Sunday 29 July 2012

Sunday Poem


Two foxes hefted the remains of a pigeon,
within the shadow of an onion-domed steeple,
and from the train’s window, watching: you, me, no one,

mooning the winter through, wishing work to be done,
holding out for bits of money like most people—
like a fox hefting the remains of a pigeon

that had landed to rest its wings and lost everyone.
We’re there now, holding the scene, an example
in our heads, a window through which you, me, no one,

can view your childhood home, the thin, scrambled sun,
and the sickness that drives you to sleep. Our couple—
as two foxes heft the remains of a pigeon,

dragging and chomping bits of bird to fill their own,
the world just darker, colder—rest a little
within the train’s window. There’s you, me, and no one,

all failing to arrive on time at the station,
our lives framed against the February chill,
where two foxes heft the remains of a pigeon
while watching, as a train passes, you, me: no one.

From Paralogues (2012) by Evan Jones.

Saturday 28 July 2012

The Unquiet Canadian

Kevin McNeilly seems conflicted about David Solway's criticism (he accuses him of "picking imaginary fights where he could be discovering imaginative vitalities"). But when it comes to his assessment Solway's antipathy toward cultural nationalism, he's bang on:
His essay “The Flight from Canada” offers a cogent and persuasive alternative to what he calls the “Canadian content syndrome,” a canonizing of Canada’s national literature based not on qualitative discriminations but on the mere fact of its being Canadian. Still, Solway doesn’t actually refuse a national cultural thematics so much as re-think it, carefully and provocatively. It isn’t, for him, a question of poetically formulating, or adhering to, an identity but of inhabiting its negation: “it is precisely the comfortless absence of a secure identity, the rootlessness, the sense of radical alienation which is our greatest gift and blessing.” He wants, he asserts, identity “solidly founded in difference.” He becomes ours, in a sense, by refusing us. But claiming a solidness for that foundation also distinguishes his work from more openly alternative poetics; difference, for him, means “that each poet can work up the materials of place and language into that signature alloy we call individual style”; flight is predicated on a thoroughly conservative cosmopolitanism, a flight made radical, in other words, only by its rootedness in the solid ground of a distinctive poetic diction. This conceptual mix may be, at its base, self-contradictory, but surely Solway has managed at least to point up a viable means of confronting poetically, formally, the question of a late nationalism, of the differential ethos of the Canadian.

Wednesday 25 July 2012

Sunday 22 July 2012

Sunday Poem


The time, if time it was, would ripen
in its own sweet time. One thought of dawn.
One felt that things were shaping up,
somehow, that it was getting on.

Day broke. Upon the waters broke
in waves on waves unbreaking and
night fell, unveiling in its wake
one perfect whitened rib of land.

I slept, and while I slept I dreamed,
a breaking wave, a flowering tree,
and all of one accord I seemed.
I woke, and you divided me.

From Groundwork (2012) by Amanda Jernigan

Wednesday 18 July 2012

Tale of a Forger

Is there any reason for a bookseller to be delighted by the discovery of a fake Edgar Allan Poe autograph? Yes, when the culprit is a celebrated master forger.
"Part of [Joseph] Cosey's genius was that when he offered his work he never claimed it to be authentic; he left it up to the buyer to decide. If the work was subsequently judged to be faked he was in the clear; it was the dealers who erred in their evaluation. I imagine that he offered this early exercise as a test to see if it would fly. It, apparently, did. At the time the unknown duped buyer (perhaps Walters, or the bookseller or collector who commissioned the binding) purchased it autograph and manuscript forensics were in adolescence, few dealers had deep experience with Poe autograph material (there was not much genuine material recorded at the time - nor now), and the quest for Poe material likely blinded those involved to err on the side of hope."

Tuesday 17 July 2012


Stewart Cole has committed himself to a monthly engagement with new books of Canadian poetry. In his first review, he looks at Erin Miller's sophomore effort Chaser:
After three close readings through, not one line in Chaser strikes me as ill-considered. Even when I’m mystified (as I must admit I am by at least a solid handful of pieces), it’s not a frustrating bafflement, but rather the kind of mystification that leaves one questing after the meaning one knows must lie just beyond the mind’s grasp.

Michael Lista vs Jan Zwicky, Cont'd

Oh boy. Here's an excellent example of a critical debate jumping the shark. (Does Zwicky compare a negative review to rape? Yes, she does.)

