Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year

Thanks to all those who visited Lemon Hound this year. Thanks for coming even as the site continues to morph. There are more changes to come, so do continue to return. It's the readers that make the site it seems to me. It's also the fabulous guest bloggers and regular bloggers. Thanks to Nikki and Helen for a solid year of contributions topped off by the appearance of exciting first books--congratulations to you both. Contributions from Sachiko Murakami, Nick Thran and Ray Hsu were a highlight of last winter--thanks and bow and wave.  Michael Nardone, thanks for the missives from near and far, and Michael Turner, we will hear more from in the new year. derek beaulieu's posts have accumulated into an essential folio on conceptual writing and for that I thank him. The Silver Car Sessions will also return. There are new guest bloggers lined up for the coming months and I thank them in advance. As well, thanks to interns Lizy and Steph who are becoming quite essential to the project.


Here's to more changes in the new year. Here and elsewhere. Print is dead they keep saying. Sure, fine. So no reinvent it. Here's to being open to reinvention. Here's to the will to bend to and be bent by the future. Here's to finding ways to make books relevant. Here's to the peak of Internet consumption, may it integrate into our lives well. Here's to the peak of the eBook, may we find balance in the ways we read. Here's to print. Here's to online magazines. Here's to social networks fraught and otherwise. Interesting times. Thanks for making this site part of them.

In the ongoing spirit of morphing with the times we have several small and large changes in the works, both in design and perspective. But really, what we have, is enormous thanks for your support. 



RIP Bobby Farrell
In 2011 we could use a little more feathers and glitter. Just saying.

Oh my. I completely forgot the Poet Laureate of the Blogosphere title! Thanks all who voted for me, and thanks to my co-laureate Robert Lee Brewer. And Greg, I think it's all your doing that Poet Laureate thing. I'm going to get you for that.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Curiosity is our best hope for the future

You think?

I could laugh at this video. I did laugh. It's funny. Then I thought, really, is curiosity the bear's best hope? I mean is the bear curious or is the bear hungry? A quick google will tell you all you need to know about starving polar bears. I don't recommend looking at the footage: it's very, very depressing. Not as depressing as those Coca Cola ads featuring penguins and polar bears sliding down glistening snow banks and tipping back a coke, but more disturbing. So, yes, one of my resolutions for 2011 is to have more fun. Worry less. How to do this is the challenge. The question is, how will we handle all the information? How to remain neutral and not cut off, how to hear the news, truly hear the news, without having it flatten one's psyche. How to look into the abyss and not get dizzy. Laughter yes. Laughter is good. It's not enough, but it's a good start. Chalking up the successes is another good thing. Thanks to the Sierra Club for their work on protecting the waters and shores of British Columbia. Thanks to all those who stood up and fought for Fish Lake. Thanks to those who are standing up to save the Salmon and all that goes along with that species and its place in our world.  

Best Readings of 2010

Here are the readings that knocked me out in various ways. They are chronological.

Kenneth Goldsmith, Concordia University, January 2010
Goldsmith hit this one out of the park. It was a talk (based on the introduction to the new conceptual writing anthology Against Expression) not a reading, but it was full of energy, inspiring. Absolutely necessary. And I'm still hearing feedback from it.

Lisa Robertson, Greenwich University, London, July 2010
I've heard Robertson read many times and many places--New York, Philadelphia, Calgary--and now London. This reading, from R's Boat, this was the most satisfying reading to date. She was her usual, articulate and confident self, but there was an insane calm, a kind of tremor, and I had the feeling that she went on a journey while she read--and so we in the audience did too. Brilliant.

Kevin McPherson Eckhoff and Nora Gould at the Winnipeg Writers Festival, September 2010
George Murray and I did okay, as did Ariel Gordon and Ignatius Mabas, but Eckhoff and Gould nailed, nailed, nailed the evening. Ugly sweater and all. More on Gould, who will have a first book with Brick in a year or two, in the coming months.

Vanessa Place & Darren Wershler, Pilot, Swallow, October 31 2010
Wershler's inaugural Montreal reading. Brilliant. Fast paced, funny, smart. Place followed. Not many in the room were prepared for the power of Place's reading though, and without context, in the French tradition, many were stewing and fretting about it days after the fact.

Everyone at the Snare/ Coach House Book Launch, Swallow, November 2010
Gary Barwin, Jon Paul Fiorentino, Jonathan Ball, Jake Kennedy, Helen Hajnoczky, Darren Wershler and Josip Novakovich. Sizzling. Fast paced. Absolutely satisfying.

Gail Scott and Eileen Myles, Drawn & Quarterly, Montreal, November 2010
Two very different approaches to both reading and writing. A powerhouse event. Notably absent: virtually all the male writers in Montreal...too bad. You all missed out.

Dave McGimpsey at the River of Poetry Event, Bibliotech Nationale, Montreal Quebec, December 2010
McGimpsey's work seemed to be the most suited of all the poets for this show--everyone did really well, but I have to say, McGimspey's work was the most at home. And funny. I couldn't keep a straight face...

Plus, three amazing student readings: the inaugural Synapse Reading (highlights to come on the reading series website), VAV Gallery, Concordia, November 2010, as well as both the Eng 225 Introduction to Poetry and Eng 427 Conceptual Writing, Grumpys, Montreal, December 2010. Watch out for highlights of both Synapse and the Conceptual Writing event on their respective blogs.

There used to be more reading reports here on Lemon Hound but due to demands on my time and the changing nature of the blog, that hasn't happened in a while. Some readings should be commented on though. Some should be celebrated. Some you wish you had recorded. Some you did record, but that doesn't always capture the high notes of performance...what makes a good performance? Prepared, present, polished. It's not difficult. I make my poetry students memorize their poem and another, canonical poem, for their first reading. I think I should do it for every reading because the buzz of memorizing a poem is intoxicating and the night always energetic. 

Friday, December 24, 2010

Thursday, December 23, 2010

I, Nuligak


Returned to Yellowknife, into the quick breath of 30 below, aurora and eclipse over Great Slave, a mason jar of scotch to winterproof the veins, then the usual to and fro up and down Franklin Avenue, towards the new New Town, momentarily luxuriating in its nominal progress, its resource-boom sprawl fabricated in an Albertan vision of bust Utopia, pipeline paved and snowplowed for the Ghost of Christmas Future to land; all the while rummaging through moments of the recent dispersion towards Hometown, Pennsylvania, endless roads and chats with the Ghost of Christmas Past, his mouth, full of hocus pocus, muttering back--odd moments, caught, of wanting to transcribe his talk in the syntax of Latta ("Cold, the moon a hole drill’d in the sky’s western rampart. Crows clump’d up in town trees. Vacancy in the bilge compartment, the pump bust’d. (As George Chambers’d say: 'Oh so lo mio, oh do re mi fa so la.')")--yet, within this songline, cresting through the Poconos, sloping into my Susquehanna River valley, it's once-upon-pastoral, eastern forefront of Marcellus Shale fracking, a tableau vivante of Target Audience Amerika, in the descent towards my grandfather's final breaths and, once there, that breath's dispersion, the narration returns, nominally, or, once again, eternally, to Spicer: "Death is not final. Only parking lots."

