Sunday, November 30, 2008

Brian Campbell's open letter to Melanie Rutledge

Brian Campbell has written a letter to Melanie Rutledge (and/or her as yet unnamed successor) and Robert Sirman of the CC, urging reform to the jury process. The more people who do this, the more likely it is to happen. And the more public those letters are made, the better. If you don't have your own forum and would like to have your letter published, by all means send it my way.

Someone Else's Problem

Looking for a rewarding bureaucratic career? My buddy Mark Sampson just pointed out this story from the Globe. Looks like Melanie Rutledge won't be leading the Writing and Publishing division of the Canada Council into a new age of more ethical behaviour. I really hope this year's cock-up doesn't get forgotten in the transition.

Saturday, November 29, 2008


Rachel, Kaleb and I are hittin' the rails tomorrow, destined for Toronto, where we'll be launching Anything But Hank! on Dec. 6, 9:30 am at the Gladstone Hotel. After that, we're off to Halifax for a few days before heading over to PEI to spend the balance of the month at my parents' place. We've got ABH! events planned in Halifax (Dec. 12, Local Joe's Cafe, time TBA) and PEI (two classroom readings in Montague on the 17th; an interview on CBC on the 19th and two book signings in Charlottetown on the 20th). Other than that, r&r. This'll be the first time that Kaleb meets his paternal grandparents. He's overbrimming with excitement, I can tell. (Excitement looks a lot like drool.)

Ciao for now, more to come from T.O. In the meantime, please keep an eye on this page for me. Someone keeps trying to remove certain facts from it...

Poems forthcoming

I've received word recently that a handful of my poems will be published. Two epigrammatic little ditties ("Garden Variety" and "Earwig") are coming out in a new online venture curated by Amatoritsero Ede, The Maple Tree Literary Supplement, and two of my personal recent favourites ("Rhythm" and "To the Superb Lyrebird, that Cover Band of the Australian Bush") in the recent startup out of Newfoundland, Riddle Fence, edited by Mark Callanan, Patrick Warner et al. Not sure when exactly; I reckon sometime in the early new year.

UPDATE: Speaking of Riddle Fence, Carmine Starnino has posted some praise for it over at the Vehicule blog. I have a copy of this issue and tho I've not read all of it, I'd have to agree so far that it's "effin good." Hynes' piece is one of things I've not read. Sounds like I should. Right fuckin now.

Ongoing GG Controversy

Andre Alexis, who stepped down from a jury a few years ago because his then-partner had an eligible book, has weighed in on the Scheier/Brandt Affair in today's Globe and Mail. A very thoughtful, balanced, yet firm--and dare I say, detached--evaluation of the whole mess.

Friday, November 28, 2008

O Frabjous Day!

I was out running errands in the rain this afternoon. When I came home, there was a pickup notice in the mailbox for a registered letter. I was only expecting one such letter, so it was with some anxiety and trepidation that I trudged back out into the rain to pick it up. Indeed, it was a letter from the Court of Quebec. I promised Rachel that I wouldn't open it until I got home, so I trudged out into the rain again, with the envelope throbbing in my pocket like Sauron's ring. Upon opening it, I slogged thru 19 clauses of French legalese before getting to number 20, which reads:

En conséquence do tout ce qui précède, le Tribunal conclut qu'au 31 décembre 2000, M. Wells n'était pas résident du Québec.

I was so elated, I pumped my left fist in the air, forgetting that the ceiling of my living room is only 6'3". (Only minor superficial damage to one knuckle.) For those who can't read French at all, the judge ruled that I wasn't a resident of Quebec in 2000 and so do not owe Revenue Quebec the $5700+ they've been trying to get from me since 2005. The judge said that "with all due respect, the Court holds that this position [RQ's that I was a resident] contains a manifest error concerning Mr. Wells's living habits between January and August 2000." I.e. what I was saying all along. A big victory for the little guy, although the whole affair did cost me somewhere around $1000 and untold hours of my life. It's been ... taxing. I'm glad the whole mess is settled now and so relieved that it worked out as it should have.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Sarah Palin, apparently unmoved by the slaughter of her species-mates

