a (sort of) silaron year in review

2011 was a busy year for me, highlighted by the launch of my book in May, and the revival of the Dead Poets Reading Series in November.

It was also a busy year here on the blog, as it turns out that actual content makes a blog more interesting: silaron readership jumped by 56% from 2010 to 2011. Thanks, trusty readers/people Googling images of june bugs!

Earlier this year, I installed a new stat-tracking program that let me follow how many hits each individual post receives. It turned out the five most popular posts of 2011 were spaced out evenly across the year, and reviewing them seemed, for me, like a nice end-of-year recap. Maybe you'll think so, too?

Here then, in chronological order, are my five most well-trafficked posts of 2011:

January 26th, 2011: "an attempt at an online "works cited" for michael lista's bloom"

This post, originally concocted as an elaborate excuse to post a Dr. Strangelove clip on my poetry blog, attempted to trace the lineages of some of the poems in Michael Lista's Bloom.

April 1st, 2011: "James Moore comes clean (for a split-second)"

A second appearance by Michael Lista. Also, A.F. Moritz, the Fiddlehead, Chatelaine, Spanx, Ugg Boots and LMFAO (no, not that LMFAO). Oh April 1st, never stop being you.

July 12th, 2011: "urgency and simplicity - An Interview with Kae Sun"

My interview with Ghanaian musician and poet Kae Sun, before his show in Vancouver as part of his summer tour. Try to spot the cardboard cutout of a janitor!

October 17th, 2011: "hope too is an old and unusual growth - "The Bright Well" Book Launch"

This post featured a poem by Glenn Downie and an interview with "The Bright Well" editor Fiona Lam. The book has gone on to be a big success (apparently it's already in its third printing). This post isn't solely responsible for that, of course, but it certainly deserves at least half the credit.

December 8th, 2011: "five christmas ideas #3"

What list is complete without listing another list within it? This post on five of my favourite Canadian poetry books of 2011 featured Doug Ford, Peruvian haircuts, 88% meat Taco Bell Crunchwrap Supremes, and the debut of the Unimpressed Zach Wells (UZW) rating system. To top it off, the post itself received the UZW seal of approval in the comment section (though the exact number of UZW heads awarded was not specified).

Happy holidays, everyone. See you in 2012!


come for a visit, maybe?

Green College at UBC is looking for a Writer-in-Residence for Fall 2012. Locals aren't eligible, but you out-of-town poets are. See, you knew I'd eventually reward you for wading through all my Vancouver event postings! The details:


Green College at the University of British Columbia invites applications from Canadian writers normally resident outside the Lower Mainland of BC, for the position of Canada Council Writer-in-Residence at the College. The term of the residency will be three months within the period between September 1 and December 15, 2012, subject to funding approval.

The Writer-in-Residence will work with the Green College community through consultations and workshops, and will create and coordinate a public series of literary events, as part of the College’s academic programming for the UBC and local community. She or he will be expected to live at the College for the term of the residency, and will be provided with reimbursement for economy-fare travel (within Canada) to and from Vancouver, room and partial board during the stay, and a stipend of $18,000. Additional funding will be available to support the public series of events.

For its 2012 residency the College seeks a writer of established reputation in any genre/s (at least two books in print or equivalent public recognition) and with significant previous experience of arranging and hosting literary events.

Only complete applications received by postal mail by the deadline are accepted. Please send applications to:
Writer-in-Residence Selection Committee
Green College, The University of British Columbia
6201 Cecil Green Park Road
Vancouver, BC
V6T 1Z1
Applications must include:
* A covering letter that includes a sketch of possible events for the residency
* A curriculum vitae
* 20-30 page writing sample
* Two letters of reference, signed by the referees and provided in sealed envelopes, which may be mailed separately
Please Note: Applications must be received by Green College on or before the February 1, 2012 deadline to be eligible.

Questions may be directed to Tatiana Tomljanovic, Communications Manager, at gc.communications(at)ubc.ca or 604-822-0676.


as if the ear is learning to feel

Curtis Fox: Do you find it easier to memorize poems [written] in metre and rhyme?

Dan Beachy-Quick: Oh, absolutely. In fact, I think that it’s memorizing poems in metre and rhyme that has, in certain kinds of ways, guided me towards experiments in metre and rhyme and more traditional form.

Fox: Really? Explain that. How does that work?

Beachy-Quick: Well, I think when you go through the work of memorizing a poem, the metre of it or the rhyme of it or the formal pattern that it’s in ceases to just be a kind of technology of the poem, and you begin to see the real necessity that might be underlying the choice of writing in the sonnet, or the genuine power of what it is to write a poem that takes as a genuine concern the need to find a perfect rhyme, or a slant rhyme. And because those things, too, metre and rhyme, are so absolutely bodily in part of their meaning. One feels a rhythm; rhyme is as much felt as it is heard. It’s almost as if the ear is learning to feel when it hears a great rhyme. Also, I think in a way, memorizing such poems helps one learn to read and take seriously very traditional values in a poem that in a post-modernist framework might be easily dismissed.

- Dan Beachy-Quick, in interview with Curtis Fox for the Poetry Off the Shelf podcast. You can listen to the whole thing here.


more details on tonight's subTerrain reading

It looks like tonight's subTerrain Marathon Poetry Reading/Magazine Launch will start at 6:00 PM, not 5:00 PM as previously posted.

George McWhirter will kick things off at 6:00, followed by subTerrain head-honcho Brian Kaufman at 6:05, and yours truly at 6:10. A steady stream of readers will follow, including Lionel Kearns, Heidi Greco, Kate Braid, Renee Saklikar, Nikki Reimer, Miranda Pearson, Daniela Elza, Jamie Reid, Joanne Arnott, Heather Haley, Peter Trower, Catherine Owen and, to cap off the night, everyone's favourite Member of Parliament for Vancouver East, Libby Davies.

The main information, again:

SubTerrain 125 Marathon Poetry Reading Event
Tuesday, December 20th, 6:00 PM – ? PM
Army, Navy and Air Force Veteran’s Club
3917 Main St. (at 23rd Ave.)

And if you don't feel like you've adequately trained your mind and body for the rigours of a poetry marathon, remember that I'm also reading at a more manageably sized reading (and for more than five minutes) in Burnaby, starting at 8:00 PM. The poster for that:

I hope to see you tonight!


TOSOO good news/bad news

Good news: the first print run for The Other Side of Ourselves has all-but sold out!

Bad news: it's done so on the week before Christmas...

A second run will come, but not until the new year.

If you are looking to pick up a copy, I know there are still a few on the shelves at Chapters locations in Greater Vancouver, and one copy left on Amazon.ca.

If you're in Vancouver, and want a copy before Christmas, the best way to get one is from me personally (perhaps at my readings tomorrow? Hint, hint!). Likewise, you can always shoot me an email at roblucastaylor(at)gmail(dot)com and we can work something out.

Thank you to everyone who has bought the book since it came out in May. Though this is a bit of a headache at the moment, knowing that so many people have taken interest in my book is as good a Christmas present as I could have hoped for.


master the middle ground

rob mclennan: How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?

