Friday, November 30, 2007

A Prank Gone Awry or Serious Misdeeds?

Got an email from a high-school friend of mine today with a link to this story about our alma mater. Naturally, it's too vague to have any idea what actually happened, so one can only speculate. Certainly, when I went there nothing of this nature, involving an international police investigation happened. But when you think of it, fairly routine occurrences like wedgies and certain not-too-extreme sports team initiations could be construed reasonably as physical or sexual assaults and there's more and more senstivity about such things. I have ambivalent feelings about this. I don't think that wedgies and initiations are just innocent fun, boys being boys, but they--or at least the versions of them I've experienced--certainly don't strike me as criminal matters. But maybe it's something else. We'll probably never hear the whole story in the media, given the age of the people involved.

Runaway Jury

Alex Good has posted his annual "Runaway Jury," in which three "jurors" review the GG poetry shortlist. It always makes for interesting reading and makes me wonder why the deliberations for most prizes are cloaked in such secrecy. Seems the Canada Council is missing a bet here. I took part in the first Runaway Jury in 2004, in which Alex, Steven Laird and I pretty much unanimously voted for David Manicom's book The Burning Eaves: the actual winner that year, Roo Borson's Short Journey Upriver Toward Oishida, didn't even come close.

Seems like all three of this year's jurors (Alex, Carmine Starnino and Paul Vermeersch) have similar takes on the 2007 list to my own. All I can say is I'm glad Atwood's book didn't win the actual GG, and it seems like the Runaway Jury made a good choice from the bad options they were given. Based on what was said about Domanski's book, I think I'm going to have to check it out, along with his earlier work.

There are a lot of insightful comments made by all three jurors along the way. I would agree with Carmine's observation, for instance, that Lee's book is more professionally interesting--and it is, very much so--than truly gripping. And overall, I'm glad to see the actual jury--not to mention publishers and editors--getting called to task for selecting books that are neither well-written nor well-edited. Carmine's right that Canadian poetry is in the middle of a highly charged historical moment; the runaway jury confirms just how bad institutions are at recognizing such things. I can't help thinking of Robert Sirman's clarion called for less rewarded mediocrity in Canadian arts when he took over the reins of the Canada Council. I hope the CC's doing better fulfilling this vague goal with art forms other than literature.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Special CNQ Subscription Gift Offer

Dan Wells has a special offer on: buy 2 Canadian Notes & Queries gift subscriptions, get one free for yourself. Check it out.


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 Forest Friendly.

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.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Bringhurst Launch Report

An interesting evening. Bringhurst decided to read the first paragraph or few of every piece in the book, which wasn't, I think, an altogether successful experiment, but it did give a bit of a flavour for the audience. I would have preferred to have heard him read all of one piece rather than snippets of all. But still wonderful to hear him read his own words. And you can hear them too, as, with Mr. Bringhurst's somewhat reluctant consent ("Do it if you want to," he said), I recorded tonight's reading. You can listen to it here.

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.

Robert Bringhurst Book Launch

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)
Vancouver, BC

Hope to see you there!

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.

Sunday, November 25, 2007


Got the PDF proofs of our kids' book today. A few minor glitches, which is to be expected at this stage, but the thing looks amazing. I can't wait till it exists in three dimensions. It's going to be 8" X 10", to give lots of space to Eric Orchard's awesome illustrations. Speaking of which, here are four of them, if you've not already had a gander:


I'm supposed to be cleaning up my office and getting myself organized to do piles and piles of work, but I keep getting sidetracked. I think the only way I get anything done is by having a dozen things on the go at once, so that procrastination from one activity leads to productivity in another. Anyway, I finally got around to updating the reading log on my website. It's pretty pathetic. I've been bad at finishing books lately. (See above.) In part, this is due to deficits in my attention span (and Scrabble on Facebook), in part due to my day-job (which is no longer an excuse), in part due to not running into a lot of books that have kept a grip on me, in part due to reading a lot of magazine articles, manuscripts and stuff online. I think reading things for review and for editorial purposes might be poisoning my reading practices. I'm tossing around the idea of taking 2008 off as a reviewer and getting back into reading really good books that I want to read.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Interesting Imagery, Accessible Ideas

On a lark a few months back, I submitted a chapbook manuscript to a press. I didn't think there was much chance this particular press would be into my stuff, since much, if not most, of the poetry they publish is of the quiescently lyric variety and this particular ms. was about as far from such as I've ventured. But I like their production values and some of their titles, so figured I'd give it a whirl.

