Friday, June 29, 2007
The arguments over what makes a person, especially a famous person, Canadian or not can be pretty damn tedious. Bishop's usually thought of as an American poet, with no small justice, but her exclusion from most Canadian anthologies has always struck me as perverse. One editor actually told me she didn't include Bishop in her book because Bishop "never had a Canadian passport." If anything, Bishop was a quintessentially American poet, in the broadest sense of the word "American." She had ties not only to New England and Florida, but also to Nova Scotia and to Brazil. What is beyond dispute is that some of her greatest writing is rooted very strongly in the Great Village area. And it's not tourist poetry; she knows the region intimately.
Canada being a loose assembly of regions, I can see why Bishop's been overlooked as a Canadian poet. Maybe had she been writing about the Canadian Shield or the Rockies, she'd be more accepted by our anthologists, who knows? She's certainly not the only Maritime poet to receive short shrift from the canon-builders.
Another reason might be that she's too great a poet to admit to the ranks of Canadian poets; it spoils all our self-loathing special pleading for why we've failed to produce a major poet (speaking of tedious arguments).
Whatever, if you haven't read Bishop, you're missing out. There's a whole pile of her poems online, however, so get crackin'!
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 9:27 AM
Thursday, June 28, 2007
I don't have a layover to speak of this trip, just a few hours between my arrival in Winnipeg, at 11:20 on Sunday, and reporting for my return west at 14:30--assuming both trains are on time, which no sane man would wager. So probably no action on CLM between Friday and Tuesday. No doubt you've got something better to do than sit in front of your computer screen anyway. Enjoy the fireworks, have a beer or six, burn a flag. Hasta luego muchachos y muchachas.
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 3:02 PM
Wednesday, June 27, 2007
In keeping with the weary cynicism of my last post, I thought I'd read for you one of my favourite poems of negativity: "For My Daughter" by the enigmatic American poet Weldon Kees. There are few closing couplets more devastating in all of sonnetry.
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 1:22 PM
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
Monday, June 25, 2007
A strange thing happened towards the end of the show. After the band was called back out for an encore, Youssef was talking and a guy at the back of the room started heckling him in Arabic. He explained to the audience that the guy was telling him to "hit his oud." He continued talking and the guy heckled him again. Youssef stopped, looked out towards the back of the room and asked the guy if he paid to be here and then asked if the staff could remove him because "he is real asshole." People kind of laughed uncomfortably (Youssef's demeanor had to this point been exclusively jocular, so no one expected such a turn); then he said, "no, I'm serious, get out of here and leave more room for us. Motherfucker. You should say in English what you just said so everyone can understand. You bring shame." Then apparently the guy left (I was in the second row, so I couldn't see what was going on at the back) and they did their encore set. I overheard someone saying afterwards that the guy had said something about how Youssef should hit one of the violinists. Crazy.
Anyway, you should check out his music if you ever get the chance. Made me think of Rumi a lot, so I wasn't surprised to learn that it has roots in Sufi mysticism.
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 9:56 AM
Saturday, June 23, 2007
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 11:58 PM
Thursday, June 21, 2007
As I've mentioned in other posts here, I almost never submit unsolicited work to literary journals. Why? The short answer is I can't be bothered. The reasons why I can't be bothered are manifold.
I'm an email kind of person. The only things I send by post tend to be solid objects which can't be scanned or otherwise converted into a digital file. A poem can be encoded on a digital file. Hell, a hundred poems can be. What's the Malahat's policy on electronic submissions?
The Malahat Review does not consider submissions sent by email.
Not only that but
All submissions and queries must be accompanied by a self-addressed, stamped envelope. Submissions without an SASE will not be returned or responded to. Do not ask us to inform you about our decision about your work by email in lieu of enclosing an SASE. Submissions without SASEs will be kept on file for maximum of six months after we have complete [sic] our review of them. Email queries about submissions, however, are acceptable.
So, not only do I have to print out my submission and cover letter, using approximately 11 sheets of paper, but I have to buy two stamps. More likely three, as I'll probably want to use a big manila envelope, so I can stuff all those sheets of paper and my SASE into it. So now I'm out $2 in postage and materials.
