Wednesday 31 December 2008

Palmu's blurbs

Brian Palmu, who is quietly emerging as one of the sharper poetry critics in the Canadian blogosphere (admittedly, not a big group to begin with), gives us his notes to the 83 books of poetry he read in 2008 -- that's probably 82 more than any sane, well-adjusted man should have to read.

Three Signal books were implicated in this herculean task: Postscript by Geoffrey Cook, Red Ledger by Mary Dalton and The Power to Move by Susan Glickman (out of print, but available in her selected Running in Prospect Cemetery). Brian liked two of the three. To find out which, you'll need to read the whole thing (not an unreasonable request given the keen concision and provocativeness of the individual entries -- you'll enjoy it).

I'm especially grateful for his appreciation of the very fine Anglo-Quebec poet Ralph Gustafson, who appears twice. (Vehicule published Gustafson's Selected in 2001).

Monday 29 December 2008

Flash Interview #3: George Ellenbogen

George Ellenbogen’s books include Along the Road from Eden (1989) and The Rhino Gate Poems (1996), which has been translated into German and French. He has read on both sides of the Atlantic and is the subject of a documentary film, George Ellenbogen: Canadian Poet in America. A Montrealer by birth and upbringing, he lives in Boston.

Morning Gothic: New and Selected Poems (2007) is his most recent book.

The following conversation between George Ellenbogen and Australian poet and critic John Kinsella was conducted by e-mail. Kinsella's questions are snippets from a much longer series of queries that can be found here.

John Kinsella: You travel a great deal. This has obviously influenced subject matter in your poetry, but how do you think it has influenced the way your write poems?

George Ellenbogen: Travel is often a way of lighting the lamp rather then providing raw material for my work, though sometimes as in a recent trip to the Galapagos, it does that. But just as often, being in one place makes me aware of a place I have left and raises to the surface something carefully folded in storage. Years ago in the Arctic I found myself writing about south sea islands. Figure that!

But when I look at a poem like "Going by Rail," I realize there is something about the nature of movement, in this case a train, that has significance in the process of writing/conceiving. I've had an affection for trains that goes back to my earliest book published in 1957. When I peer out the window, I feel as though I'm having a cinematic experience, with the odd sensations that the individual shots that whiz by the window frame are disconnected strips of film...and of course they are...until one seizes my imagination and makes me a part of its narrative.

The visual sensations that come through the train's window are images. Most simply vanish like unfertilized eggs. The others, fertilized by whatever -- memory, imagination -- can either stand by themselves (as they do the imagist poems of Pound, HD, and numerous others in the early 20th c) or grow into other shapes, narratives for example. I expect this process works for a lot of sedentary poets as well, poets who are able to travel without either moving their feet or taking trains. But for me, the motion of travel accelerates the process.

JK: Would you say the visual is an important component of your poetry?

GE: In a general way the visual confirms my own bias -- that image is essential to poetry, echoing what Herbert Read said a long time ago about poetry being only as strong as its image (or was it metaphor? Doesn't matter, it works for both). Oddly enough, I am not a natural image maker; I have to work hard at it. My normal disposition is to be carried away by sound-tradition of Marlowe to Dylan Thomas -- which I find I have to guard against because when it surfaces it does so at the expense of image.

JK: Your fourth book, The Rhino Gate, seems to me your major work (excerpt here). What was the inspiration behind it?

GE: Normally when I'm in a writing groove, working on several pieces at the same time, new poems will come, usually in chunks of a few lines, which I then build on bit by bit. Once I have a half dozen lines or so, I have an idea of what the poem is about and what it will look like in terms of form. The composition of "The Rhino Gate" didn't follow this pattern. I started it in the summer of 1985 when I was in residence at the Karolyi Foundation in Vence, France. Sitting on the stone veranda in the back of my cottage, overlooking a densely wooded valley which separates Vence from the more celebrated St. Paul de Vence, the words "rhino gate" came to me. The phrase, as you can imagine, was totally enigmatic. But it was also haunting. Over the next few weeks, I added lines, with only a glimmer of where the poem was going, anticipating the sort of thing I usually turn out, a lyric between 25 and 60 lines. One day I scrambled down the valley, up the other side and walked onto the grounds of the Maeght Foundation, a splendid collection of 20th century paintings and sculpture, St. Paul de Vence's jewel. I was immediately struck by a Miro sculpture which has rhino features and, viewed sideways, can be seen as a gate, something that separates us from them (in the poem us becomes colonizers, security, order, rationality; them, the colonized, restiveness/rebellion, emotion). Clearly, what I saw around me was not going to let me give up on this piece. The writing and editing went on for five years. Incidentally, it was only when I was well into the poem, after a couple of years or so, that I realized that the narrator was a woman, the aging wife of an East African planter. I can't think of any other poem that I've written that has a female speaker. I often remark when I give a reading that God on a Monday morning was handing poems out to a queue of poets, that the woman ahead of me left the line for a tuna fish sandwich, and that I got her poem.

