Saturday 30 April 2011

Saturday Poem

I must learn from sidewalk cement.
Be a little less impressed
by every passing footprint.
Stand tall. Spring forth.
After all, I win every Mexican
standoff with the sky—
the sun backing down,
the moon clearly phased,
half the man I am when mown.
Stars are always first
to blink, and clouds sweating
over me make my thirst
their priority. Even the tallest trees,
looming above, trail off
when it’s foggy,
and the signs of local parties
driven into my chest
can’t kill me.
The heart, bypassing politics,
opens new paths
like an anthill healing.
From Pure Product (2009) by Jason Guriel

Friday 29 April 2011

Fighting For What's Yours

I think this sucks. There are about a quarter of a million distinct words in the English language, and McClelland & Stewart have to go pick the one we've been using for 30 years? They didn’t think people would notice? More likely, they didn’t care. The sublime arrogance of the act is staggering. Right now I’m conferring with some people to see what our legal options are. Stayed tuned.

Tuesday 26 April 2011

Canadian Masters

I've got a beautiful new book. Here's what's in it: twenty of John Glassco's top poems plus a 5500-word introduction that was supposed to be an essay on Glassco but turned out to also be a inquiry into oblivion, junkyards, Montreal's decline as a poetry superpower, Paris in the 30s, dandyism as an extreme sport, TISH and why fiction is truer than traditional memoir. I am indebted to the Frog Hollow team of Shane Neilson and Caryl Peters for their superhuman patience as I took my sweet time finishing this commission (four years!). Milton was right on the money: They also serve who only stand and wait.

Sunday 24 April 2011

Sunday Poem


It's rare, slow as a creaking of oars,
and she is so frail and short of breath
on the street, the stairs -- tiny, Lilliputian,
one wonders how they do it.
So, wakened by the shiftings of their bed nudging
our shared wall as a boat rubs its pilings,
I want it to continue, before here awful
hollow coughing fit begins. And when
they have to stop (always), until it passes, let
us praise the resumed rhythm, no more than a twitch
really, of our common floorboards. And how
he's waited for her before pushing off
in their rusted vessel, bailing when they have to,
but moving out anyway, across the black water.

The Easter Bunny Hates You

Saturday 23 April 2011

Saturday Poem


The hog
invited me to dinner.

I didn't mind the bristles
on his chinny-chin-chin.

And the truffles by candlelight
were a definite hit. I hadn't

known the porcine heart
was so similar to my own.

Is it true, I asked, that you eat your own kind?
(I had witnessed it with my own eyes,

but wanted to hear him answer.) His wet
snout trembled over the china rims, pink

and blind. You must think I am a monster!
And dabbed a tear with scented linen.

When he did not come back to bed that night
I knew something was wrong.

Tiptoeing down the cold halls I found
an empty room where his body hung

from a hook, like a gorged tick. How
he had climbed up there, and cut his own throat

I do not know. But the blood fell at my feet
like roses.
From Penny Dreadful (2009) by Shannon Stewart.


American poet-critic Stephen Burt can't keep up:

"I think I can keep up with books, more or less, which are countable, finite sets of things (especially since they do come in the mail): but if the proliferating, ramifying, exciting discourse about poetry now takes place in a million web journals, at all hours of the day and night, I’m not sure I can keep up with them. I’m not sure that I could have kept up with them when I was 20, or 25, or 29, and without dependents, and eager to stay up all night."

Wednesday 20 April 2011

My Hair

In an ongoing feature called "The Devil's Engine" (No. 1, No. 2) Tara Murphy has been putting a series of sensible, process-related questions to Biblioasis poets. The latest query, however, is a little whimsical, though Amanda Jernigan bats it out of the park.

If you had to pick a body part, and make that body part the storehouse for all of your poetic instincts, which part would you choose and why?"
Amanda says:
My hair. As a reminder that my poetic instincts are easily lost; that their loss, if painful to my sense of self is not (or not immediately) fatal; and that, given time, I may grow them back again.
The rest here. It's a pretty cool answer.

Monday 18 April 2011

The Death of Modern Canadian Poetry, Ctd

Evan Jones and Todd Swift hold their ground in this wide-ranging interview with Maurice Mierau on the subject of their anthology Modern Canadian Poets.

