Thursday 30 January 2014

"Those Fucking Hypocrites"

Believing that to "achieve American renown is to be complicit in a criminal culture," poet Bill Knott has executed some inspiring acts of self-sabotage.
When, prior to publishing his 2004 collection The Unsubscriber, FSG arranged to have some of his short poems published in Poetry, Knott wrote of being crushed and feeling betrayed. “They ‘accepted’ poems from FSG, but not from me, never from me,” he wrote on his blog, “and don’t believe those fucking hypocrites if they tell you anything different.” Eventually Knott walked away from FSG too. (“It was clear that for Bill,” FSG president and publisher Jonathan Galassi told the New York Observer in 2011, “being published by us wasn’t good for him psychically.”) Black Ocean’s founder, Janaka Stucky, says he finds Knott’s early books to be “some of the best American poetry collections of the 20th century—and they’ve been highly influential on poets and artists of my generation.” When he asked Knott if he could bring these early works back into print, Knott turned him down. “If I don’t want to do it with Farrar Straus,” he wrote, “why would I want to do it with Black Ocean?”

Wednesday 29 January 2014

A Way To Enter

In a recent interview, Karen Connelly describes the changes she's seen in Canadian poetry:
Obviously, the influence of the academy and postmodernism have changed The Canadian Poet. Compared to when I started writing and going to poetry readings thirty years ago—I went to my first readings when I was about 13, and I am now 44—I understand less of what I hear. And I feel it less. You’d think that after more than thirty years of reading and listening, I would be more clever, but I do not understand what some poets are trying to tell me. So I remain curious, puzzled; I try not to be too judgmental. The people I brought with me recently, to group poetry readings in western Canada, the people who support my work and and have always read it (family, friends) are people in various professions and the trades; they, too, had no idea what a good number of my fellow poets were trying to tell them.

The poets were working in conceptual and avant-garde modes, employing intellectual conceits and sometimes powerful, complex ideas; they were playing with those ideas through original language. Fascinating work, pyrotechnical, investigating language and science and social media. I could appreciate it with my brain but not feel it in my guts. I could play along, because I am interested in language being stretched and used and broken open. But my cop sister and my welder niece, and the builder who used to shovel my mother’s front steps, and even the museum curator in Winnipeg—had no idea what my fellow poets were up to. They listened and felt alienated, outside.

It is important to me that anyone who reads English reasonably well can enter my work the way you enter a room, simply, through the door or (if you are locked out) through the window. No one understands everything in a poem, just as we don’t understand everything in a room that is strange to us, full of someone else’s history and personal objects. That not-knowing is what makes poetry useful and delightful. But you have to be able to be in it somehow, even in its strangeness, and at least in its music, its lyricism. There must be a way to enter.

Some Advice From Jason Guriel

More wisdom here.

Sunday 26 January 2014

The Most Inarticulate Buffalo In The World

Last month, I linked to a masterful interview with Daniel Mendelsohn. Here's another beaut, from the same magazine, with critic and editor Dwight Garner. It's chock-a-block with great anecdotes and insights. A sample:
Editing taught me the importance of quoting well. I’d like to think if there’s one thing that I do halfway decently, it’s quote others. It was Montaigne, I think, who compared quoting well to arranging other people’s flowers. I like writers who quote well and bring stray insight into their pieces. It’s like they’re pulling stars out of the sky.
When I was just starting out, one of the things I disliked most about journalists (and critics) is that you could learn more by talking to them for five minutes than you could by reading a year’s worth of their pieces. Their articles and essays seemed to me like masterpieces of indirection, of plausible deniability. I want to sound like I’m talking to a close, literate friend. In fact, I’m lucky to have had an amazing and ongoing email correspondence, across more than 15 years, with a great friend who is a writer. I want my reviews to sound not so different from the emails we pop back and forth. I want to be direct, and I want to make fine distinctions, and when appropriate I want to be funny. Humour is undervalued in criticism.
I was on a panel earlier this year with a well-known writer, and I was delighted when he announced about his favourite novels, “I’m a sentence queen.” He likes books that are alive on a cellular level, sentence-to-sentence. I’m suspect I’m a sentence queen, too, mostly. A terrific story is a terrific thing. But give me a great voice.
I’m envious of people who can open their mouths and have perfectly formed sentences and paragraphs come out. When I’m speaking in public—even right now, frankly—I’m inwardly wincing at every word that pops out of my mouth. I want to retract them all immediately, and re-phrase. Like so many people who write, I started because I wanted to gain possession of the things in my head that, when I opened my mouth, came out all wrong. Words are like little kids; you don’t want to send them out of the house until they’re dressed and have brushed their teeth. At a lectern I’m a fumbler, the most inarticulate buffalo in the world.
When I worked at the Book Review, we had a rule. A potential reviewer might say to us, “I can’t review X’s book because I know her.” We’d reply with this question: “Do you know the names of her children?” That was the litmus test. If you don’t know the names of someone’s kids, how close can you be?
When I was an editor at the Book Review, the idea of writing for the Times would make some writers freeze up. You’d assign them a book, then you’d talk to him or her on the phone a few weeks later and they’d say, “Why did you send me this steaming pile of dog waste? This book is criminally bad.” Then the review would come in and it would be eight paragraphs of the most tedious plot summary topped by a word like “lyrical.” I was often in the position of gently reminding reviewers, “You’re not writing this for the author’s mother. You’re writing it for the tens if not hundreds of thousands of serious and inquisitive people out there who will be reading you.”

