using the tools at hand - "Field Notes for the Alpine Tundra" by Elena Johnson

Spines - Elena Johnson

spine of the sky spine of the sparrow spine of the sheep’s horn spine of the antler spine of footsteps over tundra spine of white plastic spine of unknowing spine of modern research spine of the lilting shack spine of the black spruce spine of the pika spine of the 21st-century human spine of a caribou settling into the scree

from Field Notes for the Alpine Tundra
(Gaspereau Press, 2015).
Reprinted with permission.


Elena Johnson's Field Notes for the Alpine Tundra is to the Canadian poetry world as a marmot is to the Alpine Tundra. I don't think I need to explain how the world of CanPo is like a barren tundra, do I? But Field Notes being a marmot might take a minute.

Ok, so you've got a big empty expanse, right? Lots of scrub plants and stubby trees clinging to the sides of rocks and such, the wind howling. And occasionally there's a big, flashy animal making itself known: some proud caribou or robust mountain sheep or a grizzly bear taking swipes at its neighbours. They insist on being the stars of the show. But then you hear this little sound every once and a while, this little whistle, and you know something else is busy at work, too. You just can't see it yet.

Field Notes for the Alpine Tundra is that marmot hiding in the rocks while all the bigger creatures lumber by. It has been living in the CanPo tundra for years (originally composed in 2008), and you've heard or spotted it from time to time, as when excerpts or earlier versions of the book were longlisted for a CBC Literary Award in 2010 and shortlisted for the Alfred G. Bailey Poetry Prize in 2012 and 2013. But it took until Spring 2015 for you to spot it in all its glory, when it was published by Gaspereau Press.

Slight in stature (48 pages with all the paratextual padding), narrow in scope (exclusively focused on Elena's short visit to a field research project in the Yukon), and composed using stripped-down language to match its subject, the book could easily slip your attention. Don't let it. An attentive, meditative look at wildness and how we can and cannot lasso it (in words; in graphs and charts), it's a book to read and return to, to dip into when you need a refreshing jolt, like stepping into a cold stream.

I hiked into the Alpine Tundra and waited for Elena and her little marmot to arrive. It took many months of waiting, but Elena had taught me to be patient. When they finally appeared, I asked Elena a few questions about Field Notes for the Alpine Tundra, and the results are below. I hope you enjoy!

Elena Johnson, in her blue period.


Rob: Field Notes for the Alpine Tundra is a series of poems composed in 2008 during your time as writer-in-residence with a field research project in the Yukon. Could you speak a little about the residency? How did you find out about it?

Elena: I had applied for a job back in 2006 to work as a field ecology researcher at the Kluane Alpine Ecosystem Project’s field camp in the Yukon’s Ruby Range. I ended up taking another job that summer instead, but I kept wondering about this remote mountain range in the Yukon. It occupied my imagination for several years. In 2008, after the first year of my master’s degree in Creative Writing at the University of British Columbia, I had the great luck of having some free time to travel in the summer, and wrote a proposal asking to visit the camp as their writer-in-residence, in exchange for assisting with some field research (and doing my share of cooking, etc.). A close friend of mine who had worked at the camp for many years vouched for my abilities as a backpacker, researcher, writer, and generally likeable human being. The proposal was accepted. I was helicoptered in with the food supplies, and I hiked out at the end of my stay.

Rob: Did you have any hesitations about taking on the project? Was there ever a point during those weeks when you found yourself questioning or regretting your choice to attend?

Elena: On the day I was supposed to hike down toward the treeline and head home, I got lost. It was a foggy day, and I was with someone who knew the way. But because there was a dead sheep on the usual trail, which meant the grizzly that had killed it was likely still in the area, we had to take an alternate route. No one would lend us a map. (There were only two topographic maps at the camp, so they were valuable.) So we ended up on a mountainside, in a dense fog, not sure where or how we’d taken a wrong turn. I had a compass, notebook and pencil in my pocket, so we drew a rough map of where we’d come from and marked the last place we were certain we’d been. Then we attempted to retrace our steps back to that area. Luckily, we found our way. When the fog cleared a bit, we had already made our way – roughly – back toward camp. At that point, we were very close to the trail with the dead sheep – exactly the area we were supposed to be avoiding! All that to say that on that particular day I imagined a helicopter search and hoped they’d find us alive. But even during that incident, I didn’t regret being there. I did attempt a poem about this experience of being lost in the fog, but it simply wasn’t a good poem. There are hints of this experience in the book, though – a line or stanza here and there. And there is a poem about the dead sheep.

