Sunday, August 31, 2008

Michael Bryson on Jailbreaks

I didn't even know before today that Danforth Review prime mover Michael Bryson had a blog, so I was pleasantly surprised to see his review of Jailbreaks pop up in my google alerts.

Friday, August 29, 2008

John Mutford on Jailbreaks

Over at The Book Mine Set, John Mutford has posted a review of Jailbreaks. He objects to me putting none of my own sonnets in, which is a criticism I can live with!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Fraser River We See

Thanks to Don Denton at Literary Photographer for pointing out this brilliant and fascinating essay by Terry Glavin. Read it.

Hank's debut review

Picked up the new issue of Quill & Quire just now, in which appears a pre-publication review of Anything But Hank! by a children's author named Richard Scrimger. It's a mixed review, leaning towards the negative. The story is "a cool take on the classic dilemma of naming the baby"; but "[t]he poetry too often limps and staggers." The art fares better, Eric's paintings being "lush, strange, and evocative throughout," and the writing does get some props from Scrimger, as "some phrases really resonate." I wonder what kind of review his kids might give it...

Mark it on your calendars, Ottawa-area readers

I'm going to be in Ottawa for the Ottawa International Writers Festival in October. There will be a reading from Jailbreaks, by myself and several contributors, on Saturday, October 25 at 2 pm. (I'm excited to see that my event follows one by Steven Pinker, one of my favourite science writers.) There is also a reading from our forthcoming kids' book, Anything But Hank! on the 24th; I gather it's in a classroom setting, but I haven't heard any details yet. On the 26th, I'll be heading to Montreal for a joint launch of JB and Arc magazine; time and place TBA.

A Little Press for Aqua Books

Thanks to Peter at Cancult for pointing out this article on second hand booksellers. Nice to see Kelly Hughes' Winnipeg store Aqua Books mentioned. I make a point of visiting Aqua every time I'm here in the 'Peg--both for the book browsing and for the very fine food at the Eat Bistro.

Desk Space

I'm featured this week, along with Brenda Schmidt, on Evie Christie's cool new blog, Desk Space.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Once again, my days off have evaporated far too quickly. I'm off to Winnipeg tomorrow. Hopefully a smoother trip than my last one, as interesting as it turned out to be. TTFN

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Sad News

Learned today that the I.V. Lounge, longtime site of the eponymous reading series, is closing down. A real shame. I've had some very good times and memorable readings in that place over the years (including the recent launch of Jailbreaks, after which the I.V.'s manager, Kevin, very kindly let a few of us miscreants loiter long into the morning hours), as I'm sure many other writers would testify. With the recent deterioration of the Art Bar series, this leaves a significant hole in the vibrant live reading scene in Toronto.

Mayne report

Had a fab time with the fam on Mayne Island over the weekend. We were there for the nups of my old university friend and roommate, Sean and his partner of seven-odd years, Brook. The weather cooperated beautifully (it only started pouring the morning after the wedding), the ceremony and receptions were very fine (at least the parts of the ceremony we caught before we got distracted by Kaleb's crying and dirty diaper) and it was great to hang out with a few friends I'd not seen in years.

My rental car almost got struck by a buck last night, just as I was about to pull into the driveway of our B&B. There were deer all over the backroads of Mayne at night.

Here are a few photos from the weekend.

Kaleb, fat n happy

The fam at Georgina Point, the beautiful site of Sean and Brook's wedding

Strikin' a pose on the brass bed at Fairview Farm

New CNQ content online

There's a whole whack of new content up at the CNQ website. Check it out.

Ivy at 100

Very cool story on Rachel's great-aunt Ivy in the Vancouver Sun today. When I get back from my next railroad trip, I'll be high-tailing it over to Ivy's 100th birthday party.

Friday, August 22, 2008


Rachel, Kaleb and I are off to Mayne Island for the weekend, to celebrate my old friend and former roommate's nups. Should be fun. TTFN

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Riddle Fence

Just got a note from my opposite-coast pal Mark Callanan. The mag he edits, Riddle Fence (not to be confused with Raddle Moon or Fiddlehead), is looking for submissions. So send him something, eh.


