Saturday, 1 August 2015

Never Become Complacent

Christina Cooke is guest-editing (along with Nailah King) the upcoming Women of Colour issue for Room magazine. Here she challenges some shibboleths surrounding racial inequality in publishing:
Many organizations use the excuse of not knowing any writers of colour to shirk the responsibility of changing the status quo. But quite frankly, you don’t need to know us in order to publish us. You don’t need to be able to “find yourself” (i.e. find something relatable to whiteness) in order to accept a piece as strong and legitimate. What is required, in my opinion, is an openness beyond liberal double-speak (i.e. reveling in discussing race theory, but standing dumbfounded when confronted with a racialized person). If blackness is something you struggle to understand, be honest with yourself and others about that fact. From there, seek out the resources necessary to broaden your understanding (books, articles, anti-oppression workshops, etc. Google is your oyster). But don’t just take that information and pat yourself on the back. Seek out actual people of colour and include them at every level of the field: as writers, editors, critics, and consumers. Real people will always have additional bits of wisdom that haven’t yet made their way to books. But most importantly, never become complacent. Never stop trying. There’s no way we can completely undo centuries of trauma with a few new friends and spiffy new books.

It Rings True

Lee Harwood—who John Ashbery called his "favourite English romantic poet"—died on Sunday, July 26. (Some tributes have been collected here). In a 2014 interview with PN Review, he discussed how his notion of audience influenced his poetry.
It always has to be like a spoken language. Even though it may not appear totally like it. So one has always got to be talking to somebody real, first of all. The conversational tone of having someone in mind. Jack Spicer said the poem is like a stone thrown into a pond: you write the poem just for yourself, and then the rings go out. The first one would be someone you’re in love with; the next one would be your group of friends; and then if it gets to anyone beyond that it’s an accident. It’s put clumsily, but I know what he means. Once you start talking in that public voice, like Adrian Mitchell about Vietnam, you lose a humanity. It’s rhetoric, it’s speechifying. Whereas if you keep it close, keep it personal, it rings true.

Friday, 31 July 2015

Critical Community

Phoebe Wang describes the reasons for her foray into poetry reviewing:
I began writing reviews in 2012 after becoming aware of VIDA’s and CWILA’s annual reports on the low percentages of female-authored books reviewed by major literary publications. It’s not the reviews themselves that matter as much as the fact that so many young women, myself included, fear misreading work or becoming entangled in a literary feud or simply don’t find writing criticism appealing. But criticism and reviewing in Canada is tied up in whole apparatus of validation: anthologizing, prize-giving, popular consensus, university curriculums and canon-formation. I feel I have no choice but to participate in whose poems gets read, reviewed, included, studied and taught, if I want to see literary criticism in Canada reflect the enormous range of human experiences contained by its borders.

Monday, 27 July 2015

Oh, Please

Quincy R. Lehr. delivers a stinging post-mortem on New Formalism, describing it as a spent force:
Literary references, parodies, and revisitations abounded in New Formalist poetry. The effect, though, was frequently that of reading a Fodor’s guidebook rather than living in a place, a romp though the museum of the Tradition rather than an engagement with the European past extending into the present. Many New Formalists developed a particular fondness for the Canon Poem, a slightly rejigged account of an ancient myth either done straight or folded into some scene of middle-class banality. Some poets were able to make the canon poem at least episodically interesting (notably A. E. Stallings in her first book, Archaic Smile, though the sheer number of the things got numbing at times), but at its worst, the canon poem reflected a sort of prissy preciousness. Take these lines from the poem “To Her Book” in Catherine Savage Brosman’s Breakwater:

Farewell, then. May your readers be those birds
which by an Orphic song were freely caught,
embracing as their own the poet’s words,
the very shape and countenance of thought.

Oh, please. One thinks of an amateur Renaissance music ensemble in some out-of-the-way minor university town, eking tunes out of viols and sackbuts and utterly convinced that they are somehow contributing to the preservation of the Great Western Tradition.
(Illustration by John Holcroft)

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Sunday Poem

The park's trees are still green, but fall advances
pushing night ahead of it. You see it
in the faces of people still surprised
to see evening gnaw away at the afternoon.
By six o'clock—no, earlier, and earlier still,
daylight flies off over the rooftops. You say
almost in silence to yourself: "Soon,
we'll be plunged into icy gloom, Adieu,"
and the rest you know by heart. These words
twirl around the alexandrine the way
a tendril climbs a post. They come
in clusters—three, six syllables—blossom
in the rhyme's bouquet of phonemes.
Even if we could, we wouldn't dare
write today in this language of the gods.
The gods have fled into
the foliage overhead, while you
halt in the field, in the middle
of a patch of shadow, stuck there
like a boundary stone, gaping,
struck by the stupor of the elegy. Soon
We'll be treading through wet leaves,
pushing what's left of summer with a boot
in the immense twilight where we'll come to feel
that life is but a matter of a day,
that all things born must perish,
that tasks are all in vain,
that one knows nothing, has nothing, is nothing.
What am I doing in this park,
trotting out these hackneyed tropes?
Fall, evening, the end of all of it....
It's getting late, rain is on the way.
I'll catch cold if I don't go back home.
From Montreal Before Spring by Robert Mélançon (Biblioasis, 2015), translated by Donald McGrath.
(Photo by Stephane Venne)

Saturday, 25 July 2015


Susan Lindsay sheds light on Derek Mahon's competitiveness with Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney by retelling an incident where Mahon refused a 'second-place' prize:
I was listening to poet Derek Mahon’s controversial biographer, Stephen Enniss, last night—as he was interviewed by Vincent Woods on Arts Tonight on RTE Radio 1*. Savouring the pleasure of hearing Derek Mahon himself, in excerpts from previous interviews and hearing him read a few of his poems. Stephen Enniss acknowledges that Mahon and Seamus Heaney were good friends but also, inevitably, rivals. He linked the withdrawal of Derek Mahon from the public sphere of poetry, including his refusal of an OBE from the Queen of his birth-place, Northern Ireland, to the awarding of the Nobel Prize to Heaney. The wisdom of which withdrawal Enniss absolutely regrets and he hopes his book will provide a counterbalance, keeping Derek Mahon’s poetry closer to the foreground of international attention. It will be good if it achieves that although the poems speak for themselves.
(Portrait by Anthony Palliser)

Vendler Venting

Calling her criticism "condescending waffle," Daniel Swift spells out his unhappiness with Helen Vendler's new book of criticism, The Ocean, the Bird and the Scholar:
This is a collection of essays and reviews from various magazines and occasions, and they apparently have not been edited for republication, so the tone varies considerably. Occasionally, Vendler sounds as though she is addressing postgraduates; occasionally, her claims are so bland that she might be composing a Wikipedia entry (on The Waste Land by T. S. Eliot: ‘it revolutionised modern verse’). Some of the pieces are superb: a powerful essay on how Robert Lowell’s poetry uses syntax to perform the feeling of depression, and an amazingly subtle account of ‘if’ and ‘but’ in the poems of Wallace Stevens. These essays have only one thing in common: they are all about poets Vendler loves. But—in contrast to the recent essay collection by the poet and translator Michael Hofmann, Where Have You Been?, which covers some of the same ground—she never makes you want to go away and read the poets she has been discussing.