Thursday 29 November 2012

The Bad, Uninteresting Review

Edward Thomas believed there were four kinds of reviews. The last, worst and most common? The "bad, uninteresting review":
"The bad, uninteresting review consists of second-hand words and paralysed, inelectric phrases; and the better these are strung together the worse it is, because it means that the wretched man, woman, or child, is deceiving himself, making a virtue of his necessity, his hurry, his obtuseness, his ignorance. Such work is terribly uninteresting to anyone without a superhuman interest in whatever is inhuman. Sometimes it may be read in a comatose condition by readers with a respect for all printed matter, and in a sort of enthusiasm by relatives of the reviewer. But the only thing to be said for it is that it produces money, which produces food and clothing for aged parents, fair wives, innocent children. Against it must be set the fact that it is waste of time and energy, like sending clean things to a laundry"

Tuesday 27 November 2012

How Foreign Is Foreign?

Stevie Howell pushes back on Stewart Cole's characterization of her Walrus prize short-listed poem “Rip Torn” as being an example of "cosmopolitanism in flashing lights":
The upshot is, as foreign as Ireland and England may seem, they are not internet-scoured metaphor-props, but core to who I am—closer to who I am than so much souvenir shop Canadiana. And if that’s not in my work, part of me would be lacking.
(Illustration by Danielle Bazinet.)

Sunday 25 November 2012

Sunday Poem

Broad leaves swing loose, near-unhinged. Noosed
to limbs, swaying gravely without season.
Verging on abscission, oxidizing
copper-tinged, thread-thin necks crane, glint, shift
between whisper and hiss.
Like the shimmer of a sequin-scaled dress, its ombre glitter
is too proud of itself for how common it is. 
Thrusts on edges of thickets down shafts so deep
that stubby-fingered fire can't wring its roots. Sprouts into ashes,
tall as Gloria in excelsis deo, sheds furry grey flowers like post-
apocalyptic summer snow.
Shred into excelsior to bed fragile goods in crates, rescues
oak-casked red wine from centrifuging en route. 
Mortised and tenoned into a rough cross.
Populus tremula, the crux.
It quivers like shot arrows' bow
and shushes its' own secrets for show.
From Ringsend (2012) by Stevie Howell.  

Saturday 24 November 2012

The Best Canadian Poetry 2012, Montreal Launch

One selling point, for me, of The Best Canadian Poetry 2012 is its robust selection of Montreal poets. Evidently I'm not alone in feeling that way. Turnout at the November 9th event, held at Argo books, was incredible, with many being turned away at the door. Photos courtesy of Meaghan Thurston.

Minutes before the reading

Poets waiting in the wings

Stephanie Bolster

Nyla Matuk

Kirya Marchand

Joshua Trotter

David McGimpsey

Asa Boxer

Geoffrey Cook

Todd Swift

The passing of the manuscript

Thursday 22 November 2012

The Politics of Knives

A fan of Jonathan Ball's previous book, Clockfire ("a rare combination of accessibility, experimental cred, and linguistic craft"), Stewart Coles doesn't do a very good job of hiding his disappointment with Ball's new collection:
while perhaps ambitious, The Politics of Knives undertakes a narrowly cerebral approach to its complex concerns, resulting in language that, while often vivid, rarely stirs from its cold inertia long enough to be truly tactile....most of its engagements with politics and violence remain purely theoretical, or more properly, purely verbal, so that we never sense the author’s investment in anything other than the somewhat patronizing constructs he cobbles together from the abstracted lexicons of these spheres of very real compromise, exploitation, and suffering

What's The Smallest Unit Of Poetry?

Elisa Gabbert believes she's found it:
"The poneme is the smallest unit able to trigger delight, surprise, recognition, or whatever intellectual frisson is the reason that we go to a poem. It could be as small as a symbol or a sequence of letters – Aram Saroyan’s triple-humped 'm' or the 'ghgh' in “'ighght'—or a cluster of words, or it could extend over multiple lines. But whatever its size, it’s the extractable thing that draws us in and brings us back to the poem."

