all the good and complex richness that might have fed the chickens

A fundamentalist reads a parable only for its moral lesson; such a reader of a Flannery O'Connor story takes with her only the flimsy, so-called theme - don't be a blowhard! Don't lean too much on your own crutches! - leaving behind all the good and complex richness that might have fed the chickens. The literary equivalent of eschewing well-cooked meals in favour of a daily vitamin.

- Liz Windhorst Harmer, from her essay on O'Connor and religion, "My Flannery", in the Winter 2016 issue of The New Quarterly. You can read the whole thing here.


Al Purdy Is Here!

Al Purdy Was Here: Come for the poetry, stay for Michael Ondaatje's nipples

Al Purdy Was Here, the Al Purdy (and A-frame) documentary I've blogged about in the past, is finally coming to Vancouver!

The Pacific Cinamatheque will be hosting three screenings, starting tonight.

The dates:

Thursday, January 28, 2016 - 6:30pm
Sunday, January 31, 2016 - 4:30pm
Wednesday, February 3, 2016 - 8:15pm
You can learn more details about the screenings, and buy tickets, here.

A-frame representatives will be at the screenings taking donations, if you're keen to spend some of Margaret Atwood's money. I'll be at tonight's show - I hope to see you there!


Mineral School: Washington State Artist Residency Wants Canadians!

Hey BC (and Alberta) writers! A residency in the States! That likes Canadians!

Mineral School in Mineral, Washington is offering four two-week residency programs this summer. The residencies will take place in an old, abandoned (haunted!?) schoolhouse. You stay in a modified (haunted!?) classroom, complete with bed, writing desk, etc. My guess is the bathrooms are down the hall, and the (haunted!?) men's room has one of those trough urinals that have sadly fallen out of fashion (which, like all trough urinals, is most definitely haunted).

Applications for Summer 2016 are due in on February 15th, and can be sent in via Submittable.

Fellowships are available for each of the four residency periods, and cover all expenses beyond transportation. One fellowship is available per residency period, and they are open to writers from BC, Alberta, and the Yukon.

The application fee is $25 USD, or $2,000 Canadian at the current exchange rate. Non-funded residency spots can be purchased for $400 USD, which really is a terrific deal despite the exchange rate and (I suspect, I fear) the complete lack of ghosts.

Here's the letter of invitation, from Jane Hodges:

Dear British Columbia Authors,

I'm one of the founders of Mineral School (www.mineral-school.org), a new artists residency in a former 1940s grade school near Mt. Rainier, in Mineral, WA, a funky and forgotten fishing lake town that's two hours southeast of Seattle or about five hours from Vancouver. I wanted to pass along to Canadian writers some information about residency opportunities on the west coast for summer 2016 -- and the fact that we have some fellowships for Canadian writers.

We hosted our first year of residencies in 2015 and have just opened up 2016 summer residency applications for our four two-week residency periods -- the application deadline is Feb. 15, 2016. We have five fellowships for Northwest writers, including four applicable to writers from Western Canada, so we wanted to get the word out to writers in your community -- MFA students, creative writing faculty, alumni etc.

We'll host 15 writers this year. Non-funded residencies are a very nominal $400 (US). All residents are fed all meals (allergies accommodated), and we'll host visiting writer readings as well as a residents' reading for those who care to share their work with the public.

We're an all-volunteer organization founded by writers and creatives and we're doing this all on a shoestring and as a labor of love (even our chefs are volunteers -- in '15 they were grad students in nutrition at a WA state holistic college), and we appreciate any word-of-mouth you care to share on our behalf with writers seeking a summer residency in a pretty place.

We hosted MFA candidates from Sarah Lawrence and U Michigan this past summer, as well as established authors working on second or third books -- including a few who were nominated for Pushcarts, members of the Seattle University and Pacific Lutheran University faculty, and a poet who was published in Best American Poetry 2015.

More information can be found on our Submittable page: https://mineralschool.submittable.com/submit or on Facebook or our web site.

I'm happy to answer any questions (jane(at)mineral-school(dot)org).

Yours in literature,
Jane Hodges

Mineral School (Ghost added for effect and NOT TO SCALE)


Margaret Atwood wants to give you her money

Photo Credit
Well, sort of. She insists you donate her money to the Al Purdy A-frame, and you have to donate an equal amount yourself. And I'm pretty sure she keeps the tax receipt for her half. But still, neat eh?

If you make a donation to the A-frame before March 15th, Margaret Atwood will match your donation (up to $5,000 in total donations). You can donate here.

I've been stumping for the A-frame for some time now, but this particular call is a special one, and not just because you get to shake Margaret down for a few bucks in the process.

In April, my wife, myself and our eight-month old son will be heading to the A-frame for a two month stay (!!!).

