Friday, November 30, 2007
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 9:44 PM
Thursday, November 29, 2007
The Nature Poet is flying cross-country, presenting his work to scholars and students.
The Nature Poet is using his Air Miles.
The Nature Poet is saddened by global warming and the state of our forests.
The Nature Poet is pleased that his latest collection is unbleached, recycled and Ancient
The Nature Poet cares deeply.
If you don’t believe it, just ask him.
The Nature Poet is troubled by his status as both Self and Other.
The Nature Poet would like to thank his mother.
The Nature Poet is pondering “The Question Concerning Technology.”
The Nature Poet is seriously considering the purchase of a hybrid car.
The Nature Poet is profoundly aware.
The Nature Poet has stopped cutting his hair.
The Nature Poet has a large soul.
The Nature Poet has left a big bootprint.
The Nature Poet is a geothermal force.
The Nature Poet is selling hot air to the grid.
The Nature Poet thinks Wordsworth a jerk.
The Nature Poet sounds a lot like Wordsworth.
The Nature Poet has let go his ego.
The Nature Poet told me so.
The Nature Poet does not anthropomorphize.
The Nature Poet is a featherless biped.
The Nature Poet’s gaze is unpossessive.
The Nature Poet carries Audubon everywhere.
The Nature Poet has an affinity for birds.
The Nature Poet likes how they resemble himself.
The Nature Poet has a hate-on for language.
The Nature Poet talks of silence incessantly.
The Nature Poet despises the market.
The Nature Poet urges you buy his book at your local.
The Nature Poet is perfectly sincere.
You can tell by the way he rolls his own smokes.
The Nature Poet is paying attention.
The Nature Poet has entered the building.
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 10:23 AM
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Rachel and I had a drink with Liz Bachinsky and her hubby Blake after the event. Very nice to hang out with them, after not seeing them for several weeks.
Picked up a copy of Quill & Quire prior to the reading. The December issue has two reviews by yours truly, covering 5 books (4 poetry books in one review, making for way-too-short evaluations, and Bringhurst's book in a separate, "starred" review). This issue also has the Books of the Year, reprinting reviews of highlight books for 2007. In the poetry category is Barbara Nickel's Domain, which I reviewed for the July/August issue. As I've said repeatedly here and elsewhere, this is a book that you really should check out. Also in this issue is a round-table discussion of Margaret Atwood's Survival, which should be interesting. There seems to be a lot of this sort of thing going around, such as the one I took part in ex post facto, which was posted at Northern Poetry Review a while back. Long live the Victim Position! Sheesh.
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 11:57 PM
Rachel and I are heading into town this evening to attend the launch of Robert Bringhurst's new book of essays Everywhere Being is Dancing. My review of same is in the new issue of Quill & Quire. I can't urge you strongly enough to read this book; Bringhurst is one of the most important thinkers of our time, a wonderful stylist and a renaissance man of sheer polymath brilliance.
If you're in the Vancouver area, you should come to the launch. Details as follows:
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
7:00pm - 9:00pm
UBC Bookstore at Robson Square
800 Robson Street (between Hornby & Howe)
Hope to see you there!
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 10:04 AM
Monday, November 26, 2007
I've been told that I use more short words than I ought to. There's some justice in this charge, but it's not something that troubles me overmuch. I can turn it off as required (e.g. while serving the first class passengers onboard the train) and tend to only give my stevedore's mouth free rein in comfortable situations and/or when under the influence of strong drink. It also, contrary to parental warnings, does not seem to have had a deleterious effect on the breadth and depth of my vocabulary. The other thing I'm often accused of is using too many big words...
Turns out I probably swear a lot because I've been immersed in a number of all- or mostly-male environments in my life (sports teams, boarding school, university dorm, airline cargo), and men swear more, on average than women. So says Steven Pinker, among many other fascinating things, in a fifty-page chapter on bad language in his new book The Stuff of Thought.