To the Ghost of Christmas Present: please sneak into the New York Review of Books (1755 Broadway, New York, New York), and deliver the dear editors there a text too close to being lost--I, Nuligak--so that they will publish it in their classics series. If no one will save this book here in Canada (Santa knows, I've queried), perhaps it could find a fitting home with some of the other lost international greats the NYRB keeps alive.

Simply put, there is no book like it in this land, no document or vision of life in the far north during decades of such great change (1890s-1960s) as personally and historically intimate, compelling and complete as this: from stories of familial politics and forced exiles, lean times in the harshest of weathers, to hunts and celebrations, seasonal migrations, animal myths, tales of first contact with the Europeans sailors charting the Northwest Passage, of a traditional livelihood mixing with the first institutional attempts at arctic colonial governance and trade, philosophical musings, sagas, trapper's logbooks and glossaries.

This autobiography, its life and telling, its moment and document, is--while remaining always entertaining--of the greatest importance in charting the history of a north that, as it melts and is found to have more and more immediately exploitable resources, will be increasingly politicized, and possibly harnessed towards that bust Utopia of so many places, while documents of a sustainable way of living such as Nuligak (both in person and in text) die out.

Written by Nuligak, born and orphaned in 1895 on the Mackenzie Delta, and originally "translated from the Eskimo" into French by Maurice Metayer, an oblate missionary who visited Nuligak at Tuktoyaktuk and on Herschel Island several times in the 1950s, the first English versions of I, Nuligak were published by Peter Martin Associates out of Toronto in the late 1960s. A trade paperback of the book appeared in the mid '70s and '80s--though, sadly, without the elegant black-and-white cover drawn by Ekootak--and since this time, the book has remained out of print.

Yes, there are issues that need sorting out with a book like this--such as: does an original text by Nuligak exist; if it does exist, is it transliterated or in syllabics, and can this too be printed so that the first book published in Canada by a northern indigenous writer can be read in its original language; how great was the hand of Metayer in editing the text or, possibly, in changing Nuligak's voice (this is addressed somewhat briefly in the introduction); in what ways, if any, has Metayer colonized Nuligak's story, and if he does do so, are these possible colonizations important to keep as artifact of the book's time?

These are all questions to be addressed by editors, archivists, and specialists. At least, I hope for them to be questions that will be addressed. For now, I, Nuligak remains a hidden treasure tucked in the various northern collections in a few libraries scattered across the country.



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Michael Nardone thanks The Walrus for their "fearless" journalism.
Great Tar Sands ads, guys!
Your heart is where your sponsors are?

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Still a Vowellable Form

Constraint-based literature is often discussed in terms of exemplars. After a form has been elegantly and expertly executed, it is often set aside and treated as though it has been completely exhausted. While Oulipian Georges Perec’s La disparition takes the lipogrammatic cake in French, in English it is Christian Bök’s Eunoia that owns the form. It’s almost impossible to imagine a more complete univocal lipogram than Eunoia, to the point that the text constitutes a kind of encyclopaedia or dictionary of lipogramatic words and phrasal tricks for any future writers of lipograms. In this way, Eunoia impresses itself upon all later lipograms, making it impossible to read such poems without recalling this exemplary text. However, JonArno Lawson’s A Voweller’s Bestiary from aardvark to guineafowl (and H) suggests that in constraint-based writing an exemplar, no matter how complete, can still be expanded and enhanced.

Sold as a book for children of all ages, A Voweller’s Bestiary is a collection of entertaining poems about animals, each with a different rule taming the poem’s vowels. The book begins with univocal lipograms, such as “Ants and Aardvarks,” where we read how, “An ant’s bad karma/ has blatant drawbacks:/ An ant’s bad karma/ attracts aardvarks” (8). The book then moves on to a variety of other lipogrammatic forms, where the vowels in the title are reproduced in the same order in the text of the poem, for example, in “Opossum,” where, “Opossum’s monotonous stupor/ clouds opossum’s thoughts (36). While the univocal lipograms take on a kind of eunoian tone, especially the U poem, “Stuck-up Gulls Must Trust Dumb Ducks,” A Voweller’s Bestiary still manages to infuse the lipogram with a unique sense of play. The book is full of personalities, events, and adventures that never appear in Eunoia, allowing us to explore another very different world that the lipogram can create.

A Voweller’s Bestiary demonstrates that even if a form seems to have been thoroughly explored, employing it can still lead to new discoveries, and in this case, new lipogrammatic species never before documented. Eunoia shows us how language, no matter how abused and constrained, still strives to communicate, while A Voweller’s Bestiary shows us that language can achieve this in a number of ways. Lipograms that lean too heavily on Eunoia risk being repetitive and redundant, but A Voweller’s Bestiary builds on the exemplary text, constructing a new and engaging world on the foundation Eunoia has laid. This fun book not only introduces us to a menagerie of lipogrammatic creatures, but it also encourages us to release forms back into the wild. Even if a form has been carefully observed and studied in one setting, it could behave entirely differently in a new habitat.

Helen Hajnoczky's Poets and Killers: A Life in Advertising is now available from Snare Books.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Weekend Read

from temporary tattoos:
happy

the actual rift breeds the make-believe galaxy in which things are possible. the boombox was otherwise plenty adequate for the job. shuttle runs between joy and impossibly closer. for its own sake & for the pretense of belief as not being total.

happy day of catholic guilt and sacrifice.

happy etiquette.

take your compliments, gold-star mouth — i could squeeze your arm but i was under the impression that it was health & vitamins & whatnot we were competing around. rather than volume.

i found myself using that vocabulary without cringing.

in that meat and meaning way.

psychic marbles when you’re not a full-fledged tomorrow. the undercuts are accumulating weight. the realization of any solution being null and void has been shamefully slow. some .. measure. openly .. feel.

when i wrote that fear: your regret might come from a drug-like relationship. not completely blind but blurry. myopic.

