you know you're a writer when...

... half of your vacation photos are taken inside bookstores.

It's been almost two weeks since the Vancouver launch of The Other Side of Ourselves, and the book is starting to show up here and there in the world, often in places I never would have expected. Chief among those, as part of a bookstore's main display (thanks to The Word Bookstore in Montreal!):

It's also popping up in other surprising places, like the McGill University Bookstore:

and at a latitude much too far North for a book written in Vancouver to handle, thanks to Brenda Schmidt's personal library:

More enjoyable than my book's appearance on bookshelves far from Vancouver (which is ridiculously enjoyable) have been the responses to the book that have begun trickling in. A heartwarming example is Daniela Elza's recent post on the book and launch.

Thank you to Daniela, and to all the bookstores and readers that are giving my little book a chance.

p.s. If you're in Toronto, you can give the book a chance next week, as I'll be participating in two readings around town (details here).


everybody worships

In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And an outstanding reason for choosing some sort of God or spiritual-type thing to worship -- be it J.C. or Allah, be it Yahweh or the Wiccan mother-goddess or the Four Noble Truths or some infrangible set of ethical principles -- is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things -- if they are where you tap real meaning in life -- then you will never have enough. Never feel you have enough. It's the truth. Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you. On one level, we all know this stuff already -- it's been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, bromides, epigrams, parables: the skeleton of every great story. The trick is keeping the truth up-front in daily consciousness...

There are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talked about in the great outside world of winning and achieving and displaying. The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day. That is real freedom.

- David Foster Wallace, from a commencement speech given to the 2005 graduating class at Kenyon College. You can read the full text here.


two toronto readings

Instead of "launching" The Other Side of Ourselves in Toronto (see launch reports for Vancouver and Montreal here and here), I'm participating in two reading series, two days apart, at the end of May. I mentioned one earlier, and the details are in for the other. Here's the info:

Art Bar Reading Series
Tuesday, May 31st, 8:00 PM
693 Bloor Street West, Toronto
Featuring: George Elliot Clarke, Julie Berry, Allen Sutterfield and myself!

livewords: Readings & Celebration: Misunderstandings Final Issue
Thursday, June 2nd, 8:00 PM
The Black Swan
154 Danforth, 2nd Floor, Toronto
Featuring: Al Moritz, Sam Cheuk, Mat Laporte, Paul Vermeersch, myself, and many more!
By donation

If you're in the neighbourhood, it would be great to see you at either reading!


launches, cont.

I'm just back from the Montreal launch of the Cormorant Books 2011 poetry line titles. A packed house took in readings by myself (The Other Side of Ourselves), Jack Hannan (Some Frames), Bruce Taylor (No End in Strangeness - and no relation to me, if you're wondering), and contributors Amanda Jernigan and Michael Lithgow from the Undercurrents anthology. The hardest-working-woman-in-poetry, Cormorant poetry line editor, Robyn Sarah, hosted the evening and read a few poems from other Undercurrents contributors who couldn't attend in person - including a fantastic poem by Daniel Karasik to close the evening. Though a hard fought battle, "poem of the night" went to Amanda Jernigan's "Blackout" - if you're curious about the poem, you'll just have to pick up a copy of Undercurrents...

It was a real pleasure to be amongst such talented and generous writers, and served to extend my state of delight that has been lingering since the Vancouver launch on Saturday. Speaking of which, a couple reports on the Vancouver launch have surfaced, one by Roxana Necsulescu for BC Bookworld here and another by Taryn Hubbard here (and thanks, Taryn, for the photo on this post). Thanks, Roxana and Taryn, for taking the time to write those up.

Next up, Toronto! Details are still coming in, but one reading has been confirmed. I'll be reading at the launch of the final issue of Misunderstandings Magazine (the issue will include a new poem of mine) on June 2nd. The details:
livewords: Readings & Celebration: Misunderstandings Final Issue
Thursday, June 2nd, 8:00 PM
The Black Swan
154 Danforth, 2nd Floor, Toronto
Featuring: Al Moritz, Sam Cheuk, Mat Laporte, Paul Vermeersch, myself, and many more!
By donation
If you're in Toronto, I hope to see you there!


was that real life?

