the first politics

Jay Ruzesky: I have a friend from South Africa who is an artist and who was making art in the era of apartheid. She told me that it was very difficult to do anything but address political issues directly because if she didn't she would be criticised. I hear a kind of echo of that now and there is desperation to it. It's as if some people think: We are wrecking the world, how could we possibly spend time talking about anything else right now? What are we doing writing poems?

Tim Lilburn: Before we get caught up in the urgency or the panic of that question - How can we waste time when we should... well, do precisely what? - we might take a pause and look at the problem. I see it having different forms. One layer of the problem is colonialism and the way the European mind and the European sensibility came to this continent and never really settled her but remained restless throughout, always looking for new oil reserves, new gas reserves, new stocks of fish to catch. You can ask: What is that energy? Another way to look at it is to think about the anarchic, questing, omnivorous, absolutely irreverent energy of capitalism and to ask what that is. What's the most effective way to oppose either of those things? Insofar as both colonialism and capitalism are destructive - as well as being hugely creative - their destruction has a source in a form of thinking - utilitarian, acquisitive, or as Emmanuel Levinas says, totalizing: making everything that is not us, ours. So if that's where the problem starts and it's humming away as a problem generating more and more energy, then acts against that or acts that attempt to transform or disconnect the epistemological allegiances, the acts of poetry, the acts that take place through loaning our energies to the wilderness of language, those are centrally political acts, though they don't look political. It is the first politics. You can try to stand in front of the big machines, that is important work to do, but the machines are going to keep on coming and coming. We stop something here and it's going to come there. So the deep political change is going to be interior change. It's going to be, to use and old word, a psychagogic change. It's going to be a transformation of interiority. Now you're in the terrain of mysticism, the terrain of lyric poetry, probably the most neglected energy bundles in contemporary Western culture; this is where politics, real politics, is going to be enacted.

- Tim Lilburn, riffing off ideas from his book of essays, Going Home, and keeping his use of words the spellchecker has never encountered down to two (can you guess which?). From The Malahat Review #165, Winter 2008.


rocksalt review

Mona Fertig, editor of the Rocksalt Anthology, found a review of last month's Rocksalt VPL reading from an Abbotsford newspaper. It's a positive review, and even has a nice word about my contribution. You can read it here. (I don't know how to get it to appear the right way up, but if you right click and select "Rotate Clockwise" three times, it's fairly readable!)


beating the gold out further

Dennis O'Driscoll: Do you ever feel burdened by the sheer amount of work you know it will require to do justice to a particular inspiration?

Seamus Heaney: One of the difficulties is to know whether a little quick flash of lyric is sufficient. You have the invitation and the inspiration, for want of a better word, but the question that I can never answer is this: to what extent the will should do the work of the imagination, as Yeats said; how far you should push a thing...

When you're starting out as a young poet, you love the high of finishing. So you do the lyric quickly and that's a joy. As you go on, the joy of actually doing it, of beating the gold out further, is what you ideally want. But then the doubt comes in: Am I killing it? Am I deadening it?... Another question to which there are different attitudes is whether imperfection hasn't got its imperatives also, or whether you should make the poem as trim and as perfect as possible...

DO: What are your thoughts about accessibility and obscurity in poetry?

SH: ... I am a slow reader myself and have to be convinced that there's a chance a payload is going to be delivered... If I encounter difficult poems, I listen - that's the only way I can read - for an indication of somebody who knows the score poetically, who's after something beyond all this fiddle.

- from an interview in the December 2008 issue of POETRY, which also includes these fantastic poems by Todd Boss, some of my favourite poems from POETRY in 2008.


sticking to thrillers

Carmine Starnino: How would you describe the contemporary Canadian poetry scene to one of the baggage handlers you used to work with?

Peter Richardson: Could I get them to sit still long enough to talk for even a minute on that subject? But here I’m short-changing an extremely varied and surprisingly smart group of people from whom I was able to learn a lot and for years. I guess I would do a thirty-second sound bite. I’d say: “The Canadian poetry scene is a bunch of rabid dogs who mean well and get along well within their own tainted kennels. And in their favour, they represent about every type of poetry being written. Sometimes they make magnanimous gestures amongst themselves and reach across aesthetic lines to celebrate others who do not necessarily buy their way of seeing a lyric. But they’re still in the process of building something remarkable. They’re not there yet, which explains why you guys don’t browse in the poetry section of Chapters. You might be missing a few revelatory gems, but generally, I can’t fault you for sticking to thrillers.”