George Stanley: In third year high school (grade 11) my English teacher required all his students to write poems. At the end of the term he took three of us aside — me, my friend Manuel, and a boy named John. He told the three of us that we had talent as poets. (Actually only two of us had talent; Manuel was writing John’s poems for money.)

More than once I have tried fiction but could not master the middle ground, middle distance. For me everything was either cosmic or closeup.

- George Stanley, in interview with rob mclennan, as part of rob's 12 or 20 (or 21 or 19 or 45 or...) questions series, this time hosted at Dooney's Cafe. You can read the whole interview here.


keeping your eyes open

I’m very wary of this idea that poetry shouldn’t be political. I think that’s also a kind of reflexive opinion that a lot of people have, is that poems can’t be political or shouldn’t be political or should restrict themselves to the aesthetic sphere. I don’t believe that. I like that this poem that I just wrote attempts to engage with the issues that are happening right now. Most of my poems, in one way or another, do, but the way that they engage has more to do with trying to pay attention to language, and the way the language is used in these situations, and what’s happening. Being aware. Keeping your eyes open. And I think that’s very political, to pay attention.

- Matthew Zapruder, in an interview with Ryan Van Winkle for the Scottish Poetry Library Podcast. You can listen to the whole thing here.


two reading tuesday

I'm taking part in two readings next Tuesday (December 20th). First, I'm reading my poem from the Vancouver 125 issue of subTerrain as part of their Marathon Poetry Reading/Launch. The details:

SubTerrain 125 Marathon Poetry Reading Event
Tuesday, December 20th, 6:00 PM – ? PM
Army, Navy and Air Force Veteran’s Club
3917 Main St. (at 23rd Ave.)
Featuring: Oh man, many people. See the list of contributors for an idea.

I'll be reading at 6:10 and a bit later I'll head across town to participate in the December instalment of Spoken Ink. The details there:

Spoken Ink Reading Series
Tuesday, December 20th, 8:00 PM
La Fontana Caffe
101-3701 East Hastings Street (@ Boundary Road)
Featuring: Rob Taylor

I hope to see you at either event. Or you can make my day and go to both!

p.s. Anvil's 20th Anniversary Party is tonight at the Railway Club!


five christmas ideas #3

Here we are at year three of my little CanPo promotion project (you can read the last two years' entries here and here)! As always, I'm looking to make this year's list bigger and better than the last. And what's hotter among the industry's best at moving product (GGs, Griffin, I'm looking at you) than a whiff of "conflict of interest"? As you'll see below, I've done my best to pack in some scandal (really I just picked my five favourite books I read in 2011, but let's pretend, ok?). I even developed a numerical system to make clear my biases and underhanded allegiances, because I am nothing if not generous to my detractors!

Enough preamble. Here are my suggestions of five new-ish Canadian poetry books for poetry fans and maybe-possibly-soon-to-become poetry fans alike:

A Doctor Pedalled Her Bicycle Over the River Arno by Matt Rader, House of Anansi, 2011

Matt Rader? Never heard of him. He's a Canadian poet, currently living in Salmon Arm (thanks for the update, Facebook nitpicker!). That said, he usually lives on Vancouver Island (thanks for the subsequent update, second Facebook nitpicker!). This is his third book of poetry. Here's more!

Does Doug Ford know this guy? Man, I'd look so dumb if he did and I didn't... No, I think you're safe.

What's so great about this book? Rader writes well-crafted, beautiful poems. As Ian Letourneau says, "Rader is a confident poet. There is no ponderousness here. The poems are direct, sure of themselves." The book really shines in its two sections that were previously published as chapbooks, Reservations and (especially) Customs, which explores the lynching of Louie Sam.

Ok, so the quality is there. But what about quantity? Am I getting good bang for my buck? It features 35 poems and costs $22.95, or a mere $0.66 per poem. Ok, to be honest, that's $0.16 cents more per poem than any book I've highlighted over the last two years. Anansi raised the price of their books by four dollars this year! But still, what would you rather buy for $0.66: a top-of-the-line Matt Rader poem or a Peruvian haircut? Ah, but before you answer, remember that the haircut cost excludes airfare. That's where the Peruvian barbers get you every time!

If I only have a minute in the bookstore, what one poem should I read? "Weeds", p. 47.

Should I buy this on Amazon? Please no. Here's a good reason.

What's in this for you? You promised me some juicy conflict of interest. We're from the same province? That's all I can think of. Oh, and Anansi is the only publisher that's had a poem on each of the three lists I've made. How I wish they were paying me under the table and/or I was owned by Scott Griffin, but it's just not true.

I'm not sure how outraged I should be by that answer. Can you compare that to another scandal, and rate it on a ten-point scale? The Griffin Prize's "Toronto/Anansi Bias" Thing, 2 out of 10 UZWs (Unimpressed Zach Wells').

Discovery Passages by Garry Thomas Morse, Talonbooks, 2011

Garry Thomas Morse? Never heard of him. He's a Canadian poet, living in Vancouver. This is his second book of poetry. Here's more!

Does Doug Ford know this guy? Man, I'd look so dumb if he did and I didn't... No, I think you're safe.

What's so great about this book? In Discovery Passages Morse blends his personal history, Kwakwaka’wakw history and legend, and the lives and acts of such controversial figures as Duncan Campbell Scott and Franz Boas into a powerful, sweeping, fierce (and often funny), suite of poems. Lorraine Weir thinks Discovery Passages should soon "find itself among the canonic texts of contemporary Indigenous and Canadian writing." I'm not big into sainthood, but I think it's a really good book.

Ok, so the quality is there. But what about quantity? Am I getting good bang for my buck? Discovery Passages delivers 30 poems for the low, low price of $17.95. That's $0.59 a poem, which is still more expensive than anything from the last two years, but looks pretty good next to Matt "Peruvian Haircut" Rader.

If I only have a minute in the bookstore, what one poem should I read? "BCP #95", p. 93.

Should I buy this on Amazon? Please no. Here's another good reason.

What's in this for you? You promised me some juicy conflict of interest. I know Garry personally. He let me read at his reading series last month. He's reading at mine next month. We tweet. I hope sales of his editions will reap largesse.

I'm not sure how outraged I should be by that answer. Can you compare that to another scandal, and rate it on a ten-point scale? The 2008 Governor General's Award Controversy in content, and The 2011 Governor General's Award Brouhaha in intensity, 6 out of 10 UZWs.

Where We Might Have Been by Don Coles, Signal Editions (Vehicule Press), 2010

Don Coles? Never heard of him. He's a Canadian poet, living in Toronto. This is his eleventh book of poetry. Here's more!

Does Doug Ford know this guy? Man, I'd look so dumb if he did and I didn't... No, I think you're safe.

What's so great about this book? It's Don Coles, in all his wandering loveliness. He's the king of the killer ending. Just when you think he's ambled way too far off track to be able to bring it all together, he pulls it off with one brilliant line. As Kenneth Sherman puts it, "It is difficult to think of another poet whose style is so unmannered, whose tone is so engagingly true." This may not be Coles' best work (he has a lot to compete with), but it's definitely his very-good work, which is still far better than just about anything else being written in this country.