I’m someone who loves to camp and travel, so I’m accustomed to roughing it. A more precious person would have had a hard time in these conditions – no bathing, unless you could jump into an icy creek or get the cook-tent to yourself for a half hour and heat a pot of water; cold temperatures; sleeping in a shared tent; etc. But I loved it. Well, I guess a bath or shower would have been nice.

Field Notes, in its animal form.
Photo © Elena Johnson
Rob: Yes, I remember that poem - the "Dead Sheep Valley". The way that image of the dead sheep ("Bear-marks / in its flank") jumps out of the poem, leads me to think about one of the most arresting qualities of the poems in Field Notes. The language is so spare and stripped down, mirroring the landscape. But then one flashy word suddenly appears in a poem and it shines like it never would in a different collection - like wild flowers, or a small mammal springing up among the stones, or a dead sheep out of nowhere with a claw slash through its side.

I wonder if you chose this sparse, stripped down writing style consciously when writing these poems, or if it came about naturally, in response to the landscape?

Elena: Thanks for this insightful description of the poems. Nearly all of the poems were written in the mountains (the Ruby Range), and I think the setting – the terrain itself – did have a big influence on the shape and style of the poems. But it wasn’t a conscious decision – as always, I just picked up a pencil and scrawled some lines into a notebook. I’ve noticed, over time, that the size of the pages of the notebooks I’m writing in affects the forms of the poems in both subtle and direct ways, and I think that principle was at work here, too – I had tiny notebooks that fit into my pockets, and one wider notebook. As for the language, I think I was just using the tools at hand – the vocabulary of the people around me, and the phrases my brain put together as I observed what was around me.

Rob: I've noticed that for myself, too - that the size of notebook can affect the shape of the final poem. How do your non-Field Notes poems, written (I assume) in notebooks of all shapes and sizes, differ from these? Is your stylistic approach the same?

Elena: I don’t have a consistent stylistic approach. My approach to poetry is always evolving. So my non-Field Notes poems are very varied – in theme, style, tone, voice, diction.... Some are quite sparse and small, like these, some are lists, like some of these, but others are very narrative and some are experimental. Found poems pop up now and then in the other collections I’m working on, as they do in this one. I’ve also been writing haiku and tanka for many years, and people have pointed out that there is a haiku-like feel to some of my other work. Another ongoing influence is my interest/background in ecology. I suppose a consistent element in my work is that it’s often a response to a geographic environment, whether urban or rural; the poems tend to have a clear setting, rather than being abstract or language-based. (And yet I enjoy reading work that is abstract and language-based.)

Rob: In reading Field Notes, I was reminded of a number of other books in which the poet reports from a remote part of Canada, such as Al Purdy's North of Summer (especially poems like "Trees at the Arctic Circle") or Anna Swanson's The Night Also and its suite of poems about her time in an Alberta fire lookout. Did any books (poetry or otherwise), or particular poems, serve as inspirations or guides for you in writing these poems? Did you look to any titles in particular when considering how to compile the poems as a book?

Elena: I did bring a few books with me on this trip, and I remember that one of them was by Charles Simic. But I don’t think you can comb through and find any Simic influences in here. I don’t remember which other books I brought along, but I know that none of them were Northern-themed. When I camp and travel, I like to photocopy a few pages from many different books and bring those – it’s a mini collection that is light to carry and can be put to other uses (scrap paper, tinder, etc.) if necessary.