‘as i’ve said’ has become unimaginable. i don’t want to end up a thing, turning, to be laden with limits & aftereffects, physical sickness.

at the next arm-squeezing opportunity, your dirty headlines. ecstasy: it is, by the way, a full one tonight.

an fbi agent but venom doesn’t let him know. walked to the bodega and kept going. i guess it looks scarier from out there. it’s 5 feet above or 500. even though this might not be the happiest of endings.
Carole Mirakove

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LH: We loved your submission, Carol, and felt that it must be part of a longer project. Is it? A book length project?

CM: Thank you! It is a series I originally wrote in 2001 called temporary tattoos that followed the path of graffiti flowers on the sidewalks of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and the LES and East Village in Manhattan. This year I returned to the series, edited the poems, and gave them new titles. Normally I would not touch poems that are so old, but I still feel able to access the moments in this series, 9 years later.

LH: Not surprisingly to me we had many, many entries to the prose poem contest, and they ran the gamut from straight up prose, to Steinian prose, to Beckettian prose (which ultimately won), to a Hejinianish accumulation, to more fragmented and nuanced prose lines such as yours. It seems to me that prose is the poetry of the moment. Does this resonate for you? Would you align yourself with a strand of prose poetics in America?

CM: Prose poems allow me to achieve a sense of intimacy that I have yet to realize in lineated poems. Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons, Lyn Hejinian’s My Life, and Elizabeth Treadwell’s Populace prompted me to write prose poems myself.

LH: What is the basic unit of poetic measure for you? Is it tactical or intellectual?

CM: Tactical. Without exception, to date.

LH: What site do you suggest all poets have bookmarked?

CM: I’ve recently discovered SpringGun Press when one of the editors, Erin Costello, connected to me on twitter. I think they’re up to some exciting stuff.

LH: Flarf or Conceptual?

CM: I might respond to this by quoting a poet I greatly admire: “America when will you stop trying to fit a range of opinions into either or?”

LH: New York is to ___________ as San Francisco is to Vancouver?

CM: Gut response = Toronto, but I’ve never been to Vancouver. Of it, I know Jeff Derksen, one of my favorite writers; The Kootenay School of Writing; and one of my favorite books of all time, Lisa Robertson’s Occasional Works and Seven Walks from the Office for Soft Architecture.

LH: You recently returned to the Bay Area after a period of time in New York. Can you talk a little about why you left?

CM: New York is my hometown, and after leaving it for DC then LA for 7 years, I returned to NY in 2001. My leaving last year was not without misgivings (most notably proximity to my family and many friends), but at the end of the day, quality-of-life reasons prompted a move to the Bay Area, which I continue to fall in love with.
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Carol Mirakove is the author of Mediated (Factory School), Occupied (Kelsey St.), and, with Jen Benka, 1,138 (Belladonna). She released the single "temporary tattoos" with the Dutch musician bates45. Carol lives in San Francisco.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Pulled from my shelves #13: “A library is print in its gaseous state.”


Last week I confessed to having an oneiric bookstore compulsion.

I am also (predictably) drawn to libraries.

Small and large, a collection of books will no doubt attract my eye. Whenever I am at someone else’s house, I am drawn—like so many of my colleagues—to my host’s bookshelves and their evidence of reading. Authors, scholars and academics are often socially awkward and I find myself discovering more about a host’s personality by their bookshelves than I am by conversation: how are the books arranged; what subject matters (and authors) are represented; what periods are reflected; how are the books kept?

I have a friend whose library consists solely—as a means of limiting the size of his library—of first editions; a friend who does not loan his books; a friend who believes that his books are best preserved for posterity under UV-protective glass.

Another friend’s books were re-arranged by his spouse from a random array into a more graphically attractive sorting system based upon colour and height… the books soon wandered back to their original randomness reflecting his more idiosyncratic way of looking at the world.

My own shelves threaten to overtake the apartment, and are arranged by genre, author’s last name and then by height … with a few nods to practicality (Joseph Campbell’s indispensable A Skeleton Key to Finnegans Wake: Unlocking James Joyce’s Masterwork (1944) is filed next to Finnegans Wake; The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book (1947) is filed between Ida and To Do: A Book of Alphabets and Birthdays). There is a bookshelf for visual art; two for graphic novels and comics; four for fiction, poetry, drama and theory; and one that is a mix of additional visual art, graphic novels, typography, travel books, literary journals, and a hodge-podge of other genres (which oddly places Blazing Combat next to The Holy Bible)—and that doesn’t include my daughter’s growing collection, nor my partner’s. The juxtaposition of books upon a shelf and is one of the thrills of wandering a library (my own shelf has an intriguing juxtaposition of Francis Picabia, Vanessa Place, Gabriel Pomerand, Francis Ponge and Bern Porter).

I am dumbfounded at the University of _______’s decision to move any books from their collection that have not been signed out in the last 3 years into off-site storage. These books will only returned to the shelves if requested by name and call number. In my opinion this “culling of the herd” based on frequency of usage not only prevents the thrill of browsing, but it also prevents unexpected eruptions within directed research. Students will no longer encounter any books on the shelf that haven’t been placed there by previous research. The ocean of eye-catching spines, unexpected misfiled books, or volumes sadly unexplored by recent scholars will be drastically reduced into a much shallower pool. Over the last year I have heard a veritable choir of graduate students and colleagues bemoaning the disappearing joy of browsing.

Craig Dworkin’s The Perverse Library (York: Information as Material, 2010) is a love-letter to the library. Critiqued by a colleague for possessing a “very perverse library,” Dworkin’s volume combines 3 distinct bibliophillic fervors. The book opens with a masterwork introductory essay that borders on Calvino’s If on a Winter’s night a Traveller for hallucinatory descriptions of collections, shelves and stacks. In a brilliant ’pataphysical moment, Dworkin postulates that canonicity is not an aesthetic prioritization of genre but is in fact an architectural necessity:
A library is print in its gaseous state, filling every available space and then increasing pressure—compressing, rotating, double shelving—until, according to the constant required by Boyle’s Law, either the current container breaks, loosing books onto new shelves and stacks, or else the volume stabilizes, stabilizing volumes. (14)
The Perverse Library continues with 2 separate bibliographic catalogs; “The Perverse Library” and “A Perverse Library” each of which is a giddy playground of potentiality. Borges’s library need not be a fantastical one, it is inherently embedded in every library, every shelf. Due the exigencies of moving, Dworkin has sorted his library by publisher’s trim size (my Green Integer edition of To Do, as an example, is 6" x 4 ¼") in order to fit an ever-increasing number of volumes in his residence. “The Perverse Library” is a bibliographic listing of each book that Dworkin yearns to add to his personal library, while “A Perverse Library” is a listing of each volume already possessed barring books at his office, tomes not on the shelves at the time of indexing, volumes of theory and anthologies. The paragraph-long list of categories of omitted books reflects that “A Perverse Library” is, in fact exactly that—a perverse choosing of volumes which provide a non-pervasive, yet complete, portrait of Dworkin’s working library.

