Tuesday 28 February 2012


"I value it. It's a purge and a freedom and a benevolent addiction. It’s also a second chance. Or a whole series of second chances, and as time goes by, I'm more and more grateful for second chances. But my approach to these second chances? It's often a matter of delete, delete, delete, especially when revising poetry. But it's a question too: Have I made the best emotional use of the space on this page? And also: Have I gone deep enough here?"

Elisabeth Harvor talking about her approach to revision.

Sunday 26 February 2012

Sunday Poem


Tonight I drive to the ballgame, the first
of the season here. The night grass shines
in the lights, and the white church far beyond
right field glows against the early summer
sky. I can't keep score of how many times
I've thought it would be good to see a game,
then go get married in that church. And now
I wonder if you've phoned and wondered why

I wasn't there and where I was. I am
here, love, way out west, waiting the weeks
away, my life between innings, between
games of a day-night double-header.
I feel like a high fly in magic flight
momentarily lost in the lights
before I return to earth, caught
in this field of dreams and your soft hands.
From Wrestling with Angels: New and Selected Poems (1995) by Doug Beardsley

Saturday 25 February 2012

Robert Wiersema reviews Stopping for Strangers

"Stopping for Strangers is a collection unified in quality, but eclectic in approach. There are echoes of other writers here (Promise for example will remind readers of the gritty minimalism of the late Raymond Carver, while The Last Great Works of Alvin Cale is reminiscent of Alice Munro), but Griffin is resolutely and clearly his own writer...Stopping for Strangers is the finest debut collection of short fiction I have read since Alexander MacLeod’s Light Lifting in 2010: My praise doesn’t get any higher than that.”

Robert Wiersema in the Victoria Times-Colonist

Tuesday 21 February 2012

"Growing Up"

Praising Gift Horse as part of "a gradual movement away from what Newfoundland culture was towards what it is and will be," Stephen Rowe finds lots to like in Mark Callanan's poetry. "The poet’s understanding of the line, the use of rhythm and pacing is mature and powerful in it’s effect."

Sunday 19 February 2012

Sunday Poem


We lost you once,
at the Horse Pavilion, on a day
of snappy wind beating five flags

above that brilliant nightmare green
in the sun and beyond prayer but ready to
live on a diet of it for the rest of our days,

we ducked and ran among faces made blank or tender
by our terror, so that we understood for the first time
that this was the way the world was truly divided:

into those faces that could be startled into goodness,
and those that could not, but none of them worth
anything at all to us except for what

they could tell us as we kept calling out to them
the only words left to us, A little boy!, and the
colours of the clothes you were wearing, while the

polished horses kept mindlessly
clearing gates that were hardships,
but distant, whitewashed, the hardships of others,

and sounds mocked us too, in that whinnied
bright air--a ring of faint surf, the civil, evil
sound of horsemen's applause, and we ran into

each other and ran back and ran through the
stadium of stalls and sick straw-smell and ran out
into the sun of the Pavilion's mud plaza

and there you were, on the other side
of the soot track that led toward the weeping
green park, your eyes fixed without flinching

on the main doorway, waiting for us to come out
sometime before dark and we fled to you, crying
your name and I could see in your eyes

how hard you'd been standing your ground
against terror, how long you'd been forbidding
yourself to invent us, as if in inventing us you'd have

lost all chance to see us come out to you,
but how brilliant you seemed, having saved yourself
from harm, you didn't know it, you turned

your face to the taut thigh of my skirt,
not to cry, and we walked that way,
my hand holding your head to me while I

could have sworn I could feel you inhaling
what I was thinking through the skirt's grass-engraved
cotton: Until this moment I never knew what love is.
From Fortress of Chairs (1992) by Elisabeth Harvor

Saturday 18 February 2012

Poetry as Page Turner

It's not quite a triumphal march, but after nearly a year of hiding in plain sight, Bruce Taylor's selected No End in Strangeness is finally getting some attention. Over at Maisonneuve, David Godkin and Mathew Henderson are both excited by the discovery:
"Above everything, it’s the ease of these poems and Taylor’s style overall that makes him so readable in my view, accomplishing something I wouldn’t have thought possible in the turgidity that makes up so much modern poetry, i.e. poetry as page turner. No End in Strangeness is a book that hits far more often than it misses. A real pleasure to read and easily recommended."
And in a long review for Contemporary Poetry Review, Bill Coyle is similarly wowed:
"[Taylor's poems] combine clarity, subtlety and musicality in a way that leave most of the poet’s contemporaries (he was born in 1960) standing still. A book about entropy and failure, No End in Strangeness is a resounding success."

Sunday 12 February 2012

Sunday Poem


So named because I’ve heard
people here changed
islands by season, wintered

on the South and on the hinge
of spring swung to this North
Island, exposed to the slap

of the sea, then back. No one on the path.
Past small graveyards I sleep
by sea urchin skeletons, give

no thought to the phalanx
of cloud coming on. No grief,
except my pail lacks

the partridgeberries I seek.
In Chaffey’s Cove, lobster traps
of broken slats and twine slack

with age, perhaps ripped
by tide, invite my hand inside:
bedroom, kitchen, parlour

where they took bait, and died.
Except the small one who, lured
by herring, tangled in the rooms,

jerked toward a slitted heaven
and found a hatch, a moon
to slip through into a haven

of sea, flux in the gulch, in
and out, applause of water
over stones and surge, again,

again, no house, no mortar,
feast of red-berries, heave
of tide, like Plath’s stunned flies

I believe in heaven, here.