When I got back home, it took a while to type up what was in my notebooks and see what was working. As I started to shape the poems into a series, I did look to some other collections. I remember that I read much of Gary Snyder’s Rip Rap and Cold Mountain Poems. While Snyder’s poems didn’t resonate directly with my own work, his translations of Han Shan (Cold Mountain Poems) did. There was one passage I copied down and tacked to my wall, and I included that passage as the postscript in Field Notes.

I also looked to some other poets’ collections to see how they had incorporated a long series of poems into a more assorted collection. (I originally thought Field Notes would be just one section of book, so was trying to figure out how to structure a collection around it.) While I was in the final editing stages this fall, I read some of Paulette Jiles’ writing on her time in Northern Ontario, including the poetry collection Celestial Navigation; I loved a lot of it, but I don’t think it had an influence on these poems, especially because the locale – and community – she was writing about were so different from where I was. And several writers have noticed that there might be a Kroetsch influence in these poems, but I hadn’t read his work at all until these poems were finished.

I should mention that one of these poems was included in Arc Poetry Magazine’s North-themed issue in the winter of 2013. If anyone reading this interview is interested in poetry about – or from – the North, that issue contains a lot of incredible work. There are so many amazing poets in it, many of whom live in Northern communities. The issue’s out of print now, but available in libraries.

Rob: I love that idea of reading poems and then using them to start fires! The poems in Field Notes... prepare yourself... really "caught fire" themselves - they were longlisted for the CBC Literary Awards in 2010, and were part of larger manuscripts that were shortlisted for the Alfred G. Bailey Prize in 2012 and 2013. In other words, these poems have been garnering acclaim, and bouncing around from one arrangement/manuscript to another for quite some time now. Can you speak a little about the journey the poems took from original composition to the final product as a full-length collection?

Elena: This series of poems remained fairly unchanged between 2010 and its publication date (2015). But it took me a while to gather my confidence and start sending it around to publishers. The changes that were made to these poems were fairly minor: deleting a word here or there, or taking out unnecessary passages – mostly whittling and reordering.

Rob: Connected to the above, Field Notes is just barely long enough (48 pages with all its paratexts and a good amount of white space) to qualify as a full length "book" by Canada Council standards. How do you feel about that? Did you have any desire to add poems to the series to pad it out?

Elena: I’ll admit I did feel a bit shy about putting a smallish book out into the world, especially for my first collection. This work was originally part of a longer collection that included a variety of other poems not related to this series – travel poems and urban poems, for example. It was my editor at Gaspereau Press, Andrew Steeves, who suggested that we try splitting the collection in two and giving the Alpine Tundra poems their own book. When I put my ego aside, I could see that he was right – I had basically folded two books into one, and the Alpine Tundra series was really distinct from my other work. And, deep down, I had always wanted these poems to have their own book – I just didn’t realize that there were enough poems. 48 pages seemed the right size for this collection; in the end, I actually had a few extra alpine tundra poems that we just didn’t have room for.

Rob: Do you have a general preference when you're reading towards shorter or longer collections?

Elena: As a reader, I enjoy both short and long collections. But I do find that 70 or 90 pages can feel a bit long if the book is exploring just one main theme. Friends of mine (poets and non-poets) have mentioned that the small size of this collection appeals to them – they feel that they can potentially read it in one sitting, or that they’re not overwhelmed/intimidated by the idea of reading a whole book of poetry, cover to cover.

Rob: I'm glad you mentioned Andrew Steeves and Gaspereau. As I read your book, which includes some charts and tables from the scientific research the project was undertaking, I was struck by how it seemed perfectly suited to Gaspereau, who are known for not just publishing great writing, but making physical books that are works of art in themselves. Were all of the graphs and maps in the book already a part of it when you submitted it to Gaspereau, or were some of them added later?

Elena: All but two of the graphs, maps and other visuals were already in the manuscript when I first sent it to Gaspereau. Two of them were added in later, during the year between signing the contract and beginning the final edits. I had some time that year to take a new look at the manuscript, and wrote to the camp’s head researcher to see if he had any graphs that illustrated certain ideas/findings I was hoping to incorporate into the text. He sent a few, and two of them fit in quite perfectly.

