Sustenance: Writers from BC and Beyond on the Subject of Food

I'm very pleased to have a poem in the new anthology Sustenance: Writers from BC and Beyond on the Subject of Food. Edited by Rachel Rose as part of her work as Vancouver's poet laureate (as Yvonne Blomer's Refugium was part of her term as Victoria Poet Laureate), the anthology is one element of her term's wider focus on food, which has included food-themed poetry readings, the presence of poets at local farmers markets, and much more.

My poem is "Seven Weeks" from The News (the "cranberry sauce" poem, if you're familiar with the book).

Sustenance will be launched this Sunday, October 22nd as part of the Vancouver Writers Festival (which is happening right now - go, you damn fools!). The details:

Sustenance: A Feast of Voices
Sunday, October 22nd, 1:30 PM - 3:00 PM
Revue Stage
1601 Johnston St.
Featuring: Elee Kraljii Gardiner, Thomas Haas, Fiona Tinwei Lam, Jami Macarty, Billeh Nickerson, Shazia Hafiz Ramji, Annie Ross, Karen Shklanka, Kevin Spenst, Russell Thornton, and Ayelet Tsabari.

If you can't make the main event, there will be two more (free!) launches of the book: November 4th, 2:30 PM - 4:00 PM at the VPL's Kitsilano Branch and December 2nd, 2:30 PM - 4:00 PM at the VPL's Strathcona Branch.

I'm planning on being there Sunday, and I'd love to see you there as well. And regardless of the launches, I hope you find a way to pick up a copy of the book - it should be a good one.


special dogs

For me, it’s the same for both reviews and dogs: even when I’m frustrated with them, I’m happy with them. And, to continue the identification of reviews with dogs: when I look at my dog, I learn something about my dog, certainly, but also something about myself. Sometimes, something about my expectations. Certainly, something about our relationship.


However, I would like to take this opportunity... to thank those who have never bought or never heard of my books — all those on this planet and all those lifeforms extant in other places of the present, past, and all possible universes. You help make my books mysterious, unknown, a sanctuary for initiates and cognoscenti. You maintain the notion of my books as places of infinite possibility, as thought-and-feeling machines of limitless potential energy. You make special dogs of those who have dog-eared my work, those who have actually read it.

- Gary Barwin going full-Gary-Barwin (or at least 3/4s) in an essay on reviewing and readership over at the Hamilton Review of Books. You can read the whole thing here.


Refugium: Poems for the Pacific (Vancouver launch this Thursday!)

I'll be reading at the Vancouver launch of Refugium: Poems for the Pacific this Thursday, which will take place in the recently-opened nə́c̓aʔmat ct Strathcona Branch of the Vancouver Public Library.

The details:

Refugium Book Launch
Woo Soon Mary Lee Chan Room
October 19, 2017, 6:00 PM
nə́c̓aʔmat ct Strathcona Branch
730 East Hastings St.
Featuring: Ann Hopkinson, Jo Lilley, Jeremy Pataky, Heidi Greco, Lee Beavington, Anne Simpson, Fiona Tinwei Lam, Miranda Pearson, Luther Allen, Lorin Medley, Terri Brandmueller, Nancy Pagh, Betsy Warland, Kate Braid, Stephen Collis, David Pimm, Barbara Pelman, Cornelia Hoogland, and me.

A lovely lineup, if ever I've seen one. And the book is all the more impressive, with poems by the poets listed above, as well as Steven Heighton, Anita Lahey, Jan Zwicky, Lorna Crozier, Patricia Young and many more (not to mention musicians Bruce Cockburn and Dan Mangan!).

I am pleased to have a poem, "&", in the anthology, and doubly-pleased because my poem was selected by Refugium's cover artist, Sharon Montgomery, as the subject of an "artist response" painting, entitled "Hitched" (you can see the title of my poem on the bottom-right side!):

"Hitched" by Sharon Montgomery

I mean, how lucky can you get, right?

The painting is part of a gallery show of artist responses to Refugium poems, which will be on display at the Victoria Maritime Museum until December 17th. You can view a video tour of the show here:

Though the art won't be on display on Thursday, the poets will, and that's almost as good?

I hope to see you there!


between nostalgia and mainstream unease - "The Cloud Versus Grand Unification Theory" by Chris Banks

Panic Room - Chris Banks
It is seven in the morning and I can see the couple
     next door heading to work. People pull coats
around themselves, scrape frost from windshields. No
     one acknowledges anyone else, which makes it
hard to believe people are still making love, but I know
      they are, for their children are heading to school, too.
Perhaps it is like Chekhov said. When you are in love,
      it shows a person who he should be. But this world’s
day-to-day living makes mockery of such vulnerabilities
     so we stuff emotions with self-loathing, gastro pubs,
online shopping, pharmaceuticals, alcohol, social media,
     anything, really, so as not to feel human and alive. The
weather, of course, is not helping. The cold winter air
     steals our breath so we seal ourselves deeper in a living
slowly wearing people out. No one likes to talk about it,
      especially in poetry. Write about childhood or politics,
your dog or your ex, but not about the invisible fires
     of existence. When asked why he always wore black,
Chekhov said he was mourning his life. How many
     deny doing this? We watch cat videos and zombies
on television, or rail about the latest national scandal
     meant to keep us preoccupied and not thinking about
the world’s clock near midnight. A sliver of moon
     hangs like a silver scar in the morning sky. I can only
drink so much coffee before admitting I am trying
     to avoid panic attacks through apathy. Somewhere,
my children are smiling, going to school blissfully
     unaware of consciousness’s cold depths. What to do
with such thoughts? In California, a lake has fallen
     off a cliff, and still there are droughts. The Philippines
is sinking. I ask myself what am I going to do today?
     The answer is always the same: something is not right.
Time is out of joint so Prince Hamlet keeps cursing
     his wretched spoiled existence, while twenty years on,
I keep trying to celebrate all the varieties of experience
     through a few words that will break the wall grown up
between the subjective and the objective, the self
     and the other. I keep looking for release. The angels
in the high cradle we built for them mock me. So be it.
     Maybe all we are is random acts of kindness between
strangers. Maybe it is my job to hear the pain singing
     in every particle of my flesh. Maybe it means nothing.
I have probably said too much. Certainly the couple
     who smile at me when we chance meet at the mailbox
are not thinking about any of this. They are thinking
     about their ten-year anniversary and novelty lingerie
and perhaps what wine to pair with tonight’s dinner.
     Soon I will rouse myself, throw on clothes, then write
this all down. It will sound vaguely like a panic room.
     Like I have built a secret place out of my fears and joys
to linger in a while, biding what is left of my time until
     you who happen by, hearing me, throw open a door.

from The Cloud Versus Grand Unification Theory
(ECW Press, 2017).
Reprinted with permission.


