WORD this weekend!

Everyone's favourite literary street festival, WORD Vancouver, takes place this Sunday at Library Square! Highlights will include readings by Diane Tucker, andrea bennett, Dina Del Bucchia, Billeh Nickerson, Renee Saklikar and many more in the Poetry Bus, and readings by Russell Thornton, Joanne Arnott, Juliane Okot Bitek, Ruth Daniell and more as part of the Magazine Words "tent" (erm... Blenz Coffee Shop). You can read the whole festival schedule here.

I'll be there all day at the PRISM international table on Homer Street, launching the brand new issue of PRISM (my first as poetry editor!). Single copies will be on sale for the low, low one-time price of $10. You can read a sample poem from the issue here to get a sense of things.
There's no time to explain!!
What you won't understand from that sample is that our booth will be octopus themed. There will be tentacles and teacups. There is no time to explain right now - just come out and see it first hand!

At 2:20 PM at the Blenz Coffee inside the Library Square building, I'll be taking in PRISM's part in the Magazine Words event: a reading by Rachel Rose and Karen J Lee! Following that, at 4:15 in the same location, I'll be participating on a panel entitled "The Inside Dirt on Literary Publications." I'll be sharing the stage with Ian Cockfield (Event), Todd Nickel (Capilano Review), Carrie Schmidt (Room), Leanne Johnson (SFU/Langara Publishing), and moderator (and personal Vancouver hero) Frances Bula. I am currently trying to think up some inside dirt to share - I'll do my best. Hopefully the others will be... dirtier?

I hope to see you out there this weekend. And if you can't make it out, just keep an eye on the #octocup hashtag on Twitter - it'll feel like you're there! Sort of!


How Pedestrian: An A-frame Update

At the end of August, Katherine Leyton finished the first-ever residency at the Al Purdy A-frame. A poet in her own right, Leyton is perhaps best known as the mastermind behind How Pedestrian, the website which featured random people reading great poems aloud. Of her stay, Leyton said:

Every morning I drank my coffee at the lake and read or thought about my work before stepping into the writing room to hash it out with my poems. Sometimes I locked the door on myself. When I got stuck, I walked the county roads that cut through the nearby farm fields, fascinated by the glowing stalks of wheat, the odd behaviour of cows, the farm machines, the farm men racing around in their trucks, the absurdly perfect sunsets and the way the fields and the sky seemed to open up to forever. It made me giddy, joyful, humble. I drove to Wellington and Picton and Little Bluff and the Sandbanks and Bloomfield and Point Petre. I drank too much wine in The County’s wineries. I went for runs at dusk and slipped into warm, calm Roblin Lake afterward, taking in the fireflies before returning to my computer and my poems, which I dragged around the various rooms of the house with me. When I needed a break, I perused Al’s impressive book collection, or played his bizarre records (he was a fan of Classical, Neil Young and The Red Army Ensemble—uh-huh.)

Not content at just that, earlier this week Leyton also dusted off How Pedestrian (which hadn't been updated in a year) and presented us her A-frame magnum opus - a thirty-minute video of Prince Edward County locals (plus a cameo or two), some with personal connections to Al and Eurithe Purdy, reading Al's poems:

If watching all the readings in one big chunk isn't your style, Leyton says she'll be releasing shorter videos slowly over the rest of the month - so keep an eye on the How Pedestrian website. You can read her whole report on her stay, and the video, here.

Thanks to Katherine for kicking things off at the A-frame in such an enjoyable way. Here's hoping her writing time was equally productive.

p.s. If you feel like donating to the A-frame association, you can do so here. And if you're in Vancouver, and want a show with your donation, be sure to check out the Al Purdy Show on October 26th!


the second-to-last person alive

The marvelous paradox is this: to read poems is to fully experience, not the actual experience that the poet had, but the figured experience that the reader has. To become a poet is to offer a reader the opportunity to be fulfilled with your vision as it transcends their modern life and as it reveals greater imaginary possibilities.

Becoming a poet is to be like the second-to-last person alive speaking out loud and interpreting the living world to the last person alive. Both by our living in modern times and by immersing ourself in the mastery of writing poems, we seek communion with those who also wish to relinquish what they fear and dream, what they accept and resist, in order to be renewed in the word and the world.

Becoming a poet is to consent to this medium of unity. Becoming a poet is to embrace the presence of this wonderful communion and then to return again and again with new figurations of life that we adore and honor as poems.

- David Biespiel, from his essay The Poet Journey: Conclusion over at The Rumpus. You can read the whole thing here.


Hummingbird Prize! Hurrah!

I'm very pleased to announce that my story "Here I Lay Down My Heart" has won PULP Literature's 2014 Hummingbird Prize for Flash Fiction!

