Thursday, October 30, 2008

End of the Road

The railroad that is. For me that is. Making what should be my last working trip of the year tomorrow, Winnipeg and back with no layover. Bring it on. Can't wait for a good stretch of time off. Of course, I'm still running all over the place in November, with readings in Victoria and Prince George, as well as closer to home in Vancouver and North Vancouver. But I should be able to buckle down and turn my attention to a few projects I've been meaning to finish for a while, including editing a manuscript of Shane Neilson's poetry; editing a selection of Kenneth Leslie's poetry; and fine-tuning my own collection of poems. I've got some other things on the go, but that's plenty for now.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Road Trip Report

What a weekend it was. After flying to Dorval on Thursday, I caught a train to Ottawa, where I was picked up by my uncle Stewart. From there, we went out for Chinese food. It's always great to see Stewart and his partner Judith, with whom I lived for a year back in the early nineties. They were so taken with Anything But Hank! that they bought 6 copies.

The next morning was an occasion for slight anxiety. I had told the organizers of the Ottawa International Writers Festival, by email, that I wouldn't be staying at the hotel, but never got a response. I was supposed to get picked up Friday morning by Kate Hunt, a Festival staffer, to go out to Stittsville, a small town-cum-suburb west of Ottawa, for a reading at the Stittsville Public School. When it started getting late, I called the school. Fortunately, so did Kate, after finding out that I hadn't checked in to the hotel. We got to the school about 15 minutes late, but it went well from there. Over 200 6 and 7 year olds filed into the school gym. I had them sit in a semi-circle, three or four rows deep, around the three-point line of the basketball court. Reading with a cordless mic (and a device for two hearing-impaired kids attached to my ear), I walked around the area inside the three-point line, reading and showing the pictures to the kids. Kate helped out by covering the side of the semi-circle I wasn't on. The kids loved the story, laughing and reacting wonderfully. The great thing about kids is they don't pretend to like something. If only their parents had been there, I'm sure I'd have sold dozens of books. As it is, the school bought 2 copies. Whatever--it was really fun.

After the reading, Kate drove me back into Ottawa and the National Archives, the main site for festival events. I caught Steven Heighton and Sonnet L'Abbé giving a "master class" on form and emotion in poetry. Some interesting insights--and was flattered that Steven quoted a piece of criticism I wrote--but the thing could have been structured better on the whole. Had lunch with Steven and Sonnet afterwards, which was very cool. I met Steven some years back, when he was writer-in-res at Concordia, and we've corresponded some, but hadn't hung out with him before. He's an awesome poet and every bit a gentleman. As is so often the case, tho Sonnet and I live in the same town, this was the first time we'd hung out in a while, which is too bad because I enjoy her company and conversation.

Kate and I headed back out at 3, for my reading of ABH at the Inuit Children's Centre in Vanier. This was a much more intimate event than the morning's reading, with only 6 or 7 kids, but it was a treat. I get a bit nostalgic for the north sometimes and have always had a soft spot for sarcastic smartass Inuit kids. A couple of the kids in the group had clear learning/behavioural issues, but they were a good group and mostly listened attentively. The Centre seemed like a really positive place.

After dinner in the foyer of the Archives, I caught a couple of cool non-fiction talks, one by Dan Falk on the subject of time and another by the renowned physicist Leonard Susskind, with whom I broke bread in the foyer, on the subject of black holes, relativity and quantum physics. Susskind's from the Bronx and very down-to-earth. Obviously brilliant, but never going over the heads of the laypeople in the audience. Super funny guy, too. I bought his book and look forward to reading it.

After that, took in a talk by Mark Kingwell and John Lorinc on "Livable Cities." Kingwell's presentation was fascinating. Lorinc had some good things to say, but seemed to be nervous or uncomfortable with public speaking. It was hard to follow his speech for all the nervous tics in it. There was an extensive Q&A session afterwards. For obvious reasons, the question of creating sustainable, vibrant cities is on a lot of people's minds.

That was the last event of the evening, after which I made my way to the hospitality suite at the Delta Hotel, where the beer flowed like wine. All night. After hours of stimulating conversation and liquid depressants, I caught a cab back to my uncle's at 4:30 am.

