Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Launch Report

Had a wonderful time at the Jailbreaks launch last night. The venue could have been better (there was a lot of ambient noise and the staff wasn't particularly helpful), but the readings were excellent and it was great to meet contributors Crispin Elsted, Nancy Holmes and Lyle Neff for the first time; also great to see others I'd not seen in a while and some good friends. I made a recording of the readings, but the acoustics in the place weren't very good, so the recording isn't really fit to be posted, unfortunately.

The responses to the book (both content and design) from contributors and others thus far has been very gratifying. There will be launches in the near future in Toronto and Montreal, but I won't be able to attend them, unfortunately, as I'm back on-call for the railroad May 9. This has been the longest layoff in my Via career to-date, and I can't say I'm looking forward to my return to wage-slavery. I'm sure it'll be fine once I get back into the swing of things, particularly once I big a regular assignment and don't have to work on-call. I've got my fingers crossed, hoping I don't have to work in the dining car, easily my least favourite on-train job. One of the downsides of working in Vancouver is that my favourite job from my old run in Halifax, "Assistant Service Coordinator" in charge of the coach cars, is only staffed out of Winnipeg, so I never get to work it. Come June, I'll probably be back doing what I did all last summer, playing host in the dome car. Not a bad gig.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Jailbreaks Launch Tonight

A final reminder that Jailbreaks will have its Vancouver launch tonight:

Our Town Cafe
245 East Broadway (near Kingsway)
7:00 pm

Featured readers:

Crispin Elsted
Nancy Holmes
George McWhirter, Vancouver's Poet Laureate
Lyle Neff
Barbara Nickel
Anne Stone (reading a sonnet by the late Robert Allen)
Zachariah Wells (doing covers, exclusively, since none of my sonnets is in the book)

Sunday, April 27, 2008

A Career-Limiting Move?

I'm going thru my unpublished poems trying to figure out which three to submit to an anthology of BC poetry. I wonder if this one would be appreciated:


Western bards are wont to garden
And muck about in rubber boots—
Here there’s little frost to harden
And all this rain breeds shallow roots.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Dylan Thomas Circle

A lovely evening last night at the Red Dragon Pub. There were about 35 people in attendance, most of them members of the Dylan Thomas Circle of Vancouver. Always a pleasure to read poems to a brand new audience, particularly an audience not comprised of people who write poems. And a terrific audience it was; one couldn't ask for better hospitality. I also sold a few copies of Jailbreaks, Unsettled and Sealift, as well as one copy of "Achromatope." And I got a cheque for reading, which is always very nice, even if I'd do it for free.

I recorded my reading, which you can listen to here, but unfortunately I forgot to turn my recorder on until after I'd read Dylan Thomas' "Lament." That's what I refer to in the beginning of the recording when I say that it's a tough act to follow. The other readers, Rhea Tregebov and John Donlan, read very well, but didn't wish to be recorded. John, a member of the Circle, invited me and Rhea to read there with him, and I'm awfully glad he did. I'm seriously thinking of joining. The Circle is interested in making guest readings a regular part of their activities and it would be good to have a role in that.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Last Reminder

I'm reading tonight (7:30 pm) at the Red Dragon Pub, 215 East 17th Ave. (basement of Welsh Community Centre), along with John Donlan and Rhea Tregebov. Because the reading's hosted by the Dylan Thomas Circle of Vancouver, John, Rhea and I will be reading some Thomas as well as our own work. Hope to see you there!

Matt Rader and Joanne Arnott

Went to Café Rhizome last night to hear Matt Rader and Joanne Arnott read from their new books. Shortly after Rader's Living Things came across the transom the other day, I read it pretty much straight thru in one sitting. It's an exhilirating book and very different in form and content from his very strong debut collection Miraculous Hours (read my review here): on the whole, not as personally oriented, more, dare I say, professional; the language is also more torqued, studded with internal patterns of rhyme, alliteration, assonance, as well as more traditional stanzaic forms, especially sonnets and newer structures, like the spectacular falling rhyme "fib" that opens the book (Matt's fib is structured differently from the one at the link, starting off with two stanzas of one line, a two-line, three-line, five-line, etc., and each of the 33 lines ends with an "n" sound); the form is perfectly suited to the evolutionary subject matter of the poem, not just a showpiece.

