Sunday 31 March 2013

Sunday Poem

There are others besides you who have worn that look—
peeking through the window-grille,
and in that place,
the mouth moving uniquely with each dialect.
Shall I tell you the secret
I braid by rote? Rough memories coiled like rope:
a fevered memory of
mild, mild eyes ricocheting off his fate;
a body riding up over the hood,
bleeding into the soft grass.

This brings nobody peace, The ancient war
leads you through the streets of this shady city.
They somehow look as if they knew, except
the nude hills come back and the sleepless
stupid pupil, it has to take everything in.
After a while,
the matches, the wrong key-rings,
the lucky ticket with the right signs
are stuck. They can’t join the flag-waving;
they stiffen, when they should bend.

Omega’s long last O, memory’s elision
jostle the vessel he cannot refill.
Even now she does the snake-hips with a hiss,
like a furious pink rabbit from a hat.
She buys up all
the notion of what his whiskers would feel like—
smack! Oh, attaboy, attaold boy.
Lost to TV reruns flickering overhead.
The point was to react,
to an ocean, or sorrow.

You could be waiting for a tailor
that made the sky.
Listen: the heavens hiss—
and when one of the lookers Lily asked me what the hell
came late and will probably leave early,
I looked around at nothing.
Like an album: there: elf-child with dog—
little bastards. It was impossible to tell
and you are someplace else and thirty-three.
You’re running out of things to try.

Mysterious voyagers from outer space
wrap their wings in sun-splints,
shuffle. They laugh together; their money shrinks.
That summer you got lost on a Nature Walk
or shrewd donkey,
to work green magic on my flesh.
Monarchs are falling,
trailing through ditches of water and nevus-ied grapes.
Dead bodies piled on the deck. On the sixth day
without you, the endless guessing.

From Hooking: A Book of Centos (2013) by Mary Dalton. (See book for source list of individual lines.)

What's Michael Lista Reading?

The Boogey Ideas

In a wide-ranging conversation with Nigel Beale, Michael Lista tackles the idea that an ethical reviews culture requires critics to be silent in the face of what they dislike.

A Better Way Of Telling The Truth

Sue Sinclair, CWILA's first resident critic, hopes to refocus the discussion of criticism:
I see the critic as someone who serves both past readers of the work and its possible future readers, as well as the writer. In a sense the critic also serves the artwork in that she takes up its invitation, engages with it. But it’s the writer I’d like to focus on for a moment. Some people think that the critic is not there to serve the writer in any capacity. But given that the writer, if he reads a review of his work, will likely be more affected by it than anyone else, I think it behooves the reviewer to consider the effect she may have on him. Some think that the writer is best served in just the way that the reader is: by the critic’s truthful response. I agree. But there are different ways of telling the truth: it can be done indifferently, it can be done as a slap in the face, or it can be done kindly and with a—perhaps implicit—acknowledgement of the effort that every writer brings to their work. My experience is that the first two approaches can hamper or harm the writer and that the last one can help the writer to rise to the difficult occasion of public criticism. Not everyone thinks that truthfulness and kindness can coexist. Creating the space in which they can coexist is difficult, but I’ve seen it done. And I’m up for the challenge. It’s worth taking on.

Friday 29 March 2013

What's Jason Guriel Reading?

Bit Player

CNQ has made available the first chapter of Andrew Steinmetz's soon-to-be-published This Great Escape: The Case of Michael Paryla, a book that exquisitely unravels the mystery of his late uncle who had a brief cameo as a Gestapo agent in John Sturge's famous film The Great Escape.
He’s had perhaps a minute on-screen in one of the most watched war movies of all time. Yet as a bit player he is uncredited for the role. In fact, soon after the film was made, he disappeared completely. Shortly after his star flickered, he died, aged 32, from a drug overdose in Hamburg. Watched by millions yet almost completely unknown. And there’s a further irony. He was a refugee from Nazi Germany, partly Jewish and the son of one of Germany’s most famous left-wing actors, playing a Gestapo agent, a role reprised on thousands of television repeats. 
In fact, watching television is how I came to know of my uncle Michael. Alive but not living, stranded in the no man’s land of a motion picture. His character was staged and scripted, but I was spellbound—Michael was convincing. Fedora and trench coat. Elegant. Blond. His smooth transitions. His lively walk, his coat unbuttoned, his fashion the casual flair of some fresh-as-the-breeze fascist. This image, I now understand, years later, is counterfeit, a convenient archetype, manufactured by the American film director John Sturges and his sidekick Bert Hendrickson in Costume Design and Wardrobe. But it is him, close enough to the real thing. 

