Friday 30 January 2009


I'm very happy to report that The Conseil des arts et des lettres has awarded David Solway a Bourse de carriere valued at $60,000. These bourses are awarded only once every two years and only two go out to writers.

This is the second time David been acknowledged in this public way by the Francophone community, the other occasion being the Grand Prix du Livre in 2004. He was the first Anglophone writer in the history of the prize to win it.

David's most recent Signal Editions collection is Reaching for Clear which was awarded the 2007 QWF A.M. Klein Prize for poetry

CNQ 75/40

CNQ 75, the 40th anniversary issue which I guest-edited, was launched last Wednesday at the Word Bookstore. We marked the occasion with a lively panel discussion on the Canlit canon (it was recorded, so a transcript might surface at some point). Forty people heroically showed up in the middle of a snowstorm. Here, courtesy of Joel Deshaye, are some pics from the evening. From the top, right to left is: Michael Carbert, Me, Robert Lecker, Robyn Sarah and Anita Lahey.

Tuesday 27 January 2009

Updike 1932-2009

John Updike, 76, died today from lung cancer. Martin Amis provided the best tribute I know to his astounding, bewildering productivity. Here he is on Updike’s door-stopping book of literary journalism, Odd Jobs:

“Updike is a psychotic Santa of volubility, emerging from one or another of his studies (he is said to have four of them) with his morning sackful of reviews, speeches, reminiscences, think-pieces, forwards, prefaces, introductions, stories, playlets and poems. Preparing his cup of Sanka over the singing kettle, he wears his usual expression: that of a man beset by an embarrassment of delicious drolleries. The telephone starts ringing. A science magazine wants something pithy on the philosophy of subatomic thermodynamics; a fashion magazine wants 10,000 words on his favorite colour. No problem -- but can they hang on? Updike has to go upstairs again and blurt out a novel.”

Buon' anima, Maestro.

O Molly Molly

Guest blogging on the Best American Poetry site this week is Molly Peacock.

She's devoting her time to discussing the Best Canadian Poetry anthology (a book we already posted about).

You'll find a selection of Peacock's poetry here.

More about her here.

Sunday 25 January 2009

"Roving gangs of dangerous solipsists"

The Bow-Wow Shop, a new online poetry mag from London that aims for "a bit of Grigsonian pepper; a touch of Swiftian asperity," is definitely worth a look. The collage above is by John Ashbery, whose art is featured in the issue.

Saturday 24 January 2009

Guriel has a question

Over at Harriet, Jason Guriel -- author of the upcoming Pure Product -- is looking for an answer:

"Is there a substantial study on visual poetry that is also a pleasure to read, in and of itself? A picture's worth a thousand words, but in the case of the 'pictures' made by visual poets, whose thousand words should I be reading? If contemporary visual poetry isn’t just an anachronistic curio, where is its great – and I can’t italicize this enough – jargon-free criticism?"

Read the rest here. (Visual poem above, called "Canada Council," is by Earle Birney)

Friday 23 January 2009

Verbal lovemaking

Charles Durning Carroll reviews Asa Boxer's The Mechanical Bird (2007).

Boxer's "focused attention on what we otherwise pass over works as a kind of verbal lovemaking."

Tuesday 20 January 2009

The Good Soldier

Signal poet Asa Boxer's fascinating 2007 article on his stint in the IDF has just gone live on the Maisonneuve website.

"In 1993, I packed a rucksack and hopped on a flight to Israel to seek my fortune. It was the year of the Oslo Accord. I still recall the images: a trembly Arafat hesitating, then refusing to sign one of the pages at the last moment; Rabin’s reluctant handshake afterward; and, of course, Clinton’s beaming face overseeing the televised episode. For the next four years (which included Rabin’s assassination and Netanyahu’s rise to power), Israelis were able to focus on more than survival. It was a period of economic boom, despite the regular bus bombings in Jerusalem where I finally settled."

Read the rest here.

Monday 19 January 2009

Please help these big lugs feel welcome

Andrew Steeves (the hunk on the left) and Gary Dunfield (the he-man on the right) run Gaspereau Press, our Atlantic colleagues (and my own publisher!). They -- or rather their award-winning Kentville, Nova Scotia press -- has just joined the blogosphere. As one of the few publishers in the country that prints and binds their own books (an in-house ethic that now extends to making paper), I suspect the blog will be well-worth visiting. For some background on Gaspereau, here's a great interview with Andrew from 2007. Money quote:

If the physical book is going to survive into the next century against the onslaught of digital alternatives, publishers need to invest in their physicality. If we don't offer well made books, books where the media matters and is part of the overall experience, well, we may as well be reading off a screen. While I would be just as happy to never see another tree used to print a telephone directory or reference book, the physical book still has a role to play in our culture and is worth the investment of a tree or two.