Thanks to everyone who came out to the launch for making it such a wonderful night. I wouldn't believe it really happened if not for the photos - which are, you know, photos of a poetry book launch, so don't expect much. Now that you've been warned, here are a few:

Jasper Sloan Yip and his band kicked things off...

then picked up the pace.

Next, Aislinn Hunter nuzzled the microphone...

and I did my best wistful poet impression...

inducing a buying frenzy at the sales table.

Thank you to everyone for coming!
Montreal, you're up next. See you on Monday!


anything going on tonight?

As the HYPEcycle pedals along, I have posted a poem from The Other Side of Ourselves over at One Ghana, One Voice. It's called "I Have Gone to Keta: Daytrip", and you can read it here (and my bio and Q+A on it here). If you're wondering where in the heck Keta is, you can find out here.

For those of you exhausted by all the HYPE, don't worry, it will relax soon, as my Vancouver launch is tonight and Montreal launch is on Monday. I will also be doing some readings in Toronto in late-May - details (and HYPE) on that to follow. If you live in any of those cities, I hope to see you there.

There are a number of lit events in Vancouver tonight. If you're a Van-lit-lover, here's my proposed itinerary for the evening:

5:00 - 7:00: Cross Pollination Reading Series
7:00 - 7:02: Reckless speeding across town by car/bike/hovercraft
7:02 - 9:00: "The Other Side of Ourselves" Book Launch
9:00 - 9:02: Reckless speeding across town by scooter/airplane/marsupial
9:02 - 12:00: OCW #19 Release Party
12:00 - 12:02 AM: Reckless speeding across town by rollerblade/moonboot/catapult
12:02 - 3:00 AM: Reading is Sexy Memewar Fundraiser
3:00 - 3:02 AM: Quick ride home from a designated driver (never drink and hovercraft!)

Hope to see you tonight, Vancouver!


"The Other Side of Ourselves" Book Launch - Meet Aislinn Hunter

As regularly readers of this blog will know, I'm launching my first collection of poems, The Other Side of Ourselves, this Saturday night. The evening will feature a reading from myself, as well as a reading by Aislinn Hunter and music from Jasper Sloan Yip. The details:
The Other Side of Ourselves Launch
Saturday, May 14th, 6:30 doors, 7:00 PM start
Rowan's Roof Restaurant and Lounge
2340 West 4th Avenue, Vancouver
Featuring: Readings by Rob Taylor and Aislinn Hunter, music by Jasper Sloan Yip
Free, including free appetizers
In my efforts to MAXIMIZE THE HYPE I'm profiling the other two artists performing on Saturday. On Tuesday, I profiled Jasper Sloan Yip, and now it's Aislinn Hunter 's turn.

Yes, Aislinn, it's your turn!

Unlike Jasper Sloan Yip, who I know only through his work, I know Aislinn personally. She has been one of the great teachers in my life, and the teacher most directly associated with my writing. Similar to Jasper, though, it was her work that brought us together.

I read Aislinn's second book of poems, The Possible Past, in 2006 and couldn't believe that something that good was written by someone living in my city. A year later, I found the courage to ask Kwantlen University (where Aislinn teaches) if I could audit one of Aislinn's creative writing classes. They said no. So I enrolled (and have my one course of credit at KU to this day!). I won't go on too much here about how influential that course, and Aislinn's counsel since, have been on my writing life. I'm fairly certain, though, that I wouldn't be anywhere near where I am now without her advice and the influence of her writing.

