bums on seats (alright, there are better titles... but how do you pass that up?)

S.D. Johnson: How have your feelings about poetry, the reading and writing of it, changed since you were in your twenties?

Don Domanski:
Well, I think I’m far more open now to the possibilities of poetry. In my twenties, I was hunched over the grindstone, trying to form a style and presence in my work which would carry me through. Not that I’m certain now of that “presence.” It continues to change and, hopefully grow, but I’ve learned that it transcends, in many ways, personal intentions and that was a revelation of sorts. I’ve had to learn to be open to that, to let it sweep me along. I might for instance be writing about an experience during the night, but slowly it becomes day in the poem and the whole experience itself changes. I allow and encourage that to happen. A mountain in a poem might become a blade of grass, but perhaps it was a blade of grass all along and I didn’t know. Perhaps there’s no difference between the two.

The desire for metamorphosis is a lot stronger now. When I was in my twenties, once I sunk my teeth into an idea or concept I wouldn’t let go. Now I carry no idea or concept to the page. The Chinese have a saying: “A blank page contains the infinite.” I try to allow for the infinite, while at the same time speaking out of the space of existence. I’ve learned over the years that the two are one, that they coexist, lean on one another and that the poem is a matter of chance. The poem must be ready to honour that, to pay heed to it and not hold too fervently to the concept or intention that started it. That intention, in the end, only got you to sit in front of the page or computer screen. It puts bums on seats, but doesn’t write the poem. That comes from elsewhere. It’s a matter of getting to elsewhere, which has nothing at all to do with goals or destinations. It has to do with letting go, with the free fall of images, which generate a descent into things. Since my twenties, I’ve learned to fall better, to trip over change, to stumble over my own sense of what the poem should be and to see the wisdom of falling.

- S.D Johnson interviewing Don Domanski, from Where the Words Come From: Canadian Poets in Conversation, Ed. Tim Bowling, 2002.


but only for forty-five minutes

The Banff Centre wants your attention...

The Banff Centre invites you to attend an informal presentation about our upcoming residency opportunities for artists.

3:00 - 3:45 p.m.
Wednesday, February 4
Arts Club Upstairs Lounge
1585 Johnston Street
Refreshments will be provided.

The Banff Centre offers dozens of residencies in a variety of disciplines for artists in all stages of their careers. Come find out more about The Banff Centre’s unique professional development opportunities and learn about our inspiring programs!

RSVP to christine_elmgren(at)banffcentre.ca


everybody that doesn't write poetry is pretty boring

Being a poet is twenty-four hours a day, and the nice thing about it is that it doesn’t need to interfere with you being a person. But it is twenty-four hours a day. You mustn’t complicate your life with things like psychodramas, nervous breakdowns, and things like that, if you’re trying to be a poet. You can have all those things, but you shouldn’t let them get in the way of yourself being a poet, and poets don’t let those things get in the way. A poet might die of hideous drink and horrible diseases when they’re forty or thirty-five, but that would have happened to them anyway, because that’s what they were like. Nevertheless, they wrote a lot of good poems, which made their lives a lot better than they would have been if they’d just been this boring person that died of hideous drink and – you know.

Actually, everybody that doesn’t write poetry is pretty boring. It’s true. [Chogyam] Trungpa writes poetry, and Allen [Ginsberg] writes poetry, and neither one of those guys is boring to me all the time. My mother writes poetry. Her poetry is pretty boring, but she’s not boring.

- Ted Berrigan, from a workshop he conducted in 1978 (5 years before is own premature, drug-related death), as found in Civil Disobediences: Poetics and Politics in Action.


press for rocksalt

Rocksalt has a short review in The Vancouver Sun and a feature review in the new issue of Vancouver Review, both positive.

Good to see the word getting out - now with the snow gone it may have a hope of becoming the thing some people think of when they hear "rocksalt."


and then somebody else does something else

Norm Sacuta: And even with traditions of fiction in the past, from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, you have examples of more interesting postmodern sensibilities, I think, than have come out in contemporary culture.

