Friday, April 30, 2010

Fielding His Position

Nice little interview with Jason Guriel over at Speaking of Poems. I've mentioned a few times around here that I think his book's pretty good too--even if it is, you know, just a bunch of short poems.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

"A tremendous amount of very irrelevant poetry that isn't poetry at all"

A nifty little bit of audio archive: David Kosub interviewing Leonard Cohen in the mid 80s.

# 1 !!!!

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Wednesday, April 21, 2010


Just got word that an old poem of mine is getting a bit of a new life. "White Trash," which began its public life in a significantly different form and under a different title in The Amethyst Review in 2000, and was then published in a revised form in Unsettled in 2004, will be reprinted as a ten-year old in the 2010 renaissance of the supra-national Alaska-based northern poetry journal Ice Floe (which published a poem of mine in 2004). Which is, ahem, cool.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Interview with Carmine Starnino

An excellent little audio interview with Carmine Starnino, courtesy of Nigel Beale.

Bon mot du jour

"I've had it with these cheap sons of bitches who claim they love poetry but never buy a book."
— Kenneth Rexroth

Friday, April 16, 2010

Stanzaically Transmitted Infections

A few days ago, I was invited by Nathan Whitlock to take part in something that might have been awful and might have been fun: a chain poem about spring. 6 poets, each writing a stanza of 10 lines. I got to see the ones that preceded mine. I won't spoil it by saying which stanza I wrote; it's at the end of the piece, which you can read here. I think it turned out not so bad.

Review Online

My review of Steven Heighton's Patient Frame is now online at the Quill & Quire site.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Easy, Breezy...

I attended the Atlantic Book Awards ceremony last night. A classy event to round off a hectic week for yours truly. Despite crossing my fingers and my toes, Track & Trace did not earn its author a cool 2 grand. That purse, and the prize it accompanies, went to Tonja Gunvaldsen Klaassen's Lean-To. Congratulations to Tonja and to all the other winners hier soir.

Greg Malone's memoir, You Better Watch Out, also came up short in the first book award, losing out to the juggernaut of Shandi Mitchell, whose novel also won the biggest prize, purse-wise, of the evening, the Thomas Head Raddall Award for Fiction, beating out lightweights Linden McIntyre and Michael Crummey. Greg and I had a good cry together. I thoroughly enjoyed Greg's reading from YBWO in Charlottetown the other night, so I bought a copy, which I started reading today. It's been pretty damn neat getting to know a guy I used to watch on TV when I was a kid. Not exactly something I foresaw happening when I first started filling notebooks with wretched verse twelve-odd years ago.

Today, my mug graces the cover of Halifax's weekly, The Coast, along with 5 other Haligonian literati. Here's the wee interview they've published. Last time I was on the cover of a Halifax newspaper was 1998, when I appeared on all three dailies because I was leading chants at a rally in support of locked out Dalhousie faculty. It's a fact!

Looking forward to a bit of relative calm now, tho events abound in this most cruel of months. Kindly, one of them is the launch of Peter Norman's much anticipated (by me, anyway) first collection of poems, tomorrow, 7 pm at the Company House on Gottingen St. He'll be reading with some cool folks: Jeanette Lynes, Jesse Patrick Ferguson and Alice Burdick. I'll try to remember to bring my recording device. Which reminds me, I have audio to upload, edit and publish. Anon. Now, I plan to nurse my latest cold virus and fall asleep listening to a Blue Jays game on the radio.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Tuesday, it must be Charlottetown

Smooth uneventful drive to PEI from St. John this morning. Spent a couple of hours at my folks' place before heading into Charlottetown for my interview with Matt Rainnie for CBC Mainstreet. That interview will air shortly after the show starts at 4 pm Atlantic. Then early supper and the reading. Back to Halifax in the a.m.

Last night's reading was very enjoyable. It was well-attended, graciously hosted by Pat Joas of Inprint Books and everyone read very well. I taped it and will upload the audio when I get home.

The organization, helpfulness and overall class of the Atlantic Book Festival folks have been most impressive. Because of the jobs I've worked, I have a perhaps heightened appreciation for the usually unsung work that goes into logistics. People tend to notice such things only when they go wrong, which is a shame. So thanks to Susan Mersereau, Nicholas Graham, Melanie Bedgood, Pat Joas and Simon Lloyd, who've made this experience entirely pleasurable for me with their exceptional flexibility and attention to detail.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Moncton, St. John and on

A brief update on my activities:

I had a wonderful time this morning reading to grade 9 students at Harrison Trimble High in Moncton. Thanks to writer, teacher and old friend Art Moore for having me in. Once again, the teens prove to be more avid purchasers of poetry books than their seniors: I sold seventeen books this morning.

I dropped in to CBC St. John on arrival early this afternoon to tape a couple of poems. You can hear me read them on CBC NB's afternoon show, Shift, sometime between 4 and 6 Atlantic time.

