Tuesday 30 August 2011

Quarc Issue

I picked up my issue of Quarc today (basically because Katia Grubisic told me to). Not sure I can do a better job than Melissa over at The Literary Type in describing the unique features of this science-themed Arc/TNQ double header ("the most epic issue in the history of literary magazines.") So I'll leave you to read her post to get the skinny. I'd simply like to point out a couple of goodies available on the website: an interview between Matthew Tierney and Perimeter Institute physicist Lee Smolin, as well as wicked videos of fidgety microbes taken by "amateur microscopist" Bruce Taylor (who has a superb poem in the issue). Be sure to visit Bruce's YouTube channel for more. I've posted one of my favourites. They're worth a view for the charming soundtrack alone.

Sunday 28 August 2011

Sunday Poem


In 100% surefire arsenic
in snowwhite lye
in lepers’ bathwater
in strychnine buttered with lead
in scrapemash off soldiers’ bootsoles
in 7 cities’ drainmalt
in snot pastry
in wolverine toad and turkey gall
and in viler things
shake’n bake their envy-schooled tongues.

In pencilpaint and braspy mulepiss
in rabid dogdrool
in long peels of oven grease
in wormpie and roachpaste
in cigarettesog of tavern urinals
in rats’ sewer water
in coffinslag and maggotmatting
in plasters of runover skunk
and in viler things
shake’n'bake their envy-schooled tongues.

In battery acid and engine goo
in egglacquered ragrot
in soapfoam and mosquito spray
in flubbery diaperslop
in stiff dishwater
in surgical mustard (morgue scraps)
in cat toad snail and tire wipe
in dead fish and ulcer ooze
and in viler things
shake’n bake their envy-schooled tongues.

push all these into a crush
and if you haven’t got a strainer handy
use the back of your pants.
And make sure there’s enough batter––
roll on pig manure––before you
shake’n bake their envy-schooled tongues.
From Mountain Tea (2003) by Peter Van Toorn

(Painting by Roland Hicks)

Wednesday 24 August 2011

Samuel Menashe 1925 – 2011

Anxiety Attack

Christian Wiman writes a tough, bold, searching and at times radiant essay on the problem of anxiety.
"THERE IS A DISTINCTION to be made between the anxiety of daily existence, which we talk about endlessly, and the anxiety of existence, which we rarely mention at all. The former fritters us into dithering, distracted creatures. The latter attests to—and, if attended to, discloses—our souls. And yet it is a distinction without a difference, perhaps, and as crucial to eventually overcome as it is to initially understand, for to be truly alive means to feel one’s ultimate existence within one’s daily existence, to feel one’s trivial, frittering anxieties acquiring a lightness, a rightness, a meaning. So long as anxiety is merely something to be alleviated, it is not life, or we are not alive enough to experience it as such."

Tuesday 23 August 2011

Advanced Praise for Daniel Griffin's Debut

Stopping for Strangers, Daniel Griffin's short story collection is due this Fall, under the Esplanade imprint. Griffin's story, The Last Great works of Alvin Cale, was a finalist for the Journey Prize in 2009; and he was published in Coming Attractions 08. His debut collection has garnered some high wattage advanced praise:

"This fine fine collection evokes echoes of the plain and piercing voice of Raymond Carver. These stories upended me: they are strong, surprising and full of heart. The size of the soul looms large in Daniel Griffin’s writing." — David Bergen

"Griffin’s at his best when he explores the intricacies and heartaches of family relationship and crisis. Here, in Stopping for Strangers, I believe we’re witnessing the emergence of a future master. " —Gail Dargatz Anderson

Sunday 21 August 2011

Sunday Poem


when stars come up
diluted; glaze the lake
from underneath, glinting
like fish.

A sultry moon
humpbacked and sour,
fills the horizon with pale light,
a wall of vapours.

I used to be wary of
approaching a scene like this, though
not anymore. I welcome anything
that reminds me of you, the broken pieces

of moon and stars walking in the dark lake;
unstable lights quavering in diverse directions like
your tongue in my mouth, that intricate melody;

even the lucid water with its
silver scales, sliding
through my fingers
much too quickly.
From The Invisible Moon (1988) by Carle Hartsfield.

Saturday 20 August 2011

Nice Leetle Poet

Mark Abley wonders if the times have caught up with the "Tigger-bouncy rhythms" of 19th century Montreal poet William Henry Drummond.
Today almost nobody reads William Henry Drummond. In the literary world, he's close to an embarrassment. Devotees of Canadian literature prefer not to admit that Canadian literature once sounded like this: "Dere's a beeg jam up de reever, w'ere rapide is runnin' fas', / An' de' log we cut las' winter is takin' it all de room ..."
More here.

Thursday 18 August 2011

Tuesday 16 August 2011

"I have met my Muse"

The most poignant 52 words you'll read this week.

Fish Quill Finale

Thus endeth another Fish Quill Poetry Boat tour. After "washing the squashed mosquitoes" out of her hair, Linda Besner joined Leigh Kotsilidis to talk about her experience on CBC. Listen here. (Photos by Nick Thran.)