Margaret Atwood:
Sterne, yes, it’s all there. It’s like fashion, I think. If you follow fashion at all. If you do fashion speeded up – you remember those time-lapse films of flowers opening that you used to get in school? if you do it with fashion you can see the skirt shrink, the sleeves become important, the shoulders balloon, and they become bigger and bigger and bigger and then they disappear; and then the bustle become important, it gets bigger and then it shrinks; and then the skirts raise, and then the ankles become important. You can go through all of these combinations, but essentially what you have is the human body. That’s what you’re stuck with. This or that can be bigger or smaller, and this of that can be emphasized, or this or that colour can become important, but really you’ve only got so many colours. You can call them different things – taupe or mauve or whatever – but essentially it’s a limited palette. It’s what we can see. You can’t do infrared or ultraviolet unless you use certain kinds of lighting. You can’t put those colours into clothing because nobody can see them.

So what do we have with poetry, or literature in general? We have the human psyche, lord love it, and we have language. And you can arrange those elements as you may, but you’re still going to have the human psyche and language, in different combinations, with this or that emphasized. There was a period when we went in for fear and literature was Gothicized, and then we had fleeing maidens. Then fleeing maidens got overdone and Jane Austen did maidens not fleeing. Instead they stirred their tea and thought, “All those fleeing maidens are really silly.” So things develop to their utmost, and then somebody else does something else. There’s no progress in art.

Sacuta: There’s reflection and reaction.

Atwood: There’s change. There’s reflection and exploration, reaction, change. Movement here and there, but you can’t say that a Picasso is necessarily better than a Neolothic cave painting. We can say this is a good Picasso or a bad Picasso, but we can’t say Picasso-ness – this thing that he does – is in essence better art than the cave painting. It isn’t. So a certain amount of snobbery gets into these things. People saying this and that is cutting edge. Well it usually mean they are using a razor that was in use 150 years ago and people have forgotten about it. “Sound poetry” was very cutting edge when it began, this wave of it, but what was it really? Chanting. And chanting is very old.

- Norm Sacuta interviewing Margaret Atwood, from Where the Words Come From: Canadian Poets in Conversation, Ed. Tim Bowling, 2002.



1. "Praise Song for the Day", Obama's inaugural poem, by Elizabeth Alexander. I'd provide a video link of Alexander reading it, but that would notably degrade the quality of your experience...

2. Inauguration day in history: a little write-up and poem by Linda Pastan on JFK's inauguration, at which an elderly Robert Frost read. Really good stuff - just don't read the dull explanation of the poem that she includes after it!

3. Oh, and speaking of Obama and poetry: Poems for Obama.


it's almost as bad as "cafe deux soleils" and "cafe du soleil" on the same street

Dionne Brand (no, not that one) is reading at UBC next week, along with Rita Wong.

I'm a big fan of her work, especially Land to Light On, and if I'm not completely sick of buses by then, I'll probably go - I've only taken a couple bus trips over the last few weeks, as the buses are usually running so late I end up walking my trips faster. Don't think I'll be walking to UBC, though. Anyway, here are the details:

Date: Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Time: Doors open at 7:00 p.m. Reading starts at 7:30 p.m.
Location: The Coach House at Green College, 6201 Cecil Green Park Road, UBC
Cost: Free

More details on the reading and the reading series it's a part of here.

Oh, and there's a poetry reading and open mic at Tanglewood Books on Monday the 19th at 6 PM - I don't know much more than that, but I'm going to head out there and see what's what.


oh... and strawberry pocky

A list of my favourite things would include a number of expected items: Krest Bitter Lemon, Mini Golf, Spongebob Squarepants, Capture the Flag... oh the list goes on. But near the top of the list would be the poetry of Al Purdy and the city of Vancouver.

Ok, a strange introduction to this post, I admit... but I say all that only to emphasize how overjoyed I am to have poems of mine forthcoming in both "Purdy Country", an anthology to raise funds to save Purdy's A-frame in Ameliasburgh, and "Verse Map of Vancouver" (maybe not its final name?), an anthology of poems set in Vancouver (which is being prepared by current Vancouver poet laureate George McWhirter).

The Purdy poem, called "How little we need to learn, to know", didn't start as a Purdy-related poem, but I realised early on that I was stealing almost every element of the poem from various Purdy poems. Instead of trying to cut it all out, I went with it, and it worked out fairly well.

The Vancouver poem is on Nat Bailey Stadium, and called "One Down at the Nat". It's 50% about baseball and 50% about Pablo Neruda and 100% about the many sunny days I boiled away on the uncovered bleachers on the first-base line at Nat Bailey.

