An ooooold poem of mine, "Once Upon an Island," has been reprinted from my 2004 chapbook Fool's Errand in The Buzz, PEI's arts monthly.
Monday, November 30, 2015
Sunday, October 4, 2015
As pretty much anybody who will be reading this knows, a couple of weeks ago Michael Lista published a piece of long-form journalism on Canadaland.com about Scott Griffin's role in a $15 billion deal that will see a Canadian company selling light armoured vehicles (LAV) to Saudi Arabia. Griffin, of course, is the patron of a lucrative poetry prize that bears his name, so this news is of particular concern, or should be, to people who read and write poetry, not least of all because Saudi Arabia, as Lista points out, has been especially brutal in its punishment of a writer, Raif Badawi, whose only crime was criticizing the Saudi government.
Poets' antennae are easily--often far too easily--set aquiver by perceived injustice. Consider some recent tempests in the pobiz teapot. Jason Guriel's mildly sceptical review of Alice Oswald's Memorial was likened to a "Twitter rape threat" by poet Helen Guri, thanks to some creatively dubious close reading of Guriel's diction in the piece. Both Frederick Seidel and Kenneth Goldsmith were widely attacked for their poetic responses to the shooting of Michael Brown and the ensuing race riots in Ferguson, Missouri. Conceptual poet Vanessa Place was also recently accused of racism in her work. Most recently, white poet Michael Derrick Hudson was roundly denounced for publishing poems under the Chinese pseudonym Yi-Fen Chou. And of course, there's the ongoing matter of gender imbalance in reviewing, which has seen many names named and shamed.
Most of these issues are legitimate causes for concern, even if the call-outs and ostracizations they generate are extremely problematic. Hopefully, however, everyone can agree that no piece of writing or act of cultural appropriation, however offensive it might be, could ever be equated with selling arms to a tyrannical state that routinely uses violence to control its own people, and which is widely known to sponsor terrorist organizations. But, while some people in the writing world are disturbed by the revelation of Scott Griffin's ties to an arms deal that is, by all appearances, a violation of Canadian law, this group of very well-educated citizens, normally so keen to speak out against social injustice, global capitalism, militarism, etc., has of a sudden gotten all "let's take a step back and appreciate the nuances of this dilemma" on us.
A lot of the (muted and limited) response to Lista's article has consisted of hand-wringing, head-shaking, cognitive dissonance diminishment, complicity mongering and, in a few cases, spectacular acts of moral gymnastics, of the sort offered up by no less a figure than Margaret Atwood, as quoted by Lista in his article, making Hitler-invoking NRA-style arguments that tanks don't kill people and it takes a good guy with a tank to stop a bad guy with a tank. Poet and critic Clint Burnham has contributed my favourite bon mot on the situation:
Poets line up to not bite hand that feeds barely any of them— Clint Burnham (@Prof_Clinty) September 24, 2015
Some of the things I've heard, paraphrased and condensed:
- We're all complicit. Look at your RRSP portfolio. Look at the gas you put in your car. Look at your electronic gadgets and your sweatshop shirts.
- The Griffin endowment was funded before this arms deal and is self-sufficient, so the prizes aren't tainted by dollars from Saudi Arabia.
- We always knew that Scott Griffin made parts for tanks. Is it so much worse to sell tanks to the Saudis than to the Americans? Just because we go to his gala and drink his wine doesn't mean we endorse his business practices.
- Griffin also owns House of Anansi Press, so if we're going to boycott the prize, does that mean we also can't buy Anansi books?
- A Saudi prince owns a big share of Twitter, so if you have an issue with Griffin, you'd better close your Twitter account, you hypocrites.
- All money is blood money.
- Lista's motives are suspect.
- This is a distraction from the real story, which is about the Conservative government allowing this deal to take place.
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 8:01 AM
Wednesday, September 30, 2015
I'm reading at the International Festival of Authors next month and in advance of those readings, the good folks at the festival asked me a few questions, which I've answered and they've blogged.
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 8:35 AM
Wednesday, September 23, 2015
Tuesday, September 15, 2015
No one sees them coming and no matter
your skill set, they'll get you. The routine
mechanics of making the play on your mind
until mind outplays arm and a batter
not even busting hard down the line
finds himself safe. Every ball seems to find
you and you can't find the right footing.
Steve Blass Disease. Sax Syndrome. Sasseritis.