Dodds Gets Love from Post

Fantastic to see my good friend Jeramy Dodds profiled in The National Post this morning. I'm glad the Post is writing about a first book that's actually accomplished and interesting instead of one that, well, you know. Jeramy's led something of a charmed life in poetry the last couple of years, but he richly deserves it. I'm still *cough, cough* waiting for my author-signed copy of Crabwise to the Hounds. What are you waiting for?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


Tony Harrison Workshop

Had a most stimulating time this afternoon at the masters class given by Tony Harrison and his wife, the renowned actor Sian Thomas. A lot of talk about verse and how it works as a dramatic medium. Much of it geared towards actors--I got the impression that the majority of participants were theatre types--more used to "naturalistic" prose dialogue, but still really good stuff for us writers and readers of verse (Sonnet L'Abbé was the only other such critter present, to the best of my knowledge). Harrison's a very likable guy, very serious about what he does, but not taking himself too seriously. One of the best things about this class was the stories he and Sian had about crazy theatrical stunts pulled over the years. I'd really love to see one of his productions some time.

Everyday Fascisms

A thoughtful and impassioned post on Squandermania, which relates to the quasi-argument I had with someone reluctant to divulge his/her identity in this post.

Further to the discussion on this post, I consulted my poet/lawyer friend Sharon McCartney about the phrasing in the CC juror guidelines. Here's what she has to say:

It's confusing because the phrase introducing the starred points indicates discretion ("may also exist") while the bracketed phrases use absolute language ("conflict of interest exists"). One of the basic principles of statutory interpretation (statutes arguably include such guidelines) is that you have to read each item in the context of the entire piece of legislation--and also reasonably, sensibly and in a way that avoids absurdity. So, reading the bracketed phrases in the context of the entire paragraph, you could argue that there's still some discretion to decide whether or not a conflict exists. That would be particularly so in light of the previous paragraph, the point of which is to list situations where an absolute conflict exists. If you read the bracketed phrases as indicating situations where an actual conflict "must" exist, then what was the point of the previous paragraph and why are the bracketed phrases not listed there? I think that's what a judge would ask. They try really hard (usually) to make sense even of poorly written material. And they assume that the legislation (or whatever is being interpreted) is well-written, well-organized and sensibly thought out.

However, you could argue that the bracketed phrases are in contrast to the starred items in the sense of narrowing down the existence of an actual conflict of interest. Does that make sense?

It's just kind of stupidly written. The other argument to rely on is that any legislation has to be interpreted in a way that gives meaning to the purpose for which the legislation was enacted--the "broad, purposeful" interpretation. Where the purpose is to avoid conflicts of interest or the appearance of bias, you would err on the side of finding that the wording indicates where "actual" conflict occurs, rather than a "possible" conflict, and that this would help people (i.e. jurors) avoid situations where they would be in an actual conflict of interest.
So, there's a case, albeit a dubious one, for Melanie Rutledge's claim that the guidelines were followed to the letter. But even if this is so, it seems rather obvious that the spirit of those guidelines has been trampled on.

Audio: Railway Club

Ada Smailbegovic, Mercedes Eng, myself, Tony Power, Larissa Lai

UPDATE: I just realized that only the second half of the reading is up on this post. Can't see how to get the first half up, so I'll just point you to the page.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Railway Club

Had a fun time this evening, first listening to Tony Harrison read his poems at UBC's Green College, then reading my own at the Railway Club downtown. I also dug some fiction read by a fella named Tony Power, who's a librarian at SFU. Pretty funny stuff.

My reading was introduced by host Aubyn Rader, who's Matt Rader's cousin. Unbeknownst to me, Matt had provided Aubyn with an alternative intro for me. It goes something like this:

Zach rhymes with yak, which is a large bovine, related, but not closely, to the water buffalo, another large bovine found in, well, watery spots, which is what a well is, and the plural of well is wells. If you take a well and turn it sideways you have a tunnel and you can crawl through a tunnel or you can send something through it like a ball or your voice, but your voice will echo likely and be distorted as it passes through so that what comes out at the other end is something different but recognizable. The same can be said for the digestive systems of multi-stomached bovines such as the cow or yak. Yak I might add is a perfect rhyme for Zach.

Hung out briefly with a few folks, including Peter Trower, Rob Taylor and Brian Palmu. Had interesting conversations with people who made livings either betting on horses or selling vintage video games, Lego, etc. on eBay. Sometimes I think I've got the wrong idea working on the train.