I've been a fan of Chris Bank's work for some time now. In 2011, I stumbled on a copy of his 2003 debut Bonfires (Nightwood Editions) and thoroughly enjoyed it. I quickly bought his second and third books, The Cold Panes of Surfaces (Nightwood Editions, 2006) and Winter Cranes (ECW Press, 2011), and was happy to find his poems only kept getting better. A student of poets like Jack Gilbert and Larry Levis, Banks has mastered the art of carefully and artfully describing a short scene and then (or simultaneously) cracking it wide open to reveal the tender beating heart of the thing, the part of the poem most are too hesitant or cool or unaware to plunge into. I was hooked. Then I waited... and waited... and waited... for book number four.

To keep me occupied during what turned out to be a six year wait, Chris provided regular insights (in poems, in essays) on his Table Music blog. His subjects ranged from praise for poets he admired, to thoughts on poetry, to short personal essays and poems on mental health, loss and other topics. Table Music was one of the sites that gave me inspiration to keep Roll of Nickels going well past the expiry date of most blogs: I knew the impact his blogging had on me, and I hoped I could provide a fraction of the same for others.

So for more than one reason I was thrilled to see Chris' new book The Cloud Versus Grand Unification Theory (ECW Press, 2017) come out, and jumped at the opportunity to interview him here.

If you've read Banks' work before, you'll have noticed that the poem excerpted above ("Panic Room") differs from the poems in Banks' previous books. Unlike the shorter, meditative lyrics of his first three books, the poems that loom largest in TCVGUT sprawl, often wildly. They seem to be unraveling and gathering at once, bringing more and more of the world into them and spilling it back out, somehow transformed. They are unruly poems for our unruly moment.

The Sankofa Bird
And while this book is certainly "of our moment" it also is not. It is steeped in the past as much as the future. In reading it I was reminded of the West African Sankofa bird - the image of a bird pointed forward, but looking backward. Like the Sankofa bird this book presses always onward while stretching back for a past it can't quite reach. It makes for a an emotionally compelling, thought-provoking read.

Our interview touched on the major themes of the book: nostalgia, our current political and cultural "moment", mental health, modern poetics, Chris' writing role models, and more. I hope you enjoy it!

Some say the Grand Unification Theory is a model in particle physics in which the three gauge interactions of the Standard Model which define the electromagnetic, weak, and strong interactions, or forces, are merged into one single force. But I say it explains how Chris Banks can combine "flannel" and "pirate" so seamlessly.


Rob: The Cloud Versus Grand Unification Theory (TCVGUT) is steeped in youthful nostalgia, opening with an epigraph from Larry Levis' "Boy in Video Arcade", followed by your "All-Night Arcade" and moving out from there to cover corner stores, bush parties, punk bars, even the 1914 death of the last passenger pigeon. And yet TCVGUT is also very forward looking, concerned with suicide bombers and climate change and the world to come.

The title poem in TCVGUT opens "I am not asking for anything except a little wisdom / from this life." What role does nostalgia play in gaining that "little wisdom", for you? Or is it more of a pure escape than I am allowing it to be?

Chris: When I started writing this book, I thought it was going to be a book about the Eighties and nostalgia and youth. Nostalgia is an idealized version of the past. It appeals to our wish to return to a simpler time. An Edenic place. I think this is very seductive for writers. The idea you can revisit the past and change it. To make your personal history meaningful in the way a myth is meaningful. Nostalgia leads you to the gates of the sacred home. Perhaps you can’t live there, but you can see through to the strange terrain of the past even if the present moment bars the way.

Rob: "The strange terrain of the past" - yes! Your interest in navigating that nostalgic path feels like a through-line which strings together not just this book, but all of your books (Winter Cranes, for instance, opens with a reminiscence of driving home from a barn dance, "Stand by Me" on the radio). But in TCVGUT your memories seem fractured, disjointed, jumbled in with the cultural and political noise of the here and now. It's less a telling of linear stories than a piling on, and up, of everything.

In many ways this feels like a development in keeping with our times - both our internet age of endless-link-Wikipedia-wormholes, and our current poetry, where stacking and swirling many images and scenes into wild little diamonds is increasingly popular - but I don't want to presume the "why" of these developments in your own writing. Could you speak a bit about how your writing style, and your thinking behind it, changed in the six years between Winter Cranes and TCVGUT?

The Cloud Versus Grand Unification Theory
Chris: I wrote a third of the new book the way I always had, very meditative and narrative, but suddenly this other voice started to make demands which was exciting and a little frightening. Up to this point, I had honed my poetic voice by mining the past. However, new poems started coming out in this disjointed rapid-fire anxious stream of images and thoughts. We live in turbulent times. I guess I was wondering how do you make sense of art in a Youtube universe where climate change is a regular feature on television news? New poems embraced these challenges but I think nostalgia is still there as a buffer, as a way to retreat a little from our modern times. For me, my favorite poems ride that edge between nostalgia and mainstream unease.

Rob: Yes, I agree. The best poems in the book pull in and balance everything (the "then", the "now", the political, the personal). In "Reality Check" you write "Yes, I am leaving parts out of the frame" and throughout TCVGUT we get glimpses of your personal life amidst the nostalgia-and-politics-stacking. But they are only these little flashes. Lines like these, from "Selfie with 10,000 Things":

No one has ever told you this, but the self, the soul, 
burns brightest with a bomb strapped to its back -- 
   illness, say, or a doomed relationship. Alcoholism. 
The hell we made."

That very last "we", and all it opens up.

A subtler shift comes between books, with poems about "my wife" in Winter Cranes replaced by poems about "my ex-wife" in TCVGUT. Beyond the book, in 2014 on your wonderful blog, Table Music, you spoke very thoughtfully about your recurring struggles with depression. Not to go all Barbara Walters on you, but it doesn't feel like a stretch to say the book was written in, or out of, a very trying time in your life.

How much do you see that time, and the person you were, in these poems (how much are they "in the frame", for you)? Or were the poems a way to escape, or transcend, a very difficult period in your life?

Chris: I live with recurrent major depression and I am also recovering from alcohol dependence. I have been sober for a few years now. Both were factors in my marriage ending, but as painful as it can be to talk about such things, keeping secrets is far worse for someone living in recovery. I basically had a nervous breakdown during the writing of this book and I think my anxiety became far worse after I stop medicating with alcohol, which is one reason these new poems emerged. I am very friendly with my ex and she is proud of my progress. If I can help others through writing about such experiences, I am very happy to add what little I can to the conversation around mental health.

Rob: I really appreciate your saying, and doing that, both now and in the past on your blog. It makes a bigger difference than your know.

Shifting gears: very few of the poems in TCVGUT were published in traditional literary magazines (though a number did come out in your Anstruther Press chapbook Invaders). Most were published, slowly and steadily, on Table Music. Why did you make this decision, and would you recommend it to others? More generally, do you think your maintenance of Table Music has shaped your poems, and your thinking about poetry, in any way? If so, how?

