a lazy man's silaron year in review

2012 was the Year of the Interview here at silaron, as I posted interviews with Daniela Elza (The Weight of Dew), Daniel Zomparelli (Davie Street Translations), Sandy Shreve (Villanelles), Michael Lithgow (Waking in the Treehouse), Nora Gould (I see my love more clearly from a distance) and Mark Lavorato (Wayworn Wooden Floors). If I can up my output in 2013 by at least 7,000 interviews I might just be able to keep up with rob mclennan.

I got in on the action as well, with interviews with Wordworks, Vancouver is Awesome and a U of T student.

The interviews proved to be the most popular posts I've had on this site for quite a while, but they weren't the only thing to happen here in 2012. And what better way to summarise everything else than with cold. hard. stats.

Here, then, in chronological order, are the top five most visited (non-interview) silaron posts of 2012:

March 4th, 2012: "oh yes we love bananas"

I should have known the internet would love poems about bananas. I really should have. But I must admit that I was taken by surprise at just how popular this link to Al Rempel's poem would prove.

March 10th, 2011: "here i am counting nonetheless"

In order to help promote the Dead Poets Reading Series' Irving Layton Centenary Reading, David Zieroth offered up his poem "Three" for posting on the blog. The event, much like the poem, was a great success.

March 15th, 2012: "the silence perpetuated by the dots... breathtaking"

What can I say? The guy doesn't like blueberries. At 17 he made this great short film which, since this posting, has gone on to win ten different awards, and was included in the Vancouver International Film Festival's student film lineup. I'll take... hrm... 80% of the credit.

August 13th, 2012: "(29) Photos of Summer"

A poem of mine was included in the 2011 edition of Vancouver's "Poetry in Transit" program. Just before my poem came down from the city's buses and Skytrains, I posted all the photos friends had taken of "Summer" over the previous year.

November 16th, 2012: "Reading Jack Gilbert"

My short tribute to Jack Gilbert, who died earlier that week.

Oh man here comes 2013. Happy Holidays, all!


one more christmas idea

Already have my book? Why not support another Robert Taylor?

After years of battling for Google supremacy with the tens of thousands of other Robert Taylors out there, I've finally run into one I'm happy to lose out to.

For a mere £5 you can own Robert Taylor's Shark attack - the poems are back and its poem about "that strange Wigglewogglehoggle Bird".

One day, Robert Taylor, I too will write a poem about the Wigglewogglehoggle Bird, and on that day I will reclaim my title as Poet Laureate of the world's Robert Taylors. But until then the crown is yours, good sir.


five christmas ideas #4

Year four of my CanPo promotion project has arrived, Canada (you can read the last three years' entries here, here, and here), but I haven't arrived with it. I'm still in Zambia, where I've been living, or preparing to live, for half of 2012. Because of this, my poetry consumption rate has dipped a bit, and my access to books for rereading/cost-per-poem-breakdowning has dropped precipitously.

This year's list, then, is extremely biased, poorly researched, relatively uninformative, and based on my vague rememberances of how a poem or two or three reached out and grabbed me during the course of my 2012 reading. In other words, it will be more or less the same as all the other lists. Enjoy!

I see my love more clearly from a distance by Nora Gould, Brick Books, 2012

Who's Nora Gould? She's a Canadian poet. This is her first book. You can learn more about her here. Also, I interviewed Nora earlier this year, and you can read that here.

A "Canadian Poet", eh? That's not good enough anymore. Let's do this up "Canada Reads: Turf Wars" style! Oh, ok. She's from Alberta. Goooo Alberta!

Where is your copy of this book currently located? It's packed into a liquor store box in a storage locker in East Vancouver.

What do you remember about reading the book? I remember how engaged I was, and how curious. How pulled into the foreign (to me) world that the author was creating. I remember its heart-ache and its vast landscape, and the ways they intersected. I remember at the end putting the book down and sitting there for quite a while not saying or doing anything, just taking the whole thing in.

Does one of the poems stick out in your mind? Preferably one that's been posted online... There are many that stay with me, and they built on one another. "Thank You for Seed Catalogue" is right up there, and holds up well in isolation.

Earworm by Nick Thran, Nightwood Editions, 2011

Who's Nick Thran? A Canadian poet. This is his second book. You can learn more about him here.

A "Canadian Poet", eh? That's not good enough anymore. Let's do this up "Canada Reads: Turf Wars" style! Ok, well, it seems he's lived out West, and in the Maritimes, and in Toronto, as well as other places *gasp* outside Canada. But he won the Trillium award this year, so I think that means that Ontario has officially locked him down. Goooo, Ontario!

Where is your copy of this book currently located? It's packed into a liquor store box in a storage locker in East Vancouver.

What do you remember about reading the book? Reading this book was like riding a skateboard in a car park. No, it was like iPhone-bumping with Michelle Obama. No it was like being a lazer shot out of the mouth of a robotic shark.