Saturday 25 January 2014


"The most lyrically free, process oriented, experimental, and/or avant garde writing must be structured, must involve a series of formal choices, because that’s what writing is. The sky’s the limit when it comes to what those choices could be, but they must be made, each an integral component in an overall effect that is not imposed upon content, but that is content. That does not contain language, but that is language. Form and structure build implication, suggestion, and tone as surely as diction and syntax do."
Karen Solie discusses the dangers of "lazy composition."

Ventriloquism Of Self-Disgust

David Biespiel isn't exactly impressed with the new crop of American poets:
Earlier this week, while speaking to some younger poets, I became intrigued with their nascent fascination, to the point of headiness, with all things poetically elliptical, non-linear, and disjunctive. I say intrigued, but in my heart it felt more like exasperated. Listening to them, I realized that it was as if style—not form, not argument, not civic experience, not love or death or sorrow or sex or history, not life lived as life, not confronting life or yearning for knowledge of what it means to be living living in an actual, you know, geographic county that concerned them—but style and style alone was to be the subject of their art, or subjectlessness. Decent writers, all, sure. Young, quite likable writers at the beginnings of their literary lives. So, ok, they’re searching. The glare of fashion is bright. But the decency of both their desire and their writing seem to be leading to a dystopian poetics and to poetry that adheres to a ventriloquism of self-disgust.
Calling American poetry "a niche of the nada," Biespiel encourages poets to "confront the living world":
Because so many poets face extreme violent risks in the world—and I do not mean the false risks extolled in America’s writing workshops—there is a need for American poets to own up to and reject our sheer terrorlessness, to reject aesthetic fetishization in favor not only of examining the barbarism of human experience but also in being less existential and more confrontational of our own complicity in favoring an art of theory over an art of life. You want disjunctive? We live in civilization of extreme savagery. Exhibit A: We shop for the the cheapest Chinese goods and gift-wrap them for our children while the Chinese government imprisons its poets. In other words, you want poetry based on a theory that language has no meaning and the author is annihilated? Tell that to the workers outside the Gdansk shipyard for whom the word “strike” is not just life-affirming but life-threatening. Language means something.
(Illustration by David Henley.)

Sunday 19 January 2014

Sunday Poem

If a representation of a man with a penis
and a woman without a vagina
is hurtling at 20 clicks a second
away from earth and makes contact
with an alien who thinks
just as we do
so admires the woman’s hairdo but gets
the method of procreation wrong, well,
it won’t be by accident, will it.
The man, I must say, is anatomically lovely and I like
how his raised hand illustrates the opposable thumb
while doubling as a sign of good will.
But would it have killed us
to add a short line for her cleft?
To make her an artifact, not space junk,
mound of Venus with a Brazilian wax job instead of Barbie Mattel?
They say Greek statuary omits it, but come on,
we talk about being safe then spend our days splitting the atom.
In the time it takes me to write snatch, cunt, beaver, quim, poontang,
pussy, muff,
the impression’s a further 300 miles away.
The chances of correction are, I’ll face it, nil.
When the earth’s shriveled up like a douche bag in a campfire
the plaque will carry on; ambassador
of the easily offended, the quickly aroused.
It hopes you will understand.
From The Best Canadian Poetry in English 2013 (ed. Sue Goyette) by Donna Kane.

