Saturday, October 31, 2009

Zach Wells Sucks Forum

Think I suck? Like to talk about it with like-minded folk? Well, now you can!

Another Sitemeter Gem

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Friday, October 30, 2009

Paul Vermeersch on T & T

Paul Vermeersch has posted a brief review of Track & Trace on his blog. Thanks, Paul.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

We should have more mature conversations...

...about cheating and stealing. Indeed.

CLM out and about

My post on Creationism and why it should be taught has been picked up by Maisonneuve. It looks pretty much the same over there, but I thought I'd point it out in case anyone wants to see if it generates any back and forth. So far, not much action, other than a diligent spell-checker.

For the Record.

Not me.

Would the Real Bachinsky Please Stand Up

Monday, October 26, 2009

Guriel on Dodds and Johnston

He likes them both, how about that? Good to see some south-of-the-border exposure for the quick and the immortal.

Linda Besner

tries to figure out what to call her book. (About a third of the way into the podcast.) I've been reading Linda's poems in the recently published anthology Rutting Season. Good stuff; I'm looking forward to her book, whatever it's called.

Also on this podcast is an interview with Norman Doidge, whose book is amazing.

Creationism should be taught in science classes

So say 54% of Britons, apparently. Well, 54% of the almost 1000 people polled. It might come as a surprise to regular readers of this blog that, whatever the numbers might be, I actually agree.

The unfortunate thing about a poll is that, however "scientific" it might be, the results tend to be presented in the media without any sense of possible nuance in the answers.

The unfortunate thing about a lot of hard science advocates--and I consider myself to be one--is that they tend to see clear-cut boundaries where there's actually a considerable amount of haze. The thing about modern science is that it's part of an epistemological continuum. The history of myth and the history of science are not 100% discrete and science should not be taught in an ahistorical manner. Both myth--the picture of creation presented in Genesis, e.g.--and science--the story of evolution as told by Darwin and his followers--spring from the human desire to explain origins and predict destinies. To teach only Darwinian evolution, divorced from the intellectual and cultural contexts in which it, ahem, evolved is to paint a picture of spontaneous intellectual generation--to borrow terminology from another debunked hypothesis I learned about in Biology 11.

Darwin's version is an improvement upon earlier stories. It is supported by enough evidence to be a bona fide theory and not merely a hypothesis. Creationism has a lot of company. Lamarckism, for instance, which is routinely taught in schools, in precisely the way it should be: as a theory that once had some scientific currency, but is now discredited. (Notwithstanding the fact that Canada's federal science minister still thinks it's valid.) Incorporating Creationism into science curricula gives teachers the opportunity to present it for what it is: an antiquated idea that should not be taken seriously as a useful path to anything resembling objective truth. Leaving these topics to religion classes--of which I had none in my 13 years of pre-university schooling and which are probably only de rigueur in religious schools--is to risk having them taught as valid scientific theories and increases the risk of significant portions of the population thinking that one "theory" is as good as any other. Why would you want to do that?

One of the people quoted in the Guardian piece says that the poll results show how ignorant "the public" is. The public doesn't get that way by accident and it won't be cured by ignoring or suppressing certain topics in the curriculum.

Joshua Trotter

gets questioned. I'm very pleased to be editing Josh's forthcoming collection. He's got mad skillz.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

US vs. UK

Thanks to Josh for the tip on this piece about the differences between US and UK poetry. The focus is largely sociological, which is inevitable. I'm increasingly skeptical about comparisons of this nature--as in my conversation with Molly Peacock on the subject of the supposed difference between US and Canadian poetry. Generalising tends to obscure and elide at least as much as it reveals. Still this seems like a solid and reasonable take on the topic--in large part because its author is conscious of the problem.


I'd say the book was disappointing,
but I had no expectations
of its excellence, so that would be
misleading. I'd say my team's performance
fails to satisfy, but its salary
and management point to precisely
such a mediocre season. I'd complain
about the weeds that choke my garden,
but their presence is testament to my
indifferent stewardship. I'd say inadequate
is not the proper word to summarise
the manifest insufficiencies
of life here as we know it, but I
can think of nothing better at the moment.