Ok, only one of those was actually said about Earworm, though I wouldn't be surprised if the others where considered at some point. For me, reading Earworm felt like reading a good book of poetry. I remember thinking that lost amid all the discussion of the "coolness" of this book's subject matter (for, and against, and somehow involving me) was the fact that Earworm is filled with good poems. The best of them hit the intellectual/emotional sweet spot dead on, so who really cares if they are about Power Rangers or snow falling in an empty woodlot?

If you don't like skateboards or Power Rangers, don't let that stop you from checking out this book. And if you like both them and poetry books, you are the coolest twelve year old ever...

Does one of the poems stick out in your mind? Preferably one that's been posted online... How about two? "Earworm" and "756".

All Souls' by Rhea Tregebov, Signal Editions, 2012

Who's Rhea Tregebov? A Canadian poet. This is her sixth book of poetry. You can learn more here.

A "Canadian Poet", eh? That's not good enough anymore. Let's do this up "Canada Reads: Turf Wars" style! She was born in Saskatoon, raised in Manitoba, then lived in Toronto and now in Vancouver... so let's say... Manitoba? Goooo, Manitoba!

Where is your copy of this book currently located? It's here in Zambia! I'm holding it right now!

What do you remember about reading the book? So much! And only in part because I didn't read it 6+ months ago. I remember the strength of the opening suite of poems on environmental collapse and how poignantly it mirrored the suite of poems on the slow death of a father. I remember her skillful use of language, including her ability to say things plainly when needed.

Does one of the poems stick out in your mind? Preferably one that's been posted online... A favourite of mine was "Labastide-Esparbairenque, France".

The Weight of Dew by Daniela Elza, Mother Tongue Publishing, 2012

Who's Daniela Elza? A Canadian poet. This is her first book. You can read more about her here. Also, I interviewed Daniela earlier this year, and you can read that interview here and here.

A "Canadian Poet", eh? That's not good enough anymore. Let's do this up "Canada Reads: Turf Wars" style! She's from Bulgaria via Nigeria. But she's only ever called BC home in Canada, I believe, so we get to claim her. Gooooo, BC!

Where is your copy of this book currently located? It's packed into a liquor store box in a storage locker in East Vancouver.

What do you remember about reading the book? Feeling like I was in dialogue with someone far wiser than myself, but no less welcoming because of it. A poet, yes, but also a philosopher, a traveler, and a parent. I remember at first stumbling over all the spaces and silences in the book, then coming to miss them greatly once I'd moved on to other books.

Does one of the poems stick out in your mind? Preferably one that's been posted online... "Past Hope" is pretty swell.

The Makings of You by Nii Ayikwei Parkes, Peepal Tree Press, 2010

Who's Nii Ayikwei Parkes? A Ghanaian poet. This is his first poetry book. You can read more about him here. You can also read a string of interviewsI did with him here.

A "Ghanaian Poet", eh? That's not good enough anymo... wait, what? Oh yeah. I cheated. I've been in Africa for almost a third of the year, so the least I can do is devote a fifth of this list to African books. But don't worry, Nii lives in the UK, so he's still got that Commonwealth thing going for him. Goooo, British Empire?

Where is your copy of this book currently located? It's packed into a liquor store box in a storage locker in East Vancouver. I hope they are all getting along in there.

What do you remember about reading the book? I remember how impressed I was by the way Nii blends global history with his personal history, which also pulled in Ghanaian history, allowing his "African" book to resonate with foreign readers. I also remember thinking what a shame it was that almost no one in my home country would ever read it because of... well... competitions (and "best of" lists like this one) that obsess on CanCon.

Oh, and he's got some pretty killer love poems in there, too.

Does one of the poems stick out in your mind? Preferably one that's been posted online... "Ayitey, 1973" is a great place to start.

That's all for 2012. See you in 2013, when I'll once again be living in the same city as my bookshelves!


your particular kind of resilience

I live in fear of losing days, moments. My writing is an attempt to capture things from the outward flow of time and make them mine. I have a bad memory. Not surprisingly, memory is a recurring theme in my work, how it shapes identity. Other concerns have to do with belonging and acceptance. Do we only exist in relation to others? I’m drawn to people who’ve struggled, and fought, and people who’ve won something, or people who haven’t but have never given up fighting -- these are the people I like best in real life or as fictional characters. I am fascinated by the idea of resilience. Maybe what I’m talking about, and using the word resilience to describe, is something closer to the idea of some kind of identity – or strength – given the context of the human condition. Maybe the question that I pose is: What is your particular kind of resilience and on what is it based? What is it that encourages us to get up and keep getting up in the morning, given the sadness of being mortal?

- Yasuko Thanh, in answer to rob mclennan's 12 or 20 questions. You can read the whole thing here.


ok toronto,

this looks pretty great. Don't let me down by skipping out...

Click here for more info, and to buy tickets.


the rest of us are merely exposed by it

Only the best poets can risk simplicity. The rest of us are merely exposed by it. Only those same poets can risk complexity too: the rest invariably fail to realise the greatly increased responsibility towards clarity that it demands. Nonetheless so many rush towards it, knowing their faults are here best concealed.

