not just about popular culture

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

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


an act of resistance to the state

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

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


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

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

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

Merry Christmas, everyone!


five last minute christmas ideas

Haven't thrown enough money at your loved ones yet? Here are some suggestions of new-ish poetry books for poetry fans and soon-to-become poetry fans alike: Pigeon by Karen Solie, House of Anansi Press, 2009
Who’s Karen Solie? A Canadian poet. A living one. The internet can tell you more. What’s this book? Y’know, poems. A collection of them. 39 to be exact. That seems like a fairly average number of poems. Will I get enough bang for my buck? Well, at $18.95, it’s $0.49 a poem. What a steal! Ok, but let’s say I’m in the bookstore and I only have time to read one poem to know if the thing is any good. What should I read? “Wager”, pg. 12. And how should I get myself in the mood for reading this poem? Drive to a bookstore in Regina to read it. But I'm too lazy to do that! Ok, you can listen to it here.
Pure Product by Jason Guriel, Vehicule Press, 2009
Who’s Jason Guriel? A Canadian poet. A living one. The internet can tell you more. What’s this book? Y’know, poems. A collection of them. 34 to be exact. That seems like a rather small number of poems. Can I really get enough bang for my buck? Well, at $16.00, it’s $0.47 a poem. So yes, definitely a steal. Plus, at 52 pages, if you are anti-social you can easily slip the book under someone's door, avoiding human interaction! Ok, but let’s say I’m in the bookstore and I only have time to read one poem to know if the thing is any good. What should I read? "Money is also a kind of Music", pg. 46. And how should I get myself in the mood for reading this poem? Listen to "Good Vibrations" 100 times in a row. I'm too lazy to do that, also! Ok, you can read it here, so long as you promise to read it 100 times.
Harmonics by Jesse Patrick Ferguson, Freehand Books, 2009
Who’s Jesse Patrick Ferguson? A Canadian poet. A living one. The internet can tell you more. What’s this book? Y’know, poems. A collection of them. 75 to be exact. That seems like a large number of poems. What a steal! That’s not a question. But yes, it is. At $16.95, it’s $0.23 a poem. Ok, but let’s say I’m in the bookstore and I only have time to read one poem to know if the thing is any good. What should I read? “Fallout at the National Gallery”, pg. 79. And how should I get myself in the mood for reading this poem? Before entering the bookstore, bash your head into the window while looking at the display books. Still too lazy! C'mon, help a brotha/sista out. Sorry, I can't find this one online. Get going!
Jailbreaks: 99 Canadian Sonnets edited by Zachariah Wells, Biblioasis, 2008
Who’s 99 Canadian Poets? That question is both strange and grammatically incorrect. They are Canadian poets. Living and dead ones. The internet can tell you more. Oh, and more on the editor, too. What’s this book? Y’know, poems. An anthology of them. Ok, mostly sonnets. I’m pretty sure there are 99. Let's assume there are 99 poems in this book. That seems like a solid number. Is it in fact a steal? Yes! At $19.95, that would be $0.20 a poem. Ok, but let’s say I’m in the bookstore and I only have time to read one poem to know if the thing is any good. What should I read? “Country Hotel in the Niagara Peninsula” by David W. McFadden, pg. 16. And how should I get myself in the mood for reading this poem? Spend at least an hour wandering lost, looking for the poetry section. If that isn’t enough, bump over a shelf or two. But that would involve me getting up and leaving the house... You're right. What was I thinking? Read it here, lardass.
A Long Continual Argument: The Selected Poems of John Newlove by John Newlove, Chaudiere Books, 2007
Who’s John Newlove? A Canadian poet. A dead one. The internet can tell you more. Oh, and more on the editor, too. What’s this book? Y’know, poems. A selected poems. 138 to be exact. Let me guess... with 138 poems this is also a steal? You got it! Even with a sticker price of $22.00, it’s a mere $0.16 a poem. Ok, now that fourth question I keep asking... Oh, the one about which one poem to read? I’d say “Driving”, pg. 175. And how should I get myself in the mood for reading this poem? Drive to a book store in Kapuskasing to read it. Oh hell, just read it here.


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

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

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


the square triangle

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

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

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

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

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

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


tws reading report

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

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

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


new reader and new launch

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

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

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

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


getting gifted

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

Update: The video has been taken down, but you can still read the transcript of Hass' words here: https://poets.org/text/video-gift-economy-poetry


true exploration of the world

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


people's co-op fundraiser

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

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


some cheery stats from britain

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

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

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

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


such a woman for the beanbag?

Due to a recent rash of spammers that are infecting Blogger sites, I've activated word verification for the comment section (i.e. you have to type some crazy word to confirm you are human if you want to leave a comment). I will be a little dissapointed if it succeeds in stopping the spammers completely, though, as they say some nutty stuff. As an example, here's a little jem some Japanese robot left a few days ago (ah, Babel Fish, what gibberish can't you translate?):

It is the guide of the sideline where 1 day 50,000 Yen ~ enters into the hand. The [serebu] woman of the man deviation eats the man who knows each other with the net one after another by power of the gold and scattering and others has done. It doesn't try making the large sum such a woman for the beanbag?


some december readings and launches

The bottom two involve me - hurray for leaving the house!

