a much better poet whispering suggestions in your ear

I often write in metrical verse, sometimes in rhyme, sometimes in complex forms. I find that the discipline of this—in ancient India they called poetic metre a “yoga”—gives me access to sources of creative power that are deeper or higher than myself. As D.H. Lawrence puts it, “Not I, not I, but the wind that blows through me.” You mean to say one thing, but the prosody won’t quite let you, so you have to find a better way of putting it, and you find yourself saying all these surprising things; it’s like there’s a much better poet whispering suggestions in your ear. Your conscious will is busy working out the complex puzzle of the metre and so on, and this gives your unconscious—the gods, duende, whatever you want to call it—all kinds of opportunities to speak.

- James Pollock, in interview with The Toronto Quarterly. You can read the whole thing here.


the reading of poetry is not structured into the meaning of poetry

The Toronto Quarterly: Do you think poetry is currently going through some kind of resurgence these days or is it still pretty much ignored by the masses?

David McGimpsey: Poetry, as a material commodity, is not meant for mass consumption. If there was poetry admired by the masses, it would quickly not be considered "poetry" by the elite institutions which structure meaning around the idea of poetry. Poetry is certainly going through a boon as a hobby and as cherished practice. I imagine the institutional support of MFA programs everywhere allows and fosters that affection among thousands. It has created a different marketplace over time, I think, and one where the reading of poetry is not structured into the meaning of "poetry". As such, "poetry" exists more as a social ideology to support the middle class. Facebook and Twitter are compelling recruitment tools and have brought focus and cohesion to the world of poetry in ways which once seemed utterly impossible. I'm not shaking my cane at the "kids of today" for not knowing who Ed Dorn or whoever is (who cares?), but saying the market is now centred around the function of creative writing as a social force rather than reading actual books of poetry.

- David McGimpsey, in interview with The Toronto Quarterly. You can read the whole thing here.


some sunday reading

Two new poems from two of my favourite Vancouver poets. When I think about these two being there, writing away, I know that the city is in good hands while I'm gone.

(loop) by Raoul Fernandes (CV2)

You Dream The Sky Darkens by Elena E. Johnson (The Week Shall Inherit The Verse)

That second publication is Stuart Ross' new poetry blogazine, featuring (as if the title really needs explaining) a poem a week. Take a look!

Happy Sunday, all.


The Al Purdy A-frame has been saved!

You can probably see see my grin all the way from Canada.

Congratulations to Jean Baird and all those who helped her make it happen, especially Eurithe Purdy.

They now need funds for upgrading the building and setting up the writer-in-residency, so there are still opportunities to donate if you haven't yet done so.

Anyway, the press release:

Work now turns to RAISING FUNDS TO UPGRADE AND INSTALL a writer-in-residence
October 26, 2012
For immediate release

AMELIASBURGH, Ont. – The A-frame home built here in 1957 by the late Al Purdy, one of Canada’s greatest poets, and his wife, Eurithe, has been assured of preservation and a continued vocation as a place for writers to gather and work.

Thanks to the generosity of Eurithe Purdy, who dramatically reduced the asking price for the property, and donors from across Canada, the A-frame was acquired on October 9 by the Al Purdy A-frame Association, a newly incorporated national non-profit organization with a mandate to promote Canadian literature and Canadian writers. A major benefit is planned for Koerner Hall in Toronto on February 6th to continue the restoration of the A-frame.

“Now we can turn our attention to the next phase of this effort,” said Jean Baird, president of the association. “It’s not only a celebration of Al Purdy’s legacy, but a mission to educate today’s students on the value and worth of Canadian literature, and to preserve the Purdy home as a retreat for future generations of Canadian writers.”

The A-frame, a lakeside cottage in Prince Edward County, was the centre of Purdy’s writing universe and one of the most important crossroads on Canada’s literary map. In their 43 years residing there, the Purdys hosted a who’s who of Canadian authors: Margaret Laurence, Milton Acorn, H.R. Percy, Michael Ondaatje and hundreds of others.

The association plans to begin work on upgrading the property immediately, and hopes to have its first writer-in-residence installed next summer and working in local schools by fall 2013.

Donors acknowledged

The association gratefully acknowledges the generosity of all donors to the project to date, including writers, poets, publishers, academics, students, booksellers, librarians, lovers of literature and, especially, Eurithe Purdy, who was crucial to the success of this effort.

Special thanks are extended to major donors ($5,000 to $40,000): The Good Foundation, Avie Bennett, George Galt, The Chawkers Foundation, The Glasswaters Foundation, The Metcalf Foundation, Michael Audain, Jeff Mooney and Suzanne Bolton, Leonard Cohen, Rosemary Tannock, Tom and Helen Galt, and Josef Wosk.

For a full list of donors, click here.

Fundraising efforts continue and are critical to the next stage of this project—upgrades on the property are required and the association will be building an endowment. Online donations are being accepted through PayPal at www.alpurdy.ca, or cheques may be sent to:

The Al Purdy A-frame Association
4403 West 11th Avenue
Vancouver, B.C.
V6R 2M2


What a great way to enter the weekend!


