Sunday 29 September 2013


Catherine Bush reflects on the power of accusations:
Once you have been accused of something, even if the accusation is retracted or proved to be false, it continues to have a life. We can all think of instances of this. Someone who has been falsely accused of sexual abuse can never eradicate that stigma. People have killed themselves in such circumstances. Even much smaller accusations can have great power. At a reading recently, a woman told me a story of being accused by her mother as a seven-year-old of stealing money from her mother’s purse. The idea of stealing from her mother had never occurred to her. She found herself wondering what could possibly make her mother think this. She still wonders. So long ago, and the mother retracted her words, yet the accusation lives. And a rift forms because of it.

Sunday Poem

I thought I’d see you at one
of the shows this summer. If so,
talk might have gone in a million
directions, and been awkward, as we’d likely
keep it small, complaining of the lineups
at the beer tent, then finding
a break in the crowd to slip away. 
Talk was never our problem;
all those late-night think-tanks
after closing the bar, cooking up
subtleties on invented games,
rules to ‘Quick Drinks’
or ‘Etch-a-Sketch Portraits.’
Though most talk was art – what might
be good and where to find it –
while we watched the floor dry,
squashed in the booth
with the lights turned low. 
I know you,
so was less and less surprised
when you sidestepped
issues people tried to raise,
and worse, twisted them
into betrayal by your stubborn,
bottled-up imagination. They
were trying to show they cared
even while you bulldozed into rooms,
grim as a defeated army. 
Meanwhile, work is work,
late home, five hours sleep,
coffee, then a nap. You’ve missed
a birth or two, the filled and emptied diapers
of friends’ burping offspring,
and I’ve moved, so if you ever
picture me, I don’t know where.
Mostly, when I think of you, I see
you angry and mistaken.
Almost daily, I bike past
your old studio
and the re-rented house,
rooms where our unsuspecting ghosts
still drink and smoke, contra Yeats,
imperfect on every count.
From A Pretty Sight (2013) by David O'Meara 

Saturday 28 September 2013

First Efforts

From his introduction to the reissue, Ken Babstock celebrates Steven Heighton's poetry debut, Stalin's Carnival:
To employ that sly little descriptor, "early work," so often flags a creeping apology or caveat, as though we’d be well-advised to read with an eye to the binder marked "juvenilia." This simply is not the case here. Heighton’s enduring and consistent themes, and the tropes he employs to investigate them, are all here in force. Erotic and familial love, the body’s kinetic energies, a mature awareness of time’s designs on that body, history manifest in the present, violence, death, and our stubborn urge to sing in its shadow. Heighton seemed to be zeroing in on the eternal themes of lyric verse right out of the gate, yet his real sophistication shows its mark in how very many of these poems insist on embedding or naturalizing the heart’s concerns in a pulsing, tactile, dynamic context and frame. The poems are a picture of the world first—and within that recognizable theatre we watch the poem wrestle its devils to no clean decision.

Hostile Elements

Hayden King isn't happy with Joseph Boyden's new novel:
The Orenda is a comforting narrative for Canadians about the emergence of Canada: Indian savages, do-good Jesuits and the inevitability (even desirability) of colonization. The themes that push this narrative are a portrayal of Haudenosaunee peoples as antagonistic, the privileging of the Jesuit perspective, and a reinforcing of old story-telling tropes about Indigenous people. These themes work together to convey the message that the disappearance of the Huron and the loss of their orenda was destined [to] happen.

Tuesday 24 September 2013


"Once, after missing the last subway car in the Montreal metro, Ken Babstock and I discovered we were not only locked inside the station but trapped there with an aggressive lunatic who slept in the tunnels. We had only 15 cents in change and this was before cellphones. While trying to keep our psychopath at bay, who was getting increasingly agitated, we tried to get the attention of passersby far off at the edge of the city square. Eventually two guys came over, and after we explained the situation, they produced a handgun which they waved about maniacally, banging it on the glass doors. Shortly after that we found another 10 cents and then there were all those police."
David O'Meara shares an unexpected fact about himself.

Sunday 22 September 2013

Sunday Poem

Exhibit 9: Tablecloth 
In coffles they come, coughing, onto sloops, schooners, brigs, snows. On houses with wings! On snows! In Liverpool, snow falls on snows; in Manchester, it falls into the river Irk, onto chilblained hands.