I arose at 10, so I wouldn't miss Steven Pinker's interview at noon. The auditorium was packed. The host didn't seem to be all that well-prepared for the interview, but Pinker, not surprisingly, had a lot of interesting things to say. The Q&A was almost comic, as several audience members were bent on asking basically the same question about linguistic determinism, and to each in turn, Pinker said that people don't think fundamentally different thoughts because they speak different languages.

Right after Pinker was the Jailbreaks launch in the foyer. On-hand to read were Stephen Brockwell, Colin Carberry, Geoffrey Cook, Mary Dalton and Joshua Trotter. Stephen Brockwell was the official host, so he introduced me, after which I took over and introduced each of the other readers, reading sonnets by absent Ottawa-area poets in between readers. The reading went very well, and was even recorded by CTV. (What became of that footage, I have no idea.) I'm not sure, but I think there were around 30 or so people in attendance. It might have been better, but the reading was scheduled at the same time as a talk by Jay Ingram and Andrew Weaver on global warming. I know I'd've gone to that if I wasn't reading. Nevertheless, saw some old friends, as well as my aunt, and had some terrific responses from other audience members.

After the reading, I went out into the pouring rain with Colin Carberry and his wife for a drink and bite to eat at the Delta. Had a fine talk, mostly on the subject of various misadventures we'd had under the influence. Not surprisingly, our language got a bit salty and Colin said afterward we were getting dirty looks from some of the other patrons. Fuck 'em if they can't take a joke!

At 6, I caught the fiction reading, with David Bergen, Bill Gaston and Rawi Hage. I found Bergen's reading pretty pedestrian; there were some things I liked in Gaston's; but Hage stole the show, reading from his new novel, Cockroach. The Q&A afterward was fascinating. There was a fair bit of antagonism between Hage, host Sean Wilson and the other readers. Hage described his book as "political" at one point, to which all three others said they didn't think it was. "What are you talking about?" said Hage "My book has gay Iranian characters, of course it's political." To which Bergen, I think, said that the book wasn't political, even if Hage's intentions were. At this point it became clear to me that everyone but Hage was using the term "political" to mean that it was ideological propaganda. Canadian writers seem so well-trained to despise the political that it's become a dirty word. Once it was clear that this was not Hage's meaning, Bergen and Gaston conceded that their books, too, were political. I also liked something Hage said about his writing process; that he doesn't plan his books, he just sits down to write and see what comes out. "I'm a smart guy, I've read a lot and I'm concerned with many things going on in the world" is basically what he said, "so why shouldn't I be able to sit down and write a book?" He said he wrote the already-multiple-award-nominated Cockroach very quickly. I bought a copy and got him to sign it. I've started to read it, and really like it so far. It's way more vital than most of the contemporary fiction I've come across in this country. I told Hage I was planning to read the book and give it to someone else afterwards, for which I apologized, since I know he wouldn't make as much money as he would if I bought two. He said it was good that I was sharing the book, then laughed and said he didn't have to worry much about money these days.

At 8, I attended the Poetry Cabaret, with Meredith Quartermain, Dannabang Kuwabong and Monty Reid. This was one of the weakest events I took in. Quartermain's work, from her new book Matter, was mostly intellectual noodlings and aimless wordplay. Kuwabong's was mostly a kind of naive lyricism. Reid's, a kind of muted confessionalism, was a bit more interesting, but didn't really jingle my bells. In the Q&A, I got a bit annoyed with Quartermain's facile distinction between lyric poetry and poetry that is "interested in language." But I didn't get as annoyed as JW Curry, who stormed out of the room when Kuwabong said, at the end of a story about a woman's encounter with his work, that "she bought four books, and that's all that matters."

I headed back over to the hospitality suite, intending to stay a short time, since I had a train to Montreal at 9:50 the next morning. At 4 am, I grabbed a cab back to my uncle's for a brief rest before getting up to leave. Managed to snooze a bit on the train, but it's not a long ride. In the cab from the Montreal station, I found myself feeling nostalgic, heading north up Avenue du Parc into Mile End, a neighbourhood I lived in off and on for three years, where I was staying with my friends Leigh Kotsilidis and Zach Gaviller. Had some fresh hot Montreal bagels with them, after which we were joined by Josh Trotter and his girlfriend Aliya and later Gabe Foreman and his girlfriend Amy Chartrand. These people, along with Jeramy Dodds and Mathias Kom, I first met in 2006 when I stopped in Peterborough on my cross-country tour. We've since hung out several times hither and yon, and I have to say they're some of my favourite folks in the country. I'm glad that so many of them have relocated to Montreal, as I'll be seeing a fair bit of the city once we move back to Halifax.

