Monday 28 November 2011

What does Michael Lista think of Mark Callanan's new book?

He fucking loves it.
It’s rare to encounter a poet who can weave economics, wildlife preservation, public policy, personal and civic history, epidemiology and gastronomy together into the tapestry of metaphor using such deceptively simple language.
 The Quill & Quire review of Gift Horse can now be found online.

Sunday 27 November 2011

Sunday Poem

Giovanni Starnino 1940-2011


There were days when I'd catch him
alone at the kitchen table, lost
inside some regret, his head
cradled in his hands like the part

of his life that was over, that had
stopped some time ago. A cigarette
smoldered beside him, its smoke
rising from the ashtray like a long

held breath, slowly released.
I would like to say that my mother
went to him then, leaned over to
whisper his name in his ear,

and he jerked up, a little startled,
staring around the room in unrecognition,
having been called back too quickly
into his life, and looked up

at my mother who smiled, running
her long fingers through his hair,
slipping them into its dark glistening.
I would like this finally to be

a story of love. But the truth is
my father was an unhappy man,
his head was heavy, and sometimes
he rested it in his hands.
From The New World (1997) by Carmine Starnino

Thursday 24 November 2011


Dawn Kresan opens up about her experience starting a literary press:
"My first four years of relative calm anonymity in publishing suddenly turned into a thrilling and terrifying rollercoaster. It’s a lot of ups and downs and I never know what is around the next corner. At this point, I am just trying to hang on."
Read the rest here.

"Twenty-five drunks on a train"

Alexandra Oliver's "The GO Train Arithmetic Song" has been nominated for a 2011 Pushcart Prize by The Raintown Review. Read the poem here.

Tuesday 22 November 2011

Flash Interview #6: Mark Callanan

(Author photo by John Guy.)

Mark Callanan is the author of Scarecrow (2003), a critically-acclaimed first book of poems, and Sea Legend (2010), winner of the bpNichol Chapbook Award. His poetry has appeared in several anthologies, including Breathing Fire 2: Canada’s New Poets. He lives in St. John’s, Newfoundland with his wife and children. Gift Horse (2011) is his most recent collection.

The following interview was conducted by e-mail.

Carmine Starnino: What's with all the mermaids in Gift Horse?

Mark Callanan: That obsession was prompted, at least in part, by Paul Muldoon’s collection Mules, in which a merman is one of several hybrid characters. The title poem of Muldoon’s book begins with the line, “Should they not have the best of both worlds?” The answer is no: hybrids are border dwellers, creatures of a liminal space; mermaids may have both human and fish parts, but they can’t be wholly part of either world, so in a way, they don’t belong anywhere.

I like the idea of a creature that straddles two worlds because it’s metaphorically rich territory, in terms of my perception of Newfoundland, and in terms of my own divided sense of self. Newfoundland, to my mind, is stuck between its colonial past and its present status as a province of Canada; it’s part of Canada, but apart from Canada—a separation that owes its genesis to the still contentious issue of Confederation; it’s split between Old World mores and modern, North American sensibilities, between inherited English, Irish, Scottish and French oral traditions, and a much younger print culture; geographically, it’s positioned between Europe and North America; it’s bound to its traditional industry, the fishery, but also pulled by the allure of our rapidly growing oil and gas industry, as well as by the urge to package and sell itself as tourism product.

And I’m a creature divided as well. My mother grew up in a fishing community, pre-electricity; my father grew up here in the more modern capital. I grew up in St. John’s as well, in a suburban neighbourhood that, in many ways, could have been the playground of any North American kid. Why, then, should my sense of identity as a Newfoundlander be linked to notions of a life lived on the sea?

All this leads me to another aspect of that idea of internal division: I find it hard to take a stance sometimes, because I can easily see both sides of a given argument.

I guess I’m trying to tell you that I’m a mermaid.

CS: You seem pretty grounded in St. John's. Is there anywhere else you would consider moving?

MC: Sure. I lived in Leeds for a couple of years in my early twenties. I loved being there. Funny thing is, it reminded me of St. John’s—though, on the face of it, they have little in common. It seemed to me that they were both emerging from periods of economic depression. Leeds is a former industrial town remaking itself as a hub for the technology industry; St. John’s is a port town reaping the benefits of a sudden influx of oil money. My friends in Leeds told me it was a pretty depressing place to grow up, circa the 1980s; St. John’s, post-moratorium, was similarly afflicted. There was this pervasive sense of hopelessness that infected my generation. That’s changed now, of course. At the moment, St. John’s an exciting place to live. There’s a creative energy here I find infectious. There is still a lot about Newfoundland that I dislike: that we haven’t learned confidence in our means; we’re amazed by our successes, literary or otherwise, as if we haven’t earned them. Also, our reverence for tradition is both boon and bane. It’s important to know where you’ve come from, yes, but that can be crippling, too, if the past becomes a fixation, a fetish: a thing lauded for its own sake. That said, I love it here—more than that, I feel as if my fate is bound up in the fate of this island.