Sunday 18 January 2009

Why I love the internet

A blog riposte of David Foster Wallace-ish proportions that deserves to be a classic of the genre.

The potato head of a peasant

Monique Polak, writing in the Montreal Gazette on Saturday, raved about Vehicule Editor Andrew Steinmetz's new novel Eva's Threepenny Theatre. The book is based on the story of Steinmetz's great-aunt Eva who appeared in the first workshop production of Bertolt Brecht’s play The Threepenny Opera, in 1928 (on the right is a 1926 portrait of Brecht by his friend Rudolf Schlichter).

Eva’s Three Penny Theatre is about many things, including memory, the history of theatre, life in pre- and post-war Germany and complicated family dynamics, but the real star of this book is Eva herself. Spirited and clever, Steinmetz’s Eva is also a masterful storyteller with an eye for detail. Consider her description of the poet-playwright Bertolt Brecht, whose path crossed hers in 1928, when, at the age of 16, Eva performed in the first workshop production of Brecht’s The Threepenny Opera: He had, she recalls unabashedly, “the potato head of a peasant.”

Read the rest here.

Saturday 17 January 2009

When Harriet met Guriel

Jason Guriel -- set to join the Signal family this Spring with his second collection of poems, Pure Product -- is Harriet's newest blogger. Check out his inaugural post, where as usual, he says some smart things:

Perhaps the best strategy for writers in the age of the Internet – especially for writers like me, who are prone to blunders and benefit from rigorous editorial intervention – is to navigate the Web, and especially blogs, with a kind of self-imposed, print-era prudence. This may entail drafting blog posts longhand, typing them up only when they’re just right, and then withholding them until every one of their words has been weighed. Although the reduced presence of editors in the DIY-world of the Web is surely good for some version of democracy, it isn’t necessarily going to be good for the quality of that democracy’s cultural products. More and more, as the 21st-century rolls out, writers – blurring with (and into) bloggers – will to need to be their own most ruthless editors.

Read the rest here.

Saturday 10 January 2009

A womanizer and future king

As John Kalbfleisch writes in his book This Island in Time: Remarkable Tales from Montreal's Past, "Montreal has seen many royal visitors over the centuries. The first was Prince William Henry, third son of King George III"--the womanizer in question. And it is this book which is featured today in the Globe and Mail's revised book section and its inaugural Web presence, which links to an excerpt from the book. As part of a monthly series, the Globe is focussing on what Canadian book clubs are reading. This Island in Time is the choice of a 30-year-old club in Montreal.

Friday 9 January 2009

An arm and a leg

According to AbeBooks, the most expensive poetry books they sold in 2008 were:

1. Poems (1909-1925) by TS Eliot - $8,500
Containing many of Eliot’s canonical works including “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” “The Hollow Men,” and “The Waste Land,” this is a first edition - one of 85 numbered copies signed by the poet.

2. The Collected Poems by DH Lawrence - $4,893
A limited first edition, one of 100 numbered copies that were signed by Lawrence. This 1928 two-volume collection comes with a cream dust jacket.

3. Poems by Frank O’Hara with lithographs by Willem De Kooning - $4,500
One of 550 first edition numbered copies signed by De Kooning (1904-1997). Illustrated with 17 original lithographs, bound in black goat-skin, stamped in gold and encased in a linen clamshell box


1. Lord of the Flies by William Golding - $9,260
A first edition, proof copy of Golding’s 1954 classic

2. Men Without Women by Ernest Hemingway - $8,000
First US edition printed in 1927 including first state dust jacket without review blurbs on front flap. Slip of paper inscribed by Hemingway laid in reads "To Marian Spies/ wishing her much luck/ Ernest Hemingway."

3. Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell - $6,780
First edition, first printing, of Orwell’s 1949 dystopian classic featuring the red dust jacket

Flash Interview #4: Christopher Wiseman

Christopher Wiseman’s poetry, short fiction, reviews and critical writings have been published and broadcast extensively on both sides of the Atlantic. He has won two Province of Alberta Poetry Awards, the Poetry Prize from the Writers’ Guild of Alberta, and an Alberta Achievement Award for Excellence in the literary arts. He lives in Calgary.