Sunday 8 July 2012

Sunday Poem

By Clive James
The book of my enemy has been remaindered
And I am pleased.
In vast quantities it has been remaindered
Like a van-load of counterfeit that has been seized
And sits in piles in a police warehouse,
My enemy's much-prized effort sits in piles
In the kind of bookshop where remaindering occurs.
Great, square stacks of rejected books and, between them, aisles
One passes down reflecting on life's vanities,
Pausing to remember all those thoughtful reviews
Lavished to no avail upon one's enemy's book—
For behold, here is that book
Among these ranks and banks of duds,
These ponderous and seeminly irreducible cairns
Of complete stiffs.

The book of my enemy has been remaindered
And I rejoice.
It has gone with bowed head like a defeated legion
Beneath the yoke.
What avail him now his awards and prizes,
The praise expended upon his meticulous technique,
His individual new voice?
Knocked into the middle of next week
His brainchild now consorts with the bad buys
The sinker, clinkers, dogs and dregs,
The Edsels of the world of moveable type,
The bummers that no amount of hype could shift,
The unbudgeable turkeys.
The poem continues.

Michael Lista vs Jan Zwicky: Reax II

Emily M. Keeler:
The snarling and gnarling and high-flying literary references. The deft punches and blocks, the brutal elegance of this dance of impassioned jabs and jeers. For me, at least, this is one of the joys of great criticism, even at its most negative. At its best you get to watch fine minds sharpening themselves on the world. What could be more thrilling?
I am left wondering what is wrong with Jan Zwicky’s idea that when reviewing we listen. What is wrong with her suggestion that “we give over our attention fully to the other, that we stop worrying about who’s noticing us, that we let the ego go”? We make better lovers when we listen. Isn’t the most mind-blowing sex had when we aren’t worried about what we look like naked or what others will think hearing our pleasure from the open fire-escape window? What I have heard from listening to Zwicky’s essay is not to keep my mouth shut, but to endeavour to find genuine delight in the texture and impulse of the words before me.
I know all language is rhetoric and that I have deployed a variety of stratagems in my own commentary. I also realize that it is my temperament to prefer informative and analytic reviews to scorched earth polemics. I will still admire Michael Lista when he writes a positive review. When he writes one such as the one of Bruce Taylor, he is generous, intelligent, thoughtful, insightful, and unabashedly joyous. And we need more of that in our poetry reviews.
To be fair, it seems to me that at the core of Mr. Lista's original piece there was a good question: why is Zwicky suggesting silence to women at a time, and in a space, set up to encourage women to speak? This point comes up, but it seems to me that ultimately it's used as a shield to bring up, once again, an old argument taken up by a coterie of poets over the years; an argument I find a diversion and unhelpful, the argument for the negative review. Why? Because who on earth doesn't want to see truth in reviewing? Who on earth doesn't want the best for our literature? Who on earth wants a review culture of gloss and back patting? Of lies? Who wants nice and empty? Being nice serves no one.
Would kill for a conciliatory cat-petting photo session between Michael Lista & Jan Zwicky.
There is a prejudice, in this culture, and especially in the institution of the university, that understanding *requires* criticism; and so we like to teach something that we call "critical thinking." And I hasten to affirm the usefulness of such thinking! It can be indispensable, for instance, in redirecting attention to thoughtless reflexes of oppression. But it becomes destructive when it is mixed with the assumption that it is a universal instrument —when it becomes an addiction. Many things can be more fairly, more clearly understood, as Rilke says, by love.
The Zwicky piece is at least an open defence of the anodyne which has always been Canlit's unexpressed wish and curse.