Play Cthonics
Wednesday, December 2, 7:30 PM
Graham House at Green College, UBC
6201 Cecil Green Park Road
Featuring: Roo Borson and a. rawlings

Matt Rader and Elizabeth Bachinsky
Wednesday, December 9th, 6:00 - 9:00 PM
Kwantlen Polythechnic University, Surrey Campus
12666 - 72nd Avenue, Surrey, B.C., Room D3142
Schedule: 6-6:30 - Rader on DIY publishing, 6:30-7:15 - Student Open Mic, 7:15-9pm - Bachinsky & Rader

The Writers Studio Reading Series
Thursday, December 10th, 7:00 - 9:30 PM
Rhizome Cafe
317 East Broadway (at Kingsway)
Featuring: Margaret Thompson, Ray Hsu, Rob Taylor (that's me!), and more

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

Sad Mag Issue #2 Launch
Thursday, December 17th, 8:00 PM - ??? AM
Anza Club
3 West 8th Avenue
Featuring: Music, burlesque and an interview with me (well, that's in the magazine, which you can read while you're there!)
$10 (includes a free issue... or free admission with the purchase of an issue... whichever sounds better to you)


larger and more permanent

Well, what does the reader want from a poem?... Primarily, I suppose, to be entertained. And that involves tuning in on some emotion or feeling or discovery that is larger and more permanent than he is. Some flashing insight that adds a new perspective to living. Values also. And that is a great deal. Most of the time it's asking far too much.

- Al Purdy, from "Leonard Cohen: A Personal Look" in Starting from Ameliasburgh.


poems as the way to arrive at poetics

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. Some poems read like essays in poetics; the poem itself appears to be a programmatic extension of pre-formulated theoretical concepts. I write — and read — poems in large measure to work thru things I haven’t been able to figure out; insofar as the two poems named show a person in the process of working things out, sure, they’re statements of poetics, but they’re statements of poetics that I think apply to other realms. And they’re statements of a poetics in progress, not of any fixed dogmatic position. Rarely does a poem actually provide me with solutions to problems, but they often help me to ask better questions.

- Zachariah Wells, in an interview with Alessandro Porco in Maissoneuve. Read the whole thing here.


we ordinary mortals

Loving my Poet as I do, though, I try hard to understand what a poet is. The first clue lies in the fact that my Poet—every poet—is an insomniac. My own reads or wanders about our apartment for the best part of most nights. She told me she often feels she would give up every poem she's ever written for one good night's sleep. A friend of mine, who's a literature professor, is very enamored of my Poet, whom he describes, tremblingly, as "the real thing." (I once asked if I was "the real thing," but it unfortunately triggered a grand mal seizure in him.) Anyway, he tells me he finds it profoundly reassuring that while we ordinary mortals are asleep, there exist lit rooms containing anxious, vigilant souls. A terrible responsibility, he says, devolves upon the poet, that requires her never to be fully awake or asleep: at night, wakeful poets buoy humanity to the surface, to consciousness, preventing our slumbering bulk from sinking too far; during the day, these same poets anchor the madding masses to the depths. The world will end, he once told me, when the final poet awake closes her eyes. Last night I woke up sweating, having dreamed of sinking with the rest of humanity into cold oblivion. Sure enough my Poet was fast asleep beside me—the first deep sleep she'd entered in more than a week. So I knocked a pile of books to the floor, and returned to my blissful slumbers, much comforted by the thought that at least one poet would wander the midnight battlements, keep watch, and preserve us all for one more day.

- From a hilarious essay on dating a poet, by fiction writer Naeem Murr from the July/August 2007 issue of Poetry. Read the whole thing here. Yay, online archives!


three readings!

One of them tonight! Check 'em out:

Spoken Ink
Tuesday, November 17th, 8:00 PM
James Street Café
3819 Canada Way, Burnaby
Featuring: Daniela Elza and Robin Susanto

Play Chthonics
Friday, November 20, 2009, 7:30 PM
Graham House at Green College, UBC
6201 Cecil Green Park Road
Featuring: Fiona Tinwei-Lam and derek beaulieu

A Benefit for Marc Creamore
Wednesday November 25th, 2009, 6:00 PM
Cottage Bistro
4470 Main Street
Oooh, poster:


essential to sound social organization

Here is a poem Juan Ramón Jiménez wrote for his mother in her extreme old age:

I wish I could carry you in my arms
from your life to nothingness
the way you carried me, when I was a child,
to the cradle from your breasts.

Notice the role of desire: I wish. The loving dialogue, a man speaking to his mother, giving back the care he received. The powerful, defiant transformations: the poet turns approaching death into a woman’s breasts, and nothingness into a cradle. Notice too the near hopelessness of the desire and the way the poem holds out, not eliminating hopelessness but never defeated, maintaining life in the face of annihilation. This poem is a primary political document. In addition to and because of its rich human meanings, it has greater relevance to public action than any work of political philosophy or political science, any constitution, bill of rights, speech, or policy paper. In fact, a society’s health might be measured by how it understands and admits that such a poem is essential to sound social organization.

- The opening of a great article by A.F. Moritz in the November 2009 issue of Poetry. Read the whole thing here.


acknowledge that it's all pretty weird

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?

Jacob Scheier: Sure. The questions more often reveal themselves as I'm writing. I've been thinking a lot about making poetry politically progressive and how accessibility needs to a part of that. I think it's ironic that some poetry that claims to be rather radical often is fairly inaccessible to those who don't have a higher education, which begs the question radical for whom? On the other hand, there is also quite a lot of overtly political poetry I don't care for because it's lacking a certain artistic depth and emotional poignancy. I don't claim to be writing in the proper middle ground, only that the issue concerns me. I am also really interested in the convergence of the historical, theoretical and personal. For instance, I am researching and writing a lot right now about my grandparents and my parents, who were all communists (my father is the only one still alive) - how their worldview and the historical conditions of the 20th century interacted with the most personal, the most visceral and traumatic moments of their lives.

rm: What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?