Speaking of her writing, there is a disappointingly small amount of it available online. Here's a poem, though. And here are three more. To make up for the dearth of Aislinn Hunter stuff on the Internet, Aislinn offered original content for this post: an excerpt from The Possible Past and a short, but generous, Q+A.

from Barriers, in Six Parts by Aislinn Hunter

Refusal: the words no, never, I will not.
Scott's abhorrence at being asked
to turn back. Any word indicating sheer
implausibility. The way we speak in negatives
after a war. The addition of the word again.
The sound the body makes while dying.
The writer eyeing his second to last sentence.
The final foothold coming over the wall.

Rob: My favourite poem of yours is "Barriers, in Six Parts" from The Possible Past. Could you tell me a little about its composition? What drew you to the story of Scott's failed Antarctic expedition (the sheer drama of it, or something else)? How did you come to the structure of the six sections, one for each "barrier"?

Aislinn: Scott came late to the party actually. Over the years I guess I had been reading a fair bit of exploration non-fiction - Shackleton, Mallory, the Franklin expedition and so on, not with purpose but just in the way that as one gets older one wants to get a sense of the story behind the name. In this way Scott was there when I needed him but he wasn't my starting point. The idea for the series came out of The Possible Past's larger experiment: trying to see if the tenets of post-modern historical fiction could be applied to or enacted in poems. One of the things post-modern historical fiction tends to insist on is a barrier between the past and the present. My thinking at the time was that there are all kinds of barriers - literal ones and liminal ones, abstract ones and so on - but also that barriers accrue. The formal contrivance - to insert each barrier into the next poem and grow the poem by two lines at a time - came out of that idea of accrual.

Rob: Your latest book, A Peepshow with Views of the Interior: paratexts, is a collection of lyric essays on things, and how they resonate. Has your research on thing-theory changed the way you look at poems? At poetry books? If so, how?

Aislinn: I'd like to think I've always been sensitive to the poem as a physical object. Maybe because I come from a place and generation that tended to discover poems in books or on the page (in my case it was sneaking into my older sister's high school textbook to read Purdy and Atwood). Stories seem to come to us more naturally and in a variety of forms - I mean you get them in the playground, on TV - but we don't often turn on the radio and find a poem, or hear them recited at parties. This, I think, makes its space, the 'locale' the poem inhabits, special. I remember once on the board at Prism the idea, in a funding crisis, of placing small ads at the bottom of some of the journal's pages and how vehemently I was against it, especially for poems. I may have eventually caved on small literary ads after the short fiction - I'm ashamed to say - though neither came to pass.

My academic work has, if anything, encouraged a slightly lop-sided sensibility toward book things and 'high' aesthetics. I love what's 'beautiful' and living in and studying in the UK has reinforced my preoccupation with classical beauty and the illusion of pre-industrial design. I have Montaigne on my iPhone for example and reading him there in snippets sort of empties the work out for me, ditto the 'poem of the day' I sometimes look at online. There's a kind of, I don't know, tide washing in and washing out feeling about it, and not in a good way. At the British Library website you can 'turn' the pages of a William Blake manuscript on a huge table-size tablet and it is frankly, amazing, but it's amazing because it helps democratize access to Blake's stunning and perishable work, and it preserves it (in so much as a hard drive or flash memory preserves anything). But for me, bratty, puritanical, spoiled me, it's 'less' somehow, though that is borne I think out of my willingness to travel a long way to get to a good museum and the academic privilege of knowing I can have access to the actual thing if I want it.
Aislinn's latest broadside -
click the image to expand

Over the years I've had two poems done up as broadsides, one by a poet/publisher in Chicago who solicited a poem. There is something deep and resonant and scary about seeing your work like that - large and ornate. To think of all the time invested into typography, inks, getting it onto the paper, designing the surround. This is a signed thing in more than just the literal way.

I worry that we take too much for granted. I think my first and second year students sometimes type up their early efforts and think 'Well, it looks like a Seamus Heaney' - and you know what, it does! So, I guess I'm getting picky about the distinction between looking and seeing. Taking a page from Heiddeger I guess I'll say that the thingness of the thing - the poem's giveness - is what happens when we read the work, and that while what we see - it's external thingliness - informs us, it is really what emerges as voice or whisper that shapes our ultimate seeing.