- from the Vehicule Press blog. Read the full thing here.


merciful silence

Frances Bula, on Vancouver City Council's first meeting:
It went on and on forever until we were begging for mercy in the media-peanut gallery, with councillors displaying many of the idiosyncratic traits that we will undoubtedly come to know and love.

Suzanne [Anton] kept going on about process and legality, grilling everyone in her prosecutorial way. She also pushed as many in-your-face buttons as your average provocative teenager (”I guess there’s no sense of facetiousness or irony in this chamber.” “I guess I’m an observer of this council and not a participant.” “This is shocking, shocking, shocking.” “This is a remarkably contemptuous way of dealing with this issue.” “I want to be assured that I am a part of this government.” Etc Etc)...

Raymond [Louie] kept interrupting her on points of order or trying to claim that there was nothing out of order with the procedure. Kerry Jang accused her of scare-mongering (before Suzanne rapped him on the knuckles and said he should not be directing comments at her personally). Geoff Meggs and Andrea Reimer mostly stayed out of it except to make succinct points. Tim Stevenson made an eloquent speech that wandered all over the issue of the homeless and why they come to Vancouver. George Chow was mercifully silent. And Gregor [Robertson], towards the end, quietly said he would take into consideration her remarks about process and that he had been trying to work quickly, but perhaps things could be improved.

Read her full report here.


fuck the dinosaurs!

The new issue of Red Fez is finally online, and can be read here.

As my ever so eloquent introduction to the issue suggests, my picks for this round are "a letter from spain" by Jeff Van den engh and "Jazz is Dead" by James Duncan.

Check it out!


working for the dictionary

Charles Simic: Poets are, basically, employees of the dictionary. They work for the dictionary.

Jeffrey Brown: You work for the dictionary?

Yes, we work for the dictionary.

Brown: What do you mean?

Simic: We keep the language, I think, honest and interesting. We look up words all the time, we open them up. We put some words to use that haven't been used in a long time.

-from an interview as part of NewsHour's Poetry Series


nerd slam

This week's Poetry Slam (Monday, 8:30 PM) at Cafe Deux Soleils is a "Nerd Slam". There will be costumes. I don't know if I should be terrified or excited... but let's go with excited.

High Altitude Poetry
is turning it into a social outing for the group, and I think I'll wander down the street and join them - you should too!

More info on it here.


the republic of canada

If I read one more Vancouver Sun editorial I'm going to sign a separatist agreement between myself and my lunch. At least Rick Mercer is making sense (a couple days outdated, I know):

[Harper] is required to allow for a vote on his economic update. To win he needs fifty percent plus one, and he doesn't have it. If he loses he must ask the Governor General to dissolve the House. And if she feels a coalition can govern with a majority of support in the House of Commons then she is required to ask them to do it.

Them's the rules and Harper knows it. And so his only strategy is to launch a full-fledged attack on the very institution he is sworn to protect.

Harper has taken to the airwaves saying that if he loses a confidence vote in the House of Commons it is a coup d'etat, comparing it to the hostile takeover of a legitimate majority rule government by a military dictator.

And so our Prime Minister is suggesting that the Governor General must not listen to constitutional advisors but to him and him alone. The Prime Minister's office, those same people who unbeknownst to him ensure there are people waving to the PM wherever he goes, is organizing a protest which will occur at the residence of the Governor General of Canada. In Stephen Harper's world it should not be 700 years of parliamentary tradition that determines the future but him and him alone. Incredible hubris for a man who received less than 38 percent of the popular vote in the last election. One imagines the Queen will not be amused. In a perfect world she would just knock their two heads together and call it a day.

This could be the beginning of the Republic of Canada. A nation where Stephen Harper and not the monarch is the head of state. A Harper republic will differ from others in the world, however, as he ostensibly will have majority powers without having that old fashioned 50 percent support in either the country or the House of Commons.

This is off his blog, which can be read here.


mutating the signature

Qarrtsiluni, one of the few online poetry journal I enjoy reading regularly (as I mentioned in a previous post) has a call out for collaboratively-written poetry, due in January.

, anyone?