Chris: I wrote a third of the book over the course of several years. The next two-thirds I wrote in an anxious rush over four manic months. I think you write the poem that is in front of you and sometimes that takes time to figure out. Other times it is necessary to write even if you don’t have a subject in mind. For me, the time had come for me to write poems very quickly to help reduce the anxiety affecting me. The blog is helpful in that I can put poems up on it and I can immediately see their flaws. It makes for very rapid editing. I am trying to get more poems out to magazines lately but the blog has always been important in helping me to share my ideas about imagery, or time, in poetry, or any other topic of interest that catches my fancy.

Rob: Sticking with the blog, one of my favourite things about Table Music has been how it's introduced me to new writers, most notably Larry Levis, and how it's deepened my appreciation of others, most notably Jack Gilbert. Then I open this book and those two poets are everywhere, from TCVGUT's aforementioned Levis epigraph, to the book's third poem ("I was / pen pals with Jack Gilbert. Larry Levis too."), to the excerpted poem above ("Panic Room"), which notes that we avoid writing about "the invisible fires of existence" (which feels, to me, like a nod to Gilbert's The Great Fires, and everything he aimed to do in that book). Could you speak about the role of these two writers in your life, in general, and specifically how they helped you shape and think about the poems in this book?

Chris: One of the things I wanted to do with my blog was to pay homage to those poets who have been great teachers for me. I think anyone who has come across the poetry of Jack Gilbert or Larry Levis knows their work is truly remarkable. Their poetry has been an incredible gift in my life. Both were very serious poets who did not worry about their critical reception and, in the case of Gilbert, actively stayed out of poetry circles. I live in Waterloo, Ontario, so I only have a very marginal relationship with the larger poetry communities in Toronto and Hamilton. It has helped me reading both of these gentlemen to know one can write fine poetry without being immediately dropped into a large literary community. Gilbert was a master lyric poet. Levis’s grand vision elevated every place he grew up or visited. Both have taught me more than I can say.

Rob: Speaking of relating to the larger literary community, those "invisible fires" lines in "Panic Room" also serve as a good example of how you directly inject your opinions on modern poetry into these poems ("Write about childhood or politics, / your dog or your ex, but not about the invisible fires / of existence."). Another favourite of mine, from the title poem: "Maybe I'm being / greedy wanting art to be more than a bowl of fruit, / wanting there to be answers."

Reading lines like these reminded me of a quote by Zach Wells, from a Maisonneuve interview many moons ago:

"There’s a way in which just about any poem a person writes can be interpreted as a statement of poetics. Ideally, I think, that’s actually the way it should be: i.e. poems should be the means by which a person — whether poet or reader — arrives at poetics, as opposed to poetics being the way one arrives at poems."

I was wondering about your thoughts on this quote; on poetics coming out of poems and not vice-versa. When you come to an opinion about poetry, do you usually desire first to channel it into a poem, or a blog post, or a conversation with a friend (in Toronto or Hamilton or otherwise), or?

Chris: I think I come to ideas about poetics very slowly but then, yes, they filter through my practise in the ways you have suggested above. I absolutely love the nostalgic poems in Winter Cranes but then with this new book I am also saying nostalgia is not enough. It won’t save you. In fact, in “All Night Arcade” I mention “Nostalgia is a verdict for not living well” which ghostly echoes Leonard Cohen who said poetry was a verdict. So yes, poems are about poetics and vice-versa.

Rob: On a more practical level, with all the stacking going on in these poems (of political events, personal anecdotes, one-liner observations on society, poetics, etc.), how do you gather the individual bits together? Do you have a notebook where you keep smaller thoughts before collaging them together, or do you pull them from the ether as you write a new poem?

Chris: Sometimes I will keep lines that didn’t work in a previous poem but mainly I try to write my poems very quickly and not edit too much when I am writing. I think because I wrote so slowly for five years, I had this reservoir of images, things I needed to say, just under the surface which is why, when I “broke free”, the rest of the book was finished so quickly.

Rob: Are you writing now (and at a similar clip?), or are you going to make us wait another six years for the next book?

Chris: I have finished another manuscript already called The Book Of The Dead For Dummies which should come out with ECW Press in about two years. Again, I am writing very quickly for whatever reason. I am just following where the poems lead me.


Buy The Cloud Versus Grand Unification Theory quick, or Chris will go and write five more books while you dawdle. You can do so at your local bookstore, or from the comfort of your home via the ECW Press website. Or, if you want to burn in the invisible fires for eternity, from Amazon.


Victoria Reading this Friday

I'll be reading in Victoria this Friday at the Planet Earth Poetry series. Even better, I'll be sharing the stage with the wonderful Adèle Barclay!

The details:

Planet Earth Poetry Reading Series
October 13th, 2017
7:30 PM
Hillside Coffee and Tea
1633 Hillside Ave
Victoria, BC

Arrive by 7 PM if you want to participate in the open mic.

I hope to see you there, Victoria-folk!


Łazienki Park chapbook + more - Subscription Deadline October 1st!

My new chapbook, Łazienki Park, which I blogged about a couple months back, is nearing publication. The deadline for subscriptions for the series is October 1st (postmarked or e-transfer). That's very soon!

The details are in the image above, or on the Alfred Gustave Press website. The other chapbooks are going to be damn fantastic (Connie Braun, Russell Thornton, Bibiana Tomasic) and you can get all four for $15.

And if you're really keen on chapbooks, consider becoming an AG Press patron (Sorry, I've gone full-PBS-pledge-drive, I know. I can't help myself!). For a donation of $50 or more, you receive a lifetime subscription to the press.

Is that an unreasonably good deal?


So do it.


something is at risk

Once I was no longer motivated by fear of disapproval, my own voice began to reveal itself with increasing force. It became clear I value honesty, directness, and a certain gut level, unsympathetic writing that exposes elements of the self and the experience of life in order to create intimacy between myself and the reader, and thus, ideally between the reader and her world. It’s clear now that the fancy footwork popular within contemporary Canadian poetry isn’t me, nor the embellishment or showmanship of ambiguous wordplay. My writing is best when it is direct, unflinching, when something is at risk.

- Robin Richardson, in interview with Lisa Young over on her blog. You can read the whole thing here.


to whet the appetite for listening

In today’s world, we encourage scanning (ever-movement) as a literacy skill. Then we tell students to sit still. Computers, doorless, are placed in front of every child, and we expect them to stay in the yardage we allot them. Poems, small postcards from someone else’s imagination, invite teenagers to listen, to read, to imagine a life outside of their own. The impact of this on development (not to mention emotional health) is appealing. A whiff of homophobia in a classroom? Place unexpected poems in their midst. Have them trip over other peoples experiences, through poetry, and help them to land softly outside the fence of ignorance. Do I want them to read The Odyssey, The Bluest Eye, Les Misérables? Of course I do. Do I need to develop their palate before force feeding? Of course I do. Poetry can be served with every course, like salt and pepper, to whet the appetite for listening.

- Lara Bozabalian, on how poetry helps her teach high school students, from her essay "The Reason for Poetry" over on the Best Canadian Poetry website. You can read the whole thing here.


