one-line prose poem is a haiku too. Former Montrealer Todd Swift is one of a handful of Canadian authors to have the privilege of non-Canadian publication, and even fewer contemporary poets are blessed with selecteds. Why then has no one reviewed this book in Canada? This is certainly a fine accomplishment.

Karen Solie, Pigeon, Anansi 2009
(in process)
My favourite piece in Solie's new collection is actually prose. "Archive" gives us the history of a place, and a person through the taking and describing of a photograph. Calling to mind Walter Benjamin, as she has done in other poems, the archive builds horizontally--the moment of entry like a pinhole camera spreading backwards through the poem--is it a poem? It's very evocative, and for this poet in any case, in these unbound lines the poet's wit has room to move and build more associatively than the more conventional lyric poems. Is it the absence of metaphor that pleases? Is it the ambling thoughts? The thinking that permeates even as the poem is looking out?

The contemporary Canadian lyric poem can seem corseted--to great effect as we see with Joe Denham, Ken Babstock, Margaret Christakos and Dennis Lee--but not always. There are so many poems that seem artificially bound by formal concerns (and this is by no means limited to lyric poetry, all poems can suffer his). Admittedly this is an aspect of poetry this reader struggles with. So seeing Solie break out here is refreshing, and exciting. We have desciription: the "cable channel that seasonally devotes itself to a looped shot of burning logs, the possiblity that a "tiny smudge" is a bohemian waxwing in flight. Traces of narrative: "It's during this week that a university student kills herself by jumping off the bridge," "What is seen is true, as seen, though may be interpreted falsely..." Wonderfully strange and precise images and movements. The photographer comes and goes, the camera in her pocket, while "atoms move at an infinite speed" and "fresh treated water" pumped from the city becomes the world's first "man-made waterfall, 7.3 metres higher than Niagra Falls." What remains? What is seen? What is under, around, inside, informing and shaping what is seen? What is recorded? The expansive nature of this writing is exciting. What is it about prose that allows poets to leap? Like a great cape shot through with textures and holes, the universe of the poet is unveiled. It is rangier, made of varieties of surfaces and reflections. It is a bit wild. And I like it.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Sarah Gambito

Delivered is the second book by this young New York based poet. I don't have the first, and so can't comment on the trajectory, but this one is, dare I say it, enjoyable. It has a lot of "my mother" poems, a lot of references to family, grandparents, the immigrant experience. One balks at such references, mostly because of the sentimentality usually found in tandem with such subjects. Here we have a fresh take though, and when that entry point is language, the results are quite surprising. Consider "The Puppy"
Immigrant families began to arrive and children were born. Eventually the children picked up English at school. The English was cool and light like a puppy but more useful. They picked it up and threw it at each other....
a prose poem in the surrealist tradition, yes. "Some thought it...cute...some compared back legs and length of fur..." When the poems come at identity and representation from a slant perspective they are quite fun and yes, pack a punch.

However, the poems don't always seem complete, or to have every word weighted, and even if a poem wants to appear as though it has bed-head, it probably needs to have each strand of hair accounted for... Still, the collection is inhabitable, pleasurable. The prose poems strong. You can hear Gambito read earlier work over at the Fishhouse and read a postcard poem here.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Recently Recieved

Melissa Buzzeo, Face, BookThug 2009

Elizabeth Bachinksy, Curio, BookThug 2009

Elizabeth Bachinksy, God of Missed Connections, Nightwood 2009

Marita Daschel, All Things Said & Done, Caitlin 2007

Daniel Tysdal, Predicting The Next Big Advertising Breakthrough Using a Potentially Dangerous Method, Coteau, 2006

Nicole Brossard, Fences in Breathing, Coach House, 2009


Adam Seelig, Talking Masks, BookThug, 2009

Michael Boughn, 22 Skiddo/Sub Tractions, BookThug, 2009

Robert Bringhurst, Selected Poems, Gaspereau Press, 2009

Carmine Starnino, This Way Out, Gaspereau Press, 2009

Tonja Gunvaldsen Klaassen, Lean-To, Gaspereau Press, 2009

Anne Simpson, The Marram Grass: Poetry & Otherness, Gaspereau Press, 2009

Laura Sims, Stranger, Fence Books, 2009

Danielle Pafunda, My Zorba, Bloof Books, 2008

Sophie Robinson, a, Les Figues, 2009

Fitterman/Place, Notes on Conceptualisms, Ugly Duckling Presse, 2009

More to come on these titles, but at first glance I have to say that the Gaspereau books are absolutely stunning...really, very beautiful. Secondly, I have to say thanks to Vanessa Place and Rob Fitterman for the small little book on conceptualisms--I highly recommend it and will be adding it to my teaching tools. Must I respond to the blog debates about this? I think not. All these blog discussions, the attacks and defending, just keep one away from the actual reading of books. So no more.

Rethinking Urban Transportation

So now Ford is in partnership with Quebec Hyrdo to test and produce electric vehicles by 2012. Excellent. I was thinking how most Canadian cities can be navigated in under 50 kilometers a day--the limit for the small electric car at the moment.

A new development while I was in Banff! A new bike sharing program--racks of bikes everywhere in the plateau that can be used by the half hour, or by buying a yearly pass. Great idea. More on this, and photos.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Northern British Columia redux

The Gitskan Nation is on the move. Lots of talk up here of alternative energy sources and how to deal with impending development projects. Meanwhile the heat is causing excessive melt and the Skeena is rising and faster than ever. This morning the small island where we have been camping had the outer trails closed as water rose up and over them.


Unbelievably fast.