Thomas Lynch on the Mathematical Puzzle of Poems

So much of poetry depends on such counting and calculation, figuring and refiguring the stressed and unstressed syllabics of language, the iambics of our heartbeats and heartbreaks, lexicons and clockworks, inspirations, expirations, meters and rhymes.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Essential Kenneth Leslie

The listing for The Essential Kenneth Leslie, a book I'm very proud to have edited, is now up at The Porcupine's Quill website.

Clive James

An interesting piece on the poet, critic, songwriter and TV host.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

"Critical Prose Before Egos"

Funny how things cycle around in the wash basin of the lit scene. Picked up the new issue of Quill & Quire today. Their "Last Word" column in this number is by a writer and reviewer named Claude Lalumière and the title is the same as this post's. The subtitle: "Authors who complain about negative reviews need to grow up."

My my, how snarky. Yet, as is so often made manifest, hell hath no snarkiness like an author scorned. Lalumière goes on to recount some anecdotes of hate mail and paranoid complaints. This should sound familiar to anyone who's done any amount of honest reviewing. He has some none too kind words for the poor darlings who say he and others should play nice:

"Another blogger ... mentioned a dismissive review of his own first novel and went on at length about how hurtful negative reviews are to authors, whining about all the hard work that goes into creating a book.
I find that attitude, so pervasive in the writing community, both unprofessional and childish."

Hells ya!

"Too many writers like to talk about what hard work it is to write. Get over it. Life is hard for everyone, and we writers don't deserve special treatment."

Say it, brotha!

"An author's work is not published in a vacuum, but within literary and cultural contexts. The critic's job is to situate and evaluate a work within those parameters."

I'd say "duh," but I'm constantly having to explain this to people who think I shouldn't bring in to a review anything from outside the book, that doing so is somehow automatically "ad hominem."

"[I]sn't having your work discussed at all, amid the chaos and sheer varietyof cultural products available to the public, preferable to having it ignored?"

Well, it should be, but some people apparently just want to be left alone.

Stuart Ross's "Heron"

Thanks to Alex Good for reminding me what an amazing and profoundly sad poem this is.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Some of the searches that bring people here crack me up...

...but maybe that's because I'm not a real Nova Scotian:

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Guest Post: Juvenal

As translated by Peter Green:

You get the same stuff from them all, established poet
And raw beginner alike. I too have winced under the cane
And concocted ‘Advice to Sulla’: Let the despot retire
Into private life, take a good long sleep, and so on. When you find
Hordes of poets on each street-corner, it’s misplaced kindness
To refrain from writing. The paper will still be wasted.
Why then have I chosen to drive my team down the track
Which great Lucilius blazed? If you have the leisure to listen
Calmly and reasonably, I will enlighten you.
When a flabby eunuch marries, when well-born girls go crazy
For pig-sticking up-country, bare-breasted, spear in fist;
When the barber who rasped away at my youthful beard has risen
To challenge good society with his millions; when Crispinus -
That Delta-bred house-slave, silt washed down from the Nile -
Now hitches his shoulders under Tyrian purple, airs
A thin gold ring in summer on his sweaty finger
(‘My dear, I couldn’t bear to wear my heavier jewels’) -
Why then, it is harder not to be writing satires.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Cool News

This is a page from a quarterly published somewhere in the former Yugoslavia. (I'm not sure where, or I'd not use such outmoded terminology.) It features a review of an anthology of Canadian poetry translated into Serbo-Croatian, edited by Goran Simic, in which appear three poems from Unsettled: "Small Song of Wonders", "Herman Nelson" and "Reaching the Mountains." I haven't got my copy yet. I'm very curious to see what my poems look like in a language I have no idea how to speak. I'm curiouser yet to know how they sound.

"The lyric is a severely underappreciated... hey, is this thing on? I don't even know how these doohickeys work. Hello?"


"Kids these days..."


Reactionary Anglican? Hate women and fags (but harbour secret hankerings for young lads)? Fear not, pilgrim, the Catholic Church wants you.

Chris Banks... blogging, and appears to be channelling Andy Rooney. Youngsters these days! (It should be pointed out that Brian Palmu is almost fifteen years older than the supposedly "senior poet" he is trashin' in Oedipal fashion. Speaking of, you know, mythological implications and what not.)

