TOSOO Photo Contest - Week 4, "Creation Stories"

© Matthew Lawless
Photos from week four of the TOSOO photo contest are in, and what a great set it is this week! The photos for this round were inspired by my poem "Creation Stories", including the above photo by Matthew Lawless. Thanks as always to everyone who contributed, and extra thanks to recent father and occasional silaron house guest Raoul Fernandes for finding the time to send something in, and a damn great something at that:

© Raoul Fernandes
This week's poem is a short one from early in the book, "The Horse Grazes". Click here and scroll to the bottom of the page for the poem and the guidelines - submissions are due in by next Wednesday!


new star books benefit

New Star Books is hosting a benefit this Saturday, following the firebombing of their offices earlier this month.

The details:

New Star Books Firebombing Benefit
Saturday, March 31st, 3-5 PM
The Western Front
303 East 8th Avenue, Vancouver
Featuring: Charlie Demers, Clint Burnham, Daphne Marlatt, David Chariandy, Donato Mancini, Fred Wah, Jamie Reid, George Stanley, Jeff Derksen, Larissa Lai, Peter Culley, Roger Farr, and Steve Collis
By Donation (though it's probably bad karma to be cheap with this one)

You can RSVP via Facebook here.


Narrative seems like a straight people thing - "Davie Street Translations" Book Launch

Faded - Daniel Zomparelli

Drank your outfit on, drank the
walk to Celebrities, drank to
Odyssey, but you drank a sailor
outfit for this invite only

and drank your way out of embarr-
assment, drank your way into tongue
the bartender at Numbers in your cell-
phone, drank your way into

Pumpjack, drank your way
into bathroom-stall latex sex, drank
your way into Denny’s, drank your
way into his home, drank your way

into sleep, drank tears, drank into your
car, drank your way home, drank your sleep
drank your ass out of bed, drank the
morning, drank forgotten, drank you.
from Davie Street Translations
(Talonbooks, 2012).
Reprinted with permission.

It seems appropriate to follow a book launch interview with Daniela Elza with one with Daniel Zomparelli. And that's not just because their similar first names saved me time while altering the interview template. If Vancouver poetry has a "heart" (and here I mean both a connective centre and a lifeblood), Daniel, like Daniela, is certainly an important part of it (a ventricle, maybe?). A key organizer for the Vancouver poetry scene, Daniel's chief project is Poetry Is Dead, the little-magazine-that-could that's about to launch its fifth issue. Over those five issues, especially in the "Vancouver 125"-themed fourth issue, Daniel and his team have done a yeoman's job at promoting both Vancouver writers and a critical discussion about the city.

To give you a sense of just how busy with poetry projects Daniel is these days, here's his upcoming weekend: Friday, March 30th - Launch Issue #5 of Poetry Is Dead. Saturday, March 31st - Attend the first day of the "Arte Factum" Chapbook Exhibition (which Daniel is curating) at Project Space. Sunday, April 1st - Launch Davie Street Translations:

Apocalypstick presents Davie Street Translations
Sunday, April 1st, 9:00 PM
The Cobalt
917 Main Street, Vancouver
Featuring: Reading from Daniel Zomparelli, special guest performances by Raye Sunshine, Jaylene Tyme, and Vera Way, and more!
$5 (or free with book purchase)

Davie Street Translations is Daniel's debut book of poetry. On first glance it's easy to summarise the book's themes as "Sex, Drugs and Rock n' Roll", though you should probably replace "Rock n' Roll" with whatever you call what Lady Gaga and the Pussycat Dolls sing ("Poplectroskank"?). On second glance, though, there is a whole lot more going on in Daniel's exploration of Davie Street. Davie Street Translations is filled with playfulness, humour and wit that push up against, and trouble, the undertones of urban alienation and suburban violence that anchor many of the poems. Oh and there are lots of form poems. And Pumpjack references. And formal poems with Pumpjack references. Put it all together and you get a collection of poems that are in turns funny, salacious, and sobering, and well worth a read.

Daniel and I corresponded about his book and book launch via email, and the results of that exchange are posted below. He may or may not have been wearing a shirt during our correspondence. I'll never be certain.

Daniel Zomparelli topless: Funny? Salacious? Sobering? You decide.
Rob: As your title suggests, and as "Faded" demonstrates, Davie Street Translations (DST) is very much set in, and bound to, Vancouver’s gay community. It is also in close dialogue with a number of local writers (Brad Cran, Gillian Jerome, George Stanley, Billeh Nickerson, Garry Thomas Morse... even our city’s finest bard, Nardwuar the Human Serviette, gets a reference in there). The importance of these communities to your writing also seems to be emphasised by your decision to put the acknowledgements section at the front of your book.

Obviously, DST’s content would be dramatically different if you didn’t live in Vancouver, but I wonder how much you think its “spirit” (its tone, its arguments, its core feeling) is dependent on the city. Beyond the particular names and locations being different, how do you think your first book would have turned out if you’d written it in, say, Toronto or San Francisco or small-town BC? What, if any, elements of this book do you think would have existed no matter where you’d lived and what communities you’d entered?

