Sunday 29 November 2015

Too Whom it May Concern

Osip Mandelstam argues that poets should think of themselves as being in a conversation with an interlocutor too distant to properly imagine:
There is no lyric poetry without dialogue. The only thing than prods us into the interlocutor's embrace is the desire to be surprised by our own words, enchanted by their startling novelty. The logic is inexorable. If I know to whom I am speaking, I also know beforehand what attitude he will hold toward my statement, regardless of what it states, and for that very reason I will be unable to feel amazed by his amazement, to rejoice at his joy, to fall in love through his love. The distance of separation effaces the features of one dear to my heart: not until then do I sense the desire to say to him that essential thing that I could not have said when I had his countenance before me in the fullness of its reality. I will permit myself to formulate this observation as follows: our taste for communication is inversely proportional to our actual acquaintance with our conversation partner and directly proportional to our wish to interest him in us. It is not acoustics that we should worry about: acoustics will come. More important is the distance. Exchanging whispers with your neighbor is boring, and drilling holes in one's own soul is infinitely dull. Trading signals with Mars—there's a task worthy of a lyric poetry that respects the interlocutor and is conscious of its own causeless rightness.

Category Error

Ray Hsu considers how categories such as "Asian-Canadian" can straitjacket writers:
When I was working as an editor for Rice Paper Magazine, people would send in stuff that seemed terribly hmm… clichéd? They seemed to be stuck in a mould of what Asian Canadian writing was for a very long time and sometimes I would pick up the phone and I would call the writers and contributors and ask them to tell me more about their submissions. I would ask them, why did you write this? So many times they would respond with, “Oh, I thought this is what you wanted. I looked at past issues of this and this was the kind of thing I thought you wanted so I changed the characters so they would be ‘Asian.’” And that seemed to me rather striking. Or not even that they necessarily “changed it,” but maybe they made certain things more explicit. It has been super interesting talking to writers who don’t want to necessarily foreground—make the story or make the poem or make the piece all about their Asian-ness, their Asian Canadian-ness or something like that. And I think that is also true of my own work. I would say that I probably I buck against those conventions a lot.

Sunday Poem

When he broke, he broke
like an oak box
full of castanets tossed
into the frozen river.
He broke like a stuntman
through the plate glass
of Odysseus’ conscience.
Broke like a breakdancer
shattering his right knee
while doing a backflip
under the Liberty Bell.
Broke like the promise
he swore he’d never break.
Like the teen who leapt
out of Another Gravity.
Broke like the brakes
on an underground train
hurtling at breakneck speed
into Rubén Darío station.
Broke like bits of glass
strewn over the steps
on a Sunday morning.
Broke as all hell. Keen
for the cool night
broken. Roused
by soldiers marching,
when Elpenor broke,
he broke the spirits
of all mortal men.
By Nick Thran, from Mayor Snow (Nightwood Editions, 2015)

Saturday 21 November 2015

Daddy Issues

In a conversation with Catherine Graham, Michael Longley reveals the poignant backstory behind a poem in his new collection that repurposes several discarded lines written when he was in his teens:
CG: When you were a student at Trinity your first poem “Marsh Marigolds” was published in a literary magazine called Icarus:

   She gave him marigolds
   Colour of autumn
   ​To keep in his cold room
   And the late light of autumn killed all their moments.

The first three lines are weaved into “Marigolds, 1960” uniting the young poet you were with the experienced poet you became. It’s one of my favourites in The Stairwell. Can you tell us more about this poem and/or the process behind it?