It's a rarity that a writer residency will support you traveling with your family, which bars all but the most wealthy and/or neglectful of parents of young children from attending. Thankfully, the A-frame residency is a different beast, and is very welcoming to our situation.

The A-frame is still very much a "fixer upper", but fixes are being made all the time. New insulation was added to the A-frame last year to avoid frozen-baby-syndrome, and I've even heard rumours of a crib under construction!

One big essential-to-writers-with-infants repair job is currently underway: the restoration of Al's writing shed (pictured below, w/ sleek muscle man, dog, lady in orange shirt, etc.).

Photo Credit

If you need to know why having a space for writing detached from the house will be essential for me, well, you've never lived with an infant, have you? You lucky, lucky, hopelessly naive people. I remember being one of you only just last year.

So, if you donate not only will Margaret Atwood thank you, and the ghost of Al Purdy thank you, but I will thank you as well!

To donate you can send a cheque to:

The Al Purdy A-frame Association
4403 West 11th Ave
Vancouver BC
V6R 2M2

Or via PayPal here or CanadaHelps here.

Now go spend Margaret's money, alright?


waiting for the rules of the game to become clear to me

I’m willing to give a fair amount of control to language itself to determine what a poem says. I think I’m in a sort of middle camp between the people who think the writer’s job is to make language say what they want, and the people who think it’s impossible to use language to convey meaning. I think language and I are more so passing a soccer ball back and forth, and I’m not so sure either of us has a clear idea of where the goal is. At times we seem to be moving in a purposeful direction, and at other times we seem to just be running in circles for fun — I’m not sure. I feel like with every poem I’m kind of waiting for the rules of the game to become clear to me. Sometimes I get annoyed and tired with all the running around — I think if it were solely up to me, the goals would be more clear. But (in our relationship anyway) language seems to have its own priorities.

- Linda Besner, in interview with Katherine Leyton in Arc Poetry Magazine's January 2016 Newsletter. You can read the whole thing here, and subscribe to the newsletter here.


yes, there is a war on

While I love the idea of "camp," I don't believe in "camps." So many people confuse aesthetic choices with ideologies. I can't imagine anything being "off limits" for an entire group of individuals bound together by common beliefs. It's a kind of intellectual segregation. Good art is good art, regardless of how you yourself write your own poems. We should be celebrating aesthetic diversity instead of using aesthetic principles to beat up on one another. I shake my head sometimes at poets. We are a plural lot. And yet, sometimes, some of us get entrenched as if there's a war on. Yes, there is a war on. But it's not poet versus poet. It's poetry versus other kinds of cultural stupidity. And yes, I meant it to sound that way.

- D.A. Powell, in interview with James Cihlar in the May/June 2011 issue of American Poetry Review. Thanks to Bren Simmers for pointing this out.


New Decade, New Look

2016 marks my 10th year of blogging here at silaron. Crazy, eh?

My first thought: Wow, the internet is old!
My second thought: I am even older than the internet.
My third thought: I could collapse into dust at any moment.

Naturally, this called for a mid-life-blogging-crisis. I've revamped the look (gone is the absurdly skinny template, source of many a formatting nightmare), and even changed the name. Well, shortened it. Most people I talk to about the blog just call it "that nickel blog" or "your stupid website" anyway. So, "spreading" is out (you hear that, men?).

From now on, you can just call this little guy ron.

Internet, you may be old, but you are still as strange as ever.


accuracy is an underrated virtue

I say I’m a scholar, but really I suppose I’m a collagist. One of the scholars I most respect recently told me that what I take for his erudition is really a scramble of patched-together surmises made to shore up his poetry. Perhaps I’ll say the same, someday. (And the poetry a scramble of patched-together surmises made to shore up the life?) I respect scholarship, though. I think accuracy is an underrated virtue, and bibliography the great, boring, important critical task. But it’s not an unliterary task. Think of Melville’s sub-sub librarian, at the beginning of Moby Dick, who establishes the ocean in which the great white whale will shortly be set loose.

- Luke Hathaway (formerly Amanda Jernigan), in conversation with Alexandra Oliver, over at Partisan. You can read the whole thing here.


told to queue indefinitely by my inner comptroller

I’m superstitious about beginning to write too early, before the “idea” has accrued that sense of urgency, of resonating essence, of which you speak. A lot of ideas are therefore simply told to queue indefinitely, by my inner comptroller. But the key thing for me is, when a poem does present itself — not just the “idea” but the whole nexus of memories and allusions and associations and feelings, including, of course, centrally, that feeling of ineffable freight — to really let it jump the turnstile and take over my train of thought, completely. To write while the spirit moves, if you like. Because I’ve learned that if the thing doesn’t get written down then, it’s likely to never get written.