Whichever Divine I address

There is no way to divorce my writing life from my spiritual life; that Venn diagram would just be one big circle. Whichever Divine I address in my poems today—love, fear, death, family, God, or anything else—first needs to be courted. I learned from an early age language was a way to court the great unknowables, provided it was charged and earnest and true. It’s irrelevant if I understand consciously exactly what I am saying, only that I say it urgently enough, speak it with enough beauty of breath and spirit to earn a tiny moment of God’s attention.

- Kaveh Akbar, from his essay "How I Found Poetry in Childhood Prayer" over at LitHub. You can read the whole thing here.


WORD Vancouver - Sept 24th!

It's that time of year once again! Word Vancouver starts up next week, with the main event taking place on Sunday, September 24th outside the Vancouver Public Library's Central Branch.

The schedule is up and is, as always, ridiculously packed with interesting events. Readings by Tim Bowling, Carleigh Baker, Gurjinder Basran and Dina Del Bucchia highlight the fiction offerings, while the poetry tent brings you Michael V. Smith, Shazia Hafiz Ramji, Heidi Greco, and more. You can read the whole lineup here.

Bright and early at 11:35 I'll be hosting a trio of poets in the poetry tent ("Sunrise Suite" in the South Plaza). Aidan Chafe will read from his Frog Hollow chapbook Right Hand Hymns at 11:35, followed by Jami Macarty at 11:45 (Landscape of The Wait, Finishing Line Press) and Shaun Robinson (Manmade Clouds, Frog Hollow Press) ten minutes later. Expect bad jokes (from me) and good poems (from them).

I will also be spending a good chunk of the day at the BC Book Prizes table, selling memberships. $20 gets you a one-year membership AND (as a Word special) a free book, in all likelihood worth more than the $20. Come by and say hi and give me your sparkling green Queen Elizabeths.

Hope to see you on the 24th!


Al Purdy Tribute Anthology - Submissions Due Dec. 30th

Here comes a press release!


To mark the centenary of the birth of famed Canadian poet Al Purdy, his long-time publisher is calling for submissions for a 2018 anthology of poems written in tribute to the author.

B.C.-based Harbour Publishing will issue the tribute poetry anthology in fall 2018. Previously published and new poems written in Purdy’s honour are both eligible for consideration. Up to three poems per poet may be submitted; the deadline for submissions is Purdy’s 99th birthday, Dec. 30, 2017.

Along with their poems, poets should include:

a short bio (maximum 50-words);
a brief statement about what Purdy and/or or his poems have meant to the writer (maximum 200 words); and
the name of the original publisher of any previously printed Purdy tribute poems.

Submissions should be sent to: purdytribute@harbourpublishing.com or to: Attn. Purdy Tribute Anthology, PO Box 219, Madeira Park, BC V0N 2H0. (Note that print submissions will not be returned if a self-addressed, stamped envelope is not included.) The anthology will be edited by B.C. author Tom Wayman with the assistance of Harbour Publishing’s Emma Skagen.

Harbour Publishing issued several of Purdy’s books between 1993 and 2014, including Beyond Remembering: The Collected Poems of Al Purdy in 2000. Harbour Publishing head Howard White echoes Toronto poet, anthologist and critic Dennis Lee in calling Purdy “Canada’s poet.”

“Anybody can read him, and have a ball doing it,” White said. “I can’t think of a poet that would do all Canadians more good to sit down and read at this point in our history. It might save us yet.”

The press release is over!! Send in your poems!


Reflections on Elise Partridge's Poems

To help promote Elise Partridge's new posthumous book The If Borderland: Collected Poems and this Sunday's Dead Poets reading, which will feature Elise's work, I asked a variety of Canadian and American poets to provide their thoughts on their favourite Elise Partridge poems.

The result has just been posted on the PRISM international website:

The If Borderlands: Reflections on the Poems of Elise Partridge

Contributors included Amanda Jernigan, Anita Lahey, Phillis Levin, Meredith Jerrin and Rachel Rose, among others.

If you're a fan of Elise's work, or just getting introduced to it now, it's an enjoyable, insightful read: poets focusing their generous talents on poems which reward that attention at every turn. I hope you enjoy, and if you're in Vancouver, I hope to see you on Sunday!


September Dead Poets Reading

The next Dead Poets Reading Series event will take place at the Vancouver Public Library's Central Branch on September 10th, 2017, from 3-5 PM.

This special reading will feature, among others, the work of three poets of vital importance to the BC writing community, all of whom we lost in 2015. Following the reading a reception will be hosted in the Alma VanDusen and Peter Kaye rooms, across the hall from the Alice MacKay room. Books by the authors will be available for sale.

The lineup:

Peter Culley (1958 - 2015), read by Weldon Hunter
Elise Partridge (1958 - 2015), read by Barbara Nickel
Jamie Reid (1941 - 2015), read by Wayde Compton
Kabir (1398? - 1448?), read by Kate Braid
Paul Valéry (1871 - 1945), read by Alban Goulden

Attendance is free. For more info, visit the DPRS website.

You can read my notes on Elise Partridge here and here.

I hope to see you on the 10th!


everything that was needed

First and foremost, I learned from Whitman that the poem is a temple — or a green field — a place to enter, and in which to feel. Only in a secondary way is it an intellectual thing — an artifact, a moment of seemly and robust wordiness — wonderful as that part of it is. I learned that the poem was made not just to exist, but to speak — to be company. It was everything that was needed, when everything was needed.

- Mary Oliver, on reading Walt Whitman in childhood, from her essay "My Friend Walt Whitman" in Upstream: Selected Essays.


saying no to all other purposes

The silence at the end of a broken line is one of many characteristic visual and aural reminders of the presence of silence. There are the space and silence that surround the title of a poem. The way the title comes out of nowhere, and often doesn’t immediately suggest what is coming next, can remind us of how weird language is, and how close to meaninglessness we always are. This effect of the title surrounded by white silence is exacerbated by the leap to the first line of the poem, which again, more often than not, is more obscure and elusive than in other forms of writing.

The form of the poem—its pervasive white spaces, refusals or withdrawals at the ends of lines and between the stanzas—reminds us of nothingness. There is silence too in the leaps of metaphor and symbol and rhyme and association that remind us of gaps in thought, all the ways poetry sometimes behaves like all other forms of writing but can at any moment say “no” to all the usual functions of language, its association and movement as a form of content, the way it refuses to do what it is supposed to do.

Wittgenstein wrote that what we cannot speak about must be passed over in silence. Or maybe what we cannot speak about can only be conjured in poetry through the mechanism of negation, saying no. This existential negation is only possible when one chooses to write poetry: saying no to all other purposes, to bring us up as close as possible to silence, absence, nothingness, so that we can start to feel what it means to live our lives so close to the abyss. It is, paradoxically, only when we truly start to feel that nothingness, that absence, that the meaning particular to poetry can emerge.