I've argued that the anthology -- by taking a wrecking ball to the existing CanPo canon and replacing it with scandalously neglected poets like A.G. Bailey and John Glassco -- is an exciting exercise in counterfactual speculation. But the editors aren't having any of it. "We were looking for poets who inhabited a Canada that does really exist: a place where, rather than reject the influence of the UK and the US, poets take on both, revealing a tradition inflected by its cultural position between two more dominant ones" [italics mine].

Point well taken (it's an argument I also make in the title essay of my book A Lover's Quarrel). And there's also this:
"[A] nation will always look differently from the outside. This is as true of Canada as it is of the UK, the US, Germany, Japan and New Zealand. There is no reason for poets to expect their tradition to resemble itself when viewed from another country: context has changed. We, as editors, are outside looking in; we have different expectations. Yet, we’re not interlopers. We have a direct connection and we see things differently, that’s all."
Read the rest of it here.

Sunday 17 April 2011

Sunday Poem

They say only fools sail at night
around the barrier reefs:
sloops and double-enders come to grief
on the jagged corals
as the Trades make for unpredictable currents
and the sudden heaves and plummets
of the seabed
bring the waves to cauldron-froth,
and all compounded by dark.
It’s like sailing in another language.
Even during the day
the marker buoys break free
and drift out of alignment,
requiring close attention to the marine charts.
But at night it’s almost always a naufrage.
The problem is
you cannot avoid sailing at night
when the call comes in
and you have somewhere to go.
From Reaching for Clear (2006) by David Solway.

Saturday 16 April 2011

Saturday Poem


five boards from a pine
and outlast me

I have lived
with my elbows on this table

and pots and pans
and papers

idiot life! sun and moon
wars, computers
mini-skirts, long skirts, knee-length
--holy jeans

and lilies, day and species
with last Scotch

my raft amid the galaxies, themselves
fleeing like refugees

winters of Saint-Denys Garneau
from all sides, some

night turns
on this coordinate

a kitchen chair, some cracked
refurbished boards

Moonlighting Poets

Over the last year, four Signal poets have published books with other presses. Taken together, the genres represented -- fiction, literary criticism, translation and biography -- are impressive. I think it's a big part of what makes them such superb poets: their poetry is nourished by other sources.

Clockwise from bottom left: Double Talk (Breakwater) by Patrick Warner, Curious Masonry: Three Translations from the Anglo-Saxon (Gaspereau) by Christopher Patton, Fine Incisions: Essays on Poetry and Place (Porcupine's Quill) by Eric Ormsby and Edith Sitwell: Avant-Garde Poet, English Genius (Little, Brown) by Richard Greene.

Friday 15 April 2011

Green Day

Two more Richard Greene interviews have surfaced recently (aside from this one, I mean). A quickie with The Toronto Quarterly (which comes with a nice except from Boxing the Compass) and a longer chat with Rob McLennan, in which Richard describes his work as "an odd mix of religious vision, gags, social satire, and elegies." I wish I'd thought of that for the back cover!

TISH vs. Glassco

Just got word from Frog Hollow yesterday that John Glassco and the Other Montreal is back from the printers (portrait on the left is by the amazing Wesley Bates).

In an interesting bit of serendipity, I also received Frank Davey's When TISH Happens, a book about the early days of the infamous Vancouver literary movement. As it happens, I spend a fair portion of my introduction trashing debunking assessing the legacy of this group (described by me as "a cocktail of counter-cultural fedupness, mud-slinging, and political anxieties").

To read what I have to say--and I have to admit, even by my standards it's pretty incendiary--you'll have buy a copy of the Selected.

Monday 11 April 2011

Blog, Ergo Sum

Encore magazine tries get to the bottom of why Norm Sibum (aka the Normster) has taken up blogging.
"What motivates me to keep at it is my continuing and deepening sense that the world in which we abide is unravelling at the seams and I don’t know how else to respond to this happenstance. Whatever else they do, writers write."
Get the rest here.

No Respect

Delighted to see Brian Busby's biography on John Glassco get some well-deserved praise from Stephen Henighan in The Walrus. But it's bizarre: you would never learn from this review -- as you certainly do from Busby's superlative book -- that Glassco is one of Canada's indispensable poets. There's a funny irony to arguing that "the best of Glassco’s work...remained hidden from the public eye" in a piece that reduces one of the very things "hidden from the public eye" -- namely Glassco's poetic achievements -- to a dozen words tacked on at the end. Worse, Henighan even gets that wrong. Glassco won the GG in 1971.