Ok, so the quality is there. But what about quantity? Am I getting good bang for my buck? It's 16 (mostly long) poems for $18.00 or... wow... $0.88 a poem. Records are falling this year, it seems. Poetic inflation? Gone are the heady days of $0.16 John Newlove poems, that's for sure. Really though, $0.88 still isn't that bad. At that price your options are a long, "unmannered" Don Coles poem or an 88% meat Taco Bell Crunchwrap Supreme. I rest my case.

If I only have a minute in the bookstore, what one poem should I read? "A Walk in the Woods", p. 13.

Should I buy this on Amazon? Still no. Here's yet another good reason.

What's in this for you? You promised me some juicy conflict of interest. Absolutely nothing on this one. I guess you could say that the book should be disqualified because one of Coles' books was on last year's list. But I make the rules here and that's not one of them.

I'm not sure how outraged I should be by that answer. Can you compare that to another scandal, and rate it on a ten-point scale? The QWFLA "Actually, You've Already Got One" Incident, 0.5 out of 10 UZWs.

Undercurrents: New Voices in Canadian Poetry edited by Robyn Sarah, Cormorant Books, 2011

Robyn Sarah? Never heard of her. She's a Canadian poet, living in Montreal. Here's more. But the writing in the book is by eleven unpublished (in book form) poets, including Amanda Jernigan, Daniel Karasik and Sarah Feldman.

I have a feeling Doug Ford doesn't know any of them. Right? Right.

What's so great about this book? As I hinted at above for the Rader book, I'm a big fan of chapbooks. And this book is, in essence (and by design, according to Sarah's introduction), eleven chapbooks of poems by poets you might not have heard of yet, but will be hearing from soon. I'm used to anthologies of new poets being mixed bags, but there really aren't any duds here. Jernigan, Karasik, Feldman, George Pakozdi and Margo Wheaton stand out particularly, but on a different day I could probably list the work of the other six contributors as equally, or more, enjoyable.

Ok, so the quality is there. But what about quantity? Am I getting good bang for my buck? Undercurrents comes in at 90 poems for $24.00, or $0.27 per poem. It's the value pick of 2011!

If I only have a minute in the bookstore, what one poem should I read? "October" by Sarah Feldman, p. 22.

Oh c'mon, please say I can buy this on Amazon? Look, you can do what you want. But maybe read this first.

What's in this for you? You promised me some juicy conflict of interest. I promised it, and now I'm delivering! Robyn Sarah was the editor for my book (yes, I weaseled a link in somewhere - I knew I could do it!) and Cormorant is my publisher. What can I say? My tastes overlap with theirs a bit...

I'm pretty sure I should be enraged by that answer. Still, just to be safe, can you compare that to another scandal, and rate it on a ten-point scale? The 2011 Governor General's Award Squabble in content, and The 2008 Governor General's Award Embroilment in intensity, 9 out of 10 UZWs.

Winter Cranes by Chris Banks, ECW Press, 2011

Chris Banks? Never heard of him. He's a Canadian poet, living in Waterloo. This is his third book of poetry. Here's more!

Doug Ford doesn't know anyone, it seems. I've been wasting your time with this question, haven't I? Yup.

What's so great about this book? Banks writes long, clean, satisfying sentences (the first one in the book, for instance, rolls over seven lines and moves from friends in a car, to a blizzard, to a description of the local farmland, to the sound a radio playing "Stand by Me" over all of it). In some ways this is much like Don Coles, but Banks usually stays more fixed in an individual moment or object. As Nick Thran says, Banks is "a maestro with the poetry of physical objects, able to stack just the right amount of cordwood, or to jimmy open the basement window just enough to achieve the desired tonal effect." Because the lines run so smoothly and the subject matter is usually clear, tangible stuff, it's easy to breeze through this book. It's also very easy to return to it over and over again, pulling out new moments of pleasure and insight each time.

Ok, so the quality is there. But what about quantity? Am I getting good bang for my buck? Banks gives us 33 poems for $18.95, or $0.57 a poem. Undercurrents is a tough act to follow, but he's still got the best value of any of this year's single-author books.

If I only have a minute in the bookstore, what one poem should I read? "Darkening", p. 11.

But Amazon is soooo cheap.... Look, there's a Wikipedia page dedicated just to their controversies. And it has fourteen sections. And subsections. You're killing me here.

I'm still looking for more conflicts of interest! Spill it. I'm a big fan of Chris' blog (which he doesn't update nearly enough), though we've never met. We've exchanged a couple emails.

I'm not sure how outraged I should be by that answer. Can you compare that to another scandal, and rate it on a ten-point scale? The "Was This Supposed to be a Controversy? I Can't Even Tell Anymore" 2010 Governor General's Award, 3 out of 10 UZWs.

That's it for another year - thanks for reading!

p.s. If you can't get enough CanLit book recommendations, be sure to check out the Advent Book Blog.


first drafts aren't writing

Audience Member: What do you do when you have writer’s block? Do you have any tips for that?

Michael V. Smith: You just suck it up. Somebody told me that they didn’t believe in writer’s block, and I really like to say I don’t believe in writer’s block. “Writer’s block” just means you don’t want to write something shitty... You can always write crap. Writer’s block is, I think, simply not giving yourself permission to write crap. My mother always said “It doesn’t have to be perfect, just done”... and I am very fond of that advice. You have to have permission to play. And playing means you get your hands dirty. And if you get your hands dirty, it’s because you’re mucking around in shit. So you have to give yourself permission to muck around in shit...

First drafts [aren’t] writing. That’s not writing. Writing is not creating a first draft. Writing a first draft is being an amateur. Revising the first draft is being a professional...

Really, it’s all about permission... I get to write crap. I can just make up crap right here. “Look here’s some crap. Look, I made it up.” Ok, what are we going to do with it? How are we going to make it better? So it’s not so precious, that’s the thing. It only gets precious with time and effort. But it doesn’t come out as precious. You know, a diamond isn’t made in a day. It takes eons. The earth has spent a long time investing in that carbon.

- Michael V. Smith, in the Q+A after a reading as part of the Robson Reading Series. You can watch the whole reading and Q+A here.


Dead Poets January Reading

The poets and readers for the January 8th, 2012 Dead Poets reading (3-5 PM at Project Space) have been announced:

Thomas Hardy (1840 - 1928), read by David Zieroth
Christina Rossetti (1830 - 1894), read by Diane Tucker
Stevie Smith (1902 - 1971), read by Miranda Pearson
Jack Spicer (1925 - 1965), read by Garry Thomas Morse
Edward Thomas (1878 - 1917), read by John Donlan

Also, we have a call out for contributors to a special reading in March for Irving Layton's 100th Birthday. More info on both can be found over at the DPRS site.