At the Castle, Governors Mould and Corps drink punch. The jungle encroaches. By next midwinter, the road will be gone again. And look at this cloth. White muslin, some fancy flower in the centre. A lily perhaps? What once were folds are now just holes, holes and holes. Below them, the table, stockings crawling with ants, the slave-hole. Above, a blue sky. Vultures on guns honeycombed with rust rise up to shriek their greetings. Hello, Hello. Here come the snows. 

Exhibit 13: Cask 
Scow-bankers, beach horners, wharfingers: they haunt every port, brown-gummed and blind, spewing black blood. Bruises splotches of ink on grey paper. Gone the mouth, gone the legs, gone the sunburnt nose. Limp down this green road. I'll know thee by thine eyes.

The fog horn blows. Mersey Men unload barrels, shovel sugar, heave cotton bales. And in Bridgetown, Kingston, Roseau, sailors shiver and sweat. They huddle under derricks, hands curled over rotting toes. Crawl into this empty cask, sugar grit against the skin.

Everything is green here. Sweet sop trees, hibiscus for your true love's hair. The fog lifts. Heave away boys, heave away.

Exhibit 17: Photograph, Negro 
And ye shall know them by their fruits. Lumps on his leg, a clump of grapes. Apple-peel curve of “C” hot-branded on her cheek. Or this negro's blackberry bramble! Branches up towards his neck, purple shine against spine.

Grapes shot, volleyed in the humid air. Cocoa-nut cream, mint juleps, ladies rock in wicker chairs.

Do men gather grapes of thorns? Across the sea, bog cotton, purple heather, bees in clover. Upland cotton in airless rooms. Factory hands have arms and we have cut his off. We've made mammon from the marrow of his bones.

Exhibit 29: Jar 
This is, after all, a new world. Iron brands, bands laid across meadow, fallow field. They say cow's milk'll turn sour at the sound. They say the speed will crush your lungs. They say you could lie a sleeper line of mangled legs along this track. Wheels turn, the hare flees, rain falls in sheets. Over a hundred bales of cotton in her sides. We left Liverpool this morning. Some years back, there were signs in its windows: Silver Locks and Collars for Blacks and Dogs.

We'll reach Cottonopolis next. The train's greased with palm oil. See it shine.

The gun goes off. Scramble! Bodies shine. Slaves run, fling themselves overboard and are seized again. And later, we'll take this palm oil, this gold in a glass, and spread it on our trains and on our bread for tea.

Exhibit 33: Muslin Dress 
So here are lines of torn trees, dragged out by the roots. Lines of redmen and squaws, curved line of babies on backs. Ragged line of footprints in snow.

Coffle line of negroes, sent to clear land then fill it. Line of cotton in the field. Line of the lash. Twenty-five if the line of a leaf makes its way into the clouds of cotton. Twenty-five if the line of a branch is broken in the field.

There's that straight line the gun makes, the angle made with the torso when the arm is stretched out. The lines in the slave pen. The lines their fingers make as he moves them back and forth, to see how they'll pick cotton.

Here are the railway lines and there are the shipping lines. Here's the factory line. The line of children in the mines. The chimney lines. There is the line: from the cotton gin to the Indian.

The lines she's memorized, the lines of her white muslin dress, the way it falls in folds to the ground. Soft rustle and hush. For a moment, it's as if all lines stop here.
From Cottonpolis (2013) by Rachel Lebowitz 

Wednesday 18 September 2013

Normative Statements

The buzz for Norm Sibum's novel—a 700-page chunk of prose called The Traymore Roomshas already started. But the publicity photo (above) by Montreal photographer Leslie Schachter is a remarkable event all on its own. I recruited some friends to help explain why.

Jason Guriel:
He looks like character from an August Kleinzahler poem—an old saloon type.
Nyla Matuk:
Looks like someone the Coen brothers would dream up if they did a movie about CanLit.
Michael Lista:
He looks like John Brown hiding in a Confederate mop closet. 
Evan Jones. 
Looking at this picture, I think of Oscar Wilde's words after visiting Walt Whitman in Camden, New Jersey, in 1882: "The kiss of Walt Whitman is still on my lips."