Moving Forward with Esplanade Books

Musings on What a New Editor Would Like to Do... Before It's Been Done 

A few posts back, Carmine Starnino, the editor of the Signal Editions poetry series, began a post on this blog by writing, “The Vehicule blog doesn’t belong to me. It’s an extension of the press I work for. Everyone at the press makes use of it, but not as heavily as I do…”  Theoretically that may be so, but in practice everyone else’s thoughts at the press have sat unblogged for years, collecting dust, while this space has transformed into a busily trafficked intersection for Canadian poetry.
Truth be told, it’s somewhat intimidating being the first other person at the press to come down here after all this time.  I’m half expecting the room to go awkwardly quiet as the door creaks shut, or for someone to cryptically tell me that I’ve dialed the wrong number even though there’s not a phone in sight.  You see, I’m new here, the new editor of Esplanade Books, Véhicule Press’s fiction line, and like most newbies I’ve been advised to blindly break up this cabal and bring this blog back to its original symmetry.
I’ve been asked to look forward to what I want to do with Esplanade Books.  It’s not as if, blogging aside, good things aren’t being done with Esplanade Books already.  For the past decade, founding editor Andrew Steinmetz has published twenty books that have gone on to make reputations for their authors.   Jaspreet Singh recently published his second novel, Helium, with Bloomsbury.  After a glowing reception for his Esplanade short-story collection, A Short Journey by Car, Liam Durcan published his second book, Garcia’s Heart, with McClelland & Stewart in 2008. Andrew Hood, Missy Marston, and David Griffin all leapt out of the gates like muscular greyhounds with their first books, and as a result they have literary careers underway.  Guillaume Morissette, Steinmetz’s final Esplanade selection, is about to find new readers with the Spring 2014 publication of his novel New Tab.  Andrew published my second novel in 2011, and now I’m minding the kennel.
So Esplanade comes with a well-earned reputation for taking chances on original, untested voices.  That aspect of the imprint will stay right where it is, and here I can only hope to find the caliber of writing that Steinmetz had a knack for finding.  New writers, original voices, literary authors who don’t want to conform their craft or perspective, writers who have something to say that may not be palatable to large numbers of casual readers – their books will still have a home here.
When I was much younger, I used to spend hours skimming through my university’s bookstore in between classes, marveling at the spectrum of titles that houses such as New Directions and Dalkey Archive published.  Within those imprints, adventurous new voices shared lists with all forms of translations, and both sides were elevated, in my eyes, from their proximity to one another.  Here were English-language writers, I would think, who are operating within the sphere of world literature.  The ideas those houses put forward were stronger and more reputable for it. 
I tend to believe that the state of translation in this country is paltry.  I’m not referring to the translations themselves, but rather to the way they’re brought to publication and packaged.  Cormorant, Anansi, and Biblioasis all publish a steady stream of French-Canadian writing in translation, and yet the world of Quebecois literature barely registers in English Canada.  My sense is that readers have no context for what they’re reading, and so have difficulty attaching cultural value to it.  In other artistic domains, brands such as the Criterion Collection or Numero Group have gone to admirable lengths to situate hitherto obscure films and recordings within the larger zeitgeist of the culture that gave rise to them.  Quebecois literature, I feel, should be presented in a similar light for Canadians and Americans.
Beyond presentation, a looming generational schism is brewing within the world of translation.  Sheila Fischman, Donald Winkler, Linda Gaboriau, Judith Cowan, Lezer Lederhendler, David Homel, Fred Reed have all performed a wonderful service in bringing Quebecois writing into English, but they are all of a generation when the idea of biculturalism was at its peak.  Where are the younger translators?  What are they reading?  A translation community, which is so significant to our understanding of the two cultural streams that make up this country, is not healthy if it’s in danger of dying out with a generation.  There needs to be a place for new, committed French-to-English translators with sharp tastes to publish their work, and in doing so curate our understanding of this furthest orbiting part of Canada’s culture. 
I think the act of curating translations for the rest of the country would naturally be part of the competitive advantage of any English-language press based in Quebec – this is our backyard and we understand the culture better than readers in Toronto or elsewhere.  We can see what’s new and exciting simply by looking around.  We have the linguistic abilities to read the works firsthand, to follow them as they emerge and appreciate what effect they have among Quebecois readers – whom, it must be noted, take their literature very seriously.  We’ve given up a tremendous opportunity to be ahead of a curve that’s currently being curated out of Ontario. 
Beyond a new emphasis on developing younger translators and delivering better-packaged translations, I would like to see Esplanade Books publish more novellas.  The novella still stands as my favourite kind of book to read: so little, such an object, so commercially unviable yet curiously authentic.  Many writers I speak to at one point or another confess a passion for the form, insist that it is what they would write if left to their own devices, and then lament that they are actively discouraged from doing just that because they’d have nowhere to publish novellas.
And yet novellas have so much to offer the advancement of fiction; they allow a playground for experimentation with structure, voice, atmosphere, and theme that is not suited to the more burdensome timelines of the longer novel.  I’m curious how much more range we’d discover in Canadian writers if readers were given a chance to read what could be imagined in between the short story craft we are known for, and the novels that are most commercially viable.  There are many established writers out there whom I’m certain would want to take advantage of this form otherwise discouraged, and when the right novella comes along, I would like to publish those left turns of an author’s catalogue that end up leading nowhere in the larger picture of their oeuvre.  Those often turn out to be the most enigmatic and compelling vantage points into a writer’s persona.