Daniel: I hope the book is dependent on the city. There are a lot of jokes or references that only a Vancouverite would get. I purposely went for the local. Around the time of working on DST I was reading a lot of poetry that was desperately trying to be the every-poem, reaching as broad an audience as possible. I figured, go the opposite. Write about gay-male culture specific to a particular city. I think there are definitely elements of this book that are relevant to gay cultures across North America, but that is because there are generally a lot of similarities of gay culture around the world: the “camp,” the fascination with female singers, the drag queens, etc.

I think if I wrote it in a different city, the book would maintain a lot of the same themes and tone, it would probably just complain less about rain, Lululemon and bad drivers.

Rob: In what ways do you think DST fits into a tradition of queer writing in (and about) Vancouver? In what ways do you see it as an outlier, or as a book that is taking a tradition in a new direction?

Daniel: I’m not sure there is much of a tradition of queer writing in Vancouver. A lot of the strategies I used in writing these were based off of heterosexual writers. If there is a tradition of queer writing in Vancouver I think it’s narrative driven and sexualized

Rob: A number of the poems in DST, especially those that deal with gay bashing, reference the Vancouver suburbs. What would you say the book’s position, or argument, is regarding the relationship between Vancouver-proper, the suburbs, and the Lower Mainland’s queer community? Does the book’s position differ in any way from your own, as a real person whose mailing address (last I checked) was in Burnaby?

Daniel: I don’t live in Burnaby anymore, that’s just the address of Poetry Is Dead, but I know the suburbs well. The suburbs can be very homophobic and there are many accounts of gay bashers being from suburbs. There are cases of gay bashers specifically traveling down to Davie Street just to gay bash. Vancouver is actually one of the worst cities for gay bashing, and there are so many cases that are not even reported.

The book definitely points at that through many of the poems. When school boards are constantly trying to remove education, books and positive information about homosexuality from schools, we are teaching children that different means wrong. It’s exactly like that Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer movie where Santa acts like a total dick and no one questions it. Think about it. Totally the same thing.

Rob: DST features a number of form poems. I find this to be common for first books, as the poet tries out a number of forms both to demonstrate their dexterity as a writer and to see how the forms “fit” with them. What surprises me about your book is the sheer quantity and range of the forms you cover (from sonnet sequences, to glosas, to centos, to erasures, to visual poems, to palindromes, to...). The forms you cover are both traditional and modern, and I wonder how you came to all of them. Did you take a course on form poetry, or did you find the forms through personal reading, or? Now that you’ve tried out so many forms, are there any in particular that you found “fit” best, and that you think you’ll write a good deal more of in the future? Any forms you haven’t got to yet, but want to try next?

Daniel: I found these poems through personal reading. I have an inability to stick to things. I get too bored. I like projects. So I set this book up as a conceptual project, where I had pre-established which forms I had to write for which specific topics then went out and produced them. From that project I wrote hundreds of poems, and the better ones found their way into the manuscript for Davie Street Translations.

So with this book was a project where I produced literally hundreds of poems in every form I found. I went from personal lyrical to surrealist free verse to rap to procedural to found, etc. I even wrote a poem called “Crushes on Straight Guys” using Eunoia as the inspiration. It was an awful poem, but the effort was there.

I can’t really say any of forms fit best with me. I feel awkward writing lyrical confessional poems because I am a conservative Victorian lady at heart, so at least I know what I don’t want to write. I don’t like sticking to one style of writing. I can’t say if I’ll even stick with poetry. In three years I’ll probably be a largely unsuccessful mime.

That being said, right now I love concrete poetry. It feels nice. Real nice... like silk.

Rob: Can you say a bit more about establishing set forms for specific topics, and give us some examples from the book? What drew you to making certain pairings between form and subject?

Daniel: Some of the things that I set out to do was: document graffiti or text on Davie Street and turn into visual poems, write down text found in cruising spots and turn that into found poems (I failed at this), collect any free published medium around Davie Street and turn into cut-up poems (these became the "How To Sell" series).

Some of the pairings just fit, because they were visual based, so they turned into visual poems, or they were based on clips of text, so I turned them into such. Same with the Craigslist poems, turning into found poems. It was harder to choose how the stories would be converted into poems. The drug alphabet poems were initially just supposed to be one long sound poem, but it made more sense to be placed into the alphabet poems. Some of the pieces were sonnet forms with specific restrictions, like the drag queen sonnets were actually supposed to have grey text in the centre that represented their male identities, but then the poems were too complicated and were terrible from a lyrical perspective, so I just turned them into simple sonnet forms.

Rob: I noticed a similar design aesthetic between DST and issues of Poetry Is Dead. Is this a coincidence? How much involvement did you have in the design decisions for DST?

The book cover was designed by Easton West (the Art Director of Poetry Is Dead), and I produced all of the art inside. The layout also includes PID’s typeface (also designed by Easton West). It was a mix of Talon’s good people, me and Easton for the design of the book, so that’s why there is many similar aesthetic styles as PID.

Rob: I’ve got to ask about that author photo. What inspired you to take/select that shot? Does it hold special significance for you?