Another highlight of the book is "The Ocean Voyager," a virtuoso adaptation of Rimbaud's "Le bateau ivre." Shortly before the book came out, I was having a beer with Liz Bachinsky and Silas White, the publisher at Nightwood Editions. I mentioned to Liz that I'd seen "The Ocean Voyager" in Event (where Liz is the poetry editor) and really liked it. Silas said that Matt had taken the poem out of the manuscript, which neither Liz nor I could believe. Apparently, Silas called Matt the next day and insisted that the poem go back in. So I'm glad that I had a bit of second-hand influence on the shape of the book.

It was good to hear him read from Living Things, tho he didn't have full performative control over the material; his reading style seemed too laid back casual for the pace of his line, which Steven Heighton has aptly described as "kinetic." It was also a good opportunity to meet Matt for the first time, get my book signed and give him his contributor copies of Jailbreaks. Matt's darkly witty "Electric Chair by Andy Warhol" from Miraculous Hours is in the book. Matt's also reading tonight, but I won't tell you about that because I want you to come to my reading...

Joanne Arnott read next, from Mother Time her newly published volume of new and selected poems. She read very well, in a deep, throaty voice, but I can't say I was enthralled by what she was reading. They were mostly motherhood poems, which is not in and of itself a bad thing, but it's become such a subgenre of contemporary lyric verse that, without something really distinctive and individual in the poems, they sound much like all the other motherhood poems out there. There wasn't, to my ear, such a distinction in Arnott's work. The highlight of her reading, however, was her singing, a cappella, a modified version of Rockabye Baby.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Jailbreaks is here and looks amazing. Neither the jpg, nor the photo above, do justice to just how beautifully elegant the design is. Big thanks to Dan Wells and Dennis Priebe at Biblioasis for making the book not only possible, but so damn gorgeous.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Back from western Vancouver Island. What an amazing part of the world. Too tired to post much, but you can check out more photos we took, here.

There are also photos from our wedding here, here and here.

Friday, April 18, 2008


Rachel and I are off to Ucluelet for a little honeymoon. We'll be back on Wednesday.

Don't forget:

Friday the 25th, I'm reading at the Red Dragon Pub, 7:30 pm, 215 East 17th Ave., with Rhea Tregebov and John Donlan


Tuesday the 29th, we're launching Jailbreaks, with readings by myself and six contributors:

Time: 7 pm
Place: Our Town Cafe
245 East Broadway

Ciao for now.

If it don't rhyme, it ain't

Incredible that this sort of dinosaur still walks the earth, but here's proof. Rejecting rhyme and meter altogether is questionable. Seeing them as the sine qua non of poetry is idiotic. What is this, the 18th Century?

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Jailbreaks update

Heard from Dan Wells earlier today that Jailbreaks is back from the printers and is even prettier in the cellulose, he says, than in 2D on the screen. I can't wait to hold it in my hands. Alas, Vancouver is very far from Emeryville, so I'll have to wait till next week damnit. Order a copy! Come to the launch on the 29th!

Aimé Césaire

I just learned that the great Martinique poet of Négritude, Aimé Césaire, has died at 94. I first read his masterpiece, Cahier d'un retour au pays natal, in high school, as well as his brilliant adaptation of Shakespeare's The Tempest, Une Tempête, and I still remember a great deal of both pieces. I've since read Cahier several times, but it's been too long. Unfortunately, my copies of his books are in my Halifax attic. A great, long life. He'll be missed, no doubt, but as long as his work survives his enormous political and literary presence will be felt.

Ryan Arnold and Jordan Scott

Went to the Robson Reading Series this evening to hear Ryan Arnold and Jordan Scott read. Both of these gentleman are Lower Mainland born-n-raised (Arnold from North Van and Scott from Coquitlam) and there was a really strong turnout for them, I'd say 40-odd at a rough guess, amply filling the UBC bookstore reading space.

Arnold read first, from his collection of short fiction The Coward Files. Arnold seemed a bit nervous, self-deprecating to a fault (no one should say at a reading that he hopes he's not wasting people's time), his preamble punctuated by ums and ahs, and in spite of keeping his eyes glued on the page, he stumbled a few times during his reading of two stories from the book--stories which called for a more expressive and dramatic performance than he gave them. There were a few laughs in the stories, but they could have been much funnier if delivered with a better sense of comic timing. The writing was also a bit stilted, I found; Arnold was at his funniest while talking, rather than in reading, probably because his writing sounded too much like writing. I bootlegged the reading, so you can judge for yourself.