Editor, Esplanade Books

Sunday 12 January 2014

Sunday Poem


Bring on that horizon with its filmic infinity.
Let us not speak of one sparrow, 
for there are always at least two or three, and if I see one, 
feather-tarnished and head slumped, 
I infer the logic of its fall a posteriori
I saw my father falling but could not catch him, 
the tubes and the breathing mask sustaining 
and draining life from him, an arrhythmia words 
cannot have. I understand the original sin of words. 
Each day I write out my punishment on a blackboard: 
chalk and the taste of chalk and the taste of ashes, eat, for this is my bread. 
I understand this in concreto and in individuo, for inanimate is the compass 
and its measure, one leg in love and the other in argument, so I travel. 
Where are you, father, ideal of the circle and the fixed point? 
I’m leaving the city of your birth, pushpin on a map, 
and I am driving to the periphery on a long straight road. 
To either side canola and its indescribable yellow,
butter and eggs and boyhood, sunlight through a magnifying glass,
the incandescence just before the paper burns, the ant curls into its crisp inferno. 
There is nothing but pavement and canola and beyond that there is nothing 
but the limits of nothing receding into the nothing beyond that. 
Though why would I think of nothing when everything is before me 
on a dinner plate, flowering, blossoming, burgeoning—I sing to the blossoms 
and they sing again a second verse. We sing for what it comes down to,
that the flowering of yellow embellishes reproduction. 
Or so the philosopher says: organon and dialectic and the earth’s fragile soil. 
How do we plant ourselves in the thick earth?
We do not, for we are condemned to movement, to walking, to naming the things of the earth. 
But I’m not walking, I’m driving, both hands on the wheel. 
In the fields someone has named names: Canadian Oil, transgenic. 
I am arrested, for they are damned beautiful, each flower a fleck of glory.
There is a Japanese song for children in praise of canola. 
A friend of my father’s sang it to me once.

From The Critique of Pure Reason (Frog Hollow, 2013) by Ross Leckie

Saturday 11 January 2014


Jason Guriel is impressed by Daisy Fried's new book of poems:
Is Women's Poetry a masterpiece? It surely locates Fried among the masterful American poets of her generation. I'd point readers to "Torment," of course, but also "Thrash," "His Failed Band, 1973," "L'Allegro: Driving Home," maybe the Kissinger, definitely the title poem, which, if Camille Paglia ever does another edition of Break, Blow, Burn, you can imagine her including. That's a book (the Paglia) I once taught to kids like Brianna and Justin, when I taught kids. Who knows what they made of the poems? Who knows what the young people of the future will make of Daisy Fried's? ("Write 1000 words on symbolism in 'Torment'", they will be instructed.) Fried is certainly there: good enough to push on the next generation.