I made a tape of the readings tonight, which I'm uploading at the moment. Should be up soon.

Tomorrow, I'm heading back out to UBC to take part in a poetry reading workshop with Tony Harrison, which I'm super psyched about. I'll be performing this speech from Harrison's translation of Molière's Le misanthrope:

ALCESTE Disgusting! Every modish socialite
bends backwards to appear polite.
There's nothing I loathe more than empty grins
and cringing grimaces and wagging chins,
politeness mongers, charmers with two faces,
dabblers in nonsensical fine phrases,
outvying one another in their little game
of praise-me-I'll-praise-you. It's all the same
if you're idiot or hero. What's the good
of friendship and respect if it's bestowed
on any nincompoop and simpleton
your praiser-to-the-skies next happens on?
No! No! Not one right-thinking man, not one
'd want such cheap and flimsy honours done.
Esteem's based on a scale, it's not much worse
praising nothing than the universe.
You'll be no friend of mine if you comply
with these false manners of society.
From the bottom of my heart I must reject
that sort of indiscriminate respect.
If someone honours me I want it known
that it's an honour for myself alone.
Flinging love all over's not my line.
The ' buddy ' of Mankind 's no friend of mine.

I just couldn't resist...

"We followed guidelines and process to the letter"

So says Melanie Rutledge in the Star.

This morning, my intrepid cub reporter Michael Lista sent me the official guidelines, as sent to him by Ms. Rutledge:

For Canada Council’s Literary Prizes
(in addition to the conflict of interest points listed above)

Conflict of interest exists if:

  • the assessor, the assessor’s spouse/partner or family member have a book in contention
  • the assessor edited one of the books
  • the assessor is a staff member or board member of one of the nominating publishing houses.

Conflict of interest may also exist if:

  • the assessor contributed to the development of one of the books (conflict of interest exists if the assessor has made a direct, intellectual contribution to one of the books)
  • the assessor has written a promotional text or review of one of the books
  • the assessor’s name is listed in the acknowledgements section (conflict of interest exists if the assessor’s name is listed in such a way that it implies a contribution to one of the books).

The key phrases here are 1) conflict of interest exists if the assessor has made a direct, intellectual contribution to one of the books. and 2) conflict of interest exists if the assessor’s name is listed in such a way that it implies a contribution to one of the books. (Emphases added.) So, while Di Cicco's conflict is only a possible, Brandt's is a definite on two counts, so it's utterly false for Rutledge to claim that the guidelines were followed to the letter. They weren't. The Star reporter has misread the guidelines, so says that there "may" be a conflict. The guidelines themselves are quite clear. There was a conflict of interest. If it was disclosed by Brandt, then the Council dropped the ball by letting her stay on the jury. If she failed to disclose it, then the fault is mostly hers--but the Council still needs to accept some responsibility for failing to detect such a blatant conflict.


The marvel of living in a land with so many time zones is that you can find out you've been talked about on the radio before the show's been broadcast. Brenda tells me there's some mention of this GG brouhaha on CBC's Q this morning. I'm curious to hear it.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Cognitive Dissonance

A powerful cause of dissonance is when an idea conflicts with a fundamental element of the self-concept, such as "I am a good person" or "I made the right decision." This can lead to rationalization when a person is presented with evidence of a bad choice. It can also lead to confirmation bias, the denial of disconfirming evidence, and other ego defense mechanisms.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Reading Reminder

Just a reminder that I'm reading on Tuesday. Hope you can make it:

Tuesday, November 25, 2008
6:30pm - 8:30pm
Railway Club
579 Dunsmuir St
Vancouver, BC

Other readers:

Mercedes Eng
Larissa Lai
Tony Power
Ada Smailbegovic

Runaway Jury

As opposed to the denial-of-wrongdoing jury. Alex Good has posted his latest open deliberation on the GG shortlist. Joining Alex this year are Evie Christie and some guy who poses a lot of inarticulate rhetorical questions, uses city names as tho they're adjectives and generally has nothing to say other than he doesn't get the big deal about Al Moritz. This year's edition is less compelling than past years have been, almost entirely because all three jurors thought the list itself was--wait for it--really bad. Given what they had to work with, I'm pretty much in perfect agreement with their verdict.

