Thursday, 26 February 2009

Dear Reader of the Future


Not sure if anyone will find this as amusing as I do, but my good friend Robert Moore, a very fine poet and all-around mensch, sent me a doctored mp3 of his poem "Dear Reader of the Future." It's a recording he did for inclusion on a complimentary CD that will be offered to buyers of his new book, Figuring Ground, at its launch in April. "With my voice adjusted," Robert says " I think I sound a bit like Elizabeth Bishop reading the poem in 1965, hailing us from the past."


Corroded Croaking

Don't let the bow-tie fool you. Eric Ormsby's got game. This week one of his metaphors has triggered a intense discussion (which has spilled to the other blogs) over the purpose and efficacy of description in poetry.

You'll find a fun interview with Dr. O at Biblioasis.

Friday, 20 February 2009

The Tabloid Addict

Maisonneuve has just posted a terrific interview with Signal poet Shannon Stewart on the subject of her new book, Penny Dreadful.

"The influx of graphic violence in our daily lives is overwhelming and the line between newsworthiness and sensationalism isn’t always clear. What is our relationship to news and what do we do with a packet of horror that lands on our doorstep every morning?"

More here.


Thursday, 19 February 2009

Flash Interview #5: Anita Lahey

Anita Lahey has twice won the Great Blue Heron Poetry Contest, the Ralph Gustafson Prize for Best Poem, and first prize for poetry in Pagitica’s annual literary competition. Her poems have appeared in Ottawa buses as part of the Transpoetry competition, and in The New Canon: An Anthology of Canadian Poetry.

Her first book Out to Dry in Cape Breton (2006) was nominated for the Trillium Award for Poetry. Lahey is editor of Arc: Canada's Poetry Magazine and lives in Montreal.

The following interview was conducted by e-mail.

Carmine Starnino: When reading Out to Dry in Cape Breton, I was struck by the fact that I'd seen clotheslines cited in poems, but rarely read poems ABOUT clotheslines. Do you think, even after the recent flood of confessional/domestic verse, there still exist everyday subjects waiting to be discovered by poets?

Anita Lahey: Of course there are. I don't mean poems that rehash the same old territory in the same old way. But any object looked upon with absolute honesty, and perhaps with some measure of creative abandon, can be reinvented or turned inside out, or simply used as a worthy vehicle for an idea that needs to be shared. By which I mean, a good poet working in top form can both transform a dish rack and use that dish rack to convey something necessary, memorable or refreshing—hopefully all three.

CS: What aspect of Maritime life are you most happy you captured in the final poem that ends the book,"Cape Breton Relative."

AL: If I've captured anything at all in this poem, it has to do with the alluring, varied geography of the island. It is a combination of, on the one hand, the rough and the jagged (read: coastal cliffs, unforgiving tides, lots of swamp and forest untraversed by roads), and on the other, the gentle and welcoming (read: spongy mosses, windswept grasses, quiet rivers). This contrast emerges in some sense in the people as well. It's something I see in my own father, a Cape Bretoner, and in friends and relatives there. Like the rocks and the weather, these people won't let you get away with anything, they keep you on your toes. Like the softer elements of the landscape, they can be shockingly kind, but often in a shy and reserved way.

CS: As someone who wears three different hats, tell me: which "Anita" does the greedy poet resent most, the freelance writer or the editor?

AL: The editor generally has too many emails to respond to, and I would propose that, in our age, email—this habit we have of miraculously keeping conversations going with dozens of people at a time—is the scourge of the poet. It kills the quiet mind. The editor also has way too much poetry to read—not all of which is exciting or well-developed. But the poet in me probably competes with the freelance writer even more, because they are sharing brain space, fighting for the same kind of mental energy. They also both require generous helpings of uninterrupted time. That said, eventually, some aspect of all this other work feeds the poetry. It steals, but it gives back. I don't believe in the idea of the poet who hides away and doesn't engage with society. My work is one of the ways in which I do this. If I wasn't writing and editing for a living, maybe I would teach, or drive a bus, or learn to be a carpenter... I would find something to wield against the poet in me.

CS: Please give me a staple dish (with recipe ) that struggling poets need to know in order to stay healthy and hale during these recessionary times.

AL: I offer a dahl that will yield several meals, or feed several friends. It's nutritious, tasty and filling. It works for vegans, the lactose-intolerant, and people allergic to tomatoes—I have made it situations where all these factors simultaneously applied. Finally, it's easy and cheap to make. I have other dahl recipes that I like, but this is the one I use most often. (Apparently it's very easy to suddenly sound like a cookbook author.)

Dahl
500g dried red lentils
2 medium onions, finely chopped
6-7 cloves garlic, crushed
ginger (half the size of a golf ball), finely chopped
cumin, coriander and black mustard seeds (slightly crushed)
1 star anise
fresh coriander, chopped
olive oil
salt & pepper

Lightly fry the garlic and ginger in a small amount of oil. Add one teaspoon each of the crushed seeds. Once the mustard seeds start to pop, add the onion and soften slowly (don't caramelize them).