JK: What are you working on now?

GE: I'm currently working on a memoir of my old Montreal neighborhood. It shifts between confessions of the neighborhood and autobiography, covering the period from earliest memories to when I went off to university in 1951. I remember that in addition to composition, history and geography were the subjects that appealed most because they removed me from the grimness of my elementary school and introduced me to a world outside my neighborhood ghetto (I believe 99% of the neighbors on my block were Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe.) They were my exoticism in an unexotic world. My leftist history teacher in my first year at Baron Byng High School got me to see history in other than exotic lights. But along with appreciating the complexities that she introduced, I remained -- still remain -- attracted by the remoteness of earlier periods and off-shore places.

Bestest of 2008

Paul Vermeersch compiles his own list. Mine is here.

UPDATE: Stan Persky pipes up too. And Steven W. Beattie.

Tuesday 23 December 2008

Photo of the day

Walid Bitar (right) and Jack Illingworth at the Toronto launch of The New Canon poetry anthology, held at the Rivoli on December 10th, 2005 . Check out the recently uploaded photographs (including the Montreal and Ottawa events). Slideshow here.

No walk in the park

Those of us who live in large urban areas would not imagine that St. John's, Newfoundland suffers from the deleterious effects of urban sprawl. Let's face it, we're oblivious. We've stereotyped St. John's and see it in picture-calendar terms. According to the entertainment weekly, thescope, and the blog, Signal (both of that fair city), all is not well in their hometown. Both wrote about Mary Soderstrom's book, The Walkable City. According to thescope, "the last of amenities such as grocery and department stores moved out of the downtown core and deeper in the city in the 90s."

Sunday 21 December 2008

Best Canadian poetry of 2008

Poetry magazine asked me to recommend a couple of poetry titles published in 2008. One of my picks was Jeramy Dodds' Crabwise to the Hounds. It goes without saying that I think Shannon Stewart, Christopher Wiseman, and Walid Bitar's books should be on anybody's best-of roundup, but here, in no particular order, are ten other books of Canadian poetry I enjoyed this past year.

  • Noble Gas, Penny Black by David O'Meara: the best poems -- streetwise, nimble, and effervescent -- are a masterclass in formal and verbal precision. I'll be reviewing this book for Arc.
  • The Pangborn Defense by Norm Sibum: a series of fluent, irreverent, sourly-spirited epistles. A full-tilt performance.
  • Revolver by Kevin Connolly: possibly his best book. Connolly is an emerging master of doubt-ridden self-knowledge. Flawless writing mixed with elliptical, laid-back provocativeness.
  • The Debaucher by Jason Camlot: largely set in Montreal's Mile-end and rife with bawdy humour. The standout poem is a sonnet-sequence on the late Montreal poet Robert Allen.
  • Palilalia by Jeffery Donaldson: inspired by his own Tourettes-like speech impediment (Palilalia is "an involuntary repetiton of words, phrases or sentences"), Donaldson's poems are marked by linguistic wildness, bitingly beautiful perceptions and mordant wit.
  • The Day in Moss by Eric Miller: lushly tactile and baroquely cerebral meditations on nature.
  • Jeremiah, Ohio by Adam Sol: A book-length urban fable about a prophet and an everyman on a road-trip to New York city. Told in alternating voices and a high-low mix of street slang and biblical registers. Somewhat reminiscent of Eric Ormsby's Araby, I often found myself laughing out loud at the boldness of it all.
  • Chameleon Hours by Elise Partridge: a superb follow-up to her debut, Fielder's Choice. Agitated descriptions of mortality expressed through the gritted teeth of impeccable craft
  • Living Things by Matt Rader: I found some of the wordplay a little stiff, but Rader's book is full of arresting images that seem to reinvent everything he looks at.
  • The Watchmaker's Table by Brian Bartlett: A series of inventive, subtle and deeply cutting speculations on the passage of time. In any other country, Bartlett would have a more substantial reputation.