Now I have to finish a book review before going to my reading this evening at Inprint Books. Tomorrow, Charlottetown. I'll be talking to Matt Rainnie, host of CBC PEI's Mainstreet, sometime between 4 & 6 pm, then reading at the Confederation Centre Library at 7.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

So help me, Hopkins

Getting sworn in by Wally Keeler in Cobourg, ON.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

He woulda made a lousy postmodernist

I love to see the cattle muse & drink
& water crinkle to the rude march wind
While two ash dotterels flourish on its brink
Bearing key bunches children run to find
& water buttercups they're forced to leave behind

John Clare

Free Speech

I ran into free speech activist Wally Keeler at a coffee shop in Cobourg yesterday.

Some video also came of it, but I can't use You Tube on Via trains, apparently.

Ironic Dentils

Charlie pulled a shingle from one of the bundles stacked on the floor and brought it to his nostrils. "Don't you just love the smell of fresh cedar? I could just about eat this stuff." He passed the shingle to me as if it were the cork from a bottle of wine.

"Very often architects seem to be afraid to just come out and say they like something, they think they've got to take it back a little. So they'll use some element they like--these dentils, say--but they'll do it ironically as a way of protecting themselves. I suppose it's partly a matter of audience: Is your audience your client, or is it really New York and L.A. and the magazines? Because if that's who it is, then you're going to want to somehow announce you're a sophisticated, postmodern guy, that all this is just theater, instead of being willing to come out and say, 'This is not theater. It's here, it's real, and I happen to like it.'"

Michael Pollan, A Place of My Own

Friday, April 9, 2010

En route report and some love for Track & Trace

An uneventful train ride to Montreal yesterday/today. Unbeknownst to me, Amanda Jernigan boarded the train in Sackville. I'd never met her before, but have long admired her writing, so was glad to meet her on the platform in Montreal. She's also on the same connecting train as me, on her way to Toronto for the launch of Peter Sanger's critical work on the poetry of Richard Outram. Were I there tonight, it's what I'd be checking out. Had a very nice chat with Amanda; I'm looking forward to her first book of poems, whenever she sees fit to publish it.

Also, thanks to Andrew Somerset for pointing out Nigel Beale's recent post touching on Track & Trace. I particularly like that he's talking about my work and Hopkins in the same post, as GMH is someone from whom I've learned a helluva lot about prosody.

I'll be arriving in Cobourg soon; off to read to the kiddies tomorrow morning in Port Hope.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Unsettled repurposed

My first book has been used in a nifty little title cento by an Ontario blogger.

Events in the Offing

After a photo shoot and interview with Halifax's The Coast tomorrow morning, I'm hopping a westbound train for a reading in Port Hope, ON:

April 10, 10:30 AM
Port Hope Public library
31 Queen St.

This is a children's reading, but adults are of course welcome. Also reading will be Jon Arno Lawson.

From there, I zip off to the Cobourg train station to make my way back east for more events.

April 12, AM
Moncton, NB
Reading to students at Harrison Trimble High

After which, I hop in my rental car and drive down to St. John:

April 12, 7 PM
Imprint Books, 16 King St.
Backtalk Series

This is a reading for authors shortlisted for the Atlantic Poetry Prize, so I'll be sharing the stage with Anne Compton and Tonja Gunvaldsen Klaassen.

Next morning, I get back in my rental car and drive to Charlottetown for an interview with Matt Rainnie at 2 pm, to be aired on CBC Mainstreet a couple of hours thereafter.

That evening, Tonja Klaassen and I will be reading in Charlottetown:

April 13, 7 PM
Confederation Centre Library
Corner of Queen and Richmond

Next morning, I head out in my rental once more, picking up fellow prize nominee Greg Malone before driving back to Halifax for the Atlantic Book Awards' soiree.

So, I'll be covering some 4000 km in a week, with 4 readings, 2 interviews and an awards ceremony smushed in. Sometimes I wish I was a Belgian writer... But it'll be fun. Hope to see you out at one of the events, if they're in your neck of the woods.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Soaked in a Heart of Sapphire, Delicate as an Origami Bird

Further to my last post, thanks to Alessandro for pointing out the judges' citations to the Lampert-shortlisted books. At its best the citation is a rather unfortunate genre of para-literary prose, consisting often of boilerplate (to the point that the same citations were actually recycled verbatim for different books in consecutive years (2003-4) for the Danuta Gleed award) and abstract purple gushes of hyperbole. Because of this, I was glad to see when Track & Trace was shortlisted for the Atlantic Poetry Prize that the anonymous jury remained silent, letting their choices speak for themselves.

It would seem, reading the six citations for the Lampert list, that rather than being group compositions, they are the product of three different jurors, each responsible for two books. The citations for James Langer and Robert Earl Stewart are solid, creditable pieces of prose, dealing with specific, concrete elements of the books and demonstrating reasonable adjectival restraint. There are a couple of "awk" moments in the Peerbaye and Hall citations, but nothing terribly awful.