On a less mocking and "snarky" note, very cool to see he's got himself a letterpress machine. One of these days, I'd like to have one myself.

But for now, back to mathematically solving the puzzle of poems!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

A Few Li'l Things

Fraser Sutherland's review of Track & Trace is now online at the Q&Q site.

My review of Lorna Crozier's memoir is also online at Q&Q.

The Essential Kenneth Leslie, edited by yours truly, is now available for pre-order on Amazon.

Hot on the heels of its GG nomination, Carmine Starnino's This Way Out has been shortlisted for the QWF A.M. Klein Award. I'm happy to hear this; I had to decline an invitation to judge this award because I would have been in conflict of interest vis-a-vis Carmine's book. Glad the jurors seem to like it as much as I do.

Also shortlisted for the QWF Hugh MacLennan prize is my friend Harold Hoefle's very good novel-in-stories, The Mountain Clinic. Congrats to Carmine and Harold.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

A'right, a'right, a'right

I know you've all been waiting eagerly for my verdict on the GG poetry list. Alas, it doesn't look like there's any dirty dealing this year. (Correct me if I'm wrong.) And there's at least one very worthy book on the shortlist. That book is Carmine Starnino's This Way Out, which I'm very glad to see get the recognition.

I've read none of the other books in their entirety, so can't say with any authority whether they're good or bad choices. But I will say that I'd be amazed if Philip Kevin Paul's book is much good, based on what I've seen of his work in the past. I've read parts of McFadden's book, and what I read was uneven, occasionally slight, occasionally quite lovely; one might say the same of his body of work. I've read almost none of Sina Queyras' work, but the excerpt I saw on Coach House's website didn't make me want to pick up this book; struck me as having, to borrow Keats' phrase, rather palpable designs on its reader. I've been meaning to read more David Zieroth for a while; I saw a pretty nifty suite of poems by him in Event a while back.

It's a pretty symmetrical shortlist, save for the fact that four of the five poets are male. Two are senior poets; two are no longer young but not yet old and both are nominated for their fourth book; the fifth, Paul, is the requisite upstart and a politically progressive choice. I heard Sherman Alexie talking to Eleanor Wachtel on the radio the other day. He said an interesting thing: that native writers are all simultaneously overrated and underrated; overrated by white people, simply because they're native and underrated by natives because they're not native enough. I have to suspect that Paul finds himself on this list because of the former.

If so, this is a pity not just because it's passively racist and does no good politically, but because it prevents a number of noteworthy books from getting the same recognition. This is, on the whole, an underwhelming list. Where is David O'Meara's Noble Gas, Penny Black? Patrick Warner's Mole? Karen Solie's Pigeon? Lisa Robertson's Magenta Soul Whip? (I've yet to read it, but I suspect that Robyn Sarah's recently released Pause for Breath would have also made a strong candidate.) If, as seems to be the case most years, there's some felt need to propel a younger writer into the spotlight, why not Jason Guriel for his whipsmart Pure Product? Or James Langer for his earthily lyrical Guns Dogs? All of these books were so good that I have a hard time imagining the four that did make the list being better. Had four (or even two, come on) of these books made the list, Carmine's book would have some bona fide competition. Maybe he does. Maybe I should give the other shortlisted titles a closer look. But I kind of doubt it. And I doubt, seeing what got left off, that Carmine will win, even tho I think he should. We'll see. My bet: Zieroth.

There are two books that are rather too close to me for me to be objective, but that I would have loved to see get some attention: Shane Neilson's Meniscus (which I edited) and Wayne Clifford's Jane Again. Ain't that the problem with these stupid winner-take-all awards...

I'm off on the rails tomorrow. Been a while and thought I'd be called upon no more till, maybe, xmas. But I've lucked out, just in time to delay my search for winter income. Hi ho, hi ho.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Riddle Me This

The good folks at Riddle Fence want your exceptionally good verse or prose. Details below:

Call for Submissions to Riddle Fence Issues #5 & 6
For Immediate Release
Kill Date: December 1, 2009

Riddle Fence, a journal of arts & culture, is accepting submissions for its fifth and sixth issues. We are now considering previously unpublished submissions of poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction. Please send no more than 3-4 poems OR 1 piece of prose, maximum 5,000 words in length. Payment is $30 per printed page (prose and poetry) for first Canadian serial rights, plus a copy of the issue in which your work appears.

