Thursday, February 27, 2014

Poetry Connection, curated by Fred Wah,

During his tenure as Parliamentary Poet Laureate, Vancouver poet Fred Wah curated a video series of twenty-one poets for the sake of teaching contemporary Canadian poetry to high school students. The videos and accompanying write-ups are now online, including one with my very own self, reading two poems from Songs for little sleep, (2012) off the back deck of our former Centretown apartment. Check out the entire series, below:
Poetry Connection
Link Up with Canadian Poetry

“One of my projects as Canada’s Parliamentary Poet Laureate is to produce a series of short videos to help make contemporary Canadian poetry more accessible. These recordings illustrate a range of poetry that reflects the identity, places and modes of poetic writing in Canada.” – Fred Wah

Visit Poetry Connection on YouTube to view the Poet Laureate’s video series, and download the PDFs below to learn more about the featured poets and their work. The PDF files also include the text of the poems, as well as discussion topics and writing ideas.

Aisha Sasha John
Annharte Baker
Christian Bök
Colin Smith
Daphne Marlatt
Darren Wershler
Douglas Barbour
Fred Wah
Gail Scott
George Bowering
Jay MillAr
Joanne Arnott
JR Carpenter
Meredith Quartermain
Oana Avasilichioaei
Rita Wong and Larissa Lai
rob mclennan
Roy Miki
Sina Queyras
Steven Ross Smith
Stuart Ross

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Ongoing notes: late February, 2014

Toronto ON: Composed as “an ekphrasic translation of bpNichol’s ‘Allegories’ (from Love: A Book of Remembrances. Vancouver: Talonbooks, 1974)” is Toronto poet and editor Stephen Cain’s Etc Phrases (Toronto ON: BookThug, 2013). There have been a small handful of chapbooks released over the past decade or so (including one from above/ground press), but some time since Cain had a trade collection of poetry, back to his third trade collection, American Standard/ Canada Dry (Toronto ON: Coach House Books, 2005), and his micro-fiction collaboration with Jay MillAr, Double Helix (Toronto ON: The Mercury Press, 2006). Is Cain slowly and quietly working his way up to something, or simply in small, self-contained bursts?

Etc Phrase #16

Ebbing the ineffable.
The phonics of the palimpsest.
Expletive F exclamation.
Floating or floundering.
No horizon line.
B coming or being.
Thorny thrownnes.
E F Geworfenheit.
Still present despite the presence.
Not waving but sounding.

The chapbook intrigues in part through the playful coherence of collisons, pushing phrases against phrases to ascribe an accidental meaning. The thirty-two poem sequence of Etc Phrases makes for a wordy exercise of what jwcurry would refer to as “serious play,” counterpointing other short self-contained units he’s produced as chapbooks over the past few years. Is there a collection of collated units finally forthcoming upon that horizon?

New Jersey: Until now, Ben Fama is a name I’ve heard but never actually read, finally able to go through the poems of his Odalisque (New Jersey: Bloof Books, 2014). The seven poems that make up Odalisque are constructed as accumulations, nearly collage-works that build their individual ways up into a coherent shape, despite the sequence of seemingly-unrelated phrases he uses as building materials. His poems do seem an intriguing blend of collage, random statement and narrative flow, in the Frank O’Hara “I did this, I did that” kind of way, especially through his use of pop culture references. The final poem in the collection, “girlwithcat2.jpg,” even includes shades of what Montreal poet Jon Paul Fiorentino has been playing with the past decade or so, blending pop culture sensibilities and humour with a dark, even pessimistic bent.


Fashion makes me less crazy
It should be looked at
Never discussed
It’s an honest joy
To be shocked by beauty
In the 21st century
I was shocked when my lover was caught stealing
From Dean & Deluca
I was thinking of a line
By Robert Hass
The floor manager stopped us
We simply went to a different store
A requiem for leisure, pleasure, thought
I cannot take your high school friend’s
Hoop earrings seriously
And every picture on my phone is obscene
Seriously, look at it—
All these fucking effetes
Boring travel stories
Details of somebody’s dreams
Champagne condensating
On leather seats
All summer long
I wish I could afford a room
At the Peninsula New York
Suites with TVs above soaking tubs
With city views
And all that sun on Fifth Ave.
I live inside it too
I am at Uniqlo
Buying underwear
And after I paid
I stayed and shopped again
A surprising second erection
After you’ve just finished
And you know it’s time

According to Wikipedia, the term “odalisque” refers to a “female slave or concubine in a Turkish harem, particularly the concubines in the household of the Ottoman sultan.” The title poem in the collection plays off that meaning, exploring ways of seeing and comprehending, and yet, the poem predominantly work through anything but, opening:

There’s a picture of you on my phone
I look at when I’m bored
It’s basically an American Apparel ad
In a world I have access to
I’m looking at it now
Or possibly through it
And listening to “Gymnopédie No. 3”
Sometimes I think it is a perfect song
I wonder what you are going to wear
To this cocktail event
At the Gershwin Hotel
We are going to tonight

