best canadian poetry 2012 vancouver launch + more!

I'm not quite sure how this happened, but I somehow managed to go from being longlisted for (but not included in) the Best Canadian Poetry 2011 anthology, to reading at the anthology launch with my name looming largest on the poster:

I believe it has something to do with my having the shortest name of anyone in the group. Though *this just in* Evelyn "same number of letters in her name" Lau has been added to the bill. Too late for me to have company on the poster, though...

Anyway, I'll be reading my almost-accepted ("not-totally-rejected"?) poem, "Ouchton Bay, Cape Scott, Kwakiutl Territory" (thanks, Prairie Fire, for originally publishing it), along with a poem or two from The Other Side of Ourselves, and one poem actually included in the anthology, Al Rempel's "We Love Bananas" (because, well, how can one resist a title like that?). It should be a great evening.

The details, in case you don't like looking at posters:

Best Canadian Poetry 2012 Vancouver Launch
Saturday, February 4th, 7 - 9 PM
W2 Media Cafe
111 W Hastings Street, Vancouver
Featuring: Evelyn Lau, Marita Dachsel, Onjana Yawnghwe, Warren Dean Fulton, Daniela Elza, Timothy Shay and Rob Taylor

Also, if you're looking for something to do on Friday night, Event, Prism and Poetry is Dead are co-hosting a party at Project Space. Marita Dachsel will be there, again, along with Garry Thomas Morse. There will be a DJ and... are you ready for it?... cake! The details:

Prism is a Dead Event
Friday, February 3rd, 8:00 PM - 11:00 PM
Project Space
222 E Georgia Street, Vancouver
Featuring: Marita Dachsel and Garry Thomas Morse
$5 (suggested donation), $15 for a copy of all three magazines!

See you this weekend?


new writing group in deep cove - seeking members

A message from a good friend on the North Shore, for those of you up there who might be looking to join a writing group:

Hi All,

My name is Alais Harris. I live on the North Shore in Deep Cove and am looking to start a monthly writing group in the Cove. Some of the things I am looking for in a writing group would be: a place to share work of any genre (though as the group evolves we can refine that to reflect the group's interests); a place to get honest, constructive feedback on work; and a creative atmosphere where new ideas and projects can be generated.

This writing group would take place at the Artemis Gallery, a warm, open space that gives us lots of room get comfortable and share ideas.

If you feeling a little lacking in creative inspiration, or long for a productive environment in which you can share your prose or poetry, or just want talk with people who love writing as much as you do, email me at alais_fairlight(at)hotmail.com.

I have arranged for the writing group to take place on the second Thursday of every month at 7:30 - 9:00 PM. We can begin as soon as next month if people are interested. There are amenities for simple food preparation at the gallery if we decide we want to bring snacks and drinks, or, across the street is a pizza place with great-tasting pizza.

The cost to rent the space for the evening is 50$ so I will be asking people to contribute a donation of 5-7 dollars.


Alais Harris


literature is not a consumer good

The best way to move [poetry books and chapbooks] is to put readers in direct contact with the work or with the author, through readings, or through radio, or samplers. Trade publishers have adopted this mistaken notion that there is something to learn about marketing literary books from the world of potato chips and soap flakes—from the marketing of consumable items. Literature is not a consumer good, nor is it strictly speaking entertainment (though the hype around prizes in the fiction scene might suggest otherwise). To talk about literature in terms of consumer goods and entertainment is to talk about rivers and forests in terms of raw materials and natural resources—little good comes from it. Literature and culture are about human relationships, and so it follows that finding ways to foster direct and authentic encounters between a writer and an audience is the best way to promote a book.

- Andrew Steeves of Gaspereau Press, in response to rob mclennan's 12 or 20 (small press) questions. You can read the whole thing here.


small, unnecessary devotions

So what are we left with? Perhaps nothing more than the realization that much of life is devoted to things that in the end don’t matter very much, except to us. Time passes whether we like it or not, and its too-quick progress is measured out in private longings and solitary trivialities as much as in choices we might defend to a skeptical audience. This isn't to say there aren't reasons for us to love the things we love - Robert Frost was wrong, or at least not entirely right, to say that we "love the things we love for what they are." But those reasons can be difficult to describe in the way that it's hard to describe what red looks like, or how one's relationship with a child or parent feels. The same is true of poetry. I can’t tell you why you should bother to read poems, or to write them; I can only say that if you do choose to give your attention to poetry, as against all the other things you might turn to instead, that choice can be meaningful. There’s little grandeur in this, maybe, but out of such small, unnecessary devotions is the abundance of our lives sometimes made evident.