Sunday 18 November 2012

Sunday Poem

And I’ve unleashed the dogs, out of season,
on days so hot all solids seemed to rise
from a quantum and kindled crux of yeast.
Slipway boats venting through unseasoned gaps,
paint roughed to a barm and the blisters
of green balsam rupturing on contact,
until my hands, drawn tight with a flexed mesh of sap,
hardened like two heels of bread. The gun dogs,
tongues loose, would spring on a hot scent
as though to free their paws from ground frost;
hound voices shattering the heat so completely
a dazed sun straggled a moment to piece
the light back together again and regain
its train of lumbering thought. And somewhere
from the understory, a snowshoe hare
would harness that great mutant heart in its chest
and slingshot into naught. I’d wait for the dogs
to circle, wait for their yawps and gutturals
to set borders as far as their voices would carry,
wait beneath spruce and birch boughs hung
with the curve of a boat’s bow or the arch
of a nave infused with stained light. There’s a point
when a beagle turns a comer and changes
its voice from pursuit to driving forth, when the sound
tugs a drawstring at the burlap of your nape,
when persistent dogs swing to push home,
when they close the distance and nutshell the time
left to reckon with the headwind of a bark
that assembles its mass and leaps as four paws
from a camouflage of brush. Always willing
to start over, go further than need, the hounds
would drive a hare down the burrow of a muzzle
without fear, without shying off. I’ve felt
the gun dog’s turn without a weapon in my grasp,
in the absence of prey, at times and in places
where no dog ran, or was, or had a right to be:
when I loitered in dark corners and put flame
to a glossed patch of gas at the crossroads station,
when I woke in a sub-zero bus shelter with hair
cold-bitten to the hard floor, when I steadied
my father who leaned too far to one side
three days after the first of his brothers died.
Other times, like standing with a lug wrench
in a fog-clot on the isthmus with the hazards tripped
or when my first Selected Frost split
at that place in the bind where “Birches” starts.
It's surged in the circuit and called me out
when I’ve missed the point or burned it black,
when I’ve holed up in a corridor of sound
just to feel the echo swell and contract.
From Gun Dogs (2009) by James Langer. 

The Golden Book of Bovinities

"My interest in cows as personae got started with something Annie Dillard, one of nature’s most sympathetic correspondents, once wrote about cows: 'They’re a human product, like rayon. They’re like a field of shoes.' She’s absolutely right; cows as we know and quite literally consume them are, unhappily, essentially human. The spectacle of their near-sublime detachment coupled with the knowledge of what we so casually do to them on a daily basis—and in their millions—makes them a natural, nearly inexhaustible, source of interest. For me, no animal in creation better—more essentially?—embodies what is at once most sacred and banal, absurd and horrific, about being human"
Interview here.

Friday 16 November 2012

The House That Books Built

Susan Glickman's opening remarks before her reading at the November 8, 2012 Signal Editions launch held at Drawn & Quarterly bookstore:
Before I read you a few poems from my new book, The Smooth Yarrow, I want to say a few words about a subject close to my heart and, I suspect, to the hearts of everybody in this room. In the wake of the recent bankruptcy of Douglas & McIntyre and the merger of two big multinationals into the even bigger House of the Random Penguin, we’ve heard a lot of dark prophesies about the inevitable death of independent publishing in this country. Well, being a poet whose language never fails her, I have only one thing to say to that: bollocks! I am only here tonight because of the vision, energy, dedication, and hard work of Simon Dardick and people like him. There are, in fact, 130 members of the Association of Canadian Publishers, so theoretically there are at least 129 other people like Simon out there. But I doubt there are many whose service to Canadian publishing has continued, unbroken, for 40 years. 
Simon has been with Véhicule Press since it began in 1973 on the premises of Véhicule Art Inc., one of Canada's first artist-run galleries at 61 Ste-Catherine St. West (a space that housed a famous jazz club, Café Montmarte, back in the 1930s). In 1975 the press became Coopérative d'Imprimerie Véhicule—Quebec's only cooperatively-owned printing and publishing company. It moved spaces twice more before the co-op was dissolved in the spring of 1981, and Simon Dardick and Nancy Marrelli continued operating Véhicule Press from Roy Street East, where they still live to this day: the house that books built, and one that might just come tumbling down if you move too many bookcases. 
Simon invited me to submit a manuscript after reading some poems of mine in The Canadian Forum that year. Michael Harris, the founding editor of Signal Editions, edited my first book, Complicity, which came out in 1983. When Carmine Starnino took over as Signal Editions editor in January 2001, he was kind enough to keep me on as one of his authors. So I have a lot to be grateful for, having been with Véhicule Press for thirty years. In fact, I have been married to Simon Dardick longer than I’ve been married to my husband. 
L’autre chose á laquelle je veux attirer votre attention est l’engagement de la presse, dès la commencement, á faire les traductions élegants de la poésie francaise á l’Anglais. Je suis très heureuse de partager la scène ce soir avec Pierre Nepveu et Donald Winkler. Pour tous, je tu remercie, Simon. Will you please join me in a round of applause for a man who has never given up on his commitment to make beautiful books by Canadian authors for Canadian readers?