And now, I wait. And wait. And wait.
Response time will vary depending on the volume of submissions received. Please allow one to three months for poetry submissions, three to nine months for fiction submissions.
One to three months ain't bad, if it's true--which it may well be, given how few submissions they're apparently getting. My experience is that it's usually longer. Sometimes over a year. But at least while you're waiting, you can send those poems somewhere else. Oh, wait:
The Malahat Review discourages simultaneous submissions. Our editors spend an enormous amount of time considering submissions; it is very disheartening to learn that work selected for publication has been accepted elsewhere.
Aw, I almost feel sorry for those poor disheartened editors! Imagine that! I wonder if it's as disheartening as waiting months to find out if your poems are going to get published, only to get a thin slip with a form rejection on it. Poor editors!
But just think of the cash rewards!
We purchase first world serial rights and, upon acceptance pay, $35 per published page, plus a one-year subscription. Copyright reverts to the author upon publication.
Woot! Granted, this is better than a lot of magazines, much better than the $5 I got paid for one of my first published poems, in a now-defunct magazine (at least it covered the postage), but not exactly a huge incentive for a freelancer. I usually get more than that for publishing a book review, which is a lot easier for me to write than a good poem and is almost guaranteed to be published a short time after I've submitted it.
So, if it's not the money, why should I yearn to be published in the eminently respectable Malahat?
Because it's an honour? Not really; they publish all kinds of boring stuff. If I consistently see nothing there that much resembles the way I write, guess I shouldn't bother.
The best way to know what we're looking for is to order an issue at the address below.
Yep, don't worry about producing original art; they want house style.
Okay, but what if I'm a cynic and just want to use the magazine to put my poems in front of eyeballs? Don't kid yourself. No one reads these things. I bet few of those who subscribe read it cover to cover. Most of the subscribers are probably people who entered a contest, or who contributed to a past issue. For all your trouble, a very few people might glance at your poem once. Unless you're a "big name," in which case it's the page everyone turns to, so they can see your latest chef d'oeuvre. Sad as the statement is, the money's the best argument for submitting. Which is why I will publish poems in a journal when an editor asks me for them. And I find I tend to enjoy more the journals whose editors are pro-active in acquiring content.
Y'know, if I was an editor and I wasn't getting many high quality unsolicited submissions, I might just, oh, I don't know, SOLICIT SOME SUBMISSIONS!! If you're a poetry editor, part of the job description, it seems to me, is scouting, keeping an ear to the ground and seeking out work that will distinguish your publication from all the others. Boohoo, no one sends us stuff anymore, what are we to do? What will become of our poor little magazine? Why are my potatoes so puny and few? Oh well, guess I'll go out and get the ploughing done before winter.
And if I wanted to up my unsolicited submissions, I'd open it up to email. Yeah, you'll get a lot more crap that way, but it seems to me if you're complaining about not getting enough, you know... Anyway, it's not hard to filter and instantly reject the worst submissions.
And if I wanted to up my readership, I'd get web-savvy and build a site that complements and supplements the paper content of the magazine. Arc is, I think, the only lit journal to do a creditable job of this. Putting your table of contents on a web-page doesn't really cut it. All that is is information; a successful website combines information and entertainment.
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 6:01 PM
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 8:52 AM
Wednesday, June 20, 2007
Still under the weather, but better. A pile of freelance writing and editing work to do, so nothing much for now. Toodles.
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 9:08 PM
Monday, June 18, 2007
Is there a bush ruckus your syrinx can’t clone?
Bubbly corkpops and glassclinks at picnics;
Kookaburra’s cackle when its cover is blown;
Alarm panic, siren wail, chainsaw drone;
Motor drive’s whirr and black aperture’s click
As it captures your likeness; trigger-snick
And barrel blast of the shot that missed home;
Honey-eaters' chitter and moth-wings’ flutter;
Snoring koalas and colicky babies;
The lunatic howl of a dingo with rabies;
Wind-bang stutter of a torn-loose shutter;
All the ring tones of a cellular phone—
No song you can’t sing, but no song your own.