- David Orr, in the chapter entitled "Why Bother?" in his book Beautiful & Pointless: A Guide to Modern Poetry.



[Robert Duncan's] biological mother died in childbirth. He was adopted into a family of Theosophists. His adoptive parents were part of a hermetic brotherhood in Oakland, California... [They] adopted Duncan based on his astrological chart, and they told him that they had adopted him because of his “bad karma”...

Duncan had a troubled relationship with [his mother]. There are a couple things here: he was homosexual... she didn’t seem to have trouble with that so much. And it may actually have been part of the prediction, based on his astrological chart, that he would be “deviant” in this way. The chart also, according to his parents, showed that he had had his last incarnation in Atlantis, and that he had been part of a generation that had destroyed their own world, and that he had been brought back for the end times, now, which would be some fiery ending, probably atomic... That was in his head, growing up. But I don’t think that bothered him as much as the fact that she wanted him to be an architect.

- Lisa Jarnot, Robert Duncan's biographer, in interview with Curtis Fox for Poetry Off the Shelf, proving that even the crazies wish their kids would stop writing poetry and get real jobs. You can listen to the whole thing here.


welcomes and confounds

When a nonspecialist audience is responding well to a poem, its reaction is a kind of tentative pleasure, a puzzled interest that resembles the affection a traveler bears for a destination that both welcomes and confounds him. For such readers, then, it’s not necessarily helpful to talk about poetry as if it were a device to be assembled or a religious experience to be undergone. Rather, it would be useful to talk about poetry as if it were, for example, Belgium.

- David Orr, in the introduction to his book Beautiful & Pointless: A Guide to Modern Poetry.


"the other side of ourselves" interview

In early December I got a note from Lena Garabedian, a student at the University of Toronto, who was writing a review of The Other Side of Ourselves for a course, and had a few questions for me.

Her questions were thoughtful, and worked their way a little deeper into the nuts and bolts of the book, and some of its specific poems, than other Q+As I've done for the book to date. So, with Lena's permission, I've posted her questions and my replies below. If you've read TOSOO, I hope you find this interesting.

Thanks, Lena, for taking the time with my book!

Lena Garabedian: The Other Side of Ourselves is the first book which has been your full debut to the poetry world. In doing so, was there any specific reasons why you placed “The Wailing Machines,” as your opening poem for your first book? Do you think that this was a good representation of what the rest of the book had to offer?

Rob Taylor: I'm glad you picked up on this poem in terms of sequencing. My manuscript existed for a year and a half before I sent it to a publisher. Over that time, I rearranged the sequence of the poems many, many times, but "The Wailing Machines" was always the first poem. In fact, for a long while it was the title of the manuscript (it was the title listed for the manuscript when it won the Alfred G. Bailey prize, for instance) - I only changed it after the book was accepted by Cormorant. Once it was accepted my editor, the wonderful Montreal poet Robyn Sarah, overhauled the sequencing once more, altering it almost completely (on this note, if you ever want to gain insight into one approach to organizing the poems in a poetry collection, I recommend you pick up Robyn's book Little Eurekas, which features an excellent essay on book sequencing). One of the few elements that stayed the same was that "The Wailing Machines" was up front. In other words, the poem wasn't chosen to open the book haphazardly (unlike, say, David McFadden's recent books, which were sequenced randomly).

As for "why", there are a few answers:
1. It is one of the better poems in the book, in my opinion, and I like the idea of starting strong.

2. It is, as you say, representative of a number of the poems in the book in a few ways: its length, its more-or-less plainspokenness, its very slight nod to more formal poetry without being "formal" (it is 14 lines, like a sonnet, and has a turn in it, at the 11th line - a nod to the sonnet's volta), and its search for a natural spoken rhythm (something I'm always chasing but rarely catch).