Wednesday 14 November 2012


"I do a lot of walking. Walking gets me away from my theories and fixed ways of thinking, because as my feet wander, my thoughts wander, too. Most of my poems begin as words or phrases that come to me when I’m walking, so my physical environment always seeps into my poetry: a firetruck here, a weathervane there."

James Arthur talks about how his surroundings influence his poetry.

Tuesday 13 November 2012

Lazy Bastardism Reviewed II

Brian Palmu is full of praise for the book, but takes issue with a few things, chiefly my thesis for why Montreal poetry is so distinctive. I think he underestimates the breadth of the code-switching that occurs in the city, but his point is well-taken:
"Speaking of disagreements, the biggest one I have anywhere in Lazy Bastardism comes out of this (mostly quoted) paragraph in the [Michael] Harris’ essay:“But this also reflects the culturally synoptic condition of most Montreal poets, who are constantly forced, on a daily level, to shift between different registers and syntaxes and thus are more open to cross-influences than they might have been had they lived in Toronto or Vancouver or Calgary. ... The city itself, in other words, lures our poems out of the verbal ghetto of what Solway has called ‘Standard Canadian Average’ “. Now this is an argument that is both ignorant and needlessly defensive. I’ve lived a half-century in Vancouver. It is now slightly over 50% Asian, and many of those immigrants have retained their first languages. But it’s not a new development, and it doesn’t pertain to one dialect or ethnicity. Growing up as a wee ankle-biting critic-in-formation, my friends were Fijians, Italians, Slavs, Chinese, Portuguese, Japanese, and Sikhs (as well as a few pasty-faced Brits and Scandinavians). I’m sure I picked up some hidden nuances in all the different cadences, syntactical emphases, cuss-vocabulary expansion, and emotional variance. And I’m sure many in Toronto could say the same since it’s a multicultural pot of stew. So Montreal’s situation in this regard is hardly unique."

Monday 12 November 2012

Lazy Bastardism Reviewed

Jonathan Ball giveth...
"Starnino is a smart and savvy reader, with a stunning ability to attend to the smallest details. This fine sensibility allows Starnino, at his best, to recuperate the work of people that might actually need recuperating, like John Glassco, whose observation that “man ‘is destined for slaughter in the course of things’” won’t end up riding the bus anytime soon. Moreover, as everyone knows, Starnino shines on the attack. Here, he assaults Atwood, McKay, and Moritz. Although they are to some degree easy targets (Atwood for lazy languishment in simplistic political prose-with-line-breaks, McKay for devolving into self-parody, and Moritz for sham artistry), Starnino neatly dissects their development and the larger significance of the poetic trends they represent. At the same time, Starnino’s attacks are rarer, more nuanced, and fairer than in the earlier A Lover’s Quarrel (2004), and he has toned down the mean-spirited glee that sometimes surfaced in that earlier collection."
...and Jonathan Ball taketh away:
"The tragedy and triumph of Carmine Starnino are thus the same: once bitten, twice shy, he has avoided engagement with the avant-garde in this second collection. As a result, he has produced a better but less interesting book, because the real poets he should be grappling with are the ones that he does not understand, and so cannot engage. Everything Starnino loves in poetry—formal rigour, ambition, intellectual engagement with the world’s complexity, tactile and aural obsession with language—has become the domain of the avant-garde he hates."