After checking out the Drawn and Quarterly store, we headed out for supper on Prince Arthur at a Greek BYOB restaurant. From there, we headed west a few blocks for the Arc/Jailbreaks launch at Ye Olde Orchard Pub. Here, I saw several other friends I'd not seen in a while, including Stephanie Bolster, Susan Gillis, Carmine Starnino, Anita Lahey, Peter Richardson, Robyn Sarah, Asa Boxer, and Chris "Zeke" Hand. Anita emceed the Arc portion of the evening. Highlights were Asa's reading of his very funny poem about Ikea as a Dantean inferno and Carmine's of his poem about running into a possible alter-ego at a hotel in St. John, NB. After a musical interlude, Anita introduced me and I took over for the Jailbreaks reading, which I needn't tell you about, since I posted the audio below. A highlight for me was Carmine deciding to read Rob Allen's sonnet instead of his own, which opened the door for me to read Carmine's sonnet. The reading was a lot of fun.

But Ye Olde Orchard, thanks to its halogen lighting, was too damn hot, so we left for a pub on Duluth, where a crowd of us drank till they kicked us out. I walked back to Leigh and Zach's with Josh and Aliya, but lost them after ducking into an alley off St. Laurent for a piss. Assuming they were ahead of me, I hustled along, but didn't catch them up. When I got back, they weren't there. I was concerned that they might have got lost, since they weren't that familiar with Montreal, but after about a half hour they turned up. Seems they were waiting for me to return for the alley, but I came out of it further north than I'd gone into it, assuming they'd kept walking. We had a nightcap and a bit more chat before retiring, again well past four.

Monday, I had a late breakfast with Josh and Aliya at a cafe on Bernard. I wasn't crazy about Montreal during my sojourn there, but have always loved Mile End. There's something way cooler about cafes in Montreal than in just about any other city in Canada. Aliya, who lives in London right now, said as much. Not too many places where you can have brunch on a Monday while listening to live jazz.

I packed up and said my goodbyes to Josh and Aliya, then grabbed a cab to the Dorval airport for a flight back to Vancouver. What a very full weekend. Lots of memories. But best of all was coming in the door to see Kaleb and Rachel at the end of it all. Stimulating and gratifying as all this literary hobnobbing is, it's not what sustains a person and it's certainly not what keeps one grounded. Not that I'm not looking forward to more down the road.


John MacDonald has posted a photo of me from the OIWF Jailbreaks reading. John's such a great photographer. He even manages to make an ugly mug like mine look decent.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Some Photos

Carmine Starnino sent me some photos of the Montreal launch, which can be viewed here.

Jailbreaks Montreal Launch--audio

Before I left Montreal yesterday, I found out that I had to work a "standby" shift at the railroad terminal today, from 7 am to 6 pm. So I'm too zonkered right now to write up my impressions of what was a most amazing weekend of poetry, intellectual stimulation and great conversations--in many cases far too brief--with friends. For now, I'll leave you with audio from the reading at Ye Olde Orchard Pub, which has a very squeaky floor and very hot halogen lighting, but was otherwise a very fine venue. I'll be posting audio of the first half of the evening (the launch of Arc's 30th anniversary issue) in due time. 2 days off, 2 days off, 2 days off...

Sunday, October 26, 2008

quasi update

I've been running around too much to post news about the Writers Fest. Short version: it's been a blast. Off to Montreal now for the Arc/Jailbreaks launch. Maybe see you there?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

First We Take Ottawa

I'm off tomorrow to the OIWF. Flying into Montreal, then taking a train to Ottawa because, yes, I'm that cheap. Friday, I'm reading to kids in the morning and aft. Saturday, to adults in the aft. Sunday, off to Montreal for the Arc/Jailbreaks bash. If I have time and a decent wireless connection, I'll post reports. Ciao for now.