It's all in the head, say the true-blue
dualists, but head stays stubbornly rooted
to shoulders and head has felled the mightiest
soldier. Oh, Chuck Knoblauch, what can you do?
Press reset. A new position might fit—
but it could be that you'll just have to quit.
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 6:58 AM
Tuesday, July 21, 2015
Friday, July 17, 2015
I just received my contributor copies of Arc Poetry Magazine 77 in the mail. Neck-deep in non-literary summer busyness, it's nice to be reminded that I wrote a couple of things not so long ago.
In the issue are two essays I'm very proud of. One is a memorial for my late friend Elise Partridge, focused squarely on her poetry. I wish she was still here to read it. I hope you read it, but more than that, I hope you read her poetry.
The other piece is a longer essay on the works of Lisa Robertson. It's a greatly abridged version of a piece too long for Arc to print whole, but I hope to polish up and publish the long version in the not-too-distant future. Still, I think the piece as published is a pretty good minority take on Robertson's relationship to the canon of English poetry.
The mag has some other good-looking content, including the always-sharp Sarah Neville on Jeramy Dodds' version of the Edda and a rave review of Kerry-Lee Powell's Inheritance, written by Phoebe Wang.
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 6:01 PM
Thursday, May 28, 2015
I recently had the enormous pleasure and privilege of launching my new collection in Halifax, Lunenburg and Moncton with Robyn Sarah (launching her new book My Shoes Are Killing Me) and M. Travis Lane (launching Crossover, which Robyn edited for Cormorant Books). I've been thinking about these readings a lot over the past few days. Robyn and Travis are such classy people and consummate poets. They are also very skilled performers of their own work, which is rarer than it ought to be. We had a lot of fun on this mini tour and I consider myself very lucky to have spent three days in their company.
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 12:43 PM
The good folks at the exciting new e-magazine, Partisan, have just published my poem "Rye," which they accepted prior to the publication of Sum, where the poem also appears. If you haven't already checked out Partisan, you should have a look around the site. They've published some really crisp things already. And they recently added Alexandra Oliver to their masthead, which is a very smart move in my books.
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 12:26 PM
Thursday, May 7, 2015
Sunday, April 26, 2015
Got home yesterday from a five-city book tour. I've made recordings of three of the launches; two others were taped by other folks in Kingston and Hamilton. The latter, featuring readings by Robyn Sarah, Don McGrath (reading his translations of Robert Melancon) and myself, has been posted by Adrian Hoad-Reddick.
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 4:23 AM
Thursday, April 16, 2015
Monday, April 6, 2015
Sunday, April 5, 2015
Tuesday, March 31, 2015
A promotional piece I wrote for the Literary Press Group's "All Lit Up" blog has just been posted. Not something I usually do: a)a promo article and b)write about prose fiction. But these are four really enjoyable collections of not-quite-usual stories, so I was glad to have the chance to shed a bit of virtual ink on them.
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 12:28 PM
Thursday, March 26, 2015
Last night was also my first opportunity to hold a copy of the new book, thanks to Kate picking up a few, still warm from the press at Coach House. It's pretty damn beautiful and I feel very fortunate.
Susan G. Cole, who hosted last night's show, did a nice little write-up on it today. I chose to go with a single longer poem and read my dramatic monologue "Achromatope," which is based on Oliver Sacks's story "The Colourblind Painter." If there was "moving melancholy" in my reading, it's probably in part because I was thinking all day about Sacks's recent diagnosis of terminal cancer. Though I once received correspondence from Dr. Sacks after I sent him a broadside print of "Achromatope," I can't claim to know the man, so I didn't feel comfortable dedicating the reading to him, but in retrospect that was dumb. So when I read it again at Harbourfront, I will dedicate it to him.
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 2:23 PM
Monday, March 2, 2015
Not consistent, but in
clusters, in lacustrine
conglomerations, in lack
lustre congress, in lacunar
con sordino, in schools
of sardine shoaling
in shallows, in shadows
and splotches of sickled
shivelight, in shimmers
and speckles, in specks,
freckles and moles, in tunnels
and tubes, in tubs and tubas
and turbines, in turbot's
turbercles, in tubercular
fits, in fletches, flitches
and flits, in flatlands
and mesas, in ditches,
in dikes, in tidal insistence,
in bridles and britches,
in fasces and faces, in flashes
and flexes and fluxion, in fluent
and falling, setting fire
to synapses and scuttling
sense to its apsis.