Daniel: That photo was taken by a friend of mine, Rob Seebacher. He’s a photographer and always takes out his camera. I went to his house after work one evening, still in fancy work clothes (which my friend Alex Leslie refers to as “Husband Material” clothing), and after many glasses of wine he thought it would be funny if I held his lamp and took a photo. I liked it so I put it in. The other choice was a photo of me shirtless (not naked as the photo implies) in a park. I, like most people, prefer me with clothes on.

Here's the author photo from the book. Compare with the shirtless photo
posted above and find out if you are like most people.

Rob: Ok, last question. I have a suspicion your book launch on April 1st will be unlike most literary events. Without giving away any April Fools pranks you may be throwing in on top of the announced lineup, what can people expect from the launch?

Daniel: The thing that can be expected, with drag queens performing all night, is an intense amount of dick jokes. Isolde N. Barron has a foul mouth, but thankfully the Cobalt is 19+. If you don’t like dirty words, firstly, don’t get my book, but secondly, you can come to another launch of my book with Alex Leslie slated for May 5th. She’s a better writer than I am so you should go to that too.

Once it's released, copies of Davie Street Translations will be available for purchase from the Talonbooks website and local bookstores. Or, better yet, you can pick up a copy at the book launch on the 1st!


halted the usual haphazard running of the film of my life

I asked myself how much it mattered to me that I had never met Albert Camus, never heard him read, never had the chance to tell him how, on my first reading of a remembered page of the first of his books (L’Etranger, a thin book which, for its clarity and its swiftness and also for its thinness was carried about in my back pocket for most of a Paris summer long ago, the first summer of the book’s life and the twentieth of mine), two sentences moved out of their paragraph and gave me a minute or so’s feeling of something I had no experience of and no definition for but knew was special, knew that the two sentences had halted the usual haphazard running of the film of my life and was now letting me know, or guess, or half-understand, with a sort of, possibly (the word I’m choosing to use next here could ruin all this, I know, but try not to let it do that), wonder, that two average-length sentences could do this, that I was now in an unusual mind-state which these sentences had, without a syllable of warning, effected, achieved, for me. I was, I think, startled that this was a thing you could do, that the little echoes that these words were mutually and perfectly offering and receiving inside their lines could do this. But that’s all it was. It was the words, the lines, the little thin book. It wasn’t the man, it was what he had in a special hour, or in twenty tries over two weeks, made.

- Don Coles, at it again in interview with Evan Jones for The Manchester Review. You can read the whole thing here. And do it already, ok? I'm not going to keep posting excerpts for you...


TOSOO Photo Contest - Week Three, "Early Rain"

Photos from week three of the TOSOO photo contest have been posted over at Vancouver is Awesome. This week the photos were inspired by my poem "Early Rain", including this very cool one by David Jez (entitled Other Side).

The next round's poem is "Creation Stories". Click here and scroll to the bottom of the page for the poem and the guidelines - submissions are due in by Wednesday!


trying to keep a little freshness at the list's edges

It’s an unwillingness to go along with what can, when you step back from it and take a hard, fresh look at it, be seen as a brutal primaeval agreement (what sort of halfway-sensitive creature could have put, on behalf of all of us, his or her signature to this?) that this is the rhythm the world is going to move to: things will be seen and then will be lost to sight, words will be spoken but at once succumb to silence, beings will be born and die, light will grow and then fade, all these will go, they’re already gone, just now they were here but no more. Why should this be? Listing all these and trying not to flop into bathos, trying to keep a little freshness at the list’s edges, what’s in play here includes, well, everything, e.g. a sentence that some cared-about person spoke years ago that one should have paused longer at, one was just realizing the need for this when, look, it’s only just now that it was being said but nothing’s being done about it, and now, don’t even look, it’s gone forever. Or it could be something visual, a scene glimpsed in its waiting stillness, how perfect, how long had it been waiting, you’d had no preparation for this, and when you went back it was not the same. Or it’s a turn of a head, a glance that was offered and may have been huge with unrecoverable portent. Who can bear this? Everyone. Verweile doch, Du bist so schön. We cope with this as best we can. Cope via diaries and scrapbooks and toys in the attic. Making art.

- Don Coles, discussing the role of Time in some of his poems, in an interview with Evan Jones for The Manchester Review. You can read the whole thing here.

Thanks to the Vehicule Press blog for pointing this


alfred gustav press chapbook announcement

Here's an announcement from The Alfred Gustav Press on their latest series (#8!) of chapbooks. At $10 for three signed, handmade chapbooks (and shipping), it's still the best deal in CanLit. Orders need to be in by April 1st, so get on it:

The Alfred Gustav Press
Announcing Series Eight:

Dorothy Field, God Is
Cornelia Hoogland, Gravelly Bay
Patricia Young, Amateurs at 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 April 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.


TOSOO Photo Contest - Week Two, "The Party"

Photos from week two of the TOSOO photo contest have been posted over at Vancouver is Awesome. Photos for this week were inspired by my poem "The Party", including the above photo by Robin Susanto (entitled was a good party).

