Sunday 30 September 2012

Sunday Poem

There must be a method of transport
because there are regulations about the movement
of dangerous goods. You made me
a photocopy. I’ve started worrying about getting
the proper transportation certificate
which requires the inspector’s signature,
which requires believing there is
an inspector with the authority to okay me.
There are moments when a dog will hear
what you cannot. The bark is a warning
at 92 decibels. Because you hear nothing
moving out there, fear is vague and continuous.
Quiet is a command that registers only 7 decibels when
spoken aloud. I read your note about the beauty
of the immune system and the mathematics of the brain.
How would you like me to interpret
this love letter? It weighs next to nothing
and ends abruptly. It’s true, the container
has great aesthetic value but I was really hoping
for a free watch with a rechargeable battery or
at least a better kind of nothingness.

From The Certainty Dream (2009) by Kate Hall.

Friday 28 September 2012

Fierce Mojo

Russell Smith's recent column extolling the excellence of current Canadian poetry—and in which Michael Lista and I come in for praise—seems to have hit a nerve with Bryan Sentes.
"Smith eulogizes Lista and Starnino for being “tough-minded” and “stern”; The Walrus “bravely publishes poems” under the aegis of “the truculent Michael Lista”; and Starnino, in his role as a “combative tastemaker”, has helped “purge” Canadian poetry of “a certain kind of weepy folksiness” Smith blames on the baleful influence of Al Purdy. One’s unsure whether Smith is writing about editor-critics, austerity hawk finance ministers, or Jean Charest in his late showdown with Quebec’s students. In any case, such Iron Lady bluster is as tiresome as it is empty."
Sentes goes on to compare Smith's article to another which appeared the same day:
"How refreshing, then, to read another recent article by poet Matthew Tierney whose purpose, like Smith’s, is to share his excitement about the “fierce mojo” his contemporaries are working. Despite the ironically humble persona he adopts, the catholicity of Tierney’s list of poets who make his “head spin” reveals him to be one of those “poets, it seems, who committed themselves early, read widely, and got down to it”. The sixteen poets he names (including Michael Lista) are mindbogglingly various, writing inventively from and out of (i.e. away from) every school of composition I know of that’s active in North American English-language poetry, let alone Canadian."
As it happens, Matthew is a friend whose new book shows a great deal of that "fierce mojo." I guess I'm curious, however, as to how Lista and I—who clearly fall short of the "flexible, charitable, and gregarious" benchmark Sentes sets for his critics—could be the same people who, together, have published, promoted and reviewed many of the poets on Tierney's "mindbogglingly various" list, including Tierney himself! How did two hate-everything cranks manage to outwit themselves so thoroughly?

We really need to stop associating sharp tastes with literary conservatism—a hallmark of lazy bastardism.

Sunday 23 September 2012

Sunday Poem

The rule we first are taught is not to raise
the blade until your partner masks himself,
but Maître's face is exposed, unconcerned.
My gloved and too-small hand is curled about
the grip: a toy-gun trigger. Follow me,
step back, step forward, cross the hall. The weight
hangs hard upon my wrist: I rest. The weight
is in the guard, not the blade. I sweat,
or weep in my mask's cage; in here, it's hard
to tell. Again, one-two, stop hit; control!
Manipulate your tip and you will win,
or if you lose, at least you lose with grace. 
The lunges are nightmares he wakes me from,
corrects my pose; I feel my body's length
repair itself, from tip to counterweight
of my left hand. Sometimes the point will land
on target. Like that. Good girl. We both know
that I am here to win his praise. Enough.
The quick salute; at last I can relax.
We're going to have a party this weekend
at my farm, in Coquitlam. Want to come?
They grin and lean on blades, increase their flex.
They're laughing at a joke that they all get.
He leads me to the wire, and laughs at me
as I string up, test my tip on the floor.
I bend in the expected pose. We wait:
a judge we cannot see will fling us both
into the fray. En guarde. Vous prêtes? Allez.
From The Invisibility Exhibit (2008) by Sachiko Murakami.

Saturday 22 September 2012


"Hybridity"—the literary concept du jour—is explored in a set of double, and sometimes duelling, reviews by Peter Riley and Anthony Howell.  Riley has my vote:
"The field of American poetry is understood as a set of categories. Everything is determined by pressure from depersonalised and numinous blocs, called Black Mountain, Beat, San Francisco Renaissance, New York School (those being four categories chosen by Allen to subdivide his anthology), Confessionalist, Mainstream, New Formalism, Language Poetry, Objectivism and so on and so on. There are no people in here! just collectivised results of former activity that can be shifted around in relationship to each other. Poets do get named of course, but like the groupings they tend to get identified by a singular summary tag. It is detached and clinical: there seems not to be, and never to have been, any possibility of being overwhelmed by an individual act of poetry."
[Photograph: "Hybrid Creatures" by Francesco Sambo]

Wednesday 19 September 2012

'That's fucked up!'

Accolades over Alice Oswald's 'translation' of the Iliad, Memorial, continue to pile up. Jason Guriel sighs:
The book-length stunt grows a bit boring by the end, and I would hope those novices who start with Memorial (a notch on a bookworm's spear) would eventually find their way to The Iliad—perhaps Robert Fagles' vibrant translation, which has all of the violent energy of Oswald's and none of the fashionable manoeuvres.

"The Road In Is Not the Same Road Out"

A new poem by Karen Solie.

Monday 17 September 2012


The cover to my new book. More info here.

