no fun city dot com

As regular silaron readers will have noted, I've stopped posting monthly lists of Vancouver lit events. Instead I've been focusing on my series of pre-YVR book launch interviews. I made the switch because the efforts by the BC Writer's Federation and Pandora's Collective to provide up to date event listings made what I was doing more-or-less redundant. Now nofuncity.com has come along and replaced that "more-or-less" with an "utterly".

Take a look at their site (they're on Facebook and Twitter as well) - it's pretty fantastic. They list events by day, with that day's events listed right up front for easy reading (you can also view their event postings in a monthly calendar, if that's your thang).

I'm not sure if the site title is the standard fuck-you to Vancouver's long-time moniker, or an acknowledgment of how boring so many lit readings are... personally, I'm fine either way so long as they keep the event listings coming.

Whoever you are, mysterious nofuncity.com web magicians, thank you!


desk blog #7

Ok, admit it, you long ago gave up on the desk blog. You left it for dead. You didn't go writing a Special to the National Post about it, but you sensed it in your heart. But oh, my friend, you sensed prematurely. While most desk blogs dipped into inactivity or diverted into Matt Rader Christmas poems, Branch Magazine kept the dream (and its "Workspace" section) alive. And now, two full years since the last addition to the "Deskblogamania" series, here we are once again gathering together to celebrate the birth of a new desk blog: Open Book Toronto's At The Desk series!

Eight posts in, "At the Desk" has already featured a couple new twists on the standard desk photo - the "bed as desk" and the "writer's face as desk". That second one seems painful to me (especially when he talks about tacking photos and postcards above his "desk"), but to each their own. I'm excited to see what "At The Desk" come up with next!

ATD brings the total number of desk blogs to seven:

At The Desk

Yes, "At The Desk", "On My Desk", "Desk Space"... all very similar names... it's only a matter of time until we get a name repeat. I can't wait!

I hope to be back to report on Desk Blog #8 soon. Until then, keep dreaming of Davenports and ogling those escritoires, my fellow Deskblogamaniacs!


the world conspires to stop you doing the thing that you do

The problems of success are real... I watched my peers and my friends and the ones that were older than me, and I’d watch how miserable some of them were. I’d listen to them telling me they couldn’t envisage a world where they did what they always wanted to do, anymore, because now they had to earn a certain amount every month just to keep where they were. They couldn’t go and do the things that mattered and that they really wanted to do, and that seemed as big a tragedy as any problem of failure. And after that, the biggest problem of success is that the world conspires to stop you doing the thing that you do, because you are successful. There was a day when I looked up and realized that I had become someone who professionally replied to email, and who wrote as a hobby. I started answering fewer emails and was relieved to find I was writing much more.

- Neil Gaiman, reminding graduating students of the Philadelphia University of the Arts that if they fail, at the very least they'll get less email. You can watch the entire commencement address here.


reading relay

Along with Sandy Shreve, I read at SFU Harbour Centre last week as part of the SFU Lunch Poems reading series. It was my last reading for the spring, and a wonderful way to cap off my first year reading from and promoting TOSOO. Despite the sunny day outside, we had almost 50 people head indoors to take in Sandy and my "choreographed" reading of (mostly) form poems, in which we went back and forth reading poems that were inspired by the poem the other person had read previously. Our set list was:

Sandy – "Midnight Relay"
Rob – "Haiku 1-4"
Sandy – "Love Song of the Varied Thrush"
Rob – "You Can't Lead a Horse"
Sandy – "Kerchief"
Rob – "December Sonnet"
Sandy – "Luck"
Rob – "&"
Sandy – "Homing"
Sandy – "Landing"
Rob – "Wintering"
Sandy – "Unmended"
Rob - "Reconciliation During the Great Fires"
Rob – "Viaticum"
Sandy – "Colloquiz"
Rob – "The Time of Useful Truths"
Sandy – "Change"
Rob – "Squatter"
Sandy – "More of the Just" (inspired by Steven Heighton's "Some Other Just Ones", which was inspired by Jorge Luis Borges' "The Just")

Sandy's "More of the Just" got me writing my own "The Just" list poem. Hopefully once that's out in the world it can inspire one for someone else.

The reading seemed to be well received, and some thoughtful questions were asked in the Q+A afterward. I think I did a decent job of faking competence in a couple of my answers, too.