JS: I ask myself that a lot. This probably seems like the easy way out of the question, but different writers, particularly writers of different genres, probably have different roles. I think the role of a lot of poets is to give people pause, recall that we are alive now, and for lack of a better word acknowledge that it's all pretty weird. A poem has as much purpose, since it can be very similar, as those rare, truly honest moments between two people (whether silent or in conversation). I don't know why it's important that such moments occur now and again, but it makes me feel better about being alive when they do.
- from Jacob's 12 or 20 questions on rob's blog. Read the whole thing here.


amusing or engaging or spooky

Michael Shea: You’ve written before about “difficult” poetry and how we shouldn’t accept a “dumbing-down” of poems. What specific value does an intentionally obtuse poem have for you? Is there a point when a poem becomes too difficult to understand to be valued? How does this issue reflect the larger issue of American anti-intellectualism?

Robert Pinsky: I think that if an audience for any art is having a good time, they are willing to suspend the need for comprehension for a while—that’s part of the pleasure. So if the poem by Wallace Stevens or Marianne Moore sounds great, is amusing or engaging or spooky in a way that we like… then like the devotee of opera or rap music or rock music, we are happy to understand only gradually, over many listenings. And if it doesn’t sound good, it is boring even if we understand it. That’s the trouble with a lot of boring art: you understand the stupid cop show, or the tedious sitcom gag, too soon and too completely. Same for the stupid middlebrow poem.

- from an interview in The Southeast Review. Read the whole thing here.


desk blogs 4, laundry blogs 0

Another desk blog!

On My Desk

Not just writers this time, at least. Still, that's four desk blogs and counting. Sadly, though, no one has picked up on my proposal for a laundry blog...

The other desk blogs:

Desk Space

Sitting Pretty Magazine

Writers' rooms

Oh internets, how many more are you hiding out there?


oh man, readings

The Writers Fest may have finished its record-setting run for 2009, but the readings keep coming. Since they are free, most people won't go to them. It doesn't seem to be any different in Toronto, as Jacob Mooney observes. Anyway, I hope you will reverse this trend. Here are four opportunities to do just that:

Vancouver: The Imagined and the Prospected
Thursday, November 5th, 2009, 8:00 - 9:30 pm
Green College Coach House
6201 Cecil Green Park Road, UBC
Featuring: Roger Farr, Sachiko Murakami and more

Poet and Painter: A North Coast Collaboration
Saturday, November 7th, 2009, 3:00pm
The Marion Scott Gallery
308 Water Street, Vancouver
Featuring: Leanne Boschman and Edward Epp

Hunter/Pearson Launch
Sunday, November 8th, 7 PM
Chivana Restaurant and Lounge
2340 W. 4th Avenue, Vancouver
Poster here

Robson Reading Series: 4 Poets Launch
Thursday November 12th, 2009, 7:00 pm
UBC Library/Bookstore at Robson Square
800 Robson St., Vancouver
Featuring: Daniela Elza, Peter Morin, Al Rempel, Onjana Yawnghwe


life as a New York Poet

My life as a New York Poet begins at age 26, in seminar rooms near Washington Square, reciting first drafts with sober incantation. Star Teacher #1 orders us to read Poet in New York. I do. “New York has given me the knock-out punch,” Federico García Lorca writes back to his family in Spain in 1929. I share classes with a Troubled South African Poet of Indian Descent, who ululates and laments the absence of servants in her West Village apartment. She brings in handwritten poems, calls her classmates racists. Finally, one night, Star Teacher #1 tells her this is all inappropriate, calls her into her office. We never see her again.

Two years later, another student asks Star Teacher #2 what to do when we get out of grad school: Should we apply for teaching jobs, send poems to journals? Her tone is desperate; she really wants to know. Star Teacher #2 pauses, looks at the ceiling—dreaming of his summer house in Vermont, no doubt.

“Try just being a poet,” he says.

People write this down.

- Funny, sad stuff from Daniel Nester. Read the whole thing here.


red fez #24

The new issue of Red Fez is out, featuring work by editors of small press magazines (including me, representing either One Ghana, One Voice or Red Fez or both). My poem in the issue is "Creation Story" and can be read here. My pick of the issue is "Walking with Monet" by Alan Gann, which can be read here.

You can read the whole issue here.

Oh, and here's a picture of me as a bee.

Yay, hyperlinks!


Hunter/Pearson Launch

Aislinn Hunter and Miranda Pearson are launching their new books together:

Hunter/Pearson Launch
November 8th, 2009, 7 PM
Chivas Restaurant and Lounge
2340 W. 4th Avenue, Vancouver

More info on the poster:


James Moore Rejection Letter

I recently received a rejection letter for my two poetry submissions to James Moore (read them here and here). I must admit that at first I wasn't sure it was a rejection (I've had this problem before). The main barrier to my comprehension was that the letter is chocked full of bureaucratic boilerplate (I mean, two pages? Wow!). I suppose this is to be expected when transitioning from running a political newsletter and website to running a literary arts journal. That said, they did manage to reject two submissions with one letter (Exhibit A, below), which is a veteran move.

I've posted their rejection letter below, along with my own annotation which will hopefully clear things up for you, the reader, and perhaps help the editors of James Moore's publications shorten up future letters (click to expand the images):
Section B) "Thank you for your submission."

Section C) "We received hundreds of excellent poems for consideration for our upcoming issue. Because of this, we weren't able to accept all the great work that was sent to us."

Section D) "Unfortunately, we have to reject your submission."

Section E) "But we still totally like you."
Section E continued) "No, seriously. We do."

Section F) "And we hope you keep submitting, though preferably somewhere else."