The New Measures

Over at The Urge, the book of the month is A.F. Moritz's The New Measures. Arguing that Moritz's new collection—his 16th—finds the Toronto poet at "the height of his relevance," Stewart Cole's review is an impassioned response to readers who might dismiss Moritz's poetry as "highfalutin, full of empty portent." Cole's enthusiasm, however, runs a little wild at the peroration:
It’s become fashionable in certain circles to pretend we’ve moved on from the potent mix of difficulty and seriousness that work like Moritz’s embodies, and to regard poetry that doesn’t ‘entertain’ us in a fairly immediate way as musty and/or indulgent. This attitude has helped lead to the current burgeoning of work dripping with showy metropolitanism and pop-cultural references, desperate to claim its relevance in negotiating our late-capitalist funhouse, but too often mistaking capitulation for critique. Moritz, on the other hand, simply doesn’t seem interested in the coveted proverbial ‘audience that doesn’t usually read poetry’, and his critique consists of ignoring our market-driven culture’s many hollow frivolities and instead cutting at the universal urgencies often obscured by such clutter.

Sunday 16 September 2012

Sunday Poem



Leafless season, the tallest cedars
like stags knocking antlers.
The initial ordered state creates history:
pell-mell drifts down, vibrations in air become sound.
Just left of the sternum I find my echo.
Short ride out to the fence,
long walk back, flickering like a nickelodeon.
Milkweed pods have given their lives for my childhood good.
Childhood god? TV Tarzan.

Sprayed intermittently on trunks, hunter-orange I’s
like radioactive keyholes.
Some would choose great strength for their special power,
others incredible speed or x-ray vision.
I halt and take in how loud, clumsy, unmistakable I’ve been.
Wherever I am now
becomes in retrospect my yellow sun.
Clear-cut the colour of darkroom fixer,
I never spot the deer only the deer’s afterimage.


Proprioceptors ravelled into a Gordian knot—
the decisive clue that you may’ve woken from a long nap
like a finch flying through dry ice.
Every direct ancestor, for me to be alive,
found a way to procreate.
I’ve no workable umbrella,
take my first-ever date to the laser show.
Fixtureless horizon and Darwin seasick for months below deck,
pining for the gentle roll of his daily walk.

My psychopomp a hare set on its ear.
That’s my hand, my finger next to hers
tracing circles on the armrest’s soft pile.
Where is she now?
We touch, we touched, like loops of a lemniscate.
No love left,
but time spent together is imprinted,
a fossil with clear antecedents.
In the sketchbook a Galapagos tortoise stares out from behind its likeness.
From Probably Inevitable (2012) by Matthew Tierney

Friday 14 September 2012


"[A] falling down house filled with spiders and moths, a tiny cement backyard, a home of eccentricity, three cats and a dog, a place where great love flourished for a while, and also later a place of great unhappiness."

Michael Lithgow on the memories triggered by the smell of lilacs.

Wells on Frost

"Re-reading Auden's 'Musee de Beaux Arts' for the umpteenth time, I noticed for the first time a parallel between its conclusion and that of another poem I've read zillions of times, Frost's 'Out, Out.' Curious now to know when exactly each was written."
[Retrieved from Zach Wells' Facebook page, September 14, 2012]

Sunday 9 September 2012

Sunday Poem


Something caught. A stronger jaw,
a first digit, a current sweeping the smaller
thriving prey to shallow water.

Devonian fluke. Nothing simply walked out;
nothing wriggled quite like doubt
on a bare corkboard of thought,

so we pinned it down, with gusto.
A theory goes that vascular leaves
were shedding in the subtropics,

twining and spreading like fishing nets.
A theory goes something more than blood and scales
was needed to stay anchored in the undertow.

A theory floats, raises sail.
It moves on water that twists
and breaks against itself like a losing team.

A dynasty sets. I wanted to say I regret
not having played more baseball.
I wanted to say you've been gone a long time

for going to get milk, five minutes you said,
and here are your keys
and the doors they open like traps.
From Tiny. Frantic, Stronger (2010) by Jeff Latosik.

Lahey on Auden

Open Book: What one poem — from any time period — do you wish you had been the one to write?

Anita Lahey: W.H. Auden’s “Musée des Beaux Arts.” I love this poem more every time I read it, and something new comes to into focus each time. I picked it up before answering this question, and realized for the first time that the first line, “About suffering they were never wrong,” actually implies that the “Old Masters” did indeed get things wrong, perhaps many things, with which Auden himself would take issue. Yet he feels compelled to defend them regarding this one accomplishment, which is so crucial it cannot be denied and perhaps even erases some of those wrongs: they are not, to borrow Auden’s own phrasing from deeper in the poem “important failures.” I’m reading a great deal into that one line, but Auden’s wording invites it, here and throughout the poem, which is why the reading of it is always such a rich experience.

Read the rest here.

Wednesday 5 September 2012

Animal Nature

A wonderful advance review of Robert Moore's The Golden Book of Bovinities appeared over the weekend in the Telegraph Journal. Read it here.

Sunday 2 September 2012

Sunday Poem


The friends I friended do not show.
One by one, yellow leaves, they text
—the snow, the snow, the snow, the snow—
sad emoticons of their faces.

One by one, down an arpeggio, they text
See you Monday. I will face them and
as always and and my face.
I'll say, Forget about it. I understand.

On Monday I will have to face them and
the snow, the snow, the snow, the snow.
I'll say, Forget it. Really. I understand
the friends I friended did not show.
From Personals (2012) by Ian Williams.