Once the onions are cooked, add the lentils, cover with water, and add the star anise as well as a generous amount of salt and pepper. (Add some chili powder or sauce if you wish.) Cook slowly, adding water when required. It's worth keeping a kettle full of boiled water for this purpose. Allow to cook for about 20 min.

Once lentils have begun to soften, remove star anise, and either mash or blend the mixture until it has a creamy consistency. Add fresh coriander and cook for a few more minutes.

Enjoy! (Preferably with a basmati rice and a beer.) Share or freeze extra! Return to your unfinished poem rejuvenated!

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Child's Play


"The children at play in Suzanne Buffam’s poem 'Play' have the fun they have because of the rules they set for themselves. They don’t escape from this play unscathed--and neither does the reader--but then play doesn’t always end in pleasure."

Jason Guriel's new column is up. Read it here.

Commonwealth Prize

Good news. Jaspreet Singh's novel Chef has been shortlisted in the Best Book category for the 2009 Commonwealth Writers' Prize (Caribbean and Canada region.)

Jaspreet Singh’s stories have appeared in Walrus, Maisonneuve, Zoetrope, and on CBC Radio. Seventeen Tomatoes: Tales from Kashmir won the Quebec Writers’ Federation 2004 McAuslan First Book Prize and has been translated into Spanish and Punjabi. He is currently writer-in-residence at the University of the Fraser Valley in British Columbia.

P.K. Page says that "Chef is an intricate, subtle and beautiful book and it introduces a new note into Canadian literature.”

The regional winners will be announced March 11 in Kingston, Jamaica.

More info here.

Sunday, 15 February 2009

The Vehicule Channel

Straight from Simon Dardick's camera, here are three YouTube clips of the January 28th panel discussion at The Word.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Real Enough

In his latest turn at Harriet, Jason Guriel (whose new book of poetry, Pure Product, is inching ever closer to publication) extends his previous column on late novelist Roberto Bolano into a meditation on the phenomenon of made-up poetry moonlighting as a plot device in novels.

"It’s fascinating when novelists – especially those who aren’t known as poets – actually do write some poetry, for the purpose of, say, prodding along a novel’s plot. We usually neglect them, these works-of-art-within-works-of-art, but they’re not without their critics and admirers."

Read the rest here.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Palmu blogs Richardson

Brian Palmu posts a blow-by-blow review of Peter Richardson QWF prize-winning poetry collection, Sympathy for the Couriers.

Peter Richardson is a major voice in contemporary Canadian poetry. It’s a delight to read, one after another, vivid and necessary poems about people, events, issues, idiosyncratic and various experiences"

Read the rest here.

Read an interview with Peter Richardson here.

Warm and tingly

This is a story from The Guardian that makes those of us in the book trade warm and tingly inside. It was the headline that got our attention: "Author flies to Canada to replace reader's faulty copy of his book."

"Many authors would claim to be committed to their readers, but academic Daniel Fleisch has gone that extra mile and then some. The scientific writer [seen handling the telescope], it has emerged, flew more than 900km on Christmas Day to hand deliver his book to a customer who had posted a negative review on Amazon complaining that he'd be sold a flawed copy."

See The Guardian's complete story.

Monday, 9 February 2009

Lemon Pie

Joyland is new "hub" for short fiction with an interesting concept: six editors are each assigned a major North American city and vet submissions from the area. Here is the opening to "Lemon Pie" by Montrealer Allison McMaster, as picked by David McGimpsey:

"Go cut me a slice of lemon meringue pie. Be quick about it. Don't go rummaging in the cutlery drawer for some dainty dessert fork. I'll just eat it with my hands."

(Hat tip: Lemon Hound)

Saturday, 7 February 2009

Because every dinosaur deserves a song


Montreal poet/animator Leigh Kotsilidis has produced a lovely stop-animation music video for The Burning Hell. The song, a delightfully hammy number called "Dinosaurs," is on the Peterborough band's latest album, Happy Birthday. (Kotsilidis, incidently, is also co-founder of littlefishcartpress, whose signature "chipbook" is a pioneering achievement in nano-publishing.)

Friday, 6 February 2009

Bolano's Bards


Jason Guriel -- whose columns at Harriet have been burning up the discussion boards -- turns in a thoughtful report on Robert Bolano's novel The Savage Detectives.

"It is often the young who invest the most in the idea of art, which doesn’t always return a profit. Bolaño’s poets, particularly their younger incarnations, invest so much in the idea of the poetry of Césarea Tinajero (a modern day Sappho with almost none of the scraps) they fail to notice the idea is a Ponzi scheme that will never pay off their lofty expectations."

Read the rest here.

Bruce Redux


Victoria, B.C. musician David Kosub writes a smart essay on "Back Road Farm" by Nova Scotia's major poet-in-waiting Charles Bruce (1906-1971). He calls it "an achievement in sound and structure that younger or even more established poets might pay attention to or perhaps even emulate." Back in 2003, Sandy Shreve took a look at Bruce's other distinguished poem "Biography."