Toronto ON: I’m very taken with the musicality of Marianne Morris’ Alphabet Poems (Toronto ON: BookThug, 2014), third in the NEW BRITISH POETS series edited by Stephen Collis and Amy De’Ath [see my review of the first two, here]. This is an intriguing series they’ve taken on, seemingly produced in pairs (Andrea Brady’s Dompteuse is forthcoming), and I would be very interested to hear the editors’ take on the hows and whys of curating such a series. Of Morris’ Alphabet Poems, I’m taken by the rush of the line, and the flow of the words like water, forceful and smooth and unrelenting. Alphabet Poems follows her first trade collection, The On All Said Things Moratorium [see my review of such here], which I would highly recommend. Born in Canada, raised in London, England and currently residing (according to the bio at the back of the chapbook) in Oakland, California, I can only hope that Morris manages to make her way north to perhaps read, as her pieces, as strong as they are on the page, give the impression that they are really meant to be heard to be felt, in full force.


Something of darker mettle, they said. They requested.
Something of darker mettle. Them and their
Wants. Of organized mettle. Fuck you! I said.
Poured frayed panties from the broken neti pot into
The almost empty but resealable bag. Her earth hands.
Bag like I am.
A month on the lips, seventeen years in the hips
The holding-in sounds. The slipping-in sounds.
The groans, loaming archers, swoop low. I know
Them and a plastic container of oiled nuts.
To stop biting
At my own lips
For eighty dollars and a vial of my salt
Which I will replenish with the fat of something dead
So I can eat. A row of exes: x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x

Morris’ “alphabet” is expansive, complex and richly textured. And it’s hard not to be charmed by the table of contents, especially when you sound out the titles, reading in order: “WON,” “TO,” “FREE,” “FOR,” “FIVE FLEE WITH SWORDS AND TWO REMAIN BEHIND,” “SEX” and so on.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Julie Joosten

Julie Joosten grew up in Marietta, GA and lives in Toronto.  She has an MFA from the Iowa Writers' Workshop and a PhD from Cornell University; her first book Light Light was published by Book Thug in 2013.

1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
When I first read this question, I didn't know how to respond because my first book so completely cracked open the world for me--but I didn't read "my first book" as "the first book I wrote" but as "the first book I remember reading"!  The first book I wrote, Light Light, hasn't changed my life too much.  It's put me in contact with people I don't know who've read the book; and I'm grateful for that, for the way books allow minds to extend into the world. 

2 - How did you come to poetry first as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?

I didn't come to poetry first, but when I first came to poetry I loved the sounds above all. 

3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?
My writing is slow and emerges after periods of incubation and then gets reworked regularly until I come to the rare feeling that it's done.

4 - Where does a poem usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?
Poems usually begin for me in reading.  I don't know what I'm working on until I'm working on it.  And working on it again and again. 

5 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
I have many concerns, some theoretical, some practical, that lead me to write.  In my work, I try to ask questions more than I try to answer them. 

6– What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
To write.  To imagine.  To rewrite.  To reimagine. 

7 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
My editors at Book Thug have been essential.

8 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to critical prose)? What do you see as the appeal?
I find different forms of thinking and feeling occur in different forms of rhythm, syntax and language.  Moving between genres is a way of moving between forms of thinking and feeling.  And the between-ness is itself exciting and generative.  I love encountering different forms of language and thought brought together by chance or design.  This can happen between two books I'm reading or between the beginning and end of a sentence.

9 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
With a dog walk, thus with weather.  Then tea, and reading, and note-taking, then exercise, dog walk, tea, reading, and more notes.  

10 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
I Read, I walk, and sometimes I find myself down on the floor looking for a word.

11 - What was your favourite Hallowe'en costume?
When I was five, my great-aunt—Aunt Yo-Yo—made me a costume of grapes in royal purple.  

12 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

Monday, February 24, 2014

Scott Bryson reviews my chapbook Mother Firth’s (Gaspereau Press, 2013) in Broken Pencil #62

Scott Bryson was good enough to review my Gaspereau Press chapbook, Mother Firth’s, in Broken Pencil #62. Thanks, Scott! I’m gratified by the attention, especially given how few chapbooks receive critical attention, and this is (so far) the first and only review the small chapbook (a twelve-part sequence) has received (not including the small mention in Apt613). Although I’m not entirely sure why most of his qualitative judgements appear to be based upon how well he was able to comprehend the poems; as though figuring out the poem in a particular way is more important than attempting to approach the work on its own terms. Is comprehension, at least in the way Bryson suggests, the first and foremost goal? Is meaning meant to be straightforwardly found? I’m baffled by the assertion that because he doesn’t “comprehend” the piece (in a series of complaints that might seem more relevant if I was producing a non-fiction historical work in prose than a poem that uses historical material as construction material) that somehow there is no meaning to be found at all. It reminds me of a response Gertrude Stein gave to an interview, suggesting that if the reader enjoyed the piece, then that is, by itself, understanding or “getting it.”