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 11:26 PM
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 6:21 PM
Sunday, June 17, 2007
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 1:27 PM
Moreover, the poet is hardly in a position to see the content of the review clearly. In his response, Wiseman complains:
I wish he’d been more openly honest in his dislikes, more aware of my uses of form - from free verse, to nonces, to villanelles, to sonnets, etc. - as it seriously affects that fascinating line I like to walk between strongly expressed feeling and the pit of sentimentality. I’d loved, too, for him to have tried to fit me into a canon - whose work is like mine? Who are my influences? Etc. I give his review a B- and that’s slightly lower than I give ZW’s review, which he quotes, which likes my work less, but says why (wrongly IMHO), but which explains his reasons better.
This is a bit like a droning schoolteacher blaming his students for falling asleep in class and missing the best part of the lecture. How on earth could a critic be "wrong" in his dislikes? He might argue that I didn't adequately defend or explain my dislikes--he says the opposite--but dislikes are neither right nor wrong and I did say that 40% of a quite fat book merited reading. In a longer review (I was ltd. by the magazine to 500 words) I might have quoted more and gone into more depth and yes, spent a bit more time with the poems I did like, of which there are many, some of which I like a great deal (I'm including one in my sonnet anthology), but given the constraints of space and given the abuse of space in the book itself, I had no real choice but to give a great deal of weight to my dislikes. If I feel that over half of a book should've been left behind, I can hardly pretend otherwise and only write about the poems that were justly included. This is a book review, after all, not a work of literary criticism, and I was charged with reviewing the physical publication of Mr. Wiseman's Selected Poems, in which the quantity of second-rate content obscured the best work--and it is a poet's best work which a Selected Poems should preserve. Wiseman's less successful poetry is self-indulgent and he (and possibly his editor, though one never knows what kind of disagreements between author and editor precede publication) was self-indulgent in his selection, and self-indulgent again in responding publically to Shane's review. It appears to be the Achilles' Heel of an otherwise fine poet.
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 12:28 PM
Saturday, June 16, 2007
I was reading some Edna St. Vincent Millay t'other day. She has apparently fallen out of fashion and is rarely talked about or taught by academics (although there's an interesting, albeit deeply flawed, recent biography in print), but I like her best work an awful lot. Hear me croak her lovely, simple "Tavern" if you like.
Text of "Tavern" HERE.
Hear Millay herself read her poetry HERE.
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 10:37 PM
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 4:11 PM
Friday, June 15, 2007
Next day (yesterday), we made our way to the ferry, Adam on the bus and me on my motorcycle, and crossed over to Vancouver. Rachel read that night with Chris Patton and Shane Rhodes. Despite a bad cold, Rachel's reading was very strong. A couple of her favourite teachers from elementary school--one, Robert Heidbreder, an accomplished writer of children's poetry--showed up and bought books, which made it a very special event, since Rachel herself is on the verge of becoming an elementary school teacher.
Chris Patton read second. The writing was very interesting--I was especially taken with his translation of the Old English poem "The Wanderer"--but he read in a halting, stutter-and-flow manner that I think worked to the detriment of the poems. I picked up a copy of his book, Ox, and I look forward to spending some time with it. His language is just jam-packed with soundplay and semantic nuance, in a way somewhat reminiscent of Hopkins. I was also glad to learn--and not surprised--that he's a charming fella.
Shane Rhodes read last and was thoroughly charming and engaging. He read two of the poems I liked from his new book and another one from his first book, about a rural general store, that I'd like to take a good look at.
A bunch of folks went out afterwards for food and drink, after which Elizabeth Bachinsky, her husband Blake, Adam, Rachel and I convened at our place for a glass of wine and fine conversation. Adam and I, as we seem to do on the rare occasions we meet up, stayed up till 3 am talking craft. Tonight, Adam and I are joining some old friends of mine to see the BC Lions in pre-season action against the Saskatchewan Roughriders. I predict the Lions will romp and run roughshod over those rotten Roughriders (just for you, Brenda!). Adam heads back to the Runshine (his coinage) Coast tomorrow and I hit the rails again on Sunday. I hope all my time off this summer is so fun.
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 10:44 AM
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
Off to Pender Harbour this morning, to visit Adam Getty, who's staying there for the summer, working on a manuscript, and Silas White, who's hosting him.
