not just about popular culture

The easier it is for people to understand, the better it is, I think. As long as you're not sacrificing intelligence or insight or feeling in order to make it easier. If you can capture something that you feel is real and express it in a way that a lot of people can understand, that's rare and there's something about that that makes a piece have a certain kind of life. And if it enters into popular culture and it's not just about popular culture, then from a writer's point of view, that's a satisfying achievement.

- Paul Simon, in interview with Paul Zollo, as quoted in Paul Simon: Lyrics 1964-2008.


an act of resistance to the state

For me, poetry has no point in existing if it’s not to be a prompt or aid to political and ethical change. This is not to say that a poem should be political or ethical instruction, but rather that it might engender a dialogue between the poem itself and the reader / listener, between itself and other poems and texts, and between all of these and a broader public (whatever that might be). I see myself as a poet activist—every time I write a poem, it is an act of resistance to the state, the myriad hierarchies of control, and the human urge to conquer our natural surroundings.

- from "Vermin: A Notebook" by John Kinsella, in the December 2009 issue of Poetry Magazine (which also includes these great poems).


ok it's not much of a christmas present, but...

Sad Mag's interview with me about One Ghana, One Voice is now online. You can download the whole issue in PDF form here (the story is on pages 17-19).

Thanks to Deanne Beattie and the rest of the Sad Mag editors for taking an interest in our little magazine.

Merry Christmas, everyone!


five last minute christmas ideas

Haven't thrown enough money at your loved ones yet? Here are some suggestions of new-ish poetry books for poetry fans and soon-to-become poetry fans alike:

Pigeon by Karen Solie, House of Anansi Press, 2009
Who’s Karen Solie? A Canadian poet. A living one. The internet can tell you more.

What’s this book? Y’know, poems. A collection of them. 39 to be exact.

That seems like a fairly average number of poems. Will I get enough bang for my buck? Well, at $18.95, it’s $0.49 a poem. What a steal!

Ok, but let’s say I’m in the bookstore and I only have time to read one poem to know if the thing is any good. What should I read? “Wager”, pg. 12.

And how should I get myself in the mood for reading this poem? Drive to a bookstore in Regina to read it.

But I'm too lazy to do that! Ok, you can listen to it here.

Pure Product by Jason Guriel, Vehicule Press, 2009
Who’s Jason Guriel? A Canadian poet. A living one. The internet can tell you more.

What’s this book? Y’know, poems. A collection of them. 34 to be exact.

That seems like a rather small number of poems. Can I really get enough bang for my buck? Well, at $16.00, it’s $0.47 a poem. So yes, definitely a steal. Plus, at 52 pages, if you are anti-social you can easily slip the book under someone's door, avoiding human interaction!

Ok, but let’s say I’m in the bookstore and I only have time to read one poem to know if the thing is any good. What should I read? "Money is also a kind of Music", pg. 46.

And how should I get myself in the mood for reading this poem? Listen to "Good Vibrations" 100 times in a row.

I'm too lazy to do that, also! Ok, you can read it here, so long as you promise to read it 100 times.

Harmonics by Jesse Patrick Ferguson, Freehand Books, 2009
Who’s Jesse Patrick Ferguson? A Canadian poet. A living one. The internet can tell you more.

What’s this book? Y’know, poems. A collection of them. 75 to be exact.

That seems like a large number of poems. What a steal! That’s not a question. But yes, it is. At $16.95, it’s $0.23 a poem.

Ok, but let’s say I’m in the bookstore and I only have time to read one poem to know if the thing is any good. What should I read? “Fallout at the National Gallery”, pg. 79.

And how should I get myself in the mood for reading this poem? Before entering the bookstore, bash your head into the window while looking at the display books.

Still too lazy! C'mon, help a brotha/sista out. Sorry, I can't find this one online. Get going!

Jailbreaks: 99 Canadian Sonnets edited by Zachariah Wells, Biblioasis, 2008
Who’s 99 Canadian Poets? That question is both strange and grammatically incorrect. They are Canadian poets. Living and dead ones. The internet can tell you more. Oh, and more on the editor, too.

What’s this book? Y’know, poems. An anthology of them. Ok, mostly sonnets. I’m pretty sure there are 99.

Let's assume there are 99 poems in this book. That seems like a solid number. Is it in fact a steal? Yes! At $19.95, that would be $0.20 a poem.

Ok, but let’s say I’m in the bookstore and I only have time to read one poem to know if the thing is any good. What should I read? “Country Hotel in the Niagara Peninsula” by David W. McFadden, pg. 16.

And how should I get myself in the mood for reading this poem? Spend at least an hour wandering lost, looking for the poetry section. If that isn’t enough, bump over a shelf or two.

But that would involve me getting up and leaving the house... You're right. What was I thinking? Read it here, lardass.

A Long Continual Argument: The Selected Poems of John Newlove by John Newlove, Chaudiere Books, 2007
Who’s John Newlove? A Canadian poet. A dead one. The internet can tell you more. Oh, and more on the editor, too.

What’s this book? Y’know, poems. A selected poems. 138 to be exact.