- Luke Hathaway (formerly Amanda Jernigan), in conversation with Alexandra Oliver, over at Partisan. You can read the whole thing here.


for heavensake I don't have an MFA in Feelings - "Kingdom" by Elizabeth Ross

A Dying Wasp - Elizabeth Ross

Feels like electricity. I pick up
my bare feet, the wasp arcs – ecstatic

death in the corner of my bedroom,
a crude tattoo of black and yellow

scratched into the hardwood floor –
I’m embarrassed.

Poor wasp, cherry wine and warm grass
are over. How quickly

fall has bruised the maples
on my street, great fists

of hydrangea punched-out blue
swing eye level in the wind.

Is it true you have to sting before you die?

from Kingdom
(Palimpsest Press, 2015).
Reprinted with permission.


Before September of this year, I knew very little about Elizabeth Ross. I knew she'd been a top-notch poetry editor at PRISM international back in 2010 (you can read her issues in PRISM's online archive), and I also knew that she wasn't the five stages of grief lady (though as poets, aren't we all the five stages of grief lady?).

Then September came and Hurricane Liz hit the West Coast reading circuit like no poet-Hurricane I've ever seen before. She was everywhere: libraries, bookstores, universities; Victoria, Duncan, Vancouver, Saltspring Island. And she brought co-readers, including friends-of-silaron Kate Braid, Elena Johnson, Kevin Spenst, Kayla Czaga and Bren Simmers. Ten readings in total over the stretch of a few weeks, all organized by Liz herself. Publishers, if you are looking to higher a publicist, for goodness sake start with Elizabeth Ross.

She was so thorough she even organized a reading at the library half a block from my house. It was the first poetry reading the library had ever hosted. And did I mention she organized all this from Toronto? I'm telling you, this woman was not messing around. How could I not go to her reading? And I'm very glad I did. Kingdom (Palimpsest Press, 2015) is a terrific debut, full of sharp, thoughtful, open-hearted poems.

Before I got the chance to interview her in person, Liz raced back to Toronto (I assume to give 75 readings in 25 days, or something), so instead we chatted electronically over the Christmas break. Topics included Kingdom and its zany cover, confessional writing, sounding out poems, and zombie deer. Enjoy!

Elizabeth Ross, Crasher Squirrel


Rob: Let's start at the beginning: Kingdom has a heck of a cover (and back cover). Could you speak a bit about its origins, and what it represents for you in relation to the content of the book?

Liz: I’m so lucky: I love the cover. Dawn Kresan, who was also my editor, designed the book – she knew the content well and came up with the striking design. (Talk about wearing many hats and small presses.)

What I like most about the cover is the number of ways it can be read. While the ideas of home and homing are central in the book, the image isn’t trying to didactically nail those ideas down – the house is floating. But it’s not clear if the tether – the cable that wraps the spine and is secured to a pastoral tree – is going to tear the tree out, or if the tree is strong enough to hold the house. This ambivalence is my favorite part, and is continued in the house itself, which is simultaneously cute (you could even say it has “curb appeal,” if you were obsessed with real estate like I am) and decrepit, fantastic and menacing. You can almost see the witch’s feet sticking out of the foundation, like in the Wizard of Oz.

I wish I could speak to the cover’s origin, beyond Getty Images. If anyone recognizes it, I’d love to know the artist’s name.

Rob: Ok, internet, get researching!

Sticking the the covers, the back page copy for Kingdom refers to the book's poems as "confessional," and with titles like "Dear Diary: May 5, 1995" you don't seem to shy away from the label. The book is set up largely chronologically, with the first section ("Out of Body") dealing with your childhood, and the book moving forward from there. Do you consider these "confessional" poems? "Autobiographical" poems? What to you think of those labels, in general?

Liz: Yeah, I’m not shy of the label. These poems are confessional, autobiographical, whatever you want to call them – I don’t think it matters. As an English student, I became preoccupied with labels, those poetry-101 categories, and while they’re useful in some circumstances, I gave them too much attention and power. Overall, the confessional poets were formative for me – confessional writing is where I come from, or it’s a place that charges my initial work.

Outside the literary stuff, the idea of confession, particularly as an aesthetic, was complicated for me because coming from an Anglican background, repentance seemed to hover in the poems’ equations. I guess repentance is an aesthetic, too. I think I like the idea of writing as repentance, not in the way of asking an external, oppressive force for forgiveness, but in a declarative way, as a statement of values and questions.

The thing I don’t like about confessional writing is that it tends to lead readers to focus on the speaker’s life, rather than the writer’s work. It’s so important to acknowledge the artifice and craft in poetry, confessional and otherwise. A fellow artist was surprised once when I mentioned my editor. I mean, the book started as my thesis, for heavensake; I don’t have an MFA in Feelings.

Years ago, I saw Sharon Olds read from One Secret Thing at the VIWF, and during the Q and A session (I don’t remember the exact question, but it had to do with using one’s personal life for writing material), she said (and I took notes, because I’m that nerdy), “Art bears our life and our memory, and we share the weight.” That’s what matters.