CS: Are there aspects of Newfoundland that can't be put in a poem? That you have to just live there to get?

MC: Nope. My ego tells me there’s nothing I couldn’t conjure. My ego lies, though. Often.

Sunday 20 November 2011

Sunday Poem


dying on the grass
in front of the chancellor's building
for Charlie Schwartz's anti-weapons protest

brings back confused
memories of the wartime sixties
hitting the dirt before we realized

these were just wooden bullets
and then walking back through tear gas
to teach a class

lying here
and watching the neutral passers-by
scale the vertical asphalt

I feel neither
the old embarrassment at being
at right angles to most people

with brief-cases
nor, and this is the spooky part
that steam of comprehending anger

only the warm
smell of the grass beside my nose
saying, come back here every now and then
From Murmur of the Stars: Selected Shorter Poems (1994) by Peter Dale Scott

(Photo by zunguzungu. Banned from setting up an encampment, Occupy Cal uses helium-filled balloons to float tents above Sproul Plaza.)

Saturday 19 November 2011

2011 Montreal Prize Results

Congratulations to Susan Glickman (pictured above) and Peter Richardson for making the shortlist of the Montreal International Poetry Prize. The $50,000 winner, selected by Andrew Motion, will be announced next month.

(Photo by Nancy Shanoff)

Sunday 13 November 2011

Sunday Poem


and only partly caught. Not memories,
but traces of her flurried passing by my temple—glances
of skin, arcane scraps of fabric and scent, talk in heady snatches:

for these I am gathered here today,
mourning in anticipation. Hours ago and already
I can't keep straight whether hair sang red, or dress, or whether,

yes—neither—only my ears in the blood-rush.
And the perfume, it wasn't hers. That magnolia tree's
losing blossoms all over the sidewalk, every little fall loosing,

like a snuffed wick, a scent of expiration.
Maybe if I ran back down there now, some trigger, a sniff
of a shaft of light still dusted with her—but no, I must accept,

as the open ear accepts an unexpected whisper, she
is but a composite, best remembered by the one clipped
string I caught as she spoke into her tiny cell: late, gotta go, yes, I'll call,

From a chapbook called Sirens (2011) by Stewart Cole, published by Cactus Press.

Saturday 12 November 2011


Paul Vermeersch brushes aside his doubts and finds a lot to like in this year's GG shortlist. I think he's indulging in wishful thinking when he calls it "one of the most balanced poetry short lists" he's seen, but I agree with the motivating premise of his review: namely, that we not let controversy distract us from recognizing the genuine merits of the nominees. To my own surprise, I share his enthusiasm for Killdeer. Phil Hall's poetry has never been my cup of tea. But he has written a captivating odd-duck of a book—part j'accuse, part literary criticism, part autobiography—and I would never have read it had it not been selected. I tip it to win too.

Thursday 10 November 2011

More Praise

Assessing last year's GG poetry shortlist with an open-hearted attentiveness to each of the books, Patricia Keeney has some very kind words for Circus ("an energetic high-wire act that runs on the adrenalin of reforming zeal and the comic anger of satire") and Boxing the Compass ("Technically accomplished, the poems are uniformly paced and assured, telling their stories easily, conversationally.")

Sunday 6 November 2011

Circus Celebrated

Zach Wells loves Michael Harris' recent collection Circus. "This is formal brilliance," Wells writes in the Autumn 2011 issue of the The Fiddlehead (review not available online), "that has nothing to do with 'formalism' or any other aesthetic dogma." After singling out a number of poems (including my favourite, "Molivos," a longish dream sequence that's set on the Greek island and features actor Ray Liotta) Wells praises the book's range. "Harris's ring is broad enough to accommodate the personal and domestic as well as the world-historical; farce as well as tragedy." Sample poem here.

Sunday Poem


You pronounce the facts: shadows
ashes and the dull illumination
of darkened daylight.

You renounce: the tall ships
of societies frozen into the floes

for very little you’d back off and listen no more
except to your will to grasp the meaning
of signs and sensations

but in the act of confession love
is mingled with lies, and the rusted
wreckage of speech casts a faint

light before your feet.
From Meridian Line (2010) by Paul Bélanger, translated by Judith Cowan, nominated for a 2011 Governor-General's Award for Translation.

Tuesday 1 November 2011

Tomas Tranströmer

My first real introduction to Tomas Tranströmer's genius was Don Coles' masterful translation of seventeen of his classic poems For the Living and the Dead (1996). Copies, I'm told, are still available.

Gift Horse Review

Quick off the mark, Quill & Quire has published a review of Gift Horse in its November 2011 issue (review isn't online yet). Meaghan Strimas describes Mark Callanan's poetry as
not fussy, nor is it driven by ego; it is humble, and it doesn’t take itself too seriously. It is, for the most part, blessedly free of sentimentality and filler. There is an exactitude to his art, displayed in the efficiency of his diction and his tightly organized stanzas.
(Love that hedging "for the most part.") Callanan and Mary Dalton read at the Atwater Library in Montreal as part of the Atwater Poetry Project on April 26, 2012 at 7 p.m