I was particularly interested in this chapter because swearing is something I've thought about--and done--a lot as a writer. My grandmother once lamented my use of "all those words" in my book, and Ludicrous Parole has a fair bit of dirty diction too. A reading host once suggested to me that I "choose other poems" the next time I read at that venue, because some of the regular audience members probably didn't appreciate my salty tongue. I had a poem about two dogs fucking, read during a taped interview on CBC, not broadcast. And one of the conditions imposed upon me in the CBC Poetry Faceoff a couple years ago was that I couldn't use any "blue language"--a restriction I semi-circumvented by hiding the word "fucking" in an acrostic. I haven't done this to be shocking--Christ knows how hard it is to shock any intelligent, educated person these days--but out of a conviction that in certain circumstances, less pungent word choices would be the artistic equivalent of a lie. (Which isn't to say that I tell "the Truth" in my poems, but that poetry requires a certain verbal fidelity that can't be faked.) Fucks and shits and cunts and assholes permeate the speech of several communities in which I've been immersed; to write about these folk and these places whilst omitting such characteristic ejaculations would be to misrepresent them.
I wrote about this a couple of years ago for Quill & Quire. The editor who worked on the piece with me advised as follows:
I wanted to cut one clause from one line: "... and from Dan Rintoul, who told me about moonshine that tasted like old cunts and boxing gloves...." I want to cut it because it's so spectacularly crude that it seems to interupt the flow of the piece, or at least it did for me. We also have a lot of genteel readers, so I figured that if it jarred me it would probably give them a heart attack. I would leave the second "cunt" in, though, and all the other insults and stuff, but the boxing-glove analogy just seemed too much.
I agreed to the deletion because this was far from a censorious edit on the whole, but when I gave the U of T an artist's statement for their website, I gave them the original version because I still thought the line made a valid and vital point.
I was glad, then, to encounter the following statement from Pinker, whose acumen I hold in the highest regard:
The responsibility of writers is to give a "just and lively image of human nature," and that includes portraying a character's language realistically when their art calls for it. When Norman Mailer wrote his true-to-life novel about World War II, The Naked and the Dead, in 1948, he knew it would be a betrayal of his depiction of the soldiers to have them speak without swearing. His compromise with the sensibilities of the day was to have them use the pseudo-epithet fug. (When Dorothy Parker met him she said, "So you're the man who doesn't know how to spell fuck.") Sadly, this prissiness is not a thing of the past. Some public television stations today are afraid to broadcast Martin Scorsese's documentary on the history of the blues and Ken Burns's documentary on World War II because of the salty language in their interviews with musicians and soldiers. The prohibition against swearing in broadcast media makes artists and historians into liars, and subverts the responsibility of grown-ups to learn how life is lived in worlds distant from their own.
Hear, hear! Pinker also talks at length about the sonic values and "phonetic symbolism" of swear words. He quotes the linguist Geoffrey Hughes:
While it may be objected, quite validly, that most swearing makes no attempt at originality, ... certain affinities with poetry can be observed. In both fields the language used is highly charged and very metaphorical; extreme, pointed effects are created by alliteration or by playing off different registers of the word-hoard against each other, and rhythm is very important.
Indeed. I don't think you can tease my predilection for les mots maudits from my addiction to concrete Anglo-Saxon diction and the alliterative effects such language affords. Some of my poems I think of as the sort of thing Hopkins might have written had he been for the devil instead of for God.
Pinker concludes the chapter most eloquently:
When used judiciously, swearing can be hilarious, poignant, and uncannily descriptive. More than any other form of language, it recruits our expressive faculties to the fullest: the combinatorial power of syntax; the evocativeness of metaphor; the pleasure of alliteration, meter, and rhyme; and the emotional charge of our attitudes, both thinkable and unthinkable. It engages the full expanse of the brain: left and right, high and low, ancient and modern. Shakespeare, no stranger to earthy imprecations himself, had Caliban speak for the entire human race when he said, "You taught me language, and my profit on't is, I know how to curse."
Which is one of the epigrams to Ludicrous Parole. See, Grammy, I knew what I was doing! Fuckin' rights.