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 4:54 PM
Saturday, February 21, 2015
Sunday, February 15, 2015
Monday, February 2, 2015
I learned yesterday that my dear friend Elise Partridge has died. I knew her time was running out--I'd known it for almost a year--but I was really hoping she'd hang in long enough to see her final book come off the press this spring. Knowing this was coming in no way makes it less painful for those who knew and loved her--for me--but given how much pain and suffering she'd already been through, there is some comfort in the thought that she need endure no more of it.
As word got out about Elise's death on social media yesterday, many people wrote of how kind she was. And she was. Elise wasn't that awful thing--a "nice" person--she was a person of great spirit, authentically generous in a way that no nice person is. I first met her, briefly, in March 2006, when I did a reading in Vancouver. She introduced herself to me after the reading, said a few enthusiastic words and, as I recall, left precipitously. She seemed unaccountably anxious. Not long after, I had an email from her apologizing that she was "ridiculously shy when meeting new people." She said a few lovely things about my poems and about my review work. And her comments weren't merely perfunctory compliments, of the sort one encounters all too often in any collegial environment, but the kind of sharp, perceptive observations that can only be the product of thoughtful attention. Not long after that, Elise wrote to offer me a complimentary subscription to the London Review of Books, a perk her husband Steve (a medievalist in the UBC English department) had acquired in exchange for writing a review for LRB. She thought, rightly, that the high quality long-form reviews in LRB would appeal to me.
When I moved to Vancouver from Halifax the following year, Elise did more than any other person (outside of Rachel's family) to welcome me to the city. She invited me to become a member of the Poetry Dogs, a semi-regular reading circle that would meet at a member's house to discuss whatever poems people had brought along. Members, besides Elise and Steve, included Barbara Nickel, Stephanie Bolster, John Donlan, George McWhirter, Christopher Patton and, later, Matt Rader. The only condition was that they had to be someone else's poems, someone not a member of Dogs. It was in Dogs sessions that I really learned how acute and uncompromising a reader Elise was. Anyone who came under her tutelage--as when she was poet-in-residence for Arc Poetry Magazine--could only have come away with their poems much improved.
Elise was someone who was more intimate with death than anyone in the First World should have to be, but something that distinguished her personality, and the poetry that was so much a product of it, was her refusal to be gloomy in the face of death. She would never have agreed with Larkin that "death is no different whined at than withstood." And she never succumbed to despair. Her oeuvre is full of poems about death, but they are playful, virtuosic poems, acts of resistance, testament to the size of her spirit, the defiance of her breath.
In an early email to me, she was irked by a reviewer who had "insulted [her] character and artistic integrity by charging [her] with 'trying to dazzle.'" She ended that letter with a piece of advice for me: "If you ever get slandered with the show-off label, my suggestion is to reply, 'I'm not TRYING to dazzle--ah just DOES!'" And she did. I miss her already, but she has left so much behind.
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 6:16 AM
Wednesday, January 28, 2015
The index of a vintage
is the season's history: how many
photons have fallen
through the skin. Equations
predict excellence. Unlike
the nose of connoisseurs,
the maths involved
are flawless, however
maculate the soil.
Deprive the vine of water,
it will eke its taproot deeper
down through solid strata
where it draws not only
succour for the turgor
of its foliage and fruit,
but hauls up half-formed
metaphors from minerals
lying latent in the clay,
imparts them to the grape
flesh where they mingle
and intensify as the sun-
washed clusters ripen.
These metaphors remain
embryonic until tongue
-cognized and -constituted
by a seasoned sommelier
who nearly knows them flawlessly.
The index of a vintage,
however reason may explain it,
retains intrinsic mystery—
the grape escapes its proof.
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 6:25 AM
Sunday, January 4, 2015
As it very seldom happens that the rage of extemporary criticism inflicts fatal or lasting wounds, I know not that the Laws of benevolence entitle this distress to much sympathy. The diversion of baiting an author has the sanction of all ages and nations, and is more lawful than the sport of teasing other animals, because for the most part he comes voluntarily to the stake, furnished, as he imagines, by the patron powers of literature with resistless weapons and impenetrable armour, with the mail of the boar of Erymanth, and the paws of the lion of Nemea.-Samuel Johnson
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 9:13 AM
Thursday, January 1, 2015
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 7:41 AM