- Don Paterson, from his book Best Thought, Worst Thought: On Art, Sex, Work, and Death (Greywolf Press, 2008).


new tosoo review (#3)

I leave the country and reviews of my 1.5 year old book start coming out monthly. I should have left ages ago!

CLARKE: New poets bring Layton to mind

This new review is from the Halifax Chronicle Herald, and was written by recently-appointed Toronto Poet Laureate George Elliot Clarke. The review is a double-bill along with Darren Bifford's Wedding in Fire Country. In it he speaks of the "wonky fusion" of Al Purdy, Irving Layton and Richard Brautigan that he found in my writing. Who knows which poet(s) someone is going to find in there next...

George Elliot Clarke visited my high school when I was in Grade 12. Funnily enough, I wasn't able to attend his reading (drama rehearsal, I seem to recall). I didn't really have poetry on my radar at that time, anyway. But Clarke was my first poet, that first corporeal being I encountered who actively spent their adult life writing poems in this day and age, and in this country. How peculiar, but also how suddenly possible. Simply knowing he was in the same building as me was, though I didn't know it at the time, a formative event in my life. So everything that's followed is Clarke's fault, in a sense.

Often when I visit a high school classroom to read or conduct a workshop I think of Clarke's visit, and the similar corrupting influence that I might be having on one or two of the students around me.

My point here is that to wake up in Zambia and read George Elliot Clarke describe my book as "full of promise" and me as a "writer of talent" is more than a little surreal and full-circle-ish, and I'm very grateful.

Thank you to Clarke for his time and attention, and to the Chronicle Herald for giving him the space in which to work.


an unwieldy confinement - Mark Lavorato's Wayworn Wooden Floors

A Crab on Vargas Island - Mark Lavorato

Sitting around the fire you asked me
   what I was thinking        I said nothing
       which wasn’t true
    On my walk before dark I noticed something
wriggling between two corrugations in the strand
     an orphan on the tarmac of wave-shattered shells 
          It was lying on its back, legs kicking in a slowing 
       battle to right its white belly
   globule eyes staring up into the sand
         Pinching one of its legs I hurled it 
out at the surf where it thumped onto the receding 
   waterline   upside-down again       and left it there, tiny
      treadmilling the air in the dull sheet-metal light
   another waylaid error for the tide to make right
sweep its sable-slate clean
        Yet it was just big enough 
    to be something else 
I wouldn’t mention
from Wayworn Wooden Floors
(Porcupine's Quill, 2012).
Reprinted with permission.

As regular silaron readers will know, for the last year or so I've been running an occasional interview series featuring poets who are about to launch their new books in Vancouver. You'll also know that I am not currently in Vancouver, and returning home would... well... take a while. In other words, I wouldn't qualify for my own interview series. This just won't do.

So with this interview, with Montreal poet and author Mark Lavorato, I'm shaking off my geographic requirements. A little. I'm still keeping things Canadian, lest the CanConPolice slap me with some CanConDemerits. Mark's even lived at times in British Columbia, as "A Crab on Vargas Island" demonstrates. The truth is he's lived just about everywhere, and doesn't seem to particularly like staying put, as a perusal of his biography quickly makes evident.

Mark, not staying put

One such trip, a pilgrimage along Spain's Camino de Santiago, inspired much of Mark's first poetry collection, Wayworn Wooden Floors (Porcupine's Quill, 2012). I say "first poetry collection" and not "first book" because Mark is already an accomplished novelist, with his third novel, Burning-In, forthcoming from House of Anansi.

Mark and I sat down for a much drawn-out, transcontinental e-chat on his travels, his inspirations, his editing process, and cattle-prodding. Sadly, we did not discuss that his book has its own cheese plate. What can I say, I'm clearly off my game...

The Cheese Plate: CanPo's Cristal

Despite this grave oversight, I hope you enjoy the interview:

Rob: Vargas Island is located off Vancouver Island, near Tofino. For a year during my childhood I lived on nearby Flores Island, and we'd pass Vargas on our frequent commutes to and from Tofino. I can't say I've read too many poems about Vargas, though. Can you speak about what took you there, and how your poem took shape?

Mark: To support my writing addiction, I used to house sit in Europe over the winter and run expeditions for Outward Bound Canada in the summer months, saving every penny I could. Mostly I ran mountaineering expeditions, but for two seasons, I ran courses that were half mountaineering and half sea kayaking, all of which was done on Vancouver Island. The sea kayaking portion ran out of Tofino, and over the summer I got to intimately know, and love, the islands just north of it. One year, there were staffing issues, which didn't make for a fantastic working environment, and I remember there being this constant weight on my shoulders. That weight turned me inward and frustrated, and I think it's that emotional state more than anything that inspired the poem.