Thank you to the organizers for giving Sandy and myself the opportunity to read, and to Sandy for inviting me along.

If you missed our reading but are in Vancouver, please keep an eye on the lunchpoems@sfu Facebook page for info on future events - they are well worth taking in.

I hear that the next reading, in June, will feature Sonnet L'Abbé and Renée Saklikar. One can only assume that the conversation will centre around the use of acute accents. But you'll have to show up to find out!


some with whom I might communicate sincerely

I want to stop clicking, scrolling and speed-reading and shuffling on to the next song, and instead focus on poetry which stays still and feels something. And this is what I want to write too. Not unmediated self-expression, of course, but not pre-emptively cut off with a glib reflex. The old disconnection, between inner whirring cogs and outside world, have to engage somehow – and for this reason, I don’t think that the teaching of creative writing is necessarily a bad thing, as long as the students have something ready to work with. (God knows it’s better than encouraging them to be also academic critics). Above all, I have recently come to think that it is essential to think that among the tiny, fragmented audience for poetry, and perhaps even among those who just use the language, there might be some with whom I might communicate sincerely – or reasonably sincerely. Amid all the other kinds of technological communication, both shockingly intimate and weirdly superficial, I have to think that poetry can do something unique. That – perhaps because it doesn’t have an easy brand to sell, and will almost certainly not be trending any time soon – it can communicate something a bit more complex and lasting. But then a lifetime of defensive irony is a hard habit to break so, yeah, like, what do I know?

- Leontia Flynn, on living an irony-free life, over at the Edinburgh Review. You can read the whole thing here.

Thanks to the Vehicule Press blog for pointing this out.


DPRS report

I read some poems by Larry Levis on Sunday at the Dead Poets Reading Series. Catherine Owen, Lilja Valis, Chris Gilpin, and Evelyn Lau read as well. Here we are with the books of our dead poets:

L to R: Lilija Valis (Hanshan), Chris Gilpin (David Lerner), Catherine Owen
(Loren Eiseley), Rob Taylor (Larry Levis), Evelyn Lau (John Updike)

I hemmed and hawed for a long time over which poems of Levis' I would read, and finally settled on a set that was mostly autobiographical, and mostly from Winter Stars: "Unfinished Poem" (from Wrecking Crew), "The Poet at Seventeen", "Whitman", "Winter Stars" and "Though His Name Is Infinite, My Father Is Asleep" (all from Winter Stars).

I also read a few excerpts from essays and reviews on Levis' writing by David St. John and Tony Hoagland, Hoagland's being my favourite:

"Levis is not interested in metaphorical equivalence, in comparison as a device whose goal is logical coherence, or persuasion, or concentration; rather, his practice is to use image as a form of inquiry, as a kind of tentative, speculating finger poking into the unknown."

As for the other readers, stylistically this was possibly the most diverse of DPRS readings thus far, and probably the funniest. Catherine and I were a bit more serious, but Lilija, Chris and Evelyn all had us laughing pretty hard at one point or another - with a suprising number of dick jokes for a Mother's Day reading. Oh, and M. Anantanarayanan paid a visit as well.

You can see a few more photos from the event here. Thanks to Kristin Cheung of Ricepaper Magazine for being our volunteer cameraperson for the afternoon, and thanks to everyone who came out, readers and audience members alike, on a sunny Sunday afternoon!

I have one more reading to go this spring before I hibernate for the summer:

lunch poems @sfu
Wednesday, May 16th, Noon - 1 PM
Teck Gallery (main floor), SFU Harbour Centre
515 West Hastings Street, Vancouver
Featuring: Sandy Shreve and Rob Taylor
Facebook Event Page
Poster (PDF)

I hope to see you there!


what time does to things - "Waking in the Tree House" Launch

Moth - Michael Lithgow

Every few days another moth appears.
I hear them rattling between the window
and rice paper taped across the glass
to hinder the curiosity of addicts. These large

cigarillo-thick animals bang the walls
with their eccentricity and fur, eventually
bumping into the light over my desk where
dust falls from their wings onto the backs

of my hands. I suppose they come
from some crack in the floor, larvae
transformed into an air-borne cigar
so unlike a butterfly’s flying scrap of silk.