After the break, Jordan Scott read from his new book Blert which, as he said, "explores the poetics of stuttering" (Scott has a speech impediment, so this is a personal question, not a mere ploy for novelty). After a brief introduction, he just read. No apologies, no palaver, just a strong, confident reading. The work is mainly what one would call "sound poetry," much more aural play than paraphrasable sense. Scott held the book in his left hand, while his right hand, holding a pen, moved like an orchestra conductor's when he got into full swing. There were movements in and out of cacophonous nonsense, and it was on several occasions disarmingly moving. I picked up the book after the reading, but after flipping thru it, decided not to buy it. Quite the opposite of Arnold's writing, Scott's prose and verse pieces were far flatter on the page than what I'd just heard. I wonder why a supposedly avant-garde press like Coach House doesn't publish work like this in CD format. It cries out for it; why are publishers so resistant to audio publishing? Fortunately, thanks to my handy little Panasonic machine, you can hear Scott's reading.

The World's Worst Music

A friend sent this link to me this morning in an email headed "the soundtrack to Robin Blaser's book." Take a listen. Goddamn funny.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Atlantic Book Prizes

Shortlists have been announced for the annual Atlantic Book Prizes. Good to see a couple of friends up for awards. George Murray (even if he is a mainlander come-from-away) has been shortlisted for the poetry prize for his very strong collection The Rush to Here and Eric Orchard, the illustrator of our forthcoming kids' book, is nominated in the children's illustration category for his work on A Forest for Christmas.

George is in tough against a couple of perennial award-winners more firmly established in Atlantic Canada. Simpson's a past Lampert, Atlantic, GG and Griffin winner and Domanski won last year's GG. I haven't read Simpson's or Domanski's books, but I found Simpson's past books come very far from living up to the hype and what I've seen of Domanski's recent work hasn't done much for me. George's collection is probably his strongest overall. One of his "thought-rhyme" sonnets, "Ditch," is in Jailbreaks. So I'm rooting for him.

Elise Partridge

Here's an interview with Elise Partridge, from the Walrus blog. Elise is someone I've got to know--and like a great deal--since moving to Vancouver. I find it interesting that she says that Canada is more hospitable to metrical rhyming poetry than the States. My impression has been the opposite. I can't imagine an American poet such as Richard Wilbur, for instance, becoming the Big Name he is in Canada, where poets like George Johnston and Richard Outram worked in obscurity and where as fine a poet as Charles Bruce has been all-but-forgotten. I reckon Vancouverite Daryl Hine would also dispute Elise's observation. By contrast, it seems as tho Black Mountaineering has been a more popular sport in Canada than in its country of origin.

I haven't read Elise's new book yet, but her first collection, Fielder's Choice, has some really excellent poems in it. What I particularly like about Elise's work is the balance of playful humour and poignant emotion in it, both modulated by a very fine verbal precision, which is, as others have noted, reminiscent of the work of Elizabeth Bishop.

Here are a few more links:

"One Calvinist's God" - Arc's How Poems Work

"Buying the Farm" - Maisonneuve

"Two Cowboys" - The Walrus

"The Runt Lily" - Poet Laureate's Poem of the Week

Three Poems - Poetry Daily

"In the Barn" - Washington Post

"Elegy" - Slate (with audio)

"For a Father" - Writer's Almanac (with audio-scroll down to the bottom)

"Supermarket Scanner" - Writer's Almanac (with audio-scroll down to the bottom)

"Rural Route" - Writer's Almanac (with audio-scroll down to the middle)

"Chemo Side-Effects: Vision" - The New Yorker

"First Days Back at Work" - The New Yorker

"Plague" - from a wildflower website

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Wedding Report

We had the finest day of the spring on Saturday for our wedding and it was a wonderful night. A short, sweet ceremony, officiated by marriage commissioner Bob Buzza, very good food, plenty of drink (the beer keg ran dry, but more than half the wine I made was left at the end of the night), and most importantly good friends and lots of family. Rachel's mom and my mom both gave very funny speeches, part toast, part roast. Rachel and I have been married for several years already, and we exchanged rings three years ago, so this wasn't a life-changing event, but it was a very life-affirming night. Many photos were taken, but I've yet to see any.