If you're in the Vancouver area, you should come out to Rachel Lebowitz's reading with Chris Patton and Shane Rhodes, Thursday at 7 pm. It's at the UBC bookstore in Robson Square, downtown.
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 6:40 AM
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 7:21 AM
Monday, June 11, 2007
The secret to my success? I show up,
I keep my head down and I toe the line;
Do nothing special, just put in my time.
Half-full or half-empty, my cup’s
Content is constant and so is my shine:
Medium matte. I’m the mat everyone steps
On--thank you, you’re welcome--; if I stooped
Any lower, I’d be downright supine.
Yes please, another double scoop
Of that poopchute spill. You won’t hear me whine,
I don’t call in sick, I’m always on time.
I’m the bad seed in a bumper crop,
But know what? I’ll be your boss one day
And you’ll have to do whatever I say.
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 9:57 PM
There's a big fuss on the go over Heather Reisman's support of the Israeli army. I'm astonished that people are surprised about this. This is the same person, after all, who banned Mein Kampf from her stores. And that people are using this latest manifestation of her overall ickiness as a reason not to buy books at her stores! Even before the Mein Kampf episode, I started boycotting Chindigo and I tell anyone who cares to listen why. Back in 2001, if I recall correctly, is the last time I bought a book in one of their stores. I go in occasionally to browse and use the lieu--a symbolic gesture--but that's about it. It's a terrible fucking business with awful practices owned and operated by people who don't really give a shit about books. These are the reasons not to shop there, not because Heather supports the Israeli fucking army. That's just another reason to despise Reisman.
There's been some back-n-forth over this at Bookninja and a couple of good points have been made, not least among them the fact that the most vociferous protestors are hardly disinterested parties. But mostly it's of the "I'm shocked and appalled by this" variety. But like I said, this is hardly earth-shattering news. I'm stunned by how many writers I know who don't seem to have a problem patronizing Chindigo. The general public's ignorance I can understand, but anyone with a modicum of inside knowledge about publishing and bookselling should be ashamed. And I think anyone who jumps on a bandwagon slamming a private citizen for her private spending whilst saying nothing about their government's foreign policy is behaving like cattle.
A little perspective. Each and every taxpaying Canadian is supporting a military that is involved in a dubious war in Afghanistan that has led to the pointless death of several dozen Canadians and Christ-knows-how-many Afghanis. We're none of us innocent. But what are Canadian writers protesting? Cuts to arts funding--which at this point don't seem to actually exist, but everyone's afraid they will. Natch. Keep fightin' the good fight, Yann!
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 7:54 PM
On Thursday, back in Vancouver, to catch Rachel reading at the Robson Reading Series with Christopher Patton and, apparently a late edition to the bill, Shane Rhodes. I reviewed his new book and found most of it uninspired, but there are a couple or three very good poems in it. Patton's writing I've been following for a while and am looking forward to reading his book, recently published by Signal Editions. He's an excellent, intelligent critic and I've liked very much several of the poems I've seen. Speaking of metrics, he's one of a rare breed: a devotee of syllabics. I've always found syllabics, because basically visual, a bit of an odd, even arbitrary, method to use in a stress-heavy language like English (my own bias is towards the accentual side of the accentual-syllabic divide), but there's no denying the fact that Marianne Moore--and now Patton--have fashioned fascinating verse forms from it. Another example of why one should make an orthodoxy of nothing in this craft and sullen art.
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 3:16 PM
Friday, June 8, 2007
I had a good bunch of passengers on the way to Winnipeg and my dome car wasn't too crowded. Ironically, May ("off-season") was very busy, whereas June (beginning of "peak season") is forecast to be pretty slow. Which is okay for me personally, but I sometimes worry about the future of our priceless, but unprofitable, passenger rail system.