Visits from Brooklyn

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Saturday, November 22, 2008

Rocksalt launch report

I read at the final Rocksalt launch last night in North Vancouver. Hosted by the independent bookstore, 32 Books, it was a considerably more intimate affair than the last two launches I attended, in Vancouver and Victoria. Fun evening, with some good readings. Alas, I arrived too late to get into a good position to record it. Had a good chat over drinks afterwards with Heather Haley, Rob Taylor and Peter Trower. It's got me thinking quite a bit about the potential for multimedia adaptations of poems.

Tony Harrison at UBC

Found out yesterday that one of my favourite contemporary poets--and one of the best political poets of the past 100 years--Tony Harrison, is coming to town. He's doing a bevy of things at UBC next week. I'm planning to check out his reading (which actually ends the same time as mine is supposed to start at the Railway Club), but am especially interested in the poetry reading workshop he's giving on Wednesday. If you're in the Vancouver area, you should really try to come see Harrison. It's pretty rare that such an eminent British poet makes it all the way out here.

Hear Harrison read four of his poems here.

Read more of his poems here.

Read a profile of him here.

Read a review of his Selected Poems here.

If you're only going to read one thing, make it "V"

Friday, November 21, 2008

Open Letter to the Canada Council

Here's what I've sent to Melanie Rutledge, head of the Writing and Publishing arm of the Canada Council for the Arts. I'm cc'ing it to Robert Sirman, the Director of the CC:

Dear Mr. Sirman,

Below is the text of a message I have sent to Melanie Rutledge. As this matter applies not only to the Writing and Publishing division, but to the Council more broadly, I think it appropriate to send it to you as well. I remember when you started this job you said that you wanted less mediocre art to be rewarded. There are practical, concrete measures that can, and must, be taken to insure that, at least, awards are given in good faith and are not tainted by blatant favouritism, as was the case with this year's GG Award for Poetry.

Thank you for taking the time to listen to my concerns.


Zachariah Wells
Writer and editor

Dear Ms. Rutledge,

No doubt you have been following the controversy regarding Jacob Scheier's win of the Governor General's Award for Poetry this year. It is clear that this decision has dismayed a great many people involved in Canadian poetry and has done much to undermine the credibility and prestige of this award.

I am writing to urge you, and the Canada Council more broadly, to adopt measures to make the award-nomination and -granting process more transparent, objective and fair. At a time when arts funding has been questioned and cut by government, it's especially important now that there is not even the appearance of taxpayers' money being disbursed in an unethical and inappropriate manner.

Thank you for taking the time to listen my concerns.


Zachariah Wells
Writer and editor

Sympathy for the Couriers

I'm very glad to hear that my old pal Peter Richardson has won this year's QWF poetry prize for his very fine collection, Sympathy for the Couriers. It's perhaps appropriate, given recent events, that many of the poems in this book delve into venality...

Also good to see that Rawi Hage won for fiction, after losing out in both the Giller and GGs. If you haven't got a copy of Cockroach yet, go get it. Incendiary novel.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

I spend 12 hours on a bus...

...and look what happens! Clearly feeling the heat, Di Brandt and Jacob Scheier have offered half-assed defenses for their respective rewarding and accepting of the GG award for poetry. I absolutely love what Scheier has to say: “I think that if they knew Di, they would see she has more integrity than pretty much anyone I’ve known in my life.” Oh, anyone he's known. And he's a GG winner, so that carries a lot of weight!

And the CC writing and publishing head has gone on record saying it's important to talk to jurors about conflict of interest, without actually saying that she talked to these jurors about it. Also, it's important to have rules, but also the freedom to ignore them. I'm glad that Ms. Rutledge clarified that for us.

Also, apparently the neo-dadaists are mad. I haven't heard them weigh in on this, but there's a pretty good chance it's true. They're usually mad about something.

Back on the Bus

Fun little visit to Prince George. 13 hours and I'm home.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

UNBC Reading Podcast

Had a swell time at UNBC this morning. They recorded the reading, which has been podcast here. Had a lovely lunch afterwards with my host, Dee Horne and Gillian Wigmore, whose book I'm looking forward to reading.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

I spend all day on a bus...