But as an interesting aside connected to those islands, as I was leaving them, I knew I'd come to love them too much for just a single poem to come out of them, and so I incorporated the area and its beauty into my second novel, Believing Cedric (Brindle & Glass, 2011). In the novel, one of the main characters goes to Tofino for a summer job, and becomes similarly introspective, working at the campground on McKenzie Beach. A small excerpt: "Sometimes, falling asleep to the swelling rumble of the surf, she would think about the waves on McKenzie Beach, the campground’s own, about the way they rolled in so consistently, insistently, unyielding, undying. She would lie in her tiny room that smelled of particleboard and new paint (which was already losing the battle against the mildew) and consider how long these waves had been rolling in for, in exactly the way they were then. And exactly as they are now. Right now. Rolling onto the sand, turning over in the sun, in the dark. Like they have for millennia. Like they will for millennia. Whatever way you stood beside it, the sea had a way of reshaping, of eroding, your humility."

Rob: Keeping on the travel theme, the summary at the back of your book describes a "thousand-kilometre trek" that you undertook, during which you wrote much of this book. Can you speak a little about that trip? What inspired it? Where did you go? And what was your day-to-day writing process like?

Mark: I've heard it said that there are two kinds of writers: those who have enough money but no time, and those who have tons of time but no money. I have to say, I've always been securely in the latter camp, and I'd heard of the Camino de Santiago in northern Spain, a Christian pilgrimage with almost no Christians on it, where you could walk through beautiful countryside and stay in refuges for incredibly cheap, or even for free. I wanted to travel, walk, and write, but had very little money, so it seemed a perfect match. I hiked the "Norte" and "Primitivo" sections of the trail to have as little traffic as possible, and walked for about two months. I brought only books of my favourite poetry, and a tiny PDA thing that I used as a word processor. I would walk during the day and think about the poems I was writing, or the poems I loved and why I loved them, and would often feel so inspired to write that I would stop and start typing at some point during the day. If not, I would write in cafes in the evening, or in my tent (which I brought along for when the writing took over and I couldn't make it to a refuge), or I would just sit out in the fresh air with a view of the mountains, or the ocean, or both. I'd highly recommend it!

Rob: In relation to your trek, and the poems that caused you to miss the refuges, I wonder about your series of "Abandoned" poems, in which different abandoned things (Graves, Resorts, Toys, etc.) are explored. That seems particularly like a series of "traveling poems" - in which you must abandon the subjects (by moving on to the next town) as much as they have been abandoned by their owners. How did the series come about? Was it written during your trek, or otherwise somehow inspired by it?

Mark: You're absolutely right. Many of the poems in the Abandoned series come out of my experiences on the hike. What I think strikes us about abandoned things is that they're so rare. We're a recycling species, and when there is something someone has left behind that we can find a use for, we take it, appropriate it, modify it for our own needs. So to find something abandoned is to find a story on both ends of the object. One for what brought about its being left behind; and another about why it was never picked up again. The more I thought of it, the more it fascinated me, until I knew I would have to explore it in a series of poems. And lucky for me, there were plenty of abandoned things in the Spanish countryside for fodder.

Rob: Moving beyond the "Abandoned" series, how do you think the greater shape of the book was altered by the trek? What kind of a book would you have produced if you hadn't made that journey?

Mark: I recently completed my second collection of poetry, Blowing Grass Empire, and in looking the pages over, I realize that it is quite a bit less florid, less ecstatic at the world and its contradictions. I wrote the entire collection from the same desk, looking out the same window. The differences between the collections in the voices used, and experiments delved into, is clear to me, though may not be clear to other readers. Either way, I think writing while on the move acts as both a fuel and a vehicle. I definitely have plans to write another poetry collection while trekking, though this time through the Pyrenees Mountains.

Rob: Your third book of poems, perhaps? I look forward to it. But enough talk about travelling outside Canada. I have a CanCon quota to meet!

You dedicate this book to Alden Nowlan. How did Nowlan influence your writing, and why did you choose to honour him in this way?

Mark: Out of all the Canadian poets I've read (which is only a fraction as there are so many worthy new voices out there) [Editor's note: That line earns you three bonus CanConPoints, Mark!], Alden Nowlan hits closest to the mark of what I think excellent poetry is. His poetry is quiet and powerful, minimal and clean, and there is an undeniably authentic emotional core and impetus to his writing. He has a few poems (like "Weakness") that are perfect in every way. I think I dedicated the collection, not so much to Alden Nowlan, but to the ideal he was capable of, which I hold up while trying to write a perfect poem as well. It may take years, and many collections, but I think it's an interesting goal to strive for.

Rob: On your website you note that your editor for Wayworn Wooden Floors, Wayne Clifford, "electric-prodded [you] in directions [you'd] never thought to wander". Can you map out one or two examples in the book where Clifford sent you off your assigned course?

Mark: It was wonderful to be edited by such a sharp, avid eye. Wayne Clifford is an excellent modern poet, but he's also an accomplished formalist. My collection was originally almost exclusively in free verse, but Wayne would push me to explore internal rhyme, slant rhyme, counting each foot and looking for music within that the human ear is so eager to pick up on. A perfect example would be the poem about my hometown, called "Ninth Street North". Wayne thought it was a very weak poem, though it had some potential in terms of imagery. He encouraged me to completely rewrite it, focusing on more formal conventions, and by that I mean any convention that the poem was pulling towards. To be honest, I had always seen structure as an unwieldy confinement, but I came to realize that it can at times be quite liberating. I treated his feedback as a crash course in dissecting poetry as form, which I'd never done before. And in the end, this particular poem (he was quite right) came out much stronger with this new (for me), more formal, approach.