Section G) "Yours, The New Intern"


hey, look!

I'm reading tomorrow! Neat!

Poets Against War Canada Reading
October 25th, 2009
6:30 PM
Cafe Montmartre
4362 Main Street, Vancouver
Poster here.

See you there?


those hidden sources that animate our lives

It is also disheartening to find so many young people now concerned with only the surface effects of poetry, as if a poem is nothing more than a kind of puzzle or arithmetic equation that can be easily solved by counting syllables or by employing a formal rhyme scheme. What is even more troubling is to see how many are overly concerned with their own sense of prominence. Unfortunately, our culture encourages such poets by telling them it is far better to be a face on a billboard, an image in a magazine, or a name on a page than a flesh and blood person quietly concerned with the long standing relationships between the spiritual and the corporeal, consciousness and reality, imagination and metaphor.

I expect it is no wonder we have raised a generation of young poets now happily posing for photos with microphones in hand and indulging in all manners of poetic trappings without ever exploring in any truly meaningful fashion those hidden sources that animate our lives and our poetry. In fact, a good many of them would ridicule this very idea for it has become quite fashionable to do so.

- Chris Banks, in a blog post. Read the whole thing here.


the funnier the name...

the more I's gots to go. And it's not even St. Bartholomew's Day!

Wayzgoose 2009
October 24th
10:00 AM - 4:00 PM
Vancouver Public Library, Downtown Branch
350 West Georgia St., Vancouver


dead poets reading this weekend

Congratulations to David Zieroth on his GG nomination! If you'd like to see him speak in the flesh, and hear the poems of many other great poets in the non-flesh, then take in the upcoming Dead Poets reading:

Sunday Afternoon with Dead Poets
Sunday, October 18, 2009
3:00 - 5:00 pm.
The Café for Contemporary Art
140 East Esplanade
North Vancouver, BC

You're invited to listen to five readers reading poems from their favourite dead poets.

+ Poems of John Keats (1795-1821)
read by Harvey De Roo

+ Poems of Gwendolyn MacEwen (1941-1987)
read by Fiona Tinwei Lam

+ Poems of Georg Trakl (1887-1914)
read by Richard Therrien

ten minutes

+ Poems of William Carlos Williams (1883-1963)
read by Jamie Reid

+ Poems of Francis Ponge (1899-1988)
read by Marguerite Pigeon

Emcee: David Zieroth

In each presentation you will hear a brief introduction to the poet followed by a reading of selected poems, 15 minutes in total.

Cafca is one block up from Lonsdale Quay and the Seabus. Bring your friends and enjoy the coffee and art. Seating is limited.

For more info: Cafca @ 778 340 3379 or David @ dzieroth(at)telus(dot)net


i'm on the radio tomorrow

Crazy, eh? Daniela Elza and I are last minute fill-ins on Wax Poetic on Wednesday at 2 PM, talking about the Poets Against War reading that's coming up on October 25th, and reading a few of our own poems. You can listen in at 102.7 FM or online here.

the vice president in charge of making sense

The Polish poet Adam Zagajewski has put this succinctly: “Poetry allows us to experience astonishment and to pause in that astonishment for a long moment or two.”... I think such astonishment is important as an antidote, or counter-tendency, to language’s great capacity for organizing, manipulating, and naming the world. Poetry – any poetry – is always political and subversive because it uses language, our foremost technological tool, against its powers of mastery and control. In poetry, language discovers its eros. In poetry, language is always a singer as well as a thinker, a lover as well as an engineer. Language delights in its own being as though it were an otter or a raven and not just the vice president in charge of making sense.

- Don McKay, in a speech at The Reykjavik International Literary Festival. Read the whole thing here.


all poets are mavericks

Sarah Palin, eat your heart out:

And anyway, the adjective “radical,” when applied to the noun “poet,” is redundant. Any person worth calling a poet (and there are far fewer of these than we might prefer) writes poetry because more basic modes of communication (like the emoticon-caulked prose of texting, say) just won’t do—because basic communication isn’t the point. “All poetry is experimental poetry,” wrote Stevens. In other words, all poets are always already “radical” or “experimental” or “innovative.” This isn’t to suggest that good poets haven’t occasionally huddled around some hub, mimeographed or e-mailed a manifesto, and declared themselves an avant-garde; this is only to suggest that all poets are mavericks, whether they, or their circle, choose to brand themselves as such or not.

- Jason Guriel, from the October 2009 issue of Poetry. Read the whole thing here.


the night of the long bookmarks?

Ok, I'm working on a better nickname for the thing, but it's a start:

B.C. Slashes Funding to Publishing Groups

Do I have to start writing letters to Kevin Krueger now? I wonder if constituency newsletters accept simultaneous submissions?


poets against war reading

Daniela Elza has organized a Poets Against War reading, featuring myself, among others:

Poets Against War Canada Reading
October 25th, 2009
6:30 PM
Cafe Montmartre
4362 Main Street, Vancouver
Poster here.

Hope to see you there!


sympathy for the devil

No, wait... for Dan Brown... by the way most people talk it's hard to tell them apart. Yeesh. Thank you, Jean Hannah Edelstein:

But what swayed my view even more than these economic arguments was in fact, the poignant revelation that Brown shared a creative writing class at Amherst – one of the US's finest small liberal arts colleges – with David Foster Wallace. No one, I am certain, takes a creative writing course with the aim of writing over-wrought, long-winded, critically-reviled thrillers. You take a creative writing course because you want to be a good writer; because you go back to your dorm room and read the great books on your English Lit course syllabus (or your genius classmate David's coursework) and regard the Pulitzer prize shortlist and think, "One day, that could be me." And then you sit down to write with all the best of intentions, and all that comes out is "The thirty-four-year-old initiate gazed down at the human skull cradled in his palms."...