...and look what happens. Yes, folks, Jacob Scheier has won the GG. Possibly the most tainted GG win ever. Which is saying something. Let the shaming begin. My suggestion: letters and open letters to Robert Sirman, grand poobah of the Canada Council for the Arts. I seem to remember him saying something about not rewarding mediocre art anymore. Track record thus far: not so hot. Do something about it, Bob.

Anyway, those of us without friends in high places have to do some slogging to find a public, so I'm off to read at UNBC tomorrow morning. Then another night here, then another 12 hour bus ride. I wonder if 12 hours is enough time to write a GG-worthy poetry book...

Monday, November 17, 2008

Off to PG

I'm all packed and ready to go to Prince George. 12 hours on a Greyhound. Yee. Haw. Oh well, I'll get some reading and editing done. More anon, gentle readers.

Wordsworth's R's

A very interesting post on Squandermania about Bunting, Wordsworth and non-standard Englishes. It's a damn pity that there wasn't equipment to record the spoken voice of poets like Wordsworth, Keats and Clare.

Fraser Sutherland on the GG Shortlist

Fraser thinks the list is crap. Which seems to be the consensus, from talking to people in Victoria over the weekend. The list is usually crap, but this year is especially weird. One thing Fraser doesn't mention is that one of the nominees, Jacob Scheier's More to Keep Us Warm, was blurbed by one of the jurors, Pier Giorgio di Cicco, who is thanked by Scheier in the acknowledgements of the book. This happens way, way more often than it should. Which is never. Since the CC obviously doesn't give a shit about enforcing its own conflict of interest policies , perhaps we should have recourse to public shaming. Given the present administration's--I hesitate to call them a government--hostility towards the arts, this is even more important. Blatant conflict of interest/nepotism in the disbursement of taxpayers' money is actually a pretty good argument for making the kind of cuts that Harper has made and would no doubt like to continue making. Smarten up, Canada Council.

Audio: Rocksalt Launch at the Vancouver Public Library

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Victoria report

A very fine weekend in Victoria. The Jailbreaks launch was well-attended and well-received on Friday, as was the Rocksalt launch on Saturday. Alas, I left my recorder at home for the latter event. It was good to meet some people I'd only, heard of or emailed in the past, including Steve Noyes, Iain Higgins and Don Denton.

It was better yet to spend some time with my old friends Mike and Natalie, and their delightful two-year-old girl Anna. On Saturday morning, Rachel, Kaleb and I joined Mike and Anna for an expedition to Goldstream Provincial Park to check out the chum salmon run. I'd never witnessed this awesome phenomenon before. The creek was thick with spawning salmon, as well as the eyeless corpses of those who'd done their duty. Gulls splashed about in search of unpecked eyeballs; the stink of rotting fishflesh permeated the air; eleven eagles sat in the bare branches of a tree on the bank. Really amazing.

Spent a lovely mild afternoon on Saturday walking around Victoria with Steven Price and Esi Edugyan, with whom we've become friendly since we moved out here. Victoria's a bit--a lot--too twee, but I kinda like it. Reminds me some of Halifax.

Saturday night, after the reading, Patricia and Terence Young had people over to their gorgeous home. Had a few good conversations before calling it quits and driving back out to Langford, where we were staying. We loitered around downtown today before driving out to the ferry. All in all, a very good weekend.

Next up for me, I'm Greyhounding it up to Prince George on Tuesday, for a reading on Wednesday at UNBC: 10:00 - 11: 20 a.m. – CFC 6-205. (I don't know what that means, but presumably if you're familiar with the UNBC campus, you will.) I daresay I won't be reading for the full 1:20 minutes. That would be good for no one. But I reckon there will be some discussion going on too.

Audio: Victoria Launch of Jailbreaks

photo credit: Don Denton

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Jailbreaks Victoria Launch

No time to post at length. The launch last night was very fun. Don Denton was on hand with his camera and took some fine photos, which you can see here. I'll be uploading audio when I get back to Vancouver.

Thursday, November 13, 2008


A reminder to CLM readers in the vicinity of Victoria that I'll be reading there this weekend.

On Friday the 14th, we're launching Jailbreaks at the Black Stilt Cafe, #103-1633 Hillside Ave., 7:30 pm. I'll be joined by Jailbreaks contributors Lyle Neff, Steven Price and Alan R. Wilson.

And on Saturday, I'll be reading my contribution to the Rocksalt anthology at Bolen Books, #111-1644 Hillside Ave., 7 pm. I'll be one of a whole passel of Rocksalters.