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 7:03 PM
Sunday, November 25, 2007
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 10:48 PM
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 3:54 PM
Saturday, November 24, 2007
Got back the anticipated slip yesterday, in which the editor said "I found the imagery interesting and the ideas accessible, but I wasn't always convinced the rhyme schemes added to the poems." I got a good chuckle out of this, as among the 12 poems were two poems in a kind of Skeltonic falling rhyme; a ballade; a canzone; three sonnets (one a translation, one a list poem set as a more or less orthodox Shakespearean, and one irregularly rhymed, so presumably not one of the offending poems); a poem with seven quatrains, all rhymed ABBA (same rhymes in all 4 stanzas); a 16-line anaphoric litany of 4 ABAB quatrains in which each A rhyme is feminine and each B rhyme masculine; and "Achromatope," a dramatic monologue in pentameter couplets. In other words, in a brief collection of intensely formal experiments, if the rhyme schemes don't "add to the poems," then there's precious little besides paraphrased content left over once you've "removed" the schemes! Except, I guess, some "interesting imagery" and "accessible ideas." Which seems to be what the majority of editors care about and which, in the absence of formal rigour, verbal dash and syntactic vigour, tend to produce the kind of faintly praisable "craft" that one sees in most places and which most of the best poets are now turning away from quite decisively.
I'm not saying that this editor should like my poems and should have accepted my manuscript. Clearly, it wasn't a fit. But for a poetry editor to have what appears to be the misconception that rhyme schemes (or other formal elements in a poem) either "add to" or don't "add to" a poem is telling of how bad most people--even those who do it professionally--have got at reading poems. Rhymes and other patterns of sound aren't frosting, they're integral ingredients; poems either succeed or fail or fall somewhere in between. What she says is a bit like complimenting a cake for its flavour and texture, "but I'm not sure that the flour and sugar add to it." To be fair, maybe this is just shorthand on her part for "I'm not into these poems and I have to provide some sort of rationalization of this to you." Or maybe she meant that the subject matter and structures aren't jibing. In the absence of specific criticisms, it's hard to tell, but I have to wonder why one would bother to share this kind of vagueness without elaboration (which poems? which rhymes?), unless it's just the reflexive dismissal of poems that are self-consciously structured. Why not just say, "Sorry, not for us"?
I rented the movie "Fido" last night. The clerk at the store said enthusiastically that it looked like "such an interesting movie." It's a freaking zombie satire flick, not a documentary on the courtship rituals of cephalopods! Bad adjective choice. But she's a store clerk, not a film critic, so fair enough. A poetry editor, if she's going to commit to a statement of aesthetic judgment, should be able to do a wee bit better.
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 4:41 PM
Sunday, November 18, 2007
Also had the pleasure of meeting Trevor Cole--of Authors Aloud fame--in person, and saw Chris Banks, who I missed last night due to my late arrival at Paul Vermeersch's birthday bash.
Only sold one book, and Meaghan had a package of three books for me from Quill & Quire, so my gross baggage weight has gone up again. Someone who travels as much as I do should really learn to pack light... But good books to get: Robert Bringhurst's new collection of essays and Stephen Brockwell's new poetry collection, both of which I reviewed for Q&Q and recommend, especially the Bringhurst book. As a bonus, I got a new bio of Joseph Conrad.
I'm back on the rails Tuesday, heading home. It's been a great trip, but I can't wait.
UPDATE: Here's the reading of Joe Girard and Jennifer McCartney.
And here's my reading, for anyone who really wanted to go, but couldn't make it. I'm off to Vancouver by train. See you in a few days, eh.
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 10:14 PM
The first was a gathering of people from the University of King's College, where I did my undergrad. Had a very fine time and saw a bunch of folks I'd not seen in years. King's tends to attract exceptionally bright and talented people, and no surprise, the conversation quickly became more interesting than the standard so-what-have-you-been-up-to of such gatherings.
Round midnight, I head over to the Victory Cafe to catch the tail-end of Paul Vermeersch's birthday bash. Good times. Stumbled back into my cousin's place around 3:30 and was woken by the damn sun around 8. I think I'll back to bed to get some rest for my reading tonight.
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 6:48 AM
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Here's the second recording. (Sarah Neville; Jennifer Houle; Ryan Marshall; Melissa Walker; Vanessa Moeller; Laura Pearson.)
Here's the third . (Daniel Renton; Gerry Beirne; Shane Rhodes; Katia Grubisic; Kathy Mac; Lynn Davies; Tammy Armstrong.)
A musical interlude of sorts, featuring Leigh Kotsilidis on guitar and vocals, at the Saturday night party (more like Sunday morning at this point) at Sharon McCartney and Mark Jarman's house.