I would thus be willing to wager all of the income I have ever made from writing fiction (nothing, but the sentiment is there) that sometimes, even as he wallows in his piles of money, Dan Brown wonders why he'll never be able to write exactly as well as he wishes he could; why while being one of the world's most financially successful writers, literary acclaim eludes him; why no one ever says, "actually, there's a sentence on page 344 when Langdon says something rather profound and eloquent". Sometimes, despite our best intentions, we just cannot help the way that we write, and sometimes, it is just a bit crap.

Read the whole thing here.


more things purdy

Two more fundraisers for the Al Purdy A-Frame Trust.

A contest (for everyone):

The Contest: We are seeking poems that engage in some direct way with Al Purdy’s poetry, poetics, and/or poetic legacy. There is no limit on the length or number of poems submitted as long as the appropriate entry fees are included. The judges will select the top three poems in each category (see Categories, below). Event, The New Quarterly, and The Antigonish Review will each publish two of the winning poems in 2010. The winners will also receive a selection of titles from Harbour Publishing (including Paul Vermeersch's forthcoming The Al Purdy A-Frame Anthology) and Freehand Books.

Categories: Entries will be judged under one of two categories: emerging poet or established poet. An established poet is someone who has published a book of poetry (longer than a chapbook), or has one forthcoming with a confirmed publisher.

Contest Fee/Donation: Entry fee is $10/poem, with all monies thus collected going directly to The Al Purdy A-Frame Trust. Further donations to this initiative are welcomed and encouraged. Tax receipts will be issued, upon request, for any submission fee/donation of $50 or more. Cheques and money orders must be made out to The Al Purdy A-Frame Trust.

How to Enter: Send a cover letter identifying under which category your poem(s) is/are to be judged, along with one hard copy of each poem, and the appropriate entry fee ($10/poem) to:

After Al Purdy Poetry Contest,
Department of English, University of Calgary
2500 University Drive NW
Calgary, AB T2N 1N4

Please include your contact information, including your name and email address at the top right-hand corner of each submitted poem. Email submissions will not be accepted. Please keep a copy of poem(s) submitted; entries will not be returned.

Contest Closing Date: Entries must be post-marked by Friday, November 13, 2009. Winners will be announced by January 1, 2010, and will have their winning poems published in 2010. Entries will be judged by University of Calgary English Department graduate students and faculty:

Suzette Mayr, Owen Percy, Robyn Read, and Tom Wayman.

Sponsored by the English Department at the University of Calgary, Freehand Books, Harbour Publishing, The Antigonish Review, Event, and The New Quarterly.

The contest website is here.

And an auction (for those in the neighbourhood):

Al Purdy Auction

Saturday, Oct. 17th - 10am - 1pm
Al Purdy Library in Ameliasburgh

Contents: The auction will include small items, sentimental trinkets and household items/furnishings from the A-Frame as used/purchased by Al, Eurithe Purdy and the many literary visitors to the cottage.There are some volumes of old books and magazines that will be included in the auction.

With your help we can raise money to support the A- Frame Trust Project.

Where: The Al Purdy Library, Ameliasburgh, County Rd #19 in the village of Ameliasburgh. Continue through village to STOP SIGN and turn immediately left on Whitney Rd.


pigeons and lams and hunters, oh my!

Also, Musgraves and News and McWhirters and Bachinskys and more. And of course...

Word on the Street is tomorrow! Get the schedule here.


booby-trapped with twists and surprises

Jason Rotstein: How would you describe your work? How would you describe one of your poems? What do you think distinguishes you as a poet?

Jason Guriel: I hope that what distinguishes me is that people think my poems are entertaining. To that end, I try to get down to the business of entertaining the reader as quickly as possible, with an eye on the exit. I certainly don’t want to overstay my welcome. I do want my poems to have a relatively linear argument that a smart reader can follow, though I want the argument to be booby-trapped with twists and surprises. (You can’t mess with the reader if you don’t establish some expectations to mess with.) I’m always after original images, metaphors, and similes that shock but still make sense. And I want some unity of sound and for my line-breaks to be meaningful if not playful. In short, I want the reader to feel like she’s in good hands. These are the goals, anyway. And none of this is to say that I want an overly accessible or ‘simplistic’ poetry.

- Two Jasons talking about one Jason's poetry, in Maisonneuve. Read the whole interview here.


do you think he'd have gotten a call from the queen?

Well, she sure seemed to have a better time with him than with at least one other world leader, if that means anything...

Kwame Nkrumah would have been 100 on Monday. In tribute to Ghana's independence leader, I've posted the title poem from my chapbook Child of Saturday over at OGOV. You can read it here.


1 launch + 1 sort of launch + 1 griffin winner =

Vancouver Launch of 4 Poets
Monday, September 21st, 7:30 PM
Vancouver Public Library, Peter McKay Room
350 W. Georgia Street
Featuring: Daniela Elza, Peter Morin, Al Rempel and Onjana Yawnghwe

Emerge 2009 Sneak Preview Reading
Thursday, September 24th, 7 PM
Rhizome Cafe
317 E. Broadway
Suggested donation: $5
Featuring: Tanyss Knowles, and other members of the SFU Writer's Studio

Play Chthonics Reading Series
Friday, September 25th, 7:30 PM
Graham House at Green College
6201 Cecil Green Park Road, UBC
Featuring: A.F. Moritz and Jordan Scott


read the same thing... somewhere else!