You can pick up a copy of Wayworn Wooden Floors at your local bookstore, or on Amazon for all you crazy international kids.


it is a discipline

The Toronto Quarterly: In Little Empires many of the poems allude to a fragmenting society whereby social media tends to drown out the present tense. Do you feel that the human psyche is in need of a counterbalance in order to enrich itself or is this fragmentation permanent and growing?

Robert Colman: I was writing this collection during the most recent recession, when more was being demanded of everyone at their jobs, and fewer resources were on hand to deliver what was demanded. The nature of business communications today, however, means that it is difficult to escape that work cycle. I don’t think, as a society, we are all going to throw away our smartphones and liberate ourselves from this enslavement, but I do think everyone has to find a way to counterbalance the flood of information with which we are constantly inundated. It is hard to just step outside and go for a solitary walk, or turn off everything and concentrate solely on the page in front of you. But it’s part of the discipline of caring for oneself. And it is a discipline. When I am off the grid for a few hours, I end up in a very different headspace. For me, that is a very calming transition. Of course, I say that, and it’s 8 pm and I’m typing the answers to these questions on my computer. Epic fail today, I’m afraid.

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


god—just write something else

rob mclennan: When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?

Spencer Gordon: You just have to wait, to linger in the quotidian. You have to become bored. There is really no point in working at something that does not sustain your interest and excitement. If you are stalled in writing, walk away. Inspiration will find you another day, perhaps when you’ve eaten properly or you’re not so bogged down by the doldrums of rejection and menial labour. God—just write something else. Watch YouTube. Catch up on that soap opera you like. Make a living, for god’s sake. In the intervening time, and when you get a chance, think long and hard about what you are doing, and why. If the interest and excitement do not return, forget about it; any readers you might have will thank you (especially if you read before a live audience).

I like to forget about my writing completely from time to time. All claims that writing is about daily labour and constant suffering is weird protestant work-ethic stuff, and I’m not buying it! Sure—one must write and read a whole lot to get good at it. But people sometimes forget the most important thing: writing is pleasure. It’s about magical worlds and insane fantasies. It’s where you get to indulge the delusions of the heart and hold people enthralled in worlds of your own dastardly creation. Isn’t that beautiful? And given the fact that most writers must work at some other gig just to make rent and sew up their hideous shoes, that beautiful thing that you love to do gets knocked down your list of urgent, worldly priorities. So why are you making it so hard?

- Spencer Gordon, in interview with rob mclennan for his 12 or 20 questions series. You can read the whole thing here.


two yvr readings

Two readings coming up soon in Vancouver are so good (and so chocked full of silaron favourites) that I have to post about them from Africa. The least you can do then, Vancouverites, is to show up at them, right?

The first:

Lunch Poems @ SFU Harbour Centre
Wednesday, November 21st, 12 - 1 PM
SFU Harbour Centre, Teck Gallery
515 West Hastings Street, Vancouver
Featuring: Jamie Reid and Aislinn Hunter
RSVP via Facebook

The second:

Twisted Poets Literary Salon Christmas Extravaganza
Sunday, December 16th, 7 - 9 PM
The Cottage Bistro
4468 Main Street, Vancouver
Featuring: Fiona Lam and Raoul Fernandes (with special guests Evelyn Lau, Russell Thornton, Kevin Spenst, Jen Currin and Rodney DeCroo)
$5 suggested donation
Bring a stocking for a family in need and score a free copy of Fiona Lam's Enter the Chrysanthemum! More details here.


Reading Jack Gilbert

I never suspect the things that hit me hardest when I'm away from home. I talk to my mother on the phone and am happy to have spoken with her, then go on with my day. I follow friends' births and celebrations on Facebook, or the BC Lions playoff run, and am content to cheer from the distant sidelines. Then I read that Jack Gilbert has died - a man whose one great book of poems was published almost twenty years ago (The Great Fires: Poems, 1982-1992); a man whose life had been so ravaged by Alzheimer's in recent years that his partner, Linda Gregg, would often speak of him in the past tense, admitting that "there are ways in which Jack is not here"; a man I've never met outside his books - and immediately I feel so terribly far away from the world I know and love.

Earlier this year Marta and I drove to Seattle's poetry-only bookstore, Open Books, in large part to pick up a copy of Gilbert's recently released Collected Poems (yes, I could have ordered it on Amazon - call it a pilgrimage, if you wish). It is all five of Gilbert's books (four inferior books sandwiching The Great Fires) followed by some new poems and wrapped in hard cover. It is thick and heavy and intimidating. So that summer I took it hiking.

The trip went badly. Working off of some poor intel re: steepness and trail conditions, what we planned to be a two-hour bike ride (with camping panniers loaded with tents, sleeping bags, clothes, food, Collected Poems, etc.) into the campsite, instead turned out to be a bike-pushing-and-dragging thirteen hour marathon that spread over two days (with an improvised overnight stop). We had started the trip with a larger group, but had become separated, and so camped and hiked without the equipment to cook food or purify river water. When we made it to the campsite we were so exhausted that we abandoned most of our plans for day trips. For the rest of our stay in the South Chilcotin Mountains, Marta read novels and swam and basked in the sun. I read Jack Gilbert's Collected from cover to cover.