Hope to see you.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Review online

My review of Jeanette Lynes' book It's Hard Being Queen: The Dusty Springfield Poems is now online at Quill & Quire.

Speaking of Q&Q, check out my boy boning up on book industry news:

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Ah, Halifax.

Thanks to Peter Darbyshire for pointing out this absolutelyfuckingcrazy story about screening tests for prospective employees of the Halifax Regional Municipality. Rachel used to work for the HRM, but I guess for her job they didn't care if she was into farmyard love.

Mike Barnes on Mental Health and Illness

Dan Wells has posted audio of Mike Barnes talking about his recently published memoir, The Lily Pond. I haven't read it yet, but Mike is a terrific writer and this is a great talk, so the book is looking more and more like a must-read.

Lest We Forget...

...that war is hideous, my reading of Wilfred Owen's "Dulce et Decorum Est," not just one of the greatest war poems ever written, but one of the most haunting poems of any sort in English.

Monday, November 10, 2008


...has to be the worst-organized airport in the country. Thinking I was showing up way early, I spent forever in a queue and am now waiting for imminent boarding. The hearing seemed to go pretty well. The judge was funny and laid back and the whole procedure as relaxed as such things can be. I'll find out in a couple of weeks if I've won or if I have to fork over Kaleb to the Quebec tax-vampires.

Hiho, hiho

It's off to court I go. I think I'm ready.

A lovely coincidence had me in town last night for my friend Harold Hoefle's book launch. Anyone who knows Harold knows how long he's been working towards this first collection of short stories. I'd provide a link, but apparently it's too new even to appear on the Oberon Press website.

Harold read last night at Blizzarts from the book, The Mountain Clinic. We both showed up at Blizzarts at exactly the same time. He had no idea I was in town (as far as he knew, the next time we'd see each other would be in Victoria, where Harold now lives, next weekend), so was surprised as hell to see me. The event was emceed by our common friend Geoff Cook. Also reading were Katia Grubisic and J.R. Carpenter. Also in attendance were Carmine Starnino and John Lofranco.

It was good to see all these folks and to spend some time relaxing before the hearing. Naturally, I stuck to tonic water, since a clear head is of the utmost importance today. The hearing's in 3.5 hours, as I type and I really don't think there's much more I can do to prepare. I've got my facts all lined up and I think they speak for themselves, so persuasive rhetoric shouldn't be an issue.

Seamus Heaney

An excellent interview with the redoubtable Seamus Heaney. He says a lot of things that are just plain bang-on. Todd Swift says:

Heaney has not, it is clear, made peace with the experimental wing of contemporary poetry - he calls it "a refusal of the kind of poetry I write" - which begs the question any mirror does - isn't his kind of poetry a refusal, equally, of the avant-garde sense of what poetic language entails?

No, it's not. (And no it doesn't "beg the question," but that's another matter.) Why not? Because probably about 99% of writers who self-identify as "experimental" or "avant-garde" define their aesthetics in opposition to what they view to be "mainstream" or "establishment." The very metaphor "avant-garde," with all its military associations, is ample evidence of that. If it's not a negatively-defined, oppositional stance, then the label shouldn't be used. The fact is that the avant-garde is nowhere without the establishment, whereas the establishment could carry on quite happily without the existence of the avant-garde.

From what I've seen of Heaney's work as a poet and critic--which is most of it--he is not similarly opposed to "the experimental wing." Mostly, he simply ignores it, as an elephant would a mosquito on its arse. Which is of course what that noisy faction hates most. The only reason he mentions it in the interview is because he was specifically asked about it.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Audio: Heron live at the VPL Rocksalt Launch

While I'm waiting for permission to upload the whole evening's worth of readings, I thought I'd share the one excerpt I'm definitely allowed to post.

Rocksalt Launch

The Rocksalt launch last night was good fun. A lot of very short readings (20 or so) over about an hour and a quarter. Somehow I got to go last, but the substantial (75 or so) crowd was still very much alert and listening. I made audio of the reading, but have to wait to see if anyone has a problem with their poem-reading being posted before I can upload it. A bunch of folks went out for a beer afterwards. I had the pleasure of hanging out with Peter Trower afterwards, which I hadn't done in too long. Met a few other charming folks as well. Very good time.