- Matthew Zapruder, from his essay "What My Father’s Death Taught Me about Poetry" (an excerpt from his forthcoming Why Poetry) in The Walrus. You can read the whole thing here.


emerging and deceased

Whenever we talk about youth and art we hint that another way of doing things is coming available. That’s the promise of the wunderkinds. Even if the work itself doesn’t shine with newness (the straight-ahead CanLit-ness of the Breathing Fire [anthologies] inspired much backroom complaining and at least one parody anthology, Jay MillAr and Jon-Paul Fiorentino’s Pissing Ice: An Anthology of “New” Canadian Poets) it is easy for an impresario to suggest in the presentation of an unheard talent that another world is there to be discovered.


But this gambit—I’ve called it bourgeois once already—is a growing industry inside CanLit. Breathing Fire was the vision of two university professors. Its currency came from the mentors and authorities who invested in the primacy of their taste. There is something tactical about this. To take a new voice and publish it in something like Breathing Fire is to place it in a tradition before its time, to demand an acquiescence to the structures of CanLit before the voice can force the structures to acquiesce to it. Being in a Breathing Fire was catnip to two decades worth of granting juries. It made a generation of Adjunct Professorships.


If the wunderkind gambit is bourgeois, it’s also optimistic. It’s embedded in the classification we give our would-be wunderkinds: our “emerging” poets. Emerging assumes that its counterpart, established, is also meaningful and defined. But of course, established poets are also always emerging; they are still underdog artists, known to the public only occasionally, when and if their work butts up against the zeitgeist. Right now, there aren’t any established poets in Canada. In Canada, the only kinds of poets are emerging and deceased.

- Jacob McArthur Mooney, from his review of the anthology 30 under 30 in Arc Poetry Magazine. You can read the whole thing here.


Blogging tweets is the new emailing blog posts is the new printing emails...

You know me, always hip to the latest trends. I think I'm finally starting to figure out this Twitter thing, about eight years after everyone else. The key is to insult everyone, writing in every genre, in every city in Canada.

I had a fun time coming up with these on Wednesday:


I don't think I'll be coming up with any others (sorry, cookbooks), but I'd love to hear your ideas if you have some (about St. John's or elsewhere!).


poetic obscurity feedback loop

Misleading presuppositions about the nature of poetry are not just a problem for young readers. Many young poets, however, confuse being deliberately obscure with creating a deeper mystery. Good poets do not deliberately complicate something just to make it harder for a reader to understand. Unfortunately, young readers, and young poets too, are taught to think that this is exactly what poets do. This has, in turn, created certain habits in the writing of contemporary poetry. Bad information about poetry in, bad poetry out, a kind of poetic obscurity feedback loop. It often takes poets a long time to unlearn this. Some never do. They continue to write in this way, deliberately obscure and esoteric, because it is a shortcut to being mysterious. The so-called effect of their poems relies on hidden meaning, keeping something away from the reader.

I don’t know what writers of stories, novels and essays eventually discover for themselves, but I can say that sooner or later poets figure out that there are no new ideas, only the same old ones — and that nobody who loves poetry reads it to be impressed, but to experience and feel and understand in ways only poetry can conjure.

I’m sympathetic to young poets who feel a strong impulse to disguise what they’re saying. Early in my life as a poet, I, too, had trouble being direct. I felt self-conscious, as if I needed to demonstrate my talent with the art in every line. It took me a long time to get over this feeling, and it was only when I did that I started to write poetry that was any good.

- Matthew Zapruder, from his essay "Understanding Poetry Is More Straightforward Than You Think" (an excerpt from his forthcoming Why Poetry?) in The New York Times. You can read the whole thing here.


entangled in our material

But the hardest of hard things [about being a writer] might exist at a more fundamental level. Let’s say you settle for an Emily Dickinson existence. You like your town. There are no earthquakes. You have a three block commute that you walk to work. You write everyday as a meditation on language and existence. Well, even then you have to negotiate the live-work balance. How do you turn off the part of you that’s always in search of some new turn of phrase, wording, or insight? In the literary arts, we’re entangled in our material. A word is used in some pedestrian yet essential way in the afternoon, but turn a corner and suddenly it’s working aesthetically in a radically different manner. An actor can (in theory) put down her script, step off the stage and make the transition into her non-acting self, but writers are always working and living in or around language. The live/work balance becomes blurred. I suspect there has been such a gaggle of literary drunks throughout history because alcohol turns off that hyperawareness of words. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if research turns up a new picture of Emily wherein she’s hammered most of the time and when she referred to Death she really was writing about the Bottle.

- Kevin Spenst, in interview with Sachiko Murikami over on her blog The Hardest Thing About Being a Writer. You can read the whole thing here.


a condition of being, not having

As we read, something is going on in us, something is coming into being. There is a realisation; the total economy, all the strategies of the poem bring it about. Lowell was right to say that a poem is an event, not the record of an event. And Auden, in that poem ('In Memory of W.B. Yeats') in which he asserts that poetry makes nothing happen, asserts with greater persuasiveness that it is 'a way of happening'. That happening is so intensely present we may weep or laugh aloud or shudder in terror - at what? At something 'only' there in our consciousness as we read. Such realisation is very presence.

That is the chief good and usefulness of poetry. It persuades or jolts us into what Lawrence called 'a new effort of attention' (Selected Literary Criticism, p. 90), it fills us with the achievement of that attention. There is no gainsaying the charge of poetry, nor how valuable it feels. It is a condition of being, not of having. It can't be had, it is intrinsically resistant to acquisitiveness. And by being alert and truthful and upholding contradictory possibilities, asserting homogeneity, championing a lively pluralism, acknowledging the essential irreducibility and intractability of life, poetry is the living contradiction of political speech and a gesture of defiance in the face of all reductive, co-ordinating and tyrannical political systems. We are, when we read poetry, during the reading of the poem and lingeringly for some while after, more wakeful, alert and various in our humanity than in our practical lives we are mostly allowed to be. Achieving that, in vital cooperation with the reader, a poet has done the most he or she is qualified to do. Any further stage, any conversion of this alerted present state into action, into behaviour, is the responsibility of the citizen. And the poet, like the reader, is always a citizen.

- David Constantine, from his essay "Poetry of the Present" in A Living Language, part of the Newcastle/Bloodaxe Poetry Lectures series.


between the way of death and the way of life

'The letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.' I suppose all poets write with that in mind. The injunction seems clear: go for the spirit. But in poetry... without the letter there is no spirit, or none that is able to be felt by anyone else. Without the words, the words in a particular order, fitted into a syntax, engendering a rhythm, making sense, without the letter (understood like that) there is nothing that can have any effect. The letter used wrongly does indeed kill; it fixes; where there was life (the spirit) it makes a dead thing; the syntax remains a skeleton, life refuses to inhabit it. And that is really the continuous and necessary struggle in verse, between fixity and fluidity, between the way of death and the way of life. And in that struggle, in which the very life of the spirit is at stake, the letter is all, and may petrify or animate.

- David Constantine, from his essay "Poetry of the Present" in A Living Language, part of the Newcastle/Bloodaxe Poetry Lectures series.


Łazienki Park - A New Chapbook!