It was great having my mom and brother in town for a few days, too, all the way from PEI. We made many outings, giving me a chance to do some of the touristy Vancouver stuff I wouldn't normally do.

Rachel and I are heading over to Ucluelet (western Vancouver Island) on Saturday for an extended weekend "minimoon." We're staying at Terrace Beach Resort, owned by Jason Priestley of Beverly Hills 90210 fame.

I'm doing a reading on the 25th, with John Donlan and Rhea Tregebov, hosted by the Dylan Thomas Circle of Vancouver. Here are the details:

Time: 7:30
Place: Red Dragon Pub (downstairs at the Welsh Community Centre)
215 East 17th Ave.

All of us will be reading a Dylan Thomas poem as well as some of our own. Should be good fun.

And on Tuesday the 29th, we're having the Vancouver launch for Jailbreaks: 99 Canadian Sonnets. Have you got your copy yet? Reading at the launch will be myself (reading sonnets by Vancouver-area contributors who couldn't make the launch), Crispin Elsted, Nancy Holmes, George McWhirter, Lyle Neff, Barbara Nickel, and Anne Stone (reading a sonnet by the late Robert Allen). Here are details on the launch:

Time: 7 pm
Place: Our Town Cafe
245 East Broadway

Hope to see you Vancouver types out.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008


I'm getting married on Saturday and my mother and brother are in town, so don't expect much here for the next little while. And if you think I've got anything to say about the Griffin Prize Shortlist, as far as I'm concerned I already said it...

Monday, April 7, 2008

Canada's Poetry Capital?

A while back, Glen Rotchin asked me for my input on a piece he was writing about a national poetry capital. His article appeared in the Montreal Gazette the other day.

Saturday, April 5, 2008



Friday, April 4, 2008

Maureen Medved, Teresa McWhirter, Sachiko Murakami

Rachel and I went to the Robson Reading Series last night.

First reader was Maureen Medved, who read from her now-film-adapted novel The Tracey Fragments. I had trouble getting into the excerpt she read, but it built momentum as she went and was on the whole pretty persuasive. Couldn't help thinking, tho, that it would work better as a film. It was interesting to learn in the Q&A that followed that Meved, who is also a screenwriter, adapted the book herself and initially conceived of it as both novel and screenplay. She also read a scene from a novel-in-progress, which I couldn't get into at all.

Teresa McWhirter next read from her new novel Dirtbags. The writing was pedestrian and the reading too short to tell if the story had any more redeeming features.

The last reading was by Sachiko Murakami. I first met Sachi back in 2004, I think, in Montreal, after the Unsettled launch I posted recently. She told me she appreciated the references to Vancouver's downtown eastside in my poem "Jake." And now her own book about that much-maligned and oft-benighted borough, The Invisibility Exhibit, is out with Talonbooks. The book works around the story of the missing women from the downtown East Hastings area that has of course been a major national news item for some time now.

I wrote recently about the ham-handed political poetry of another Vancouverite, Rita Wong. A backchannel email I got interpreted this as a general dismissal of political poetry as art. Which it wasn't. But the most common problem with political poetry is an imbalance in the rhetoric and artistry, resulting in poems that have, in Keats' phrase, "a palpable design" on the reader, and I felt that Wong strayed repeatedly over the line between art and propaganda. What I've seen and heard of Sachi's book so far suggests she is aware of this as a potential problem, and has done her best to avoid it. I bought the book last night and look forward to seeing for myself--even if Sachi jokingly asked me not to review her!

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Old Audio

Was going thru a box of CDs and found the recording of the Montreal launch of Unsettled, dating back to October 21, 2004. If you're at all interested, you can hear it here.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

A Change of Heart

I know this will probably come as something of a surprise--if not a shock--to regular readers of this blog, but since the conception of my future child I've gradually come to realize that many of my views are ill-considered. When this child is born, I don't want it to grow up in a moral vacuum and I want it to have some sense of the purpose of life. These are very hard things to manufacture with secular scepticism. I can hardly believe I'm saying this, but I've decided to get baptised in the Anglican Church and raise our child as a Christian. Lord know this won't be a solution to all the adversity he or she encounters in life, but it will give him or her something I never had: a firm foundation.

[Well, it's after noon now, so yes, Ian, April Fool's!]