Click here to see all the posted photos, and read the prompt for the next round ("Early Rain"). Thank you, thank you to the contributors for this week - hopefully there will be even more next week!


the silence perpetuated by the dots... breathtaking

I paid a visit to Heritage Woods Secondary a couple weeks ago (just before the strike flared up) and ran some poetry workshops. The work of a number of the participants stood out to me, especially that of grade 11 student Sam Massooleh. After the class I was discussing his writing with his teacher, when she mentioned that he had "made a video I might want to see."

In the video, Sam channels Woody Allen while considering the poem "Blueberry Haiku" (and ultimately writing a 24-page analysis of it). The piece circles around ideas of how, and if, one can "get" a poem, and includes some wonderful little scenes and lines (like the title quote) that could have been pulled from just about any first-year poetry class (and hell, probably a few graduate classes as well). It's pretty great stuff, and certainly much better than anything I was putting together when I was sixteen:

Thanks to Sam for giving me his blessing to post the video, and best of luck to him and his classmates as they attempt to "get" poems for those vicious provincial exam essay questions!


TOSOO photo contest: Week #2 deadline today!

This is just a quick reminder that the deadline for week two of Vancouver is Awesome's TOSOO photo contest is today! Click here and scroll to the bottom of the post to see the poem prompt ("The Party") and contest entry instructions. And non-Vancouverites, you can certainly enter too. C'mon suburbanites... island dwellers... Torontonians, even... let's see what you've got!

p.s. Above photo is by Daniela Elza, entered in response to last week's prompt. When I mentioned in the intro to our interview that she's everywhere, I did indeed mean everywhere.


readings readings readings (and it's not even april)

Readers at the Vancouver Layton Celebration (L to R ): Christopher Levenson,
Sandy Shreve, Russell Thornton, Penny Goldsmith, Adrienne Drobnies,
Heidi Greco, Diane Tucker, Weldon Hunter and Rob Taylor

I had a very enjoyable day on Sunday, first at the Layton DPRS reading, and later at Daniela "The Fred Wah Dwarfer" Elza's book launch (you can read Daniela's report on her launch here). I've posted a few photos from the Layton reading on the DPRS website - thanks to everyone who came out to read and/or listen to some Irving Layton for making the event such a success.

If you're in Toronto, you still have a chance to take in the biggest Layton party this Wednesday at the Harbourfront Centre.

Speaking of events for the week, here in Vancouver we have two good - and dramatically different - lit events coming up. The first is the book launch for the Enpipe Line anthology (you can read or download the whole book here until March 22nd). Fittingly, the launch will begin outside Enbridge's Northern Gateway offices in downtown Vancouver, before moving to Artspeak (233 Carrall Street). The details:

The Enpipe Line Book Launch
Friday, March 23rd, 6:00 PM
Outside Enbridge's Northern Gateway Offices
505 Burrard Street, Vancouver
Featuring: Fred Wah, Jessie Schwarz, Steve Collis, Ben West, Kevin Spenst, Reg Johanson, Elaine Woo, Mercedes Eng, and more!
Free! (print copies of the book $18)

As for the second event, this video ought to sum it up:

Still confused? Me too. But the only way to figure out what the hell is going on here will be to show up on Saturday. The details:

Awesome Face Presents: SAINT PATRICK'S FACE
Saturday, March 17th, 8:30 PM
Café Deux Soleils
2096 Commercial Drive
Featuring: Brendan McLeod, RC Weslowski, and Chris Gilpin (as Dr. WTF?!)
$10 ($7 if you wear green!)


here I am counting nonetheless - Layton Centenary Celebration this Sunday!

Three - David Zieroth
          in memory of Irving Layton

Anyone could cease any time: an irreversible fact
of the universe, and today an old poet died
          and while his poems are known worldwide
          for me his death summons up this act: 
a girlfriend writing in his book (a gift to me 
36 years ago) asking that I think of her, her plea

not to go un-noted into the night.
Then another call: another frail man
          a dear friend’s father, began
          his journey away from us, a flight
we could not take, not yet, though 
when we leave exactly no one’s allowed to know.

My mother said death comes in threes.
I can’t believe such talk, such a superstitious
          view altogether too pernicious
          for a modern man like me.
But here I am counting nonetheless, almost
sure I’ll not be one of the new-made ghosts.

         January 4, 2006
Immense thanks to David Zieroth for letting me share this poem of his as a warm-up for the Irving Layton 100th birthday bash that the DPRS reading series team is hosting tomorrow at Project Space. The details again:

Dead Poets Reading Series
Irving Layton 100th Birthday Party
Sunday, March 11th, 3:00 - 5:00 PM
Project Space
222 E Georgia Street, Vancouver
Featuring: Russell Thornton, Sandy Shreve, Heidi Greco, and more, reading the poems of Irving Layton
By Donation (free snacks/deserts!)

Click here to see the full list or readers, or just come out tomorrow and be surprised!


TOSOO Photo Contest - Week One, "The Wailing Machines"

Photo entries from week one of the Vancouver Book Club TOSOO photo contest have been posted over at Vancouver is Awesome. Photos were submitted in response to my poem, "The Wailing Machines", including this one by David Jez!