You may have already bought my next chapbook

You know how I'm always encouraging you to subscribe to the Alfred Gustav Press chapbook series? Well, hopefully you took me up on the suggestion, as the AG editors have decided to sweeten the pot for Series Nine (November 2012) by including a bonus mini-chapbook (in their occasional Holm series) - and it's by me!

Entitled Smoothing the Holy Surfaces (after the Neruda lines in the epigraph for P.K. Page's poem "Planet Earth"), it features four new poems and a short prose piece. Or five new poems, one of which is a prose poem (depending on how you like to slice it). It will be included along with the previous announced chapbooks by Gerald Hill, Sandy Shreve, and Douglas Burnet Smith. I'm thrilled to be included in such fine company, even if as a minor opening act.

The subscription deadline for the series has passed, so if you missed out you're out of luck. If you heeded my sage advice, I hope you enjoy the poems when they arrive!

The Alfred Gustav Press, Series Three, from 2009.
It's too late to subscribe to it, also.


a crazy-making contradiction

I think the biggest challenge, for poets of any level of experience, is to both constantly expand their awareness of the traditions every poem talks back to, while writing playfully, with no monkey on the shoulder. We need the examples of our forebears to enlarge our sense of the possibilities for each poem, and yet we must trudge ahead, as Paul Muldoon puts it, with “a kind of willed ignorance.” It’s a crazy-making contradiction, but I think it’s essential. This is something I’ve had to learn and relearn. It’s endless. Read widely. Write wildly. Read. Repeat.

- Julie Bruck, in conversation with The Toronto Quarterly. You can read the whole thing here.


new tosoo review (#2)

The Other Side of Ourselves came out in May 2011, and soon after I was labeled "The Next Al Purdy" in the National Post (it turns out that's a bad thing). Oof.

Since then, things have picked up considerably - launches, readings, high school class visits, interviews, a book club, a photo contest, a poem-in-transit, a response poem, a finding, an anthology, a second edition, and more. It's been incredible.

On the critical front, though, the book has suffered the most Zwickensian of fates - total radio silence. Until now! I just came across this review of TOSOO by Gillian Harding-Russell, published in the 2012 edition of Prairie Fire Review of Books.

Gillian's review is thoughtful and generous, and the considered attention she gave to the book is both evident and very much appreciated. Also, lines like "A simpler and more clever poem I have not read in a long time" will stick with me for quite a while, and will warm me on many a... um... hot Zambian night. But also the cold Vancouver ones when I get back!

Thank you to Gillian, and to Prairie Fire for providing the venue.

Here's hoping we keep up this rate and I get a third review by 2014!


very slippery and complicated

One big disadvantage of small press poetry being unmoneyed is that most of the work being done is of the unpaid variety, so if you’re from a less privileged background or have serious financial responsibilities, you’ve got to do work that pays the bills. What this means is people who are able to make and do really wonderful things in the small press world—and to be sure, they are doing wonderful things—often are the ones that can afford to do them, because they have time. It’s a complicated little secret that I think many people are uncomfortable with, which is why it doesn’t get brought up. And it’s not the fault of small presses. These people also don’t tend to have a lot of money, but they maybe have access and a familial or network safety net that they can tap if things don’t pan out. I think this is one reason why we see non-white and white people from working class and poor backgrounds largely absent from the small press world. It’s not exclusionary so much as it is the case that many times they can’t afford to risk going outside of the big contests and academic prizes, which to my mind is very slippery and complicated. I don’t have it figured out myself. But it’s a systemic injustice that is much larger than small presses. While it can sometimes be uncomfortable to talk about, I think that it’s important to have those conversations and take that DIY ethic we’ve brought to publishing and use it to take on the things that makes poetry so vital: examining power, honesty, truth and beauty in all its various forms, in order to make opportunity accessible to everyone.

- Joseph Mains, editor of Octopus Magazine, in interview at LitBridge. You can read the whole thing here.


thoughtful readers are welcome to try

rob mclennan: Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?

Glen Downie: Yeats wrote: “God guard me from those thoughts men think/ in the mind alone./ He that sings a lasting song/ thinks in a marrow bone.” That expresses some of my wariness about the theoretical. Theory needn’t be purely intellectual, of course, but people often do cleave to it out of a desire to appear intellectually superior, and to win the support of academics and some imagined ‘better class’ of critics or readers. There are theoretical concerns – as there are moral, existential and emotional ones – behind, below, above, within and around my writing, many issues that I wrestle with both as a writer and a human being. But I’m not sure I can or want to articulate them differently here than they are in the work itself. Of course, critics and other thoughtful readers are welcome to try.

- Glen Downie, in interview with rob mclennan as part of his 10 or 20 questions series. You can read the full interview here.

You can also read an excellent poems by Glen right here on this blog, as part of my interview with Bright Well anthology editor Fiona Lam.