Both are due out midway through 2009 - I'll be sure to post updates on their progress here. Thanks, anthologists!

p.s. One recent publication is already online - though I should hardly get credit. I wrote one half of one couplet out of 88...1/176th the credit! Bet you can't guess which line is mine... Take a look here. Oh, and Daniela Elza has a new poem up on the same site right now, another collaboration - read it here.


trying to say everything

When reacting to a poem, the word "perfect" is inadequate for the same reason that the word "wow" would be. But it isn't inadequate because it says nothing. It is inadequate because it is trying to say everything. On a second reading, we begin to deduce that our first reading was complex, even if it seemed simple. Scores of judgments were going on, too quickly for us to catch but adding up to a conviction—first formed early in the piece and then becoming more and more detailed—that this object's mass of material is held together by a binding force. Such a binding force seems to operate within all successful works of art in any medium, like a singularity in space that takes us in with it, so that we can't pay attention to anything else, and least of all to all the other works of art that might be just as powerful. We get to pay attention to them only when we recover.

- Clive James, from "On Second Reading" from the January 2009 issue of POETRY. You can read the whole thing here, again with it's title changed for the online issue... I'm not sure what their obsession is with that...


if people respond to a poem of mine at all

Jeffrey Brown: Another thing that comes through here is a kind of simplicity of language, of form.

W.S. Merwin: I'm so glad you say that, because I've been trying since I was 30, at least, to write more simply and more directly. I like the idea that sometimes one hears poetry as though one were overhearing it, you know?

And sometimes my favorite passages of poetry seem like that. They're something that -- they're just around in the air somewhere, you know, and they seem so simple, the way Mozart seemed so simple, you know? He certainly is not, but neither is Shakespeare, but, "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?" I mean, it takes your breath away. You stop and think, "My god, how beautiful that line is."

Brown: You mean, you're trying to pare down to a kind of clarity?

Merwin: I would like it -- if people respond to a poem of mine at all, I would like them to feel finally that they might have written it, you know?

Really, that they might have written it?

They might have written it, yes.

- from an interview as part of NewsHour's Poetry Series. Read the whole transcript or listen to the interview here.


roundtable discussion #5

An interesting discussion has sprung up very organically on the OGOV site - I've long hoped we'd begin discussing poetics more on the site, and am quite happy to see it finally happening.

I've reposted some old comments and added a few quotations to hopefully enhance the discussion - take a look, and/or join in, here!


it's all politics, that talk

Jay Ruzesky: So poetry opens possibility as opposed to the way language, in a "scientific" or objective way, does not?

Jan Zwicky: Could we make a distinction here? Science itself, and the way many scientists think, is not always that different from lyric thought. So we really do need to use the word "scientific" in scare quotes, as you do, when we're setting up this contrast. When we use it in this way, we're referring to a picture of science - one common in the media and in academic humanities departments. That picture sees science as a kind of thinking bound by rigid and simplistic canons of logic, aimed at exploiting and controlling the world. This is really, still, Francis Bacon's mid-seventeenth-century conception of science.

What is the relation between lyric thought and this Baconian picture of science? I don't think lyric poetry is "subjective" in a sense that contrasts with Baconian "objectivity;" it's not (principally) aimed at voicing an unchallengeable, irreducibly personal point of view. But I do think that if you read a good lyric poem, you have to give yourself to ways of thinking that aren't conditioned by the Baconian ideal. And that allows you to acknowledge that you do know things in a way that Baconian science doesn't. Culturally, we try to control such knowing by marginalizing things like lyric poetry and saying, "Oh, the arts are about imagination, and the imagination is for making things up. What they say isn't 'true;' they're not 'objective'." It's all politics, that talk. It's a way to control ways of knowing that are inimical to a cultural alliance between capitalism and technology, which is part of the West's inheritance from the Enlightenment. The imagination can but doesn't always "make things up;" in fact, imagination, which allows us to perceive likenesses and similarities, is fundamental to knowing the way things are.

- from The Malahat Review #165, Winter 2008.


OGOV Favourite Poems

Our 2008 list of reader and editor picks for the top poems on One Ghana, One Voice is up on the site, and can be read here. 2008 was a good year for OGOV, as summarized in the post:
In 2008 we published 52 issues, featuring 45 poems by 32 poets from all parts of Ghana, as well as poets from Europe and North America. In addition to that, we ran three Roundtable Discussions and three thematically-linked Special Series. Our readership rose by over 50% in 2008 and our readers became more active, with 225 comments posted by readers.

If you're interested, the 2007 list of favourite poems can be read here.