Thanks to everyone who sent something in this week. Seeing people respond to my poems like this is pretty damn cool. Click here to see all the posted photos, and read the prompt for the next round ("The Party"). Now go find/take something to send in. There are prizes to be won, people.


the baby frogs would not stay put - "the weight of dew" Book Launch, Part Two

past Hope - Daniela Elza

the sign said:
find out what          lies              beyond Hope.

we are                    beyond         Hope.
the crows                                    on every sign
behind                   the number 3—

this                         their              highway.

                           my children
in the back          chanting:
when                    are we             gonna be 

                                                    we spend

the night              at Nk’Mip camp 

(as overflow)     on a corner which all night

to be the one      where

people                                          needed 

to start



from the weight of dew
(Mother Tongue Publishing, 2012).
Reprinted with permission.

On Monday I posted part one of my interview with Daniela Elza, who will be launching her first trade collection of poems, the weight of dew, this Sunday at the Railway Club:
Book Launch for the weight of dew by Daniela Elza
Sunday, March 11th, 5:30 - 7:30 PM
The Railway Club (Private Room in back)
579 Dunsmuir Street, Vancouver
Featuring: A reading from Daniela, and good company!

In the second half of the interview we talk, among other things, about her travels through the interior of BC, which inspired much of the book. Alternate titles for this post, as generated by the interview, include "I hope this does not sound like it was a project" and "Ask me another day and I might think differently". I hope you enjoy, and if you want more context on the book or some of the questions, please be sure to read part one here.

Daniela, stop studying, already. The interview is half over! (Photo by Frank Lee)
Rob: The largest section of your book is devoted to a suite of poems built around a trip (perhaps multiple trips) you took through the B.C. interior. What made those travels so productive for you, poetically? Did you compose the majority of those poems while you were traveling, or later, looking back?

Daniela: This was our first trip around BC after landing in Canada in 1999. In 2005 we took about 20 days to travel and were constantly on the move with two days (at the most) in any given place. It also happened in parallel with my studying Philosophy of Education up at SFU. I was steeped in big ideas confined to musty books. At the same time I was seeing this beautiful province for the first time. I was seeing it both through my children’s eyes and through my eyes which had acquired the child-like quality they acquire when experiencing something for the first time. I am sure I was writing and taking notes of impressions and first responses. Some poems might have happened or started on the trip, but most I believe happened throughout the following year. And some on other trips.

The next summer we went to Horne Lake on Vancouver Island. We camped there for a whole week to counter the intensity of the trip from the year before. I remember sitting on the shore of Horne Lake and working on these poems to the sound of the waves while my children were building rock castles for the tiny frogs they found. They kept putting them inside the castle, only to come back and find the baby frogs would not stay put. Very much the struggle I was experiencing with my words. So both. Some immediately. And then looking back. I had most of that section written within a year.

I hope this does not sound like it was a project. Most of the time you do not know where you are going until you get there. In hindsight you begin to understand what you were up to. Discovery and learning happen there. I love that about writing and poetry.

Rob: Back to the chicken-and-egg questions: generally speaking, did the "B.C. interior" poems start with your philosophical/political/etc. concerns which you then grounded in the physical elements (trees, lakes, rocks, highways, valleys) of the B.C. landscape, or did you start with the things you were interacting with (and traveling through), and let the poems expand out from there?

Daniela: Both. Back and forth. It was one big irreversible chemical reaction (have we shredded the chicken-and-egg problem yet?). For instance, I experienced Spotted Lake without any background knowledge at first. The ideas and the questions were there for the plucking (forgive the pun). The childlike awe and wonder, the shedding and emptying, the clarifying that happened on the trip managed to embrace, locate, and bring them home. Helped me also find a sense of home in this new place, in this slippery language.

Rob: the weight of dew features a generous and insightful introduction from poet, and occasional silaron house guest, Aislinn Huner (in which she rightly notes, among other things, that your poems feature "the kind of thought that demonstrates just how slippery thought, feeling, and language are"). This kind of introduction isn't terribly common in single-author collections these days, and I'm wondering how you interpret the introduction in regards to (to use one of Aislinn's favourite terms) the "paratexts" of the book. To me, a blurb on the back of a book is "outside" the book - it's part of the world of posturing and marketing and not part of the internal "thing" that is the book (I'd put the bureaucratic page where they list the ISBN and such in this category too), whereas, say, the notes and acknowledgments at the back of the book are important "paratexts" that are part of the book's contents. Do you feel the same? And if so, where would you place an introduction like Aislinn's in that dichotomy, which has its blurb-like elements (including that it's authored by someone other than the poet), but is longer and devoted to a deeper consideration of the poems? Ultimately, what I mean is: do you think of it as an internal part of your book, or as a (very lovely) outside addition?