Sunday 11 November 2012

Sunday Poem

I used to have this marvellous lancet
That I bought from a barber in Dorset
Whose ancestors used to blood let
At a seventeenth-century convent
Before anyone knew about safe sex
Or viruses contracted from insects.
It used to be part of a whole set
With mother-of-pearl inset
Shaped like the head of a egret
And mottled with golden fleurettes. 
It blushed like a rusty sunset
Where the darkening blade and grip met.
The barber said something I can't forget
About records they found in the convent
Giving seventeenth-century estimates
Of people who died from the lancet
In this particular parish in Dorset.
"They didn't know plasma from platelets,"
He said as he lit our cigarettes. 
I felt a little like I'd lost a bad bet,
Helped bad men settle an old debt,
Until I parted with the antique lancet
At a rural flea market in Quebec
Where I passed the thing off as a barrette
Plucked from the head of Queen Antoinette.
From Occupations (2012) by Chris Jennings. 

Saturday 10 November 2012

Cross-Over Boy

Stephen Burt, one of America's best poet-critics, likes to wear women's clothing:
I have no desire to write a straightforward memoir about my gender and my wardrobe. For one thing, there would not be enough to report. I want instead to find a way to think about gender and appearance that accounts for my body, my emotions, and my images of my body—as it is, as it can be, as I wish it could be.
My body feels unfinished, undeveloped, more often than it feels like a real woman or a real man. It feels, sometimes, as if it wanted to become a woman, whether or not it will get the chance. That feeling itself hasn’t changed since my teens.
What article of clothing demonstrates that feeling best? I’m afraid it’s a training bra. I may be wearing one now, as you read this.

Raymond Souster's Neglect

Brian Palmu tries to understand it:
"The only theory I can come up with is Souster's timing. His poetry is in line with the times, and (indeed) one of his two best books is entitled The Colour of the Times (1964). His poetic sensibility was formed in the lean thirties, and any poet who didn't get blown away on a shifting wind was—the same as every poet in England—writing about deprivation, human frailty, metaphysical bafflement and/or anger, social injustice, and hidden graces. But Souster's tentative, plainspoken realism was an awkward fit since his best work was hitting the street just as postmodernism was touching down, and would also have little in common with the later Canada-Council-juiced confessional anecdotes of scores of other poets who would, at first glance, appear natural cohorts."
(Portrait of Raymond Souster by Barker Fairley.) 

Tuesday 6 November 2012

Downtown Aplomb

Norm Sibum picks up Lazy Bastardism, and kinda, sorta, maybe likes it.
From what I have seen of the book, it appears to be written with uptown aplomb. Or perhaps it is downtown aplomb, with all the bravura of power drink venues and hot dog vendors and bored secretaries passing by (and poets even more bored, boredom being the acme of creative potentiality as per Mr Starnino in a philosophical moment): all that construction going on around Union Station, Toronto. It is written as if to speak of Canadian literature is the most natural of human acts, as natural an act as—you fill in the blank; as if there were to Canadian literature now a certain preeminence in much the same way as American literary critics of a by-gone time once accorded American authors of a by-gone time their God-given, constitutional right to preeminent centrality in the universe of literature: F Scott, for example, or Ernest or Mr Faulkner

"On Finding a Copy of 'Pigeon' in the Hospital Bookstore"

Poem by Susan Glickman.

Monday 5 November 2012

How Does Cohen Get Away With It?