One of the things I’ve really appreciated about working with Gaspereau, and specifically with Andrew Steeves, the editor, is that he sees, in the same way I do, that these visuals are poems in themselves. I think he sees the true beauty in, say, the illustrations of the cross-sections of willow stems. Not all editors would be open to including these scientific charts and illustrations.

Rob: More generally, how, if at all, did working with Gaspereau change your expectations for what the book was, and what it could be?

Elena: As I mentioned above, the biggest change the book underwent (and this was just a few months before publication), was being split in two. I’m so glad to have been working with an editor who could see that these poems needed a book of their own. The other change was that I sent Andrew some of my photographs from my time in the Yukon, with the thought that perhaps he’d like to base a line-drawing on one of them for the cover of the book. Instead, he chose to use two of the photos in the book itself – one as the cover, and one as a two-page spread at the front of the book.

I felt the book was in good hands, and that was a great comfort during the editing and production processes. Gary Dunfield and Andrew did such a beautiful job with the book. Even the typeface was so thoughtfully chosen. I feel pretty honoured to have worked with them.

Rob: Have you shown these poems to members of the research team you accompanied? If so, did you have any trepidation doing so, and what was their response? If not, do you plan on sending them a copy of the book?

Elena: I sent an early draft to one of the head researchers a few years ago, to make sure it all made sense from a scientific standpoint. And I sent a copy last summer to the professor in charge of the field camp, with the same intention: to make sure it made sense, and that I hadn’t misrepresented any of the science.

At this point, they’ve both received their copies of the finished book, and have sent words of delight my way. It means so much to me that they love the poems, and the book. They were open to having a poet at their camp, having no idea what would come of it. It goes without saying that I couldn’t have written this book without their support.

Elena's shadow still haunts
the Alpine Tundra.
Photo © Elena Johnson
Researchers – mostly biologists and ecologists – were coming and going from the camp during the weeks that I was there. We had a group of 6-8 people at any point in time. Because the group kept changing, I wasn’t able to thank them all by name in the acknowledgements at the back of the book. But I am so thankful to each one of them: they cooked for me and ate what I cooked, they made sure I knew where to watch out for bears, they took me along on their field studies (including marmot-trapping and plant-counting), they made good coffee, and they reminded me to spend time writing poems. They even made me a card when I left – a crayon drawing on a folded sheet of printer paper. While the poems have an alone-in-the-wilds feeling, there was definitely a social element to my time in the mountains. Even if I spent the day alone, I was happy to have supper with these folks at the end of the day.

In one of the nearly-final versions of the book, I made a sweeping dedication: to all the scientists who dedicate their lives to the study and protection of northern ecosystems. The dedication was perhaps a little much, and was edited out; I simply thanked this specific research team in my acknowledgements. But I do feel this work is dedicated, more broadly, to field scientists in general, and especially those who focus on northern ecosystems.


Make sure you corner a copy of Field Notes for the Alpine Tundra and pluck it from the scree. You can do so from your local bookstore, or from the Gaspereau Press website, or, if you wish to gut the book industry as a grizzly does a sheep, via Amazon.


NXNW Interview

I was very fortunate recently to be interviewed (along with my colleague and friend Dr. Patricia Gabriel) by Sheryl MacKay for CBC's North by Northwest.

The interview focused on a research project we have been working on for the last three years, which looks at if and how poetry can be used to enhance physician empathy around the diagnosis and treatment of depression.

You can stream the interview here (Patricia and my part starts at 15:50).

Thanks to Sheryl for giving us this platform, and to everyone involved in the project for making it happen.


Surrey Poet Laureate Call for Applications - Due June 30th!

Surrey is looking to hire their first Poet Laureate. Hurrah! The deadline is June 30, and all the details can be found on the poster below (click to enlarge), or if you click RIGHT HERE.

I want a 10% finder's fee if you get the gig... Good luck!


July Dead Poets Lineup Announced!