Friday 19 December 2008

King David

One of the thrills of editing Signal Editions is working with David Drummond. David is a terrific designer, with a genius for coming up with images that work against the grain of expectation. With 140 collections of poetry published every year and with very little budget available to lift our own books above that huge tide, a good cover is often all we have to catch a reader's attention. And with everyone now realizing the need for attractive design, a cover needs to be not only good, but great. And David consistently gives us blue chip covers: memorable, smart, challenging.

David was recently interviewed by fellow designer Christopher Tobias on his site Books Covered.

CT: If you weren’t wildly successful at this, what other career choice would you pursue?

DD: I live on a 140 acre farm. Even though I am going to ride this horse as long as I can, if the economy really tanks and the publishing industry takes a big hit, I have been seriously thinking of turning five acres of my farm into a cranberry bog. Apparently there is more money in cranberries than corn.

CT: What else should we know about David Drummond that we don’t already know?

DD: I bake a loaf of bread a day and make a really mean apple pie.

More here.

Thursday 18 December 2008

A blast out of the gate

Below you'll find a review of Mary Dalton's Red Ledger by Janet Fraser taken from the most recent issue of the Newfoundland and Labrador Studies (Volume 23, Number 1 , 2008). The review mentions the "artful mixture" of new and old poems in the collection. I appreciate the compliment, but the reprints were simply the most practical way to preserve important early poems in a new book that would circulate more widely and enjoy a longer life than Dalton's first two.

Having read all four of Mary Dalton’s poetry collections, I think that her fourth book, Red Ledger, being greater than the sum of its parts, is her best collection to date. There is no subtitle to let readers know that this volume is an artful mixture of new poems and poems culled from her first two books, but those who know Dalton’s work do not have to look at the publisher’s acknowledgement to realize that the book editor has done a magnificent job pulling together what is best in her poetry. As a result Mary Dalton has achieved an intensely focused social and geopolitical take on Newfoundland such as has not been seen since the days of Percy Janes, Harold Horwood, and E. J. Pratt.

To try an analogy of Olympian effort and competition (because I do believe that many Newfoundland writers are attempting to become the next internationally recognized Great One), it is as if Dalton won bronze with her first two books, silver with Merrybegot, and has stepped up to the podium for gold with Red Ledger. There are no stand-out poems in this collection because each poem blasts out of the gate and wins the race with perfect form and passionate determination. No matter whether the poem is comic, romantic, ironic, or satiric (and Dalton knows her Frye!), no matter whether the poem is broadly social/political, geographic, or autobiographical, Dalton’s aim is always to carry forward what she knows and feels about Newfoundland.

And what knowledge, what feeling! There are the opening love poems, with their saucy invitations ("What sort of woman would you fancy, Nelson?"), meteorological linguistics ("It’s too hot for irony — / the yarrow droops / in a bald declarative" — from "Here in the Dog Days") and salty images and metaphors:

has the taste of salt,
pulses like the sea-anemones —
a salt orchestra —
the cool-green swing of Keith Jarrett.

(To Conjure the Salt)

Although Dalton rarely enters autobiographical territory, I am interested in reading more poems like "The ’Forties" and "Paterfamilias, A Portrait". I’m still thinking about Dalton’s beautiful young Dick Tracy and Ingrid Bergman parents and the end of their days, Mother setting immaculate tables and tying her crippled husband’s shoelaces and Father "moving in the cage of his days".

