every voice has its own kind of silence

If you find a story - I say find, because stories are half-found, half-invented. When there is a story there, this is only the beginning of the task because then the voice for telling that story has to be found and that's the most difficult part of all. Each story, ideally, has its right voice. Sometimes voice can actually mean the voice of the narrator who takes over the telling of the story. But even if the story is told completely in the third person, the story has a voice and that voice has to be found, and only that voice can do justice to that story. I think this question of voice is so important because stories depend not only on what is said, but maybe even more on what is not said. They depend upon silences. And every voice has its own kind of silence, jumping over the unsaid.


- John Berger, in conversation with Eleanor Wachtel. As published in More Writers & Company: New Conversations with CBC Radio's Eleanor Wachtel.


the sustenance that dignity requires

Eleanor Wachtel: When you started out as as art critic... you wrote that you judged a work of art according to whether it helped man in the modern world claim their social rights.

John Berger: I remember writing that. Like many things that I wrote at that time there was a kind of defiance That comment has to be placed in a context in which all official thinking was saying that art was a completely autonomous activity, to do with sensibility and taste and so on. So I was defining defiantly my own practice as a critic. But I do think that somebody who is now unemployed, and who comes upon a work of art that speaks to her or him, can receive a certain sustenance from it, which will make that person more aware of their own dignity, and will therefore make them perhaps refuse or struggle against their fate. I think the concept of dignity and the sustenance that dignity requires can never be simply individual. Dignity is a question, above all, of how people treat you and how you treat other people. So if art is about human dignity, one can also say that it is about the relations between people, and that those relations are social.

- John Berger, in conversation with Eleanor Wachtel. As published in More Writers & Company: New Conversations with CBC Radio's Eleanor Wachtel.


truth forced out through a restricted opening

Even in translation, one of the pleasures of Gogol's prose is the way a genuine emotion, passed through the distortive skaz filter, comes out the other side, still genuine but twisted.

I heard a version of this growing up. Late at some neighborhood party, cornered by some pal of my parents' who'd had too much to drink and longed to convey to someone, anyone, how the world seemed to him (beautiful, unfair, full of hidden messages he'd missed), a sort of Chicago skaz got performed: "You got moxie but, trust me, the fucks are gonna fuck with you, and you gotta give 'em this" - insert raised middle finger - "first time they try that shit!" 

Every soul is vast and wants to express itself fully. If it's denied an adequate instrument (and we're all denied that, at birth, some more than others), out comes... poetry, i.e. truth forced out through a restricted opening.

That's all poetry is, really: something odd, coming out. Normal speech, overflowed. A failed attempt to do justice to the world. The poet proves that language is inadequate by throwing herself at hte fence of language and being bound by it. 

- George Saunders, from his essay "The Door to the Truth Might be Strangeness" in A Swim in a Pond in the Rain.


Strangers in the Wild, pt. 3

 Strangers continues rooting about in the woods, turning up all sorts of delights! (You can read part one here and part two here.)

Kim Fahner published a very thoughtful review of Strangers in Periodicities: A Journal of Poetry and Poetics. Here's how Kim ends the review:

This collection is stunning in its poignant intimacy, in how the poet opens the door to his readers, inviting them to listen to his stories, but also bravely nudging them to consider their own recollections of how memory and story are woven into one another.

You can read the whole review here.

Over at The Ormsby Review, Linda Rogers has provided some coverage of Strangers as part of an eleven (11!) book omnibus review of "pandemic books." An excerpt:

This is the book that reminds us of the steps in finding coherence in fear. “Don’t be a stranger” the poet reminds himself and us as life slips through our fingers, as every one of his fresh and vital poems reminds us of the firm grip of the newborn.

You can read the whole review (which also covers wonderful books by Junie Desil, Patrick Friesen, Stephen Collis and more) here

Of all the cultural criticism the book's received, though, nothing has a hope of surpassing this Twitter post by David Ly, from his thread comparing Canadian poetry books and Lady Gaga outfits:

The whole thread is a delight - do check it out. And check out my interview with David about his debut collection, Mythical Man, here.

More generally, I've been very moved by all the poem and cover photos from Strangers that readers are posting to Twitter. I'm not sure if it indicates that the book is getting out there in the world more than my others, or if it's just that this is what people do on Twitter now, but stuff like this and this and this and this and this and this and this: 

brings me such joy.

