Saturday 31 March 2012

Lahey on Lahey

Anita Lahey speaks to Fiddlehead magazine about her new book Spinning Side Kick. She also offers up her top ten Canadian poetry books of the last decade.

Sunday 25 March 2012

Sunday Poem


Picasso's radio played music
that no one else had even heard yet.
Sitting in Paris in 1911
he was already listening to Bob Dylan.
He knew the Rolling Stones by heart.
He would say to Georges Braque, "Georges,
there's this really neat group called the Eagles,"
but Braque was busy playing Bach
on classical clarinet. "Gertrude," Pablo would say,
"you'd love this record called Blonde on Blonde,"
but Stein would give him a stony stare
and turn a deaf ear. So Picasso would go
back to his studio there in Bateau Lavoir
and turn up Beggar's Banquet loud, until Juan Gris
banged on the ceiling. Alas, when he moved
to bourgeois quarters in Montparnasse,
Picasso left his radio behind. He always wanted
to find it again, to tune into Tina Turner,
but some unscrupulous second-hand dealer
has hoarded it away in his basement
where every single night he listens to paintings
the world will never see.
From Dunino (1989) by Stephen Scobie.

Thursday 22 March 2012


"It’s an unwillingness to go along with what can, when you step back from it and take a hard, fresh look at it, be seen as a brutal primaeval agreement (what sort of halfway-sensitive creature could have put, on behalf of all of us, his or her signature to this?) that this is the rhythm the world is going to move to: things will be seen and then will be lost to sight, words will be spoken but at once succumb to silence, beings will be born and die, light will grow and then fade, all these will go, they’re already gone, just now they were here but no more. Why should this be?"

Don Coles explains the obsession with time in his poems.

Sunday 18 March 2012

Sunday Poem


I am the one who has not been killed yet
at war, by earthquake or street accident.
What shall I do
with these years that wave before me
like the sea before the pelican?
After mailing the flower of my words
with letters and sympathy cards,
when my future's been etched
like a swan on a school blackboard
do I explain my dreams
with whispers and touches, like a blind man
or leave them to flow down the sides of my head
like glue down trees at the equator?
Let my windows usher in
a little breath from the forest!
I'm about to suffocate.
My lungs strain to escape my chest
like an orphan's eyes.
My voice dies off like the thunder's,
having no future generation to sing to
nor any old mouth to return to.
Hey, builders:
prop me up with a stone!
I crack like walls mixed by crooked contractors,
collapse like snow hills under the spring sun.

If one could change countries,
like dancers in nightclubs!
From Joy is Not My Profession (1994) by Muhammad al-Maghut, translated by John Asfour.

Tuesday 13 March 2012

"Less is More in These Sparkling Stories"

Over at the Globe & Mail, Jim Bartley reviews Daniel Griffin's Stopping for Strangers :

It only takes a page or two to conclude that Daniel Griffin values precision – a precision not of meticulous detail, but of economy, of the extraneous shorn away until a vital core is reached: a core of character, of an exchange of words, of a scene, a story. He gets, as many a new writer does not, that the less an author says, the more the reader can enter, must enter, the process of imagining. Rather than being told what is, you collaborate in its discovery.

Monday 12 March 2012

Irving Layton's Last Poem?

"I found this in Box 31 of the Layton collection at Concordia University in Montreal. A clutch of pages stapled together; multiple drafts of a poem Irving Layton began, but never completed, towards the end of his writing. An invocation to the muse who was abandoning him. Twenty-five lines on lined paper, in the cramped handwriting of his old age; both neat, and, paradoxically, difficult to decipher. It was dated, with a question mark, early in 1989. Less than four years, then, after I had filmed him happily scribbling poems amid the ruins in his beloved Greece, for my film Poet: Irving Layton Observed. Now in 2001, I was trolling the archives seeking visual material for a new documentary on the poet's life. What struck me immediately was that the power was still there, even as the poet felt it slipping away: "my scribbles are as pale as a watermark." And the voice. This is no self-pitying plaint. It is the poet standing up to his muse and speaking his mind the way the Biblical prophets he so admired stood up to their God. Jocular, prodding, the poem, even in its uncertain state, gives forth the same wounded majesty as those ruins among which Layton paced, mouthing verse, almost 20 years ago."
—Donald Winkler