Isn't that what 98% of the internet is about? My rejection letter from two posts ago has found a home on the TNQ blog. You can read it (again!) here.

And if you have your own rejection letter stories, send 'em their way.


flickering in dull gloom

The tradition to which I belong, though sometimes called accessible, requires more than learning and mere intelligence. The brain flickers in dull gloom when we rely on intelligence alone. A clever and insipid irony all too often masquerades as brilliance shining in shallow mud. Mere language play and a busy head, the trickery of a lively performance, the paltry illusion of a complex game, the easy rhyme and facile rhythm of popular verse, each might receive the attention and briefly excite the admiration of an applauding audience, but when the dust settles the crowd soon forgets.

I want, in poems, for the heart to feel true sentiment, the head to know eternal truth, the body to come alive with full-fleshed bone-buzzing experience, the soul to thrill to a commingling of temporal and extra-temporal things, and the spirit to surround and be surrounded by an interplay between the deep wells of the self and the stars beyond the farthest stars we might dream of but never see.

-John B. Lee, from the essay "Even at the Worst of Time" in And Left a Place to Stand On: Poems and Essays on Al Purdy.


literary typing

The New Quarterly has a blog, eh? And they're starting up a few little projects. One is a response to the James Moore Magazine Thing, where they are gathering descriptions of magazines that will be affected by the cuts. The other is a collection of "rejection letter stories".

Both should be interesting once they get going. Ok, mostly the second one. But the first could have its moments, too.

My favorite form rejection letter came to me from a rather big Canadian lit mag, and said, in full:

Thank you for your submission. We received about --- submissions for our --- issue, and therefore were not able to accept all of the fantastic work we saw. We are, however, currently accepting submissions for ---. The deadline is ---; check out http://---.com/ for more information. In the meantime, check out Issue --- which will be in stores soon!
They were so polite that they avoided actually rejecting my work (how Canadian!). Instead, they told me that they had to reject some people. Maybe they were feeling anxiety about that (how incredibly Canadian!) and had to get it off their chests by telling someone. I was glad that I could assist them (how spectacularly Canadian!).

I'm still waiting to see whether they will be rejecting my submission, specifically. I have a feeling I may be waiting a while...


two readings

Ah September... the return of crappy weather, traffic jams, and reading series (seri?). Two up next week. On the same day. At the same time. Goooo Vancouver!

Robson Reading Series
Thursday, September 10th, 7 PM
UBC Downtown Bookstore
800 Robson Street, plaza level
Featuring: David Zieroth and Marguerite Pigeon

The Writer's Studio Reading Series
Thursday, September 10th, 7 PM
Rhizome Cafe
317 East Broadway (at Kingsway)
Featuring: Daniela Elza and others!


down one at the nat

I've thrown my poem from A Verse Map of Vancouver, "Down One at The Nat," up on my website. You can read it here.


red fez #23

is out! Thanks to our awesome editorial team, lead by Michele McDannold, for making another issue happen.

My pick of the issue is "For Sue: Lev's Late Wife" by Joseph Victor Milford. You can read the whole issue (and come up with picks of your own) here.


it means estuary!

Ya learn something new every day. This looks neat... extra neat if you live less than 5 time zones away:

Emerging & Established Writers - spend 4 days with a stellar faculty in an inspiring location!

Piper's Frith: Writing at Kilmory Resort – The Literary Arts Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador is launching a writing experience for emerging and established writers at beautiful Kilmory Resort in Swift Current (1.5 hours from St. John's, Newfoundland). October 13-17, 2009. Join mentors Don McKay, Jessica Grant and Kevin Major for workshops, discussions, one-on-one consultations and a some peaceful surroundings in which to pursue your work.

$595 includes all program and application fees, accommodation for four nights, meals and social events. Visit http://www.literaryartsnl.com/ and click on Piper's Frith to learn more and apply.

A few spots are left and the application deadline has been extended from August 19th, so if you are interested apply ASAP.


last chance to dream

Oy... I go away camping for a week and miss all the fun at Pandora's Collective's Summer Dream Literary Festival.

Well, almost all the fun. There are still a couple workshops to be had, next weekend: one by Christine Leclerc on ekphrastic poetry (11 AM - 12:30 PM) and another by Jen Currin on prose poetry (1 - 3 PM), both at Christianne’s Lyceum of Literature and Art, 3696 West 8th, Vancouver, B.C.

More details on the whole festival, including these workshops, here.


a poem for robert taylor

Aw, thanks Graeme!

I used to enjoy having a common name. Now, oh internet, you have cursed me. We're everywhere!


purdy books

That's right, books! Not one, but two A-Frame Trust fundraising books are coming out this fall.

The first is And Left a Place to Stand On, from the Canada Cuba Literary Alliance and Hidden Brook Press. It is already available for online purchase ($22.50), and features letters and poems by, to and about Al Purdy (including my poem "How little we need to live, to know"). Check it out here.

The second is The A-Frame Anthology, from the A-Frame Trust and Harbour Publishing. It will be available in October for online purchase ($26.95)either through http://alpurdy.ca or Harbour Publishing. It will contain "personal memoirs, literary analyses, architectural analyses, travel writing, poems, eulogies, photographs and testimonials of all kinds... all about the A-frame itself." Learn more here.

Yay, Purdy books!


the best thing about winning an award

or atleast what should be:
When you get an award like this, it's just a great indication that there are people out there who are actually reading what you wrote and they're enjoying what you wrote... It's extremely gratifying and it makes me want to do better and better things with future books.