That said, I like interacting with human beings in real life even more so! So if you're in Vancouver, check out the upcoming "Strangers Summer Series" events (including one in Douglas Park tonight!). I've also received word that I'll be reading at the Vancouver Writers' Fest this year (a first for one of my own books). Stay tuned for more info on that (and also some secret emoji-related nonsense I'm brewing up). 

If you're not in Vancouver, I won't be touring this book around, but the recording of my book launch (with Luke Hathaway, Sadiqa de Meijer and Sue Sinclair!) is now available online:

It's a weird experience, launching a book entirely from your home town (and mostly from your home office, which doubles as your family's living room), but looking back over all this goodness, it's hard to say it's a bad one.


"Nostalgia for Moving Parts" by Diane Tucker

Long-time friend of the blog, Diane Tucker, has just released her fourth poetry collection, "Nostalgia for Moving Parts", from Turnstone Press (you can read my interview with Diane, about her third collection Bonsai Love, here).

The book officially "launched" online last week, and will be celebrated in person this Thursday at the July "Strangers Summer Series" event in Vancouver's Douglas Park. To whet your appetite for both the book and the event, here's a sample poem from the book:


VanDusen Garden in October

Imagine being planted long enough
that your roots grow up through the earth,
breaking the mossy surface the way
a fish’s spine rises from the bronze lake.

Imagine walking in a chilled silence
until you hear three black squirrels
chewing and hear their tiny hearts beat
when the raven screams. Imagine

white-gowned women in a fern dell.
Imagine they’ve swallowed all of the
October light and shine with it like
walking birches. Imagine small bridges

over a dry stream. Imagine every leaf
assembling, red-gold current of autumn
wind running under ice-hearted stones.
Imagine pausing there, letting the chill

slip itself down your back, into your
lungs. Imagine your coat, your scarf,
your boots loosen, open, and let slip in
November’s sleek and blandishing hands. 

"November’s sleek and blandishing hands"! I think about that line often. I was honoured to be able to read the book in advance and provide a blurb, which summarises my feelings on both the book and, in some ways, this poem:
When Diane Tucker hangs up a payphone in Nostalgia for Moving Parts' title poem, she observes that "there is (oh unexpected pleasure) a real click." When she lays down to sleep: "the prayers / that fight up through me make a sort of hum." Click and hum. Nostalgia and prayer. What's been and what will always be. Nostalgia for Moving Parts reminds us how to hear and see the ephemeral in the eternal and the eternal in the ephemeral: the moving parts of all our lives.

Do pick up a copy of the book, either online from the Turnstone Press website, or from your local bookstore, or in person on Thursday, July 15th from Diane herself!


Diane Tucker is a poet, editor, fiction writer, and playwright from Vancouver, BC. Her work has been widely anthologized and published in more than seventy journals in Canada and abroad. Her first poetry collection, God on His Haunches (Nightwood Editions, 1996), was shortlisted for the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award. Nostalgia for Moving Parts is her fourth book of poems.


Strangers Summer Series - Updated Lineups

Well, if COVID couldn't stop us, apocalyptic weather could! The first in-person event of the "Strangers Summer Series" was canceled due to the record-shattering heatwave that descended upon Vancouver that weekend.

But if the last year and a half has taught us anything, it's resilience! I've rescheduled the readers from the canceled event (Jen Sookfong Lee and Tolu Oloruntoba), and expanded all remaining events to include four readers. The next one is only a few days away!

The details:

Strangers Summer Series July Event
Thursday, July 15, 7 PM
Douglas Park, Vancouver
Featuring: Tanja Bartel, Aidan Chafe, Diane Tucker, and me!


Strangers Summer Series August Event
Wednesday, August 11, 7 PM
Clark Park, Vancouver
Featuring: Dallas Hunt, Tolu Oloruntoba, Shaun Robinson, and me!


Strangers Summer Series September Event
Saturday, September 11, 3 PM
McSpadden Park, Vancouver
Featuring: Jen Sookfong Lee, Barbara Nickel, Molly Cross-Blanchard and me!


All events are free, but require pre-registration. You can learn more, or register, by clicking here:

I'd love to see you at any/all of these events!