What are we looking for? What is anyone looking for: brilliance, innovation, that certain je ne sais quoi de sage-like insight that will blow away the doldrums and give our lives greater meaning. Thus far, we’ve published the work of Mary Dalton, Jeramy Dodds, Monica Kidd, Elise Partridge, Carmine Starnino, Russell Wangersky, and many others [ed: *cough* Zachariah Wells *cough*].

The deadline for submissions is December 1, 2009.

E-mail submissions can be sent to the genre appropriate email address below. Please submit work as Word or Rich Text Format attachments and include in the body of your email as well:

Submissions may also be made by regular post (please include a self-addressed stamped envelope or sufficient IRC postage in the case of submissions from outside Canada):

Riddle Fence
PO Box 7092
St. John's, NL
A1E 3Y3

For information, contact, or visit our website:

Friday, October 9, 2009

Ursus on T&T

The enigmatic Dr. Ursus has an informal response to the Poetry Weekend and Track & Trace on his blog:

I personally think the Seth illustrations are straight outta Calvin and Hobbes, I kept looking for a Transmogrifier and Calvin clones. I don’t want to share my book with anyone; and Zach’s book is polluted by “Decorated By Seth” prominently displayed on the cover. I’m sure Zach would agree that it’s the poetry that matters, and I think that’s where I’ll dwell: his first book, Unsettled, was hobbled by its abrasively true blue collar cred, its insistence on the worth of the working man. But Track and Trace is transcendent: it’s got sonnetry, it’s got acrostics, even a Purdy imitation, but the important part is that the form is not the cause or the concern, it’s the rocket fuel: the poems jitter and shake, they move their mountains, and though I’d still say of Zach that there is a tethering coldness (I’m sure he’d retort that my poems go so far that they manipulate emotionally) this collection heats up, almost paradoxically, because of its reserve. I was impressed and surprised. I think it will go far. Surely the idiots who generically challenge him, saying the criticism outpaces the poetry, will have to shut up, or at least revise upward. Intelligence has been cultivated, and though there are a few too many “I’ve been everywhere man” poems crippled by in-your-face anaphora, the rescuing and elevating poems are just too numerous for him not to find his ideal audience. This is a great book.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Carmine Starnino reads with Paul Durcan... London? New York? Toronto? Nosir, in Cobourg, ON. Great opportunity to see a distinguished internationally renowned poet in an intimate setting:

Paul Durcan will do a Poetry Reading in Cobourg Tuesday, October 13, 2009 (MEET AT 66 KING EAST).

This is an amazing opportunity the Cobourg Poetry Workshop has been given!

Paul Durcan is an internationally acclaimed poet from Ireland who is a past winner of the prestigious Whitbread Prize and who is the author of over 25 critically-praised collections of poetry.

(Mr. Durcan will be reading in Cobourg 11 days before he reads in Toronto at the Harbourfront Reading series.)

To accommodate Mr. Durcan's busy schedule, our reading will be held on Tuesday, October 13 -- instead of our usual 3rd Thursday (so, not October 15).

Because Paul Durcan will give a 40 minute reading, this evening will feature only 2 poets (rather than our usual 3 readers).

Our second Guest Poet will be Carmine Starnino from Montreal.

We anticipate we could surpass what has been our biggest audience until now.

Below are 2 links you can click.

The first is some information about Paul Durcan:

The second links to an excellent piece in Northumberland Today (Thursday, October 8, 2009 edition), titled:

"Famed poets Durcan, Starnino to read in Cobourg Oct. 13"

The url is:

Doors open 7:00 p.m. Tuesday, October 13, 2009 - MEET AT 66 KING EAST, Cobourg.

Michael Reynolds answers some questions

Cool little Q&A with Michael Reynolds over at Open Book Toronto, which I post here for purely self-serving reasons, as Michael names Jailbreaks as one of three books he'd give to a visitor as a welcome to Canada present. I recently completed one of these same Q&A's and, shamefully, also named Jailbreaks. But c'mon, I'm unemployed and I get a deal on them!