- Sci-Fi writer Edward Willett to the CBC, after winning an Aurora Award


James Moore Letter #2

Well, it's been a few months and I haven't heard anything from James Moore about the poetry submission I mailed him. So, today I sent off a query letter:

[click on the image to expand]

If you aren't familiar with the issue, check out this update or this Facebook group, or both!

If others wish to send a similar poetry submission, direct it to:

James Moore, MP
House of Commons
Ottawa, ON
K1A 0A6

And please, send a scan or photo of your submission to me at roblucastaylor(at)gmail.com, so that I can post it here.

Lastly, if you couldn't read the scan, here is the full text of my query letter:


It’s been a few months and I haven’t heard from you in regards to my poem, “An Open Letter to James Moore, Minister of Cultural Heritage and Official Languages”, which I submitted for inclusion in your constituency newsletter or on www.jamesmoore.org.

I understand that you must be getting swamped with submissions. Most poets I know don’t even bother sending work out to traditional literary magazines anymore (they’ll probably fold before they get the next issue out!). If you haven’t yet managed to wade through the deluge and find my submission, that’s fine. But I figure it never hurts to check.

Also, I forgot to include a SASE with the submission. Maybe that’s the problem. I understand that budgets are tight everywhere, and it may be too costly for you to mail the reply (when automakers are only getting $4 billion in bailout money, you know times are tough!). So if that’s the case, I’ve attached a SASE with this letter.

While I’m at it, I figured I’d send you another poem. A companion piece of sorts for my first submission:

James Moore, Minister of Cultural Heritage and Official Languages, is just big boned

There was an MP from Port Moody
Whose waistline declared him a foody
He gobbled funding to Arts
Like a box of Pop Tarts
And left us a pile of doody.

Thank you in advance, yet again, for your consideration. If the policy that’s causing all these troubles is reversed, I think I’ll send this poem to The Malahat Review. For now, though, it’s yours. Enjoy!


Rob Taylor


snaps of ghana

All month long over at OGOV we're showing photos and poems by Van G. Garrett from his travels in Ghana last year. Something new is going up on the site every second day. Check it out here.


good writing is good thinking committed to print

Michael Lista: This is all very, very fine work, and though the thinking is extravagant, it’s never gaudy, or at the expense of the lyric.

This is part of the reason why Pure Product is such a noteworthy book; the generation of Canadian poets who came before us, Mark (you, Guriel, and I are all about the same age) force fed us the fallacy that one must either be a thinking poet or a singing poet. One was either avant-garde or lyric. What no one wants to admit is that most of the so-called avant-garde poets can’t write, and most of the so-called lyric poets can’t think. Guriel strikes a bold middle ground; he consistently strives to overlay serious lyricism with serious aesthetic commentary, and he does so with grace, effortlessness, and humour.

Mark Callanan: You say that Guriel “strives to overlay serious lyricism with serious aesthetic commentary.” I think that’s a valuable point to consider, how his poems successfully combine intellectual inquiry (and specifically, inquiry into aesthetic concerns) with deft lyricism. Guriel’s poems are proof of what should already be obvious to us as readers: good writing is not empty guff, like the voice actor whose rich baritone sells useless gadgetry—pretty to listen to but empty of anything approaching meaningful insight; good writing is good thinking committed to print.

- Michael Lista and Mark Callanan on Jason Guriel's Pure Product. Read the whole exchange here. Thanks to Zach Wells for pointing this out.


to say one thing is simply not to say enough

Poems, if they are any good at all, hold a knowledge elusive and multiple, unsayable in any other form. Resonant, fragrant, travelling more than one direction at a time, poetic speech escapes narrowing abstraction and reification as richly as does life itself. This is why lyric poems are so rife... with irony - good poems undercut their own yearning to say one thing well, because to say one thing is simply not to say enough.

- from "Hiddenness, Uncertainty, Surprise: Three Generative Energies of Poetry," by Jane Hirshfield


i know this will get tiresome eventually...

but not yet! In the proud tradition of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies...


Pandora's Collective is looking for volunteers for this year's Summer Dream(s?) Literary Arts Festival. Where did the rest of the dreams go to this year, I wonder...

Anyway, get all the details here. And then sign up. I helped set up in the pouring rain one year and still had a great time!


i describe and embellish

rob mclennan: What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work?

Lisa Robertson: I don’t answer questions—I seek them out, then I describe and embellish them.

- from Lisa's 12 or 20 Questions. View archives of 12 or 20s here and here.


as i mentioned...

A poem of mine, "Viciously in our throats," is up on OGOV as part of our Soccer Series. Check it out here, and my soccer-themed Q+A here.


soccer saturdays

One Ghana, One Voice is featuring poems about soccer throughout July, with a new one posted every Saturday. One of my own will be featured in there at some point. Check it out here!


two readings

Robson Reading Series
Thursday, July 9th, 7 PM
UBC Downtown Bookstore
800 Robson Street, Vancouver
Featuring: Tim Bowling and Michael Kenyon

The Writing Studio Reading Series
Friday, July 10th, 7 PM
Blenz Coffee Shop
508 Hastings (and Richards)
Featuring: Eight emerging writers


exhaustion of possibilities

What we're seeing in Canada right now is more an exhaustion of the possibilities of loosely structured vers libre than a concentrated and deliberate reaction against it. Rhyme and metre have always been a part of poetry written in English and, as resources, they are no less relevant to the present moment than they ever were. The way these resources are employed differs considerably from their use in past ages; if it didn't, it truly would be retrograde. Very few of the poets who use metre and rhyme do so exclusively, making the designation of "formalist" even more dubious.