Rob: Your second book of poetry, The Possible Past, came three years after your first, Into the Early Hours. Since then, it's been seven years of poetry-book silence. Did Peepshow let you scratch your lyric itch, or perhaps has the itch naturally diminished over the years? Or is the third book on its way soon?

Aislinn: Well, I did a second Masters degree in there, in Writing and Cultural Politics and I'm half way through my PhD so that has been time consuming. And I'm going on year seven for the bloody novel I'm working on, though I'm making good progress. Part of me doesn't see the point of producing another book - in any genre - if it isn't a leap in craft and idea. Years ago I tucked into my sleeve Ondaatje saying that it took him seven years on average to 'fill the well', it seemed like a reasonable amount of time. I have about half a manuscript of poems in a drawer - a narrative series that came to me in a fit during a writer-in-residence gig in St John's - and about 10 or 12 of the poems have been published in journals. I tried for a Canada Council grant to work on it and got rejected - twice. So I'm not sure if the work is any good. And that's okay. My good friend Joel Thomas Hynes was saying to a group of young writers recently that he had the feeling there were maybe books he had to write to write the book he wanted to write. I think I'm in that with poems. To make a leap means sometimes to leap and land so you can leap from there; not every landing is a destination, it would be arrogance to think so.

Let me leave you with a nice, small thing. Yesterday searching with 'find' in my computer for something to do with a textbook, I found buried in an old file a reference letter I wrote on your behalf a few years ago. It made me laugh a bit, the idea of being a reference for you at all as you seem to me now to be such a full-fledged poet. But what was great was how true the praise seemed then and how true it seems now, how easy it was to use words like curiousity, engagement and rigour. I talked about how startling even your spontaneous writing exercises were, how interested the whole class was in your thinking.

I can't wait to have the collection in hand this Saturday. Congratulations on the book, Rob. It is no small thing.


"The Other Side of Ourselves" Book Launch - Meet Jasper Sloan Yip

As regularly readers of this blog will know, I'm launching my first collection of poems, The Other Side of Ourselves, this Saturday night. The evening will feature a reading from myself, as well as a reading by Aislinn Hunter and music from Jasper Sloan Yip. The details:
The Other Side of Ourselves Launch
Saturday, May 14th, 6:30 doors, 7:00 PM start
Rowan's Roof Restaurant and Lounge
2340 West 4th Avenue, Vancouver
Featuring: Readings by Rob Taylor and Aislinn Hunter, music by Jasper Sloan Yip
Free, including free appetizers
Over the next few days, I will attempt to MAXIMIZE THE HYPE by giving you a chance to get to know the other performers. First up, Jasper (and his lovely band)!

Jasper Sloan Yip, Mark Brichon and Stephanie Chatman. Ain't they lovely?

I can't say I know all that much about Jasper (here's a formal bio, if you want one) other than that he's a local boy, and I saw him perform once and was very impressed. That night, I picked up his album, Every Day and All at Once, and it's been on heavy rotation at our house ever since.

He's quickly on his way to "making it big in that kind of way that's hopelessly unattainable for poets" (his song "Slowly" recently hit #4 on the The R3-30), so it will be a real treat to see him and his band on our little book launch stage while we still have a chance!

A great online source for his music (other than his website and mySpace page, of course), is his CBC Radio 3 page, where you can stream a goofy number of his songs for free. You can also download a song for free here.

Now, embedded video time!

Here's a lively song with a not-so-lively video:

Here's the band on a green couch in a park:

And here's Jasper displaying his darn good taste (and talent!) by covering Wilco's "Jesus, etc.":

Look for a great show from Jasper and the band on Saturday night. I hope to see you there!


african writing + the internet

One of the great things that technology will give us is an outlet for our own critical perspectives which will help moderate skewed Western perspectives. An example: recently the Guardian had someone do a blog piece on Ben Okri's "The Famished Road" and he said the book was a waste of space - within minutes respondents from across the globe were taking him to task, letting him know that he didn't understand the context or the subtext, and because of this he found he had to moderate his tone. Something as simple as that can change the way the world reads, and can expand the readership for writing from Africa. In the "print only" days, that Guardian piece would not have had those responses and would have become "law" in print, with everyone heralding it as authoritative; with the web, it became dialogue.
- Nii Ayikwei Parkes, as part of a two-part Roundtable Discussion on African Writing and the Internet that we've been running over at One Ghana, One Voice.