At the all-in resort,
while my buddies sun-bathed
by day and chased tail for sport
in strobe-lit bars after dark,
I drank in the shade,
didn’t shave,
muttered “Let ‘em come
to me if they want some.”
They didn’t.
One night the cool kids
conned that eager dumb
schmuck Durrett into chugging
a full tumbler of 151 rum,
whereupon he staggered
down the dew-drenched beach
to plant his shit-bagged
face in the sand--where he barfed.
A scabby stray bitch
appeared to lap the puke
from his lips. Each
day, I woke half-drunk,
had three beers for breakfast.
Each day, the buzz
got harder to build, till at last
I’d drunk myself sober.
Seemed like good fun
at the time. Suppose it was.
I’m not sorry it’s over.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Salon des Refusés

The new issue of CNQ--paired with an issue of The New Quarterly, challenging the Jane Urquhart edited Penguin Anthology of Short Stories--has certainly been garnering a great deal of attention. I heard Adrian Michael Kelly talking about the raging debate on CBC's Q today. The interview's been podcast, and it's well worth a listen if you missed it. The answer to Jian Gomeschi's question about the subjectivity of excellence is that Urquhart herself has said that excellence wasn't necessarily the defining criterion for the choices--both inclusions and exclusions--that she made. It has been widely noted that almost none of the authors in the Penguin book publish with small presses (Carol Windley, a past Giller nominee, being a notable exception). So it might reasonably be posited that a chief criterion for Urquhart was name-brand recognition, particularly considering--as Kelly and others have observed--that Michael Ondaatje, not a noted short-story writer, has two pieces (excerpts of a book-length memoir) in the Penguin book.

I'm still waiting for my copies of the magazines. I'm looking forward to it. I have to admit that the short story is a form I often neglect as a reader. Not because I don't like the form as such; I just seem to have a hard time fitting story collections into my schedule, which involves reading a lot of poetry and non-fiction along with the odd novel. A lame argument, considering that most short stories can be read in a sitting. Whenever I do pick up a book of stories by a terrific writer like Kafka or Borges--or Rooke or Jarman--I think I should read more. Maybe once I figure out how to live without a dayjob...


I got word the other day that George McWhirter is taking my poem "Leg-in-Boot Square" for his Vancouver verse map anthology. Also might be taking "Heron, False Creek." If he does, that would make "Heron" my most-anthologized poem. Ha. I'm looking forward to this book. It's a really neat idea. My poem "Pat's Grocery" appeared in a similar Halifax anthology, edited by then-laureate Sue McLeod, a couple of years ago. That was a beautifully produced book, with poems, stories and photos, designed inside and out by my old university pal Aaron Harpell of Hammerhead Design. One hopes that Anvil Press comes close to producing so appealing a book.

Trip Report

Things didn't start well. When I got to work on Friday, I was told that the inbound train was about 12 hours late and that our train couldn't leave until after it got in because there wasn't enough staff to crew it. So, after the skeleton crew that was on hand scrambled to get the train set up, we boarded passengers as usual and commenced service, while the train sat at the platform for four hours. We wound up arriving in Winnipeg more than six hours late. Along the way, an elderly gentleman did a faceplant on the platform in Jasper, doing himself minor injury. Shortly after that, another old fellah somehow managed to rip a patch of skin off his arm in my car and I had to perform first aid on him. Most of the passengers were in one or another tour group, so I didn't have much personal interaction with the people. Which was fine by me.

Our late arrival into Winnipeg meant that, according to our CBA, I shouldn't have had to work home. We actually got into Winnipeg 35 minutes after the westbound train was supposed to leave, but it was nine hours late. And because Winnipeg's "spareboard" was also depleted, only one of the Vancouver-based employees was allowed to deadhead home. So I boarded the train at 1 am determined to do the absolute bare minimum that was required of me. I largely succeeded in this, but on the last day of the trip, after passing thru the Rockies in darkness, we went thru the Thompson and Fraser Canyons in broad daylight. The novelty and splendor of the scenery--along with the "natural health beverages" (a.k.a. liquid speed) I was drinking to keep my sorry ass awake--renewed my enthusiasm for my job and I started talking to passengers more. I met a lovely couple from Seattle, who it turns out are close friends of Heather Spears'. I know Heather a bit as she wrote for me a fine review of several translations of Danish poetry for the translation issue of CNQ.

I missed some real excitement en route. Because of our delays, we pulled into Jasper at 12:30 am. Because I wasn't required for the detraining and entraining of passengers, I was already asleep and dreaming by this point. While we were stopped in Jasper, a flash thunderstorm hit. Colleagues of mine reported that a tree within view of the platform was struck by lightning during the torrential downpour. Kind of disappointed I missed it. But relieved it missed us, at least. A big steel tube on steel rails is about the last place I want to be during an electrical storm...