My favourite poems are the two long and wildly imaginative sequences, the geographical "I’m Bursting to Tell: Riddles for Conception Bay" and the homage to fellow icon of the imagination, the Frygian poet James Reaney, "Reaney Gardens". What I love best about Newfoundland writers is their ability to make one laugh out loud. (Recently I had the delightful experience of reading Agnes Walsh’s essay on her father’s fridge box and laughing hysterically in the middle of a busy library.) I was holding my stomach as I read Dalton’s "Ignoramus" in "Reaney Gardens."

Of course Dalton’s political poems are brilliant, funny, poignant and rousing. I have only one quibble. It seems to me that Dalton does not take risks in her political poems. She attacks the many injustices that have been heaped on Newfoundland by mainland Canadians and who could argue with that? But the tone of the poems indicates to me that the poet does not consider the fact that most of these injustices have also been perpetrated on her fellow mainland Canadians. Also, she takes aim at goofy, ignorant, arrogant, and usually well-intentioned mainland social workers and tourists. What about the fact that many urban Newfoundlanders have become arrogant and ignorant about their fellow rural Newfoundlanders? And why is there no mention of all of the lazy, useless academics from the mainland who have spent their adult lives at Last Chance U making big bucks and hating the place?

Perhaps I am not being entirely fair to Dalton. I love the last poem in the book, "Gallous".

I myself was one who could see only gallows driving through the wind-swept and bleakly beautiful Gallow’s Cove. Dalton is hard on herself, the sixteen-year-old "vastly superior" Newfoundlander who cringed at the names rolling off her neighbours’ tongues. But now the poet who leapt into the mainland world that malignantly caricatures her country (not province!), has grown to love her people and their language.

Now she can hear
how they kept safe with them
Maire and Seamus, even
those far-off Normans of Autun —
swaying in time, in the intricate
galliard of their gallous, gallous tongue.


Wednesday 17 December 2008

Don Coles blogs!

[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. Every Wednesday for the next two months, 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 ]

This is the sad story of myself grown old, a condition I did not strive after. Keats, Rimbaud, Plath (only one of whom I actually met) all demonstrate the value of an early departure—who wants to be the crazy old Ruskin or the rambling octogenarian Wordsworth or even the merely shaky May Sarton? And yet here I am, threescore-and-ten-plus, nobody can call me anything other than old and people have stopped trying.

Best, then, is to do as I do, don neutral-coloured clothing and stand at the fringes of whatever comes your way; no one is likely to ask your opinion or thrust a microphone at you anyway, they have more attractive options…and who blames them?

What makes me smile, nevertheless, a mirthless smile it goes without saying, is remembering, even as I step unresentfully back whenever some younger person wishes to stand where I am standing, how there was a time when…yes, reader, here it comes. When I was young! When I, too, was visible on a sidewalk!

The pathos of this old fellow’s unverifiable claim, you are now thinking, and again, I cannot blame you. Pathos indeed.

And yet I will tell you, for it’s too late to turn back now, that one afternoon walking up the via Tornabuoni in Florence, aged 22 and wearing a dark raincoat on a grey day, I saw approaching me down the via Tornabuoni a gaggle of people of whom only one was truly present to my gaze, this being a tall and blonde and carelessly sumptuous in her attire woman of about 35, English I felt and feel sure, closely guarded in her walking by three diminutive middle-aged men, all credible stand-ins for Carlo Ponti.

I stared unashamedly at this wonder and had a fleeting impression that she briefly returned my look just as the four of them left the sidewalk along which they had been approaching me, crossed the road, and disappeared into Doney’s Bar, a toney place halfway up the Tornabuoni and one I had never entered.

I stopped to watch them enter Doney’s Bar, feeling a formless lament, but feeling, also, not quite ready to start up walking again. So I loitered, I remember there was a florist’s where I was standing and I occasionally looked at a plant or two while I stood there. I have never had any interest in plants. It was then that the first of my two shameful and unforgiven acts—non-acts, as you will see—took place.

Because as I stood beside the florist’s window the blonde woman, unaccompanied now by any of the Carlo Ponti look-alikes, reappeared at Doney’s door and gazed directly across the street at me.

At me? This couldn’t be, I at once felt. I looked back at the florist’s window, someone must surely be signaling to her from within, desperately waving a bouquet of violets. But no, nothing moved within, no one appeared, there was only one person on the street and it was I. The woman was still standing there, gazing across. The Tornabuoni held its breath.