(In)significant Digits

A bit late on this, but a few days ago, CLM received it's 50,000th hit. Yep, a lot of those are for "anal moves," but still, after a year and a half or so on the net, I'm surprised my little piece of self-indulgence has received as much traffic as it has.

Speaking of traffic, as regular readers know, one of the things I do here is post recordings of poems, albeit sporadically. I've been doing this with the assistance of, an excellent creative commons site that lets users upload content in various media. Visitors to the site can then view/hear site content and can download it. They don't count the people who just look at or listen to content, but they do keep track of the downloads. It's interesting to see what's more or less popular. The runaway hit, of the poems I've posted in audio format, is Robert Browning's "My Last Duchess," which at the present moment has been downloaded a whopping 3,097 times since I posted it on January 8 of this year. Next up, a distant second, but surprisingly popular given how contemporary a poem it is, Richard Wilbur's "Security Lights, Key West," with 1047 downloads since September 19, 2006. In third is my reading of "The Ballad of Eskimo Nell," downloaded 591 times since March 4, 2007. A few others have topped 100. So there's supposed to be no audience for poetry, eh.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Lyrik Line

Paul Vermeersch has pointed out that the Berlin writers festival has a website with a ton of audio recordings. I've added the link to my "Audio Poems" roll to the right. Lots of good stuff there.

Jailbreaks Review

Thanks to Megan for letting me know that John Mutford has reviewed Jailbreaks in The Yellowknifer. No surprise that he likes it, since he had already reviewed it at greater length on his blog, but nice to see some coverage in a Northern paper.

Anything But Hank, eh?

A hearty huzzah to Eric Orchard and his wife Julie, on the arrival of their son Henry! I hope the book doesn't give the little spud a complex...


The shortlists for the 2008 Governor General's Literary Awards have been announced. The poetry list, as chosen by Di Brandt, Pier Giorgio di Cicco and Connie Fife (have you heard of her?):

Weyman Chan, Calgary, Noise from the Laundry.
(Talonbooks; distributed by Raincoast / Publishers Group Canada)
(ISBN 978-0-88922-578-7)
Chan’s poetry takes us through a breathtaking range of encounters, filled with sly wit, sparkling linguistic turns, and an astonishing youthful clarity about the complexities of the contemporary human project.

A. F. Moritz, Toronto, The Sentinel.
(House of Anansi Press; distributed by HarperCollins Canada)
(ISBN 978-0-88784-790-5)
The circumstances of being fully human are the hallmark of Moritz’s work – carried out with erudition and compassion for the human journey. Sources of many literatures combine in a unique voice that is both pan-American and global.

Sachiko Murakami, Vancouver, The Invisibility Exhibit.
(Talonbooks; distributed by Raincoast / Publishers Group Canada)
(ISBN 978-0-88922-579-4)
Murakami’s poems take us into the heart of Vancouver’s Downtown East Side. Her words – eloquent, stark and bold – tackle the silences surrounding Vancouver’s “missing women.” This collection is a must read. Each poem harbours its own life.

Ruth Roach Pierson, Toronto, Aide-Mémoire.
(BuschekBooks; distributed by ListDistCo)
(ISBN: 978-1-894543-43-9)
Aide-Mémoire is sophisticated, witty, tender, grieving, ironic, cunning, open-eyed, open-hearted. The poems take us through a lifetime of memories, reflections, and imaginative engagements, traversing several continents and ages, without ever losing their fierce, intimate, ecstatic connection to our common humanity and the living green world,
close-up, and all at once, nested among wheeling stars.

Jacob Scheier, Toronto, More to Keep Us Warm.
(ECW Press; distributed by Jaguar)
(ISBN 978-1-55022-794-9)
Scheier’s young voice urgently questions every cultural convention, every truth. The poems are infused with humour, irony, intelligence, wit, grief, and above all, love.


A pleasant surprise to see Sachi Murakami get a nomination. I've been meaning to read her book for some time, because what I have heard/read is quite strong. Moritz's book is no surprise; I' m sure there are many people who think it high time he wins a GG. Other than that, tho, this is a hand of wild cards. The Sentinel is the only one I've read entire and it does have some strong poems in it, but is on the whole far from his best. Of Chan, Pierson and Scheier I know next to nothing. Scheier's collection, like Sachi's, is a debut; it's fairly typical for there to be one darkhorse debut collection in any given year's shortlist, but two is pretty uncommon.