Let me guess... with 138 poems this is also a steal? You got it! Even with a sticker price of $22.00, it’s a mere $0.16 a poem.

Ok, now that fourth question I keep asking... Oh, the one about which one poem to read? I’d say “Driving”, pg. 175.

And how should I get myself in the mood for reading this poem? Drive to a book store in Kapuskasing to read it.

Oh hell, just read it here.


sneak preview feat. enormous picture of excessively serious/boney dude

Sad Mag has a very short excerpt from their interview with me up on their site. You can read it here. And remember, the new issue is being launched tonight - hope to see you there!

Sad Mag Issue #2 Launch
Thursday, December 17th, 8:00 PM - ??? AM
Anza Club
3 West 8th Avenue
Featuring: Music, burlesque and more!


the square triangle

The sonnet form contains within it a mathematical theorem that is very beautiful – and quite literal: the Petrarchan English sonnet, with the octave/sestet/iambic pentameter stanza, embodies two geometrical constructs exactly: the Pythagorean Theorem and the Primitive Pythagorean Triple.

We can construct the Pythagorean Theorem out of the three primary numeric components of the sonnet; 8 (the octave), 6 (the sestet) and 10 (the number of syllables in each line): 82+62=102; 64+36=100. In this respect, the sonnet form does not merely represent the Pythagorean Theorem, it both is it and it does it. The form is symbolic but it also enacts the elegant mathematical form. But not only does the Italian sonnet form embody – or perform – one of the classically beautiful mathematical theorems, but it divides down to another essential mathematical beauty: the Primitive Pythagorean Triple.

If we take any triangle and multiply all of its sides by 2, we arrive at a scaledup version of the original triangle; it has all of the same angles as the original triangle and looks exactly the same (except enlarged). In mathematics, these triangles are called “similar triangles.” The 6, 8, and 10 triangle of the Italian sonnet is simply a scaled up version of 3, 4 and 5; this is also true for 9, 12, and 15; 12, 16 and 20, as well as 15, 20, and 25. In this sense, 3, 4, and 5 is the parent to all of these other triples and it is the most primitive of all of them since it cannot be subdivided any further, as long as we want to work in integers.

This idea of the Primitive Pythagorean Triple is analogous to irreducible fractions; mathematicians always write fractions in their lowest terms (instead of writing 12/8 or 6/4 they would write 3/2). Therefore, the sequence 3, 4, and 5 has special significance in this respect, since it characterizes an entire family of solutions to the Pythagorean Theorem. While the 3/4/5 triple isn’t the only Primitive Pythagorean Triple,21 it is significant that all Primitive Pythagorean Triples can be generated from the 3/4/5 triangle by use of three relatively simple algorithms. This means that 3, 4, and 5 is the most primitive of all Primitive Pythagorean Triples; it can be used to generate all of the others. The 3/4/5/ triple may be regarded, therefore, as the mother of all solutions, which captures perfectly both the centrality and the generative function of the sequence. Furthermore, in addition to being the smallest Primitive Pythagorean Triple that can generate all other Primitive Pythagorean Triples by a simple application, it also has the important feature that 3, 4, and 5 are consecutive numbers. For these reasons the 3/4/5 Primitive Pythagorean Triple holds much mathematical fascination, and is considered especially elegant. The Italian sonnet in English possesses this same reduction: sestet, octet and iambic pentameter can be subdivided into tercet, quatrain and pentameter...

A keystone form like a Primitive Pythagorean Triple, or a sonnet, can support whole new systems of knowledge, and contain a generative energy that ripples outward from its core, seeking “release / From dusty bondage into luminous air”. Of course, not all sonnets discuss mathematical or scientific subjects directly: very few of them do, in fact. But certainly all sonnets engage aesthetics generally and an aesthetics of form specifically, and on both those levels they are connected historically and structurally to principles of mathematical and scientific beauty, and so on those levels it is fair to say that the meaning of the sonnet form can be connected to scientific aesthetics. In an era where science is profoundly mathematical, and mathematics is a language that most non-scientists don’t speak, it is a beautiful idea that poetics may have the capacity to silently and covertly “speak” beauty mathematically, bringing us back to the shared intellectual heritage of science and literature.

- from "Beauty Bare: The Sonnet Form, Geometry and Aesthetics" by Matthew Chiasson and Janine Rogers, in the Journal of Literature and Science, Volume 2, No. 1 (2009). Thanks to Zach Wells for pointing it out.


tws reading report

The TWS reading last night was a great success. It was the third I've been to, and they seem to keep getting better. Every reader brought something good to the table, higlighted by Renée Saklikar's reading from her work-in-progress The Canada Project. I'm looking forward to seeing the final product.

It was great to see a number of people I hadn't seen in a while, including Tanyss Knowles. She took the reigns of SFU's High Altitude Poetry after myself and a few others graduated, and has now managed to pass those duties on to someone else - quite an accomplishment, to say the least...