I'm off to Montreal tomorrow morning to do battle on Monday with Revenue Quebec in small claims court. This is a matter I've been trying to make go away for almost four years and there's almost $6000 at stake, so it's a big day. The sad thing is, I'm sure that over the course of this dispute, Revenue Quebec has probably expended more than $6000 worth of taxpayers resources and if I win, I intend to seek damages for my travel costs. I've got a damn strong case, otherwise I wouldn't have taken it this far, but I have no prior experience of taking a large institution to court, so I'm a smidge apprehensive. We'll see. Or on verra; the whole procedure's going to be en français. A few more documents to print up and organize and a bag to pack, so that's all for now. Hopefully I'll have good news Monday evening.


My wonderful and talented wife has a special offer on. Drop me a line if you'd like to take advantage of it:

Hello, all. I am writing to let you know that for a limited time, I will be selling signed copies of my 2006 book Hannus, for only $10(plus $3 for shipping within Canada) -- over 50% off the cover price($23). Hannus (published by Pedlar Press and stunningly designed by Zab of Zab design) is a genre-defying book, consisting of poems, prose pieces, interviews, newspaper clippings, photographs, dramatic monologues, and more about the life of my great-grandmother, Finnish suffragist Ida Hannus. The book covers 50 years of Ida's life, from her BC beginnings in the Finnish colony of Sointula to her personal and political life in Vancouver. The book has been very well received and was a finalist for both a BC book prize and the Edna Staebler Award for Creative Non-Fiction.

Moreover, I am also offering a joint sale: buy Hannus and get $5 off your purchase of my brand-new kids ballad picture book Anything But Hank! Anything But Hank (Biblioasis) is co-written by Zachariah Wells and illustrated by the fantastic Nova Scotia illustrator Eric Orchard. Regular price is $19.95, but for this package deal, I will only charge $25 for the 2 books (plus a $6 shipping fee within Canada).

I will be travelling for the month of December, so if you are interested in taking advantage of this deal for holiday gifts, please respond to this email this month so I can send you the book(s) as soon as possible.



Thursday, November 6, 2008


I am listening

I am listening to Al Purdy at the Rebecca Cohn

in underground sunlight

and you can tell that I am a sensitive man

And I notice that Purdy is a sensitive man too

as he reads a poem that says so

However jokily, I see it’s true

And he reads other poems as well

poems about beer and fights with his wife

and other things I understand

such as the Arctic

for I have been there

and I am a sensitive man

I have been to Pangnirtung

where I saw the ground willow

rooted stubbornly in its rocky bed

I have seen the delicate things

carved from serpentine by toothless old men

and I have seen noisy flowers

which I would bottle and press

as “small yellow shouts”

Okay, so those were poppies and saxifrage

and not “Arctic rhododendrons”

but the point is that I am a sensitive man

and what Al is saying, I dig

and I dig the big resonant voice

improbably emanating from that long lanky frame

topped by a mop of straight white hair

and I think to myself

Jeez, maybe I should write flower poems

But the North I know is not the same

as the place Purdy briefly toured in ‘65

There are more white people for instance

and more machines

and I am both of them

there is cable TV, cellphones

mansions on the hill over Frobisher Bay

Stone carvings get shipped by the planeload

from Cape Dorset to Montreal

on jets that thunder down Iqaluit’s 9000 paved feet

and those carvings are shaped

not by handmade tools

but with Dremels and sanders and drills

and when I go up to Al

at the end of the night

so he can sign the copy of his book I just bought

I see that he is a very tired old man

and I am sad

for at least one ivory thought

is about to grow cold


To readers in the Vancouver area: come in out of the rain and hear me and several other folks read our contributions to the new anthology Rocksalt: An Anthology of Contemporary BC Poetry.

When: Friday, Nov. 7, 7 pm
Where: Vancouver Public Library, Central Branch

It'll be a rocksalty good time.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Michael Lista

Thanks to Evie for pointing out this fascinating interview with rising poetry star--or perhaps I oughta say blooming poetry aster, but that sounds a bit too close to poetaster--Michael Lista. Rare to hear someone who can talk about his own work so articulately and comfortably, especially someone as young as Lista. He says a couple of very nice things about yours truly, but that's not what makes this worth listening to.

