Sunday, May 31, 2009

F&D review of Jailbreaks

Jailbreaks has been reviewed by Karl Jirgens for Canadian Literature. Apparently, it contains "sonnets." Who knew?

"I mean I'd like to butter his canoli all night long."

When Oscar Wilde said the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about, I don't think he had something like this in mind. Or maybe he did.

The most negative review of all

Thanks to Carmine at the Vehicule blog for pointing out this very thoughtful post on reviewing by Alfred Corn. Someone I reviewed a while back told me recently to "stay the [expletive deleted] out of my way." Corn suggests that wouldn't be in her best interest; I tend to agree, but am happy to oblige.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Derek Walcott on Robert Frost

Pound's poetry does not absolve Pound, any more than a single phrase from a letter by Frost damns Frost forever. One groans or shudders, but one pushes on. Poetry is its own realm and does not pardon. There is nothing to forgive Frost's poetry for. There are, instead, many poems to be grateful for, so many poems, indeed, that the man, the biography, the symbol of Yankee resilience are all negligible, since poetry pronounces benediction not on the poet but on the reader. A great poem is a state of raceless, sexless, timeless grace, and this book, which contains more than just a life, is too full of such benedictions for this reader not to pick it up and continue. -- "The Road Taken"

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Formal Fallacies

Been reading the new issue of Arc. It's another strong, interesting issue of what has become one of the top literary rags in the country. One of the great things in this issue is a feature called "White Salt Mountain," devoted to various poets talking about John Thompson's work.

One of those poets is Allan Cooper. In an interview with Janna Graham, who organized the White Salt Mountain festival in Sackville, Cooper says something that kinda sticks in my craw:

JG: What is your experience of writing in forms (as opposed to free verse)? What are your thoughts on the resurgence of form in Canadian poetry today?

AC: I employ the ghazal form in my poems, or at least my version of the ghazal, but I stopped writing sonnets and villanelles when I was in my teens. I found that formal verse couldn't contain the extreme states I was seeing in the world. When I first started writing serious poetry, the Vietnam War was coming to an end, and an American cargo plane full of Vietnamese children crash-landed. I think all of the children were lost. So how could I write about that experience in a formal poem? I needed colloquial speech--free verse--to get that experience across.

There are so many things wrong with this statement I hardly know where to start, but here goes:

1) Cooper is basically saying that formal verse is okay for kids, but grownups facing real issues need free verse, thereby tacitly dismissing anyone who writes the former.

2) He is guilty of the logical fallacy of generalising from a particular. Instead of saying that he didn't feel that he could write about certain subjects in rhyme and metre, he says that those structures are somehow incapable of containing those subjects, no matter who tried. Never mind Wilfred Owen, Cooper knows better, 'cause, you know, he heard about some kids dying on the news. Classy. What Allan probably should have said is that he stopped writing rhyming verse because a) he was crappy at it or b) none of the cool kids were writing it (Cooper's mentor Alden Nowlan famously abandoned rhyming poems for free verse) and he just really wanted to fit in and write achingly naive liberal-minded poems about how awful war is.

3) Pace Allan Cooper, there is no equation between "colloquial speech" and free verse. Lots of free verse is highly formal in terms of diction and syntax (KJ Bible anyone?) and lots of rhyming, metred verse is colloquial (see Carmine Starnino's review of David O'Meara's latest book in the same issue of Arc).

4) Allan doesn't even try to answer the second part of the question, presumably because he doesn't know anything about it, since he's still living in the 1970s, apparently. Groovy.

Cooper would do well to heed Peter Sanger's answer to the same question:

Poetry is form. Without form it is non-poetry. Anyone who turns to free verse to avoid scansion, rhyme, regular stanza pattern and other similar disciplines will write bad poetry. Good free verse cannot be written without some substantial grounding [ed.: i.e. beyond having a few juvenile pokes at it] in formal verse, although it can, of course, be faked by a parasitic extension of the style of another poet who is or was so grounded.

Jen Hadfield

While we were in Scotland, I picked up a few books by Scottish poets. I haven't managed to read anywhere near all of them yet, but a highlight so far has been Nigh-No-Place by Jen Hadfield. The book caused a bit of a sensation across the pond, as Hadfield, at the tender age of 30, became the youngest author ever to win the TS Eliot Prize. The book was also shortlisted for the Forward Prize. And justly so. I love the colloquial vigour, formal inventiveness and restless venturing of this book; I don't get that snap of connection with very many contemporary collections, but I do with this one.

Hadfield, it turns out, has Canadian roots (and citizenship), as her mother's from this side, and much of the book was written during, or about, extensive travels through Canada, going from Halifax to Vancouver by train--I wonder...--and up the Dempster Highway into the Western Arctic. Such latitudes are not unfamiliar to her--even if the landscapes would have been--as she lives in Shetland, north of the Scottish mainland (and nominally Scottish, but don't dare suggest as much to the locals). Most of the best poems in the book are rooted in the Shetlands and are peppered with Shetlandic vocabulary.