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.

Rachel in Geist

Geist magazine recently reprinted a couple of excerpts from Rachel's book, and they've put them on-line. Check it out.

Back Home

Back in Vancouver today. Uneventful trip home. Not much to report. I should be getting back to regular posting now, as well as getting some overdue work done. More anon.

Sunday, November 18, 2007


My wonderful friends Aleks and Amy drove me, along with Meaghan Strimas, out to Hamilton tonight for my reading. It was great fun. Graciously organized and hosted by Adam Getty (pictured below giving yours truly a little Hamilton love), with strong readings by Hamilton locals Joe Girard and Jennifer McCartney. I recorded the event, but isn't letting me upload at the moment. Hopefully tomorrow morning.

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.

The Big Smoke

Got into Toronto yesterday afternoon, and after a good chat with my cousin headed out on the town. Somehow, tho I've never lived here, I know more people in Toronto, I think, than any other place in Canada. And, by sheer coincidence, there were two events last night to which I was invited.

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.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Audio at last!

I finally managed to upload the first of the Poetry Weekend readings. Eventually, when I get them all up, I'll do a formal annotated post with links. For now, you can listen to the first event here. (Stephanie York; Katie Brown; Danny Jacobs; Ross Leckie (reading his own work and George Johnston’s.)) The volume's faint because I was using the recorder from 6 or 7 rows back. The rest of the readings were recorded from the podium and are much louder and clearer.

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.


Eric Orchard has posted another of his beautiful illustrations for our forthcoming kids' book over at his blog. Check it out.

Verse on the Rails

Saw this article about a railway poetry anthology earlier today on Bookninja. Strangely, in my four years working on the rails, I've written very few poems directly inspired by the train and most of what I have attempted pleases me none too much (altho CLM regulars might remember this bitchy little sequence). Given what rich fodder it's been for other versifiers and given that I wrote a great deal about my last job, it's surprising that I've not been moved to write much about it. I think I likely will if I ever get around to writing a memoir/autobiography, but poems--not so much. Maybe working onboard and seeing how it all functions (or doesn't!) spoils the romance that passengers seem to experience. Maybe the fact that I can't sit around doing fuckall and being all contemplative blocks the lyric onrush. Maybe I'll wind up writing poems about it long after my railroad career is ended. Who knows? I sure would like to have a copy of that Everyman anthology, tho!

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.

Monday, November 12, 2007

House Call

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.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Continued delays

Well, I got my laptop on-line, but didn't have a good enough connection to upload those damn audio files. Apparently, it'll be easier once I convert them from .wav to MP3 format. Which I'll do. I promise. Really.

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.

Friday, November 9, 2007


At one point in my life manual labour was my metier. It's been a long time since that was the case. Today, my brother and I sawed and split and hauled and tossed firewood all afternoon. My dad bought a new Stihl chainsaw, a nice light 14" unit. Which my brother used. It was the first time he's wielded a chainsaw since he nearly removed his eyeball with my dad's old Murray White. We got the MW out and after much tinkering on my father's part, got it running. I used it on a few logs, but I'm really not much into chainsawing (there wasn't so much wood that we needed two saws on the go to get it done) and did most of the hauling instead, loading and unloading wheelbarrowloads of rounds. There's still a pile of bigger rounds waiting to be split... I'd write a poem about it, but Geoffrey Cook has already written the definitive log-splitting poem, so I don't need to bother. And it's true: At the edge of the chopping, there really aren't any secrets. Just a lot of swearing.

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.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

On the Island

Back home on the farm now. A lesson yesterday in not operating hi-tech equipment when sleep-deprived and hungover: I was uploading recordings of my classroom visits at Harrison Trimble High and, after successfully transferring the first one to my laptop, lost track of what I was doing and thought I'd uploaded all of them, whereupon I deleted the other three from the recorder--before uploading them to the laptop. So now lost and gone forever is yours truly reading "Arctic Rhododendrons" in his best Al Purdy voice. It's too bad because the sessions with the students got better as the day went on, the third and fourth being much superior to the first two. Alas. Lesson learned. Etc.

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.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007


Heyhey, kids!

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:

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Poetry Weekend

This is what happens when I leave my shell and go out into the world--no time for updates. It's been a tremendous weekend and I intended to post recordings of all the readings tonight, but is not cooperating at the moment and I need to get to bed before I head to Moncton to read poems to teenagers. I'll see if I can post the readings in the morning. Or rather, later in the morning, as it's already 3 am here. Somehow.