Done and done

Well, I've worked what should be my last trip of the year, tho I'll be taking the train out east at month's end. Pretty easy run. The train to Winnipeg was overstaffed because management made cuts to the train before the cuts to personnel went into effect. So I was one of two "Activity Coordinators" on a train with no "Activity Car." We were a couple hours late into the Peg, but would've been later, had we not gone thru daylight savings. Consequently, we had a very short break between trains, as the westbound train was not only on-time, but running early. I was still supposed to be an Activity Coordinator on the way home, but since this train was not as overstaffed, I was moved to the dreaded dining car. I've never worked as a waiter and have only worked a handful of waiter shifts in my five years on the railroad, so I try to avoid the diner as much as possible. Fortunately, the rest of the d.c. crew was into my proposition: I would forgo my share of tips if I could do dishes all trip (there's no dedicated dishwasher in the d.c., usually; the waiters just take turns). So my last half trip was spent in splendid isolation from the travelling public. A nice change, since my normal job description could be boiled down to "Talk to People." And in the end, they still cut me in on the tips. It was actually a pretty fun trip.

So you'd think I'd be home for a rest, but... I have to fly to Montreal on the 9th for a date in small claims court with Revenu Quebec. Long story short, I've been fighting with them for three years over a clerical error made by an accountant on my 2000 tax return (the accountants wrote Quebec, where they were supposed to write Nunavut--last time I hire someone for $50 to do my taxes). They say I owe them $6000, I say I owe them nothing. Revenue Canada and the Tax Court of Canada have both agreed with my position, but their hands were bound by statute of limitation rules. Hopefully the Quebec court judge is equally clear-eyed. It will be very good to have this monkey off my back. I now have to translate all the arguments I've been making over the last three years into passable French. But not too passable, 'cause, you know, I've never been a resident of Quebec.

After that, we're off to Victoria for the weekend of the 14th/15th. On the 14th, we're launching Jailbreaks at the Black Stilt Cafe (#103-1633 Hillside, 7:30 pm); by we I mean myself, along with contributors Steven Price and Alan R. Wilson. On the 15th, I'm taking part in the Victoria launch for the new anthology of BC poems, Rocksalt at Bolen Books (#111-1644 Hillside, 7 pm). Also reading: Eve Joseph, Kyeren Regehr, Donna Kane, Derk Wynand, Genine Hanns, Linda Rogers, Jane Munro, Catherine Greenwood, Danielle Walker, Peter Morin, Maleea Acker, Allison Blythe, Rhonda Ganz, Marilyn Bowering, Karen Chester, Scott Lawrance, Patricia Young, Diana Hayes, Patrick Friesen, Iain Higgins, Cathy Ford, Carla Funk.

On the 18th, I'm taking the Greyhound up to Prince George, a 12 hour excursion, for a reading at UNBC on the 19th. Don't have all the details for that one yet, but I believe it's at 10 am. Then bus back to Van on the 20th.

On the 21st, I'm doing another Rocksalt event in North Vancouver (32 Books, 3185 Edgemont Blvd., 7:30 pm), along with David Zieroth, Rob Taylor, Alan Hill, Trevor Carolan, Daniela Elza, Christopher Levenson, Heather Haley, Kate Braid, Daniela Elza, Russell Thornton, Joanne Arnott, Peter Trower.

On the 25th, I'm reading at the Railway Club (Vancouver, 579 Dunsmuir, 6:30 pm) with Tony Power, Ada Smailbegovic, Mercedes Eng, Larissa Lai.

And then, on the 30th, we hit the rails for Toronto, Montreal, Halifax and PEI. Details on events forthcoming. Phew.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


Keeping me from sentimental verse
About your birth and growth and milestones.
Love like this is best left mute, though I curse
Each impulse to crush clichés like bones
Broken in a vise. Can’t say what’s worse:

Diving in headfirst or standing shin-deep
On a shoal. Never been much of a swimmer.
Vigils, my son, I’ve held, to see you sleep
In dusk-dim light and I’ve felt the dimmer
Numbness in me melt. I’ve tried to keep

Watch from a safe ascetic distance,
Emotion held in check—a trick that’s killed
Love in the past. The slant consonance
Linking us will stall me, until I’ve fulfilled,
Stubbornly, the demands of these constraints.