ML: The poem was published in the Trinity College literary magazine Icarus at Easter 1960. Although I didn’t realise it at the time, my father was dying. He discovered the poem and told me it wasn’t worth the paper it was printed on. He was right of course, but he shouldn’t have said that. In ‘Marigolds 1960’ I forgive him his frankness, but much more importantly I grieve for him and suggest that at the end we were drawing closer together. It pleases me that my juvenile verse helped me in my seventies to frame an elegy for my father.
(Portrait by Colin Davidson)

Friday 20 November 2015

Life Study

Patrick O'Reilly reflects on Japan's "standout" modernist poet Sakutarō Hagiwara:
Ezra Pound’s “Hugh Selwyn Mauberley” was as self-referential as anything written in the 20th century; Yeats was prone to naming the men and women he had known among Dublin’s “grey 18th century houses”; The prose works of HD are almost completely in the realm of roman à clef. Nonetheless, T.S. Eliot writes “The progress of an artist is a continual self-sacrifice, a continual extinction of personality,” and Modernism gains a reputation for impersonality. Perhaps impersonality was an ideal, a better idea in theory than in practice; perhaps the personal lives of the Modernist poets remained too integral to their conception of the world to be completely divorced from their art; perhaps a certain amount of leeway is afforded to canonical names.

At any rate, such ideals of impersonality seem not to have reached Japan, where a simultaneous and comparable Modernist movement sought to break away from centuries of Japanese formal tradition through the use of free verse and colloquial diction. Among these Japanese Modernists, who appeared alongside several recent translations of western literature and philosophy, a standout was Sakutarō Hagiwara. No poet, east or west, used his personal life so frankly as Hagiwara did in his 1934 book The Iceland (Hyōtō), newly translated by Hiroaki Sato as part of New Directions’ Poetry Pamphlet series.
Hagiwara’s poems are urbane, bereft of the naturalism and flora which had so typified Japanese poetry over the centuries, preferring instead to describe buildings, battleships, railways. They continue, however, to be full of human emotion. What is subtle or implied in earlier or contemporary Japanese poets, through imagery or cadence or tone, is blatant in The Iceland. Hagiwara is at times contemplative, it’s true, but he is more often screaming in frustration, and he is never afraid to say why.

Monday 16 November 2015

Holiday Pop-up Book Fair

Schedule for author book signings

Friday, Nov. 27, 5-8 p.m. 
Saturday, Nov. 28, 10 a.m. - 4 p.m.

Atwater Library
1200 Atwater Avenue
Westmount, Quebec
H3Z 1X4


5:30 p.m.
Larissa Anastasia
Michael Blair
Avi Friedman
Katia Grubisic
Perrine Leblanc
Lazer Lederhendler
Terry Mosher
Robin Philpot
Anna Pottier
Cora Sire

6 p.m.
Dominique Côté
Susan Doherty
Nick Fonda
Connie Guzzo-McParland
David Homel
Neil Smith
Saleema Nawaz Webster
Kathleen Winter
Alice Zorn

6:30 p.m.
Jon Paul Fiorentino
Peter Kirby
Josip Novakovich
Dr. Yosh Taguchi


10 a.m.
Louis Carmain
Rhonda Mullins
Ashley Opheim
Robin Philpot

10:15 a.m.
Derek Grout

10:30 a.m.
Mark Abley
Anita Anand
Issa Boullata
Susan Doherty
Kenneth Radu
Mary Soderstrom

11 a.m.
Martine Delvaux
Mike Steeves
Aimee Wimbush-Bourque

11:30 a.m.
Bonnie Farmer
Peter Kirby
Marie Lafrance
Derek Webster

12 - 2 p.m.
Terry Mosher
Claude Lacaille (until 4 p.m.)
Scott Randall

12:15 p.m.
David McGimpsey

12:30 p.m.
Melissa Bull

12:30 p.m.
Anna Leventhal

1 p.m.
Sheila Kindellan-Sheehan
Ilona Martonfi
Dr. Yosh Taguchi

1:30 p.m.
Connie Guzzo-McParland
Christina Park

2 p.m.
Felicia Mihali
Elaine Kalman Naves
Monique Polak
Phyllis Rudin
Denis Sampson
Greg Santos