From The New Canon: An Anthology of Canadian Poetry (2005) by Barbara Nickel.

Saturday 11 February 2012


"My feeling is: This is what we do, this is who we are, take it or leave it. I’m not going to get bullied into business practices which are not sustainable or redeeming just because they appear to work for large multinational firms. I’m going to keep working to make good books in a sensible and sustainable way, and looking for readers who believe in the sort of books we publish and the sort of way we publish them. It only takes several hundred such loyal and astute readers to sustain our work, not thousands."

Andrew Steeves, discussing the business model behind Gaspereau Press.

The Problem of "Unquestioned Fandom"

The existence of Richard Outram: Essays on His Work is an exciting sign, one that proves there can indeed be second acts in Canadian poetry. But Jacob McArthur Mooney's review in NPR astutely points to one of the few (and perhaps unavoidable) weaknesses of the book:
The collection as edited by Ingrid Ruthig is therefore written for lovers of Outram's work. It assumes that nobody much else is going to pick it up. Probably, this was the correct editorial path, but once Outram himself gets out of the way after Michael Carbet's interview, a real mantra of exceptionalism sets in. Robert Denham's historical account of the Outram-Northrope Frye relationship is plenty interesting, as is Amanda Jernigan's piece of the macroeconomics of sequencing and Jeffrey Donaldson's extended-metaphor-on-the-subject-of-metaphors, but they all start from such a place of unquestioned fandom that they don't necessarily open a lot of doors to those of us who (and here I announce my own biases) loved Hiram and Jenny but found the dour fairy tale stuff in Dove Legend and the clippity-clop rhyme schemes that come and go in every Outram book to be only about half as perfectly crafted and subtle as their creator likely did. This is the problem, really, of claiming a canonical space for a writer who never captured enough critical attention in life to have it guaranteed to him in death, however warranted that attention might have been. His acolytes have to spend so much time repeating judgements of quality that the rest of us are left with little concrete reference points to compare him to.

Thursday 9 February 2012

Near Death

Chris Banks is moved by how Mark Callanan's new poems cope with "the terrifying fact of one’s mortality":
Callanan’s brush with death in the form of a medical emergency a few years ago has made him less inclined to talk about it in terms of anything except as a gift. There is a real humility to his poems, which reaffirm life’s uncertainties rather than bolstering the grandiose claims Keats made for poetry as a physic for all the hurts of the world.

Sunday 5 February 2012

Sunday Poem


This is the sweater I bought the day you
put your hand on my thigh. Your hand
on my thigh meant: maybe. If you weren't
driving home to someone else.

$119 marked down to 15—a steal.
All sales final. The saleslady
cut the tags so that I could wear it home.
It was cold. I was wearing a thin shirt.

It's summer now. I've had no call to wear this
sweater, no reason to think of your hand
on my thigh. Not that I regret it. It's a nice
sweater. It was a good buy.

From Cardiogram (Baseline, 2011) by Danielle Devereaux.

Friday 3 February 2012

Do “Lyric” and “Scholarship” Belong Together?

Anita Lahey tracks down a new genre:
"A successful piece of lyric scholarship might read more like a poem than an essay, or a combination of the two, but it will be as firmly grounded in scholarly investigation as a traditional argumentative essay. It aims not just to convey an idea, but to embody it. Jan Zwicky is a well-known West Coast poet and philosopher, whose 1992 tome Lyric Philosophy has become a bible of sorts for the rising generation of lyric scholars. She prefers the term 'lyric thought,'which she describes as 'a model of thought that seeks coherence.' "


"A lot of the most beautiful moments in the arts do come at the breaking point of the medium. Sometimes the most moving moment when someone is speaking or singing is when their voice cracks with emotion or they can't go on. When someone reaches the limit of the power of the medium, that's when they start to signify this thing that exceeds the medium. It's a way of making us feel what's not sayable, what's inexpressible. That's how you say what can't be said."
Ben Lerner, discussing his novel Leaving the Atocha Station.

Thursday 2 February 2012

How to Read Poetry

Pièce de Resistance

Another rave for The Crow's Vow, this time in Canadian Literature. "Briscoe has a talent for dissecting, often via stunning figurative juxtapositions, the lurking threats and paradoxes of our relationships to a deceptively idyllic world." Read it here.

Wednesday 1 February 2012

If One Poet Edits Another, Whose Poem is It?

A piece on the "unseen hands" behind poetry publishing. One of the many money quotes:
“We have great old scraps,” says Robertson [of editor Don Paterson], who, in turn, runs the poetry list at Jonathan Cape and edits John Burnside (this year’s TS Eliot and Forward Prize winner). “He makes some very good suggestions, about 50 per cent of which I accept. He takes the same position I do: if the writer wants to make a mistake badly enough he should be allowed to make it.”