Hear me Read Jen Hadfield's "Self-portrait as a Fortune-telling Miracle Fish" (with thanks to Bloodaxe Books for permission)

Some links:

Profile at Poetry International

Interview at Abe Books

Another interview

A poem

4 poems

Hear Jen Hadfield read "Paternoster"

Review of Nigh-No-Place

Another Review

Article in The Independent

Article in The Times, including 3 poems

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Trillium Award Shortlists Announced

Gawd, if such good shortlists keep getting released, soon there'll be nothing left for me to grumble about. Just learned that both Jeramy Dodds' Crabwise to the Hounds and Adam Sol's Jeremiah, Ohio have made the shortlist for this year's Trillium Poetry Prize. For Jeramy, this represents a trifecta, since he's also up for the Gerald Lampert Award and the Griffin Prize, no less. And this after already scooping the Bronwen Wallace and CBC Literary awards. Crabwise appears to be a juggernaut of unstoppable force! I thought Adam Sol's book would be nominated for more than it has--it deserves to be--so I'm glad to see it hasn't been shut out altogether. This is his second Trillium nomination, if I'm not mistaken.

Friday, May 22, 2009


Twice have I killed

a rat in my wife's


The first time was outdoors:

She said she would

divorce me.

Second time was in our kitchen:

She fell sobbing

on my breast.

The impact of these events

on the rats has yet

to be reckoned.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Frog Hollow Press: Book Sale

Hi everyone,

We're having a sale of some older titles to make room on our shelves for forthcoming books.
Please see our website for further details:

TRACERY & INTERPLAY by matt robinson
letterpressed, hand-sewn chapbook - regular price $25 on sale for $20

ALDEN NOWLAN & ILLNESS edited by Shane Neilson
letterpressed, case-bound hard cover - regular price $90 on sale for $75

letterpressed, hand-sewn chapbook - regular price $35 on sale for $20

Smyth-sewn paperback - regular price $35 on sale for $25

EDITING MORITZ Shane Neilson & A.F. Moritz
Smyth-sewn paperback - regular price $35 on sale for $25

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


Thanks to Peter Darbyshire for pointing out this piece. Like him, I have nothing to say.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Oh poo!

Normally, I don't enter poetry contests, but when I caught wind--pardon the pun, you'll see--of a rather, erm, special one in Florida, I couldn't resist squeezing out an entry. The contest was hosted by a colonoscopy clinic, with a top prize of $500 USD. The catch: the poem had to be about colonoscopy. The exchange rate being favourable and the contest being free to enter, I figured, shit, why not, I'm a professional, I'll give it a toot.

Well, the winners have been announced, along with a good many runners up and yours truly did not cut the cheese. It turns out I should have written a limerick. And I should have gone the cautionary tale/didactic route instead of agonized introspection (mixed with cheeky allusions to the Great Las Vegas Colonoscopy Scandal. Oh well, I could second guess till the gastroenterologists come home. Here's what I did do, for your amusement or disgust:

Colonoscopy Prayer

O Lord, let this procedure not presage my end.

Let this be painless.

Let the nurse be not too young or attractive.

Let the doctor have mercy.

Let the scope be smooth and warm as it enters.

Let my bowels be inactive.

Let the clinic be cleanly.

Let its staff be attentive.

Lord, let me not go to Las Vegas.

Let this be painless.

Let the drugs be effective.

Let the lens find no lesions or polyps.

Should it find polyps, let them be mite-sized.

Should it find lesions, don't let them be cancers.

Let them be easily excised.

Let this be painless.

Let me have answers.

Let me lead my kids into adulthood.

Let me be my wife's final companion.

Let us see the Grand Canyon.

Don't let it be because I went to Las Vegas.

Let me have patience.

Let this be over.

Let it be painless.

I may not have a job...

...but I've got rhythm! Four poems from my forthcoming collection are now online for your reading pleasure or pain at Rhythm Poetry Magazine. Editor Mary Kathryn Arnold would like me to let you know that if you're writing metrical verse, she welcomes your submissions of same.

Dim Prospects

I went into work the other day for the first time since early November. It wasn't for a trip, just an information "refresher" session. The information I received was none too refreshing. Looks like the recession has hit tourism pretty damn hard, and since most of Via's increased summer ridership is directly tied to tourism, the numbers are way down. What this means for me and many of my colleagues is more weeks without work. Looks like I might not be recalled till mid-June, whereas last year it was early May. I normally wouldn't mind this, but the last couple of months have been rather expensive for this normally frugal household. So: if you're thinking of travelling somewhere within Canada, and can spare a little extra time in transit, please take the train!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Kill a Critic

As long as it's not me. Well, if it's only imaginary, that's okay.

