not like in the movies

It's been a long time since I had a poem of mine published in an online magazine, so I'm very pleased to have one included in the latest issue of The Found Poetry Review. Devoted to found poetry of all types, FPR is a very cool little magazine, and the current issue is no exception.

My contribution is a poem I "wrote" following the 2011 Stanley Cup Riot (I love that I have to date the riot in order to avoid confusion between our multiple hockey riots) by altering a Slate Magazine article about how to blow up a car:

So, You Wanna Torch Vancouver?

Poke around on their site, and if you like what you find there, consider supporting them via their Kickstarter project.

Thanks, FPR!


halts the mind's unthinking plummet

During the years I was at Tassajara, I wasn’t writing. Everything was very strict and very simple. We were told, “Do nothing but practice Zen,” and I wrote one haiku during those three years’ time. When I returned to poetry, a rather different person in many ways, I brought with me two things I now can see would be useful to any young aspiring writer: the monastic model of non-distraction and silence, and the experience of calling oneself into complete attention. The ability to stay in the moment, to investigate immediate existence through my own body and mind, was what I most needed to learn at that point in my life, and to learn to stay within my own experience more fearlessly. I never considered going to graduate school. I did this instead. It wasn’t necessarily a conscious weighing of one course of study against the other, but something in me did know: you cannot write until you can first inhabit your own life and mind.


A work of art offers a paradoxical liberation: it is something that changes everything while being perfectly useless in any ordinary sense. I suppose some people collect paintings because they think their value will increase in ten years or a hundred years, or because owning a certain object conveys social status. Thorstein Veblen’s conspicuous consumption is patently real. But I think poetry, as an art form, proves that cannot be the whole story—no one gains social status from knowing or “owning” a poem. Art’s role in the contemporary world may well be precisely to be un-useful, to reveal the importance of uselessness in our lives. You can’t eat a painting. You can’t do anything except stand before it, know the world differently, and walk away changed. That’s what a painting can do, what a poem can do. Art halts the mind’s unthinking plummet and lets you see the experience as a new whole.

- Jane Hirshfield, in interview for A God in the House: Poets Talk About Faith, as excerpted in the February 2012 issue of Poetry Magazine. You can read all of Poetry Magazine's excerpts from the book here.


pandora's recap + buttons!

Last night was Pandora's Collective's 10th Anniversary party. The room was absolutely packed, and highlights of the 4.5 hours show included C.R. Avery's Pepsi commercial, Geoff Berner's donkey, James McCann's unfortunate mattress, and a number of really enjoyable poems from poets such as Fran Bourassa and Chelsea Comeau. Oh, and Steve Duncan auctioning a painted box for about half an hour, increasing the bids in five cent increments (it eventually sold for eleven dollars!). And cake, my goodness was there ever cake...

My contribution wasn't quite as memorable as those of others, but I recounted High Altitude Poetry's early days and how openly and warmly we were welcomed into Pandora's extended family, and I read "Irradiated" (retitled as "That One Semester" in The Other Side of Ourselves), a poem dating back to those early days when I was first getting involved with Pandora's.

It was a pretty wonderful evening all around, with lots of good feeling and well-deserved praise being sent towards Pandora's founders Bonnie Nish and Sita Carboni. Unfortunately, I forgot my camera, so I can only bring you photos of the memorabilia from the event: buttons!

The buttons feature excerpts from poems by Daniela Elza, Timothy Shay, Diane Tucker, and myself:

My three quotes are from "Haiku 1-4", "Happiness" and "You Can't Lead a Horse", all in TOSOO:

Thanks to Kyla Bourgh for putting the buttons together. As I headed out at the end of the evening, I noticed that most of them had been sold, so hopefully a few bucks were raised for Pandora's. And thank again, of course, to Bonnie and Sita for all they've done for Vancouver poetry over the last decade!


three things ps

A lot is happening at Project Space these days. Here are three events that silaron readers might be interested in:

1. Book Swap in February!

Book Swap: A fundraiser for Project Space
Saturday, February 25th, 8pm until late
Project Space
222 E Georgia at Main
Free, and books 10% off!

2. Dead Poets/Irving Layton B-Day in March!

Dead Poets Reading Series
Irving Layton 100th Birthday
Sunday, March 11th, 3 - 5 PM
Project Space
222 E Georgia at Main
Featuring: Readings of Layton by Heidi Greco, Sandy Shreve, Russell Thornton, myself and many more. Oh, and free desert!
By Donation

3. Chapbook Exhibition in April!

Poetry is Dead is curating this one, with the exhibit to be hosted at Project Space. PiD is currently looking for submissions of chapbooks, the deadline for which is February 29th (if you want the chapbooks sold at Project Space) or March 16th (if you just want them displayed). You can read the full guidelines here.

If you haven't been to Project Space yet, you probably should check it out already, no?


help Zach Wells go to mexico

Zachariah Wells is going to Mexico for a literary festival in March. He's also producing a chapbook of his poems translated into Spanish for that event. Nifty, eh?

He's set up one of these group-fund deals to cover the costs. In other words, you buy the chapbook (and/or other stuff) in advance, and Zach goes to Mexico.

Click on the little widget deal below to learn more about Zach's project, and what you can buy:

Zach's chapbooks are always a good read, and worth having, and you can get a signed copy for $15. So buy one maybe? Nine out of ten UZWs (Unimpressed Zach Wells') say they would be impressed if you did.


the power of having your picture taken with me

A couple weeks later, you win $40 K...

Charlotte Gill just won the BCNACNF! No, I didn't just sneeze, that's its actual name!

