Friday, July 31, 2009

Guest Poet:

Frederick Goddard Tuckerman

Thin little leaves of wood fern, ribbed and toothed
Long curved sail needles of the green pitch pine,
With common sandgrass, skirt the horizon line,
And over these the incorruptible blue!
Here let me gently lie and softly view
All world asperities, lightly touched and smoothed
As by his gracious hand, the great Bestower.
What though the year be late? some colors run
Yet through the dry, some links of melody
Still let me be, by such, assuaged and soothed
And happier made, as when, our schoolday done,
We hunted on from flower to frosty flower,
Tattered and dim, the last red butterfly,
Or the old grasshopper molasses-mouthed.

"What no one wants to admit is that most of the so-called avant-garde poets can’t write, and most of the so-called lyric poets can’t think."

There's getting to be quite a few very sharp-eyed, -eared and -tongued poets and critics out there. Two of them, Michael Lista and Mark Callanan, put their heads together to talk about the work of a third, Jason Guriel. One thing I'd add to their remarks si that Jason's Pure Product isn't a criticism, tout court, of materialism. Insofar as it's a sidelong shot at overpadded poetry books, it's actually saying that poets by and large pay too little heed to their published work as product for consumption by readers. Entertainment is not, for Guriel, a crass, sub-artistic ambition. The delight to be found on just about every page of the book makes it a far more reader-friendly product than most collections out there.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Binding Arbitration

Strike's over, kids! Now wasn't that fun? Unfortunately, I was laid off before the strike and doubt that situation'll change post-strike, so I'm not cancelling the job application I made t'other day. But if I don't get it, I'll probably ride the railroad rollercoaster for a while longer, see how many scraps of work I can pick up. Of course, were a hundred thousand people to buy my new book--or hell, any of my old ones--I'd have it made and wouldn't have to worry about all this crap. So c'mon, people, throw me a frickin bone, will ya.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Track & Trace update

I can tell from the flood of pre-orders on that anticipation is building for the release of Track & Trace. Patience, my pretties, it's coming. I've just finished proofing the galleys and Seth is hard at work making it look pretty. We haven't seen any finished artwork yet, but he's given us an idea of what he's working on. Besides the cover--which it is rumoured will feature debossing .... ooooohhh, debossing--Seth is doing endpapers and three two-page spreads for the book. Can't wait to see it.

Bad to Worse

This year was already shaping up pretty poorly for me, work-wise. It looks like it's about to get a whole lot worse. Today, I'm applying for an 8 month contract as a recruitment officer with my alma mater. Fortunately, I already tell people what a great school it is all the time. It would be in many ways a good job for me to get, especially as the contract terminates before I'm apt to be recalled to Via next summer. Assuming there's a job to be recalled to...

Thursday, July 23, 2009

A decent idea, badly executed

What's up with the Montreal Gazette's poetry videos? While I think it's terrific that they're featuring poems, there's so much wrong with the format, I hardly know where to start. The poet should NOT be reading the text from a piece of paper/book held in hand. They should either have it memorized--it's only one freaking poem, come on--or be reading it from something off-camera. There is absolutely no point videotaping someone not looking at the camera, or merely flicking eyes up as tho s/he was reading to an actual live audience. And what's with the static, sitting-on-a-stool-in-front-of-stark-background setup. Even Ian Ferrier (the only one so far not to read his poem, but deliver it), a guy who often delivers his poems accompanying himself on electric guitar, is sitting on the stool holding his book. Boring. Zoom in on the face. Stand. Something. Anything to make a poet reading his poem out loud look less like a completely dorky activity. I guess this is what happens when a newspaper tries to be a tv station.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Bad @#$%ing news

VIA Rail Canada has announced that its representatives are currently negotiating with the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference union, which represents some 340 locomotive engineers. Earlier today, the union gave notice to the Corporation of its intent to go on strike on Friday, July 24, 2009 at noon Eastern Daylight Time (EDT).

A mediator has been appointed by the government to assist the parties in the negotiation process.

VIA remains hopeful that an agreement will be reached before the set deadline. Unfortunately though, VIA has no choice but to begin to cancel certain departures of long-distance trains to ensure that passengers will not be stranded en-route in the event of a strike. Refer to list of cancelled trains (PDF - 69 KB).


In general, VIA will ensure that passengers departing prior to noon (EDT) this Friday are transported to destination, either by train or by alternate means.