Daniela: The poetry books that Mother Tongue Publishing puts out all have an introduction. That is how they are conceived by the publisher. Aside from that, what does this introduction mean to me? My initial response is to think of it as very much in line with what I do. Which is bringing other voices into the conversation. Aislinn’s voice engaged in the conversation at a crucial for me moment. I found Aislinn’s reading very perceptive. I was actually spooked a bit. She put her finger on a range of things I was hoping the book was doing and saying. If I were to tell you it is doing those things I may easily be deluding myself. But when someone else sees that, then there is an affirmation, and a conversation. So for me it became integral in the process. I also cherish the link created between an established writer and an emerging one. Perhaps the introduction plays the role of an inbetween, not entirely outside, not entirely inside. For you as a reader this section might be perceived differently. Maybe you want to read it after you have experienced the book, formed your own thoughts about it. Ask me another day and I might think differently.

Rob: Your poems are visually creative, and rely on your very intentional use of space on the page, but at the same time so many of the choices you make on the page are used to emphasise tonal shifts, pauses, breaths, etc. I think here especially of a poem like "presence", which is filled with punctuation, italicization, and spacing choices that transform how you read the poem, and yet the poem is fundamentally an exploration of breath, and space, and (in my mind) the resonance that results from vocally releasing the words of the poem into the world. So my question is: if your poems have a primary existence, would you say that it is an aural one, or one bound to the printed page? If you had to choose between them your poems read in silence, or heard aloud, which would you prefer?

Daniela: In the process of creating the poem I believe they scaffold each other. I have a sneaky suspicion that aural might be primal, though the poem is birthed on the page.

When you are listening to the poem you are likely not engaging with the text and visual play (though I always hear my voice even when reading silently). As a reader or listener the visual and the aural provide different experiences. I like to think of my work doing that. These are different spaces. Visually things and thinks happen that you cannot experience aurally.

Sometimes the poems get unruly on the page and send me looking for new ways to read them. All in service, I hope, of getting to the sacred. feeling. of. what. it. is. to. be. alive. in. this. body. in. this. moment.

Rob: In a few days, you're going to send your first book out into the world. Do you have any parting thoughts for it? Hopes and aspirations? Warnings? Do you think you'll be the kind of "parent" who'll stay up at night worrying about it, or will you trust in it and let it go?

Daniela: A kind of parting it is. But, wait, I already parted with it. Perhaps numerous times. Now I am welcoming the printed artifact. It feels like having carried a child (for about 7 years) and now you are looking into his blue eyes for the first time. So I have welcoming thoughts, while at the same time a sense that there is a letting go. A shedding of skin. I have aspirations, and aspirin, too. Warnings? It changed me. The printer’s machine broke [editor's note - true story!]. You decide.

Sending anything out into the world is a risk, and a blessing. You always worry. I hope I do not have too many sleepless nights. Lately, I have gone over my quota on that and cannot afford too many more. I will have to trust it, just as I trusted in the lengthy process that got me here. Ultimately, I will remember the joy of doing the work and the love for the world it inspired. The sheer delight of sitting still with myself and the word, exchanging thoughts with trees and pebbles, with rivers, bees and blades of grass.

the weight of dew can be ordered through the Mother Tongue Publishing website, and should be in local bookstores any day now. Of course, you can also pick it up at the book launch on Sunday!


what is it we want from this long journey? - "the weight of dew" Book Launch, Part One

from "crumbling into harmony" - Daniela Elza

what is it we want      from this long journey?
we stop to eat       at a road side inn.
a woman serves us          mountain sheep yogurt

with wild berries.                               she said
so many people           pass           through

they ran           out of strawberries.
we were lucky                    there was yogurt.

she then said:  nothing much happens here. 
(her heart           placed              somewhere else.

           on the road again.                    content.
the moon is           so full                     tonight

it does not                               sit still.
it rolls on the top of                hills—

a round rustic loaf                 tossed in the sky
a ritual bread                     we follow

to satiate                     our hunger.


                    there are           urgent questions
but nothing more urgent than                     right here

where the sheep sleep oblivious in their pens
where the next clay           pot of milk           is turning

to yogurt
                    in the quiet of     the night.
from the weight of dew
(Mother Tongue Publishing, 2012).
Reprinted with permission.

The latest edition of my pre-Vancouver-book-launch interview series (which needs a catchy name...) is particularly close to my heart. Since I met Daniela Elza almost five years ago, she has been an ardent supporter of my writing, and a dear friend. I don't think my relationship with her is that different, though, from her relationships with many in the Vancouver poetry community. Daniela is everywhere: volunteering for Pandora's Collective and the BC Writers' Federation, organizing and attending readings, pulling together anthologies and collaborative writing projects, and, as regular silaron readers will know, commenting on more-or-less every second blog post I've made on this site in the last five years. Wherever you go, there she is, bringing with her an enthusiasm and a spirit of generosity that are truly infectious.