At times it was a difficult read. At times it felt like work. Like many poets, after a while many of his poems begin to appear as parodies of his earlier work. About three-quarters of my way through the book, I put it down, picked up my notebook, and wrote:

A Jack Gilbert Poem

Gianna is like Linda.
And also Michiko. They are dead
or will be, and what's the difference,
really? But there is pleasure in them,
and a pleasure inside that pleasure.
And a pleasure inside the memory
of those pleasures. It is like
the old Greek woman carrying
firewood up the hill outside
my window who knows, despite it all,
that Spring is coming.
It is also like Pittsburgh.

So sometimes the book would drag on. But then, suddenly, "Alone". But then "Relative Pitch". But then "Tear it Down". But then "The Forgotten Dialect of the Heart". That last one one of the foundational poems in my life. A little bit of bedrock for my writing, and world view, and mental and emotional well being. And that's enough for one book, isn't it? Even one as thick and heavy and intimidating as Gilbert's Collected.

The truth is that part of why I like to travel is to get away from the poetry world. To get away from poetry, almost. The poetry world often feels like a two hour bike ride that turns into a thirteen hour nightmare. The poetry world often feels like four hundred pages of bloat and repetition for thirty pages of wonder. The poetry world often feels like work. But then...

Thank you, Jack, for reminding me.


the narrowing of what defines good poetry

I have been lamenting for years it seems the narrowing of what defines good poetry in this country as a handful of angling critical voices keep making claims for a new cosmopolitan poetry which reads to me like shorthand for poems displaying decorous or ideosyncratic language, formal traditional elements, abstruse imagery, little real human emotion or strong narrative aspects, and a morbid disdain for the first person.

This is not to say some very fine or even great poems have not been written from such a perspective, for indeed they have, but why the nagging belief any poems written outside such a confined purview or “lens” are slight and without merit? Does this not say more about the critic’s own aesthetic, his or her own tastes, than it does about how well a different kind of poem functions as a poem?

- Chris Banks, returning to his too-often-neglegted poetry blog Table Music. You can read the whole thing here.


dead poets this sunday

The next Dead Poets Reading Series event is less than a week away. For obvious reasons I will be unable to attend. You really ought to get out there and make up for my absence.

The reading will take place on November 11th, 2012 from 3-5 PM at Project Space. It will feature:

Robin Blaser (1925 - 2009), read by Daniel Zomparelli
Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772 - 1834), read by Susan McCaslin
Robert Hayden (1913 - 1980), read by Renee Saklikar
Glyn Hughes (1935 - 2011), read by Pam Galloway
Roy Kiyooka (1926 - 1994), read by Wayde Compton

Ah the old Blaser-Coleridge one-two punch. Don't miss out!

Entry will be by donation. You can RSVP via Facebook here.


a form of subconscious, intimate noticing is offered up

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

Nyla Matuk: I think the poet functions the way Freudian psychoanalysis once functioned. Freud has now been out of favour a long time, but his work filled something in the culture (whether you buy into, or not, the theory of Freud’s 3 drives) that we have now lost and that possibly poetry can or is, or always was, offering us. That is, a way out of capitalism’s endless myth of progress, of means-end rationality, of assumptions of “more,” or continued growth, or more nefariously, the recent ‘positive thinking’ movements that see those with cancer, for example, as either winners or losers of a battle. I am trying to say, I guess, that a form of subconscious, intimate noticing is offered up, with poetry. The larger culture, it seems to me, is concerned now with the image, the instant response, the sardonic tweet, the sound or news bite, the status update and its attendant narcissistic after-effects. Maybe poetry, by asking us to listen to language again, carefully, uncovers something buried? There is a generosity to both writing it and reading it—the time required. The attentiveness and the mindfulness. That is valuable too, always has been. There is something else that appeals to me, and I think it is also a role of poets—I believe Erin Mouré once called writing poetry “a way of being alone,” and it is very much that in a world of large conventions, movements, and communal thinking. Not that those things aren’t valuable too.

- Nyla Matuk, in interview with rob mclennan as part of his 12 or 20 interview series. You can read the whole thing, including a great bit about how poetry is "sophisticated baby talk", here.

Her first book, Sumptuary Laws, just came out from Signal Editions. Maybe you should buy it?

he's weird at times

He's weird at times. Once he remarked to Larry that he saw flowers as a branch of poetry, and Larry hadn't known what to say or where to look.

- from Larry's Party, by Carol Shields


a much better poet whispering suggestions in your ear

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

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


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

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

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

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


some sunday reading

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

(loop) by Raoul Fernandes (CV2)

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

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

Happy Sunday, all.


The Al Purdy A-frame has been saved!

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

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

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

Anyway, the press release:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Donors acknowledged

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

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

For a full list of donors, click here.