3. Most importantly, it is a poem about meeting, about coming together (granted, rather violently in this case). It's a poem about the start of something - the start of everything, in a sense. As a writer I very much want readers to know that I am interested in them, in their presence and participation in the book. I want too be generous and welcoming, so it only seemed right to have a "welcoming" poem up front.

LG: In reading “You Can’t Lead a Horse” the second time around, I noticed the line, “The woman is drunk. She asks the water for waiter”. Was this a publication error or was it done purposely to be read in this way?

RT: That was on purpose. The error was the woman's, not mine or my publisher's! It's tricky to write a poem in which every couplet ends with the same word (a quasi-ghazal, keeping with my "almost formal" style I mentioned above) and not have it be hopelessly monotonous. While not the main reason that couplet was included in the poem, it did serve as a way to break up the monotony of the couplet endings while still, in a sense, maintaining the form.

LG: In your book, I saw a fluid concept of nature throughout many of your poems: “You Can’t Lead a Horse”, “Early Rain”, and “Errant”. These poems had many examples of elements of nature. Is this the result of your natural surroundings in beautiful British Columbia? Does geography have any impact on your writing?

RT: Yes, it is (and yes, geography does). Much has been made about Canadian poets being obsessed with writing about nature, as though it is somehow our national duty. One of the main reasons I address the Canadian landscape as much as I do (and a reason that rarely gets mentioned in the discussions I read on this subject) is because I do much of my writing while in quiet settings away from home. My wife and I go away on at least one, and often two or three, hiking trips each summer - usually along the BC coast, on Vancouver Island, or in the Rockies (for instance, "You Can't Lead a Horse" and "Early Rain" were written on the same day during a hike at Berg Lake in the Rockies). We also go to friends' cabins two or three times a year (I'm actually writing this response to you from one right now, just south of Whistler, surrounded by 100 ft pines and year's first snowfall).

We would travel to these places whether I wrote on the trips or not, but we go as frequently as we do in part because I get so much work done. I find it very difficult to write in the city, with its noise and people and constant buzzing - in many ways "Errant" is an attempt on my part to address those stresses. That many of the poems I write on these trips are about nature is largely a product of the type of poet I am - I look out the window, I listen, I consider the day I'm leading (where I've been, where I am, and where I'm going), and I do my best to make a poem from what I find.

LG: What kind of work are you most drawn to reading? Do you find yourself reading work similar to your own, or completely different?

RT: Both, though I often swing back and forth in bunches. I'll go for a while reading whatever I am most drawn to, not thinking about my choices too much, until I've built up a backlog of books that I am less intrinsically drawn to, for whatever reason. At some point, I'll switch over and dig into the pile that I had some early resistance to. I usually push myself to do this by telling myself that it's important to round out my reading, and that even if I dislike a book it can still help inform my own writing. Often enough, once I get reading I find I like these books as much, or more, than the books I came to easily. A couple examples of "happy surprises" this year are Matthew Zapruder's "Come On All You Ghosts" and Garry Thomas Morse's "Discovery Passages".

LG: What was your motivation in writing “On Realizing Everyone Has Written Some Bad Poems”, a play on Al Purdy’s poem, “On Realizing He Has Written Some Bad Poems”? Why did you choose that specific poem and/or poet and not another one?

RT: A couple years ago, Jean Baird started a fundraising drive to save Al and Eurithe Purdy's old A-frame house in Amelisaburgh, Ontario. I was a fan of Purdy's writing, and volunteered to help raise funds, giving readings of Al Purdy's poems here and there around Vancouver to drum up interest. At some point around then, possibly in reading Paul Vermeersch's "The Al Purdy A-frame Anthology", I learned about Purdy's hatred of his first book, The Enchanted Echo (which, according to Steven Heighton, he once called "a piece of goddamn shit"). As a struggling young poet myself, loaded with insecurity and about the same age as Purdy was when he published The Enchanted Echo, I felt a connection with this time in Purdy's life. The poem came out of that, with the title following naturally enough after the subject matter.


raoul fernandes @ spoken ink

The next instalment of the Burnaby Writers' Society's "Spoken Ink" series is this Tuesday, and will feature friend-of-silaron and black belt poetry ninja Raoul Fernandes.