Amidst all that, it's easy to look past the fact that Daniela is, first and foremost, a fantastic poet. Her first trade book (she self-published a lovely little e-book called The Book of It last year, an excerpt from which is in her new book) was just published from Saltspring Island's Mother Tongue Publishing. Entitled the weight of dew, Daniela will be launching it this Sunday at the Railway Club in downtown Vancouver. The details:

Book Launch for the weight of dew by Daniela Elza
Sunday, March 11th, 5:30 - 7:30 PM
The Railway Club (Private Room in back)
579 Dunsmuir Street, Vancouver
Featuring: A reading from Daniela, and good company!

the weight of dew is built around a suite of poems based on Daniela's travels with her family through the BC interior. To call them "travel poems", or to summarize the book as a book of travel poems, though, would be to miss the mark by... oh, I can't help myself... a country mile. Instead, the book is anchored more in philosophical thought (in an introduction to the book, her writing is described by Aislinn Hunter as "lyric philosophy", while Daniela herself is described as "part Zen master") and a joyful consideration of the world, than it is in any of the individual people, things or landscapes that the speaker encounters during her journey. They are poems with a sense of humour and play (Hunter adds that Daniela is also "part trickster"), but also a keen attentiveness - a kind of playfulness that can only come from thinking deeply about our physical world and the language we use to describe and explore it.

I was able to ask Daniela a few questions about the weight of dew in advance of its big debut on Sunday, and what follows is part one of that interview (part two is posted here). In it we discuss, amongst other things, quotations, vortices, movie theatre seats and vaccination programs. I hope you enjoy!

Daniela, studying up for our interview. (Photo by Frank Lee)
Rob: The words in your poems are a bit rebellious: they move about the page, refusing to be left-justified. That isn't to suggest that the words are randomly strewn across the page - the spacing choices you make are often clearly intentional (themes of "space" and the exploration of what exists "in between" words, run throughout the weight of dew). Likewise, some of the poems, most notably your triptychs, are spaced as they are to be in keeping with a prescribed form. Still, considering that none of the poems in your collection are written flush to the left margin (as is "traditional"), you must have a general attitude that leans you away from that style of formatting. I'm wondering what that attitude is, and how/when it developed for you. Have you always written this way? Or did you write more "restrained" poems in the past, and at some point make the switch?

Daniela: Originally I constrained myself to make my poems look like what poems “should” look like. With time my claustrophobia grew and I felt stifled. There was not enough room for thoughts to luxuriate, to breathe, to slow down. As I got older the words started being unruly and wanted to occupy more space. They wanted to fill up. And I followed this impulse. I also cared less what others will think. That might have been also the time when I needed to sit on aisle seats in theatres. Rebellious might be right. And a bit might be understating it. The words want to wander further afield. They are making other plans.

I was then pulled into how some words that were not consecutive started rooming together creating their own little vortices. Akin to the mind dreaming and connecting. How it darts off. There was a kind of control and at the same time a letting go. A kind of freeing myself and the reader to experience the fluidity of the words as they meta-morph through the different rooms of our beings. Space for repose and contemplation, yet of focus and alertness. A bit like how Bachelard describes reverie. When the poems acquired their spaces there was a strange recognition that this was my form. Like putting on a piece of clothing and knowing it is right.

The triptychs are one product of this process. I am more intentional when I write the poem across than when I read what happens in the columns "down words". If the reader wants to experiment they can watch the mind reading across and then watch what the mind does when reading down.

After I had been practicing this form for a while, I came across something Bachelard said about verticality. He said that linear reading deprives us of countless daydreams. He says: “Daydreams of this sort are invitations to verticality. Pauses in the narrative during which the reader is invited to dream. They are very pure, since they have no use.” (in The Poetics of Space). This echoed my sentiment and fit snugly with my intuition. Here I was doing this formally on the page. I was so excited. I remember running to my friend’s pottery studio and showing it to her (grocery bags, green onions, parsley and all). She had heard me mull at length about what I was doing with these columns. For me this connects with imagination.

Rob: the weight of dew includes a number of quotes (twenty seven, at my count) as epigraphs for both poems and for sections of the book, from poets and authors that range from Lisa Robertson, to Tim Lilburn, to Chinese poet Zhang Er and Polish philosopher Henryk Skolimowski. How do you hope for these quotes to function in relation to the poems? To be read as an intrinsic part of the poem, or as a palette-cleanser or mood-setting device that prepares the reader for the poem that is to follow, or...? And do you have the same goals with every quote, or do they function differently?

Daniela: Some quotes are incorporated in poems. Some are not. When they are not I like to think of them as rubbing along or against the poem. That is why I insist on them not being placed on the same side with the poem, or between the title and the poem. You can even ignore them. They are pebbles you can choose to kick as you walk, not boulders to step over. The reader can do with them as they wish. I want the reader to have as much freedom in reading the book as I had writing it.

When the quote is part of a poem, I include the quote on the page. Then I mess with it. I go in and inhabit it, I squat in it. I do not know what the outcome will be. I just let my mind move in and occupy it. A bit of a snapshot perhaps of what happens in my mind when I read it. We internalize words differently. One of my preoccupations is how thought moves, trying to peek on it as it happens and forms, as it informs. Some of the poems become such experiments. I think of the quotes and the poems as rocks rolling on the river bed.

Rob: "I want the reader to have as much freedom in reading the book as I had writing it." I like that. Can you elaborate on it a bit more? When you pick up a book of poetry, what do you want/need to see in it that will grant you that freedom as a reader?