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

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


What a great way to enter the weekend!


You may have already bought my next chapbook

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

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

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

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


a crazy-making contradiction

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

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


new tosoo review (#2)

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

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

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

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

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

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


very slippery and complicated

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

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


thoughtful readers are welcome to try

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

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

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

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


new homes all around

One Ghana, One Voice has a new look! Check it out here.

Former High Altitude Poetry webmaster Sean Wilkinson volunteered to take on the project of clearing up the cluttered that I had accumulated on the old template - and wow, did he do a great job! Thank you, Sean!

And while I'm on a refurbished-website kick, Marta and I have revived and redesigned our defunct travel blog, robandmarta.blogspot.com (last used when we lived in Ghana in 06/07). And that can only mean one thing...

Yes, for those of you who haven't heard, Marta and I are temporarily moving again, this time to Zambia for three months, followed by two months of travel throughout Southern and Central Africa. We're leaving next week. Needless to say, while I intend to maintain this site, the updates for the next few months will be sporadic at best (and if the internet is even slightly less reliable than advertised, I might be forced to go silent entirely). If you're interested in following along with out travels, do keep an eye on our travel blog, which will be updated more freuqently than anything else.

I'll be back in March. Everyone play nice while I'm gone, alright? (Or at least have fun playing dirty!)


Omelet by Fiona Tinwei Lam - Visible Verse 2012

Visible Verse is set for Saturday, October 13th. 2012 will be the eleventh year for Vancouver's premiere video poem festival (take that, um, other Vancouver video poem festivals?). The schedule is posted and looks eclectic and interesting as usual, with contributions coming in from around the world (Al Rempel, Gary Barwin, George Bowering, and more represent Canada).

I'm not going to be able to make it this year, but if I were to go I already know what one of my favourites would be. Fiona Tinwei Lam's poem "Omelet" from Enter the Chrsyanthemum was recently video-poemed by a group of Emily Carr students and... wow... if only every poet could be lucky enough to have such treatment. They did an incredible job. Take a look:

Omelet from Claire J. C. Stewart on Vimeo.

I can't promise everything will be as beautiful as this, but if even a small fraction is, you'll be in for a good show. So mark your calendar for October 13th!


a flurry of random little tidbits that don't deserve their own posts (with photos!)

Tidbit #1: That radio interview I mentioned earlier is now online. You can listen to it here (my part is the first fifteen-minute segment).

On it I talk with Stephen Buckley about High Altitude Poetry, The Other Side of Ourselves and the Dead Poets Reading Series. Thanks so much to Stephen and the Politics Re-Spun team for the interview, and congrats to Coop Radio on moving to their new frequency (and getting a new Seattle Sounders-esque logo)!

Tidbit #2: Remember how I mentioned that my poem "The Slave Castle of Elmina" had been "found" by Geist. Well, now their website has found it too! You can read it online here. Thanks, Geist!

Tidbit #3: Have you heard about 49th Shelf? It's a Canadian Goodreads - a place to keep track of all the books you've read that are set in 1955, and give them polite, encouraging reviews.

Ok, you've probably already heard of it. It's been around for a while. But I'm bringing it up now because a certain book has recently been added to the site, and it could really use your polite, encouraging reviews! And because I still think those 1955 jokes are funny and I was looking for an excuse to make one?

Tidbit #4: Literary listings in Vancouver just got even better. If nofuncity.com, Pandora's Collective's Community Calendar, and the FBCW's Vox Blog weren't enough for ya, the Vancouver Book Club has you covered. Their calendar, which is probably the most complete calendar in the city, can be viewed here. Thanks, VBC!

Tidbit #5: Over at One Ghana, One Voice we've wrapped up our series of poems memorialising late Ghanaian President John Atta Mills (I blogged about the series a while ago). You can read the whole series of 35 (!) poems here.

Thanks to everyone who contributed to making this series such a success.


born into this

Someone has posted the entire feature-length Charles Bukowski documentary Born into This on YouTube:

I love how they display the title poem in this movie. It makes me wish there were similar films for other poets, with cameos from Bono in each and every one...


maybe poetry can fail better than other art forms

Tao Lin: So given all this about poetry’s inevitable failure, why not just allow the “transcendent” to exist, pre-language, within each of us?

Ben Lerner: I don’t think there is something “transcendent” that exists within us—I think poetry can arise from a desire to transcend the given, the actual, and that desire can be described in a variety of ways—the desire to think something outside capitalism, for example; it doesn’t have to be about divinity or the noumenal... It’s not that the poet has something inside him he wants to express (which is one model of lyric poetry), something that would just be there if he left it alone, but that poetry is an attempt to figure—with the irreducibly social materials of language—possibilities that have not yet been actualized.

TL: But it fails?

BL: Yeah, but a failure can be a figure, can signify. Maybe poetry can fail better than other art forms, because poems can point to what they can’t contain—that desire for something beyond what’s actual. That’s part of what Benjamin is arguing about Baudelaire, I think—that he makes a lyric out of lyric’s impossibility in modernity. Or you might say that even the failed attempt to write a successful poem makes us aware of having the faculties, however atrophied or underdeveloped, for such an undertaking in the first place, and so keeps us in touch with our formal capacities for imagining alterity even if we can’t achieve it.