2:30 p.m.
Erin Moure
Talya Rubin

3 p.m.
Michael Blair
Laurence Miall

3:30 pm.
Brian Campbell
Jeramy Dodds
Cora Sire

Sunday 15 November 2015

Deceptively Accessible

Robert Alter celebrates the work of Yehuda Amichai:
The poetry of Yehuda Amichai (1924-2000), who with the passage of time seems more and more one of the great poets of the twentieth century, is deceptively accessible in translation. He was part of a group of young Israeli poets in the early 1950s who effected a vernacular revolution in Hebrew verse, rejecting the high literary language and the rhetorical thrust of the previous generation of Hebrew poets and finding ways to make poetry out of the plain words of everyday speech. His first volume of poetry, Now and in Other Days (1955), was widely recognized after it appeared as the turning point in the vernacular revolution. This effort to use the plain language and images of ordinary experience is clearly visible in a good deal of what Amichai wrote. It has a lot to do with the enormous popularity his work has enjoyed in Israel from the late 1950s to the present. It is also what makes at least some of his poems seem perfectly transparent in English, almost as if nothing were lost in translation.

Sunday Poem

No old-time bonnets with eyelet trim;
this baby wasn't born yesteryear.
No plastic shoes. We eschew

things that scratch / bind / itch.
Ditto Velcro and rompers with
buttons up the back, sans front closures.

Please nothing with cutesy
embroidered pseudo-French expressions
or amicable-looking snails

slithering amongst pastel-toned garden tools.
Nothing advertising an institution.
No fossil-fuel-eating-vehicle motifs.

Anything laden with thwarted dreams
(however bright, however lovely)
will be promptly set free to the Goodwill.

No mohair shrugs, pleather
skirts, animal prints,
rhinestones, fun-fur, pinstripes, no hint

of a life wasted or scripted.
Nothing too girl, nothing too boy.
Nothing redolent of upper crust.

Nothing sad, ugly, tired, prone to stain.
Nothing that reminds us of pain.

By Susan Elmslie, from The Best Canadian Poetry in English 2015 
(ed. Jacob McArthur Mooney, Tightrope, 2015)

Sunday 8 November 2015

Sunday Poem

No, I'd rather have 'em cut me up / And pass me all around. —John Prine 

Use my tripe for dental floss;
Transgender women can have my tits.
Braise my ribs in honey-garlic sauce;
Burn my slick pits, zits, and clit. 
Use my temper to dispense with folks
Who always get stuck in your craw.
Daddy-dutch, don't you ditch my yolks—
The finest hollandaise you ever saw. 
Duck, duck, goose, get my liver to Quebec;
Chefs, it's almost foie gras.
Tartar my tongue, make a broth with my neck,
Then, baby, choke me down raw. 
Use my calluses to sand down your edges,
Use my butt to make some soap.
If you're hungry for change then dredge,
Batter, fry, and eat my cunt for hope. 
Puree my asshole into wieners;
You know people love that shit.
When the bread's broken, be Catholic keeners
And consecrate a whole vat of my spit. 
Salvage my piercings and store in a Ziploc bag,
Give them away to someone unsuspecting for free.
Wring out my favourite shorts for my guerrilla rag
And institute a bloody archive of mouldy me. 
Take my offbeat heart to the clock shop,
Throw 'em all off for years.
Tenderize my loins, shellac my chops,
Donate my funhouse mirrors to my queers. 
Feed my yeast to brew your beers
(At least something is still alive).
Rub my grease on a few good steers,
Remember rosemary, thyme, and chive. 
Grind my milk-bones for Titus Andronicus pie,
Serve with crumpets and a spot of pee.
Tan and treat my thick-skin hide;
Quill my blood to write your new treaty. 
Play your soundtrack on my vertebrae xylophone
(To hell with cell-phone style).
Ignite my gas before a zealot's home,
Extinguish it with my pool of black bile. 
My feet were made for more than walking;
Don't waste the years I spent on that gut.
Repurpose my chins as makeshift caulking
To seal this casket shut. 
                 But please don't bury me
                 Down in that cold, cold ground.
                 I'd rather have 'em cut me up.
                 And pass me all around.
By Lucas Crawford, from Sideshow Concessions (Invisible Publishing, 2015)

(Doll face by Freya Jobbins)