Daniela: Poetry is a work of the creative and imagining being. It is an act of practicing your freedom as a creating being. I want to nurture that. Robert Bringhurst says that poetry knows more than the one who writes it. Which really means I needed to step aside and engage with a space that is much larger and allow poetry to exist there, or rather pull me there. (As I like to playfully address this grim issue: I have to be beside myself to write. I.e. ego does not stand a chance here). As a reader, I want the writer to invite me to do my own exploration. I do not want to be told what to think about this or that work. Or what the author was trying to say. That is a very different space. Worth exploring in its own right, but not the space I am exploring. When we try to restrain poetry by institutionalizing it, and getting all uptight about it with shoulds, oughts, nots, it is destructive to the creating imagination. We run the risk of curbing this freedom and not finding out what else it can be.

We do that in school. As Robyn Sarah says, we successfully vaccinate people against poetry. It sure put me off poetry for a while.

Perhaps this a place no one else can go with you until you get there. You can see the writer taking a risk. You can also feel them playing. Play is crucial to creativity. As a reader (and that includes of my own work) if I can breathe easier after reading it, if I feel expansive and larger in my being, then, perhaps, I have participated and experienced such freedom. Oh, and surprise. If I was surprised.

Rob: "If I can breathe easier after reading it" - oh, I like that. I might quote it. Which brings me back to your quotes: do you think of the quotes in the weight of dew as living in isolation (as being attached to their poem-mate in little nuclear partnerships), or do you hope for them to be understood collectively, accruing meaning from quote to quote?

Daniela: An important aspect of the quotes is to honour the voices and the conversations I am in. We are not alone. What appears to be created out of thin air has its complex processes/cycles. We do not suck things out of the tips of our fingers. The creative process is not as lonely as some writers make it appear. We are in constant collaborations and corroborations. I want to acknowledge that, to be upfront about it.

Out of a text or a poem that might not be too memorable a few lines lift off the page and you are in love again. These excerpts take on a life in isolation. They becomes vortices around which thought/emotion spins.

I am sure the quotes also collectively accrue and enlarge over the length of the book. Though that was not a preoccupation, or focus. Just like a poem does something and then in a whole manuscript it becomes more. Ultimately, it is the conversation.

Rob: One last, "chicken-and-egg", question about the quotes: more often did the quotes inspire the poems, or did you write the poems and later find the quotes and sense a resonance?

Daniela: Both. Sometimes the quote sends me to where I want to go, or have wanted to go, but did not know it until the quote lit the first step. This is the case with the poems "meta eulogy", and "what breathes in (a view". Sometimes the poem is already written when I come across a quote that calls to it. I pair them, feeling they can give each other something. One such case is "Plato killed a moth in my dream".

Click here to read part two of the interview, and another sample poem from the weight of dew!


super sunday

Two events I'm personally very excited about are happening next Sunday (with a half-hour buffer to dash from event to event!). I'm going to be posting more details (and content! and HYPE!) for both events here on the blog over the coming week, but for now I want to get the basic info out there so you make sure to set the afternoon/evening aside. The events are:

Dead Poets Reading Series
Irving Layton 100th Birthday Party
Sunday, March 11th, 3:00 - 5:00 PM
Project Space
222 E Georgia Street, Vancouver
Featuring: Russell Thornton, Sandy Shreve, Heidi Greco, and more, reading the poems of Irving Layton
By Donation

Book Launch for The Weight of Dew by Daniela Elza
Sunday, March 11th, 5:30 - 7:30 PM
The Railway Club (Private Room in back)
579 Dunsmuir Street, Vancouver
Featuring: A reading from Daniela, and good company!

A group of us are planning to go to both, and Skytrain-convoy between readings. Come along with us, ok?


The Other Side of Ourselves @ The Vancouver Book Club (and Photo Contest!)

For those of you who are overwhelmed by posters (so yellow!), the details are:

Vancouver Book Club
The Other Side of Ourselves by Rob Taylor
April 29th, 2012, 2:00 - 4:00 PM
The Waldorf Hotel
1489 East Hastings St., Vancouver
Featuring: A reading and Q+A with me, and also snacks and good company
Free, and open to new participants!

Please help spread the word, and do try to make it out if you can. It would be wonderful to see some silaron regulars out there, throwing tricky questions at me!

In addition to the book club gathering itself, Vancouver is Awesome is hosting a multi-instalment TOSOO-inspired photo contest, in which participants are asked to submit photos that are inspired by my poems. I know, unbelievably cool, eh?

Here's how ViA explains it:

As part of our spring book selection, the Vancouver Book Club is running a poetry-inspired photo contest. Each week we’ll post one of Rob Taylor’s poems from his book, The Other Side of Ourselves, and we’re asking you to create and send us a photo influenced by the poem. Maybe it’s just one line that inspires you to create your image, or maybe it’s the poem as a whole that gets your creative juices going. The following week we’ll post all of the entries we receive, and at our event in April we’ll choose the winner.

There will be prizes! Or at the very least, "prize"! The first poem for the photo contest is the first poem of the book, "The Wailing Machines". To read the poem and learn how to enter the contest, check out the ViA post on the event.

Oh, and did I mention: !!!!!!