Sunday 15 September 2013

Sunday Poem

Hello from inside
the albatross
with a windproof lighter
and Japanese police tape.
Hello from staghorn
coral beds
waving at the beaked whale’s
all six square metres
of fertilizer bags.
Hello from can-opened
delta gators,
with twenty-five grocery sacks
and a Halloween Hulk mask.
Hello from the zipped-up
who shat bits of rope for a month.
Hello from bacteria
making their germinal way
to the poles in the pockets
of packing foam.
Hello from low-density
polyethylene dropstones
glacially tilled
by desiccated,
bowel-obstructed camels.
Hello from six-pack rings
and chokeholds,
from breast milk
and cord blood,
from microfibres
rinsed through yoga pants
and polyester fleece,
biomagnifying predators
strafing the treatment plants.
Hello from acrylics
in G.I. Joe.
Hello from washed up
fishnet thigh-highs
and frog suits
and egg cups
and sperm.
From The Polymers (2013) by Adam Dickinson 

(Photo by Chris Jordan)

Sunday 8 September 2013

A Modern Sibyl

A. E. Stallings introduces English readers to the work of Kiki Dimoula, an eighty-two-year-old Greek poet revered in her country:
Dimoula’s poetry reflects the humdrum, rather claustrophobic circumstances of her life. Her unpretentious, flatly unpoetical voice is grounded in the quotidian and the domestic. The floors of her poems are scattered with the detritus of motherhood: Playmobil toys, Superman costumes, Barbie dolls. Her settings include all-night pharmacies, farmers’ markets, a daily bus ride to a soul-withering job. A wreath of cemetery flowers is made of plastic; leftovers linger in Tupperware; pizzas are delivered on motorbikes. She is urban rather than pastoral: The birds in her poems sing in the iron trees of television antennae, neighbors hear each other through thin walls. Titles of her poems include “Mother of the Floor Below,” “Shake Well Before Using,” “Exercises for Weight Loss in No Time at All,” and “Repair Loans.” And the title of one of her books is, tellingly, We’ve Moved Next Door.
But for all their focus on the humdrum, the poems, according to Stallings, are fiendishly hard to translate:
The most idiosyncratic and essential quality of her verse is its collage of linguistic registers. Dimoula constantly shifts between, on the one hand, a jaunty contemporary vernacular peppered with slang and advertising jingles, and, on the other, katharevousa, the pseudo-archaic “purified” tongue that was, as late as the 1970s, the language of Greek bureaucracy, formal education, and newspapers. She also avails herself of Ancient Greek phrases, and of Koine and liturgical quotations. For her, all strata of the language coexist, just as classical ruins, neoclassical buildings, and ugly apartment blocks from the 1970s jostle for breathing space in modern Athens.

Sunday Poem

Nearly prone, heels ceilingward, then
ceding to gravity, to fear, knees descend to
sternum, a worthwhile grind in the hamstring.
The new pain like gouging your own wound,
a willingness to suffer and in that extremity,
transcendence, freeing oneself from triviality.
The weightlifter says, pain is weakness leaving
the body. Each day a different muscle group,
yet always seeking symmetry, balance. He knows
it's not what you lift, how many pounds, but how
you lift it, that the range of movement is what
quickens the muscle to consciousness. The bulge
of the quadricep surfacing like that awful awareness:
my love did not have to die, but I had to kill it.
From Hard Ass (2013) by Sharon McCartney

Saturday 7 September 2013


"As a brattish young man I felt that Dublin was a very important kind of a place, and that going to poetry readings and book launches there would help some of its importance to rub off on me. Hull by comparison is a very unassuming place (not that it hasn’t had a very intense poetry scene of its own). That came as a shock to the system, initially, but a salutary one in the long term. I very much like the advice to young writers to think of something they feel they do well – and stop doing it. Similarly, young writers busy building a reputation might want to think about locating their careerist master plan – and ripping it up."

David Wheatley on the merits of "building a reputation."

Tuesday 3 September 2013

Ridiculously Articulate

David Orr lauds Louis MacNeice's poetry:
He is one of the 20th century’s great poets of loneliness. And yet this aspect of MacNeice can be easy to overlook, in part because he seems (as is frequently said of Auden) entirely comfortable with the rhythms and clutter of the modern world: “Cubical scent-bottles artificial legs arctic foxes and electric mops.” We think of solitary poets as writing about ragged claws scuttling across the floors of silent seas; we don’t usually think of them as being interested in “electric mops.”

Nor do we think of them as being fluent. Yet MacNeice is effortlessly, almost ridiculously articulate—he seems capable (again like Auden) of writing about nearly anything, and in nearly any form. The 800 or so pages here include tiny poems (the nine-line “Upon This Beach”); book-length poems (“Autumn Journal,” which helped make his reputation); book-length poems in terza rima (“Autumn Sequel,” which nearly undid it); virtuoso deployment of nearly all forms of rhyme (“London Rain” rhymes a word with itself in every stanza); and a vocabulary that suavely extends from “Tom or Dick or Harry” and “trams” to “ochred” and ­“archaize.” Surely a poet of loneliness should do a little more stammering.