Mother Firth’s
rob mclennan

Ottawa-based writer and publisher rob mclennan is reveling in hometown history. Mother Firth’s is the latest addition in a growing collection of books that sees mclennan exploring the nooks and crannies of the nation’s capital. This time out, we visit Isaac Firth’s Inn/Tavern (known as Mother Firth’s), which was established at Chaudière Falls in 1819, in the part of Ottawa that’s now known as LeBreton Flats.
            According to mclennan, Ottawa writers of the late 1800s and early 1900s liked to joke that “if you hadn’t written a poem on the Chaudière Falls or Rapids, you weren’t really an Ottawa poet.” The Falls and the Ottawa River are the clearest recurring images in this collection, so mclennan is now officially in with the in crowd.
            While it’s clear that water or water crafts play a pivotal role in each of these 12 poems, other concrete details are hard to come by. There are moments where mclennan’s verse reads as completely lucid: “In 1827, a year’s first light, William Stewart, / out from County Glen,” but there are just as many that come across as abstract (or perhaps require a great deal of research for comprehension): “A study of parades, authority. A letter / from Dalhousie. Build. / A snowball, given credence.” There’s a particular ambiance emanating from these poems, and though it’s too general to pin down, it seems to hint at the milieu inhabited by the men who frequented Mother Firth’s: soldiers, raftsmen, fur traders.
            Of course, complaining that you can’t find meaning in a rob mclennan poem is like complaining that you can’t extract blood from a stone. The true meaning of these poems will likely only ever be known to mclennan, who’s no doubt hoping that form and atmosphere will trump the need for understanding.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Kirsten Kaschock, Windowboxing: A Dance with Saints in Three Acts

I want a new wife but with all of my old things.

I am tired of the domestic packaging of women, the imprisoned-cellophane versions. Meatdress.

I will fail to say this correctly. (“[WINDOWER]”)

I am fascinated by the sentences in Kirsten Kaschock’s Windowboxing: A Dance with Saints in Three Acts (New Jersey: Bloof Books, 2013), a collection of short poems, each of which are constructed through a series of accumulations. Her sentences are sharp, and cut deep into bone, such as “History flattens. She can see out.” from the poem “[WINDOWER],” a piece on seeing through and seeing out, and striking at the differences between the two. The collection works through ideas of perception, of seeing, and of conflict through movements on gender, gender relation and gender perception. There is a violence throughout the collection, and a tension, as she writes to open the poem “[WINDOWNER]”: “You would have my explosions be localized and armed against themselves. // You would prefer I not discuss ‘men’ or ‘women.’ The genres. // It would be better to prevent the spread of the insurgency.” The collection wraps itself around the image of the window, framing a way of both seeing directly and through. The poem “[WINDOWRIGHT]” opens: “Window, like woman, an invention. // Think caves. Invent: to welcome wind. To shun: unwelcome.” Her title suggests a performance and a stage watching, instead of a series of characters or performers, a sequence of short poem-scenes, each as thick and descriptive as an essay. Kaschock’s poems explore the violence and confusions so often included between the genders, and the way gender is perceived, as one fixed idea clashes up against another opposing fixed idea.


I can’t do my heart today, fuss till it’s lazy, coral, a century or more of microscopic animals.

The men I am are plural and all thumbnails, larger and quicker than that, but clumsy. Overlaid, they palimpsest into substance.

The men I am are wilders—btw, wrong prosecution, a satisfying lying.

In the pack, they slap the bitch down. it is like a whisper. She stays down.

I shrivel when they touch the border of me—when I touch the border of me, I get unvivid and a harder called brittle, intelligent, not-young. The ocean fails. Wombs fail.

The men I am are violent or they are not.

Illicitly got confession. Et tu?

I have never bothered to go fathom-by-fathom underneath I am more afraid of what I might one day do. Fail to do or say accurately. A bad renovation, the bones unhidden, reef a graveyard, the body drunk up, loved at arms’ length (fathom of rope, leash, a good stretch to hang by).

The car, assassination, dishwasher, low-cut: all my fault. Ahem.

As one moves through the collection, the poems begin to open up into a narrative arc, progressing intention, anger and a matter-of-fact ending that can’t be avoided. Kaschock is very much a poem of sentences, built incredibly strong, and enough to cut through any material, or allow any coin to bounce off. Composed with the slight distance of journal entries or letters home, Kaschock’s Windowboxing: A Dance with Saints in Three Acts reference dance movements, death by fire and suicide, unafraid of dark territory and yet removed from it as well. It’s as though the only way to discuss any of this is absolutely straight.


If your father or sister molests you, there is a support group.

If you aided them, there is a support group, and serotonin-reuptake-inhibitors to help you with that.

Coffee seems also to be protective against suicide, Alzheimer’s, sleep.

For the kind of sleep that keeps family blurry, coffee combined with alcohol is a folk remedy, for four hundred years, prior to which coffee was more localized.

Alcohol is old as family.

To stay together—a buttonhole. Pivot, clasp.

Under the sound of the family, you hear brushstrokes, a percussionist waiting, a painter crying into the palette, thinning the hue, a dancer scuffling, nothing moved.

No thing or one moved.