by Irving Layton

My alter ego, my diabolical other Self
where are you? A whole month goes by,
yet not a single peep from you.
Let me have it straight! Did you grow careless
from too long service? Or was it the tremors of old age
made you spiteful and prankish. You gone
invoking your attendance
my scribbles are as pale as a watermark.
No fire in them, no punch. Return, make my brain
boil again. Make it seethe with the blood
of electrified hitmen and of gallant warriors
dying in an odious cause. How many sheets
must I blacken before you [set?] a premonitory fire
to make my Self [shudder?] with familiar joy.
I'm serious, not even Coleridge's famous ode
on despondency cheers me, nor Shelley's moan,
marvellous and eloquent, while the bay's waters
around him sparkle and dance.
What hope for that mortal so lost to gloom even
another's misery fails to restore his self-esteem
[to rectitude?] with one of life's vital lies or illusions.
My case is desperate. Haul your ass over here
pronto. Abandoned, I'll sit here forever
like a paralytic, like a just-invented Frankenstein
waiting for that first charge to shock him back to life.

(Translated by Donald Winkler, with help from Anna Pottier. Photo by Terry Brynes. Originally published in Books in Canada, March 2003. )

Sunday 11 March 2012

Sunday Poem


We’ve all gone now, left the place to the sheep
and the gannet, the puffin and the wren.

For decades only a mailboat of whalebone and oak
came and went from here. Then the tourists

arrived to see if we were more than myth in the Outer
Hebrides. We sold them tweed and spotted

bird’s eggs, let them look in on prayer meetings, count
the stones in the walls we built to keep out the weather.

When we prayed it was for a cease
to things: the wind, the war, the plagues.

In the end, the land choked us out, carcasses
of sea birds and layers of peat moss turned to lead

the constant fog, the solitude, the slippery grass
by the cliff’s edge, that impossible winter of 1929.

We left our Bibles open and handfuls of oats on the floor.
Locked our doors behind us. From this vantage point

our home was just a sketch of land that shrank into the sea—
the island’s sharp crags impossible to understand.

This land, so angry and so peaceful now, without
us. The feral sheep bleat into the evening.

Nothing to bother them but old age and the wind
that made us all walk like bent trees.
From Global Poetry Anthology (2012) by Talya Rubin.

Saturday 10 March 2012

What Made Irving Layton so Unforgettable?

Kenneth Sherman captures it:
Layton’s teaching style was dramatic: a booming voice punctuated by insistent hand gestures. He had a restless intelligence and a wrestler’s physique, and he would stride about the classroom as if he were stalking an idea. In a writing class, Layton made you aware of poetry’s physicality — its pulses and cadences — and of the fact that poets write with their bodies. A typical Layton class included scholarly lecture, Talmudic-like question and answer, and bursts of guerrilla theatre. Once, addressing a lecture hall of bewildered undergraduates, Layton ran up and down the aisles, crying “You’re sheep! Wake up! Who chloroformed you?”


Mark Callanan's Gift Horse keeps on giving. It's cracked the shortlist for the $10,000 2011 BMO Winterset Award. Winner is announced March 22.

Saturday 3 March 2012

Do It Without Guilt

Poets Are People Too

Jason Guriel catches us up on some recent novels featuring poets as protagonists (he's not a fan of the genre), and makes a plea to any novelist who wants to try it next:
We could probably use more representations of poets who aren’t lovable losers; who have enjoyed some success in areas outside of literature, such as medicine or insurance—poets for whom poetry is not the only obsession, not a means to revolution. We could do with more poets who, like T. S. Eliot, consider poetry a “supreme amusement”; more poets who, in taking poetry less seriously than, say, a visceral realist, just might wind up taking it more seriously. We could do with more poets who will assure us that they, too, dislike poetry. In general, we could stand to read about fewer adolescents, fewer failures, fewer white guys. We could stand to read about more cult figures—not the fetish objects of some avant-garde’s perpetual questing, but craftsmen, poets’ poets, inveterate scribblers in margins, on receipts.

Friday 2 March 2012

A Casual Guy

In a long, penetrating review of Don Coles' Where We Might Have Been, David Godkin explores the strengths and weakness of Coles's style, which he defines as:
"a poetry that is relaxed, fluid and variable in the way that good prose is fluid and variable, a casualness that is indispensable to good conversation and absolutely central to that peculiarly Oxbridgean sensibility that unfolds from Coles’ longer episodic narratives. Chatty, charming, “offhand” as Margaret Atwood and others ardent fans have put it, Coles poems are not so much pressured from beneath by the urgency of what must be said as preempted by the impulse to charm and subtly provoke his readers."