Sunday 10 April 2011

An Engrossing and Timely Read

We're happy to report that Dimitri Nasrallah's novel Niko is back from the printer and making its way into the streets. In the first review, Melora Koepke of Hour calls Niko an engrossing and timely read. Congratulations Niko and Dimitri!

Sunday Poem


I shaved, once. All over. Took a lover
much younger than me—and not for his
conversation. I wanted the feel of a tongue
running over a mouth, slowly—but not
his tongue over my lips, nor mine over his:
I wanted his whole body licking like a tongue
over every new surface of mine. Trouble was,
my stubble. The kid got rug-rash. Carpet-burn.
By the end of the night, the boy looked—uncooked.
When his own sweat began to roast him in salt
he fled to the showers. Haven’t seen him since.

Some time later I married a man
with a skin condition. The soft moss of my belly,
the fur on my face—all titillate the scaly
hide of The Alligator Man. I’m prickly and hirsute.
He’s tough as shoe leather. Neat,
how things turn out.

From Circus (2009) by Michael Harris.

Saturday 9 April 2011

Talking Head

Recognizing Artists: Enfin Visible! ( launched a complete redesign of their site last week. Included are 24 video profiles, filmed by Black Box Productions, of English-language artists discussing their work. I'm immensely proud to have been selected.

I was interviewed at last October's bilingual Early Warning Systems reading, organized by DHC/ART Foundation. You can see the rest of the videos here.

Saturday Poem

There are times I can’t even understand
myself for this damn stammering.
It is only here in this tarred shack
I can say something straight out
like I hear in my head.
This dog listens–right, boy–after all
we gnaw on the same fucking bone.
My neighbour, what does he know
for all his learning?
I’ll not stutter my courtesy,
blurt it out for his sake today.
I’ll step where I please.

Damn that bitch of his,
always at my heels,
why can’t he keep it tied?
Can’t I walk the ground without that?
I’ll keep my complaint to myself,
silence serve best, as they say.
Then, God, I’ll have enough of it–
it can’t come too soon.
From Animals of My Own Kind (2009) by Harry Thurston.

Friday 8 April 2011

They're in!

Our Spring poetry titles: The Id Kid by Linda Besner and Skullduggery by Asa Boxer.

Three Way

If you wanted to list the young poets who were likely to figure in many of our literary conversations over, say, the next decade, you could hardly do better than the names on this poster. And I'm happy to say two of them are ours. It's going to be a great reading. See you there?

The Death of Modern Canadian Poetry

Here’s a really smart review by Jacob McArthur Mooney on the Modern Canadian Poets anthology. Jacob bills my recent Quill and Quire column as a “defense” of the Carcanet book, and, while I can see how you can read it that way, I was really trying to make a case for a growing number of younger poets—or “rebooters”—rediscovering and promoting neglected names. It’s an idea that seems to have caught fire (you might almost call it a generational effort) and I see the Carcanet anthology has a part of that trend. So the piece wasn’t meant to be a review of the anthology, per se.

Now, I can’t lie: I do get indecent pleasure from so many blue-chip names (McKay, Purdy, Atwood) being dropped. And I'm very grateful the editors included Coles, Bailey, Outram, Ormsby, Dalton and Partridge among others. But I don't want to ignore my frustrations with the book. I question some of the inclusions, from the bizarre (Joan Murray) to the you've-got-to-be-kidding me (David Moses). And I mourn the missing: Charles Bruce, D.G. Jones, Peter Van Toorn and David Solway.

But the Swift and Jones anthology is a lot like Donald Davie’s dream of rediscovering a “native” English-language tradition via Hardy. Or Yvor Winters’ alternative canonmaking (elevating Fulke Greville over Yeats). Or Ron Silliman’s “neglectrinos” (that subculture of the shunned). The editors, in other words, will argue that they are simply dramatizing an unrealized alternative. And they would be absolutely right. This is why comments about them getting it “wrong” miss the point. In a sense, Modern Canadian Poets can be called a counterfactual novel. By exaggerating certain facts and ignoring others, the anthology conjures an altered historical outcome for Canadian poetry—or at least gives us a glimpse into such a world. That’s why it sometimes makes more sense to treat anthologies like this as acts of make-believe rather than gate-keeping. As I’ve written before, the genre, by definition, is about making a statement through selection. And that statement is what you’d expect from any speculative fiction worth its salt: a radical break with the present.