Wednesday 4 July 2012

Michael Lista vs Jan Zwicky: Reax

"The Good in Bad Reviews" is an excellent example of how negative reviews are sometimes more an exercise for the reviewer to flex and sharpen rather than really engage with the text.
E Martin Nolan:
Must the reviewer be the friend of the poet? Isn’t that a formula for forcing out bad positive reviews? And can one not negatively review out of love for poetry? Can one not see a book praised and say “I believe this praise to be false, and I take that as an offence to poetry, so this negative review is written out of love for the art form”? I think Lista was trying to get at that when he claims that a negative review can be just as “engaged” as a positive one.
Lorri Neilsen Glenn:
Hurling tomatoes (or swinging truncheons) tells us more about the wielder than the target. We know this: it’s a truism in psychology, education, and parenting so basic that it hardly bears repeating, but I will. If you’re quick to deflect any challenge to your way of seeing things and gain a certain frisson of delight (or release) in zinging others (the celebrated or the novice), and in bringing them down a peg -- too often a dudeliocentric way of reviewing and conversing -- then perhaps it’s time to ask: what emotions of your own are you not addressing? What are you afraid of?
Kevin McNeilly:
Lista seems to mistake his own meanness and invective for candour and critical acuity.
Matt Rader:
Lista is welcome to write all the negative reviews his truth loving heart desires. I fully support his right to do so. But the bit where he chastises Zwicky and wags his indignant finger at the unethical chutzpah of calling for a reviewing of silence strikes me as hilariously misguided. To use this platform to position himself as the emancipator of women from Zwicky's imperial shadow is comedy of the blackest sort. It behooves him to start listening to not just the words but the melody.
Jan Zwicky:
I share with Mr. Lista the view that works of art can shake us to our foundations, and that there is nothing wrong with admitting that we have been deeply moved by a certain writer. I’ll go further: such admissions are a form of excellence. I even agree that if you can’t bear to have someone “disclose” that they don’t like your work, you shouldn’t publish. Where he and I part company is over the idea that a kick in the nuts is a good way to start a conversation.

Monday 2 July 2012


A new poem by Jeramy Dodds. (Illustration by Rick Sealock.)

Why Criticism Still Matters

Spin magazine has decided to kill its album reviews in favour of 140-character tweets. Johann Hari defends the role of critics:
"Many readers were bemused by Marcel Proust and James Joyce until Edmund Wilson wrote about them. When Samuel Beckett's Waiting For Godot opened, the audience was puzzled until Harold Hobson's famous review came out. The first audiences for Osborne's Look Back In Anger were nonplussed, until Kenneth Tynan's review appeared. Arthur Penn's 1967 film Bonnie And Clyde was regarded as a repellent flop until Kael's words alchemised it. More recently, Zadie Smith's writing about Tom McCarthy's novel Remainder alerted us to something new and mind-stretching. If they had not been there, our artistic world—our inner lives—would have been more anaemic."

Sunday 1 July 2012

Sunday Poem


“This is your history,” said the teacher of it.
And it was. So, now, is she,
passing around her portrait of a Cree
Indian in a top hat. Any child could see
how meticulously bad that drawing was:
a face like a heraldic shield,
with stuck-on eyes and cheeks of pencil fuzz;
a mouth of line, and, dangling beneath,
a canted Celtic alphabet of teeth.
In hands like dinner forks it seemed to hold
a strip of parchment, sumptuously scrolled;
and this, Miss Ward revealed to us, revealed,
in Bible Gothic, signed with an x and sealed,
how Indians had given up the deeds
to our dominion, in return for beads.

Beside the blackboard, maps were tacked
which showed the world cut up like orange rind,
sliced and sectioned, air-brushed, dotted lined
and crammed with calculations to distract
each young, impressionable mind
from the corrupt, the riotously inexact
contours of unornamented fact.
For there on the grid, like a spilled drink:
the land of Canada, vast and milkshake pink,
pocked with lakes spattered with islands that had lakes,
a pattern of mistakes within mistakes,
profusely annotated with the names of towns,
Manigotagan, Flin Flon, Churchill Downs,
stuck like mayflies in a web of red
roads and rails, unravelling like thread
among the moraines and glacier melts,
dust bowls, tree lines, lichen belts,
along the flumes and gravel beds
where European traders packed their pelts
across our atlas, laying traps
to capture beavers when there were no maps.

Our history, I’ll be honest, is at most
a theory which the facts do not confute.
Some people came from somewhere to a coast
as ragged as the salt line on a boot,
and pitched their cabins in the wilderness,
and did the things that somehow led to this.

The country I live in is a patch of thorns
below a culvert in a sunken plot
where burly geese with necks like flugelhorns
intimidate the pigeons and are shot
by a district sales manager named Russ.
And that’s it. Our lives, our landscape, us.
But near the train yard, where I catch my bus,
a late October frost has clenched the ground,
the football field is hard as frozen meat,
enormous gulls are swaggering around
with snowflakes on their orange rubber feet.
They cruise through stubble with their beaks ajar
shrieking that what they are they are they are.