The next Dead Poets Reading Series event will take place at the Vancouver Public Library's Central Branch, Alice MacKay room, on July 12th, 2015, from 3-5 PM.

The lineup:

ee cummings (1894-1962), read by DN Simmers
Lauris Edmond (1924 - 2000), read by Christine Hayvice
John Keats (1795 - 1821), read by Matthew Henley
Robert Lowell (1917 - 1977), read by Christopher Levenson
PK Page (1916 - 2010), read by Ruth Daniell

Attendance is free. For more info, visit our website.

I hope to see you there!


what a teeming fragment of minutiae, and yet crucial minutiae

Time made wastrels of us all, did it not, with its gaunt cheeks and its tombly reverberations and its admonishing glances with bony fingers. Bony fingers pointed as if in admonishment, as if to say, "I admonish you to recall your own eventual nascent death, which being on its way is forthcoming. Forthcoming, mortal coil, and don't think its ghastly pall won't settle on your furrowed brow, pronto, once I select your fated number from my very dusty book with the selfsame bony finger with which I'm pointing at you now, you vanity of vanities, you luster, you shirker of duties as you shuffle after your worldly pleasured centers."

That was some good stuff, if only he could remember it through the rest of his stroll and the coming storm, to scrawl in a passionate hand in his yellow pad. He thought with longing ardor of his blank yellow pad, he thought. He thought with longing ardor of his blank yellow pad on which, this selfsame day, his fame would be wrought, no, on which, this selfsame day, the first meager scrawlings which would presage his nascent burgeoning fame would be wrought, or rather writ, and someday someone would dig up his yellow pad and virtually cry eureka when they realized what a teeming fragment of minutiae, and yet crucial minutiae, had been found, and wouldn't all kinds of literary women in short black jackets want to meet him then!

In the future he must always remember to bring his pad everywhere.

- George Saunders, from his short story "The Falls". You can read the whole thing here.


Reading Elise Partridge

This piece was initially published in The Coastal Spectator in anticipation of the posthumous book launch for Elise Partridge's The Exiles' Gallery. I have modified the essay slightly to serve as a more general commentary. You can read the original here.


Elise Partridge
I was a fan of Elise Partridge the Poet before I was a fan of Elise Partridge the Person. Sometimes I need to remind myself of that. Not because her poems prove lacking—far from it—but because she was perhaps the most generous and encouraging poet around. Following Elise’s death from colon cancer at the end of January, proof of her giving spirit came pouring in from just about every corner of the Canadian poetry world (from The Globe and Mail and Quill and Quire, to writers’ personal blogs). Christopher Patton noted that Elise was “warm loving acute witty skeptical wry and humane,” Elizabeth Bachinsky added that she was “gracious and self-effacing,” and Stephanie Bolster praised “the generosity of spirit, the deep humanity, the ability to see each person or thing clearly and for its own qualities” in Elise’s life and work. In my own piece remembering Elise, I wrote that she taught me “that the generous heart and spirit that go into the page need to be the same heart and spirit that travel out into the world every day.”

Serifs ascending, descending,
I want to recognize all of you

– Chemo Side Effects: Vision
But before all that, for me, Elise Partridge was the name on the byline above two poems: “Chemo Side Effects: Memory” and “Chemo Side Effects: Vision”. The year must have been 2008, or soon after, when both poems were published in Elise’s sophomore collection Chameleon Hours (Anansi). At the time, as today, I was in part drawn to poetry for its compactness and care for detail: the best poetry serving as an antidote against the big, noisy, chaotic world we live in. But the moments when poets really did this—really stopped and looked, and became small and free and powerful through that looking—were rare. Then I opened Chameleon Hours and there was Elise, in the middle of chemotherapy—a particularly awful type of industrialized chaos which denied her full access to her basic faculties—saying “No” to the disease and the distraction. Saying, “I’m sorry if you’d rather I worry about the ‘big picture,’ but I have this small thing to look at: a word, a letter, the serif on the tip of an f, this fiddlehead fern.” Saying this even if she couldn’t quite see them any more. What a bold statement it seemed to me then, and even more now, against death. “Death,” it was as if she was saying, “you can do many things, but you cannot stop me from relishing the world.”