It had held its breath thousands of times before but at the moment this didn’t concern me. The woman said nothing, merely waited and looked. What was she supposed to do, wave? She had done her share, she had done all she could, I knew this. It was my turn, some signal, a quick run across the street, the exchange of a few words, a rendezvous, where, anywhere, down there by the Arno, in an hour, who cared, anything at all. I didn’t budge.

I did and said nothing.

Why not, didn’t I trust this? Here was the lustrous heroine of The Sun Also Rises, Lady Brett, her ancestral meadows spreading endlessly about her as obviously as the green curtains on Doney’s windows, and I was a stone. She looked, she waited a few more seconds, she turned and re-entered the bar. Thinking whatever she was thinking. And I—? Walked on my way, towards whatever exotic appointment awaited me. Picking up a reserved book at the American library, probably.

It gets worse. Some months later, back in London after my student year in Florence, walking up Regent Street on a pre-Christmas day, a few snowflakes testing the air, passing Austin Reed’s long storefront I noticed a small queue of people waiting at the bus stop. I wasn’t intent on catching a bus so I paid no attention, I merely continued to approach them. As I was in the act of passing them, something fell to the sidewalk just before my step. I paused, it was a woman’s glove.

I looked to see who had dropped it—the sky opened and fell upon me. It was Lady Brett. The blonde from the Via Tornbuoni. Beyond any doubt. Our eyes met. We were so close we could have embraced without moving anything but our arms. Across the road was the Café Royale, celebrated rendezvous of Waugh, Orwell, Connolly, heroes all: a place with small tables in tactfully positioned alcoves and the discreetest of waiters. You will not believe what happened next.

I did not pick up the glove. I paused, I didn’t want to step on it, after all. For a second or two it waited there. Then she bent to pick it up. I walked grotesquely on. Seconds later the bus arrived, and the queue, certainly including her, got on it. It rolled up Regent Street past me.

At this point I was almost staggering. Drowning in self-contempt. I tried to assure myself that we must meet again, surely this would happen, after all we had now had two meetings in a half-year, it must be fated, I would perhaps see her tomorrow, perhaps at this same bus stop. And never again would I fail her.

I was at that same bus stop at the same hour the next day, needless to say she was not. Or any other day, or on any other London or Florence street. Not that I know. Ever.

What does this have to do with old age? Nothing.

Something to do with youth, though.

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

Monday 15 December 2008

Flash Interview #2: Peter Richardson

Peter Richardson’s first book of poetry, A Tinkers’ Picnic (1999) was shortlisted for the Gerald Lampert Award. His second book, An ABC of Belly Work (2003) was a finalist for the Acorn-Plantos Award.

Richardson's third book Sympathy for the Couriers (2008) recently won the QWF's A.M. Klein Prize for Poetry. For over 24 years, he was employed by Air Canada as a ramp worker. Retired, he now lives in Gatineau, Quebec with his wife and daughter.

The following interview was conducted by e-mail.

CS: Sympathy for the Couriers includes some of your most ambitious dramatic monologues. What is it about talking in other voices that you like? Do the voices visit you, or do you go looking for them?

PR: I wouldn’t say I go looking for them, unless you can call fifteen or twenty minutes of free-writing before breakfast a way of sending out a psychic casting call. I either write from an emotion and get a line I like that is declamatory and evocative, or I start with something visual-an object or scene. For instance with the Professor Basso poem, I had the image of snow blowing by a monastery window. That’s it. There was a line that went with the image which later disappeared from the poem. But I had a visual clue. And then, much later, I had this man running and sliding down a ravine in blowing snow. With the monastery already in the picture, I began to see who this person could be through a series of longish lines, each asking to be about the same length. Line length is an important ingredient in developing a scenario. Or, at least, that has been my experience.

So I work with a personality which declares itself in a line and then opens up over further lines, or I’m given a picture. (I do like writing about objects too, which is another worthy trajectory to take, partly because objects can sometimes be connected with people we know.)

CS: Humour is a big part of your poetry. Do you think Canadian poems are too earnest?