The Perverse Library opens with an epigraph from Thomas Nakell, “[t]he library is its own discourse. You listen in, don’t you?” These Pulled From My Shelves columns have been an opportunity to listen in to the fantastical discourse happening in the unusual corners of my own working library. Thank you Lemon Hound, for hosting this chance to eavesdrop on the whispered conversations in my own little hexagon.
_________
Author of five books of poetry (most recently the visual poem suite silence), three volumes of conceptual fiction (most recently the short fiction collection How to Write) and over 150 chapbooks, derek beaulieu’s work is consistently praised as some of the most radical and challenging contemporary Canadian writing. A collection of his critical writing entitled "Seen of the Crime" is forthcoming from Snare Books. He is online here. You can read "Nothing Odd Can Last," from How To Write, here

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Silver Car Sessions, Episode 2

A short interview with the unfailingly kind, ever-radical, always-magical poet-man Michael Nardone

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Correspondences: fourth in a series of posts from Michael Turner

It has been a month since the Are Curators Unprofessional? symposium. A month is usually the time its takes for a weekend of yacking to sink in, inspiring new, more urgent questions than those initially posed. Am I clearer on the world’s “youngest profession” (if indeed it is a profession)? Not really. But if pressed I would argue for curation as an undefinable practice, if for no other reason than to encourage its growth.

The last panel of the symposium, The Catalogue Is Out!, was the one I moderated. Below are the questions we were asked to consider:
What is the function of the exhibition catalogue? How does it mediate between the work and the world? Is curatorial writing the lowest genre of art writing? What is the difference between criticism, curatorial writing and art history?
Responses varied, from Philip Monk’s oblique argument in favour of the parallel text to Monika Szewcyck’s consideration of the online catalogue to Matthew Higgs’s devaluation of the genre altogether. However, the best moments came from the audience, most notably Mendel Art Gallery Curator Jen Budney, who related a story of an artist insisting on a hard copy catalogue when an online catalogue was more consistent with the work.

Budney’s dilemma returned me to last February’s Cultural Olympiad, where of all the projects generated by this one-time infusion of public funds, most of the visual art publication money went to CODE (Cultural Olympiad’s digital edition), a technological trade show disguised as a visual art exhibition. Why CODE organizers demanded a hard copy catalogue over an online platform speaks to a contradiction that has the book less a dimension of the larger art experience than a souvenir for those who, despite their attachment to an obliterating future, continue to romanticize what they insist has passed.

_____________________________
Michael Turner is a Vancouver-based writer of fiction, criticism and song. He tends a blog of his own. If you're still curious you can find more about him here.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Jordan Scott: Flub and Utter

'Tis mid-December, several days till solstice, several more days till the Festival of Plastic. I've spent the day in a mild state of panic, wrapping various locally-purchased, artist/isan-made items in locally-purchased brown kraft paper to stuff in my suitcase, as if any of that can absolve my participation in the annual consumer-capitalist wet dream. This is the opposite of poetry.



Here's some actual poetry, conceived and filmed by the National Film Board of Canada: an interactive film featuring Jordan Scott's Blert. It is titled Flub and Utter, a poetic memoir of the mouth.



It, like Scott's poetry, is crunchy, tactile, delicious.

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Nikki Reimer is sorry for phoning it in this week.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Weekend Read

I'VE ALREADY LIVED MY LIFE


Before the iPhone came, we lived like pigs,

barely able to resist fratricide.

I'm honestly amazed I survived before,

what with all that listening to people.


When the flood of favorite apps came to me,

I let the flow take me to where it wanted.

I could be anywhere, looking at pictures

of drunk people on the internet.


I could see the friend at the masquerade

and how some HuffPost thing was liked 12 times;

I could listen to that message, you know,

from the taxi with the laughing in the back.


Best of all, I could set the temperature

to Farenheit and pretend to be normal.

I hold my iPhone to my chest to pray

for the thousands of texts I've deleted.

--David McGimpsey



David McGimpsey's writing was the subject of the recent book Population Me: Essays on David McGimpsey. Born and raised in Montreal, he is the author of four collections of poetry (Lardcake, Dogboy, Hamburger Valley California and Sitcom) and of one collection of short fiction (Certifiable). He has a PhD in English Literature and is the author of the award-winning study Imagining Baseball: America’s Pastime and Popular Culture. David writes a regular humor column called “The Self-Esteem Workout” for Matrix Magazine and is a contributing editor for EnRoute magazine where he writes a column about sandwiches. David plays guitar and sings in the rock band Puggy Hammer.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Pulled off my Shelves #12: “Mother Tongue, naturally.”


In the “surplus explanations” whcih conclude Nicholodeon (Toronto: Coach House Books, 1997), Darren Wershler states:
“Eugen Gomringer, who claimed that ‘it is important that [concrete poetry] should not become merely playful,’ and that ‘Concrete Poetry has nothing to do with comic strips,’ can bite me.”
Which seems as good a spot as any to start a discussion.

Gomringer is one of the originators of 20th-Century European concrete poetry, and author two early manifestos of the genre: “From Line to Constellation” (1954) and “Concrete Poetry” (1956). In my early reading in concrete poetry (and Nicholodeon was an influential text on my understanding of the dynamics of Canadian concrete poetry) I was astonished that anyone would consider comic books as anathema to concrete poetry.

Comics were—and continue to be—a key part of my own reading. I find it interesting then that when friends come over and inevitably peruse my bookshelves, they contain themselves to “literature” and they rarely “pull from my shelves” any of the graphic novels, comic books or collections of historical publications.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

A Conversation with Lisa Robertson


Michael Nardone: A lot of your work draws from an immediate environment, both landscape and peers. Thinking about where we are now—Open Space, an artist-run centre—and perhaps trying to locate our conversation in this place, can you speak about your involvement and collaborative work with your immediate community and involvement with artist- and writer-run centres in Vancouver over the years?

Lisa Robertson: I started publishing my work in Vancouver in around 1989-1990. At that time I was running a small bookstore in the downtown Eastside, specializing in contemporary cultural theory and poetry. As a bookseller, my community was the artist-run centres in the same neighbourhood and all of those people would come by their books from me. So, in that way, I met the fabulous curators, artists, and writers, and pretty quickly they invited me and integrated me into their organizations. In that way, I got to know the people who were in the collective of the Kootenay School of Writing. The Kootenay School was run collectively, there were usually six or eight people, and every now and then they'd ask somebody else to join them and that was always interesting and exciting.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

A Conversation with Gail Scott

SQ: Gail, the first thing I noticed about The Obituary is that it feels like such a wonderfully seamless continuation of My Paris, only this time, set in Montreal, in Mile End, in particular. Further, I note that you have perfected your representation of a kind of thinking and writing: sentences laid and overlaid with syntactical gesture and flaneurial texture...but more basically, my first question is about the face in the window--is it simultaneously the face in the window in 1980s Montreal and 90s Paris and Mile End in 2003?