I feel less lonely when they come. I imagine
they are asking for help, and I am a hero.
I catch them in a plastic cup and toss them
into the night air from my doorstep.

But then one night it occurred to me
that maybe it’s the same moth over and over,
and I am not understanding
what keeps happening, here, at all.
from Waking in the Tree House
(Cormorant Books, 2012).
Reprinted with permission.

My latest Vancouver book launch interview is a homecoming of sorts. Michael Lithgow was born in Ottawa, then moved throughout North America (Halifax, Memphis, Edmonton...) before arriving in Vancouver in the mid-80s. He stayed in Vancouver for almost twenty years before moving on to Montreal and then Chelsea, Quebec. Throughout much of that time, Michael was writing, and his poems reflect that journey.

Michael's work has been published in Arc, The New Quarterly, The Fiddlehead and CV2, and a selection of his poetry was included in Undercurrents: New Voices in Canadian Poetry. It was through Undercurrents, released by Cormorant Books at the same time as The Other Side of Ourselves, that I got to know Michael and his work. In it, I was struck by his deep consideration of both language and subject matter in poems like "Roofing" and "Cradle and light".

Michael's first book, Waking in the Tree House, contains these poems from Undercurrents and many more. That said, it's a slim volume (as I think most should be) - fifty-one poems over fifty-four pages.

Michael will be in Vancouver on May 19th to launch Waking in the Tree House:

A Night of Interdisciplinary Performance
Saturday, May 19th, 8 PM (Doors 7:30)
Gallery Gachet
88 East Cordova Street, Vancouver
Featuring: Readings by poets Michael Lithgow and Rodney DeCroo. Music by Torsten Muller, Leonard Pennifold, Shiloh Lindsey and Christie Rose

In anticipation of the launch, Michael and I corresponded over email about Vancouver, language, and the dark matter at the heart of his book:

Michael, looking west
Rob: A significant number of the poems in Waking in the Tree House grapple with the conflicting, and sometimes complimentary, relationship between the "natural" world (hawks, worms, bones, tufts of grass, etc.) and the "unnatural" urban environment (concrete landscapes, electric lighting, technology, city noise, etc.). "Moth" is in many ways an example of this. I was wondering if you think of the consideration of "urban ecology" as the (or one of the) central theme(s) of the book. And if you do think it is, did you plan on this as you wrote the poems, or was it a theme you only realized you were writing to in hindsight, while you were compiling and editing the manuscript?

Michael: That’s an interesting observation and something that I hadn't really considered before… In thinking about your question, I can see that many of the poems are sensitive to drama in the natural world (or as I suggest in "Too busy for death", that the natural world is at least amenable to me imposing this or that meaning and metaphor on it for my own purposes). A central theme to my mind in the book is the beauty of "dark matter", so to speak; the beauty of decay, of what time does to things, of difficulty and sorrow; of how ravaging (in the sense that an old fencepost is ravaged by time) can be beautiful. But as I think about your question, it occurs to me that what gets decayed is always in the urban setting, and what does the decaying is nature. The dichotomy of course is problematic as many have pointed out (Zizek has this wonderful segment in a documentary where he is walking through a garbage dump condemning the environmental movement in his enigmatic way and arguing that it is our perception of the human/nature divide that is killing the planet, and that we have to learn to love our garbage!). I am both drawn to and repelled by rural areas and wilderness. I have recently moved to the country and discovered that I dislike it as a place to live; there are few people here; my existence now depends on cars and petroleum; public spaces are empty, filled with trees, everyone stays in their yards and cars (unlike Montreal, for example, where the streets and parks are filled with Montrealers reveling and enjoying and living). Here, we see our neighbours drive by in their trucks and minivans…

I digress, but your question raises a theme that is on my mind just now. I think in terms of these poems, the feral quality of the natural world provides ballast to my own more constrained imaginings. The poems that address “nature” directly, are almost always about reconciliation between this wild force and the humble goings on of the human – "Moth", "Because of the light", "Under the Granville Street Bridge", "Jellyfish", "Spanish Banks". Even "Rat hole" exists somewhere within the liminal imaginary between human and nature. I am drawn to the way nature resists human meaning and control; and I am drawn to its feral qualities in terms of what will inform my own myth-making.

