Two April Readings

Oh April, the month when we feverishly try to get all of the poetry out of the way for the year!

I'm very pleased to have been invited to take part in two readings for National Poetry Month. The details:

Spring Poetry & Food Event For Kidsafe
Wednesday, April 15th, 7 PM
Chocolate Arts Cafe
1620 West 3rd Avenue, Vancouver
Featuring: Danny Peart, Rachel Rose, and me!
$20 (includes soup, desert, coffee - all proceeds to Kidsafe)
Get Tickets and Donate Here

A Feast of Poetry
Friday, April 24th, 7 PM
North Vancouver City Library
120 West 14th Street, North Vancouver
Featuring: Raoul Fernandes, Pam Galloway, Rachel Rose, David Zieroth and me!
Free! And free appetizers!
RSVP via the NVCL Calendar

If you haven't guessed yet, the League of Canadian Poets has set this year's Poetry Month theme as "Food" (because "Poetry... you know... about feelings and stuff" doesn't quite have that ring to it).

So come for the food, but stay to watch me try to convince the audience that my poems about family, nature, and sadness are actually about food. I'll call it "soul food" or something. Oh god... I really don't know how I'm going to pull this off...

I'd love to see you at either event (or both)!


why should a writer be expected to be a social commentator?

Why should a writer be expected to be a social commentator?... How can someone who spends her days changing dashes to parentheses and then to commas have the inside track on anything of world-shaking import? Writers are like mushrooms, thriving best in moldy basements, where they are happiest checking facts and doing the cryptic crossword puzzle. Don’t bring them up, blinking, into the merciless light of day, where they will have to reveal their ignorance to people with more money, people who have different kinds of shoes for every kind of sport.

What those well-shod folk don’t recognize about writers is that we write to learn about things, not to teach them to others. We write to find out what it is we’re writing about. You read for the same reason — to find out what it is you’re reading to find out. We’re all just asking questions here, and what questions deserve are answers. Not opinions.

- Susan Glickman, expressing what I think every time I sit through a post-reading Q+A at a Writers' Festival, in her essay "In My Opinion", published over at The Editor's Weekly. You can read the whole thing here. Thanks to the Vehicule Press blog for pointing this out.


poems that are alive will have a life of their own

I teach punctuation as a form of orchestration and musical notation. I teach close reading, rhetoric, transitions. But the opposite of all this, equally important, cannot be taught; it can only be remembered and acknowledged. After a poem is written, something of what has happened outside the writer’s consciousness can sometimes be named. But during the writing, the poet cannot know everything about the poem. In lyric poems, I suspect the poet often enough may not know much of anything. Not what it is about, not where it is going. The poem needs its first draft intoxication, its subversive trickster energies, its whistling in the dark, its unexpected and unfendable off pang of longing. A poem too sure of itself will have no crack for breathable air to enter, and will die for lack of permeability. Poems that are alive will have a life of their own, beyond the control of the writer. The writer’s only task when that life arrives is to get out of its way.

We are the amanuenses of our poems. They dictate us. Or so it seems to me. We learn everything we can of craft so that what we know can be of service to what wants to come through us.

- Jane Hirshfield, in discussion with Ami Kaye about the themes of her essays (later collected in her excellent book Hiddenness, Uncertainty, Surprise: Three Generative Energies of Poetry), over at Pirene's Fountain. You can read the whole interview here.


good poems always travel in more than one direction

I’ve come more and more to believe in the presence and centrality of... invisible ink [in poems] — or, to use a different metaphor, to believe that there is a set of hidden clockworks beneath the surface of any poem we find ourselves moved by. This is true, paradoxically, even of poems that seem to tell everything outright. A poem may seem naked or plain, but if it moves us, there will always be something else at work, under the surface of its words. This second, undertow life is what differentiates poetry from instruction manuals, journalism, or, for that matter, a diary-type journal. Good poems always travel in more than one direction. They do not soothe us with platitude knowledge, they broaden us with complication, multiplicity, permeability to the subtle, and with unexpected perceptions, gestures of language, and comprehensions.

In addition to this larger scale dimension of hidden energies in poems, there is also a set of particular craft devices that might be described as “invisible ink.” One example is the deliberate choice to leave something out. A poem can convey an emotion or event’s presence by walking around it, revealing its shadow, alluding without naming, pressing back against it. Poems can create meaning in the same ways that mimes create walls, tables, balls, out of thin air and their own responses. This mode of communication falls into the category of what rhetoric calls periphrasis. Think of those Chinese scrolls in which the moon is a circle left uncolored. It is simply the paper, unpainted. That is an act of visual and physical periphrasis — the ink brush touches everything but the moon itself, which is, as in the physical sky, beyond any actual touch or reach.
- Jane Hirshfield, in discussion with Ami Kaye about the themes of her essays (later collected in her excellent book Hiddenness, Uncertainty, Surprise: Three Generative Energies of Poetry), over at Pirene's Fountain. You can read the whole interview here.