Belated Poetry Weekend Post Mortem

As promised, a belated report on the Poetry Weekend.

First off, I have to admit that when I got the schedule for the readings, my heart sunk a bit. Over fifty readings in six sets over two days sounds, in the abstract, rather more like something out of Dante's vision of hell than a pleasant way to spend a weekend. The Poetry Weekend started spontaneously in 2004 and remains "the most disorganised literary festival in Canada," but it has certainly grown into a popular destination for poets from all over the country. My chagrin at the epic size of the event proved to be ill-founded, but more on that anon.

When I arrived at Shane Neilson's parents' house--where I was crashing for the weekend--I got my first look at Track & Trace as a printed and bound book. I was not disappointed. I can't say how lucky I am to have a publisher like Biblioasis, without whom I would probably never have had the privilege of a book designed by Seth.

I also got my first look at Meniscus, Shane's first trade collection, which I had the honour and pleasure of editing for the press. It's a helluva book. There aren't many poets out there with the combination of sheer guts and craft to be found in Shane's poems.

Friday night, we met up with Sharon McCartney, Karen Schindler (in town for the festivities from London, ON) and Mark Jarman, then headed out for Goose Lane Editions' fall launch. Quite the do. I was amazed how many townsfolk turn out for a book launch in Fredericton. I think it really speaks to that publisher's strong roots in the community. There, met up with several folks, including Brent MacLaine--who was launching his new book, Athena Becomes a Swallow--, my good friend Wayne Clifford and Goose Lane poetry editor and host of the festival Ross Leckie.

On Saturday morning, we got down to the serious business of listening to people read poems. To make a long story short, I was very pleasantly surprised. Not only were there a helluva lot of good readings of good poems, but, most importantly for such epic bouts of sitting and listening, the pace was brisk throughout the weekend. Some highlights that stood out for me: Brent MacLaine doing a very theatrical reading in the voice of an indignant Greek mendicant; Sharon McCartney's "uplifting" poem of praise for Fredericton; Shane Neilson's reading of his "Love Poem," which gave me that much sought-after spinal tingle; ditto for Peter Norman's reading of "Up Near Wawa"; Jeffery Donaldson's on-the-spot cento, incorporating lines from every single poet who read prior to him; much else that was very good to excellent.

The Saturday night party was great fun, too, as always. Shane, a much more sober and sensible soul than I, left relatively early, so I had to find a place to catch a few winks before the Sunday readings. I snuck into Mark Jarman's house and slept on his couch. He never even knew I was there. Till I told him.

I read on Sunday night as part of an outstanding set of readers. If you want to hear the whole thing, see my earlier post or head over to Branta, where Eric Hill has itemized things far more nicely than I did. If you just want to hear my reading, here it is:

The sun was breaking out as I left Oromocto Monday morning, but most of my 450 km ride was wet. Fortunately, I had my books in a rubbermaid box, but my leathers are still damp and crusted with road salt. Last long ride I'll be taking before the bike goes into storage for the winter.

The rest of October's quiet for me in terms of readings, but I've got some things coming up next month in Ottawa, Kingston and Toronto, which should be good fun.

It's looking like I'll be getting no more work on the railroad this year. Normally, I love this point of the year, but I worked so little this year, that I'm left in a precarious spot now: I didn't get enough hours to open a new EI claim, so I'm going to have to figure out how to generate sufficient income to eke out the winter. If anyone needs some editing done, I'm your man, eh.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Purdy contest

Owen Percy at the U of Calgary asked me to pass this along, for anyone who's interested. I might enter myself, but for the fact that I already wrote and published such a poem...


Following Al Purdy’s death in 2001, The Al Purdy A-Frame Trust was formed
in order to save the poet’s home in Ameliasburgh, Ontario from the
wrecking ball by transforming it into a writer-in-residence retreat. This
retreat will offer Canadian authors and critics a secluded, historical
setting in which to develop the manuscripts that will shape the next
generation of Canadian literature. Towards this end, the After Al Purdy
Poetry Contest offers poets the chance to engage textually with the legacy
of one of Canada’s most important poets, while also contributing to the
fundraising initiative to save the A-frame.