Rob: You're in the country now, eh? You always seem to be on the move - from Ottawa to Vancouver to Montreal and on, with many stops in between. A good number of these moves are mapped out in Waking in the Tree House, the poems seeming to more or less follow the path of your travels, with the Vancouver poems early on and the Montreal poems nearer to the end. Are the poems, then, loosely organized chronologically in the order you wrote them, or the order you lived them, or both? Neither? More generally, do you find you write about a place more while you are living there, or in hindsight? And which type of writing - in the moment or in hindsight - do you find produces the better poems?

Michael: Robyn Sarah, my editor, arranged the poems and they did emerge in a loosely chronological order, although not entirely. The order is a mix of geography, chronology and theme. Robyn is a wonderful and perceptive editor, and she found a way to arrange these poems so that they did not bog down in the heavier emotional textures… the arrangement, at least to my mind, helps to let light and lightness in…

These poems were written “in the moment” as you say. Of course, even before they are written they are already an element of hindsight (in the sense that all experience is a form of hindsight, even the act of looking at something - our perception hindsight from the thing itself), but I do tend to write into my life, to make sense of my life, to pull meaning from it or impose it as it is happening. But even so, some of these poems have been worked on for more than a decade. "The incident", for example, was an extremely difficult poem to write, and I almost did not want it included in the manuscript. It was only after stepping away from it for a while, and seeing it in situ with the other poems that I could let it go. Writing poems – writing these poems – was a dwelling in memory, so even though first drafts almost always come “in the moment” the final drafts almost always find their form much later, and I think this process of dragging experience and images through time with language and finding and making sense describes just exactly what I like about writing poetry.

Rob: Beyond the specific poems and references about Vancouver, how do you think the time you spent living in Vancouver shaped Tree House? How would the book have been different had you skipped over Vancouver in your travels?

Michael: Vancouver is a complex city – on the frontier, such a young city, and still reverberating in colonial legacies. First Nations cultural presence in British Columbia is so much more than in eastern Canada, or so it seems to me. And more so than in many cities. The politics are more raw, and the city still feels like it is in the wilderness. I’ve seen coyotes and eagle nests in Strathcona, seals at New Brighton Park, bears in North Vancouver.

Vancouver can be a mean city. Much of my time I was there was spent in and around the Downtown East Side – working in community radio and television as an activist. I lived further east, near Commercial Drive, but the DTES was my center of gravity, in a way. You can’t be in that neighbourhood day in and day out for that many years and come away unchanged. I suppose one way I have been changed is understanding poverty as a kind of crisis, an ongoing crisis that penalizes and damages vulnerable people, and basically traps them. It crushes potential. And also learning to appreciate the profound resiliency of the human spirit.

I can’t imagine my life without my Vancouver experiences...

Rob: You use the word "beautiful" a number of times in Tree House. For many writers, words like that are curse words, viewed as being over-used to the point of meaninglessness (I used it once in my book, and am glad I did, but agonized over it a bit at the time). Some editors, I'm sure, would have asked you to cut it out entirely. Your editor (and mine), Robyn Sarah, has a different take on these "curse words", though. I was wondering if the two of you spoke at all about the use of the word "beautiful" in Tree House? Did you hesitate in using it, or any other similar words? What makes you comfortable using a word like "beautiful" where others might shy away?

Michael: I guess I don’t have the same sensitivity to the banality of the word “beautiful”, or more to the point I hope that I have not resorted to banality in using it. I guess there are other words that I might have this response to… It all depends on the poem, for me. So maybe in that sense I agree with Robyn. Rarely does a word in and of itself become obsolete, because words don’t really mean anything without their games, "language games" as Wittgenstein called them, their contexts and invitations to meaning. Showing telling simplicity familiarity obscurity abstraction … what works is what works in the poem, and what we think works is more often than not a deeply personal response to language. My hope is that if I have used a dangerous word like “beautiful” I’ve added something to its aura, to the connotative meanings and associations that shroud it in the minds and imaginations of readers. I also think that rifling the thesaurus just for the sake of avoiding simplicity doesn’t necessarily make for good poetry, so I agree with Robyn in that way, too.

Waking in the Tree House can be ordered online from the usual suspects, or you can pick up a copy at Michael's launch on the 19th!


interview :

Taryn Hubbard: I wonder if you could talk about what you’re doing [in your poems] with culture – I don’t know if I would say “multiculturalism” (cringe!) – and language...