The details:

Spoken Ink
Tuesday, January 17th, 8:00 PM (7:30 Open Mic Signup)
La Fontana Cafe
101-3701 East Hastings (at Boundary), Burnaby
Featuring: Raoul Fernandes

So long as my never-ending flu calms down a bit, I'll be there. I hope to see you there (and I promise not to cough in your direction)!


last chance to hibernate

Because January 15th is a Sunday, the deadline for Pandora's Colletive's "Hibernating with Words" contest has been extended to January 16th. All you need to do is to get your submission to the post office and stamped by the end of day Monday.
(click on the image to expand)

The full contest details are available here.  Good luck!


dead poets report

Our second Dead Poets Reading Series event happened last Sunday. Project Space was packed to the point that I had to stand in a neigbouring room and lean my head in to see anything (hence the lack of close-up pictures - you can see all the pictures I did manage here).

We were caught a bit by surprise by the attendance, which was up from November. It seems the formidable power of the CBC was at work, as an interview with Christopher Levenson and myself about the series had aired on North by Northwest that morning (at some point between 6 and 9 AM - needless to say, I didn't hear it myself), and a number of people mentioned having come out because they heard about it on NXNW. I haven't been able to track down the audio of the interview yet, but if I find it anywhere I'll link it here. Thanks so much to Sheryl MacKay for taking the time (and airtime) to chat with us a bit.

The readings were all quite wonderful, each in its own particular, quirky way. Heidi Greco has a great recap of them here.

Our next event will be on March 11th, and will be the Vancouver leg of the cross-country Irving Layton Centenary celebrations. We are still looking for a few readers for that. You can read more information on how to get involved on the DPRS website.

Thanks to everyone who came out, especially our readers!

From L to R: Garry Thomas Morse (Jack Spicer), Miranda Pearson (Stevie Smith), Diane Tucker (Christina Rossetti), David Zieroth (Thomas Hardy), John Donlan (Edward Thomas)


shocks me out of the minutia

Chad Pelley: Any pet peeves with the book industry?

Jacob McArthur Mooney: Sure, but why bother? I mean, there’s too few good book stores, too many shitty ones, and the wrong books get read by the wrong people for the wrong reasons. But my problem with complaining is this: my dad is a butcher. My grandfather worked odd jobs for forty years. They both would have been much happier doing something else with their lives. There are many injustices afoot in the book world, and people have often said brilliant things about those injustices’ root causes, but I can’t stay invested in that conversation. I always find myself drifting back to the historical unlikelihood of my being able to spend this much time with something as beautiful and useless as a poem. It shocks me out of the minutia. Not to be a brute about serious and complex things, but I’m just too fucking lucky to care.

- Jacob McArthur Mooney, in interview with Chad Pelley for Salty Ink. The interview also includes the line, "Blogs eat subtlety and poop out earnestness." So read it here already, ok?


leaving itself absolutely nowhere to hide

Frost treats the mechanism of poetic composition as a tool of philosophical concision, and that as long as we are using speech, and not algebra and mathematics, its beauty and clarity of expression are not strictly separate from its truth-value. Style also carries information. Here he conflates two conceits, a lyric one and a Pre-Socratic one. The first is the article of faith that beauty is truth, and that whatever aspires to the condition of song is also pursuing a parallel vector of truthful statement. And the second is that if something can be cleanly and concisely expressed, simplified to the aphoristic, to the demotic, to the plain-speaking, it has a better chance of being true than something which can’t, simply by its insistence on omitting the extraneous, emphasising the communicative foundation of language, and, maybe most importantly, leaving itself absolutely nowhere to hide.

Frost goes on challenging us not to deal with his poetry, but with what it proposes. A poem is not primarily written to provide an excuse to have a conversation about poetry, but as an emotional and intellectual provocation to which we are challenged to respond in kind.

- Don Paterson, closing his lecture on Robert Frost's poetry entitled "Frost as a Thinker" at the 2010 Aldeburgh Poetry Festival. You can listen to the whole thing here.


the barrier between myself and the world

People never pray just once. They pray often, sometimes multiple times a day, for it is prayer which creates a connection to something larger than themselves, restoring a sense of calm and inner equilibrium, and thus helps them to live their lives.