The story is set in Tanzania ("Here I Lay Down My Heart" is one of the many translations out there for Bagamoyo, a coastal Tanzanian town), and is part of a larger series of stories set in Africa which I have been writing feverishly (i.e. very slowly by anyone else's standards) over the last couple years.

I've only just started sending those stories out for publication, and when this one is published in PULP's Winter 2015 issue, it will be my first fiction publication. Not a bad way to kick things off!

I'm thrilled to have won, of course, and also to be in good company (friend-of-silaron Daniela Elza was the runner up). And I'm honoured to have caught the attention of contest judge JJ Lee, who said of the piece:

"On the strength of its setting, naturalism, and the pleasure it takes in the search for language, ‘Here I Lay Down My Heart’ wins the Hummingbird Flash Fiction contest. Its author has created a small gem about a nighttime boat trip and a missing child. The author avoids sloppy dialogue and needless back story and, in less than 600 words, crafts a compelling tale which readers will rush to reach to the end.”

Thank you again to the editors at PULP, and to JJ Lee, for making this possible!

experience is malleable

I am not entirely sure of the relationship between depression, and the art of poetry except to say for me it is profound. David Biespiel has recently written,

“The poet’s journey involves a series of transformations because to write a poem is, above all to change your life. And, no less important, to change someone else’s life. A poem is an offering. A poem is a common wealth. Because each poem contains insight, the wisdom you reveal in your poems can renew the community. When you present your poems to the world, you are saying to readers that you have discovered something. You are saying that you are ready to participate in the shared human experience…"

For the depressive who feels most often apart from the world and other people, stuck on invisible railroad tracks with their neuroses bearing down on them, it is vitally important to understand experience is malleable. A poem is transformative. It offers a way to connect and share with other human beings when no other way seems possible.

- Chris Banks, largely quoting David Biespiel, in a short essay on depression over at his Table Music blog. You can read the whole thing here.


desk blog count: the rather-tidy baker's dozen

When it rains, it pours. A few days after announcing the discovery of desk blogs number eleven and twelve, along comes number thirteen. Lucky thirteen! After all this dreaming and hoping! Now I know how Stephen Harper must feel.

The latest is a big one, too: The New Quarterly, Canada's premiere square literary magazine, has taken up a "Writing Spaces" feature on their website. Started at the end of August, it has thus far featured desks from Ayelet Tsabari, Kevin Hardcastle, and Brent van Staalduien.

Thank you for entering the fray, TNQ!

Here are the mighty thirteen:

At The Desk

Writers' Rooms (VIWF)

Good Places to Write

On The Writer's Desk

Where Do You Write to My Lovely?

10 Stunning Writing Studios (Flavorwire)

Writing Spaces (Then New Quarterly)

I simply cannot get enough pictures of desks!

Keep hunting for more, deskblogmaniacs! We'll have fifteen any moment now, and twenty won't be far behind. And oh what a spoil of desks we'll have then!


desk blog count: the rather-tidy dozen

It's been two long years since I last came to you with more desk blogs. Yes, poets starting touching trees recently, but we all know that that, like petting cats, does not count. It's been a lean couple years for us deskblogmaniacs - but, as always in life, patience and perseverance pay off in the long run. For today, I bring you not one, but two new desk blogs (well, one + a desk blog Flavorwire post, which to me is close enough in these lean desk-blog times).

Elizabeth Robinson's cherry pits
(dog kibble? I'm not really sure)
First up is Where Do You Write to My Lovely?, which so far features desks from rob mclennan and Elizabeth Robinson. The special angle for this blog is short essays about the desks, written by the authors. Neat!

Second up is Flavorwire's 10 Stunning Writing Studios, none of which are actually owned by writers, as they look expensive and appealing and aren't covered in cat hair.

So if you're keeping track at home, the list of desk blogs is now up to twelve:

At The Desk

Writers' Rooms (VIWF)

Good Places to Write

On The Writer's Desk

Where Do You Write to My Lovely?

10 Stunning Writing Studios (Flavorwire)

When I started this little count, I thought it would be really, really funny if I could find three blogs devoted to writers' desks. Internet, your bounty overflows. Thank you!

Keep hunting for more, deskblogmaniacs! Twenty is right around the corner!


fearing one might be deprived of chances

After wondering whether or not my life was going to end much earlier than it might have otherwise, naturally, I had to think about how I wanted to live from then on. Things I had wanted to happen were not going to happen because of the cancer, and this at first seemed catastrophic; and yet other things that turned out to be important did happen because of the cancer. This put paid to the idea that one can always trust what one wishes for. Nobody would wish to have cancer, yet it undeniably brought things to my life that were, to my great surprise, valuable. Also, after having been so ill, I found I wanted to be bolder about many experiences. Fearing one might be deprived of chances can of course motivate one to take more chances.