PR: That’s a tricky question, because if a poem is well-written, it can be as earnest as it wants to be and it will get a lot of readers on board. Jason Heroux gets away with it in a recent poem of his called “Lost Forest” because he’s written a fine haunting poem. But I’ve noticed that when it comes to nature poems, there’s a “high-in-the-pulpit-hand-wringing” school of lyricists, who first have do a kind of public obeisance before nature before they can get on with their text. I find that irritating. Fortunately, there are plenty of writers who don’t fall into that trap. Patrick Warner is an example. Curiously, he is also an intelligently funny poet.

As for humour, if it’s innate and not pasted on, if it’s really a part of your sensibility, then I think it can tap into a wide emotional spectrum. There are so many kinds of humour, and I’m a fan of most of them. In our family, when I was growing up, wry, sarcastic and cynical humour were big favourites. My parents, of course, weren’t big on the cynicism but it sometimes drew my brothers and I to hilarious heights. How could we not be cynical when we saw Vietnam war coverage on the CBS which would segue into ads for Alpo dog food? Absurdist humour, on the other hand, was acceptable at the dinner table because as a family, we were big on writers like James Thurber and A.J. Liebling. And when I think of it, different types of humour do appear in plenty of my poems. They are a defence, I guess, against a prating, heavy-browed, Archbishop-Sheen-like approach to poetry which sends me in the other direction. But they are also a reflection of what I think is worth celebrating at some sub-basement level of my personality. That said, though, I believe in the elegy and in plenty of other kinds of serious poetry.

CS: How would you describe the contemporary Canadian poetry scene to one of the baggage handlers you used to work with?

PR: Could I get them to sit still long enough to talk for even a minute on that subject? But here I’m short-changing an extremely varied and surprisingly smart group of people from whom I was able to learn a lot and for years. I guess I would do a thirty-second sound bite. I’d say: “The Canadian poetry scene is a bunch of rabid dogs who mean well and get along well within their own tainted kennels. And in their favour, they represent about every type of poetry being written. Sometimes they make magnanimous gestures amongst themselves and reach across aesthetic lines to celebrate others who do not necessarily buy their way of seeing a lyric. But they’re still in the process of building something remarkable. They’re not there yet, which explains why you guys don’t browse in the poetry section of Chapters. You might be missing a few revelatory gems, but generally, I can’t fault you for sticking to thrillers.”

CS: Can you come up with one thing about the writing life that drives you batty?

PR: Nothing that wouldn’t sound like I was carping and I’m in a good mood today.

Sunday 14 December 2008

A great holiday gift choice

"As gifted at writing as he is at photography." This is how writer-photographer Louise Abbott begins her December 13 review of Closer to Home: The Author and the Author Portrait by Terence Byrnes. In fact, CTH is one of her six best Holiday gift choices for photography books in the Montreal Gazette's annual recommended list. She goes on to say, "Like Leibovitz, he accepts the fact that a photographic portrait can never convey more than a partical truth and that subjects may have mixed feelings about the way they appear." Literary Photographer interviewed Byrnes earlier this fall and included some photographs from the book.

Saturday 13 December 2008

Anita Lahey in Yellowknife

Last Thursday, Signal poet Anita Lahey (Out to Dry in Cape Breton) gave a poetry reading at the Yellowknife Bookcellar. In the first photo, she's on the left, standing beside Rene Fumoleau (the other person in the trio is her sister, Wendy Lahey). Anita also included a photo of some bison she saw on the road--the only road leading out of Yellowknife—on her way to a little town nearby called Rae.

Friday 12 December 2008

Good Ox

Two great reviews of Christopher Patton's 2007 poetry debut Ox (yes, they appeared over the summer, but if you haven't seen them, then they're new to you).

"Christopher Patton’s new book Ox is artful, intelligent and substantial. It is a refreshing and generous first book from a very steady-eyed, steady-handed, steady-minded new poet." -
Scott Hightower, Coldfront Magazine

"[Patton's] musicality and sense of structure, both in motion and shape on the page, are impeccable...Ox is a terrific first book from a sophisticated and sure-handed young poet" - Diane Schenker,
Boxcar Poetry Review

And check out Carla Funk's interview with Patton on her Capital Verse page.

How does island-life inform your writing?