AFTER NOON EDT THIS FRIDAY, ALL VIA TRAINS WILL BE CANCELLED, UNTIL A SETTLEMENT IS REACHED. No alternate transportation will be provided. Trains on the Sudbury-White River and Victoria-Courtenay routes will remain in service, as they are operated by third parties on VIA’s behalf.

Information, including specific affected trains and any exceptions, will be updated regularly. Customers may also contact VIA at 888 VIA-RAIL (842-7245) or 800 268-9503 (hearing impaired).

VIA sincerely regrets any inconvenience that this situation may cause its customers.

For more information:

How do I obtain a refund/exchange for my purchased train ticket?

For information regarding Amtrak trains connecting to or from Canada, please contact Amtrak directly at 1-800-USA-RAIL, or visit;

Sunday, July 19, 2009


Tho I'm still laid off, I've been picking up a fair bit of work. After two station standby shifts, I got the call today to work a trip to Montreal tomorrow. This is my second straight "layover" trip (no train on Tuesday, so we spend the night in Montreal). I might squeeze in one more trip before things dry up again. Here's hoping.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

City Mouse, Country Mouse

In today's Globe, Sonnet L'Abbé reviews two recent anthologies to which I've contributed, with a nice little mention of my poem in one of them. I haven't come anywhere near reading all of Open Wide a Wilderness yet, but I've been browsing it regularly. It really is a terrific anthology, with a number of not-so-usual suspects--past and present--included. I can only imagine how much work Nancy Holmes put into it. Got your copy yet?

Friday, July 17, 2009

Broken Arrow

Only there is Now. There is no
Then and When. How Zen. How then
know we when to show
ourselves? Our Selves: those little Men

inside our Minds machining
Time, fabricating patchwork panes
to stitch and mount in a montage of what We've seen--
bad grammar that: We see, that should be. Oh, the pains

We take to stake a claim on Space.
Such a queer little race.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Decidedly Jaunty

A surprise railroad trip fell in my lap on Monday. Yesterday, my wife and son vamoosed to Vancouver for two fortnights. I realized upon my return to Halifax today that I'd left my housekey at home. I discovered that I am quite good at broad daylight b&e. Another career opportunity missed...

Found on my arrival home this nice review of Jailbreaks in The Pacific Rim Review of Books:

Shall I Compare Thee to a Beaver’s Pelt?

Hilary Turner

Poets writing in English have had a long and unlikely love affair with the sonnet. The form probably originated among the French troubadours of the twelfth century, but was appropriated and revised by Italian poets of the early Renaissance. The most illustrious of these, Francesco Petrarca, overlaid on the form’s fourteen-line structure and rigid rhyme scheme a rich lexicon of metaphors for the ironies of love. Petrarchan love is a sickness, a wound, an inspiration, a battle, a delight, and an agony; it is both cosmic and private, both life-giving and fatal. Formally and thematically, the sonnet has always entailed a fine balance of opposites.

Not coincidentally, its established combination of brevity, rigor, and paradox makes the sonnet the most difficult of fixed forms. Because it captures energy within strict convention, the form compels the poet to dance nimbly in chains. For obvious reasons, the transmutation of Italian sensibilities into the syntax and idiom of English poetry was not achieved without strain. In fact, it is arguable that the enthusiastic adoption of the sonnet form in the 1590s by such poets as Wyatt, Surrey, and Sidney, did more to revolutionize English prosody and poetics than it did to transform the sonnet itself.

Nevertheless, as Zachariah Wells declares in his Introduction to this small anthology, “a good poet can take liberties—often outrageous ones—with a sonnet’s structure, without destroying the sonnet’s essence.” By choosing the title “Jailbreaks,” a figure borrowed from Margaret Avison’s “Snow,” one of the gems of the volume, Wells draws attention to the irresistible lure of writing against the constraints of form. Such is the essence of inventiveness, and as many examples in this collection testify, Canadian poets have used the sonnet inventively almost from the beginning. Even the traditionalists like Charles G.D. Roberts, Archibald Lampman, and Duncan Campbell Scott are here represented with works that do something new, and specifically Canadian, with the sonnet.