Frankly, I think Swift and Jones have assembled probably the most daring Canadian anthology since Mainstream, which Peter Van Toorn completed in 1973 and never published (rumor is it was rejected). The only evidence of the anthology comes from the preface D.G. Jones was invited to write. It was eventually included in The Insecurity of Art: Essays on Poetics (1982) edited by Ken Norris and Peter Van Toorn. Here’s how the preface starts:
"Dear Peter,

This is a radical, challenging, fine anthology. It must meet quite a challenge after leaving out Roberts, Carman, D.C. Scott, A. J. M. Smith, P.K. Page and Margaret Avison, not to mention others still. Certainly, even on its own terms, some poems by these poets might be included, but I gather not enough from your point of view. In any case, I think your selection can meet the challenge and justify itself."
Doug, you took the words right out of my mouth.

Thursday 7 April 2011

Battle of the Bards

I know Shane Neilson's first piece on the event raised some hackles. Fair enough. But his follow up has some pretty funny moments.

Wednesday 6 April 2011

And Speaking of Prizes

Asa Boxer (seen above) and Len Epp sit down with Encore magazine to talk about the $50,000 poetry prize they've just launched.

Griffin Prize

Griffin Prize finalists were announced yesterday. My feelings about this prize are really conflicted (I vent a little in this essay), though Jake's take seems spot on. That said, I'm happy to see John Steffler on the shortlist. We published his selected poems, Helix, in 2002.

Monday 4 April 2011

Lampert Finalist

Good news. Susan Briscoe's The Crow's Vow has been shortlisted for the $ 1,000 2011 Gerald Lampert Award for Best First Book of Poetry. Delighted to see Jeff Latosik's Tiny, Frantic, Stronger on the same list. Though a big bronx cheer to the jury for overlooking Michael Lista's Bloom. Winners are announced June 11.

Sunday 3 April 2011

Maisonneuve Spring Launch

I love this poster. Drop by if you can, and support the new team. At the very least buy the damn issue.

Sunday Poem


Sure fooled me.

Had me right up

to the tinselly scraping

when I downed

the last mouthful

and the ice cube turned

out to be glass.


Shark's fin.

Lifting it out

nearly cost me a finger

never mind

the carnage it

could've caused

in the throat.

Awe around the table

as if I'd gone

inadvertent skydiving

or breezed through

a tiger rodeo just while

sipping, squeezing in

a lime. See

how the trick is turned.

Thrilling to be fooled so,

like when I went to check

the time in Paris

and a thief's hummingbird

caress left me gaping

at my naked wrist.

That was a touch

I never felt, but this time

I'm suffered to see

how I'm spared.

Everyone wanted to touch it, tap,

test their fingers on the edge.

Makes you want

to try your luck again,

the way a carnival bohunkus

gawps at the stage;

then jets his hand

in the air with ballooning

faith. Me, me,

pick me, mister.

Saw me in half.

I believe.

From The Id Kid by Linda Besner, which will be launched April 17, 2010.

Saturday 2 April 2011

Greene Interview

Over at Northern Poetry Review, Carmelo Militano interviews Richard Greene on his GG-winning book, Boxing the Compass.

"Here are all these Canadian poets -- I'd say nearly half -- entertaining religious beliefs that they fear to talk about in poetry. It is like earlier centuries fearing to talk about sex in poetry. Even so, technique is learned from other poets, and if the religious themes are in disrepute, it is very hard to develop, in relative solitude, a technique for addressing them. It is something I think about a fair bit."
More here.

Saturday Poem

Night Shift

The owl skirrs for mouse
and in his gut, he turns her
inside-out. The bat weaves

through the criss-cross trees,
wings upon her sonar pings
to trap the bug and feel him sing.

Owl, wise anatomist, studies
the tissues, then spits the gist:
the shag and bone of what exists.

And bat, dread acrobat, flips
the forest upside-down, and all
the creatures underground,

the shrew, the hedgehog and the mole
fall out like rattled soldiers
from their tunnelled holes.

From Skullduggery, by Asa Boxer, which will be launched April 17.

Friday 1 April 2011

Perfect Contempt

Jason Guriel reviews Dorothy Parker's Complete Poems in this month's Poetry.
In general, Parker came up with no surprising images, similes, or metaphors of her own. The odd telephone makes an appearance and keeps things up to the minute. But for the most part she made do with lads, suns, stars, things, tears, time. The heart is so frequently reached for and handled in Parker’s poems it’s as worn and polished a prop as Yorick’s skull. Eliot wrote that it was the poet’s business “to make poetry out of the unexplored resources of the unpoetical.” Parker worked the exhausted resources of the poetical.