- Elise Partridge, on battling cancer and writing Chameleon Hours, in interview with Evan Jones over at The Puritan. You can read the whole thing here.


to be alive together!

Beth Follett: What is the most important thing you try to teach students when you attend academic classes?

Souvankham Thammavongsa: That, hell, I’m not supposed to be there and we all kind of know it. They will spend three or five years there, and a face like mine, a name like mine, doesn’t appear on their syllabi. I think about the instructor a lot. Are they trying to fill something that is missing, do they know the work, do they care? Am I here just for show? To fill up some time? For ridicule? There is nothing worse than walking into a room full of students and have to spend the whole class explaining who you are and what you do. The students are open or closed or uninterested if their instructor is that way. Sometimes that is what I walk into, that uninterest, and I try my best to change that. I’ve been given an opportunity, a platform, and I might as well use it even if it isn’t open to me. I always tell myself, somewhere in that room is someone who will one day run a newspaper or magazine, become a literary critic, a writer of some kind, a publisher, someone who could end up in a position that will change my life and writing. I assume that person is sitting there and I talk to them. They already are someone, they just don’t know it yet. If there isn’t uninterest, I am amazed I get a chance to be there. I know I don’t sound like anything in the university so it’s easier to hear me. Also, what a wonderful chance for both me and them, to be able to ask each other questions! And to be alive together! It's a risk for the instructor too. Whatever they say about me to the students is on them.

Follett: What is your opinion of literary criticism?

Thammavongsa: It’s like that scene in Good Will Hunting where Robin Williams tells Matt Damon that he’s just some kid who doesn’t know a fucking thing. He’s probably read everything about Michelangelo but has he been to the Sistine Chapel? Has he ever stood there and looked up at that painting? Does he know what it smells like in there? You can read and sound like you know things but that doesn’t mean you know them or the writer in particular. I think a good critic is someone who can situate you in the writing that came before you, can assess what you are trying to do and whether or not you’ve achieved that. Someone who knows things besides literature, like art, music, linguistics, respect. A small part of literary criticism is the review.

- Souvankham Thammavongsa, in interview with her Pedlar Press publisher, Beth Follett, over at Open Book Toronto. You can read the whole thing here.


The Al Purdy Show + Call for 2016 Residency Applications

Things are happening in A-frame land!

First off, we're getting set for Vancouver's biggest A-frame fundraiser to date. The Al Purdy Show: Vancouver Edition will take place on Sunday, October 26th at 1:30 PM, as part of the Vancouver Writers Fest.

Hosted by Charlie Demers, with all proceeds going to the Al Purdy A-frame Association, the reading will feature a breathtaking array of poets (especially if you try to say all the names at once), each of whom will be reading at least one of Al's poems: Ken Babstock, George Bowering, Colin Browne, Brad Cran, Michael Crummey, Maxine Gadd, Aislinn Hunter, Daphne Marlatt, Billeh Nickerson, Sina Queyras, Rob Taylor, Sharon Thesen, Fred Wah, and Howard White.

Yes, my name is in there. I'm stunned too. I've only slipped onto a list I'm otherwise completely undeserving of because I will be staying in the A-frame for a month in September 2015 (!), and I am the only West Coast representative in the first batch of residencies.

We should do something about that, eh? West Coasters, the call has opened for applications for 2016 A-frame residencies. Applications are due in by October 17th, and all the needed info can be read here, so get at it!


what a silly thing we do

A long time back, maybe twenty-five years ago, a reviewer (Hudson Review, I think) ridiculed William Carlos Williams for saying one reason a poet wrote was to become a better person. I was fresh out of graduate school, maybe still there, filled with the New Criticism, and I easily sided with the reviewer. But now I see Williams was right. I don’t think Williams was advocating writing as therapy, nor the naïve idea that after writing a poem one is any less depraved. I believe Williams discovered that a lifetime of writing was a slow, accumulative way of accepting one’s life as valid. What a silly thing we do. We sweat through poem after poem to realize what dumb animals know by instinct and reveal in their behavior: my life is all I've got. We are well off to know it ourselves, even if our method of learning it is painfully convoluted.

- Richard Hugo, in his essay "Statements of Faith" from The Triggering Town: Lectures and Essays on Poetry and Writing.


they will tell themselves that often enough

When people tell a young poet he is good, they may be doing him some disservice. They are telling him he is not worthless and so unwittingly they are undercutting what to him seems his need to write. I'm not suggesting we run about telling young poets how awful they are to ensure they keep on writing. They will tell themselves that often enough without our help.

- Richard Hugo, in his essay "Statements of Faith" from The Triggering Town: Lectures and Essays on Poetry and Writing.