Sunday 14 August 2011

Sunday Poem


I dip down to your neck like one of those birds
poised over a drinking glass in a diner—
a small bobbing crane who demonstrates
temperature differences in a room

where waitresses rush around delivering
seafood platters to families
with noisy small children who suffer
the heat badly, and truckers,

who glance sideways and shrug
at this end-of-summer pageant. See
how easily I move away from your neck
which is the subject, not diners,

no seafood platters though these too
have their place. Any consideration
of your neck must have movement,
people bending down, babies

being tended. After hours, after
this diner has closed for the winter,
and its occupants have gone back to jobs,
troubled marriages, rent-controlled apartments,

I am the small bobbing crane who stays there,
fridge thermometer snug in its belly,
dipping downwards towards the coolness
of a half-filled glass of water.
From A Tinkers' Picnic (1999) by Peter Richardson.

Thursday 11 August 2011

Paul Theroux's challenge

"After prudently having himself circumcised, learning to speak fluent Arabic, dressing as an Afghan dervish and calling himself Mirza Abdullah, the British explorer Sir Richard Burton travelled to the holy city of Mecca, a deeply curious unbeliever among devout pilgrims. This was in 1853. He published his account of this trip in three volumes several years later, his Personal Narrative of a Pilgrimage to Al-Madinah and Meccah. The last non-Muslim to do this and to write about it was Arthur John Wavell, of the distinguished British military family. An army veteran, and farmer in Mombasa, Kenya, Wavell developed an interest in Islam. In order to know more, he disguised himself as a Swahili-speaking Zanzibari, made the pilgrimage and wrote about it in A Modern Pilgrim in Mecca (1912). Wavell took the trip in the winter of 1908-1909, more than a century ago. No unbeliever has done it since. Now there’s a challenge for a technology-smug couch potato who prates that the travel book is over."
More goading here.

Sunday 7 August 2011

Sunday Poem


When I first saw my mother's brother's new wife,
What I saw were two shopping bags,
Laden with food, which her arms cradled around.
She was coming up the path to the big house.

All summer long, I spent the afternoons
Reading G.A. Henty adventures for boys in the bungalow.
When we had lunch on the veranda, her bikini top
Dipped down like the sunglasses along her nose.

I was just learning to put two and two together.
She wouldn't talk to me or my brothers.
I would lie on my belly, dig my hips into the mattress
And, more likely than not, be crossing the Khyber Pass

Or holding a fort set on some promontory.
She was doing her best to remain collected, and calm,
Under the surveillance of the assembled relatives.
Her lips winced at the taste of our coffee.

The plot leaped forward: I was drifting headlong
Down a river, towards the Whirlpool of No Return.
After her swims, she lay sunbathing on the dock
And a drop of water glistened in her belly-button.

We came to clearing. The Hun had retreated
To a temple full of incense and treasures.
An attack would be lunacy but we had no choice—
There was an English life at stake. I discarded the map

And, by examining the underside of a leaf,
Plotted the best approach. Through the window, I saw her
Meting out a laundry line of underclothes and linen.
The bungalow smelled of yellow pages and cedar.

A woodpecker tack-tack-tacked against a hollow tree.
A spider crawled up the screen. I got the message:
They had taken the General's daughter captive
And I, I was the man to free her.
From Shadow Cabinet (1996) by Richard Sanger.

Thursday 4 August 2011

Brian Busby

Interviewed about his blog The Dusty Bookcase and its "attempt to save Canadian books that are in danger of disappearing," Brian Busby reveals why -- especially when it comes to John Glassco -- he's one of the sharpest literary minds in the country:
JW: What do you think Glassco would make of the James Frey controversy and the rise in popularity of creative non-fiction? Did Glassco consider himself a made-up self? I'm also trying to imagine what Glassco would do with social media, if he would subvert or embrace it.

BB: It's interesting to consider what relationship, if any, Glassco might have had with social media. He was, at heart, very much an Edwardian... We see this in his final fantasy, Guilt and Mourning, an unpublished novel set in a Montreal that has somehow avoided the technological advances of the 20th century. Had Glassco lived to be a centenarian—or even a mere nonagenarian—I very much doubt that he would have taken to social media except in one key area: his sex life. Here, the world would have become a less lonely place. I dare say it would be much easier to meet people who shared his interests over the Web than through personal ads.

As to Frey, I wonder how much attention Glassco would have paid the controversy; he had so very little interest in the prose of his own time. That said, he did enjoy a good hoax—and perpetrated some of the very best. We might get a sense of his reaction to the Frey controversy through his own memoirs. In a letter to Kay Boyle, he writes, "I look on the real value of 'memoirs' as being not so much a record of 'what happened' as a re-creation of the spirit of a period in time." So he telescopes and rearranges time, invents dialogue and encounters, dresses "naked facts" and in the end produces a work that Malcolm Cowley considered "the most accurate picture of Montparnasse".

One might say that he did something similar in life; choosing what and with whom to share specific details. We all do the same thing—though perhaps not to the same extent. Glassco wrote a beautiful and insightful passage about this very aspect of human life in writing about Casanova:

"We end, in other words, by loving him as much for what he really was as for what he tells us he was, and discover that the two characters complement each other and make an intelligible whole. In this way we grasp the truth that man is not only a living creature but the person of his own creation"
Read the rest here.

ReLit Awards

Happy to see Susan Briscoe, Michael Harris and D.G. Jones on the just announced ReLit Awards poetry longlist.