The Alfred Gustav Press only uses the fanciest staples

I'm very happy to announce that a new poetry chapbook of mine - my first in five years! - will be published in December 2017 by the Alfred Gustav Press. Like my last chapbook, Smoothing the Holy Surfaces, this is a shorter sequence - one long poem, in fact, in seven parts. It will be published as part of the "holm" series of shorter chapbooks which accompany the main chapbooks in an AG Press subscription.

Smoothing the Holy Surfaces
(AG Press, 2012)
The poem is - strangely enough - about Łazienki Park in the centre of Warsaw, Poland, where my wife was born and where most of her family still lives. We lived just down the road from the park for a couple months in 2016, and I spent many an early morning pushing my one-year-old up and down its paths.

The baby makes a cameo in the poem, as do gaggles of ducks and tourists, though at its core the poem is about Frederic Chopin, travel and history: what gets seen, heard, and remembered.

Anyway, yeesh, that's enough talking about the little thing. If you're interested in buying a copy, you will have to subscribe to Series Eighteen of the Alfred Gustav Press chapbook series. You can learn how to do that here.

The cost is $15 for Canadians, and $20 for everyone else, and the chapbooks (Four of them! Including one by Russell Thornton!) get mailed right to your door, all signed by the authors.

As I've said before, it's the best deal in Canadian poetry. So do it!


poetry is peculiarly good at contradicting

The poetic word always seems to matter more under oppression than threat. Their fellow-citizens look to the poets to be of present help. The grave and dangerous responsibilities that poets under a dictatorship have to bear do at least bring with them a corroboration of the value of their efforts. Much less, if any, such corroboration is forthcoming in Britain. Poets in Britain are free to write more or less what they like, chiefly because no one in power cares a tuppence what they write. This freedom, certainly a great benefit, does carry with it the risk of pointlessness and irresponsibility. Some poets, from certain groups in British society, may indeed feel there are issues so urgent that have no option but to address them, almost to the exclusion of all others. They may indeed feel their subjects are ‘forced upon them’. But many, perhaps most, don’t feel that, and they risk slipping into the limbo of personal malaise and language games. Dictated to them or not, there is in fact a large and various social obligation on poets in Britain today. Day in day out, the language of our managers and leaders cries out to be contradicted. Poetry is peculiarly good at contradicting. The exact shape and practice of contradiction will have to be devised in every new case, by every poet again and again. Agility is necessary.

- David Constantine, from his essay "Use and Ornament" in A Living Language, part of the Newcastle/Bloodaxe Poetry Lectures series.


July Dead Poets Reading

The next Dead Poets Reading Series event will take place at the Vancouver Public Library's Central Branch (Alice MacKay room) on July 9th, 2017, from 3-5 PM.

It will feature:

Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen (1919 - 2004), read by Fiona Tinwei Lam
bpNichol (1944 - 1988), read by Mallory Tater
Carl Sandburg (1878 - 1967), read by Diane Tucker
James Tate (1943 - 2015), read by Shaun Robinson
Miriam Waddington (1917 - 2004), read by Selina Boan

Attendance is free. For more info, visit the DPRS website.

I hope to see you there!


I'm not sure the poem is interested in our answers or questions

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?

Julia McCarthy: I’m not sure what ‘theoretical’ means in this context... I often feel my way through certain ideas in poetry, ‘idea’ in the Greek sense of a shape or perceptible form and the means by which we see. A kind of insighting. I am interested in and concerned with the line, the breath, and its music; the image uprooted from imagination, that animal mundi; metaphor... the braiding of the visible and invisible through a poem. Language itself (how it simultaneously reveals and conceals, its ambiguity) and its relationship to experience, to how we see; being and nonbeing are preoccupations, which of course, imply time which brings us back to rhythm. Duality fascinates me. Every word contains a philosophy, even ‘and’ and ‘the.’ As a meeting place, I’m not sure the poem is interested in our answers or questions... just in us showing up, listening, labouring to bring it into being and witnessing the zinc-flash of its emergence.

- Julia McCarthy, answering rob mclennan's 12 or 20 questions over on his blog. You can read the whole thing here.


Nora Gould's Letter to a Young Mother

Nora Gould
In March I was very fortunate to be able to bring Nora Gould in to visit my poetry class at the University of the Fraser Valley. During the class, one of my strongest students (and a mother of twins), Sydney Hutt, asked Nora how she juggled poetry, work, and family, and Nora replied that for many years she didn't - the writing simply didn't happen.

A few days later Nora followed up with this letter, sent via an email I was fortunate to be cc'd on. As a parent of a young child myself (and someone for whom the idea of focused writing time seems like a fantasy), I found Nora's words both comforting and useful, and believed other would too, so with both Nora's and Sydney's blessing I am republishing Nora's letter here.

Nora's husband's frontotemporal dementia, which she speaks of in the letter, is the subject of her second poetry book Selah (Brick Books, 2016).


Dear Sydney,

Truth is, I wasn't trying to write when my kids were little. Yes, I was stressed about Farley having an autoimmune problem and I home schooled him for grade one; and, for years Zoë had undiagnosed stomach aches; and, I tried to go back to work at the vet clinic (I did but only part time) and when it was for sale, I (unsuccessfully) looked for another vet to buy the practice with me ... but the bottom line is I wasn't trying to write then. I had pretty well figured out that I'd never write anything worthwhile, that I'd never have an opportunity to learn about writing, and that I had made an error by studying vet med and I should have taken an arts degree then I might have been doing something I loved. I felt nailed down on the farm with 4 kids and a husband who was what? I hadn't begun to define anything. (yes, it started that long ago ... my notes about Charl changing go back to the mid 90's ... it's been a long slog).

When I finally started writing seriously, really working on it, I was crazy busy with kids and all their activities (nothing here that a person can walk to), outside farm work, record keeping for the farm, Georgie eating with us twice a day, a student living with us from the beginning of May to mid August ... and all the stuff that comes up in a life ...thyroid disease, endometriosis, my father's death and all the et cetera. There was never time for writing until I decided to do it then I fit it in and worked. Early mornings, late evenings, while I was driving tractor or whatever physical work I was doing, while I stirred something on the stove, in the shower ... whenever and wherever I could let words and phrases run around in my head.

This writing started when I dreamt the first stanza of a poem —

do not view me naked
running through the stubble
pricked and bleeding

It sat on my head until I hammered out another 4 stanzas (many days work) and I must have written more too because I had to submit several pages to get into a weekend workshop with Steven Ross Smith at Red Deer College. I used that same poem in my application to an on-line writing class at Queen's with Carolyn Smart. Not a great poem but it worked ... that was a weird application — just email one poem and she'd get back to you one way or another.

Keep writing. Concrete nouns. Verbs. Not too many modifiers. Small details. Trust your reader. Avoid words like very that are filler.