Thursday 28 March 2013

What's Nyla Matuk Reading?

With uncut pages, Harpo & publishers (1921, 2008) parallel French and Russian text.

Ted Hughes

A few days ago, I linked to an interview with Al Alvarez in which the British editor and critic admitted that his admiration of Sylvia Plath's poetry had grown considerably in the intervening years. So much so that he argued her achievement now eclipsed Ted Hughes'. Predictably, my Facebook comment stream exploded. Among the commentators was Scottish poet Gerry Cambridge who defended Hughes, often quoting snippets from his own review of Hughes' Collected Poems which appeared in The Dark Horse, a literary magazine he edits. Intrigued by the portions he was quoting, I asked him to post the entire review online. I'm glad I did: the piece is superb. One of the most nuanced, incisive and penetrating assessments I've read of the book and, indeed, of Hughes' career. You'll find it here.

Wednesday 27 March 2013


"I learned that making poems is not just about reading deeply and writing liberally and adventurously, but also about allowing oneself to become an obsessive noticer. Having come from a film background, I started thinking of myself as a roving camera. I’d fall across things, quite literally: a girl eating the pages of a book in the library, a bearded fellow taking his socks off in a waiting room, a dead opossum blocking the entryway to the corner 7-11, a man slapping a sobbing woman in the cab of a pickup. Everything was important and relevant."

Alexandra Oliver writes about the experience of working on her upcoming collection, Meeting the Tormentors in Safeway.

Monday 25 March 2013

How Do You Create Beauty in Poetry?

For James Langer, beauty is a principle one abides by best when quarreling against it:  
Beneath all of the divisions within poetry—all the schools and mantras and ideals of form—poetry’s first principle, the thing at its compositional core, is variation. That supersedes all else, in my opinion. Whether we’re avant-garde or new in the old-fashioned way, to paraphrase Frost, I believe we can agree on that core. Verse means turning, and that refers, I think, to more than just considering your line breaks. It’s a contingent idea of beauty, variation. To play with and against what has been deemed beautiful through the tradition. To create something that is recognizable and different simultaneously. And then to offer that thing up to the court of opinion and argument. The whole tradition, with its giants, as we understand it and agree and disagree with it, has been one big argument about what’s beautiful, trying to set and reset and adjust the terms, trying to come to agreements.
(Illustration by Javier Pacheco.)  

Sunday 24 March 2013

Sunday Poem

He grew up in the woods without a lake in sight.
His mother was a hellcat and his father was an itch. 
What's good is rarely good
His Kmart aesthetic is infectious—he comes over once
and your curtains are floral patterned and stained for weeks.
Always flushes so you don't know what was there. 
He's a slow waltz with a gorgeous someone across a floor of tacks.
Loves like a Brillo pad. Attentive as an empty fridge. 
And what exactly did you expect? 
He labours through rain season, mud season,
sailing a sharp-blue kite through the middle of the night. 
This is what we think of when clouds appear. 
Once worked as a dentist on an oil rig. He's what's
fresh rust and what's dried blood. 
But he's good at what he does. 
Sees daughters as spare parts, sons as useless legislation.
Watches our sisters from a webcam no one knows is there. 
It's always our fault for not knowing better.  
He has a bulldog's jaw, the heart of an old engine.
And here he is singing a sing of apology 
for arriving late to your birthday party.
He brought a present, and his intentions are as clear
as a sliver of glass in a chocolate cake. 
This will only be hard on one of you. Guess who?
From Need Machine (2013) by Andrew Faulkner 


"The thing about a poem is that you’ve got to get it right. And you’ve got to get it all right. If there’s one word wrong, then the whole thing won’t work. It can be a 500 line or 5 line poem, it doesn’t matter. You get stuck on that word that isn’t right. You know the poem isn’t going to be finished until it all clicks into place. It is a kind of weird concoction."
Al Alvarez spells out the extreme sport of composing poetry.