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Correspondences: third in a series of posts from Michael Turner

Although Books Sections still exist in some Canadian newspapers, Visual Arts Sections do not. One of the few remaining on staff visual arts newspaper critics in Canada is the Calgary Herald’s Nancy Tousley, who posted her summary of the Are Curators Unprofessional? symposium on her Impressions blog.

Monday, December 06, 2010

The most engaging books of 2010

Long after the buzz of promotion dies down there is simply the reader and the book. At the very least does it hold your interest? Do you want to add it to your collection? The one that contains all the re-readable books? For me the question is more than which book satisfied, it's which book made me want more, which book made me go back more than once, which book got me thinking. Please keep in mind, I haven't read all of the available poetry titles...but of those--new books--I have read, here's what I recommend.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Pulled from my shelves #11: “I cannot sleep unless I am surrounded by books”


I dream of bookstores. I dream of finding the perfect bookstore, the oneric storehouse of all the volumes which I knew existed just beyond my fingertips. As I travel and explore corporeal bookshops, I always compare them (unfavorably) to my bibliophillic dreamscapes.

Certainly there are a few stores which hint at the possibilities like déjà vu or a faintly remembered conversation: Montreal's The Word, Vancouver's Pulp Fiction, Halifax’s John W. Doull, Bookseller and Washington, D.C.'s Bridge Street Books all suggest the ante-chambers of my imagined bookshops, but even these are merely appetizers for my yearned-for main course.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Introducing the Silver Car Sessions

Regarding the Silver Car Sessions (and Sessions Bleues de Voiture)

This is a new collection of work of video catting around with the mouse poetry itself with something stemming from yonder to at least now. Part of the interview phase of the interviewing is to get the viral out of the machine and back into the human beings. We are a kind of Bookclub that hates itself—with so much joy! Concerning our studios: so far we have used two silver cars and Barwin’s blue loaner—the former having power seats, which threw us at first. Most of the poetry here is in red and digital-video-ready. Blood, then? We can hope. Several artists we have met have expressed the opinion that certain poets should take certain workshops in video production. These kinds of suggestions are met (by us) as responsible, important concepts—in the videos—and can be recognized by a faint whiff of a cake baked by the baker’s lotus-eating son or daughter. In short, we do apologize. And, well, in the first instance, the poet wants to be an I with texts and in these instances we have tried to find ways to split the I into (usually) about 150 YouTube views. We may eventually speak of “digital work” in a forum of specialists but we will do so (we promise!) only to meet more and more people to talk to… about poetry. It’s great, actually, to have artists sit together in a cramped space / in a closed circuit space / in a device—and, AND, and we have learned that it is actually way more intimate to Skype in some ways than it is to rub noses with a stranger. We hope you monitor “ways of seeing” enough to afford us the mantle of They Who At Least Tried to Compile a Brief Community of Sonic HaHa's and Optic NoNo's. You all seem like asteroids to us—true and good things, especially in the noise between us. Besides, it’s the acoustical-visual romping we adore: your faces that end up with our words and vice versa. Thanks for fucking with us!

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

And Now A Word From Our Sponsors

It's late November--and if you are in any way associated with academia, you too may be living off shawarmas and directing all of your energy into resisting the urge to hide under your desk until your papers either write or grade themselves. If this is the case, you probably remain chained to your computer out of guilt and panic, even if you aren't doing anything productive, just to feel like you're accomplishing something. If that's the case, you may welcome this distraction. Oh did I say shawarmas? I meant yoghurt.



If you need more distracting, you can find more Target Women here.

Helen Hajnoczky also messes with advertising. She has two containers of yoghurt in the fridge but is living off shawarmas anyway.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Correspondences: Michael Turner

Of the four panels at the Are Curators Unprofessional? symposium, the one I most looked forward to was “Craftwork”, where

Panelists will explore the craft of exhibition making, by examining exhibitions that have provoked paradigm shifts. Is curating a trade or craft, rather than a profession? If exhibition making is a craft, what are the qualities that define this craft? What skills must a curator possess? Which exhibitions have provoked paradigm shifts?

The above questions, like all those “asked” in advance of their respective panels, were rhetorical at best, disingenuous at worst. Ute Meta Bauer, Director and Associate Professor of MIT’s Visual Arts Program, opted for the paradigmatic, describing groundbreaking exhibitions such as the 1913 Armory Show, Harald Szeemann’s 1969 When Attitudes Become Form and Jan Hoet’s 1992 Documenta IX – not why we have come to canonize these exhibitions, only that they are canonical.

National Museum of the American Indian Associate Curator Paul Chaat Smith proceeded allegorically. Employing his trademark juxtaposition of personal narrative and film screening, Smith’s delivered his talk alongside the opening twenty minutes (sans sound) of the film “most American Indians agree speaks best to their experience” as United States subjects: Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. (Smith’s comment was reminiscent of something U.S. writer Toni Morrison said last year: that her country’s first African-American president was not Barack Obama but Bill Clinton.)

However, it was Andrea Villani, Director of Trento’s Fondazione Galleria, that left the biggest impression on this participant. Structuring his talk as opera (“Curatorial Prelude”, “Some Misadventurous Case Histories In Curating” and “Curatorial Happy Ending”), Andrea opened with a sequence of nicely phrased questions that sounded more like aria than recitatif. Below is Andrea’s “Prelude”:

*) How to transform a museum, a museum exhibition into a soap opera, or into a radio program, to reshape the architecture of the museum in order to allow it to synchronize and to tune into another potential plan, and finally to transmit to the audience how to transform the intellectual, consumerist routine of doing or visiting a show into a mysterious act, an enchanted experience?

*) How to transform the neo-conservative agenda that drove a museum to close to travel in space and time, which recuperates the reasons for opening this museum?

*) How to legitimize not just the public, exploited, consumerist reasons for opening a museum and doing a show, but also the deep, intimate, oneiric, perverted, controversial need for doing so. How to find a myth (sorry Pier Luigi) on which founding the museum and its publicly shared need, like for a church, or a pagan temple?

*) How to legitimize the intellectual presence and action of the museum, of the exhibition, in a public arena overly blind and disinterested, or even hostile, to intellectual agency? How to reload the institutional formats, while at the same time criticizing their obsolescence and self-referentiality?