I was (very) late to the last one in November, but I'll be there this time. I swear! I hope to see you there.


sex, science and sweet sincerity - "Everything Water" Chapbook Launch

from Everything Water - Adrienne Gruber
Launching upright, I slip into the water.
Black lake tonguing the edges of doubt. Imagine

a held breath, a swirl of milky clarity. The remainder
of days are lonely as a motel ship painting.

Sky stretches; the toffee-flux of time.
Heart jeers; queer as a French Horn.

Moon billows and purges light, a shroud. The roundness
of full-figured flesh against gloomy trunks. I write myself

out onto a late night limb, scrambling
for some truth. I pull myself out.

Plunk these dumb feet into the lake,
wet back smacking against rough boards;

thighs fissured. The words will come
spit-shined and polished.

from Everything Water (Cactus Press, 2011).
Reprinted with permission.

Adrienne Gruber is chapbook-crazy in 2011 (some might say crazy as a cat lady?), publishing two different chapbooks with two top-notch Canadian chapbook publishers: Mimic (Leaf Press, 2011) and Everything Water (Cactus Press, 2011). She's launching the latter here in Vancouver next Thursday, with help from special out-of-townie guests Jim Johnstone (Cactus Press kingpin, from Toronto) and Zach Wells (from Halifax). The details:

(Click to Expand)

Everything Water Chapbook Launch and Reading

Thursday, December 8th, 2011
7:00 PM
Spartacus Books
684 East Hastings Street
Featuring: Adrienne Gruber, Jim Johnstone and Zach Wells

Earlier this week I got a chance to chat with Adrienne about the chapbook and the launch. It was early in the morning, so Adrienne was pounding back the coffees, but that didn't stop her from busting out her interview finest:

You thought I was joking about the cat lady thing...

Ok, the truth is we just corresponded by email. But I had to find a way to get that picture in there! Here's what she had to say:

Rob: Everything Water explores the glosa form, without ever including a "proper" glosa, but often coming close: sometimes two lines are quoted instead of one, sometimes the quote creeps up a few lines and finds a home in the middle of the stanza, sometimes the stanzas are broken up into more-or-less individual poems. I wonder here what inspired you to work with and around the glosa in this way? Was the project driven by the source material, or did your interest in the glosa drive you to seek out a source to play with?

Adrienne: The funny thing is that I never directly intended to write a proper glosa, I just knew I wanted to work with this particular chosen text. I realized once I had the first draft that I was playing with form, but I think I was too caught up with where the text was taking me to get what I was doing. Once I figured it out I tried to stuff some of the poems into proper glosa form, but they were terrible! I guess when you set out without a particular expectation you can’t really force it later on.

The project was definitely driven by the material I was working with. As much as I wished at times that my poems would adhere to official form, I eventually had to let go of that. I’m not usually the kind of writer who thinks of poems as personified and having their own specific form or voice or style that shouldn’t be changed or messed with. This particular collection did not seem to want to conform and I had to recognize that and be okay with letting them be slightly experimental.

Rob: The "glossed" lines in Everything Water are unattributed in the text (though they are sourced in the acknowledgements), leaving the reader to wonder, at first, if they are quotes from another writer, overheard speech, or the voice of one of the characters in the poem. Do you expect the reader to instantly flip to the back to locate the source, or do you want a bit of mystery to loom over the first reading?

Adrienne: It's interesting that you would mention this, as I did find myself hesitating to reveal the source of the "glossed" lines. This was partly because I wanted the lines to intertwine with my work and transform into something substantially different from their original context, but also because I chose the lines from such an odd source; an interview between Lidia Yuknavitch (author of the recently published memoir The Chronology of Water) and "Sugar", the advice columnist who responds to letters for the online newspaper The Rumpus. The interview is really more of a conversation between these two writers about bodies, sexuality, sexual identity and sexual expression. It’s beautiful and inspiring and I fell in love with their dialogue. I had also wanted to move into my own poetic dialogue around sexuality and sexual identity and this text seemed like the perfect jumping off point.

Rob: Considering the date of the source interview, Everything Water must have been gone from composition to publication in around six months. Is that a record for you? And is that expediency one of the things that drew you to publishing chapbooks? Do you think there are any drawbacks to moving at that pace (which seems lightning-quick in the publishing world, but probably glacial to outsiders)?

Adrienne: Ha ha, yeah. Quickest turnaround of all time. Ironically my first chapbook, Mimic, was accepted with Leaf Press in March of 2010 and was only just published in late September of this year, so I think chapbook publishers usually don’t have the time and energy to work at lightening speed, especially since everything they do is done voluntarily.

My experience with Cactus Press was, I think, fairly unique. I had a chapbook that I wanted to submit to Cactus, but ended up abandoning it because it wasn’t really excited about it. I ended up holing myself up at a cottage with writers Matthew J. Trafford and Linda Besner for two weeks and wrote pretty furiously. A rough draft of Everything Water came out of those two weeks. Since then it’s just been editing and revising.

This is definitely a record in terms of speed, but I’m also one of those writers who works in fits and starts. It’s certainly exciting to see the fruits of a more recent labour in published form. I’m still very engaged with the work, whereas by the time my first poetry collection came out in 2008, I was pretty tired of it. I still felt connected to some of the poems, but mostly I wanted to focus on what was new and compelling – with what I was writing at the time, not with work I had written five years earlier. I also have a ridiculously short attention span, so anything I’m working on today is much more interesting than what I was doing yesterday. Or even an hour ago. I think this might be why chapbooks are so engaging to me. I can sit down and read a chapbook in one sitting, but a full-length collection might take me days or weeks to really sink my teeth into.

Rob: You mentioned Mimic, which came out earlier this year from Leaf Press. As you now have recent working knowledge on two of Canada's best chapbook publishers, what have you found to be the major similarities between the two? Any notable differences (beyond, in your case, the publishing timetable)?

Adrienne: I think the similarities would be the quality of the books and the appreciation and encouragement of work that pushes boundaries. Both Leaf Press and Cactus Press produce gorgeous books and I was really excited to have work come out with both presses. Another similarity is how much time and effort both Ursula and Jim put into the final product.

I think the differences might be the chapbook ‘vision’. Cactus Press does not include any text on the cover in the hopes that the cover art will be displayed as its own piece and not simply used as a background for the title and author’s name. I asked my friend Zachari Logan (an incredible visual artist based in Saskatoon), if he would be willing to lend me a detail from one of his drawings for the cover. It’s a gorgeous piece and I’m glad it gets to stand on its own.

Rob: It's rare that three poets will come together from different parts of the country to launch a chapbook. How did the reading at Spartacus Books come together? What can people expect to see and hear if they come out to the reading?

Adrienne: Well, honestly, the whole thing is a bit of a fluke. I was living in Toronto for the past couple of years and got to know Jim fairly well. I moved to Vancouver in July with the intent of coming back to Toronto in the fall for the Cactus Press book launch. By the time the launch came around I was flat broke and there was no way I was making it to Toronto! Jim was invited to read at UBC [December 7th, 5 PM] and he suggested having a Vancouver launch. Jim found out that Zach was going to be in Vancouver at the same time and was looking for an opportunity to read while he was here. And, well... that’s how it happened. This has all been arranged over the past week, so it’s been a lot of emailing back and forth. I think people can expect a pretty eclectic range of content and poetic form. I really respect both Jim and Zach’s work and I think the reading will be well rounded. That sounded super wholesome. People can expect some poems about sex, science and sweet sincerity. Oh, and delicious cheeses.