The Contest: We are seeking poems that engage in some direct way with Al
Purdy’s poetry, poetics, and/or poetic legacy. There is no limit on the
length or number of poems submitted as long as the appropriate entry fees
are included. The judges will select the top three poems in each category
(see Categories, below). Event, The New Quarterly, and The Antigonish
Review will each publish two of the winning poems in 2010. The winners
will also receive a selection of titles from Harbour Publishing (including
Paul Vermeersch's forthcoming The Al Purdy A-Frame Anthology) and Freehand

Categories: Entries will be judged under one of two categories: emerging
poet or established poet. An established poet is someone who has published
a book of poetry (longer than a chapbook), or has one forthcoming with a
confirmed publisher.

Contest Fee/Donation: Entry fee is $10/poem, with all monies thus
collected going directly to The Al Purdy A-Frame Trust. Further donations
to this initiative are welcomed and encouraged. Tax receipts will be
issued, upon request, for any submission fee/donation of $50 or more.
Cheques and money orders must be made out to The Al Purdy A-Frame Trust.

How To Enter: Send a cover letter identifying under which category your
poem(s) is/are to be judged, along with one hard copy of each poem, and
the appropriate entry fee ($10/poem) to:

After Al Purdy Poetry Contest, Department of English, University of
Calgary, 2500 University Dr. NW, Calgary, AB. T2N 1N4

Please include your contact information, including your name and email
address at the top right-hand corner of each submitted poem. Email
submissions will not be accepted. Please keep a copy of poem(s) submitted;
entries will not be returned.

Contest Closing Date: Entries must be post-marked by Friday, November 13,
2009. Winners will be announced by January 1, 2010, and will have their
winning poems published in 2010. Entries will be judged by University of
Calgary English Department graduate students and faculty:
Suzette Mayr, Owen Percy, Robyn Read, and Tom Wayman.

Sponsored by the English Department at the University of Calgary, Freehand
Books, Harbour Publishing, The Antigonish Review, Event, and The New

Visit After Al Purdy Contest on the web at
More information on The Al Purdy A-Frame Trust can be found at

Poetry Weekend Audio

At last, after several abortive attempts, I've got all the audio from the 2009 UNB Poetry Weekend uploaded to Check it out, if you've got a few hours to kill...

Here's the breakdown on the readings:

1. Ross Leckie reads Dodds, Matt Robinson, Justin Joschko, John Reibetanz, Josh Trotter, Sarah Khokhar, Matt Mott, Daniel Renton, Sue Sinclair

2. Leigh Kotsilidis, Jennifer Houle, Rebecca Geleyn, Allison Lasorda, Gerry Beirne, Karen Schindler, Sharon McCartney, Peter Norman

3. John Donlan, A. F. Moritz, Kevin Connolly, Christina McRae, John Wall Barger, Brent MacLaine, Jesse Ferguson, Jeffery Donaldson

4. Peter Forrestell, Celia Thompson, John Donlan, April Ripley, Michael deBeyer, Brian Bartlett, Ross Leckie, Danielle Devereaux

5. Holly Luhning, Shane Neilson, Matthew Tierney, Tammy Armstrong, Danny Jacobs, A. F. Moritz, Carson Butts, Eric Letcher

6. Zachariah Wells, Vanessa Moeller, James Langer, John Reibetanz, Katia Grubisic, Anita Lahey, Sue Sinclair, Ross Leckie reads Jeramy Dodds

Monday, October 5, 2009

Back Home

Got back from Fredericton late this afternoon, wet and tired. Great weekend. Really great. I will tell you all about it when I'm drier and more alert. I'll also upload and post recordings of the readings. But I beg your patience, as Tuesday and Wednesday are my heaviest parenting days and I've got other things nipping at my heels.

In the meantime, might I direct you towards Bloggamooga, where Stuart Ross has posted his latest column. Coincidentally, it's on the topic of Theme and/or Project Books. Seems to be in the zeitgeist.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Track & Trace cover

Finally, folks, here's a facsimile of the front cover of Track & Trace. I say facsimile because all those footprints won't actually have a colour on the finished hard copy, but will be debossed into the stock. Can't wait to see what it actually looks/feels like.