_____________________________
Michael Turner is a Vancouver-based writer of fiction, criticism and song. He tends a blog of his own. If you're still curious you can find more about him here.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Just Twelve Bars: On Adam Seelig's Every Day in the Morning (Slow)

My first problem, after reading Adam Seelig’s Every Day in the Morning (Slow), and having decided to review it, involved how to curb my penchant for superlatives, chiefly because, let’s be honest, it reads as unlearned and juvenile, and secondarily because I wanted to shout that the work is orginal! breathtaking! brilliant! inspiring! when the very words have been rendered meaningless by overuse.

Fuck.

Ok, Every Day in the Morning (Slow) scans like poetry but claims to be fiction, or reads like fiction but sounds like monologue, or looks like nothing I’ve ever seen and reads like the voice in my head, or sounds like a poetically arranged first fiction laid out as a musical score, note to note to note across the page and breath and breath and breadth.

(Breathe.)

The physical experience of reading the book. Seated in the cafeteria at the College on lunch break, I flatten the book open on it’s spine to read the words printed at the very edge of each margin on each page. Every sentence letter and every gesture word signifies a decision—Brecht via Seelig. The space on the page leaves room for my own breath, leaves space to pay attention to the power of one word to turn meaning on its edge.

(Slow) is the opposite of the blog: There is space. There is time. There is room to consider. There are no hyperlinks. There are no distractions. There is the word and the note and the voice and the man and the woman and the father and

the

word

and

the

page

and

the

mirror

and

twelve

bars

just

twelve

bars

or

one

note



Not a bore never a bore a book best read in one sitting (slow).


----------------------------
Nikki Reimer, author of [sic], lives in East Vancouver.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Pulled off my shelves #10: “It looks like ink spilled on a piece of paper.”

Last week’s column focused on books written in the interrogative: books where every sentence posed a question. Last night I was out for dinner with friends and our conversation ran to books that use psychiatric questionnaires as compositional tools. Unlike last week’s books that posed questions as a compositional strategy, I could think of a few texts that simply answer questions posed by other authors.

Dan Farrell’s The Inkblot Record (Toronto: Coach House Books, 2000) gathers patients’ responses to Rorschach tests (abstract inkblots used by psychiatrists to help patients uncover subconscious issues and enable discussion of those issues, a form of free association) from 7 different textbooks and presents those results in alphabetical order. No record is given of the initiating inkblots, and all responses are gathered into a single text, distancing the results from any one patient:
Shape. Shape and appendages. Shape and head; climbing. Shape, black bear, no real body. Shape, colouring, white and grey stone. Shape inside a heart effect, a real heart. Shape, it has no head, part of a tail, more nearly a moth with open wings, colour has nothing to do with it. (61)
The alphabetic sorting, coupled with the enigmatic nature of the responses, creates a poetic structure. A chant-like rhythm develops through repetition:
Yes. Yes. Yes, all of it again, these white parts would be the eyes and mouth I suppose. Yes, all of it looks like an abstract of some sort … you see the veins, different muscles, veins are usually in red. You try to allow for everything, but something unexpected comes up, things don’t go your way. (105)
The design of The Inkblot Record underscores Farrell’s text: all the text is full-justified and set in a san-serif typeface which create dense rectangular blocks of text (denying any inkblot-style “readings” of shape). Additionally, The Inkblot Record’s cover denies authorial extrapolation; there is no author photograph, biographical sketch, endorsements or blurbs. Dan Farrell remains a faceless creator, just out of reach of the reader.

Craig Dworkin’s “Legend (II)” is the sequel to a now non-existent original. Dworkin’s poem “Legion” was a recontextualization of all of the true/false questions in the Minnesota Multiphastic Personality Inventory. The original “Legion” would have been a perfect addition to last week’s column of interrogative novels. Despite the fact that the test has been widely discredited for psychiatric usage, Dworkin was still asked to remove the piece from circulation. He willingly did so, but replied with a sequel. “Legion (II)” consists solely of his answers to the questions posed in the original – now redacted – “Legion”:
No. True. False. False. False. False. False. False. Not especially. Uh, not really. False. No. Um, no. I guess that’s true. Not really. Uh, no. No. False. No, but what a convoluted question! Of course not, that would be crazy. Not really. Uh, no. Yeah. True. False. True. Uh, false. No. Some of it. True. No. No. Uh, true. I wouldn’t call that an artist.
As I briefly mentioned in the comment stream of last week’s column, Ron Silliman’s “Sunset Debris” consists entirely of questions (a poetic addendum to my focus on prose). Christian Bök uses the initial 100 questions from “Sunset Debris” as prompts in a conversation with the A.L.I.C.E. chatbot. Bök’s “Busted Sirens” consists of Alice’s answers to Silliman’s questions:
Yes, I think that this is hard, but I’m not completely sure.
Yes, I think that this is cold, but I’m not completely sure.
I suppose that it does.
Yes, I think that this is heavy, but I’m not completely sure.
Yes, I always have to carry it far.
I can’t really speak for them.
Yes, I think that this is where we get off, but I’m not completely sure.
The blue one, I think.
We are just having a little chat.

____________________
Author of five books of poetry (most recently the visual poem suite silence), three volumes of conceptual fiction (most recently the short fiction collection How to Write) and over 150 chapbooks, derek beaulieu’s work is consistently praised as some of the most radical and challenging contemporary Canadian writing. A collection of his critical writing entitled "Seen of the Crime" is forthcoming from Snare Books. He is online here. You can read "Nothing Odd Can Last," from How To Write, here

Thursday, November 25, 2010

I've got strangeness that jingle jingle jangles...

Strangeness of the week. I find the song, and now this video, absolutely compelling.

Unfortunately it's a trailer for a game...and as games go it appears to be fairly predictable: it involves killing; it involves a desecrated future earth, it involves levels. There is a sense of achievement, of having satisfaction withheld...etc. I haven't seen the game, and I don't really want to. I am not yet at the point that I want to leave the current narrative I inhabit for a virtual one, though I can imagine why one might want to. On the other hand, I find this video compelling and I would like to visit this world the way I would like to visit a world in a book...except this is not the world of a book, it's a world I'll have to inhabit in a completely different way...but what way is that? How is it different from living in Zuckerberg's Facebook world? So far...