- Ben Lerner, in interview with Tao Lin at The Believer. You can read the whole interview here.


like living inside the sun

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?

Michael Lithgow: A critical question in my academic life is the relationship between aesthetics and truth. Of course, “aesthetics” is a tricky term. My research at the moment is reconsidering Kant’s critique of judgment in terms of epistemological legitimacy – the role of aesthetics in knowledge, which, surprisingly, is still a little controversial, or it can be depending on your audience. Journalism has long claimed a monopoly on the aesthetics of truth that I think is being eroded in part by contemporary, online cultural engagement – by publics capable of defining, or at least exploring, their own terms of legitimacy as audiences and producers. Poetry manifests as a centre of gravity for me no doubt in part because of the complications of “truth” that interest me, the relationship between truth and language, and the limitations of reason. Sometimes I think that my interest in poetry is all about defending a six year old’s belief in magic, and maybe it is, but there is something urgent at play in the philosophical doubts about modernism, positivity, rational enlightenment. Aesthetics I think offers a way for us to encounter and resist the ways legitimacies of knowledge reflect relationships of domination. I'm slipping into dissertation speak, here – blah – but my point is that aesthetics is one of the ways we can resist whatever limitations might be lurking in cultural assumptions, discourse, ideology, etc. It is exactly in its beautiful, leaping, confounding, rhythmic, metaphorical forms that poetry – like all art – can allow new ways of being human to flourish. We exist through our languages, through our symbolic systems; we become through language, and this is the exciting part of living inside poems, like living inside god, or living inside the sun. Something like that…

- Michael Lithgow, as part of his 12 or 20 questions interview over at rob mclennan's blog. You can read the whole thing here.

And if you want even more Lithgow, you can read my interview with Michael here.


an end to both kinds of pre-emptive strike

The Internet has conditioned us not only to rapidly consume all kinds of information, but also to come up with verdicts that are just as instantaneous. You can comment on a news story, as well as publicly “like” or “dislike” individual comments underneath said story. Any social media platform worth its salt is built around a similar (and similarly blunt) feedback tool. New shorthand usually emerges, too; for several years I’ve run a books blog on Tumblr, where the highest compliment you can give is to reblog someone else’s content with a note at the bottom reading, simply, “This.”

I’m proposing an end to both kinds of pre-emptive strike, good and bad. Let’s take a step back from those ever-tempting thumbs up/thumbs down icons, at least until we’ve had a chance to read and digest these books for ourselves. By all means, be curious. Be skeptical. Have high hopes, as well as high standards. But there’s no shame in abstaining from judgment, or in taking time to privately mull things over. In fact, it’s kind of liberating.

- Michael Hingston launches his new books column over at the Edmonton Journal. You can read his first entry here - and keep an eye on the Edmonton Journal books page for a new column every Friday.


Alfred Gustav Press Series 9

The latest instalment of the best deal in CanLit (three hand-made, signed chapbooks mailed to your door for $10) has been announced. It's quite a lineup, including the Dead Poets Reading Series' own Sandy Shreve (which reminds me - DPRS reading this Sunday!).

The announcement:

The Alfred Gustav Press
Announcing Series Nine:

Gerald Hill, Streetpieces
Sandy Shreve, Level Crossing
Douglas Burnet Smith, Nine Kinds of Love

A trio of new chapbooks of original, previously unpublished poetry in a handmade artefact signed by the poet, available only by subscription.

Subscriptions are available for $10 in total for the three issues described below ($15 outside Canada). The subscription deadline is October 1, 2012. Please send cash or your cheque payable to David Zieroth at:

The Alfred Gustav Press
519 2nd Street East
North Vancouver, BC
V7L 1E1

Please remember your mailing address (and include your email address if you wish updated information).

For more information: email dzieroth(at)telus(dot)net and for more background check out the Alfred Gustav Press webpage.


two publications

Some of my first new post-TOSOO poems have found there way out into the world!

I have two new poems ("Transatlantic" and "The Exterminator") in the Summer 2012 all-poetry issue of The Fiddlehead. The issue has a number of strong poems in it (you can read some sample excerpts here), including a sharp little set of five poems by Elena E. Johnson, who is one of our five Dead Poets readers on September 9th.

Also coming down the pipe, two poems from TOSOO ("The Wailing Machines" and "Rejection Slips") are going to be republished in Alive at the Centre: An Anthology of Poems from the Pacific Northwest. Put out by Portland State University's Ooligan Press, this anthology is going to be a big one, containing three mini-anthologies of poems from poets in Vancouver, Seattle and Portland (around 80 pages each, and 284 in total with all the paratexts thrown in). I haven't had much writing published in the U.S., so this should be fun.

The book, with its "Skeletor v. Tweetybird" cover, is already available for pre-order on Amazon, and my understanding is that it will be coming out in March of next year.

Thanks to The Fiddlehead and Ooligan Press for giving these poems of mine a chance!