And of course, keep reading. And more reading. You don't have to analyze and study. The book of poems is a box of chocolates. Jane Kenyon. Don McKay. Betsy Warland. Lorna Crozier. Hopefully you have access to a decent library. Barry Dempster. I'm suggesting these poets because they don't make me tear my hair out trying to figure out what they are talking about. I like Anthony Wilson too but he's a Brit and it's been hard for me to find his books. And lots more but I don't want to make you crazy. Todd Boss Pitch.
Jim Harrison.
Galway Kinnell.
Eamon Grennan.
Tomas Tranströmer.
Robert Bly.
Ok. I'll stop.
You (or anyone) could send me the name of something/someone I need to read.

And good fiction.

And books about writing —
Anne Lamott Bird by Bird
Natalie Goldberg (it doesn't matter if she's talking about writing fiction)
Frances Mayes The Discovery of Poetry (I worked through most, if not all, of the exercises in this one)
Stephen Dobyns Best Words, Best Order. Essays on Poetry
Alan Bennett Six Poets, Hardy to Larkin

I read lots to my kids, poems, stories, everything. Our TV mysteriously didn't work for years. It was a blessing until one day someone plugged it in. The Olympics were on.

I coached my kids in poetry. Each child learnt 2 or 3 poems by heart and spoke them at a festival for school. We had a ball doing this and branched out on our own, choosing poems (lyric, narrative, and Cdn were the categories I think) and for a few years they also did a little play together. We had a great time finding material and adapting it. I learned lots about poems in those years before I started writing.

Try paper and pen. No computer. No internet. Just the page and wait for something to happen. It will. I'm sure of it.



(Most of) Yoko's Dogs at the Firehall Library + Gathering of Poets at the Moberly Arts Centre

Three of the four members of Yoko's Dogs (Jane Munro, Jan Conn and Mary di Michele - no Susan Gillis this time, Vancouver) will be getting together for a reading at the VPL's Firehall Branch on May 31st. It should be a heck of a show:

The Firehall Branch has been steadily hosting more and more poetry readings of late. It's been nice to see poetry at the VPL move out a bit further from the Central Branch.

Speaking of which, I will be reading at a VPL event at the Moberly Arts and Cultural Centre in South Vancouver this Saturday (May 27th)! I'll be sharing the stage with fellow Dorothy Livesay Prize short-listers Juliane Okot Bitek, Richard Therrien and Anne Fleming. You can get more info on that "Gathering of Poets" here.


the candour and the ardour

The book, the statue, the sonata, must be gone upon with the unreasoning good faith and the unflagging spirit of children at their play. IS IT WORTH DOING?—when it shall have occurred to any artist to ask himself that question, it is implicitly answered in the negative. It does not occur to the child as he plays at being a pirate on the dining-room sofa, nor to the hunter as he pursues his quarry; and the candour of the one and the ardour of the other should be united in the bosom of the artist.

- Robert Louis Stevenson, in a letter to a "young gentlemen" who asked the question "Should you or should you not become an artist?" You can read Stevenson's full reply here.


a thing that attempts to completely represent the world

In the most basic sense, the point I am trying to make is that the continued persistence of poetry as a human activity, across time and cultures, has to do with something it does that is different from all other types of writing. How it refuses to be beholden to all the other things we use language for. How it turns distractibility, inconsistency, dreaminess, leaping, all those things that we scrub out of everyday life and functionality, into something to be treasured. How it continually prioritizes an interest in the very nature of language itself: as material that has a sound, visual qualities, feels a certain way in the mouth, etc., and also in the larger sense as a thing that attempts—and ultimately fails—to completely represent the world. It seems interesting to me to think about what connects Sappho to Rumi to Keats to Basho to Eluard to James Tate to Alice Notley to Victoria Chang. My instinct is that there is something.

- Matthew Zapruder, discussing his forthcoming book of essays Why Poetry? with Travis Nichols over at the Poetry Society of America's website. You can read the whole thing here.


to find those truths and bring them back

After the election, in frustration and confusion and despair, I started to write something just to clear my head, that became an essay and eventually the afterword to Why Poetry. In it, I try to make the argument that it is not only possible, but necessary, to preserve a free space inside oneself for the imagination. Probably some of my feelings about this come from having grown up in Washington, D.C., in a home where the minutiae and tactics of politics was a source of endless discussion. It took me some time to realize that this kind of obsession, however well-meaning, can be a distraction. Politics as entertainment, as sports. I also have seen myself and others around me at times become stunned, drained, and less likely to act, the more they follow the minute by minute spectacle of degradation.

But really, my belief in these spaces is beyond the merely tactical. I think there are truths about being alive that one can only discover in the imagination by liberating oneself from all obligation. To find those truths and bring them back for others is the role of the artist. And to do so is not only to preserve oneself, but also to open up the possibility, however slender, that someone else you disagree with might do the same, and to cross some kind of border that cannot be crossed by argument or even fact.

- Matthew Zapruder, discussing his forthcoming book of essays Why Poetry with Travis Nichols over at the Poetry Society of America's website. You can read the whole thing here.


the rude intrusion of time

Ever since reading Douglas Glover’s superb essay “The Drama of Grammar,” I’ve been in love with the humble conjunction “but.” She felt she’d been more or less happily married for 11 years, but … Along with equivalent words, “but” serves as a pivot or hinge, a semantic fulcrum, a switch shunting a sentence in a fresh direction just when you thought you knew where it was headed. “But” is not going to allow you, the reader – or you the writer – to pursue an easy, plausible arc. Nothing is as it seems. Something in the latter half of the sentence wants to delve under surfaces; “but” is a quick surgical cut through which the sentence can enter as it feels its way inward, closer to the core. “But” is the bump in the carpet that trips you up just when you’re hitting your stride. Not so fast: here comes a proviso, one that won’t cancel out what came before but co-exist with it. “But” says nothing is absolute, categorical, final. “But” is the rude intrusion of time – of limitation, mortality – into a phrase that starts off Trumpishly asserting that it knows, forever. No story begins until the word “but” appears and every story, for grown-ups, ends with an invisible “but.”

- Steven Heighton, in interview with some godforsaken questionnaire over at The Globe and Mail. You can read the whole thing here.


a congregant of two temples

Jane Hodgkinson: What are some of the ways that you keep yourself connected to whatever moves you to write?

Stevie Howell: I’ve been working in hospitals for the last 6 yrs, but only since my first book, Sharps, was published—for the last three years—have I been working directly w/ patients. I’m a psychometrist (I administer thinking & memory tests). I work one-on-one w/ a single person for up to two entire days. It can be pretty intense. I am constantly moved by people’s backgrounds & challenges, how they heal or cope, & by seeing ordinary people doing extraordinary things for each other, all around me. It’s given me a devout belief in humanity.

My “day job” has benefited my writing in many ways, but primarily by reminding me that poetry has always functioned similarly to actual care, IRL—poetry is composed of these small & focused & deliberate gestures that might only affect one person, or a handful of people, & in private & imperceptible ways, like prayer. But that’s actually as epic as it gets—to affect, or be affected by, one person. I believe the health sciences & the arts are the height of our inventiveness, & the proof of our goodness. I am grateful to be immersed in both fields, to be a congregant of two temples.

- Stevie Howell, in interview with Jane Hodgkinson over at The Rusty Toque. You can read the whole thing here.