Vancouver Island is for a Salt Springer a sort of small mainland. I come across now and then for a hit of city excitement. Other times to hike around in Strathcona Park. Those long quiet steady fluid real days show up in poems as blues and greens and low sonorous vowels. A rainy forest quality to the phrasing, one thought decaying into or sprouting from another.

Finally, of all the arts and callings in life, why poetry?

Can’t sing, can’t dance, can’t paint, can’t sail.

Books make great gifts

Wednesday 10 December 2008

The Pangborn Defense

I had lunch with Norm Sibum last Wednesday at one of his sleepy hang-outs across the tracks from me on Sherbrooke West (Norm: soup. Me: pita souvlaki). Norm passed along a copy of his new poetry collection The Pangborn Defense, published by Bibloasis and sporting a natty cover image by his partner, painter Mary Harman. A original member of the Jubilate Circle, Norm is one of most aloof and mysterious mainstays of the Montreal poetry community (he sometimes reminds me of a modern-day Ovid, banished to the Black Sea of N.D.G.).

Framed as a series of verse-letters to various friends, Pangborn Defense is one of his best collections to date. Rollicking and linguistically unrelenting, the poems are full of strong feelings and sharp observations ("Hobbyists of the pleasures, part-time ingenues, / These women on a Sunday, paunchy and pasty, / go for broke, bedenimed, high-heeled"). Another poetry book called Smoke and Lilacs -- his 15th! -- is forthcoming from the UK's Carcanet Press in 2009.

Monday 8 December 2008


There's a great interview over at The Danforth Review with Vehicule's Fiction editor, Andrew Steinmetz on his new novel, Eva's Threepenny Theatre (Gaspereau, 2008)

Saturday 6 December 2008

Quick cover your eyes!

I've got a few editorial hats, and one of them belongs to Maisonneuve magazine. Our new issue is now on the stands and it includes a personal essay called "What We Eat" by rising star Pasha Malla concerning a bizarre video of a pelican in London that chows down a live pigeon. Pasha's piece is hilarious, but knowing what I know about the cheeky duplicities of his writing -- he writes what some academics would jargonize as "autobiografiction" -- I had my doubts about veracity of that video. Turns out the damn thing exists. And here it is (it's worth getting your hands on a copy of the mag to find out what Pasha has to say about it).

Friday 5 December 2008

Photo of the day

May 28, 2007. Looking through the window of the Word Bookstore on Milton Street in Montreal hours before the launch of Eric Ormsby's Time's Covenant and Robyn Sarah's Little Eurekas.

"The cross on the Mountain," writes Ian McGillis, "the Big O's tower, the dome of St. Joseph's -- they're all fine and good, but the real soul of a city resides in smaller, neighborhood-scale landmarks. One such is The Word Bookstore." Read the rest of McGillis' essay here.

Thursday 4 December 2008

Flash Interview #1: Walid Bitar

Walid Bitar has previously published three books of poetry: Maps with Moving Parts (1988), 2 Guys on Holy Land (1993), and Bastardi Puri (2005). He has also appeared in four anthologies, most recently The New Canon: An Anthology of Canadian Poetry (2005). He was born in Beirut, Lebanon, and lives in Toronto.

His newest book, The Empire's Missing Link, was released by Signal Editions/Vehicule in September 2008. The following conversation was conducted by e-mail.

CS: Some of your most fascinating effects in The Empire's Missing Links are created by compressions which draw on everyday colloquialisms and the slipperiness of spoken syntax. Can you explain what goes on when you try to write a poem?

WB: I’m a realist, so I deal with everyday speech. If animal species evolve and survive, then they’re fit for life; the same is true of ordinary words and phrases used in a very complicated variety of ways—to deceive ourselves, for example, or to deceive others. Occasionally, we even make stabs at the truth. “The speech we hear is an indication of that which we don’t hear,” says Harold Pinter. “It is a necessary avoidance, a violent, sly, anguished or mocking smoke screen which keeps the other in its place.” I’m not a playwright, but think of my poems as the square roots of dramatic monologues. I stop revising when a poem finally feels like an accident that was waiting to happen, as opposed to an accident that could have easily been avoided.

CS: Why the reliance, over your last two books, on the quatrain form?

