Sunday, 5 July 2015

Sunday Poem

MERMAID 
On the black shore of Kiluea, her gills flower
and suck. A hollow forming beneath the body,
the body sinking with the tide. As if the land
wants to bury the evidence, wants to hide
the thing beneath itself, drag it under the blue.
Or at least split open the fin, give her a set of legs 
to die with. The order of things requires legs
to explain the clavicle, the bipedal spine, the flower
of her areola, shrivelling like delphiniums, blue
as the night, as the water, as the body
drying to wax. Death is so good at hiding
itself, the way a wave knocks you to land, 
how a current steals you from land.
She could have up and left, if she'd had the legs.
We can’t turn from a riptide, either. Can’t hide
when the ocean decides to own us. Death flowers
in the lung, in the pulmonary. That’s how it is with the body;
a favourite organ turns itself blue. 
At first it’s impartial, a blue
of hesitation, a hint of survival. Then the land
swallows itself dark, which is to say the body
admits it can’t walk back to the water, can’t grow legs
on demand. She is positioned like a cut flower,
photographed. Maybe she wants to hide, 
but no one wants this to be hidden.
Except the shore, the unsettled water, all that blue
shifting sand beneath body. The crowd flowers
around her, clicks and touches, while the land
tries to offer her back. Tries to fasten itself legs
to move her, to reclaim the body. 
This inexplicable body.
Long tail knotted into tail, hiding
itself as we hover in skirts, our legs
finned together. So hot we're bluing
at the seam, complaining about the land
that's offered her up like a flower. 
Some artist finned those legs together, forged us her body.
The way a man seeds flowers in rain, waiting for the hidden
to open its blue, for a reason to pause and turn awestruck to the land.
From The City Series: Vancouver (ed. Michael Prior, Frog Hollow, 2015) by Alessandra Naccarato

Saturday, 4 July 2015

Strange True Places


Reviewing the book for Arc's summer issue, Heather Spears celebrates Jason Guriel's new collection Satisfying Clicking Sound:
For Jason Guriel, chance verbal encounters are a primary source of his inspiration. Here’s an instance where the cliché, tickles his fancy, revives itself: it describes so exactly how this poet works—or rather, plays. He takes a phrase that does just that and runs with it, and the results are wonderful, startling, and unexpected (I am avoiding the book reviewer’s favourite word here, though it would for once be appropriate). In some poems he appends the longer quote after the phrase which delighted him, and the spinning of the poem proceeds.

Guriel would not have left this cliché alone either. Like Robert Lowell (I look, and turn up by chance “as if my hand were at its throat”), Guriel brings outworn phrases to the shining surface of the language, fools around with them, upturns them so a new meaning, a new insight appears. Is this a device and does it have a name? It has a punch that a new image can hardly compete with. A satisfying clicking sound. The first poem’s title “The Buried Hatchet” sounds mundane but comes alive with the first line: “begins to biodegrade,” and ends with another brilliant turnaround—I would add this and more examples, but they should be read where they belong. Otherwise I would be like the reviewer of a comedian who retells all the best jokes and takes the credit.

Guriel’s poems are short, with short lines. His diction in impeccable. He writes tight verse and quatrains as effortlessly as, to name a contemporary, Vikram Seth. Or many an old master—let’s say R. L. Stevenson.

Guriel reinvents the body. In “Claustrophobia” the sense of boundaries is eerily warped:

You step into the plaster
cast of yourself,
the doors close behind,
and everything’s snug;
your penis finds
its sheathe, your lips
their depression

I am always interested in body perception because I teach drawing, and observe firsthand how people’s idea of the named and partitioned body interferes with their ability to draw it.

So I am specially intrigued when I come across the word “sleeve” in two poems, and see how Guriel, again with broken and reassembled clichés, moves our attention away from the hands, into and past the extension of the wrists, the nameless source of gesture. “The trick to writing / well isn’t up / the sleeve. It is / the sleeve that fluffs up / the flourish.” (“John Hancock’s John Hancock”) and (“Hands Playing Haunting Chords”) that “cannot help the soul / that’s up the sleeves, / and cannot help / but fall as fists—off / and on and off / the beat."

I am floored: how does he know stuff like this? What he does is more than playfulness. Reading him is to have your eyes cleared of junk, to be led into strange true places you never noticed before. I am sure that writing is for Jason Guriel “a special kind of happiness.” He was recommended by John Barton and I am grateful. I am delighted to make his acquaintance.

Friday, 3 July 2015

So Sorry!