For his tenth collection, 36 Cornelian Avenue, Christopher Wiseman returns to his wartime childhood in England and revisits the streets, shore, and woods that belonged to the resort town of Scarborough where, his father away fighting, he and his mother lived. Part novel, part memoir, part passionate recollection, 36 Cornelian Avenue presents these townspeople, often in their own words

The following interview was conducted by e-mail.

Carmine Starnino: There’s lots of sex in 36 Cornelian Avenue. Were you aware of this when writing the book?

Christopher Wiseman: Very sharp observation. Open the book anywhere and you’ll find steamy content: a boy and girl pulling down their underwear and touching each other intimately; the teenage ecstasies of two couples in a dark room in the attic of one girl who went on to run her own sexual lingerie store; people singing filthy songs about bums and testicles; the special silk panties worn by local women; the frantically consummated encounter on a front lawn by an air raid warden and a woman among exploding bullets. This could be one of the randiest Canadian poetry books since Irving Layton’s Lovers and Lesser Men. Luckily there are a few minor distractions—like death, terror, destruction, hunger, and fear—to give the reader some relief from the overwhelming carnality which, in the words of one reader, kept her turning the pages far more quickly than she had anticipated (and says she badly wants a sequel).

CS: What is the most misunderstood aspect of your formalism?

CW: Easy. That people insist on calling what I do “formalism.” The most misunderstood aspect, in other words, is that in my ten full-length collections more poems are in free-verse than in form, and, although 36 Cornelian Avenue has metrical and rhymed poems, it's written in a casual and quite conversational style as seemed to befit the childrens’ experiences of the war and what happened. The greatest joy for me is the tension between a poem's formal structure and the colloquial language you can use inside that poem. This new book is the least formal of my last three books because it demanded to be and because there’s so much sex in it.

CS: There seems to be some settling of scores in 36 Cornelian Avenue. Is there a place in poetry for cursing as well as commemoration?

CW: I have written poems from all kinds of emotional places—exhilaration, depression, gratitude—but never once, except in some very early political poems, out of a deep-seated anger. It’s not the same as a curse, but when I looked back on my schooling during the second world war, I realized that I was getting very angry at the subject, the people, the circumstances I was writing about. I, and many others, because of the shortage of good teachers off to war, had to suffer deep humiliations, physical and emotional cruelties, which today would be called clear child-abuse and seen those teachers not only fired but probably in court. I lived in genuine terror of school — I describe the horrors in “Lessons of War." It was my great joy, about 8 years ago, when I re-visited the old school building where I had often been beaten by the nuns with ebony rulers (I was a non-Catholic interloper and Catholics weren’t beaten), and watched a Bobcat going in and out the front door, and the sound of demolition inside as they turned that place into flats. Teachers left scars far worse than Hitler’s Luftwaffe on me, and, as I wrote, I genuinely felt a lifetime’s load of anger start to dissipate. And other teachers, too, who bullied or under-rated me – I get some serious and some comic revenge, a settling of scores, which I didn’t know ran quite that deeply inside me.

CS: Can you give us a few lines from a new poem your working on?


Such palenesses together, different fabrics
Mingling in a subtle palette of pale –
Thin floaty skirt, dark white it looked to me,
Falling softly over pale stockings
Of not quite the same colour – pale beige? –
Or, I was certain, feel, and the light behind you
Clearly showed, as you looked around for your wrap,
That your panties were white, or pale, not showing
Through the skirt, and then there was, memory,
The sweet white of your thigh above the stocking’s
Slightly darker top, which I had a three
Second glimpse of as I held the car door
And your legs followed the skirt as you settled in,
And your pale shoes, such high-heeled elegance.

(Sexy metrics – sextrics?)

Wednesday 7 January 2009

Don Coles blogs! Part 2

[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 ]

Final Firenze memory, for me the most intimate. I had been strolling about the town that morning and had ended up on the crenellated roof-deck of the Palazzo Vecchio,the old City Hall, overlooking the town. Standing there I’d fallen into conversation with an American of about my age; he was newly arrived, I was a veritable fount of information regarding what lay below us. We decided to lunch together and I led the way to the Trattoria Camillo, a family-run place on Via Santo Spirito, very near my rooms on the via de’ Bardi. I’d been there a few times without anything noteworthy having taken place, just good food at a price a grantee like me could afford.