Eating Dirt is an excellent book, well-deserving of the win... but the good-luck photo with me (see the post directly below this one, or click here) must have sealed the deal.

Congratulations, Charlotte!


Vancouver is Awesome is Awesome

Vancouver is Awesome has just spilled some very exciting news - The Other Side of Ourselves is going to be the next Vancouver Book Club selection! I'm thrilled about this, as you can tell from my excited-mole-rat expression below, from when Charlotte Gill (whose Eating Dirt was the last book club book) "handed off" the book club to me back in January:

The details for the event are still coming together, but it will happen in late April, and will include a short reading by me, an audience Q+A, and maybe even a couple surprises. We'll see!

If you want to be kept in the loop about the book club, email them at books(at)vancouverisawesome.com with "Subscribe" in the subject line. Or check back here from time to time, as I suspect I'll bring it up again atleast once or twice over the coming months.


Pandora's Collective 10th Birthday Bash

I know what you're hoping for... but wait for it, ok?

First off, the details on what should be a fanastic evening:

Pandora's Collective 10th Birthday Party + Fundraiser
Thursday, February 16th, 7 PM - Midnight
The Prophouse Cafe
1636 Venables Ave (near Commercial), Vancouver
Featuring: Oh so many presenters (including me - see poster for the full list) and music by Jess Hill, C.R. Avery and Geoff Berner
$10 (or what you can afford)

(Click to Enlarge)

I'm very much looking forward to being part of this event. I get to say thank you to an organization that has done a great deal to promote both my own writing and, in the early years, the work we were doing at High Altitude Poetry up at SFU. On top of that, there will be music and a movie and custom buttons (including a "Haiku 1-4" button that I'm particularly excited about) and door prizes and, as this is a birthday party... oh yes, people, you knew it was coming... there will be cake.

So come out next Thursday and we can eat cake together, ok?


pinsky on the voice of poetry

Lyric poetry has been defined by the unity and concentration of a solitary voice – such as might be accompanied by the sound of a lyre, a harp small enough to be held in one hand. It is singular, if not solitary. But the vocality of poetry, involving the mind’s energy as it moves toward speech, and toward incantation, also involves the creation of something like – indeed, precisely like – a social presence. The solitude of lyric, almost by the nature of human solitude and the human voice, invokes a social presence.


Poetry, then, has roots in the moment when a voice makes us alert to the presence of another or others. It has affinities with all the ways a solitary voice, actual or virtual, imitates the presence of others. Yet as a form of art it is deeply embedded in the single human voice, in the solitary state that hears the other and sometimes recreates that other. Poetry is a vocal imagining, ultimately social but essentially individual and inward.


The voice of poetry... is intimate, on an individual scale, but far from solipsistic. It penetrates and in a sense originates where the reader’s mind reaches toward something heard or uttered as though vocality were one of the senses. This medium is different from performance: different from the poet’s intonations and personality shining forth at a poetry reading, and different from a skilled actor’s gifts. The voice is inside a reader, but gestures outward. Though in many ways it resembles the performer’s art, it is in other ways the opposite of that art, for the voice of poetry, though it may be social – and of course has been gloriously theatrical – ultimately begins as profoundly interior. The theatrical art of performance, manifestly and immediately social, moves inward from without, penetrating toward the interior from the spectacularly audible, visible presence. Poetry proceeds in the opposite direction.

- Robert Pinsky, in three different excerpts (p. 18, 39, 42-43) from his Democracy, Culture and The Voice of Poetry.


the opposite of a straight speaker

I remember being at a conference in Poland with American and Polish poets and somebody talked about Szymborska - a very well known American poet, fortunately I don't remember his name anymore - talked about her being a "straight speaker", and I just felt like slapping him, because she's the opposite of a straight speaker. She's a master of voice, and she listens to so many kinds of voices, and creates the illusion of "straight speech", but challenges what straight speech even is.

- Clare Cavanagh, English-language translator for Wisława Szymborska, introducing her close reading of Szymborska's "Identification", during a talk at the 92 Street Y in New York in March 2011. You can listen to the whole thing here.

It's a love-filled, insightful reading, touching on both Szymborska's particular skills and quirks, and on the challenges of translating her poetry. Give it a listen, ok?


no ordinary existence

The world - whatever we might think when terrified by its vastness and our own impotence, or embittered by its indifference to individual suffering, of people, animals, and perhaps even plants, for why are we so sure that plants feel no pain; whatever we might think of its expanses pierced by the rays of stars surrounded by planets we've just begun to discover, planets already dead? still dead? we just don't know; whatever we might think of this measureless theater to which we've got reserved tickets, but tickets whose lifespan is laughably short, bounded as it is by two arbitrary dates; whatever else we might think of this world - it is astonishing.

But "astonishing" is an epithet concealing a logical trap. We're astonished, after all, by things that deviate from some well-known and universally acknowledged norm, from an obviousness we've grown accustomed to. Now the point is, there is no such obvious world. Our astonishment exists per se and isn't based on comparison with something else.

Granted, in daily speech, where we don't stop to consider every word, we all use phrases like "the ordinary world," "ordinary life," "the ordinary course of events" ... But in the language of poetry, where every word is weighed, nothing is usual or normal. Not a single stone and not a single cloud above it. Not a single day and not a single night after it. And above all, not a single existence, not anyone's existence in this world.

It looks like poets will always have their work cut out for them.

- Wisława Szymborska, from her 1996 Nobel Lecture. Szymborska died today in Krakow, at the age of 88. You can read her obituary here, and the fulltext of her Nobel Lecture here.