Everything Water can be ordered by emailing Jim Johnstone at jim.johnstone(at)utoronto.ca, or, if you're in Vancouver, bought in person at the launch on December 8th. I hear there will be cheeses, people. Yes, plural. See you there?



I know, I know. I didn't think this day would ever come, either. But my wife, who has been doggedly promoting my book and readings on her own Facebook profile, has decided it's time for me to branch out on my own, and has set up a page for me:


Marta will be coordinating all the updates, which (I believe) will mostly be reading announcements and links to blog posts from this site (i.e. regular silaron readers won't be missing anything), but if you enjoy "liking" things on Facebook, I am now one of those things. Go at it!

Similarly, Diane Tucker has just set up a permanent Dead Poets Reading Series Facebook Page. Sign up there for all the no-longer-living poet news that you can handle - including a sneak peak at our January lineup!


all its little gadgetry

Chad Pelley: What is your favourite part of the writing process? Your least favourite?

Mark Callanan: I’ve always appreciated that Dorothy Parker quote: “I hate writing; I love having written.” Let that be my mantra. I find writing extremely difficult to do; I’m too concerned with doing it well to actually enjoy myself. That being said, there’s a moment that comes, countless drafts in, when the elements that constitute a poem start snapping into place, when all its little gadgetry suddenly works and those disparate pieces unite to a single purpose, when the trajectory of the poem seems inevitable — that’s the good bit: when the poem works, when it becomes more than the sum of its parts. Otherwise, it would seem like a lot of pointless toil and frustration.

- Mark Callanan, in interview over at Salty Ink. You can read the whole thing here.


oh hey, vancouver

SubTerrain's Vancouver 125 issue is about to come out, featuring poems by:

Al Purdy, Earle Birney, Brad Cran, Roy Miki, Peter Mitham, Sachiko Murakami, Nedjo Rogers, Carleton Wilson, Alan Twigg, Brian Kaufman, Tom Osborne, Lakshmi Gill, Roy Kiyooka, Larissa Lai, Joanne Arnott, Renee Rodin, Daniel Zomparelli, Phillip Quinn, Ray Hsu, Patricia Smekal, George McWhirter, Sharon Thesen, Fred Wah, Phinder Dulai, Clint Burnham, Christine Leclerc, Daniela Elza, Renee Sarojini Saklikar, Tammy Armstrong, Diane Tucker, George Bowering, D.N. Simmers, Michael Turner, Rita Wong, Lyle Neff, Chris Hutchinson, Cynara Geissler, Jennica Harper, Trevor Carolan, Ryan Knighton, Jeff Steudel, Libby Davies, Calvin Wharton, Kate Braid, Oana Avasilichioaei, Gary Geddes, Jay MillAr, Marguerite Pigeon, Jen Currin, Russell Thornton, Adam Cramb, Catherine Owen, Wayde Compton, Daphne Marlatt, Rob Taylor, Elizabeth Bachinsky, Jim Wong-Chu, Alexis Kienlen, Karen Green, Heidi Greco, Malcolm Lowry, Bud Osborn, Jordan Turner, Lionel Kearns, Evelyn Lau, Mari-Lou Rowley, Gillian Jerome, Stephen Collis, Miranda Pearson, Heather Haley, Judith Copithorne, Jamie Reid, Elizabeth Ross, Howard White, Dennis E. Bolen, Suzanne Buffam, Patrick Lane, Onjana Yawnghwe, George Fetherling, Bliss Carman, E. Pauline Johnson, Mona Fertig, bill bissett, Patrick Friesen, Colin Browne, George Stanley, Billeh Nickerson, Peter Trower, Susan Cormier, Paul Pitre, Nikki Reimer, Christine Lowther, Reg Johanson, Jon Paul Fiorentino, Garry Thomas Morse, Cecily Nicholson.

The crazy part, for me, is the number of local poets I know who aren't on that list, and the thought of how big an issue it would have been had it included us all. It's nice to be reminded just how many of us there are out there writing in, and on, our city. Thanks, SubTerrain!


to wa / and back

Photo by Marta Taylor

As I've mentioned here before, in September 2010 we started up an Arc Poetry inspired "How Poems Work" series over at One Ghana, One Voice . The series gave OGOV poets an opportunity to write short essays on some of their favourite poems (either published on OGOV or elsewhere). Fourteen months and three essays later, I'm finally chipping in with an essay on Nana Agyemang Ofosu's "18 Miles to Yeero". It is rather unimaginatively entitled:

How Poems Work #4 - Rob Taylor on Nana Agyemang Ofosu's "18 Miles to Yeero"

I decided to write on this poem not because it is my most loved on the site, but because it's a poem that slowly won me over after I was initially disinterested - a phenomenon that I find much more interesting to think and write on. I hope readers are at least somewhat as interested as I was...

If you read the essay and find yourself inspired, I encourage you to read through the OGOV archives (and all our past "How Poems Work"), find a poem you love, and send me a proposal for "How Poems Work" #5!


a piece of the jaw

I’m a magpie. I’m online. I’m attention deficit. I have selective memory. I don’t think in a linear way. I work hard anyway. Attention is multivalent. It isn’t just memory-recall, or knowing how the thing got moved from point A to point B. Other people write about this more eloquently: Jan Zwicky, John Berger… I have to trust that other people, readers, can relate. I used to be hard on myself for not remembering the plots of novels, the names of characters. Now I read accepting the fact that those things will leave me, sometimes the very next day. So when I’m digging up subjects for poems, when I’m entering a relationship with another artist’s work, whatever the genre, I’m never really digging up the whole whale: just an eyeball, or a piece of the jaw. Sometimes I don’t even get down to the carcass. I mistakenly hook into a boot, or a photo by Cartier-Bresson I remember seeing. Bingo. Reverb. Off we go.

- Nick Thran, on his writing style, in interview with Sheryda Warrener over at the Event Magazine blog. You can read the whole interview here.



the greatest of our miseries

The only thing which consoles us for our miseries is diversion, and yet this is the greatest of our miseries. For it is this which principally hinders us from reflecting upon ourselves, and which makes us insensibly ruin ourselves. Without this we should be in a state of weariness, and this weariness would spur us to seek a more solid means of escaping from it. But diversions amuse us and lead us unconsciously to death.

- Blaise Pascal's Pensée #171, entitled "Misery"


dead poets live!

As I'm sure many of you know by now, Christopher Levenson, Diane Tucker and I have been busy over the last couple months preparing the "resurrection" of the Dead Poets reading series that David Zieroth used to run on the North Shore (here's my summary of the event Chris and I read at back in early 2010).