At the other end of the spectrum are poets whose variations on the form are recognizable as such only with careful attention to the nuances of structure. In a self-reflexive use of the sonnet patter, Don Coles’s twenty-line “Sampling from a Dialogue” describes the way a couple’s inability to collaborate on “a new line” brings about the collapse of the relationship. Gerry Gilbert pushes formal constraints in the opposite direction with the thirty-four-word sonnet, “Bannock,” while preserving just the faintest whisper of the conventional interlocking rhymes. Ken Babstock then makes the intricate rhyme scheme of the Shakespearean sonnet look like a game, as he delivers he whole in the voice of a hockey player in the penalty box. And there are dozens more well-chosen poems which flirt or quarrel with the sonnet form, even as they keep it alive.

Jailbreaks is not a textbook. Perhaps in an effort to distance himself from the tendency of academics to fossilize things that are still alive, Wells has imposed no discernible order on his ninety-nine selections. The absence of method makes for some terrific juxtapositions: Joshua Trotter appears alongside Molly Peacock, for example, pondering abstractions such as “the way grammar employs the onrush of language,” while Peacock stubbornly examines the “dreams, brains, fur, and guts” of a very concrete dead possum—a synecdoche for “what we are.” Then there’s Irving Layton sharing a two-page spread with E.A. Lacey. Layton is off in Las Vegas playing blackjack with death, while Lacey, in his revision of Frost’s “The Gift Outright,” stays home to contemplate the Canadian Shield as the source of our puritanical and self-torturing national ethos. These are two sides of the same coin, perhaps.

On the other hand, the collection’s methodological randomness is somewhat undercut by the thirty-odd pages of notes on the poems tucked away at the end of the volume. Not that Wells waxes professorial here; on the contrary, his annotations are decidedly jaunty—but they do invite the matching up of artifact and analysis normally associated with interpretation and study. Hesitating somewhere between kaleidoscope and categorization, Wells is evidently prepared to take the mild risk of perplexing the pedantic reader. But that, too, is part of the balancing act. Poetical “reason,” as the mercurial Philip Sidney remarked, “wouldst needs fight both with love and sense.” Of course: that is the struggle that produces the sonnet.

Hilary Turner teaches English and Rhetoric at the University of the Fraser Valley.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Anything But Hank review

There's a nice little review, by someone named Robyn McNeil, of Anything But Hank! in the new issue of Tidings, the University of King's College alumni mag:

Choosing a baby’s name can be difficult. When my child was born, months of research and consideration had been whittled down to a short list of over 200 possibilities. Finding a suitable moniker that doesn’t lend itself to teasing or playground fodder, let alone one you like, can be a struggle at best.

Herein lies the crux of the problem in Anything But Hank!, the first children’s book by Rachel Lebowitz and King’s alumnus Zachariah Wells (BAH ’99), a whimsical narrative illustrated by Eric Orchard. Eight weeks after the birth of a little boy, his parents still haven’t agreed on a name and, according to the family cat, the child’s relentless tears won’t cease until he has a title all his own. So one night, while the boy’s parents sleep, a wise old pig puts the crabby tot on his back and they set off to find the wizard whose Mexican beaded lizard has a talent for knowing the name meant for every child.

Broken into five chapters, Lebowitz’s and Wells’s tale combines fanciful humour reminiscent of Lewis Carroll’s literary nonsense with the adventure-narrative style of Robert Service’s ballads. The result is an entertaining read for all ages, though my kindergarten-aged son was especially delighted by the whimsy in the story’s rhymes.

The lushly gorgeous paintings of the Halifax-based illustrator that accompany the story add to the book’s allure. Paired with the writers’ quirky prose, Orchard’s darkly haunting illustrations elevate the Biblioasis publication from common tale to treasured keepsake, perfect for sharing at story time.

Children and parents alike will love the unusual adventure that unfolds in this oddly enjoyable tale, as they uncover the answer to whether the unnamed child “needs a word, a quiet space that he could call his own, needs a name to match his face, a name he can call home.”

Thursday, July 9, 2009

United Breaks Guitars

This is hilarious. Well done, Mr. Carroll.

One of my tasks as an airline cargo agent was processing claims for damage or loss. One of my great frustrations was following up on those claims with First Air's Claims Department, which might as well have been called the Claims Rejection Department. Granted a lot of damage is the fault of the passenger for poorly packaging their stuff or for using already damaged luggage. But the claims departments of airlines treat all claimants as scammers, which seems like bad business practice to me.

In my experience, baggage handlers rarely go out of their way to intentionally damage luggage or cargo, but when you handle thousands of pieces each day, it's unrealistic to expect special treatment for one piece or another. We used to joke about things covered in "Fragile" stickers. Fra-jee-lay, what is that, some kind of salad dressing? But in order to actually break a guitar in a proper case--I have to wonder if this was a foam-padded travelling case; if not, the airline might have a point--you'd practically have to drive over it to damage the contents.