- Zach Wells, "There Is No Such Thing As "New Formalism" in Canada"

That's two in a row for Zach. I think three is a record for this site...


how we all get here

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

Zachariah Wells: As opposed to being a rock 'n' roll star, actually. I'm completely tone deaf. So I went for a really lame second choice. Third actually. Pro baseball player would have been my first choice, but my athletic gifts are only marginally more impressive than my music skills. So basically, I'm kind of a loser and I'm pretty lazy. Isn't that how we all get here?

- from Zach's "12 or 20 Questions". Read the whole thing here, and view archives of 12 or 20s here and here.


restaurants that bake their own bread

And though some readers are devoted to fiction about ethnic minorities because it tells “their story,” there is a degree to which such literature is for outsiders, a variety of anthropology in which natives “inform” on their own cultures to literary tourists. The rest of the natives are often not thrilled to find their practices paraded before the gaze of outsiders. “To celebrate one’s family to the maximum, to put them proudly and visibly into print, might require betraying them to the eyes of an alien observer we might call ‘America,’ ” as McGurl puts it. “Portnoy’s Complaint” is a case in point. All literature about an ethnic minority by members of that ethnic minority is, potentially, a shanda fur die goyim. More striking is that writing of this kind coming out of creative-writing programs today is the subject matter of literature and ethnic-studies departments tomorrow. Universities have become restaurants that bake their own bread.

- From "Show or Tell: Should creative writing be taught?" by Louis Menard. Got your Yiddish-to-English dictionary handy?


fighting against lazy egotism

The ghazal allows the imagination to move by its own nature: discovering an alien design, illogical and without sense—a chart of the disorderly, against false reason and the tacking together of poor narratives. It is the poem of contrasts, dreams, astonishing leaps. The ghazal has been called “drunken and amatory” and I think it is. But what is a ghazal, exactly? And why do poets like Agha Shahid Ali claim so vehemently that those writing in English (who often mispronounce the form as “gazelle;” it’s closer to the word “guzzle”) are pillaging a literary museum to exoticize its artifacts? You can’t stuff whatever you want into a ghazal, he says; it’s a form that’s bigger than you are. “The ghazal is not an occasion for angst,” he says, “it is an occasion for genuine grief.” It’s not amorphous, but precise. Not eagerly waiting to be filled, but fighting against lazy egotism.

- Rob Winger, "A Brief History of the Canadian Ghazal," from the ghazal-crazy Summer 2009 issue of Arc. The first part of the full article can be read here.


a-frame trust update

The website for The Al Purdy A-Frame Trust is up and running and can be viewed at:


The site has a good deal of info on the project, some great old photos (such as the one in this post), and a PayPal link to donate money, which I recommend you click on early and often. Be sure to take a look, and spread the word.

One small way I'm helping to spread the word about the A-Frame campaign is to make sure I read a poem of Al's at every reading I do. Sometimes I think we need a little kick to remember how incredible a poet he was, and the more of his work that is out there being read, the better. Plus, it makes for an easy segue into a mention of the project. So, poets out there, I challenge you to do the same!


welcome, slovenian falsetto fans!

I've noted in the past some of the weird Google searches people use to arrive at this site.

As a sign of silaron's growing popularity, we've leaped the language barrier. Oh yes. If you Google search for:

this is how shoud be done i get so im trying make sound like this high lyrics

on Slovenian Google, my page is the number one result.

I've already gotten one hit this way, the flood gates should be opening soon. Dobrodošli, Slovenska falsetto navdušence!


kate braid book launch

Kate Braid, one of the best poets living and writing here in Vancouver these days, is launching her new book "Turning Left to the Ladies" on Thursday.

The publisher's description of the book is actually interesting, unlike most such descriptions:

In 1977 Kate Braid got her first job in construction as a labourer on a small island off the coast of British Columbia. Never in her wildest dreams did she plan to be a construction worker, much less a carpenter, but she was desperate to stay on the island and had run out of money, along with all the options a woman usually has for work — secretary, waitress, receptionist. Turning Left to the Ladies is an autobiographical account of the fifteen years she worked as a labourer, apprentice and journey carpenter, building houses, high rises and bridges. She was the first female member of the Vancouver union local of the Carpenters and the first full-time woman teaching trades at the BC Institute of Technology. Turning Left to the Ladies is a wry, sometimes humorous, sometimes meditative look at one woman’s relationship to her craft, and the people she met along the way.

Appropriately, the book will be launched at a woodworking studio:

"Turning Left to the Ladies" Launch
Thursday, June 18th, 7:00 PM
The Joint Woodworking Studio
445 West 2nd Avenue

It should be a great evening!


it's like a normal agm, but with poetry

Ok, for many that might sound like the most boring thing imaginable, but personally I'm pretty jacked about the League of Canadian Poets AGM/Conference/Festival, which is being held in Vancouver this year!

The conference is launching this Thursday evening at Cafe Montmartre and ending on Sunday, with most activities happening at SFU Harbour Centre. The conference will feature readings from both A Verse Map of Vancouver and Rocksalt, which has allowed me to sneak my foot in the door.

I'll be reading at both the "Welcome Reading" on Thursday night and the Verse Map of Vancouver reading the following day. The details for those readings are as follows:

Welcome Reading
June 11th, 7:30 PM
Cafe Montmartre, 4362 Main Street

Verse Map of Vancouver Reading
June 12th, 12:00 - 1:30 PM
SFU Harbour Centre, 515 West Hastings

I'm pretty sure anyone can go to the welcome reading. I'm not sure about the other - might be members only - but I doubt many people are going to suddenly skip work anyway...

The full schedule of events, including a Rocksalt reading on Saturday (11:30 - 12:30 PM, Harbour Centre), can be viewed here.