We've moved the series to Vancouver - to Project Space, to be specific - and have set up a new website, but have kept the structure more-or-less the same: five living poets reading work from their favourite non-living poets.

Our first reading will be on Sunday, November 20th, from 3-5 PM, and will feature:

Thomas Hardy (1840 - 1928), read by David Zieroth
Ronald Johnson (1935 - 1998), read by Sonnet L'Abbé
Muriel Rukeyser (1913 - 1980), read by Fiona Tinwei Lam
Frank Stanford (1948 - 1978), read by Raoul Fernandes
César Vallejo (1892-1938), read by Russell Thornton

Entry is by donation. You can RSVP via Facebook, if that's your thang, and can subscribe to our mailing list simply by entering your email here:

Nifty, eh? And we have a poster and everything! We're not messing around:

Please help spread the word, and I hope to see you there!


hibernating with words

I'm a judge (along with Fiona Lam) of Pandora's Collective's upcoming poetry contest, "Hibernating with Words":
(click on the image to expand)
The judging is blind, so you can't bribe me directly. But you can always paperclip a personal check to your poem. Just sayin'

Funds raised by the contest goes to Pandora's, who do a crazy number of useful things for the Vancouver writing community, so please spread the word, and consider sending something in! Full entry guidelines can be read here.


some november readings

Here are thirteen fourteen readings for November:

The Kranky Reading Series

Thursday, November 3rd, 7:00 PM
Kranky Cafe
#216-228 East 4th Avenue
, Vancouver
Featuring: Rob Taylor (that's me!), Elee Kraljii Gardiner, and Wanda John

Twisted Poets Literary Salon
Thursday, November 3rd, 7:00 PM — 10:00 PM
The Prophouse Cafe
1636 Venables Street, Vancouver
Featuring: Sandy Shreve and Renee Saklikar
$5 (suggested donation)

Visible Verse Festival
Friday, November 4th and Saturday, November 5th, Various Times (main show is Friday at 7 PM)
Pacific Cinémathèque
1131 Howe Street, Vancouver
Featuring: 36 video poems!
$11.50 for Friday show, Saturday events by donation

Writing for Social Change Reading Series
Sunday, November 6th, 2:00 - 4:00 PM
Historic Joy Kogawa House
1450 West 64th Avenue
Featuring: Betsy Warland
Admission by donation

Incite Reading Series
Wednesday, November 9th, 7:30 PM
Alice MacKay room, Central Library
350 West Georgia St., Vancouver
Featuring: Ami McKay

TWS Reading Series
Friday, November 11th, 7:00 - 9:00 PM
Take 5 Cafe
429 Granville Street, Vancouver
Featuring: Cathy Stonehouse, Don Simpson, Rua Mercier and more!

Kootenay School Reunion and Book Launch
Saturday, November 12th, 7 PM
W2 Community Lounge, 2nd Floor
111 W. Hastings St., Vancouver
Featuring: Colin Browne, Jeff Derksen, Kathryn MacLoed, Tom Wayman, and Calvin Wharton

Spoken Ink Reading Series
Tuesday, November 15th, 2011, 8:00 PM
La Fontana Caffe
101-3701 East Hastings Street, Burnaby
Featuring: Peter Tupper

Twisted Poets Literary Salon
Thursday, November 17th, 7:00 PM — 10:00 PM
The Prophouse Cafe
1636 Venables Street, Vancouver
Featuring: Michael Turner and Heidi Greco
$5 (suggested donation)

Robson Reading Series
Thursday, November 17th, 7:00 PM
UBC Bookstore, Robson Square
800 Robson St, Vancouver
Featuring: Carmen Aguirre and Rishma Dunlop

Dead Poets Reading Series
Sunday, November 20th, 3:00 - 5:00 PM
Project Space
222 East Georgia St., Vancouver
Featuring: Fiona Tinwei Lam (Marianne Bulger), David Zieroth (Thomas Hardy), Sonnet L'Abbé (Ron Johnson), Russell Thornton (César Vallejo) and Raoul Fernandes (Frank Stanford)
By donation

Writing for Social Change Reading Series
Sunday, November 20th, 2:00 - 4:00 PM
Historic Joy Kogawa House
1450 West 64th Avenue
Featuring: Sheena Wilson
Admission by donation

Incite Reading Series
Wednesday, November 23rd, 7:30 PM
Alice MacKay room, Central Library
350 West Georgia St., Vancouver
Featuring: Ray Robertson, Cathy Stonehouse and Rebecca Rosenblum

Writing for Social Change Reading Series
Sunday, November 27th, 2:00 - 4:00 PM
Historic Joy Kogawa House
1450 West 64th Avenue
Featuring: Wayde Compton
Admission by donation


music has rests

Terry Gross: You said that when you stopped drinking, you wondered: Am I genuinely eccentric, or am I just wearing a funny hat? What am I made of? What's left when you drain the pool?... What did you learn about yourself when the alcohol wasn't there anymore?


Tom Waits: Well, I wanted - I've always wanted to be curious and provocative, I guess, and interesting, and interested in this sparkling sapphire we all call home. I always wanted to be mystified by it all - and rather fascinated with life itself. And... I think maybe when you drink, you're probably robbing yourself of that genuine experience, even though it appears what you're doing is getting more of it. You're getting less of it. And it takes a while, when you've had a rock on the hose like that for so long. It takes a while for the hose to be a hose again and for things to start flowing.

Like with songs, if you don't play for a while - if you stop playing for even like a year - sometimes it all builds up in a really great way. But there's no such thing as not playing. There's just - you know, music has rests in it, so you are on a rest right now. And the music will begin shortly.

- Tom Waits, in interview with Terry Gross on Fresh Air. You can listen to the interview here, and read the full transcript here.


look what i found...

... on the way to the Cross-Border Pollination reading!

The reading itself was very enjoyable - they're producing some lovely writers up there in Alaska (and Toronto and Vancouver, for that matter, in Maureen and Rhea).

All that, and I finally found my poem!

Thank you so much to Rachel Rose and her band of collaborators for putting the reading together, and for running the Cross-Border series all these years (I was surprised, and saddened, to learn at the reading that it will be the last for the series). As Rachel said in her "closing remarks", let's hope that the energy generated around the Cross-Border series finds new, equally enriching homes elsewhere in the city.


mic check

It looks like there'll be an open-mic poetry slam at Occupy Vancouver this Sunday, running from 2:30 to 5:30 (sign up at 2:30).

That is, unless Gregor decides to get all Jean Quan on us. Or if Suzanne Anton hulks up and tears down all the tents with her bare hands. Barring any of that, there should be poetry on Sunday.

For all you Facebook lovers out there, a Facebook group has been established for the event.


two readings with me in common

I've got two readings coming up soon, both of which I have thus far inadequately HYPED here on the blog. That ends now.

The first is the October installment of the Cross-Border Pollination Reading Series, which seeks to unite Canadian and American writers. I'll be reading with fellow Canadians Maureen Hynes and Rhea Tregebov, and we'll be joined by three Alaskan poets: Peggy Shumaker, Joan Kane and Sherry Simpson. I will attempt to read my more masculine poems to address the gender imbalance. Sorry, 90% of my book...