The discussion has had a number of highlights, including a reference to Sturgeon's Law (90% of everything is crap), which I hadn't heard of before, and plan to use liberally in my future defences of poetry. You can read part one of the Roundtable here, part two here, and participant bios here.


may readings comin' atcha

I'm a little slow on the uptake this month. Sorry to the early-May readings I missed. I'm going to be out-of-town for June, and Summer is usually pretty slow, so this might be my last of these for a while. Enjoy!

Demeter Goes Skydiving Launch
Saturday, May 7th, 7:00 PM
Canadian Memorial Centre for Peace
1825 West 16th Ave., Vancouver
Featuring: Susan McCaslin

Buffet World Launch
Saturday, May 7th, 8:00 PM
Vivo Media Arts Centre
1965 Main Street, Vancouver
Featuring: Donato Mancini

Incite Reading Series
Monday, May 9th, 7:30 PM
Alice MacKay room, Central Library
350 West Georgia St., Vancouver
Featuring: Bernhard Schlink

Incite Reading Series
Wednesday, May 11th, 7:30 PM
Alice MacKay room, Central Library
350 West Georgia St., Vancouver
Featuring: Zsuzsi Gartner, Sylvia Tyson

TWS Reading Series
Friday, March 13th, 7:00 - 9:30 PM
Take 5 Cafe
429 Granville Street, Vancouver
Featuring: Susan McAslin, Sylvia Taylor, and more!

Cross-Border Pollination Series
Saturday, May 14th, 5:00 PM - 7:00 PM
SFU Harbour Center, Room 700
515 W. Hastings Street, Vancouver
Featuring: Jericho Brown, Catherine Owen, Roberta Rich, Sheryda Warrener and Michael Dylan Welch

The Other Side of Ourselves Launch
Saturday, May 14th, 6:30 doors, 7:00 PM start
Rowan's Roof Restaurant and Lounge
2340 West 4th Avenue, Vancouver
Featuring: Readings by Rob Taylor and Aislinn Hunter, music by Jasper Sloan Yip
Free, including free appetizers

Counterparts: OCW Magazine #19 Launch
Saturday, May 14th, 9:00 PM
East Van Studio
870 East Cordova St., Vancouver
Featuring: Readings by Will Johnson, Chris Urquhart, and more. Music by AndrewAndrewAndrew, Cherchez La Femme, and The Cruz Brothers.
$10 (includes subscription, tickets here)

Spoken Ink Reading Series
Tuesday, May 17th, 2011, 7:30 PM
La Fontana Caffe
101-3701 East Hastings Street, Burnaby
Featuring: Debra Purdy Kong

Robson Reading Series
Thursday, May 19th, 7:00 PM
UBC Bookstore, Robson Square
800 Robson St, Vancouver
Featuring: Di Brandt and Ari Belathar

Twisted Poets Literary Salon
Thursday, May 19th, 7:00 PM — 10:00 PM
The Prophouse Cafe
1636 Venables Street, Vancouver
Featuring: Christopher Levenson and David Campbell
$5 (suggested donation)

Incite Reading Series
Wednesday, May 25th, 7:30 PM
Alice MacKay room, Central Library
350 West Georgia St., Vancouver
Featuring: Madeleine Thien, Patrick deWitt and Jen Sookfong Lee

And lastly, as a follow-up to last month's hype about the one Thursday night with 128 readings, here's a video summary of 125 of them, complete with Ray Hsu parkour:

[Flash 10 is required to watch video]