In Babel, they also lay down and wept.
– The Alphabet

The Exiles' Gallery
(Anansi, 2015)
And death didn’t. Testament to that is Elise’s third collection, The Exiles’ Gallery (Anansi, 2015). Two poems which are the new book’s strongest inheritors of the defiant looking of the “Chemo Side Effect” poems are “X, a CV” and “The Alphabet.” In “X, a CV”, the author lists the twenty-fourth letter’s finest accomplishments and most famous roles, including “bowling strike,” “kiss,” and “default sci-fi planet.” She drills down and down into a letter most of us think little about (“in Pirahã the glottal stop; / a fricative in Somali”) and in the process elevates and enriches the final image: “the name of millions: / those never granted an alphabet’s power.” I’ve read this poem aloud and listened as that last line’s simple observation resonated through the room, generating a depth of meaning it never would have accomplished had it been placed at the end of any other poem. More proof that Elise’s particular form of persistence paid off. “The Alphabet” functions similarly, with perhaps a more devastating conclusion.

And each crop a loyal perennial.
That infinite stash of pippins,
cores shied over a wall!
– Before the Fall

Elise’s attention to words and letters is not limited to their shapes and serifs—it’s clear in an Elise Partridge poem that all of a word’s meanings were considered, too, before it was pressed into the page. Many poets ask their reader, via the density of their poems, to pick up the dictionary in order to fully understand the poet’s work—few, though, succeed in making that process pleasurable. But with Elise’s rigour and intention, I always know the extra work will be worth it. Take, for example, the last sentence of the short poem “Before the Fall” (which opens a section of The Exiles’ Gallery). A poem about Adam and Eve in the garden, it closes: “That infinite stash of pippins, / cores shied over a wall!” Look up “pippins” in the dictionary and you’ll see it’s the word both for the apple and the seed (such a vital distinction in the Garden of Eden!). Look up “shy” and you’ll find a great number of meanings (eleven in the dictionary I’m using) from “throw” to “reserved” to “startle” to “distrustful” to “insufficient” – all of which seem to have a home in the poem.

The gate that won’t quite shut
with its scruff of lichen
invites us into the orchard

– Invitation
As playful and powerful as the above poems are, the most affecting suite of poems in The Exiles’ Gallery comes, as with the “Chemo Side Effect” poems in Chameleon Hours, when Elise applies her determined attention to her battle with cancer (Abigail Deutch, in her review of The Exiles’ Gallery, pulls out a line from “Chameleon Hours” and suitably dubs Elise “The Virtuoso of Upheaval”). In poems like “Gifts”, “The If Borderlands”, and “Invitation”, we see the rich benefits of all of Elise’s looking and insisting: “the bursting plums” in the orchard, which we are invited “to pick ‘till time and times are done’”; the globe in our hands that we linger and long for, “tender as a peach.”

With your labour of double love
you will give us hundreds,
and all you ask is two loaves.

– Range
At this point in reading and thinking about Elise and her work, the difference between Elise the Poet and Elise the Person begins to feel irrelevant. She lived the two, in union, so seemingly effortlessly. Like Klaus, the repairman in her poem, “Range,” Elise came into our lives both in person and on the page, and fixed what needed fixing. As Elise's friend and colleague Barbara Nickel puts it: “Like Klaus… Elise gave and gave and gave careful, meticulous, loving attention—to her poems, to others’ poems, to friends and family, strangers, anyone she met.” In talking with Elise’s husband, Steve, he used the phrase “scrap-yard rescue” to describe a theme that runs through Elise’s poems like “Range” and “A Late Writer’s Desk”— poems focused on “preserving what others have given up on.”

My friend, you didn’t lie down.

– Last Days
Sometimes it feels like poetry itself is what we, as a society, have given up on. Or simple, generous attention. Or, simply, generosity. But all of these things feel preserved, and redeemed, when you have a book of Elise Partridge’s poetry in your hands. So please, pick up a copy and find a comfortable chair. Read with the focus and wonder under which the poems were created. And wherever you are, you won’t be alone or unseen.