Pretty cool contest being held at Biblioasis. Details:

Everybody Hates a Critic,

Some people hate them more than others.

Terry Griggs’s new comic-noir biblio-mystery Thought You Were Dead kicks, err, off with a literary critic found under a hedge with a knife in his head, and literary revenge plays an increasingly important role as the novel unfolds. The literary world, and especially the Canadian literary world, can be a small, spiteful – and occasionally murderous – place. Character assassinations abound, books are regularly murdered in the (shrinking) book pages across our fair land, while others are smothered with damningly faint praise. More than a few knives, even if thankfully metaphorical, have been buried hilt deep in authorial backs.

Do you bear the scars of CanLit’s internecine wars? Have you spent a small fortune on postage and only have a drawerful of rejection slips to show for it? Has the world been slow to recognize your evident talent? Then, dear reader, this contest is for you.

To celebrate the launch of Terry Griggs’s Thought You Were Dead, Biblioasis and Seen Reading are teaming up to help you unleash the murder we know is in your heart with our Revenge-Lit contest. Pen a flash fiction of 250 words or so (though, in truth, no one is likely to count them) on the (fictional) literary critic whose body once filled the chalk outline and what he did to get there and send it by June 12th to The best of the entries will be published as they are received at; The winning entry will:

1) Receive a one hundred dollar cash prize

2) Be published in a forthcoming issue of CNQ: Canadian Notes & Queries

3) A Biblioasis press catalogue of in-print trade titles (approx. 40 books, retail value approx. $1000.00)

Entries to be judged by Dan Wells, Julie Wilson and Terry Griggs.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Speaking of beautiful books, I got my contributor's copy of A Verse Map of Vancouver today and what a stunning production it is. I thought the Halifax antho I was in a few years ago was nice--it is--but this beats it hands down. A full-sized, full colour hardback coffee table book, Derek Von Essen's photos not only gorgeous but carefully chosen to accompany the selected poems. Wowzas. Kudos to George McWhirter for conceiving of the project and executing it so finely, to Von Essen for his hard work and beautiful results, and to the city and Anvil Press for not stinting in the production values. You can tell a lot of labour went into this--time well spent. And money well spent if you get yourself a copy.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Another reason to pre-order Track & Trace

As if you needed one! I'm told that the book will be designed by my fellow Prince Edward Island expat and graphic novelist extraordinaire, Seth. (Okay, so he's not technically an Islander, but his dad is.) Not that I had any doubt it would be a beautiful book, but it should be extra lovely in his hands. It's quite appropriate that someone with ties to the Island should be designing the book, since several of the poems are rooted there and others, broadly, are about not being there.

CNQ 2.0

Dan Wells has posted a sneak peak of the newlook CNQ website over at Thirsty. Looking sharp. Many thanks to my good friends at Sobule Design.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

A lovely little note

...from a reader in Ontario, with an unauthorized, but not unwelcome, reproduction of a poem from Unsettled. Thanks!

Pre-order Track & Trace NOW!

Looks like my new book is available for pre-order on Amazon. Not all at once, now.

Jailbreaks Review

Just came across this review of Jailbreaks in Maple Tree Literary Supplement. While the review is mostly praiseful, Michèle Rackham poses the most pointed questions of any reviewer about specific exclusions. I'm glad she asked. I left Carman out because Carman was a terrible poet; had he been anything but a popular versifier who had the historical good fortune to be one of the earliest poets in the country, he'd be completely forgotten by now. His work is kept alive by academic life support. Dudek I left out because he was a dully pedantic poet; again, I don't know that anyone outside of academic specialists reads Dudek anymore. Livesay and Kroetsch very nearly made the cut, but I ultimately couldn't generate enough enthusiasm about the poems to include them. And the book, as her observations about the notes suggests, was intended to present poems I'm enthusiastic about, not to present a picture of the canon-as-is. Poems, not reputations.

Oh, and as for why Neff is next to Bailey:

Neff: "Consider an owl tracking thru the vulnerable / Night of a billion sleeping mice: you can be like that and kill!"

Bailey: "Look well upon the elm whose wittol root / roams like a hungry rat"

'Nuf said?

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Reviews online

Still getting our house in order (a task made difficult by the fact that we have approximately half the furniture we need), so not much time for idle pursuits like blogging, but thought I'd alert you to the online presence of my brief reviews of Karen Solie's new collection, Pigeon, and Lisa Robertson's Magenta Soul Whip, by, wait for it, Lisa Robertson. The latter should be required reading for those who think I review with some kind of hidden agenda or that I'm incapable of appreciating work radically unlike my own.

Still no call-back to work, which is a mixed blessing. I'm not especially looking forward to my return to wage slavery, but I've been spending way too much of the old savings lately. So, back to writing my next review...