And beautiful.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Northern British Columia

Greetings from the rain forest, currently the hottest spot in Canada actually. Actual forest photos to come.

K'San Village, Hazelton

Totem Poles, Kitwanga

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

A poem by Margaret Christakos

The problem of confessionality

1
Months later, actually
years later, a robin
bows at me from the fence
and then sails, in slow-motion
arrival, to my feet. He
with his dried-blood chest
has literally leapt a
fence to enter my yard,
sirens singe the air, I’m not
making this up. Through
the (vertical) fence slats, down a
(horizontal) laneway, a car flashes

2
its (rear) brakelight and moves
north. You cannot tally
all the motion in
process. The city has a tidal
system circulating human
thought through machinery,
along roadways, squeezing
aside the (persistent) animal
life-force whose musicality
is consonant with muscular
flicker. Nobody sings what
those birds do. Poetry
tries and maybe cooperates

3
briefly (at a sort of brink) — desiring as we
do “pure sound”
separable from linguistic
code. I don’t know about
this. I don’t think any of
us, ______________
___, do more than signal
a portal that would
open on a room full of
squirming words. Our most
primitive noises seethe
with translateability. But
a bird looks you in the

4
eye, opens its beak and
speaks. He confesses his
problem; like Woody
Allen making movies over
and over again about a
man who has killed his
wife, his mistress, his
whore. One wants to smile,

5
for to be entertained is
such release. Underneath
we start to hear the
low surge of schools of small
fish slipping into formation,
coagulating each to the next
to prepare a ruse for
an oiled shark whose
glide (leagues under the turquoise surface) splits the
purple belly of the ocean. All it
is is gathering, seeking
shelter, craving freedom.
Words lock us to

6
that (day-surgical) look that passes
between us, you and I,
resenting our mutual
fixation on (the brink of) meaning.
Can you not hear me
sing, here, as a bird
sings
to the patch of grass
he hops in? We
are only human,
caught in our
codes of
confession.

7
Unbearably literal. Add
to this the difficulty
that the bird is long
gone, and can only sing in
the yardage of
your waking dream while
you drink beer in a bar.
Someone will cough soon,
and there are those fidgeting
like squirrels. We are like
animals, and birds, like
living creatures, and yet
just as

8
tuneful begins to tremour the
likelihood that we are
(irreconcilably) fixed to words, and will
never be disgorged from their
craving for clarity. Maybe I

9
mean something simple,
like the proof of a
(stone), rocks at a shoreline,
free of those timid
sharks and deliberate
minnows. Maybe I
mean murder. Whatever. I
confess, it is more profane
when you are not yet
drunk, and when you are
drunk, it all starts to
seem somehow like
whistling, like a trilled
breeze pricking at your forearm.

10
It starts to seem like
a bird could sing only
for you, without his
hidden self lost
forever (on the brink of) pure sound,
like you could part the
purple sea between you, as if
your (shark-)mouth could become
a gullet, a swallow,
a belly. Perhaps we can
live inside each other in such
innocence. All this I
mention in my steely gaze

11
at the robin, sweeping my hand across
the space in front of my
breastline, like Edith Piaf. He says, are
you nuts? Woody Allen is
no murderer!

12
I should know, for only
today I have eaten
one thousand worms,
which spilled warmth
into my larynx,
added iron to my
impressive chest. I
know what I’ve killed, while
you like to sit
there writing, with
extraordinary silences. He
flies off, a little fucker.
Hours earlier, (actually)
moments before, I had
been writing in the

13
morning’s fluid hum,
one with all the
cars, having positive thoughts,
drinking a lot of
coffee. The kind of day

14
that starts well, a portal to
a pleasant afternoon when I
might walk in the park
and (then go to the cineplex to) see a movie,
shoving my hand under
my coat
so no one can see
me rub and tug my
clitoral gland in the
dark theatre. Have that
pleasure, muffled
blossom, insistent
swirling, which women

15
do as much as
those with cocks, but we
do not confess this so
directly,
so as not to
murder the image one
likes to code of us. We
are whore-like, sure,
but only if you consider
the sexual woman’s direct
look at you with(out mutual) wonder.
There is this problem of
confessionality. What if we

16
don’t know how to put
words to that look, if
she stares us down
in broad daylight?
Purple in her murmurings,
her crisp
and centripetal moans. Maybe she’s
full of herself, a kind of
song you cannot make your
way out of. Maybe she just
dropped by to check your
facebook status, chortle
for a moment, tweet at you.

17
Perhaps her red breast
is not yours, is not
a mark of the male,
after all. When she flashes
a nipple, it is a gland
you cannot look away
from, and it is a word
with a song you do not
hear, and still it is only
code, always coded, never
pure. We don’t know what


18
will spurt out of it,
whether drinking is
appropriate, whether
leaving would be better, I’m
not making this up.
Something about a yard,
a song, and an audience.
Moments later and hours ago. For

19
(like you) I have not wanked off
for a while, and would
like to, soon, if only for
the release from this
problem, which weighs
in me, like language
when (what) you want (is) to
(reside in music) and can’t think
of the word, words
to make sense of an
ocean parting,
a bird agitating
toward flight, the brief,

20
(deep siren) inside (immense) pleasure that
means, despite confessionality,
it is on its (own) brink, solo, and
will be,
again.


Previously on Lemon Hound: two more poems here, notes toward an essay here, and a brief essay by Meredith Quartermain on Margaret Christakos here. Christakos has published seven collections of poetry and a novel. Her most recent work is What Stirs (Coach House, 2008). A new collection, Purple, is forthcoming in Spring 2010 with Your Scrivener Press. She teaches creative writing and facilitates Influency: A Toronto Poetry Salon.