It should be a fantastic early-evening of poetry. Here are the details:

Cross-Border Pollination Series
Saturday, October 29th, 5:00 PM - 7:30 PM
SFU Harbour Center, Room 1415
515 W. Hastings Street, Vancouver
Featuring: Rob Taylor, Maureen Hynes, Rhea Tregebov, Peggy Shumaker, Joan Kane, and Sherry Simpson

Five days later I'll be reading at the Kranky Reading Series, along with Elee Kraljii Gardiner and Wanda John, and a (loud?) preamble by Garry Thomas Morse. The details:

Kranky Reading Series
Thursday, November 3rd, 7:00 PM
Kranky Cafe
#216 - 228 E. 4th Avenue
, Vancouver
Featuring: Rob Taylor, Elee Kraljii Gardiner and Wanda John
No Poster!

And while I'm HYPING events, remember that People's Co-op Bookstore will host the launch of the anthology The Bright Well: Contemporary Canadian Poems about Facing Cancer this Wednesday. My post on that launch, including all the event details, can be read here.

I hope to see you at any (or, dare I say, all?) of these events!


some days all i startle

It's been a while since I mentioned anything about One Ghana, One Voice here on the blog. This is in part because I took a hiatus over the summer, my first in five years. Well, we're back at it, and I'm very pleased to be able to present two poems by one of my favourite Ghanaian poets, L.S. Mensah, over the next two weeks. Both poems look at Nigerian literary characters from the perspective of their mothers (whose stories were overlooked in the original texts). The first, Mother of Ikemefuna, is already up on the site, along with a Q+A with L.S., which is, as always with L.S., both thoughtful and informative. My favourite answer of hers this time was in response to a question about her opening line (the title of this post):

Looking back, I believe that phrase started life in one of my Congo poems but it always impeded my efforts to do anything with it. It became the starting point for this poem, but even then I wouldn't say the outcome was guaranteed. Seamus Heaney makes a point about how the right opening line can lead one to generate a whole poem, but one does need some luck too. A lot of the time I feel like an Accra cobbler, making shoes out of those worn car tyres, hammering them into place with oversized Kantamanto nails!
The second poem in the series, along with another Q+A, will be published next Saturday.

To see more of what OGOV has been up to of late, check out the archives. And if you, or someone you know, is somehow connected to Ghana + poetry, get those submissions coming!



Hey Vancouver poets, here's a chance to ekphrasise your pants off. The show closes at the end of the month, so act quick! The press release:


Call for Submissions:

As visual artists we recognize the importance of writing in relationship to the art as a document of the discussion. Artwork is never self-contained once it has been exhibited; it is open for interpretation, inspection, reaction and reprocessing. Our goal with art has always been the inciting of conversation and discussion.

We’re looking for writers to collaborate with us on the catalogue for our most recent exhibition at the gallery, Randy Grskovic’s Reoccurring Themes. We are going to be printing a newsprint periodical with documentation from the exhibition and are accepting writing to accompany the images. What we’re searching for is a response to the artwork itself. Each piece has it’s own story/context. It could be in the way of a review of the physical piece, an idea sparked by the work. A previously written work that relates to a certain theme… a poem… a drawing… a post it note… whatever… It could be positive; it could be negative. It could be real; it could be fiction. It could be short; it can be long.

Our main goal is to collaborate with writers on this project. If you would like to have a conversation with us please let us know and we can start the process.

The work can be viewed on weekends from 12pm – 6pm or by appointment. Please feel free to email us and make an appointment:


The show closes on October 30th and the deadline for submissions will be no later than November 6th.

More information about the exhibition can be found here:



hope too is an old and unusual growth - "The Bright Well" Book Launch

Medicine - Glen Downie

I have travelled in cities of the East & held out
my paper token    The black-suited subway man bites
a neat piece of it with his metal punch & in between
passengers his tic tic tic continues    The tiny jaws continue
tic tic tic    In Seoul's medicine shops are glass bottles
where herbalists display unusual growths
of ginseng shaped like people    All this beneath the city –
trains worm their way through cold tunnels
& the ginseng sellers advise on the endless complaints
of middle-age while at produce stalls I hear
the nervous tic tic tic of the vendor's trimming shears

And I have travelled in cities of the West where radioactive cobalt
must be replaced in the machines before reaching its half-life
A patient gingerly fingers the bulge of his cancer & calculates
whether he's too young to die or too old to be tortured
on the slim chance of cure    No one is sure    Even the doctor
speaks as if ticking down
a list of well-practised evasions    Experience tells him
that truth is too potent & must be replaced
with half-truth   as a dose of radiation is dispensed
in fractions   although hope too is an old & unusual growth
often strong as the roots of stones & human-shaped

(Wolsak & Wynn, 1999). Reprinted with permission.

Glen Downie's "Medicine" is one of the many standout poems included in Leaf Press' new anthology The Bright Well: Contemporary Canadian Poems about Facing Cancer. Featuring contributions from twenty Canadian poets, including Lorna Crozier, Michael Harris, Maureen Hynes and Anne Simpson, the anthology launches in Vancouver on October 26th. The details:

Launch of The Bright Well: Contemporary Canadian Poems about Facing Cancer
Wednesday, October 26th, 7:30 PM
People's Co-op Books
1391 Commercial Drive
Featuring: Elise Partridge, Miranda Pearson, Rachel Rose, and Betsy Warland

The anthology is a very good one, and rarely if ever depressing, despite the subject matter. It's even (dare I say it?) inspirational at times. I hesitate in saying that only because "inspirational" has gotten a bad wrap in our current popular culture (made-for-TV movies on the Lifetime Network, anyone?). This isn't that kind of inspirational. This is the real deal, the kind that's earned through attention and honesty and persistence.

I had the opportunity to correspond via email with anthology editor Fiona Tinwei Lam.
Fiona, eagerly anticipating our email correspondance
Here's our exchance, in which we discuss the origin of The Bright Well and walking that fine line between the two types of "inspirational":

Rob: You've mentioned in a past interview how much losing your father to cancer at a young age shaped your life. Was that the primary inspiration for your taking on this anthology? Can you tell me a bit more about how the project came together?

Fiona: There were a variety of factors that led me to initiate this project. I'd had my first experience editing an anthology with Cathy Stonehouse and Shannon Cowan putting together Double Lives: Writing and Motherhood (McGill-Queen's University, 2008), an anthology of creative non-fiction, Cathy convinced me that such a book could become a valuable resource to the many writers who were struggling to juggle parenthood with writing. As we gathered the material, I was moved by the way the contributors wrote so compellingly about their frustrations and their triumphs, and wanted to do what I could to ensure their voices and stories would be heard. This same impetus lay behind The Bright Well.