If you're not in Vancouver, my virtual launch which happened back in May is still visible online. It's not nearly as fun as sweating and eating freezies in a park together, but it'll have to do:


an awful core of ego


Elizabeth Bishop: I've never really sat down and said to myself, I'm going to be a poet. Never in my life. I'm still surprised that people think I am... There's nothing more embarrassing than being a poet, really.

Elizabeth Spires: It's especially difficult to tell people you're meeting for the first time that that's what you do.

Bishop: Just last week a friend and I went to visit a wonderful lady I know in Quebec. She's seventy-four or seventy-five. And she didn't say this to me but she said to my friend, Alice, I'd like to ask my neighbor who has the big house next door to dinner, and she's so nice, but she'd be bound to ask Elizabeth what she does and if Elizabeth said she wrote poetry, the poor woman wouldn't say another word all evening! This is awful, you know, and I think no matter how modest you think you feel or how minor you think you are, there must be an awful core of ego somewhere for you to set yourself up to write poetry. I've never felt it, but it must be there. 


- Elizabeth Bishop, from her Paris Review interview. You can read the whole thing here.


carpenters build houses, mechanics fix automobiles


Kurt Vonnegut: I don't have the will to teach anymore. I only know the theory. 

Interviewer: Could you put the theory into a few words? 

Vonnegut: It was stated by Paul Engle - the founder of the Writers' Workshop at Iowa. He told me that, if the Workshop ever got a building of its own, these words should be inscribed over the entrance: Don't take it all so seriously.

Interviewer: And how would that be helpful? 

Vonnegut: It would remind the students that they were learning to play practical jokes. 

Interviewer: Practical jokes? 

Vonnegut: If you make people laugh or cry about little black marks on sheets of white paper, what is that but a practical joke? All the great story lines are great practical jokes that people fall for over and over again.

Interviewer: Can you give an example?

Vonnegut: The Gothic novel. Dozens of the things are published every year, and they all sell. My friend Borden Deal recently wrote a Gothic novel for the fun of it, and I asked him what the plot was, and he said, A young woman takes a job in an old house and gets the pants scared off her.

Interviewer: Some more examples?

Vonnegut: The others aren't that much fun to describe: somebody gets into trouble, and then gets out again; somebody loses something and gets it back; somebody is wronged and gets revenge; Cinderella; somebody hits the skids and just goes down, down, down, down; people fall in love with each other, and a lot of other people get in the way; a virtuous person is falsely accused of sin; a sinful person is believed to be virtuous; a person faces a challenge bravely, and succeeds or fails; a person lies, a person steals, a person kills, a person commits fornication.

Interviewer: If you will pardon my saying so, these are very old-fashioned plots.

Vonnegut: I guarantee you that no modern story scheme, even plotlessness, will give a reader genuine satisfaction, unless one of those old-fashioned plots is smuggled in somewhere. I don't praise plots as accurate representations of life, but as ways to keep readers reading. When I used to teach creative writing, I would tell the students to make their characters want something right away - even if it's only a glass of water. Characters paralyzed by the meaninglessness of modern life still have to drink water from time to time. One of my students wrote a story about a nun who got a piece of dental floss stuck between her lower left molars, and who couldn't get it out all day long. I thought that was wonderful. The story dealt with issues a lot more important than dental floss, but what kept readers going was anxiety about when the dental floss would finally be removed. Nobody could read that story without fishing around in his mouth with a finger. Now there's an admirable practical joke for you. When you exclude plot, when you exclude anyone's wanting anything, you exclude the reader, which is a mean-spirited thing to do. You can also exclude the reader by not telling him immediately where the story is taking place, and who the people are -

Interviewer: And what they want.

Vonnegut: Yes. And you can put him to sleep by never having characters confront each other. Students like to say that they stage no confrontations because people avoid confrontations in modern life. Modern life is so lonely, they say. This is laziness. It's the writer's job to stage confrontations, so the characters will say surprising and revealing things, and educate and entertain us all. If a writer can't or won't do that, he should withdraw from the trade.

Interviewer: Trade?

Vonnegut: Trade. Carpenters build houses. Storytellers use a reader's leisure time in such a way that the reader will not feel that his time has been wasted. Mechanics fix automobiles.

- Kurt Vonnegut, from his Paris Review interview. You can read the whole thing here.