Saturday 23 March 2013

Lazy Bastardism Review III

Two months ago, Kimberly Bourgeois asked me a bunch of very good questions about my new book Lazy Bastardism and I did my best to answer them. The result appears in the Spring 2013 issue of the MRB. One point that keeps coming up with readers and friends is how I've "mellowed." Kimberly, for instance, found my earlier essays (collected in A Lover's Quarrel) far more aggressive and wanted to know what had happened. My answer:
Age. I was younger then, and angrier. I was burning to change everything around me. I’ve since grown older, and realize that it’s harder—and more effective, in terms of the long game—to write essays and reviews that can so persuasively advocate their bias they’re able to change a reader’s mind about a poet, or cause readers to second-guess their assumptions. I now want to be in the persuasion business, not the pissing-off business. Though I do recognize that, sometimes, it’s impossible to do the former without the latter.

Thursday 21 March 2013


"While good writers are taking their turn winning a prize, there’s a herd of good writers out there writing. Prizes narrow the big picture and it’s helpful to remember that."
Sue Goyette weighs in on our prize culture.

Sunday 17 March 2013

Sunday Poem

By dint of long and careful management, man has so arranged it
that hardly any living thing could be more narrow, abject,
and sadly purposeful than a cow. Little wonder
he feels he knows us inside and out.  
Theoretically, you can kill a cow with kindness.
Current estimates indicate it would take the entire length
of a cow’s natural lifespan.

We are nowhere near as calm as we may appear.
It’s just that our minds are elsewhere.


We don’t like to run. Our fear is
once we start we won’t be able to stop.
Nervous by nature, and given to extremes of vigilance, the cow is among
nature’s most accomplished judges of distance. This is why
we like to stand so close together: to lose our bearings.

Long acquaintance with humankind has definitely had its consequences,
as in: we've come to think of them as extensions of ourselves.
Like a third horn. Or a death wish.

Cows speak only a single word of human: oh.
How different things might have been
if we’d managed to get our tongues around no.


The farmer is not your friend.
Do not be fooled by the soft eyes of their children
who won’t be allowed to play with their food
much longer.


After you’ve been branded,
had the living horn sawn from your skull
and seen your little ones sold into confinement
and certain death, you start to think it couldn’t get any worse.
But then, life comes along and hits you right between the eyes
with a bolt pistol.


If you somehow escape en route to slaughter
your only hope is to make your way
to the nearest fast food restaurant
and get a job in the back flipping burgers.
There’s virtually no risk of detection.
People can’t seem to bring themselves
to make the connection.


It is said that in the world before this one,
cows ate men. We hid in their dreams
and fell upon them while they slept.
The sobs they made as the instruments
were handed round struck all who heard them
as vaguely cow-like. That part was the worst,
almost too much to bear. And then
it wasn’t.

We’d gather them together in enormous corrals
and try to explain over the loudspeakers
that it was either them or us. Not once
did they give us any sign they understood
or in any way appreciated the time and effort
that went into what amounted, in fact,
to a kind of apology. Such creatures, we agreed,
were not only ungrateful but impossibly dim.
So we set about tearing them limb from limb.

The inventions for which cows are responsible
but for which they receive absolutely no credit include
the following: the fork, selective memory, human error,
the fuel gauge on a time machine, the ironically named
hearty breakfast, and Tuesday afternoons. And, oh yes:
the eye rolled back in abject terror.


Dreaming is the only form of extended travel a cow knows.
Unfortunately, dream fences tend to soar
to fantastic heights


The reason cows in the herd keep their heads so still
is because the only mirrors we know
float and bend in the eyes of the other.


Proof of reincarnation visits daily
in the form of scores of biting insects
who blithely assume your blood is theirs to take.

Being human must be a difficult habit to break.


If a man ever approaches you from an oblique angle
carrying a sledgehammer, prepare to be absolutely

From The Golden Book of Bovinities (2012) by Robert Moore.
(Illustration by Chris Lloyd.) 

Saturday 16 March 2013

The YBPs

Pictured above is 30 year-old Luke Kennard, who Todd Swift argues is the standard bearer for a group of tyros he's dubbed The Young British Poets (YBPs). Swift has curated a selection of their poetry for the Winter 2013 issue of the online lit journal The Missing Slate. What sets the YBPs apart?
The YBPs of course emerge at a time of unprecedented social networking and digital over-stimulus. For them, the post-modern apprehension of ubiquity and omnipresence of cultural feed(ing) is a reality. All everything everywhere at once, their norm. As such, these poets are freer than in the past, to draw on outside or unlikely cultural influences.