I spoke to Darren Zenko, a very cool Alberta writer who writes pretty exclusively about games and gaming. He explains:
The video uses scenes and models from "Fallout 3" and the signature song of its sequel, "Fallout: New Vegas", both published by Bethesda Softworks. They're the latest in a longrunning series of post-apocalyptic role-playing games. To get an idea of the flavor of the setting, imagine the Year 2000 as envisioned by science-fiction and popular-science magazine covers of the 40s and 50s... then subject that world to a nuclear war and go forward 200 years
Where "Fallout 3" was set in the ruins of Washington, D.C. and surrounding suburbs, "New Vegas" takes place in the deserts surrounding Las Vegas, which avoided the worst of the atomic devastation -- the House bet against a nuclear strike, and the House never loses.
I've written about "New Vegas" and its predecessor several times: here, here, here, and here
And I thought poetry was bleak... But this is the world so many teenage boys retreat to. And they spend hours there, making their way through these desecrated landscapes... Zenko again:
This particular video contains very little footage of actual in-game play, rather it was composed with a third-party (fan-made) tool to place character models etc. from the game into various of the game's locations, and then to make them dance, etc. It's a pretty good little example of the new folk-art form called "machinima" -- computer-generated animated film that exploits and recombines the high-quality models and assets created for video games. While "(I've Got Spurs That) Jingle Jangle" is the signature New Vegas song, the piece was composed using "Fallout 3" assets (which F:NV largely shares).
I had more questions...so here's a brief conversation with Zenko:
I found this video haunting, Darren. I have had my share of interest in video games--from Pong, to Galaga, to Mario Brothers, etc, but I stopped somewhere at the NFL football scene and didn't venture into XBox, or Sim, or any of these more virtual worlds. Or real worlds. Too real? I found this video while looking for an original of the song (which will never be the same, thank you), otherwise I would never have found it. But once I did, I felt compelled to go further. I kind of want to own this game and this disturbs me. I don't think I have enough time in my life to be a reader and a gamer at the level of immersion the new gaming reality requires...am I wrong?

DZ: Well, not exactly wrong... but you might find that the required "level of immersion" isn't the all-consuming lifestyle choice it's sometimes made out to be. I think a lot of that idea comes from the way multiplayer games, with their complex (and often rewarding) social natures, can and do absorb players in ways single-player games don't.

But the "Fallout" games are resolutely single-player -- an increasingly rare position in the top (commercail) tier of the medium. Though it can certainly eat up time if you want it to and let it, it is very much built to support non-marathon (TV episode or feature film-length) play sessions. The hundreds of storylines, minor and major, in the wasteland are broken into manageable chapters, and you can save and walk off anytime...

Whether you will walk off is another question... both "Fallout 3" and "New Vegas" offer a lot to explore, and the compulsion to see what's just over the next ridge, or inside the next ruin is pretty strong. On the other hands...

A) ...it *is* still fundamentally a combat game, and I don't know how you feel about hours of chopping off heads, blowing off limbs, and sneaking up to bandits to put live grenades in their pants. How *do* you feel?

B) ...while it is top-notch within the context of the games medium, the writing isn't going to win any literary awards... and while the vocal performances are quite good (I think I wet my pants a little when I realized I was speaking to Kris-freakin'-Kristofferson) the digital puppets through which they are delivered, and the unchanging straight-on headshot in which they are framed, make for underwhelming cinema.

SQ: Again, I haven't seen the game, but you put your finger on something here "in bringing their half-dead world to life, Bethesda’s designers have made every corner of the space resonate with human presence..." This is another way in which the video haunts...it's like the strange optimism of post war America in this futuristic landscape. Oddly disconcerting. One feels a kind of kick in the gut for enjoying it...or wanting to. I'm hesitating...

DZ: You ought to explore it a little, if only to satisfy your curiosity and/or give yourself something of a foothold in a medium whose canons, conventions and critical culture are still very much in the formative stages despite a multiple-tens-of-billions-of-dollars presence in the cultural marketplace..."
It's the literary quality, or the potential literariness that bothers me about this game. The realism taps into a historical and future apocalyptic narrative--it gets you both ways, looking back at a dazzled post-war entertainment industry and forging of new identity and forward to a bleak world where the cowboy, by virtue of his or her resourcefulness, can once again reign.

Worse, it seems to be taking direct aim at the novel...don't read it, experience it, create your own devastating narrative... I asked new Concordia professor and poet Darren Wershler about Fallout, which I thought he might have, or know about, and yes, he does. He confirmed my suspicions:
The Fallout experience is really, really bleak. It's partly due to the detailed mise en scene, and partly due to the way the narrative is structured. There are no right answers to the problem it presents you with, and few easy ones. So it's a writerly game, in Barthes' sense. We need more of those.
Okay, but why? Why are we spending so much time in worlds that are created to distract and amuse? We need to fold this into our discussion of the future of the book also--it seems we have another, billion dollar threat...possibly more lethal than movies. Certainly another bit of competition for the old fashioned book...and your reading time. And perhaps the generative capability of your imagination...

I'll let you know. I don't have a play date exactly, but I am going to give it a shot when the semester ends.
--Sina Queyras

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Correspondences: Michael Turner

Last Monday I returned from a weekend symposium entitled Are Curators Unprofessional? at the Banff Centre for the Arts. The symposium was conceived and hosted by Kitty Scott, Director of Visual Arts and the Walter Phillips Gallery, where artist Geoffrey Farmer was “staging” a new work, God’s Dice.

The symposium took aim at a number of questions concerning the conception and execution of exhibitions, actions and publications, as well as an inquiry into what curators do. For my part, I was asked to write a series of veiled texts detailing historic artist-curator relations, to be screened (quietly) prior to each event, and moderate a panel on exhibition catalogues, a form I have been contributing to for the past fifteen years.

Although the word has deep roots, “curation” is a relatively recent activity (one need only type the word to be told that it is wrong), and as such was due for an audit. Hastening this has been the proliferation of institutional curatorial programs, most of them taught by people who come to the trade from different disciplines. Art history and studio educations are common points of entry, but there are others.

Ute Meta Bauer
MIT’s Ute Meta Bauer, who gave a keynote address in advance of the symposium’s “Craftwork” panel, told us she was trained in theatrical stage design and worked in television before venturing into exhibition making. Another prominent curator, CCA Wattis Institute’s Jens Hoffmann, studied theatrical direction, which makes sense given his tendency to treat artworks as stage props towards exhibitions inspired by literary works (The Wizard of Oz, Moby-Dick and, most recently, Huckleberry Finn). Still another is Dan Graham.

While Graham is best-known as a visual artist, he entered the contemporary conversation as a private gallerist, curating shows by conceptual artists Sol LeWitt and Robert Smithson, whose text works, like Graham’s own, have influenced proponents of what has been called “conceptual writing”, though it should be said that some of these writers spend more time shopping on these texts than identifying the work as part of an ongoing -- and expanded -- literary system. But that’s another story.