Renee Sarojini Saklikar: Language, I think, is a ground zero for all these “isms” that many of us as writers battle with, and the challenge as a poet is how to evoke, how to make material, how to conceptualise, how to make it a song, how to make it into something. And for me, this is the place, this image of language coming together with concept.

TH: ... There’s also something going on in your poems... you do this thing with a colon where you have your word and a space and a colon and a space. And when I’m reading them I’m wondering “are these equals signs?”, “are these quotations?”, “are these bookmarks?” How are you using them?

RSS: ... For me the colon is an effacement of the lyric “I”... I think for poets who want to be informed by conceptual, structural, post-structural, post-modern, et al... and also cleave, cleave if we are honest, to a lyric voice, how do we deal with the confessional “I”, the “I” of the speaker of the poem? And I want to both have if present and efface it, almost deface it. That's what I'm working on with space and colon.

- Renee Sarojini Saklikar, in interview with Taryn Hubbard for The Storytelling Show. You can listen to the whole thing, in which Taryn and Renee interview one another about their recent writing projects, here.

You can get a small sample of Renee's : colons : on page 29 of the Spring 2012 issue of Wordworks (PDF).


o for god's sake

(click to expand)

I somehow forgot to post this on the blog! Last Christmas my wife made me a lovely, lovely gift - a painting featuring the text of one of my favourite short poems, Muriel Rukeyser's "Islands".

It's the second of her "poem paintings", after the one she did for my poem "Early Rain". No word on if a third will appear eventually, but I'm hopeful!


ways to suffer on the internet

There are two kinds of ways to suffer on the Internet: through direct and silent censure. Direct censure because of an unflattering assessment of a writer’s work (but often person) occurring in comment streams or in counter-blogs, resulting in a troll-like awfulness that is the Way of the Internet... Blog conflict is great fun for anyone not personally involved, yet this kind of easy entertainment doesn’t do the community any good, for the lesson is that a negative review brings a heavy price: retorts an editor would never print and a consequent dumbing-down of literary debate. Insult comedy is a lower form of criticism, trading on wit only, and though it is a mode of the truth, it excludes the worth of the opponent, preferring to focus only on the opponent’s vulnerabilities. Blogs pander to the worst in us. To the most vicious and cutthroat aggressors go the spoils.

- Shane Neilson, gathering up some spoils in response to Jacob Mooney's blogging resignation letter from earlier this week. You can read Shane's whole reply here.

All this blogging back and forth (sorry, writing "Specials to the National Post"... there's a big difference, right?) about how blogging is dead is starting to blow my mind. Can't we just call the NP Books section the new Bookninja and move on, already?


two upcoming readings

My last two readings of the spring season are coming up in the next couple weeks. First I'll be reading at the Dead Poets Reading Series event on May 13th:

Dead Poets Reading Series
Sunday, May 13th, 3 - 5 PM
Project Space
222 East Georgia Street, Vancouver
Featuring: Loren Eiseley (read by Catherine Owen), Hanshan (read by Lilija Valis), David Lerner (read by Chris Gilpin), Larry Levis (read by Rob Taylor) and John Updike (read by Evelyn Lau)
By Donation
Facebook Event Page

I was added to the bill as a late fill-in for George McWhirter. George couldn't make it, and will now be reading at our event in July (speaking of George, he's reading at the Twisted Poets Reading Series tonight with Kevin Spenst - more info here).

I'll be reading the poetry of Larry Levis, a poet whom I've come to know and love over the past few years. Still, I'd like to know him a lot better before I read his work in public, so the next ten days are going to be a bit of a Levis crash-course for me. I've already received reading suggestions from Levis-enthusiast Chris Banks and welcome more if anyone out there has a favourite or two.

My second reading will take place three days later:

lunch poems @sfu
Wednesday, May 16th, Noon - 1 PM
Teck Gallery (main floor), SFU Harbour Centre
515 West Hastings Street, Vancouver
Featuring: Sandy Shreve and Rob Taylor
Facebook Event Page
Poster (PDF)

This is a new series started by Wayde Compton, Renee Saklikar, Kim Gilker and others over at SFU Harbour Centre. Its goal is to offer some lunch-hour poetry to students, teachers and local businesspeople. The series is structured so that one well-established poet is invited to read, along with an up-and-coming poet of their choice. I'm very honoured that Sandy Shreve has asked me to read with her.