A couple of the Lampert citations, however, transcend the mediocrity intrinsic to the genre, making the leap to incredibad. Here's what "the jury" had to say about Marcus McCann's Soft Where:

Soft Where by Marcus McCann is a hard-hitting cutting edge poetic expose of a world filled with experimentation and valour. This stunning book explores the possibilities of bringing image to life, written in the language of the people and soaked in a heart of sapphire. The jury was intoxicated by this book, and feels this young writer should be encouraged in every and all ways - to the full extent of poetic promise. The language in Soft Where is as stark and meaningful as the images which express a lifestyle hard-lived and yet as delicate as an origami bird.

This is a brilliant piece of anti-genius. It starts off alright, but goes downhill in a hurry when the writer uses two rather stale compound adjectives. Okay, so this is some kind of journalistic take on something? On what? On a world of corruption and depravity? Graft and buggery? Nope. Of "a world filled with experimentation and valour." Phew. Good thing there are hard-working young poets out there digging up all that experimentation and valour for us to see in the clear light of day. Next, we have the cliche of a "stunning book"--the effects are evident on the blurb-writer--exploring something. What's this remarkably motile tome spelunkin'? Why, "the possibilities of bringing image to life"; presumably, this means that, unlike Dr. Frankenstein, the book doesn't actually succeed in animating its monsters. Pity; because that's a book someone might want to read. Not only that, but, after negotiating a rather tortured bit of syntax, we learn that the book is "written in the language of the people." Which language of which people? It's in English, right? Probably not, because then we learn that the book--presumably, though subject-object relationships in this sentence are rather hard to parse--is "soaked in a heart of sapphire." Near as I can tell, this makes no sense in my native tongue, so the book must be written in some other lingo. The explanation for this obscurity probably lies in the next sentence, in which we learn that "the jury was intoxicated by this book." Must be some kind of funky glue in the binding; I refer you back to the earlier mention of the book's "stunning" properties. The next sentence suggests perhaps that McCann has not won the prize. The blurb writer insists that "this young writer should be encouraged in every and all ways." Sic. And sic. Should be, but hasn't been? I guess we'll have to wait and see. The concluding clause of this sentence is priceless, "to the full extent" conjuring up the legal phrase "prosecuted to the full extent of the law." Perhaps encouraging young writers "in every and all ways" is tantamount to a prison sentence--I mean, that's a lot of ways, eh. What "the jury" means by "poetic promise" is bemusingly vague--is this some kind of grand parnassian ideal, or is McCann's promise as a writer intended? The anti-genius of it is that it's impossible to say! The brilliance continues in the blurb's last sentence, in which we are told that the language of this book--we're still not sure which language, but no matter--is not only "stark and meaningful" (which, as a phrase, is neither), but that its starkness and meaningfulness are equal to "the images [those poor stillborn things who weren't quite brought to life, recall] which express a lifestyle." Whether these images are to be found in McCann's book is by no means clear. Nor is it clear to whom the lifestyle belongs, but we do learn that it is simultaneously "hard-lived and yet as delicate as an origami bird." So, not a life hard-lived, but a lifestyle, which manages to make the book sound profound and shallow--AT THE SAME TIME! How a lifestyle can be "delicate as an origami bird" is equally baffling--unless something like this is intended...

It's not nearly as egregious as the McCann citation, but the paragraph dealing with Marguerite Pigeon's Inventory is pretty awesome, too. Apparently, this intrepid little volume does a whole lot of exploring. I especially like the blurb's last two sentences:

The jury loved this book and would like to gesture a large congratulations to Marguerite. All the best in the future.

Never mind the pure oddity of this kind of address to the author in a text meant for an audience of everyone but the author. And never mind the "better luck next time" intimation. That's weird enough, but when I read "gesture a large congratulations," I had to wonder if the juror's mother tongue was something other than English, or if perhaps the blurb had been, in the name of poetic innovation, translated into Estonian using Babelfish and then returned to English. Because I don't know how a literate English speaker could come up with that phrase unassisted.

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is why I have never joined the League of Canadian Poets. Tho I've been taking the piss--because these citations are so badly written as to be hilarious, when considered out of context--I think that allowing this crap to be published is incredibly disrespectful to the shortlisted authors and makes the prize itself look like a joke. Which it probably is, but it shouldn't be. It should be a mark of distinction, the recognition that all of the author's years of apprenticeship have been well spent.

But when a juror appears to use words at random, it isn't much of a leap to think that the books s/he chose to honour were picked just as haphazardly. Can a juror who writes this ineptly possibly be qualified to choose the best books? Probably not, but their dubious skills are clearly enough to be a published, accredited poet in Canada, good enough to be appointed a "peer" to bona fide poets like Langer and Stewart and Hall. In a Q&A session following a recent reading, Langer told an eager young writer that publishing is not a brass ring. Shit like this is proof-positive of his assertion.