Anyway, everyone seemed to have a good time and one passenger even gave me a plug on his blog! One thing about this job, you meet people from all over the world and a lot of them have led pretty interesting lives. I had a chat the other night with a woman about my age who's on her way, via St. Catharine's ON, to grad school in London, England. She used to study at UVic, where it turns out she was a student of Eric Miller's. She seemed relieved to meet someone younger (the demographic cohort of 1st Class train travellers tends to be 50-85) with an interest in books. Speaking of which, on the first night of the trip, I came across a co-worker, David Streit, tapping away on an old Smith Corona portable typewriter. Turns out he's a writer-type in Winnipeg, on the board of CV2. Very cool guy; we had some good chats on the way here and he bought a copy of my book. At one point, he said that sometimes he feels like "the only one" (i.e. writer on the crew); I know how he feels. But I kinda like it that way.
I'm reading a wonderfully strange long poem, The Mundiad, by an Aussie named Justin Clemens. Funny and bawdy. Very much in the style of Pope, highly allusive, but very contemporary, too.
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 6:58 AM
Thursday, June 7, 2007
No, this isn't a post about how I feel today. I can sense your love, CLM readers.
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 12:19 PM
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 12:12 PM
Tuesday, June 5, 2007
Airstream Land Yacht, although I have mixed feelings about it, is a book worthy of notice and it contains a handful of Babstock's best poems, especially "Palindromic" and "The World's Hub." But that's not why I figured it would win the Griffin. Like I say, it was the announcement of the jury, not reading the book, that led to my prediction. The big problem with these prizes isn't that they always go to unworthy winners--although they often do--but that, even when the winner is a good pick, the decision is too often traceable to nepotistic networks. The Griffin Jury consists of Karen Solie (an old friend of Babstock's), Charles Simic (co-editor of the anthology New British Poetry, published and prefaced by Babstock at House of Anansi, and John Burnside, a contributor to said anthology. McKay is also connected to Solie, through Brick Books, Solie's publisher: McKay is a central member of Brick's editorial board. Priscilla Uppal seems to be the sacrificial lamb of the shortlist. It may or may not be significant that, on a list whose favourites are both pale-skinned fellows, she is neither. Call me a cynic, but what I've read of her poetry makes me doubt she was chosen for literary reasons. Back to Babstock, it has also been pointed out that Babstock is not only published by House of Anansi but is also employed by said press, and that House of Anansi is owned by Scott Griffin, founder of the Griffin Prize for Excellence in Poetry. In theory and possibly in fact as well, this should have zero impact on the decision, but added to the mix, it makes the integrity of this prestigious prize pretty easy to doubt, don't it?
I've long had serious reservations about the awards culture that predominates these days. I was recently asked to judge an award. I was tempted to accept, if only to see firsthand what went on. But I was informed by the prize administrators that the entries were pre-screened and that I would read only the ones deemed appropriate by the administrator. I said that I'd only agree if I could read all the books. They said no. So did I. I imagine one form or another of this kind of backroom manipulation occurs in most prizes. (When I wrote a column on the Griffin Prize a few years ago, I asked if I could see a list of titles submitted to the award. The administrator I wrote to accidentally cc'd an email to me intended for another Prize official in which she said, "If we tell him what was submitted, then he'll know what wasn't submitted." And we can't have that, now can we?) The ReLit Award has gone so far, this year, as to keep its jury composition secret, presumably to deflect attention away from political speculation towards the books themselves. But really, all this does is add fuel to the speculative fires and give jurors who want to reward their friends more protection from criticism. Let's face it, these prizes, no matter how scrupulously run, are not objective, so to pretend otherwise is to perpetrate a fraud of sorts.
So, you ask, why do I care at all? Why not just ignore the whole sordid business, take the high road, etc.? It's mostly because, as a reviewer and critic, I try to spark honest, engaged discussion about poetry. These awards are also about shining light on poetry, but it's more of a spotlight than a floodlight, leaving far more obscure than illumined. Whereas criticism should strike a balance between censure and celebration, these glitzy prizes are all good news and marketing (it was clear to me, attending recent BC Book Prizes events, that the sponsors were far more important than the authors). I know several poets who have been nominated for these awards have come out of the process highly disenchanted, feeling more than a little used and abused. The prizes aren't about to go away, however; the more people chip away at their tarnished credibility, the less influence they'll have on what gets taken seriously by the public, media and academies. At least, that's what I like to think...
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 7:43 AM