WB: I’ve experimented with many forms, and I’ve discovered quatrains work for me. They remind me of Mediterranean vernacular architecture—practical, geometric, rigorous. The 32 pieces in The Empire’s Missing Links are all written in quatrains, and I experience each poem as an independent part of one long poem. There is, in many poets, a conquistador driven to conquer the Earth, destroy old forms, recreate everything in his/her image. I put my conquistador in quatrains. Are they cages? Is he drawn and quartered? I don’t think so. A quatrain is long enough to allow a substantial development, and short enough to demand ingenuity and concision—wit, if we’re lucky. Emily Dickinson and Buster Keaton are certainly two of the quatrain’s patron saints.

CS: What’s your sense of the relationship between poetry and politics?

WB: Poetry and politics are inseparable—impossible to separate the personal from the political or geopolitical. If a writer has beliefs that clash with those of the powers that be, he/she may face a wide range of punishments: death, prison, job loss, life under surveillance, and so on. From my experience, harassment made possible by illegal electronic surveillance is usually the most one has to fear in Canada, but the situation is bleaker in other parts of the world (including countries occupied by, or allied with, Western democracies). What is an “apolitical” poet? One who implicitly promises not to offend or oppose the powerful cliques in his/her society. No poet would take such a promise seriously.

CS: Toronto poet Kevin Connolly tells me you’re a fan of emperor penguins. True?

WB: We must have been drinking. But what’s not to like about emperor penguins?

Rattle and Hum

Signal poet Patrick Warner (There, There) has gotten into bed with Rattling Books, an audiobook publisher based in Newfoundland and Labrador. They're a fairly pioneering crew, who are now doing some very interesting things with mp3 downloads.For $2.95 you can download Patrick reading his short story "Doubleness, the Disease of Life" (for $14.95 you can download the anthology it's a part of). The short fiction series is called EarLit shorts. For the iPod-challenged, the digital readings are also available in CD format.

Wednesday 3 December 2008

Kevin Connolly interview

As part of their "Behemoth Gargantuan Canadian Poetry in Review" event, The Danforth Review has posted an interview between RM Vaughn and "guerrilla hiding in the mountains" Kevin Connolly. I would list Kevin's Revolver as one of my poetry books of the year.

Tuesday 2 December 2008

Photo of the day

April 26, 2008. Photographer John W. Macdonald says: "Jaspreet Singh stands just outside the Manx Pub on Elgin Street in Ottawa just prior to his reading [from his QWF shortlisted novel, Chef]. He was later introduced to the pub crowd by Esplanade Books editor, Andrew Steinmetz." See more photos from the insanely talented JWM here.

Riddle Me This

Mary Dalton has been on a riddle-writing jag ever since publishing a cycle of them in Red Ledger (and she's had the bug even earlier if you include the compact eccentricities of the mini-monologues in Merrybegot).

Running the Goat, a letter-press publisher based in St. John's, has put out a book of 26 new riddles by Mary called Between You and the Weather. As a bonus, this limited-edition (only 150) includes original wood engraving by Wesley W. Bates.

I daresay the new riddles are very good, if deliciously harder then the Red Ledger sequence, but only because many of them tap into the original linguistic spirit of the form, which was about strangeness rather than cleverness. I'll be nice, and post an easy one.

Chappie price is $45, and apparently includes shipping. If you can show proof of purchase, I'll throw in a free copy of Red Ledger.

Monday 1 December 2008

We love posing!

Ryan Hunt went click click clicking away on a lovely evening of readings, food , drink and music.

David Manicom

David Manicom

Andrew Steinmetz

Andrew Steinmetz

Andrew Steinmetz

Swedish Boats

Three is a charm!

The media can’t get enough of award-winning author Andrew Hood.
The weekend edition of The Globe & Mail included the Top Five of 2008 by First Fiction editor Jim Bartley. Hood’s offbeat short story collection, Pardon our Monsters, ranked 3rd.

Jim Bartley writes: “From geeky pubescence to the storms of adulthood. Andrew Hood taps emotional aquifers. As you sense the reservoirs in yourself, he unexpectedly makes them gush.  One or two of these stories rival our best: transparent conductors of Hood’s wisdom and our human plight.”

Congratulations Andrew!