None of this means that these books aren't good enough--I've heard some good things about Scheier, in particular--but I've got to wonder if they were better than Stephen Brockwell's The Real Made Up (an uneven book with some exceptionally fine poems); Eric Miller's breakout collection The Day in Moss, Adam Sol's electrifying verse novel Jeremiah, Ohio (probably my pick, of the eligible books I've read--my review of it is in the new issue of Quill & Quire); Elise Partridge's outstanding sophomore collection Chameleon Hours (to be reviewed by Elizabeth Bachinsky in a forthcoming CNQ); Jeffery Donaldson's finely crafted and very intelligent Palilalia (to be reviewed by James Pollock in a forthcoming CNQ) and Matt Rader's vigorous and rigorous second book, Living Things (review forthcoming in Arc).

Obviously, not all of the books any one reader would choose are likely to make the shortlist, but when, year after year, next to none of them do--and when it's all too frequently all too easy to play connect-the-dots between jurors and nominees--it's hard to have any faith in the value of this institution.

In other disappointments, no love for Anything But Hank! in the children's illustration category. We really thought Eric's wonderful paintings deserved a nod. We still do. But there was stiff competition, to be sure.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Upcoming Readings

Ottawa International Writers Festival, launch of Jailbreaks:

Saturday, October 25, 2008
2:00pm - 3:00pm
Library and Archives Canada
395 Wellington St.

Montreal, launch of Jailbreaks and Arc magazine's 30th Anniversary issue:

Sunday, October 26, 2008
7:30pm - 10:30pm
Old Orchard Pub
20 Prince Arthur St. West

Movement and Milestones

Just back from Lasqueti Island, whence I hustled directly upon my return to Vancouver from Winnipeg. It was worth it for the country air and r&r. It'll likely be a while till I make it over to Lasqueti again.

Shortly after I left Vancouver on the rails, Kaleb decided it was time to roll over. Then he did it several more times, from his stomach to his back. He later went from back to stomach. He's a regular pro at the back-to-gut roll now, but has yet to repeat the gut-to-back in my presence. I was simultaneously jacked that K had accomplished these feats and disappointed that I wasn't home to see them. Yesterday, however, while I was changing K, I gave him a zerbit (sp?) on the belly, which prompted his first ever laugh, which, with repeated zerbits, he reproduced several times. (Cue gushing awwwww sounds.)

Home for a couple of days now before I head to Ottawa for the Writers Festival there. I'm doing two readings to kids on Friday the 24th, then a Jailbreaks event on Saturday afternoon (right after a Steven Pinker event!). Then Sunday, I'm off to Montreal to do a joint Jailbreaks/Arc poetry mag launch at Ye Olde Orchard Pub. Monday, I'm back to Vancouver. As a result of my travels, I'm missing what should be my last scheduled trip of the year on the railroad (with my employers' permission; they could hardly turn this down after I appeared in their magazine!). I hear rumours that I could be laid off as early as November 3. We'll see.

Reviews online

My review of Eric Miller's excellent third collection The Day in Moss is now online at Quill & Quire, as is my review of Karen Houle's sophomore collection During.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Poet on Rails

When I reported for work Sunday, on the desk at the office was a copy of the new issue of Destinations magazine, open to this story. I was kind of hoping this wouldn't see print until after my layoff. It's a strange overlap of two parts of my life I usually keep separate. My coworkers have been really nice about it, without forgoing the obligatory ribbing.

Anything But Hank! in Winnipeg

Got into Winnipeg at 11:15 this morning, five minutes ahead of schedule. This is the first time I've arrived on time in Winnipeg since ... well, I can't remember the last time. Something of a miracle.

After a nap, I headed over to Aqua Books for the launch of Anything But Hank! Bit of a tougher crowd than the Vancouver launch, as a busload of inner-city kids, some of whom were definitely a bit old for the story comprised most of the audience. But the reading went pretty well and one copy was sold, so it was a worthwhile event.

Back to Vancouver tomorrow, then off to Lasqueti Island for the weekend, after which I'm heading to Ottawa for the Writers Festival.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

A wee bit of press for Anything But Hank!