I'd like to think I had a small part to play in the reappraisal Bruce's career is getting. In 2002, I published a long essay on his work -- the first to appear in nearly 15 years -- for Books in Canada (later collected in my book of criticism, A Lover's Quarrel).

I'll be editing a Charles Bruce Reader (which, along with his poems, will include selected essays and letters) for release in late 2011. Here's a look at more of his poetry.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Don Coles blogs! Part 3


[Don Coles is the author of ten books of poetry and the novel Doctor Bloom's Story. He won the Governor General's Award for Poetry in 1993 for Forests of the Medieval World and the Trillium prize in 2000 for Kurgan. Formerly a professor at York University, he lives in Toronto. Periodically we'll post an entry by Coles taken from his 2007 book of essays and reviews, Dropped Glove in Regent Street: An Autobiography by Other Means ]

The last 20 anni have been pretty horribili for Bertolt Brecht’s reputation. His plays have faded offstage, his leftwing credentials have been called into question, his personal life qualifies as seriously bad news, in general his enemies have been noisily outshouting his supporters. Indeed it’s hard to know where to look for the latter nowadays. In the book Intellectuals, published a few years ago, Paul Johnson subtitled his Brecht chapter Heart of Ice and quoted Auden as calling BB “an odious person”. Brecht deserved the death sentence, Auden said, and added, “In fact I can imagine doing it to him myself.”

The chorus goes on. Thomas Mann, Theodor Adorno (who said Brecht spent hours every day putting dirt under his fingernails so he’d look like a worker), Marcuse, almost every known German contemporary and many more who are neither German nor contemporary, the judgment’s just about unanimous---flawed writer, flawed man.

I would like at this point to turn towards the Brecht I have one particularly private memory of. I remember one day a long while ago going into a theatre in Paris that was showing Mére Courage and then discovering (something I ought to have known before buying my ticket) that the company was Brecht’s own, the Berliner Ensemble from East Germany, and that therefore the production was being given in German. Of which language I did not understand a word.

This was depressing for about a quarter of an hour. In the next little while, though, without my asking myself why this was happening, the experience set about becoming as engrossing as anything—yes, anything—I’d ever known in a theatre; and it went on being so right up to the end of Act I. After the intermission all this repeated itself, the whole cycle: initial awareness, or remembering, that all this was in a language I had no access to, with its quite natural accompanying frustration; followed however within six or seven minutes by an immersion in the on-stage events that can be described in no milder way than utter attention (and a similarly ‘utter’ forgetting of any linguistic obstacle to my sharing in this experience). From then on the experience settled into being just plain marvelous until I was out in the Paris night again.

I’ve never forgotten that. What was going on on-stage, those archetypal movements of men and women and children, Mother Courage herself striding across Europe as the stage revolved through country after country—well, sophisticated dialogue was not what this was about; and although I’d never have guessed that anything this basic and primary-coloured would work with me or on me, work with and on me it did, and powerfully, movingly, and as you see, lastingly.

In other words the fact that I didn’t understand a word of German didn’t matter. Watching that stage, I forgot that I didn’t understand the language that was being spoken. And this, although as a personal admission or claim it’s of no interest, seems to me to matter here: that language never was nearly as central to the very great success of these plays as other components always were, components that Brecht may have been a near-genius in making use of; components such as, for instance, music; and, for another instance, a nearly unique sense of how certain basic human rhythms and rites (copulation, grief) can be invoked and presented on a stage and can then move an audience at a level beyond that which was, apparently, achievable by anybody else in this playwright’s lifetime.

(from A Dropped Glove in Regent Street: An Autobiography by Other Means by Don Coles, 2007)

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Oops, she did it again

News has reached us that Montreal poet Anita Lahey, author of the Trillium-nominated Out to Dry in Cape Breton (2006), has just walked away with the $600 first prize in the Antigonish Review's 2008 Great Blue Heron Poetry Contest for her poem "Man Tearing Down a Chimney."

Lahey won top honours for the same competition in 2004.

Sunday, 1 February 2009

"The war news have been good for quite awhile"


Jason Guriel devotes his new blog entry at Harriet to a poem that Brian Bartlett "found" in a series of 1918 letters exchanged between Bartlett's 22-year old grandmother and a 20-year-old Canadian Army enlistee.

"In the audio commentary for his film Two-Lane Blacktop (1971), Monte Hellman notes the great advantage of working with “non-actors” like James Taylor and Dennis Wilson, innocent amateurs who don’t try to act. The great advantage of the speaker in Canadian poet Brian Bartlett’s recent poem “Dear Georgie” is the fact that he doesn’t know he’s in a poem. If only more poems’ speakers sounded like him, a natural who’s not angling for Academy recognition. Poems’ speakers usually sound like poets."

Read the rest here. The painting above, incidently, is called "A Battery Shelled" (1919) by Wyndam Lewis. And here's a trailer from "Two-Lane BlackTop," the film Guriel mentions above.