BC Poetry 2017: An Introduction

Last year I ran BC Poetry 2016 (and the corresponding #BCPoetry2016 hashtag on Twitter), featuring a new poetry book (and poem) each day throughout the month. This year I'm bringing it back with BC Poetry 2017 (and the corresponding #BCPoetry2017 hashtag), and it's grown: 21 participating presses compared to last year's 12.

Rocksalt: An Anthology
of Contemporary BC Poetry
In my intro to last year's series I spoke about judging the 2014 Dorothy Livesay Prize (BC Book Prizes), which was an eye opening experience for me (So many BC poets! So little coverage!). Lately I've been thinking about another BC institution: Mother Tongue Publishing and their 2008 anthology Rocksalt: An Anthology of Contemporary BC Poetry.

At the time of its publication, it had been 31 years since the last effort to group together the poets of BC in one book, and to the best of my knowledge no one has taken up the task in the nine years since (though Vancouver-focused anthologies have been published, along with a couple Cascadia anthologies and Mother Tongue's own Forcefield: 77 Women Poets from British Columbia).

Rocksalt pulled together 108 BC poets, both established and up-and-coming, and - as one of my first publications early in my writing life - opened my eyes to the potential of being a poet in this province. It showed me the wealth and range of talent in BC, and - more simply - that we're damn well everywhere (from Massett to Smithers to Nelson to Richmond to...). I read the list of contributors now and am taken aback (Barton, bissett, Blomer, Blythe, Bowering, Braid... and we haven't even left the Bs!). I'm equally struck by the thought of the BC writers not included, and the writers who have started publishing in the intervening years - a list as long, or longer, than Rocksalt's.

This little project is no anthology, and it's far less exhaustive than any of the publications mentioned above, but if you stick with it over the next month, BC Poetry 2017 will give you 30 new poems from 30 new (and good-as-new) poets. I hope they inpsire you as Rocksalt did for me: get you reading and writing and appreciating anew that all these talented poets are hiding out so near to home!

Details on the Project

A new book will be profiled each day throughout the month. To be eligible, the book must have been written by a BC poet or published by a BC poetry publisher (ideally both!), and must have been released in either Fall 2016 or Spring 2017. Sundays will be "wild card" days featuring books that wouldn't ordinarily qualify - you'll have to check in to find out what they are!

Participating Publishers

Anstruther Press
Anvil Press
Arsenal Pulp Press
Brick Books
Caitlin Press
Coach House Books
ECW Press
Freehand Books
Gaspereau Press
Goose Lane Editions
Leaf Press
McGill-Queens University Press
Mother Tongue Publishing
New York Review Books
Nightwood Editions
Quattro Books
Thistledown Press
Wolsak and Wynn

Some publishers were contacted and did not reply.

The copyrights of all poems included in the series remain with their authors, and are reprinted with the permission of the publishers.

BC Poetry 2017: "Prosopopoeia" by Shazia Hafiz Ramji (Anstruther Press)

See You Tomorrow

Tomorrow you’ll find me when you sign on.
You’ll send me a DM, ask me to drop you a pin.

I’ll say, “Hey! I’m here!” as if this here is enough,
as if the here is still now. You’ll ask me if I’m lost
and I’ll remember how far away you are from me.

But I’ve DM’d you once more to say
I saw the latest version of a human-size bot

that it walked with a limp
and I felt sad and sorry for it.

This is what she meant when she saw him
hanging from the ceiling and wanted to place a chair
beneath him, so that his knees don’t hurt when he falls.


Shazia Hafiz Ramji lives in Vancouver, BC where she edits books and writes poems, reviews, and stories. Her poetry was shortlisted for the 2016 National Magazine Awards and is forthcoming in Canadian Literature and filling Station. She is the incoming poetry editor for Prism international and was co-editor for the "Intersections" issue of Poetry is Dead. She has been a guide for Poor Yoricks' Summer and Sacred Jest, groups dedicated to reading Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace.


Prosopopoeia is a chapbook of poems that speak to the absent and the dead. These poems comprise the voices of screens talking to each other, the meanest employers, and the Internet under the ocean. Or, Prosopopoeia is a spectral chorus that strives for sincerity, particularly when addressing "you" and Philip Seymour Hoffman. This book should be enjoyed alone, in the light of a computer screen with the sound of "Rain - Gentle Rain Sounds - HD Sleep Sounds" on YouTube.


Arrived February 2017.


Book Launches: Happened April 27th in Vancouver!

Purchases: From the Anstruther Press website. $10.


Sincerely addressing Philip Seymour Hoffman w/ the voice of the Internet under the ocean.

The copyrights of all poems included in the series remain with their authors, and are reprinted with the permission of the publishers.


BC Poetry 2017: "Helpless Angels" by Tom Wayman (Thistledown Press)

Excerpt from “Like Water, Music”
Indeed, the human throat and mouth
are shaped as much for music
as for any other utterance. Sung words
were perhaps coincident with speech
—one thinks of those stutterers
who nonetheless can mellifluously

When winter fog
hovers over white fields here, shelves of ice
materialize at the edges of the rivulets and creeks
that thread out of the mountainside spruce and cedar forest.

So, too, fingers absently strumming guitar strings,
or an ear that absorbs a sequence of heard or
imagined sounds, or a hand scribing time-signature changes
onto a sheet of lined staves
are transubstantiated
by a mind into harmonies, contrapuntal rhythms, ballads

while above the ridges
float enormous clouds
—vast reservoirs of future music.


Tom Wayman has published more than twenty poetry collections, three essay collections, two short story collections, a collection of novellas, and a novel. He has also edited six poetry anthologies. He has been Writer-in-Residence at the universities of Windsor, Alberta, Simon Fraser, Winnipeg, and Toronto. He is a co-founder of two BC alternative post-secondary ventures: the Vancouver Centre of the Kootenay School of Writing (1984–87) and the writing department of Nelson’s Kootenay School of the Arts (1991–2002). He is currently a director of the Calgary Spoken Word Festival Society and of Nelson’s Kootenay Literary Society, where he serves on the education committee and the Elephant Mountain Literary Festival organizing committee. Wayman lives in Winlaw, BC.


Helpless Angels weaves several themes together: music’s impact on a life, expressed through memory; poems that are like songs; music found in or described through nature; poems that directly consider music’s power; and, as a counterpoint to how music carries us through life, how art — and each of us — deals with significant loss. Wayman looks at the ubiquitousness of widespread personal access to music that began in the 1950s and has continued to expand ever since.


Arrives May 1st, 2017 (Monday!).


Book Launches: May 12, 7:30 PM, Oxygen Art Centre, Nelson. May 26, 7:30 PM, The Bean Scene, Vernon. June 8, 7 PM, VPL Central Branch, Vancouver. Details on all Tom's launches can be found here.

Purchases: From the Thistledown Press website or at your local bookstore. $20.


Looking at the ubiquitousness.

The copyrights of all poems included in the series remain with their authors, and are reprinted with the permission of the publishers.