Rob: Connected to the above, I was curious, in reading Kingdom, about the sequence in which you composed the poems. Did you write about particular parts of your life at particular moments in your writing life (i.e. Poems about your youth early on, poems about your childhood later, etc.)? Did you find, in assembling the collection, that certain parts of your life were "underwritten" by comparison to others? If so, did it inspire you to write any poems to fill the gaps?

Liz: I like the word “underwritten” in this question. It initially made me think of insurance policies, and then of the first unpublished book I wrote that kind of serves as an underwriter for Kingdom, as risk analysis. That manuscript was organized into a deliberate chronology, and while the book didn’t work out, writing it helped me write Kingdom. "Underwriting" also makes me think about how various parts of life – like you say, early childhood – operate much beyond their delineated times.

Funnily enough, the autobiographical chronology you refer to didn’t become apparent to me until another writer pointed it out as an organizational option, and even though it was a great suggestion I followed through on, my first priority was to divide the book into thematic sections, so the narrative is secondary. I did, however, become aware of some gaps that I tried to fill by reorganizing poems within each section. But my main idea was to write poems about personas – areas and ideas – instead of times. I suppose these are blurry distinctions, though.

Rob: Do you find you need distance from an event in order to be able to write about it? Are there particular poems in Kingdom that took you longer than others to be able to approach?

Liz: I tend to write about things as they happen, but that doesn’t mean the poems are close to being done, or even close to being poems – some take ages, and still aren’t finished, and others go relatively quickly. I wrote “Mastiff” in two intense (I’ll admit, teary) days. That’s pretty rare, though. Other poems, like “Projector” and “Kingdom” had been going through various iterations for years.

I’ve learned that time is a good thing when writing. Since having kids, I have less of it, so I’m much more deadline driven. I have a tendency to push on my poems in their earlier stages, and to work them harder than I did when I was writing Kingdom. But for the most part, I still try to give them some space.

I’m reminded of Jefferey Donaldson and his introduction to Echo Soundings, where he compares poets to sailors listening out a line:

“Poets and sailors have this in common: they sound the fluid element on which they float. They let out a line, so to speak, line that sinks beneath visible surface, more and more line as they go, sounding for the bottom, for the creatures that move along the bottom… It is by the line in their hands and how they feel for it that they know things.”

I love this metaphor. It’s the most concrete way to describe writing I’ve ever encountered. And certainly time and patience, or however you do your sounding – are required.

Rob: This book roams throughout British Columbia - Victoria, Nanaimo, the Gulf Islands, Vancouver, the Okanagan, etc. - the places where you grew up, lived and went to school. You've lived in Toronto for a little while now - how has living in Toronto changed how you've thought of BC?

Liz: I’m much more aware of awkward intersections now. I find Gordon Head, the suburb where I grew up, pretty strange. During my last visit to Victoria, I’d go for walks under giant cedars and arbutus, and not see a soul for blocks and blocks except for groups of deer I could have reached out and touched. How creepy is that? And while I was there, a cougar out in broad daylight killed a deer on someone’s lawn. Cougars and deer were always around when I was growing up – I wrote a poem about suburban deer in Kingdom – but not to this extent. The deer “problem,” as many people identify it, has developed to an almost satirical level.

But setting aside zombie deer, in Toronto we’re not threatened by an earthquake followed by a tsunami followed by an apocalypse. Although speaking of Oz, there was a tornado warning in Toronto last summer, which was exciting.

Rob: Golly gee! I can sense the poems percolating already. But, c'mon, a tornado? Face it, Toronto, you've got nothing on us.

In all seriousness the next book going to be all Toronto poems? Would you mind if I recommend against it?

Liz: The next book certainly contains snippets of Toronto, but it’s mostly about motherhood, so much worse than a book of Toronto poems.

Poems on Toronto and Motherhood may be equally unbearable, but the poems in Kingdom are far from it. Why not pick up a copy? You can do so at your local bookstore, or from the comfort of your home via the Anvil press website. Or, if you want to be like all the other zombie deer, from Amazon.


the slag of justification

I was learning the craft of poetry, which really was an intensive version of what my mother had taught me all those years ago – the craft of writing as the art of thinking. Poetry aims for the economy of truth – loose and useless words must be discarded, and I found that these loose and useless words were not separate from loose and useless thoughts. Poetry was not simply the transcription of notions - beautiful writing rarely is. I wanted to learn to write, which was ultimately, still, as my mother had taught me, a confrontation with my own innocence, my own rationalizations. Poetry was the processing of my thoughts until the slag of justification fell away and I was left with the cold steel truths of life.

- Ta-Nehisi Coates, from his memoir Between the World and Me.