Canada has such a wealth of extraordinary poetic talent, a wealth I feel is taken for granted and undervalued. Poetry, like other art forms, has the potential to communicate ideas, feelings, experiences, and insights very powerfully, deeply and concisely. People often turn to poetry during the most important transitional periods in their lives (graduations, births, deaths, weddings, funerals), but they can be intimidated by poetry outside of those occasions. I believe that poetry can lead to a deeper understanding and connection within ourselves as well as on a broader scale between individuals across the borders and boundaries that can divide us.

But because Double Lives ended up being a huge amount of work over three years trying to solicit, select and edit the essays, as well as pitch publishers and then market the book, I hesitated to jump into another anthology project again. However, after publishing my second book of poems, I decided that I was ready for a defined, small-scale project collecting work by other authors.

I wanted to reach readers by delving into a significant life challenge and by offering poems that they would find moving, meaningful, and accessible. A collection of poems about cancer was the first thing that came to mind. My father died of cancer when he was almost forty-two years old and when I was eleven years old. He died very quickly after his diagnosis, about three months later. As an adult, I felt some of that same helplessness, turmoil and shock when a poet friend was diagnosed with cancer, and later, a family member. When I had to undergo ultrasound testing and a needle biopsy myself, I finally very concretely, if briefly, experienced a small portion of the terror that so many others have gone through.

I consulted Elise Partridge (who had published some superb poems about her experience of breast cancer in her book, Chameleon Hours) about the possibility of putting together a chapbook of poems by Canadian poets on the subject. Elise’s encouragement and feedback were invaluable to me as I gradually gathered poems. I already knew about poems written on the subject by a few other poets, such as Mari-Lou Rowley, Maureen Hynes, Rachel Rose, and Anne Simpson. In a few cases I contacted poets directly whom I had heard or known had had cancer. But in most cases, by word of mouth and by email enquiries, I gathered names, requested more books from the library, read through them carefully. When I found the kind of poems I wanted — beautifully crafted poems that had a first person perspective of cancer that offered kernels of hard-won insight, wisdom, beauty, self-awareness, or truth - I contacted the poets in question to tell them about the project and ask them if they would be interested in having their work included in a chapbook, the proceeds of which would be put toward cancer research and/or treatment.

I also ran a short writing workshop at InspireHealth for cancer patients, and got a sense of the kinds of poems that moved them, and read through a number of chapbooks produced by the non-profit Callanish Society that holds retreats for cancer patients and their families. It was pretty clear what kind of poems appealed and what kind were upsetting. Cancer patients and their families understand suffering, discomfort, pain and the fear of death intimately — they might be experiencing these things daily. So poems of witness by outsiders observing family members’ or friends’ suffering or pain, let alone poems of mourning and loss, didn’t seem appropriate. For this reason, I decided to choose poems with a first person perspective.

I had to winnow out many very fine elegies, even ones written by established or well-known poets, which reduced my file by half. I also left out several poems that focused on describing pain without providing other layers of feeling or context. I narrowed the poems down to those which cancer patients and their caregivers would most identify with and not turn away from, that were about their own experience from their own perspective, and ultimately about trying to stay alive and survive in the face of death. I wanted to put together a book that would honestly reflect the experiences of those who have faced cancer so that readers who are facing or who have faced cancer would feel understood, and less isolated. My aim was also to help family members, friends and medical professionals understand those experiences that are often challenging to convey.

Ursula Vaira of Leaf Press, a press that has produced wonderful high quality poetry chapbooks over the years, expressed interest in my project early on. My file of poems eventually turned out to be a slim volume rather than a chapbook, but I chose to stay with Leaf Press because of Ursula’s commitment to poetry and to this project.

Rob: In the introduction to The Bright Well, you note that the book is "a way to name the unnameable, stripping away platitudes, clichés, and new age pseudo-spiritualism." This reminded me of an essay by Joshua Mehigan in which he noted that "Two-thirds [of readers] think I’m repugnant for suggesting that poetry isn’t soul magic." But isn't it the spiritual, or pseudo-spiritual, or "magical" that some (many?) people who are facing cancer turn to, and that some would expect (or even hope for) in picking up your book?

Did you find it a tricky line to walk as an editor: to gather together poems that were both honest and unflinching, and yet still hopeful? That contained the soul-lifting without being "soul magic"? How do you think the best poems in the book accomplished this?

Fiona: In my introduction I was trying to distinguish between a true spiritual, soulful quality and the pseudo-spiritualism of some new age writing that relies on clichés and abstract sentiment (.e.g poor modern imitations of Rumi). Contemporary poetry can be very spiritual and soulful, yet remain quite concrete and specific. Many of the poems in The Bright Well are about the experience of facing death, and these poems not only depict or name an experience, but transform or transcend it through original, startling imagery or other poetic means. For example, Sue Downe’s poem, “Little Horse”, which in a few short phrases transforms a tumour by way of a metaphor into the symbol of a complex and unexpected journey. Sue Wheeler’s “The Sound of No Shore” is but one example of a poem that shows the kind of gut-wrenching life/death questioning that goes on during treatment. There are also other poems where the imagery plays an alchemical or a connective role - transforming painful experiences or imbedding them in a meaningful context. I think of Sandra Dunn’s pantoum, with its rounds of repeated lines about her grandmother’s words and protective presence during a childhood swimming lesson alleviating the terror of going under anaesthetic. Or the use of wool and thread images in Lois Lorimer’s poem, “Knitting”, to depict that basic need for connection and comfort from family while recovering from surgery. I chose the poems in the collection because they were deeply heartfelt and very much from the soul, as well as well-written. And yes it was a difficult process — that’s why the process took so long and why the book is as slim as it is.

Rob: When I heard about your book, I immediately thought of Elise Partridge's Chameleon Hours, specifically her two standout "Chemo Side Effects" poems (one of which, "Memory", is in The Bright Well). In first considering the anthology, did you have certain "must include" poems that immediately stuck out in your mind? Were there any poems you very much wanted to include but, for whatever reason, could not?

Fiona: A number of contributors had written entire books or long sequences of poems about the experience of cancer (e.g. Michael Harris, Susan Wheeler, Susan Downe, Richard Sommer, Luciano Iacobelli, Betsy Warland, Elise Partridge, Marianne Bluger). By selecting individual poems or excerpts, an editor is bound to lose the overall impact or effect of a series of poems by one author on one subject. The way the poems will play off each other or accumulate cannot be captured. Instead, an editor has to choose individual works by individual authors that will work as a cohesive whole, playing off each other and accumulating in a different way. In the end I chose a representative excerpt or sampling from those sequences or books that would cover various stages and aspects of the cancer experience.

One of my key objectives was that this book would whet readers’ appetite for more, hence the list of titles at the back of the book and the contributors’ comments and statements to readers that accompany their bios. I wanted to ensure that the important work of the contributors on this subject would not be forgotten. The Bright Well does not pretend to be a comprehensive compendium of cancer poems: rather it is a selection of fine poems by twenty accomplished Canadian poets about aspects of facing cancer. It might very well lead to more such collections — I hope so!

The Bright Well can be ordered from the Leaf Press website, or, if you're in Vancouver, in person at the launch on October 26th. See you there?