On the occasion of a new biography by Sylvie Simmons, Carl Wilson tries to get the measure of the Prince of Bummers:
I’ve been compelled by Cohen’s persona even more than by his art. There are countless songs and poems of his I cherish (especially from the 1990s, when the sense of humour really gelled), not to mention the dirty parts of Beautiful Losers. But more often I dwell upon his ability to turn a perfect phrase on stage or in an interview; his balance of gravity and gracious irony, of brutal honesty and jokes; his slender frame in modest yet impeccable black or blue suits; and, I admit, the women, from the Norwegian blonde Marianne Ihlen in a cottage on a Greek island to Janis Joplin in the Chelsea Hotel to movie star Rebecca De Mornay, his fiancée (but never wife) in his 60s. I knew, too, that he had struggled. But so do a lot of other people, and they don’t get to be Leonard Cohen. Not tall, handsome, or even especially musical, he did it on sheer wit and will. So, more than with almost any other celebrity, one could entertain the notion it was possible to be him, this runty seducer with his gospel of negative thinking.
Wilson also weighs in on what makes Cohen so unique:
Ultimately, however much he seems like our contemporary, no one of my generation or after really can emulate him. Cohen does come from a lost world. Simmons does a good job of sketching it, the upper-middle-class, patrician Jewish Montreal of which he was a scion—the first line of the first chapter is, “The chauffeur turned off the main road by the synagogue …” More crucially, he came of age well before feminism. Not that men today can’t treat women as shabbily and contradictorily as Cohen did, but we can’t plausibly claim it as a form of holy enlightenment. Cohen’s best lyrics (like “Hallelujah”) are in the ancient tradition of blending the erotic with the sacred; his weakest are in the mode of the dickish writers a bit his elder (Updike, Mailer, Cohen’s buddy Irving Layton). “Rags and feathers from Salvation Army counters” is lovely, but “You have touched her perfect body with your mind” is just cringey.

Sunday 4 November 2012

Sunday Poem

You can tell a thousand-footer
by her straight back, hammer head
—a skyscraper toppled.
Too long for locks, what she’s best at:
pushing taconite from Duluth to Gary,
the endless circuitry of ports.
Built from the centre of the earth up,
this ship is a piece of ceremonial armour,
a leviathan penny, a horseshoe
pinned to Great Lakes lucky until she’s not.
Christened and kissed off
years before you were born,
she is an older sister, a summer cousin
who only appears in a quarter of your photos
and out of focus. She’s your favourite
because you barely know her.
In smaller water, this ship could be
an island, bridge, or territory.
She is a herd of 20,000 horses
trembling to shake off its load.
In her wake, lesser vessels are sent to scrap,
run aground, and peeled down to air, yet one day
it will cost less to wreck her than to keep her:
a final trip to Port Colborne or Alang.
Breakers will scrabble up her hard-rusted sides,
pull her down by torch and hand.
Her pieces soon held in the gut
of another ship downbound for better things. 
After the Edwin H. Gott

Saturday 3 November 2012


"I have also thought of poetry as a private language that works to win others over. Sometimes I think poets are people who were able to recruit baby talk into increasingly sophisticated baby talk."

Nyla Natuk discusses the theory behind her poetry.

Goodbye To All That

Donald Hall, 84, looks back at some of his most memorable poetry readings:
"When I was young, I could project, and now without a microphone I can’t be heard in the tenth row. It’s not only the debility of age. One’s range is diminished by habitual use of microphones. (When stage actors spend twenty years making movies, they are inaudible when they return to Broadway or the West End.) But there are advantages to artificial enhancement. There’s a poem in which I moo like a cow. Cows’ lungs are bigger than ours. I approach the microphone intimately, and softly but audibly moo as long as a cow moos. Proximity to the microphone saves my wind as I croon, mm-mmm-mmmmm-mmmmmmmm-ugghwanchhh. My friends say it’s the best line I’ve ever written."

Maisonneuve Reviews Rhea Tregebov

"All Souls' (Signal Editions), Rhea Tregebov's seventh collection of poetry, unwraps the banal, beautiful experiences of a uniquely Canadian life. The lines are delicate but visceral: 'Soon / it will rain, soon wind will spread / the prairie dust, moths will give up / their lives against the glass,' Tregebov writes in 'House Work.' Tregebov's poems are thoughtful and confident, but never overreach. Her use of language is effortless, allowing the book to contemplate—sometimes quietly, sometimes more forcefully—the way in which small moments speak to a larger human consciousness." Taylor Tower, Maisonneuve, Issue 45.


"In the summer 2008, I was named the 'client of the week' at a Starbucks on the corner of Crescent and Ste. Catherine. For one magical week, I could see my name on the chalkboard sign and I got one free coffee every day that week. As glorious as that was, being nominated for a GG felt even better."

David McGimpsey on his feelings about being shortlisted for the 2012 Governor General's Award in Poetry.