ABH got the briefest of mentions in the Halifax Chronicle Herald today. Bettern nothin.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

I'll be giving thanks

For time-n-a-half on the holiday this long weekend. Off to Winnipeg tomorrow. I'll be taking advantage of the trip to launch Anything But Hank! at Aqua Books on Tuesday at 4 pm, so if you're in Winnipeg, vote early, vote often, then come to 274 Garry St. for story time. Anyone but Harper, Anything But Hank! A perfect combination.

Audio: Anything But Hank! launch

Launch Post-Mortem

The launch was a huge success. There was an excellent turnout, folks of all ages, and a total of 33 books were bought. Big props to Portia Belmont (pictured below), the fabulous proprietor of Once Upon a Huckleberry Bush. She's got a great store, with the perfect reading space.

Rachel read the narrative, while I did the character voices. Here I am in character as an irate Mexican Beaded Lizard.

Kaleb was a perfect angel throughout the reading. Here he is (pictured middle) in Grandma's arms:

The enthralled masses:

Thanks to Lynda Philippsen for taking photos while we read. Coming soon: audio.


Booklaunch: Anything But Hank!
Once Upon a Huckleberry Bush
4387 Main St. (at 28th), Vancouver
TODAY! 1 pm

Friday, October 10, 2008

Poets n Trains

Apparently, I've got the perfect job. Or maybe working on the railroad kills the romance. At any rate, it certainly ain't cheaper than flying. And what's this about bad driving? Pshaw.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

On the Mend

Well, my fever's broken and I'm feeling much better, but still pretty weak 'n' woozy, so don't expect much of substance around here for a couple of days. I'm going back to bed. After all, I've been up almost 2 hours now.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

I'm not sure what the point of any of this is

Why it should matter whether I'm on board with her blog or not is a mystery. And isn't it equally my prerogative to wish for, and describe the kind of blog posts that I would like to see? To talk about that on my blog? My blog, by the way, not a review, not in the national media. My opinion on my blog...something you can read or not read, and a post about a larger question, by the way. No one has to click on my blog.

So perhaps it's best to ignore? Perhaps, but then it just goes on--clearly it goes on. I guess this is why so few people speak out publicly against this kind of tactic. It goes on.

I'm not sure what the point of any of this is. To discredit this space? Me? Whatever. I'm not going further with this kind of engagement. It's a space where people should feel safe to say what they think and not have to worry about this kind of shut-up passive aggression.

The more she talks,

the more I laugh.

[NB: the post to which this refers has been deleted by the blog's proprietor. My post above quotes several paragraphs of the deleted entry, with very slight alterations for irony's sake.]

Sick and Tired

Literally. As soon as I got home from my trip, as has happened several times in the past, my throat started hurting and my nose started flowing. Funny how spending several sleep-deprived days in a metal tube with hundreds of people will do that. I hope, at least, that I'm in better shape for the launch of ABH on Saturday.

It was a pretty good trip on the whole, tho. For Reg, one of my favourite Via people, this was his last run after 30+ years working for and on the railroad. If I stick around until retirement, I'll have around 28 years of service. Hard to imagine at this point, but I have no good reason to leave the job, so who knows? As CLM readers can probably imagine, I'm not one to invest a whole lot of importance in the good opinions of others, but it was very fine to see the outporings of affection for Reg. I am a fan of earned respect, and Reg certainly earned his.

Ms. Q. doesn't like it when people disagree with her opinions

In a postscript to her post about sonnets, Sina Queyras says:

(Note: a wee thorn attached itself to this post below. The editor of Jailbreaks, the anthology of sonnets mentioned briefly above, apparently doesn't like it when anyone else has opinion...there's room for everyone...isn't there?)

Note again the rhetorical question, designed to make Ms. Q. look broad-minded and inclusive and folks like yours truly look like power-playing tyrants of literature and the blogosphere. Oh, could we all be so warm and welcoming, what a wonderful cyber-world it would be.

In point of fact, I love it when other people have opinions. It's one of my favourite things, along with kittens and ritual dismemberments. I've been something of an advocate for, and facilitator of, other people's opinions. As I stated in my previous post about this matter, I often publish reviews containing opinions I don't agree with. I do this in part because I like the intellectual exercise of disagreeing with an opinion, but mainly because I think opinions in general are important, particularly in a society that aspires towards democracy. And because I think opinions are important, I think they should be taken seriously. I strongly dislike opinionation that is dishonest, ill-judged, uninformed and otherwise misbegotten. (I also dislike anonymous flaming, but that's another story.) I've turned down reviews that struck me as such and I've worked with reviewers to correct such faults whenever possible.