Those who have already clicked on the symposium link will have noted that the weekend included a range of keynotes, panels and social outings. An event that arrived unadvertised was a performance and object giveaway by Can co-founder and Calgary resident Malcolm Mooney, whose soft spoken poems are set in a pre-Giuliani SoHo. Upon hearing that Mooney was living nearby, another symposium participant, White Columns’ Matthew Higgs, simply looked up his number and asked if he would perform. Now how unprofessional is that?
_____________________________
Michael Turner is a Vancouver-based writer of fiction, criticism and song. He tends a blog of his own. If you're still curious you can find more about him here.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Ross McKie: Two Poems, Five Questions

After the Release of Todor Kobakov

This morning saw Todor Kobakov pushing his piano through the streets again. “Good morning,” I said to Todor, his red scarf a massive tongue flapping about his face. “Quite the wind.” It was windy and the rain had me concerned for the finish on his piano. I moved closer and offered to help push the piano but Todor insisted this was something he needed to do for himself, that life was a series of struggles and this was simply another one on another day. Wet leaves found the curved body of Mr Kobakov’s piano. I enjoyed Todor’s compositions but not enough for poetry to be ignored: “Would you mind writing a poem for me?” His tongue settled now and he told me that he was a composer not a poet. He said if I notice the space between the wet leaves and the piano, if I knew that that was a place one could hide from the rain, maybe build a home under there and raise a family, only leave for work from one’s leafhouse when the weather was clear— if I noticed all that life then I had no appreciation for music. We were pushing the piano up a hill now and I was thinking about how things stand for something.


From the Bombing Philosophers Series:
Wittgenstein
I took up the hobby of building warplanes from scratch
Through a service that matches your aggression level
Precisely with the aircraft most suited to express your potential to blitz
Say, your neighbourhood, town, city or, as one testimony had it,—
your “beloved country.”

After a rigorous assessment process, including a test over the phone involving me listing
Who I might like to kill in order from most to least, a test requiring that I yell the names;
I was soon shipped the parts for the 1939 Bolingbroke,
A version of the Blenheim Mk IV bomber from Bristol, England.

However, sometime in the plane’s construction, while I was mounting
The Twin Wasp Jr. engines, up saunters Wittgenstein onto my front lawn and,
As is the course for many a philosopher, Ludwig begins making assumptions
About the use of concrete language to express the immediate, the given.
Clearly, he was referencing the plane. I was furious.

“It’s right here,” I said, pointing at the still propless engines.
“It is here by your use of physical language. But how can those words
describe a phenomena?” And then his cheeky smile.
I was tired but insisted, “This plane does not require a phenomenological
representation, dickhead, it drops bombs. Plain and simple.”
Then he sits in the cockpit without my permission.

Later, I agreed to take him on a test flight if he promised to shut-up
And keep his harness on the entire time. But not ten minutes into the flight—

He jumped from the plane without a word. I said:
“I like the sound of Wittgenstein” and “Look out below!”



-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Sina Queyras: You sent two prose poems to us, Ross, After the Release of Todor Kobakov and From the Bombing Philosophers Series. Are these related? Part of a larger project?

Ross McKie: These poems are not related so much with regards intention; nonetheless, I noticed afterward that both somewhat cheekily consider the grand hero as a protagonist— guess I haven't recovered yet from Goethe's or Thomas Carlyle's writings about the Superman. Oftentimes I only register similarities between prose poems after their composition. Both are part of a collection I'm putting together, but will fall into different sections. There is a section entitled, From the Bombing Philosophers Series, a collection of prose poems that reconsiders or perhaps reinvents— at times comically— some of the prominent Thinkers of the 20th Century.

SQ: Why prose poems? Can you recall the first prose poem you came across? Does it seem a particularly "Canadian" or contemporary form?

RM: Prose poems intrigue me and I will check back with poems I've read and see if they're a lie, seeing if their posing as poems, only being uncovered for what they are—flash fiction or some such thing that speaks more to ADD than to metre and sound. So, I have this suspicion, even in writing them, that these pieces are belying the struggle of poetics and how a poem should scan... And yet they are somehow of poetry.

The first prose poem I came across (or crossed) was Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, I think— no wait that's the first novel ever written isn't it? Okay, how about Milton...? I don't know; but I always remember reading Patrick Lane's poem Dinner with its clear storyline and I remember thinking its shape on the page, including the use of enjambment, made it look like traditional free verse; and yet I couldn't help seeing this prosaic element that teased at narrative conventions: character portrayal, plot, conflict— words arranged in time more than that sense of words falling on a page.

Prose poems don't seem to be a particularly "Canadian" form; although I don't know about languages in our country other than English, I confess. Prose poetry has been part of the writing experience in many collections but, more notably, in the 20th Century I think poets tried to marry free verse with prose conventions. Earle Birney's David comes to mind. I do believe that now there's a sense that free verse might have evolved into a prose poetry and that that evolution, as reductionist as this sounds, might be because younger writers don't know what the hell a poem is. In looking where the prose poem is or has been, though, one can easily see that men are attracted to its form. There's reasons for this, but one I would offer up is that the narrative form feels safe and allows less abandon. Many men are inadvertently taught to try to control story, even in prose poems. I think this points to my earlier remark about "words arranged in time" but don't quote me on that 'cause I'm trying to control this interview.

SQ: What does place have to do with your writing practice? What does reading?

RM: I need a lot of quiet. I read constantly. I never claim to have some artsy, (tragic) romantic response to life, except— if I dare!— through other poems. I ain't no self-proclaimed logos channel. I harvest inspiration. Read-Read-a reed.

SQ: Essential online poetry reading?

RM: I loved Ygdrasil: A Journal of Poetic Arts, but its not been updated for a while. Others: Arc; Table Music; Poetry Foundation: Harriet; infuencysalon.ca; rob mclennan's blog; ubuweb; codeorgan; Poetryreviews.ca and, uh, Lemon something.

SQ: Most exciting book on your desk?

RM: I have been excited about Julia Kristeva since my twenties (I'm 44). Slowly reading her Desire in Language. Also, Ann Carson's Eros The Bittersweet and Sanity, Madness, Transformation: The Psyche in Romanticism by Ross Woodman. 

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


Ross McKie is a writer and actor living in Toronto, Ontario. He teaches writing at the University of Toronto's Hart House and has been known to work in television. He is currently completing his first novel. A poetry collection entitled, Pointing the Way With a Severed Finger, is forthcoming. Ross has three beautiful children.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Good Morning

Some kind of hybrid imagery. Jeff Wall meets Harry Potter meets Gregory Crewdson. More here. Click on each photo. Via either @alienated or @christianbok. Thanks to one or both of you.

And here's a not so strange cover of a Velvet Underground tune, but yes, a rather strange video...