Thursday 31 December 2009

The Bestest of 2009

Best poetry debut: Paper Radio by Damian Rogers
Best poetry cover: Paper Radio by Damian Rogers
Best title given to a poetry book: The Hayflick Limit by Matthew Tierney
Best-designed collection: Track & Trace by Zach Wells
Best poetry collection I missed In 2008: Shades of Green by Brent Maclaine
Best critical essay: "Hide and Seek: Looking for the Real MacEwen" by Anita Lahey
Best poetry magazine: Arc
Best new literary mag: Riddle Fence
Best new poetry blog: Vox-Populism
Poetry blog I enjoyed despite myself: Lemon Hound
Best interview with a poet: Jason Guriel
Best headshot: Molly Peacock
Best reading tour coverage: Two on a Choo-Choo
Best literary controversy: Jason Guriel's “Going Negative”
Best book of American poetry I read this year: Yellowrocket by Todd Boss
Best book of British poetry I read this year: Third Wish Wasted by Roddy Lumsden
Best rediscovery: The Essential James Reaney by Brian Bartlett
Best poetry anthology about zoos: Penned: Animals in Zoos in Poems
Best poem about grass-eating quadrupeds: “The Golden Book of Bovinities,” from Figuring Ground
Best moment from one of the launches for This Way Out: Lisa Moore autograph
Most anticipated book of 2010 that doesn’t belong to my press: Bloom by Michael Lista
Most anticipated book of 2010 that does: Circus by Michael Harris

Wednesday 30 December 2009

What is Poetry?

There's really only one blogger I follow from the current crew on the Poetry Foundation site: Melissa Friedling. It might be more accurate, however, to call Friedling a vlogger, as her contributions consist of guerrilla-filmmaker style incursions into American streets, beaches and parks where she interviews ordinary people for their definition of poetry. Charming stuff, consistently soul-gladdening.

Thursday 24 December 2009

What I liked in 2009

Friends have been busting my chops to make public my favourite Canadian poetry of 2009. Since I've always had a weakness for bad advice, I’ve gone ahead and nailed my colours to the mast (if you're impatient, skip down the end).

To be frank, this sort of best-of exercise always leaves me in some distress because I have to overlook the books I feel strongest about, namely the titles I shepherd into print for Vehicule press. In 2009, those would be: Pure Product by Jason Guriel, Animals of My Own Kind by Harry Thurston and Boxing the Compass by Richard Greene. Each of these poets, while plainly unpigeonholeable, exemplify in their practice the values I’ve been trying to “brand” at Signal Editions: poetry that has a premium on intellectual idiosyncrasy, is technically mettlesome, brandishes an exacting sense of diction (but also allows for moments when that diction takes leave of its senses), and is bullshit-free.

So those three books, heartbreakingly, aren't on my list. Also missing are a couple of formidable collections whose only sin is that I guest-edited them: Figuring Ground by Robert Moore (Wolsak & Wynne) and Trace and Track by Zach Wells (Biblioasis).

So what's left? A list rich in authentic, affecting, well-rounded, unposturing poetry. What drew me to these ten books, however, wasn't their Goldilocks proportionality (not too hot, not too cold, just right) but that they were working at full poetic boil. They were also -- except, of course, for Rogers -- arresting advances on the respective poet’s prior books (especially Klassen who emerged as a far more exciting poet than I remember). In fact, I feel like our entire poetry scene has, over the last decade, teleported itself into a new level of ambition, with poets now sniffing out property values at the top of Parnassus (a topic I touched on here). We are becoming what Charles Simic -- in his essay “The Trouble with Poetry” -- called “a carnival of styles,” or poetry “that has the feel of cable televison with more than three hundred channels.”

Enough palavering. Here are the ten books I think 2009 might be remembered by.

Jane Again (Biblioasis), Wayne Clifford
Lean-to (Gaspereau), Tonja Gunvaldsen Klassen
Meniscus (Bibloasis), Shane Neilson
True Concessions (Goose Lane), Craig Poile
Paper Radio (ECW), Damian Rogers
Pause for Breath (Biblioasis), Robyn Sarah
Pigeon (Anansi), Karen Solie
Seaway: New and Selected Poems (Salmon Publishing), Todd Swift
The Hayflick Limit (Coach House), Matthew Tierney
Mole (Anansi), Patrick Warner

Honourable mention: Oneiric (Frog Hollow Press), Nyla Matuk

Monday 21 December 2009

Daddy, Where Do Poems Come From?

I got a copy of this book the hard way: I wrote something for it. You'll have a easier time. You can just click and buy it. And you really should. Don't be fooled by the dry-as-dust textbook title: Approaches to Poetry: The Pre-Poem Moment. This is a book any poetry lover will wolf down. Twenty-seven Canadian poets (among them Geoffrey Cook, Jim Johnstone, Amanda Jernigan, Stephanie Bolster, Nyla Matuk, Evie Christie and Zach Wells) were asked to choose one of their poems and discuss the event or circumstance that triggered its composition. "The poems will not be analyzed," writes editor Shane Neilson in his introduction, "only their gestation." The result is a series of eloquent, honest, psychologically astute essays on the creative process. I won't lie: it's a bit pricey ($70 hard, 40, soft). But it doesn't hurt that the book is lovingly and handsomely designed and typeset by Cary Peters of Frog Hollow fame. It also doesn't hurt that the book is basically a twofer: a compact poetry anthology riding in the saddle of a collection of smart and often original literary criticism. For a taste, go here.

Sunday 20 December 2009

Product placement

Rob Taylor includes Jason Guriel's Pure Product in his list of last minute gift ideas.

Someone comes to Guriel's defense.

Guriel reads his poetry like a real man.

Friday 18 December 2009

Top Ten, Ctd

George Murray ranks his top ten poets of the decade. A good list, I think. Very nice to see Richard Outram make top spot.

When he gets to Simon Armitage (number 6), George mentions meeting him at a reading he gave with Armitage and Ken Babstock in Montreal.

As it happens, I was there and took some photos.

Sunday 13 December 2009

Dalton Makes Top Ten

That belletristic swashbuckler Jacob McArthur Mooney includes Mary Dalton's 2003 Merrybegot in his highly entertaining decade round-up "Knotting off the Aughts."

You can catch Anita Best read a sample from the book here.

Saturday 12 December 2009


Balanchine: "There are no new steps, only new combinations."

A more precise rendering of the Canadian poetry world will need to include those poets who willfully deny important truths about their art in a desperate attempt to preserve the fiction of themselves as cutting edge.

Thursday 3 December 2009

An arcane and wonderful gathering

Front row: Magda Weintraub, Brian Busby, Michael Gnarowski. Second row: Linda Feige, Karl Feige, Diana Gnarowski, Sheila Fischman, Adrian King-Edwards, Bill Weintraub. Third row: Dan Mozersky, Bill Toye, Gretta Chambers. Top row: Mark Abley, Simon Dardick
(Photo by Donald Winkler).

It was a slightly arcane and wonderful gathering in the chapel of Montreal's St. James the Apostle Church, 4 pm on Thursday, November 26, 2009 to commemorate the centenary of writer John Glassco's birth. Glassco won the Governor General's Literary Award for Selected Poems (1971) published by Oxford University Press. He is probably best known for Memoirs of Montparnasse (1970), arguably one of the best memoirs of the literary expat life in the Paris of the twenties.

The creation of a plaque to honour Glassco is the result of a collaboration between Michael Gnarowski and Brian Busby. The bronze plaque, created by Merrickville, Ontario's Alloy Foundry, will be displayed in the church's chapel.

John Glassco died in 1981.