We hauled into Pacific Central Station more than 10 hours late, but it wound up being a pretty enjoyable trip in spite of it. I'm still exhausted, even after a full night's sleep--albeit slightly interrupted by Kaleb. I might be coming down from my natural health high...

In other news, Kaleb had his final post-partum midwife visit yesterday. In six weeks, he's gained three pounds, four ounces (he's now 12-7) and has grown 2 inches to 24. He's sleeping longer (sometimes) and has had his first bottle feed. They grow up so fast.

Jailbreaks reviewed in the Star

Despite the shrinkage of the Toronto Star's book coverage, they found some space for a review of Jailbreaks, along with a collection by one of its contributors, Alan R. Wilson (another expat Maritimer living out here). A bit puzzling to me that Carey's one criticism is the antho's "reliance on past masters" when, as Alex Good pointed out in his review, the book is heavily tilted towards the present.

Crazy train trip (serves me right for saying what a routine summer it's been), about which I'll post tomorrow when I'm a little more human. We incurred over 16 hours in delays during my five days on the road. As I said to one of my colleagues, my sorry-muscle is sprained.

Off to Mayne Island with Rachel and Kaleb on the 22nd for an old friend's wedding. Should be shits and giggles. Well, shits anyway. K has yet to giggle. But he is smiling a great deal.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

In transit

As I said I would, I spent the last several days on Lasqueti Island without my computer. It was a nice break. I read a lot. Out of books. (Including the fascinating The Brain that Changes Itself by Norman Doidge and The Gift of Stones, an early novel by Jim Crace, who's rapidly becoming one of my favourite living novelists. I've just started a more recent book of his, called Six, after reading, twice, the brilliant Being Dead and his latest, The Pesthouse. Such a good stylist.) How quaint. That's what life on an off-grid island'll do to you I guess. Also did a fair bit of walking and a bit of wood-splitting, which is one of my favourite physical activities, such a fine combination of meditation and aggression.

Here's a shot of me and Kaleb on the beach:

And here we are doing what the Wells boys do best:

His time with Rachel tends to be more manic:

I wish I could've stayed longer, but duty calls. I'm off to Winnipeg tomorrow aft. It's one of my short no-layover trips. Not really looking forward to it, but I'm sure it'll be fine. It's been a singularly uneventful summer on the rails for me. A few modestly late trains, but no real crazy things have happened. Just as well. I've got 8 trips left or so until my layoff. Lots of projects to finish up--two books I've been writing (one collection of poems, one of critical prose), two books I'm editing, on top of the regular editing and reviewing work--, so I'm really looking forward to a bit more time and headspace to work on 'em.

I'll have to be efficient, as we're planning to move back to Halifax in April and there'll be lots to do to get ready for that. We've given BC a good go, and it has lots going for it to be sure, but we miss our half-boho, half-bourgeois Halifax life, in which we lived in our own house instead of someone else's basement. This city's just too damn expensive for folks like us to get ahead. Thanks to a combination of good fortune and shrewd management, we haven't fallen behind, but everything we've done here has had a provisional feel to it and it can't realistically be otherwise, barring a sudden unexpected windfall.

All for now. I'll probably be back in five days or so.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

How Poems Work: AG Bailey's "Elm"

My little essay on AG Bailey's sonnet "Elm" (which is included in Jailbreaks) is up on Arc's website.


Some people prefer a keen and perfect
Cutting edge, a right-angled sheet trimmed neat
With borders that might snick an errant

Fingertip. Others play it safer, seek
Corners that are curved or bevel, the better
To deflect attack, embraces and attention.

My own predilection is for the deckled
Indents of a homemade page, fibre-flecked
And textured like a slept-in bed still dented

From the press of its residents, a set
Of lovers well fitted to each other’s
Folding flaws, growing more attached each week

As they fade and sag and grey together.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

On the Road

Off to Winnipeg again this evening, trala. Then I'll be heading over to Lasqueti Island to join Rach and her mum for some R&R. Been far too long since I made it over there. Likely sans computer, so CLM will be on a bit of a hiatus.

Friday, August 1, 2008

A Serious Matter

There's been a bit too much fluff here on CLM of late, so I wanted to pose a serious question:

Is Paul Vermeersch becoming Don McKay?