Stephen Burt @ UBC

Stephen Burt is giving a presentation at UBC on Monday. The details:

The 2015 Garnett G. Sedgewick Memorial Lecture: Stephen Burt
“The Use of Poetry and the Use of Place”
Monday, March 2nd, 2015, 3:30 PM
Cecil Green Park House
6251 Cecil Green Park Road, Vancouver, BC
Reception to follow

Never heard of Stephen Burt? Here's a handy bio:

Stephen Burt is a poet, literary critic, and professor with eight published books, including two critical books on poetry and three poetry collections. His essay collection Close Calls with Nonsense (Graywolf Press, 2009) was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. His other works include Belmont (2013); The Art of the Sonnet (Harvard University Press, 2010); Something Understood: Essays and Poetry for Helen Vendler (University of Virginia Press, 2009); The Forms of Youth: Adolescence and 20th Century Poetry (Columbia University Press, 2007); Parallel Play: Poems (Graywolf, 2006); Randall Jarrell on W. H. Auden (Columbia University Press, 2005); Randall Jarrell and His Age (Columbia University Press, 2002); and Popular Music (Center for Literary Publishing, 1999). Burt grew up around Washington, DC, and received an A.B. from Harvard in 1994 and a Ph.D. in English from Yale in 2000. He taught at Macalester College for several years before becoming a professor of English at Harvard University.

He's also known as "That guy who did the poetry TED talk. No, not Shane Koyczan, the other one...":

I hope to make it, and would love to see you there.


I'm Reading! Tonight! Twisted Poets!

My first feature reading in quite a while - twenty minutes of new poems. Oh god, it should be interesting!

The details:

Twisted Poets Literary Salon
Thursday, February 26th, 7:00 - 9:30 PM
Cottage Bistro
4468 Main St., Vancouver
Featuring: Ruth Kozak and me!
By Donation

You can get more details here, and you can RSVP via Facebook here.


PRISM 53.2 - Launched!

My second issue as Poetry Editor at PRISM international, PRISM 53.2, has been released. We had no formal launch for this one, and therefore no photos of my mother recreating the issue cover (though I would love to watch you climb an ice wall, Mom!), but it still feels terribly good to know that it's out in the world.

The poetry in the issue ended up splitting down the middle between very well-established poets who I've long admired (Robyn Sarah, Don Coles, Russell Thornton, Alice Major, etc.) and brand-new-to-me writers (Susan Alexander, Stephanie Yorke, Laurelyn Whitt), including a translation of Italian poet Marina Moretti. You can read the whole table of contents here.

The issue opens with five poems from Robyn Sarah, my editor at Cormorant Books for The Other Side of Ourselves, and to my mind one of our country's very best poets. To promote the issue, Robyn agreed to answer a few questions of mine about her poems in the issue, her forthcoming collection My Shoes Are Killing Me, and the development of her writing style. You can read that here:

“Sequencing a collection is like writing one last poem”: An Interview with Robyn Sarah

I've also posted to the PRISM website a poem from Laurelyn Whitt's "Tar Songs" series (one of two included in the issue):

“Tar Songs: Maestro” by Laurelyn Whitt

While I go on and on about the poetry, the prose, assembled by editor Nicole Boyce, is excellent, including new work by Amanda Leduc, Ayelet Tsabari and Trisha Cull, among others.

If any of the above interests you, please think about ordering an issue or a subscription. I've got two more issues to go after this, and I promise I'll do my best to pack some good reading in there!


maybe from a great distance you can see an old woman

One of the aspects of my own poetry I like best is the presence of people who don’t seem to make it into other people’s poems. Much of our recent poetry seems totally without people. Except for the speaker, no one is there. There’s a lot of snow, a moose walks across the field, the trees darken, the sun begins to set, and a window opens. Maybe from a great distance you can see an old woman in a dark shawl carrying an unrecognizable bundle into the gathering gloom. That’s one familiar poem. In others you get people you’d sooner not meet. They live in the suburbs of a large city, have two children, own a Volvo stationwagon; they love their psychiatrists but are having an affair with someone else. Their greatest terror is that they’ll become like their parents and maybe do something dreadful, like furnish the house in knotty pine. You read twenty of those poems and you’re yearning for snow fields and moose tracks.

- Philip Levine, from his Paris Review "The Art of Poetry" Interview. You can read the whole thing here.

Levine died on Saturday at the age of 87. I'll miss his interviews almost as much as I'll miss his poems, which is saying a lot. You can read all my quotes from Levine's interviews here.


do it the hard way and you'll always feel good about yourself

Many young poets have come to me and asked, How am I gonna make it? They feel, and often with considerable justice, that they are being overlooked while others with less talent are out there making careers for themselves. I always give the same advice. I say, Do it the hard way, and you’ll always feel good about yourself. You write because you have to, and you get this unbelievable satisfaction from doing it well. Try to live on that as long as you’re able. Don’t kiss anyone’s ass. Wait and be discovered or don’t be discovered. I think I did it the hard way. I didn’t kiss anyone’s ass; I waited a long time; I didn’t go to a school that would give me advantages. I didn’t publish a book that anyone read until I was forty. But to be utterly honest, I think if something hadn’t happened about then I might have become a very bitter man. It was getting to me. If I’d had to wait until I was fifty I don’t know what lousy things I might have done.

- Philip Levine, from his Paris Review "The Art of Poetry" Interview. You can read the whole thing here.

Levine died on Saturday at the age of 87. I'll miss his interviews almost as much as I'll miss his poems, which is saying a lot. You can read all my quotes from Levine's interviews here.


March Dead Poets Event

Goodness, have we got a lineup for International Women's Day!

The next Dead Poets Reading Series even will take place on March 8th, 3-5 PM, Alice MacKay Room, VPL Central Branch, and will feature:

Simin Behbahani (1927 - 2014), read by Alice Major
Frances Horovitz (1938 - 1983), read by Alan Hill
Audre Lorde (1934 - 1992), read by Ngwatilo Mawiyoo
Marianne Moore (1887 - 1972), read by Karen Solie
Lorine Niedecker (1903 - 1970), read by Sarah de Leeuw

For more info, visit our website.

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