Here's a poem from Unsettled, from the baggage handler's perspective:


Lord liftin’, the godawful

junk folk hauls in

‘n’ outta this spot. Frozen

half rottened walrus. Boxed-up

scrap from the dump. Laundry

soap. Kibble. Rubbermaids

tie-wrapped shut, empty

southbound, stogged full o’

canned stuff comin north—

bust yer back just to

deadlift ‘em. ‘n’ the liquor,

of course—you’d think

the stunned cunts’d know

to not put bottles in soft-

sided baggage—get buzzed

off the whisky whiff

in the pits. Duffles loaded

with stone—small wonder

the handles tear off

in your grip—but sure’s shit

the cocksuckers’ll curse ya

fer each little rip

in their threadbare kit.

Steady go with them

white plastic sacks

from the Northern—2000

buck ticket, sure, but can’t

spare a red cent for a stitch

o’ halfway sensible luggage.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer reads from Perfecting

I've finally got around to uploading the audio from Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer's reading last week. Christy Ann Conlin, author of Heave, read briefly before Kathryn, but I forgot to turn on my recorder until Kathryn started, so there's an anecdote she tells before reading that's a bit out of context. Following the reading, there's a Q&A session with Kathryn, Conlin and Nova Scotia novelist Stephanie Domet, author of Homing. Enjoy.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Sui Seidel

An excellent piece of criticism by Ange Mlinko on Frederick Seidel, the improbable anti-darling of the poetry world.

I had a discussion with someone recently about the validity of comparing and contrasting one poet's work with another in a review. It's something that's often done badly (which is to say arbitrarily or inappropriately, with the reviewer essentially saying something as critically vacuous as "look, this isn't real poetry, this is poetry"), but when chosen well, as Mlinko does here, a comparison can be damningly effective.

I recently read Ooga-Booga and found it quite striking. One doesn't see many poets--hardly any--intentionally embracing objectively bad writing for aesthetic effect. I wonder if anyone has ever drawn a link between Seidel and John Skelton? Another poet he reminds me of is the Roman dialect writer Giuseppe Gioacchino Belli, a selection of whose vulgarly gossipy sonnets I've been reading lately, as translated--quite brilliantly--by Mike Stocks. All three poets are entertaining, but not terrifically profound.

I like that Mlinko brought up the problem of Seidel's range; how his signature style palls over the course of a collected volume. Ooga-Booga is occasionally brilliant and disturbing, but even over the span of that relatively short collection, Seidel's trademark techniques come to feel like one trick repeated over and over. And a pretty cheap, gaudy trick at that. Range--and its corollary, development--is to me one of the defining characteristics--if not the defining characteristic--of really great poetry: how a poet adapts his or her voice to a variety of modes, moods, situations and subjects; how a poet moves from one thing to another, both in the short term of a single collection and over the long haul of a lifetime's work; how open a poet is to experimentation--not for its own sake, but for the sake of getting the poem right. (Of course, openness to experimentation at one point in a poet's life can easily--especially when that experimentation leads to the serendipitous discovery of a signature style--calcify into rigid sameness later on.) Lack of range is the Achilles heel of an enormous number of talented poets and what leads so many in later work into self-parodic repetitions of earlier more successful efforts. Ultimately, it comes down to a question of credibility. If a poet repeatedly hits the same note, I have a hard time believing that there's a complete, authentic engagement with the world and with the poem. The poem starts to seem like a slapped-on lamination or a shake-n-bake recipe, more an issue of the poet's ego expressing itself than integrating itself with its environment.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

A Lesson in Botany

Thanks to a poem of Robert Bringhurst's, I now know of a 24 lb. parasitic flower that stinks of rotting flesh. Damn him for getting to it first. I wonder if creationists ever use Rafflesia arnoldi as evidence for God's existence...

Thursday, July 2, 2009


I'm off to hear Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer read from her new novel at Frog Hollow Books tonight. I'll see if I can make a tape.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Tim Horton's Nation

A feature on The Current this morning about the "Canadian distaste for being above average." Well worth a listen if you haven't caught it already.

Late-Breaking News in Retrograde Praxis

A sect of carpenters who refuse to use nailguns has just been uncovered in Canada. People are calling them the Neo-Hammerists.