We took our places and ordered our antipasti. Waiting for it to arrive I suddenly remembered I didn’t have a lot of lire in my wallet; I took the wallet from my back pocket and had a surreptitious look. Right, merde, I had barely enough to pay for what I’d just ordered. Not a good discovery, sitting there with somebody I hardly knew, not good at all, but so far I could cover it. I was sure nobody had noticed any of this, people had been walking about and the place was busy. Antipasti gone, the signora arrived to take our next orders. My companion ordered a pasta and a glass of red wine, I said I was fine, not hungry, a carafe of water, nothing more, grazie. I half-thought the signora gave me a second look, but I wasn’t sure and I didn’t keep thinking it.

She left, was back again in minutes with not one but two plates of pasta and two glasses of chianti. I shook my head, said I’d ordered neither of these, she seemed too busy to listen and went off. I pondered this but after she’d gone determinedly past our table a couple of times without looking, I ate my pasta and enjoyed my wine. The pasta would soon have cooled past its best, after all. The American then ordered a salad, I declined, two salads arrived. By then I had given up. Lunch ended with two desserts, I don’t remember what these were, chocolate cake was what I normally liked and still do like along with red wine; and due cappuccini. We’d finished. I asked for our bills, they arrived. I got a quick look at his, it was in order, everything he’d had was listed. My bill was for that initial antipasti. Nothing more than that, nothing after that.

The signora, in passing, gave me a quick look when we were paying the grandmother who presided over the till. She didn’t wink, but she looked. It was a placid, friendly, everyday sort of look. The American had noticed nothing. I think he and I shook hands and parted as we left and
didn’t meet again.

I went back to Camillo’s a few days later and left a tip which covered my share of that meal. The signora may have noticed this, may not. My guess is that she did but there was no way of knowing. I have no memory of nodding or smiling or giving her a small bow or a meaningful, as they say, glance. I can remember none of those things but maybe one or two of them took place, impossible to confirm or deny that now. Camillo’s still exists but it’s gone gourmet, it caters to the monied classes and has a half-dozen waiters in white livery. The family has clearly exited the premises, I hope with their pockets stuffed. I hope that the signora, who can hardly still be of this world, had as calmly assured and sharp-eyed and generous (and perhaps, trusting) a series of days until her days ended.

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

Tuesday 6 January 2009

New Year Surprise

Hidden on craiglist is a hilarious series of anonymous entries on and about Montreal. It begins with a long open letter to the city (and, really, a lovely piece of writing).

Dear Montreal,

Go ahead, and jab me in the subway with your hardback novel, and then make a tutting noise at me for being in your way.

Go ahead and walk with two friends, six inches between each of you, on the same sidewalk, and roll two pairs of eyes if not all three when I walk up in the opposite direction, breaking your stride.

I love you, and you can’t stop that.

Read the rest of the letter here.

Magic mountain


It’s a little-known Montreal fact that situated on Mount Royal’s western flank, is a series of very small waterfalls (emanating from the many underground streams that honeycomb the mountain) that is part of the most unique power source in North America. By 1964 Jean Lesage’s Liberal government had nationalized all of Quebec’s privately-owned electrical companies (when René Lévesque was minister of natural resources). All, except for this pocket-sized subterranean hydro-electric station that generates enough electricity from Mount Royal’s underground streams to provide the power needs for a few city-owned buildings in the park proper, and a half-dozen houses adjacent to the mountain.

Saturday 3 January 2009

BMD (Books of Mass Destruction)

Here's an interesting list: ten books that screwed up the world. (If we're compiling one for Canlit, Atwood's Survival would rank at the top, closely followed by Anne Michael's Fugitive Pieces.)

Friday 2 January 2009

Remembering Outram cont'd

Memorial University's Digital Archives Initiative has put together a fabulous digital exhibition of publications (like the delectable broadside above) by The Gauntlet Press, the joint publishing venture of the late Richard Outram and his wife artist Barbara Howard. The site is a wonder cabinet crammed with curios and goodies, including a delightful 2002 recording of a CBC "Sunday Edition" interview between Outram and Michael Enright.

And here, in case you missed it, is a nice review of Outram's posthumous poetry collection, South of North.