Friday 10 January 2014

Gary Shteyngart: Twitter Reax

Saturday 4 January 2014

Crad Kilodney

Jay MillAr reminisces about Crad Kilodney, Toronto's "literary terrorist":
The story that I learned about Crad Kilodney before I moved to Toronto is much like a Crad Kilodney story: Crad Kilodney is a nom-de-plume. It is the invention of someone who grew up in Queens, went to college and graduated with an Astronomy degree, worked for a few months in that field and then quit to move to Toronto (thus becoming a failure in his chosen profession overnight) and became a writer. Not only did he become a writer, but a publisher as well in the tradition of the Chappies that published and sold their own work on public streets in small inexpensive pamphlets that came to be known as chapbooks. This took the notion of failure a little further: because no one else would publish and distribute his work, he would do it himself, and he would write purposely bad stories that failed at being great literature and sell them directly to a public that for the most part ignored him. It is because of Kilodney's proactive stance (let's face it, it is just that) with regard to his writing I always took the notion of failure with a bit of a smirk. After all, Kilodney did quit his "chosen profession," and and chose to move to Toronto of all places to become a writer. But I think the notion of failure, and it's relation to expectation, plays a significant role in the work he has produced.

It was because of Kilodney and the other authors that I was discovering in relation to him who also self-published that I too began to self-publish my own work. I even tried standing on the streets of London Ontario with a sign around my neck a la Kilodney, offering my first chapbook to the public for $5. I failed miserably—selling something you have made yourself, in particular a little booklet of poems, is probably one of the most difficult things in the world to do. And every time I caught a glimpse of a police car I would duck into a nearby store or simply walk in the opposite direction, assuming what I was up to was illegal. I tried selling the chapbook to friends in the hallways of UWO but that was as difficult if not more difficult than trying to sell it to strangers downtown—the awkwardness that I felt, and I'm sure my friends felt, as I pulled the book out of my satchel, handed it to them and suggested they pay me $5 for it was overwhelming. So I have to hand it to Kilodney—I can honestly say that it takes a thick skin to do what he did for years, and actually (amazingly) made a living doing (although I understand he supplemented his income writing stories for
Hustler Magazine). Today things are way easier: you simply post to social media about your new book and everyone can safely ignore you at a distance by either liking the post or not.

Friday 3 January 2014

What's Coming Up (In Canadian Poetry) For Spring 2014

Véhicule Press—Signal Editions
Dog Ear by Jim Johnstone
Satisfying Clicking Sound by Jason Guriel

Old Hat by Rob Winger
Pluck by Laisha Rosnau
Canoodlers by Andrea Bennett

The Fleece Era by Joanna Lilley
Blue Sonoma by Jane Munro
Ordinary Hours by Karen Enns
Lake of Two Mountains by Arleen Paré

Wolsak & Wynn—Buckrider Books imprint
Everyone is CO2 by David James Brock
The Stag Head Spoke by Erina Harris

For Tamara by Sarah Lang
Prologue for the Age of Consequence by Garth Martens
The Quiet by Anne-Marie Turza

Two international titles:
Directing Herbert White by James Franco
Sun Bear by Matthew Zapruder

Fitzhenry & Whiteside
Ringing Here & There: A Nature Calendar by Brian Bartlett

Mansfield Press
Moon Baboon Canoe by Gary Barwin
YAW by Dani Couture
Shouting Your Name Down The Well: Tankas and Haiku by David W. McFadden

Goose Lane
Jonas in Frames by Chris Hutchinson
Polari by John Barton

Coach House
M x T by Sina Queyras
Broom Broom by Brecken Hancock
School by Jen Currin

Here in There by Angela Carr
THOU by Aisha Sasha John
Theseus by Wayne Clifford & bpNichol (a collaboration the two started in 1966 that Wayne continued to work on after Nichol's death—never been published)
bp: beginnings by bpNichol (this is a reissue book of Nichol's early sequences edited with an essay by Stephen Cain)

As if a Raven by Yvonne Blomer
Stowaways by Ariel Gordon
Summertime Swamp Love by Patricia Young

Designated Mourner by Catherine Owen
Failure to Thrive by Suzannah Showler

McClelland & Stewart
Complicity by Adam Sol

Pedlar Press
Skein of Days by Sonja Greckol
he'll by Nathan Dueck