Poseur Alert

"we’re talking about the struggle to drag a thought over from the mush of the unconscious into some kind of grammar, syntax, human sense; every attempt means starting over with language. starting over with accuracy. i mean, every thought starts over, so every expression of a thought has to do the same. every accuracy has to be invented. . . . i feel i am blundering in concepts too fine for me"

Anne Carson discussing...who the fuck knows.

Monday 11 March 2013

Doctored Doc

Random House has reordered sentences from Jason Guriel's skeptical review of Anne Carson's Red Doc and created a positive blurb. It's astonishing that the publisher of one of the most celebrated poets of our time feels the need to fabricate praise. Several years ago Steven Beattie caught another publisher peddling a remixed blurb. He called it "dirty pool." Sounds about right.

Sunday 10 March 2013

Name Drops

Noreen Malone takes Sheryl Sandberg to task for saddling her new book, Lean In, with a fulsome acknowledgments page:
Sandberg is not entirely to blame: As a first time author, she was merely following recent convention. And as a high-achiever, she was merely outdoing everyone else who has written an acknowledgment section in the past few years. Where readers used to see, perhaps, a paragraph thanking the writer’s editor and agent, a few key researchers, and maybe a family member or two, now we are confronted with a chapter-long laundry list of name after name. Sandberg’s seven-and-a-half page section, for instance, thanks more than 140 people for contributing to her 172 page book. She doesn’t just thank her superagent, she thanks her superagent’s boss, Ari Emanuel, “for his friendship as well as his ever-amusing and supportive check-in calls.” She doesn’t just thank her editor, she thanks “Sonny Mehta, editor-in-chief of Knopf, whose unflagging support kept this project on the fast track.”

Sunday Poem

Growing up, I barely knew the Bible, but read
and reread the part when Cain drifted east
or was drawn that way, into a place of desolation,
the land of Nod, there to begin, with a wife 
of unknown origin, another race of men,
under the mark of God. As a boy, I thought Nod
would be a place where the blue scillas
would bloom gray, a country of the rack and screw, 
the serrated sword, where the very serving cups
were bone. As a grown man, I’ve heard that Nod
never was a nation—of Cain’s offspring, or anyone—
but a mistranslation of “wander,” so Cain 
could go wherever, and be in Nod. Far more
than in God, I believe in Cain, who destroyed
his own brother, and therefore in any city
could have his wish, and be alone.
From Charms Against Lightning (2012) by James Arthur.

(Painting "Cain Kills Abel" by Bartolomeo Manfredi.)

Saturday 9 March 2013

María Eugenia Vaz Ferreira

Catherine Chandler files a fascinating entry on one of the most underrated figures of Uruguayan poetry, María Eugenia Vaz Ferreira (you'll find one of her poems here). Loved this bit:
In the summer of 1914, during an air show organized by the National Aviation Centre, a fun-loving and daring María Eugenia became the first Uruguayan woman to board an airplane, flying over the Hippodrome in a military-type Dupperdussin piloted by the Englishman John Barron, who safely crash-landed later that day. A diehard practical joker with huge black velvety eyes, a rich contralto recitation voice and an infectious, hearty laugh, María Eugenia was known to disconcert friends and acquaintances by wearing two different shoes or torn dresses either buttoned incorrectly or held together with pins, in order to make a statement that clothes don’t make the man (or woman).

Monday 4 March 2013

The Red Menace

More than a name to conjure with, Anne Carson remains—13 years after her breakout success, Autobiography of Red—a name to pick a fight over. Mention her in conversation and battle-lines get drawn. Jason Guriel's provocative new review explores some of what bugs him about the Canadian classicist's verse, namely the way she's always grabbing some new form, but the content never changes
Like other recent Carson productions, Red Doc, the sequel to 1998’s verse novel Autobiography of Red, is a feast for first glances. But when I resolve finally to turn away from surface pleasures and reckon with the words, I encounter nothing less than the voice of, well, Anne Carson!—learned, deadpan, comma-less, and frequently carried away by tangent....A consistent, distinctive voice isn’t usually a problem. (Most poets should be so lucky.) But I’m not very far into Red Doc> when I find myself wondering why a voice so unperturbed by its latest packaging—long and short lines, rival columns, the screenplay, the essay, opera—needed such packaging in the first place. It’s hard to think of another more restless poet, whose adventures in form and genre, from book to book, have left less of a mark on her sensibility. Is it that the medium isn’t so much the message as the marketing strategy? Carson poems, I’m convinced, will soon come packaged in a Cornell box—but they will sound like Carson.