Perhaps in part inspired by our recent exchange on villanelles, Sandy and I have been asked to read form poems and discuss formal writing, something we are both more than happy to do (though I suspect I will mostly be saying "What she said" after Sandy's answers). We have already "choreographed" our reading, in which we will take turns readings poems that flow together either thematically or formally. I'll be reading a number of poems from The Other Side of Ourselves that I don't often share at readings, and Sandy will be reading some knockout poems, including a new ghazal based on her father's notebooks that's pretty darn fantastic. It should be fun!

I hope to see you at either of these events or, if you're really itching for a gold star, both!


Vancouver Book Club report

Wow! What a wonderful afternoon it was on Sunday at The Waldorf. After all these weeks of HYPE and photos, the book club event finally happened. I read for 15 minutes or so, though I spent at least half of that time talking about shark repellent and the Salton Sea (different subjects - don't worry, last I checked there were no sharks in the Salton Sea... perhaps because of the effectiveness of the shark repellent?).

After that came the Q+A, which I thought would last, at best, twenty minutes or so, but instead took up the rest of the two-hour time slot! The questions the audience came up with were thoughtful and probing, and went well beyond the more superficial elements of the book - and they just kept coming, one after another. Along with my book launch and spotting my poem on transit for the first time, being a part of that Q+A was one of the absolute highlights of my first year with The Other Side of Ourselves.

At the end of the gathering, event organizer and recovered-poet Liam Ford announced the winning photo from the TOSOO photo contest, David Jez's "Endless Rope" from week five of the contest, inspired by "The Horse Grazes":

"Endless Rope", © David Jez

Dave was on hand to receive his luxurious prize - a copy of TOSOO and the VBC's next pick, Anakana Schofield's Malarky.

You can read VIA's account of the event (from which I stole these photos) here.

Heaps of thanks to Liam, Liisa, Jen, Erica and everyone else at the Vancouver Book Club for making the event happening, and to Cormorant Books and The Waldorf for doing their part. And to everyone who came out. And to everyone who sent in photos. And to... goodness... let's just say everyone. I couldn't have asked for a better one-year birthday present for my little blue baby.

p.s. To those of you who were at the event and are still looking for a definitive answer to the burning question of the afternoon, I give you the disturbing answer: poop.

Daniela Elza + Diana Hayes @ VPL

Hey Vancouver, if you haven't seen Daniela Elza read from her first collection, The Weight of Dew (and I reccomend your do), this might be your last chance for a while. She'll be joined by Salt Spring Island poet Diana Hayes for a reading at the Vancouver Public Library on Thursday night. The details:

Two Women Poets
Thursday May 3rd, 7:00 - 8:30 PM
Alma VanDusen Room, Central Library
350 West Georgia Street
Featuring: Diana Hayes and Daniela Elza


anyone who writes criticism long enough will get abandoned by the herd

“I feel like I should write reviews,” he said over drinks. “But I just wonder if it’s worth it? Like, is it worth it to put yourself out there as the evaluator of other people’s sweated-over art?”

I considered that question amid the backdrop of having just told him that I’m officially going to shutter my poetry blog, Vox Populism, after a year-long descent into occasional and half-hearted posting. I wanted to tell him it’s worth it, because I would like his voice to be out there, in the fray. The problem is that it isn’t really worth it. Canada has too many poets and not enough critics, and this imbalance encourages itself, as anyone who writes criticism long enough will get abandoned by the herd. Even worse, they may find themselves beaten back by the herd's constant circular counter-arguments, until he or she become mere describers of work, blurb machines, people who’ve had the evaluative necessity of literary criticism diluted by the pyramid schemes of other people’s jargon.

What I tell him is this, “It’s not worth it. But you should really do it anyway.”

- Jacob McArthur Mooney, talking about shutting down his Vox Populism blog (and in so doing not taking his own advice) in a special for the National Post. You can read the whole thing here.

When Jake was going at full speed, his was always the first poetry blog I'd read in the morning. Too bad he eventually came to his senses about what a lousy gig this is (and why my "Reviews" link in the sidebar eventually turned into my "Reviews + Hype" link). It was great while it lasted, Jake - and though you certainly don't need my permission, you're welcome back any time.