Writing poetry and reading poetry does something similar for me. Each helps me to live by breaking down the barriers that exist between myself and the world at large, and in the process, real or imagined, my life is made whole.

- Chris Banks, in his one answer to Alex Boyd's One Question Interview on his BoydBlog. You can read the whole thing here.


save $2.50. check them out online.

PDFs of the 2011 "Poetry in Transit" series have gone up on the ABPBC website. You can view them all here. Here's mine (click to expand):

Thanks to everyone who's hunted it down on busses. Keep sending me those pictures!


one authentic subject

Deracinados - bred in suburbia, atopia, the generic North American milieu - might as well have been born in cyberspace and raised in the food court of an international airport. Or an Old Navy outlet. If they're writers, they have one authentic subject: rootlessness. They'll never have the Deep South of Flannery O'Connor, the working class New Jersey of Bruce Springsteen, the midcentury Souwesto of Alice Munro, the seething Victorian London of Dickens. Pretending to have a true place they know in a radical, intimate way can result only in frantic mimicry. Their life is a postmodern patchwork and they have no native soil. They can write only of their exile, create books that will be their one home.

- from the series of memos "New Frames of Feeling: Eclectic Dispatches" in Workbook: Memos and Dispatches on Writing by Steven Heighton. It's a thoughtful, fun book. Writers, treat yo selves.


frankness can let you down

I feel about Groundwork that, for all that these poems are mytho-poetic, it's also a very personal book, which I think is clear in various ways. I think that would make it fresh for any writer who had an honest bead on their own situation, or tried to - to talk about that through these stories. It's a funny thing sometimes: frankness can let you down as a means of expression. You can try to talk about your experience in the plainest way and end up feeling like you've only betrayed it. And sometimes the masks of myth can actually allow you to speak more plainly and more accurately about your experience.

- Luke Hathaway (formerly Amanda Jernigan), in interview with Bernadette Rule for Art Waves, about his new book, Groundwork, which explores the myths of Adam and Eve, and Odysseus (and, from what I've read so far, is pretty darn great). You can listen to the whole thing here.


existentially open pores

8. The writing life's cruellest irony: while failure can make you miserable, success won't make you happy.

9. The writing life's cruellest irony: the creation of good fiction and poetry requires a life lived with existentially open pores, while handling the public side of a career requires thick skin, a closed carapace.

10. The writing life's cruellest irony: publishing authors are mostly recovering wallflowers who now seek to earn, through their writing, respect, praise, prizes, admiration, love - things they believe, consciously or un-, will retroactively salve the formative rejections of their early years. In so seeking, they bring on their adult selves more rejection and vicious personal attacks than they could ever have imagined in grade nine gym.

- from the series of memos "On Criticism" in Workbook: Memos and Dispatches on Writing by Steven Heighton. Writers, if you didn't get this book over the holidays, treat yo selves.


the year is newborn, the poets are dead

Remember that New Years resolution you made yesterday about taking in more cultural events in 2012? Well here's a chance to start the year off on the right foot:

The second instalment of the resurrected Dead Poets Reading Series is happening this Sunday (January 8th), from 3-5 PM at Project Space. It will feature:

Thomas Hardy (1840 - 1928), read by David Zieroth
Christina Rossetti (1830 - 1894), read by Diane Tucker
Stevie Smith (1902 - 1971), read by Miranda Pearson
Jack Spicer (1925 - 1965), read by Garry Thomas Morse
Edward Thomas (1878 - 1917), read by John Donlan

Entry is by donation, to cover the rental costs for the space.

We were standing-room only last time, so come early if you want to be sure of a seat. Oh, and Facebookers, you can do your Facebook things here. Remember the New Years resolution you made yesterday about inviting all your Facebook friends to more cultural events in 2012?

You may have noticed that David Zieroth was on the bill for the last reading, too. He couldn't make that one, as he fell ill. When I tried to organize an event with David back in 2010, he wasn't able to make that, either. Will he slip through my grasp a third time? You'll have to show up to find out!

p.s. Another great reading, featuring Vancouver's "Poetry Dogs" (Stephanie Bolster, Barbara Nickel, and Elise Partridge) is happening tomorrow night at the VPL. More info here.