So no, Ms. Q., I don't hate that you have an opinion. I just think your opinion, in this matter, isn't worth the HTML that encrypts it. I think it's intellectually lazy (those rhetorical questions are a bad habit for a critic to cultivate), coloured by unacknowledged personal bias, based on apparently little knowledge and that it attempts to conscript a third party's (mistaken) opinion for a cause it clearly doesn't espouse. I think using the word "sameness" to describe the content of Jailbreaks is risible and doesn't stand up to the most cursory cross-check. (Or, as contributor Stuart Ross has said, "I didn't think I'd ever see myself in the same anthology as Archibald Lampman!") But that's just my opinion, eh. You like it when other people have opinions, right?

ABH and its Authors Profiled... the Vancouver Sun, by Lynda Grace Philippsen. A couple of minor inaccuracies, but an otherwise very nice article, featured prominently in yesterday's paper. The print version has a rather huge colour photo of me and Rachel in the Okanagan, as well as a colour reproduction of one of Eric's illustrations. Hope it brings lots of strangers to the launch this Saturday.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Some commentary around the subject of Jailbreaks...

...without actually mentioning the book by name.

Sina Queyras seems to have gone out of her way to avoid explicitly identifying Jailbreaks and its editor. I expect this is because Ms. Q. sees yours truly as a retrograde force in contemporary poetry. It may also have something to do with the fact that I published a review, by James Pollock, of Ms. Q.'s own anthology, Open Field, that was highly critical of the book's lack of editorial direction and apparently arbitrary selection criteria. Ms. Q. clearly found said review "bothersome." (I don't always agree with the arguments in the reviews I publish, but in this case, I think James very precisely nailed down the faults of Open Field.) I'll be charitable, and assume that Ms. Q.'s handling of Jailbreaks as tho it were someone else's soiled snotrag has nothing to do with my exclusion of the sonnet she published in her book Teethmarks.

Leaving her possible motivations aside, it is far from clear--as one correspondent said to me today--that Ms. Q. has actually read Jailbreaks. If she had, she might have acknowledged that "The form has been part of poetry fairly consistently since its arrival on the scene" is an argument I make in the introduction to JB: "Contrary to what one might think about Canadian poetry, the sonnet never went away." She does make reference to JB being "a beautiful book," so presumably she's at least seen it, but she seems to rely on Barbara Carey's review in her characterisation of the book as "backward looking." As I pointed out in my post linking to Ms. Carey's review, saying that the book relies heavily on the old and dead is factually inaccurate. As both Alex Good and Brian Campbell have observed in their reviews of Jailbreaks, it errs heavily towards the present, if anything. Further, Ms. Q. misrepresents Ms. Carey's observation as a response to "the sameness of the selection." It should be manifestly clear to anyone reading Ms. Carey's review that this is not what was meant. But it is the only significant qualm voiced in any of the reviews of Jailbreaks, so one can hardly blame Ms. Q. for trying to exploit it for all it's worth, and then some.