Miranda Pearson reading at Elise Partridge's Vancouver Book Launch, May 21st, 2015


Elise Partridge Essay and Launch (Tonight!)

Tonight, in Vancouver, we will be launching Elise Partridge's posthumous collection The Exile's Gallery. In anticipation of the event, I wrote a little essay on Elise, her writing, and some of the poems in the new collection. You can read that here:

Book launch celebrates life and work of late Elise Partridge

As for the event itself, it will take place at 7 PM, at the Heartwood Café near Broadway and Main, and will feature a really wonderful lineup of readers. You can get more info via the event's Facebook page or by moving your eyes slightly lower on this page to view the event poster:

(click on image to enlarge)
I hope to see you there!


part of a vast and communal enterprise

As a parent, you do have to grow up – or at least moonlight as an adult. It’s a truth that terrified me at first. I figured that “parent-mind” – preoccupied with schedules, routines, logistics, crossing chores off lists, and caring for others – would be bad for the work, and in some ways of course it is, because it devours so much time and keeps hauling you out of the sacramental mode and back into the logistical/secretarial.

But on the whole I was wrong. As with any parent who doesn’t hate the job, my vision of life and, hence, my imaginative scope have widened hugely with fatherhood. Being a parent, and thus an adult, alters your vision of time and mortality. You can’t help starting to see yourself as part of a vast and communal enterprise, instead of a discrete, isolate being (i.e. an eternal child enwombed at the navel of the cosmos). Eternal children can write nothing but lyric poems until their lyric source is depleted; or else they write self-focused, first-person Bildungsromans, one or two at the most, till that source too dries up. A child who becomes an adult – even if an incomplete, part-time, sometimes grudging one – is inducted into the world’s larger life and can never run out of material.

-Steven Heighton, in interview with Evan Jones over at Partisan. You can read the whole thing here.


May Dead Poets - Tomorrow!

The next Dead Poets Reading Series even will take place on May 10th, 3-5 PM, Alice MacKay Room, VPL Central Branch, and will feature:

Frances Horovitz (1938 - 1983), read by Alan Hill
Maxine Kumin (1925 - 2014), read by Rhona McAdam
Grace Paley (1922 - 2007), read by Martha Roth
Lorraine Vernon (1921 - 2004), read by Heidi Greco
Goethe (1749 - 1832), read by Graham Good

You can RSVP for the reading via Facebook here. For more info, visit our website.

Please help spread the word, and if you're in Vancouver, I hope to see you there!


PRISM 53.3 - Launches Tonight!

My third issue as editor of PRISM international is being launched tonight! The details are all here in this alarmingly green poster:

You can RSVP via Facebook here, or just show up. There will be food, and you'll have the chance to be the famous pizza pug:

Even if you can't make it to the launch, I'm hopeful you'll pick up a copy, as I'm quite proud of the issue.

It features new work from a number of Canadian writers, including locals Evelyn Lau, Daniela Elza and Angela Rebrec, and also writing from three Americans: Todd Boss, Derek Sheffield and Katy E Ellis. The feature to open the issue is a five-poem sequence by Alberta poet Nora Gould, an excerpt from her forthcoming Brick Books collection Joy, breathe (Fall 2016).

To promote the issue, I interviewed Todd Boss (who I was lucky to meet at AWP) about his Motionpoems project, in which he pairs poets and film makers to make fantastic short films:

Motionpoems: Videos and an Interview with Todd Boss

I also posted one sample poem from the issue, by Toronto poet Michelle Brown, which you can read here:

"Something Funny" by Michelle Brown

In addition to the poetry, the issue features some excellent prose, including Non-Fiction Contest winner Diane Bracuk's "Doughnut Eaters" and fiction by Richard Kelly Kemick (who will be reading at the big launch).

So come out tonight! And if you can't, think about picking up a copy via PRISM's online store.