Tanyss had the Fall 2009 issue of HAP with her, which includes two poems of mine. It's hard to believe HAP has made it to issue number 25, but here it is, five years and 10,000 copies later... If you're around SFU, you should grab a copy, or better yet, volunteer!


new reader and new launch

First, I'm reading tomorrow night! Ray Hsu has been added to the bill, and Gurjinder Basran will be there fresh off her win in Mother Tongue Publishing's Search for the Great BC Novel contest. The details:

The Writers Studio Reading Series
Thursday, December 10th, 7:00 - 9:30 PM
Rhizome Cafe
317 East Broadway (at Kingsway)

Second, a new event for my "some december readings and launches" post:

Penned: Zoo Poems Vancouver Launch
Tuesday, December 15th, 7 PM
UBC Bookstore at Robson Square
800 Robson Street (Plaza Level)
Featuring: Stephanie Bolster (editor), George McWhirter, Shannon Stewart, and more


getting gifted

As a minister's son, I'm particularly drawn to this. Thanks to Chris Banks for pointing it out.


true exploration of the world

Poetic attention is important to counterbalance our utilitarian and calculating ways. I feel that any honest and true exploration of the world begins with poetry. Then we break it down into disciplines. It is a way of inquiring, a way of knowing, an intimate conversation... Children have an open mind, a fresh way of seeing the world. That is what poetry asks of us. Why not sustain that, make space for it, allow for this discovery. How? By doing it ourselves. We do not all have to write poems, but I think we can all live poetically. It not only can be delightful, but transformative and empowering, an apprenticeship to freedom.

- Daniela Elza, in response to the question "What is the importance of poetry in society? In schools?" in 4 Poets.


you should never tell your students to write what they know because, of course, they know nothing

The more delicate components of the work pay attention to craft. I’m probably technically oriented and it seems to me that among the poets that I know, many are very lazy and very dumb. I always joke with my students that poetry couldn’t possibly be as hard as they think it is, because if it were as hard as they thought it was, poets wouldn’t do it. Really, they’re the laziest, stupidest people I know. They became poets in part because they were demoted to that job, right? You should never tell your students to write what they know because, of course, they know nothing: they’re poets! If they knew something, they’d be in that disciple actually doing it: they’d be in history or physics or math or business or whatever it is where they could excel. I find this very distressing that the challenge of being a poet in effect to showcase something wondrous or uncanny, if not sublime, about the use of language itself, that we tend to think that because we’re conditioned to use language every day as part of a social contract, we should all be incipient poets, when in fact people have actually dedicated years or decades of their lives to this kind of practice in order to become adept at it and I think that craft and technique are part of that.

- Christian Bök, from Q&A of a talk at Kelly Writers House, UPenn, November 18, 2009, as quoted by Kenneth Goldsmith on the Harriet blog.

p.s. Want some CanCon bonus points? You can hear him say almost the same thing while on Canadian soil one week later at The Cage Match of Canadian Poetry (with Carmine Starnino).

p.p.s. Who says the "avant-garde" and "mainstream" can't agree on anything?


people's co-op fundraiser

The Drive's best bookstore is struggling to stay open! Come out to the fundraiser, take in some music, and buy lots and lots of books:

Benefit for People's Co-op Books
Saturday, December 12th, 8 PM
1391 Commercial Drive
Featuring: Quatro, Illiteratty, and more!
Cost: $15 or buy a book!


some cheery stats from britain

I only have figures for 2005 but they won’t have changed to any great extent. In that year 63 per cent of Britons aged 12 to 74 bought any kind of book, with 34 per cent buying fiction, and only 1% bought a poetry book. Previous research has shown that of that 1%, only around 5% will have been books by living writers, 95% of the poetry books sold in our bookshops being the poetry classics. A research report from 1998 showed then that the top 5% of buyers – 2.5% of the population – bought 28% of books, by value. The average bookshop stocks 96,000 different titles (which compares with 20,000 different “product lines” in a Tesco superstore), but only 5000 of those titles account for 53% of all sales; 23% of titles sell 100 copies or more, and these account for 94% of all retail book sales revenue. Most publishers publish books in order to make profits on their investment, but only 1 in 10 books is successful – so that’s the commercial pattern, not the less “successful” non-profit poetry press one!

Here are some figures from the Publishers Association. 787 million books were sold in 2005 and 756 million books in 2004. BookScan figures (sales tracked through bookshops) for 2004 show 459,075 poetry books were sold. So poetry accounted for 0.06% of all book sales in that year: only one in every 10,000 books sold is a poetry book. In 2004 there were only 5172 different poetry titles listed by Bookscan. 751 of those were anthologies and 4421 were collections. Is that too many? If so, in whose terms? Every book has its particular readership, however small or specialised or locally based.

80% of the total poetry sales in 2004 were made by 227 titles (52 anthologies and 175 collections). The top 10 books accounted for 22% of all sales (2 anthologies and 8 collections). However, 3721 books listed sold less than 10 copies through the bookshops. 1978 books sold no copies at all through the bookshops. There were 639 different imprints listed which publish poetry, but over half the sales were made by Faber, Bloodaxe, Penguin and Picador. The rest of the publishers accounted for the other half but with only 28 imprints achieving at least 1% of the sales.

- Neil Astley of Bloodaxe Books, in the comment stream at the Magma Poetry blog. Read the whole thing here. Thanks to Don Share for pointing it out.