Here's the fourth, the first set of readings on Sunday, November 4. (Kay Weber; Laurence Hutchman; Patricia Young; Diane Reid; John Lofranco; Hugh Thomas.) I really liked Patricia Young's creepy baby poem and Hugh Thomas' warped imagination.
Number five, including yours truly near the end. (Patrick Leach; Jesse Ferguson; Shane Rhodes; Sharon McCartney; Wayne Clifford; James Langer; Zachariah Wells; Nicholas Lea.) James Langer's first book doesn't exist yet, but when it does, you should get it--he's the real deal. Another highlight of this set is Shane Rhodes' reading of his tour-de-force oenophile oulipian alliteration. (When I do a proper post, I'll list all readers at each one, but I don't have the energy to sweep thru them all now.)
The sixth and final reading, featuring my pals from littlefishcartpress, Jeramy Dodds, Gabe Foreman, Josh Trotter and Leigh Kotsilidis, as well as Melanie Bell; Melissa Walker; Brecken Hancock; Carson Butts (in that order, at the beginning). Jeramy and I are, I believe, the only out-of-towners to attend all 4 poetry weekends. And we're usually the last ones up at the Saturday night party, arguing about one thing or another until it's almost time to get up for the Sunday morning reading.
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 4:38 PM
I've heard reports of a couple of different people working independently on an antho of Canadian train poems. There seems to be at least one--good, bad or indifferent--in just about every Canuck bard's oeuvre, so it could be a pretty decent book (or books) if it ever materialises.
I just got into Halifax today from PEI. By bus, alas, tho it wasn't a bad trip, considering how short of sleep and hungover I was. I had supper at my uncle Chris's last night and drank far more than I realized. A fine time. Chris and I always have terrific talks.
I'm in town for a couple of nights, taking care of a bit of business with my house (see post at the top) and visiting some friends. But my sister's condo, where I'm staying, has no phone, so I think I'm going to have to venture out to find a payphone.
Friday, I hit the rails westbound, for three nights in the Toronto area before heading back to Vancouver. It's been a good little tour, but I'm ready for home. Very ready. Lots of work to do, too, which I'm looking forward to, now that my dayjob's been nixed.
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 2:37 PM
Monday, November 12, 2007
I posted a while back about John Mutford offering my book as a prize in the contest he's running on his blog. Well, the other day, he told me that some lucky soul had won a copy of Unsettled. Turns out that person's on PEI, in Charlottetown, and I was heading into Charlottetown today, so figured I'd drop it off in person rather than waste postage.
The rest can be read on the lucky winner's blog.
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 5:31 PM
Saturday, November 10, 2007
Had a good bull session with John MacKenzie today. We decided burning books ain't such a horrible thing.
A bit of snow drifting down tonight, but doesn't look like it'll stick. Was going to chop wood tomorrow, and might still, but the forecast looks lousy. Should finish working on this review. I've been reading Tim Bowling's The Lost Coast for Vancouver Review. I owe them copy on it in ten days. A fine book so far. Flawed, but sublime in parts. Which, as per Longinus, beats the snot outta polished mediocrity. To paraphrase.
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 4:00 PM
Friday, November 9, 2007
I'm a wreck and tomorrow it'll be worse. Stay tuned for more typical CLM fare. I'm going into Charlottetown tomorrow and hope to snag a wireless connection, whereupon I'll try uploading those audio files from Fredericton again. No promises, but I'll give it a whirl.
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 3:11 PM
Thursday, November 8, 2007
Speaking of hi-tech, I haven't been able to upload the Fredericton readings yet because my computer's not online and this computer doesn't have the requisite files on its hard drive. My folks just got satellite internet here and haven't got all the intricacies figured out yet.
Looks like we've got a promising lead on tenants for our apartment. Checking some references today. Fingers crossed. Got some reviewing to tend to. Yes, even on holidays. I try to foist it off on the interns, but what with no pay and a bread-n-water diet, it's hard to get them to produce good work.
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 7:03 AM
Tuesday, November 6, 2007
I'm having a fabulous time in Moncton, but no time for a full post now. Tremendous day reading poems at grade 9's today in my friend Art's classes. More anon. I'm off to PEI tomorrow morning for some r&r with the fam.
Here's a not-so-candid shot of me with Art and two of his students:
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 9:06 PM
Sunday, November 4, 2007
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 3:34 PM