Sue Goyette apologizes:
We’re sorry we’re so sorry but we are sorry. It’s a Canadian thing like tourtière or Irving. Picture a moose trudging through tundra towards another moose, antlers grazing maple trees that haven’t been cut down yet, the snort of exertion, the clomp of intent. That’s us trying to find each other in this wilderness so we can apologize for something: standing too close, standing too far. Being hard to find in the appointment thicket of our days. We’re sorry one of us invented frozen fish fillets because single-portion frozen dinners invented a new loneliness and the lonely bone, they say, is connected to the drinking bone. The rest, well, the rest is history. Our apologies are welcome mats and engagement rings. The tiebreaker in overtime. Pierre Berton’s bow ties. Meaningful. We take an eternity to back into a parking spot and then feel sorry for all the unparked cars still circling; we’re even sorry for feeling a little lucky. And though having a pocketful of loonies is a good thing here, it sounds like something we should apologize for.  
From outskirts (Brick, 2011).
(Illustration by Julien Decaudin)

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Tweet of the Day


Sunday, 28 June 2015

Sunday Poem


ASCHENBACH IN TORONTO

Every Wednesday she came by and
apologized like a schoolgirl
although she was not really late,
smiling and pushing back her long hair—
she had been reading Musil, or
Lessing, or, it could be, Mann, and
there might be some query about
the lecture of the day before, or
she would mention to him that moment
by the sea, on the beach at the Lido,
where the celebrated author is
hallucinating in his deck-chair, 
and by now they would be
undoing each other and
as their bodies came open
there would be only 
a minute or so left
for this, their mouths
pre-empted except for
slight and perfunctory 
syllables—
but still that image beckoned,
and still the little subdued slap
of the Adriatic mingled 
with the air-conditioning
so that even on the office couch, or
held up against some noticed space
when love was 
prompting her, she would see
what he had seen,
a kind of god, a stunning boy
on whom the sun paused 
turning to look back
from the curling shore, but
it meant nothing,
it was youth 
and she was impatient
with anyone who knew
so little. If she
could intercept 
that glance from the deck-chair,
oh, not to be seen by it but
to become it—
and at the thought of this, 
of pouring forth out of
that cache of mind, collecting
beach and sun and
stunning boy 
and returning inside to test these
against the thronged images
(think of it! always there, always
ardent for the light!) 
and teeming, stacked-up rhythms
of that severe, unswerving life,
why, she can hardly wait,
this is why she’s here, 
this is not Venice and
not exactly an aloof genius
either, but it’s the closest
she can get to 
things so boundless
she could spend her whole life
investigating them. As for him,
watching 
her dress and now the brief pause
and turn to look back towards him
from the door, he’s reminded of
something, a motion perhaps, 
some gesture, what is it, he wonders,
watching although she is gone,
he leans forward in his chair
by the sea.
From A Serious Call (Porcupine's Quill, 2015) by Don Coles

Arts Wants To Be Seen


You can pretend to indifferent, argues Adam Kirsch, but writing is premised on the hope of a readership:
Literary history knows of writers who have come to the very edge of oblivion: Kafka ordered his executor to burn his manuscripts; Dickinson left her hundreds of poems in a chest of drawers. But even Kafka and Dickinson gave enough signs of literary existence to the outside world that their posthumous discovery became possible, perhaps even inevitable. Such writers played a game of hide-and-seek with posterity, which may look like modesty in comparison with many artists’ blatant self-promotion, but which can also be considered a form of seduction. Surely they would have been dismayed if their tricks had worked too well and no one had ever read them at all.

Nor should this be considered a symptom of egotism or frailty. For the truth is that there is something in the act of creation that presses forward into the public realm, whether the artist goes on to seek publicity or not. To write a poem or paint a picture is to translate inner experience into outward form and presence; it is to objectify sensation, and the definition of an object is that it can be passed from hand to hand, its shape fixed for everyone. To want to be an artist without creating such an object is a contradiction in terms. And once the object is created, it wants to be seen, just as a flower or a wave wants to be seen. Art is a form of communication, and communication cannot be totally autonomous, just as there can be no such thing as a private language.

Messy Handwriting


Nathanial Woo ranks the ten most "bizarre" literary movements and genres. My favourite is asemic writing:
When we think about literature and writing, we often think about words. But asemic writing is a type of writing that doesn’t involve any words at all. It merely involves a bunch of pretty squiggles. Asemic writing is designed to have no specific meaning. In fact, the term “asemic” derives from a condition called asemia, sufferers of which are unable to understand signs and symbols. This meaningless state is achieved through writing in nonexistent languages.

This isn’t to say that asemic writing is totally meaningless or incomprehensible. On the contrary, the abstract and unreadable nature of asemic writing enables it to be broadly interpreted as having multiple different meanings. In this sense, asemic writing can be seen to establish a universal language that is accessible to all nationalities and cultures. Also, asemic writing can be viewed as capturing and reflecting emotions that cannot be fully explained through words. It can be pretty neat stuff, or it can be meaningless rubbish. It’s really up to you.

Similar to the calligram, asemic writing can be viewed as an art-literature hybrid. The genre’s nonspecific nature means that the appearance of the writing is important. Essentially, good asemic writing has to be made of attractive or striking scribbles, not just the messy handwriting of a two-year-old. (Unless you really like the messy handwriting of a two-year-old, of course.)

This focus on appearance often results in asemic writing looking similar to calligraphy. In fact, some of the oldest recorded asemic writing is Chinese calligraphy from the eighth century. Specifically, the calligrapher “crazy” Zhang Xu was famous for his bizarre cursive calligraphy. It was all twiddly, squiggly, and rather pretty but nearly impossible to read. The calligraphy of crazy Zhang has been noted as an influence on asemic writing practitioners like Tim Gaze and Michael Jacobson, both of whom run asemic writing publications like The New Post Literate and Asemic Magazine. To these asemic writers, the movement is an important contemporary development that can progress and evolve conventional written language.