Ms. Q. then goes on to pose a couple of rhetorical questions (a favourite device of hers, conveniently saving her the trouble of coming up with anything resembling an answer): "but does it really represent either Canadian poetry or contemporary sonnets? The dynamic range of voices Canada offers in the sonnet form as other forms and formal investigations?" The answer to the first question is "no, it doesn't." Furthermore, it doesn't care to, nor does it pretend to. Frankly, it's a goddamn stupid--or at least bogglingly naive, especially coming from someone who has edited an anthology--question to ask, because no anthology can be representative of something so vastly amorphous as the poetry of an entire nation, even one as relatively small and young as Canada's. A better question to ask--and one that can more reasonably be answered--is: is this a good selection? If not, what has been included that shouldn't be? What left out? But these are questions that require work to answer adequately. The answer to the second question is, in my very biased opinion--and in the opinion of most of the book's reviewers, not to mention its contributors--is, I think it does a pretty good job showcasing a range of different approaches to this most protean form. It seems that Ms. Q. is objecting that I've left out some of the more soi-disant experimental poets. She mentions in her post Steve McCaffrey and BP Nichol. The Reality Street Book of Sonnets also includes work by Christian Bok and Jay Millar. None of these writers appears in JB. Intentionally so. Why? A couple of reasons. In the cases of Bok, Millar and McCaffrey, I didn't feel their work was a genuine engagement with the sonnet form. Millar has written a number of poems he calls sonnets, but the only real resemblance to the form is brevity. McCaffrey's poems are more deconstructions of sonnets than sonnets themselves. A suspicion to the form is a very healthy thing--a number of the poems in JB quarrel with the very idea of writing sonnets--but a hostility to it is merely jejune. As for Nichol, the only sonnet I came across was, far from being too out-there, dully conventional in its prosody. As for Seymour Mayne's word sonnet, quoted by Ms. Q., I have one word: haiku. It's even 17 syllables. The gimmick of 14 words doesn't make it remotely sonnet-like, tho I do think it's quite a lovely haiku. Ultimately, I excluded the poems Ms. Q. would have had me include for the same reasons I excluded many, many others: I found them either less interesting than the ones I kept, or I didn't find them to be sufficiently true to the spirit of the sonnet form, as such. Playing "fast and loose with the rules," as Brian Campbell says many contributors do, is one thing; ignoring them altogether or trying to re-invent them from the ground up is another. In editing the ms., the commentaries I wrote on each poem helped shape the final roster; if I couldn't come up with something interesting to say about a poem, it got cut. This helped me sort out the merely competent from the exceptionally praiseworthy, an important means of combatting what Carmine Starnino has called "anthology fatigue."

Ms. Q. goes on to say: "Fine to edit an anthology of poems of any kind, but "Canadian sonnets" conjures up a nationalistic gesture where clearly there isn't one." Actually, if one looks at EA Lacey's series "Canadian Sonnets," one of which is included in JB, as the precedent for the titular phrase, it conjures up no such thing, since there have been few poems written more damning of Canada. Otherwise, the phrase is merely descriptive shorthand for "sonnets written by Canadian authors."

"In the end," writes Ms. Q., "it's an argument (one you can appreciate or not), rather than a resource. Unless one wants to teach only one way of looking at a sonnet." In response to the first sentence, this is a book I put together for readers in general, not for teachers and students in particular. And yes, it is an argument. Quite a strong one, if I say so myself. In response to the second sentence, this is more than a little like looking at 99 Chinese people and saying they all look the same. There are 100 poets represented in JB and scarcely any two poems follow the same stanzaic structure, never mind content, rhythm, diction and all the other techniques that set each apart from the others. What an incredibly prejudiced, dismissive statement this is. Is there formal unity to the collection? Yes, there is. But there's incredible diversity within it. You don't have to take my word for it.

Jailbreaks Review

A review of Jailbreaks, written by Brian Campbell for Rover, a new online mag.

Thursday, October 2, 2008


Turns out my friend and ex-roommate, Zoe Coombes, is the epitome of the kind of voter Harper's party has no interest in. Always did like her.

TB: ZOEY Duration: 00:01:18

"Dougie," "Eunice," "Heather," and "Steve". These are just some of the people who will decide Canada's next Prime Minister -- sort of.

These voters aren't able to mark their ballots with an "x". That's because they don't actually exist. You see, "Dougie" is the name given to a computer-generated demographic segment. He represents a guy in his twenties, who works in a trade and lives in a small town. He's one of a handful of fictional names the Conservative Party has created by compiling vast amounts of polling data. You've also got your suburban couple with three kids, "Heather and Steve" and the widower, "Eunice".

Then there is "Zoey". A "Zoey" lives in the city, eats organic food and is of little interest to the Tories.

On last night's program, we put this demographic data to the test and actually tracked down a real, living breathing "Zoey" -- one Zoe Coombes, a Canadian voter who is still undecided, but lives in New York City and ate an organic avocado for lunch.

Well, after our interview, wouldn't you know it, Talback heard from another computer-generated couple ... a "Marcus and Fiona". What are the odds of that?

Win Anything But Hank!

Eric Orchard is giving away two copies of Anything But Hank! Don't expect the same from me. I'm far too cheap.