Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Mark Sampson's Year in Review

My old friend Mark Sampson has also included CLM in his ten favourite books of 2014. Thanks, Mark!

Brian Palmu on CLM and Cottonopolis

I'm not a big fan of book-biz year-end best-of lists in general, but there are better ways it can be done. Brian Palmu has listed his favourite books of 2014, but, refreshingly, these are books he read this year, rather than books published this year. He also doesn't stop after he's reached an arbitrary number of "best books." And, pleasingly to this household, he has included my book of essays and Rachel's Cottonopolis.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014


Welcome to your turnkey cul-de-sac,
where faux Tudors and ersatz cedar-sided
colonials sprawl cheek by jowl, and back

on a hemlock-shaded ravine: your own private
wilderness oasis and buffer against the berm-
baffled traffic beyond. This ticky-tacky

facsimile is the acme of blandeur:
gauche rooflines, cultured stone and off-the-rack
opulencies galore—all the doo-dads

and knick-knacks the status anxiety
of your executive lifestyle demands,
and priced to move fast. This high society

dream could be yours, but it won't last.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

A Quiet Tryst of Living Voices

Our poems are conversations in every meaningful sense. They are an exchange between ourselves and those parts of ourselves that belong to other people. Intimate whisperings, productive tensions. They challenge and tease us, lead us to say things that we have not thought to say. They gives the courage to have a self and to lose it too, which is surely the most we can ask of any conversation.
We are made up of voice and we are the relations between voices, inside and out. They are our judgement and our redemption, our ipseity and our selflessness, our origin and our promise. Perhaps their revelation is possible in real conversation. It may be, after all, what we live for. As Yeats says, "what do we know but that we face / one another in this place?" I suppose there will always be something ethereal and unreal about conversations as long as I feel as anxious about them as I do. But in every ghostly encounter--the ones we have with friends at Tim Hortons and the ones we listen for when we write--we recognize the voices we love and think: it is good of them to come back the way they do and share a part of themselves with us, good to hear them again. And our hearts warm to a quiet tryst of living voices, ones that, if we are lucky, will choir among themselves long afterward.

--Jeffery Donaldson, "Ghostly Conversations," from Echo Soundings: Essays on Poetry and Poetics

Saturday, November 1, 2014

New book next spring

So, I have a new book of poems coming out in the spring. The final edits have been submitted for typesetting and design work is underway. Here is one potential cover idea crafted by Biblioasis designer Kate Hargreaves. Not final, but I quite like it.

Essay online

I have just discovered that an essay on Elizabeth Bishop's "The Bight" that I published in The Worcester Review a few years ago has been uploaded to the interwebs. So you can read it, if you like to read such things.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Rigorously Pent

Over on the Biblioasis blog, Amanda Jernigan has contributed a few words in praise of my book Track & Trace. It's nice to hear anyone appreciate my work, but it means an awful lot coming from Amanda, who is a superb poet in her own right and one the very best readers of poetry I've ever met. Nice also to hear her appreciating Seth's contribution to the book. I still can hardly believe I published a book designed by him. I'm a lucky fella.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Lista on McKay

Michael Lista, in one of his strongest columns to-date for the National Post, has weighed in on Don McKay's doorstopper Collected Poems. He gets it mostly right, I think, but when he says that McKay has "spent a lifetime avoiding seeing the human in the natural world," he has done little more than repeat the press kit. As I argued in my long review essay of McKay's oeuvre-in-progress seven years ago (an updated version of which can be read in my recently published prose collection), this isn't really what happens in McKay poems. Rather, I'd rephrase Lista's statement thus: "Don McKay has spent a lifetime pretending to avoid seeing the human in the natural world." In actual fact, he does it all the time, especially if you compare him with that pre-eminent observer of the non-human world, John Clare--a birdwatching poet who comes up remarkably infrequently in prose by and about McKay. What appears to be a disjunction between McKay's poetics and his poems is actually evidence that McKay's poems tend to be more versified poetics than poems in their own right. Which is another reason, I think, he has been well-received by academic readers: not only do his poems tell you what you should be observing, as Lista points out, they also tell you what you should be thinking while you observe, and they tell you what you should be thinking about the poems themselves. They are therefore very easy to write about and to package in an interpretive argument.

I've just finished reading, as it happens, a book that is very useful in shedding light on the popularity of a poet versus that of his or her peers. In The Drunkard's Walk, mathematician Leonard Mlodinow helps to account for variations in subjective evaluations. He explains, for instance, why a $60 bottle of Bordeaux might be rated more highly by experts than a bargain-bin screwtop that beats the highbrow vintage in blind taste tests:

Expectations also affect your perception of taste. In 1963 three researchers secretly added a bit of red food colour to white wine to give it the blush of a rosé. They then asked a group of experts to rate its sweetness in comparison with the untinted wine. The experts perceived the fake rosé as sweeter than the white, according to their expectation. Another group of researchers gave a group of oenology students two wine samples. Both samples contained the same white wine, but to one was added a tasteless grape anthocyanin dye that made it appear to be red wine. The students also perceived differences between the red and the white according to their expectations. And in a 2008 study a group of volunteers asked to rate five wines rated a bottle labeled $90 higher than another bottle labeled $10, even though the sneaky researchers had filled both bottles with the same wine.
It isn't hard to translate these results into poetry world terms; it's no stretch to imagine showing a group of Canadian poetry lovers the latest "Don McKay" poem (actually written by someone else) and then to watch them finding six ways from Sunday to praise its virtuosity. Or, conversely, to imagine McKay sending his own new poems off to magazines under a pseudonym and getting most of them back with polite rejection notes. We don't have to imagine it, because similar sociological experiments have been performed. In a later section of his book, Mlodinow writes of an experiment with pop music:

The popularity of individual songs varied widely among the different worlds [the experiment involved dividing 14,341 participants into nine "worlds," each of which was given different popularity data for a selection of forty-eight songs by bands unknown to the participants; the ninth group received no popularity data at all], and different songs of similar intrinsic quality [as defined by the ninth world's rankings of the songs] also varied widely in their popularity. For example, a song called "Lockdown" by a band called 52metro ranked twenty-six out of forty-eight in intrinsic quality but was the number-1 song in one world and the number-40 song in another. In this experiment, as one song or another by chance got an early edge in downloads, its seeming popularity influenced the shoppers. It's a phenomenon that is well-known in the movie industry: moviegoers will report liking a movie more when they hear beforehand how good it is. In this example, small chance influences created a snowball effect and made a huge difference in the future of the song.

I see all kinds of evidence for this kind of social dynamics in the popularity of McKay. Just the other day, this idolatrous blog post came up on my Facebook feed. I sent the link in an email to a few critic colleagues under the subject heading "Sociology." One wrote back "That reads like the missive of someone who has found meaning through a cult." Which is hyperbolic, but the post certainly is evidence of how social capital accrues, compounds and ramifies in the rarefied atmosphere of the poetry business. In other words, a significant reason that people love Don McKay is that people love Don McKay. Humans, however much they may be aware of the arbitrariness of prestige and wealth, still defer to prestige and wealth, another point elaborated by Mlodinow:

I was watching late-night television recently when another star ... appeared for an interview. His name is Bill Gates. Though the interviewer is known for his sarcastic approach, toward Gates he seemed unusually deferential. Even the audience seemed to ogle Gates. The reason, of course, is that for thirteen years straight Gates was named the richest man in the world by Forbes magazine. In fact, since founding Microsoft, Gates has earned more than $100 a second. And so when he was asked about his vision for interactive television, everyone waited with great anticipation to hear what he had to say. But his answer was ordinary, no more creative, ingenious, or insightful than anything I've heard from a dozen other computer professionals. Which brings us to this question: does Gates earn $100 per second because he is godlike, or is he godlike because he earns $100 per second?

Mlodinow then goes on to show that the development of DOS and Gates' subsequent meteoric rise hinged on seemingly insignificant, chance events. Such random events, combined with charisma, explain why McKay is rated so much more highly than a host of contemporaries who are at least as good at writing poems as he is. Lista is bang-on that it's no "sinister plot or top-down conspiracy." It's far more banal than that.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

UNB Poetry Weekend 2014

After missing the last couple of years, I was back at UNB's annual Poetry Weekend this year and brought my digital recorder with me. I was there with Rachel and our son, so part of the weekend had to be dedicated to kid-friendly activities (as Kaleb said to me when I suggested he might listen to my reading, "But daddy, that would be BORING!"), so we missed the first set of readings on Saturday. I've uploaded the other five recordings to Internet Archive.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Review in print

A while back, a review I wrote for the Telegraph Journal fell victim to an editorial changeover, but fortunately, the good people at Vallum found a home for my thoughts on Ricardo Sternberg's most recent book, Some Dance. I just received the issue in the mail today. It includes, among many other things, a three-page poem by Karen Solie, intriguingly called "Via." Which I will read as soon as I finish editing my damn book.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Mark Kingwell on Jailbreaks

My superlative publisher, Biblioasis, is celebrating ten years of kicking ass in the book world this year. Part of the party is testimonials from people about favourite Biblioasis titles. Philosopher and public intellectual Mark Kingwell has chimed in with some very flattering words of praise for Jailbreaks, my anthology of sonnets:

Jailbreaks: 99 Canadian Sonnets is one of the best anthologies of poetry I know, and in my top five contemporary poetry books ever. Zach Wells selects sonnets from across the country, across generations, and across styles. For those who think sonnets all look the same, there is much to learn here about the range of poetic possibility within a single set of formal constraints. Among other clever things, Wells's introduction argues that the fourteen lines of the Petrarchan and Shakespearean sonnet forms are poetry's finest vehicle for introducing, developing, and concluding a well-formed thought. These poems are thus phenomenological jailbreaks, consciousness busting out -- in good order -- from the buzzing prison-yard of our jumbled minds. A book to dip into or read cover to cover, with delight on every page.

[I pasted the text of Mark's commentary because the link doesn't work anymore.]

Tuesday, August 26, 2014


My poem "There Is Something Intractable in Me" has been included in a new anthology edited by Shane Neilson for Frog Hollow Press: Play: Poems About Childhood. I haven't had a chance to dig into the book yet, but at a glance it's an intriguingly eclectic collection of poets and poems.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Finding in 'primitive' languages a dearth of words for moral ideas, many people assumed these ideas did not exist. But the concepts of 'good' or 'beautiful', so essential to Western thought, are meaningless unless they are rooted to things. The first speakers of language took the raw material of their surroundings and pressed it into metaphor to suggest abstract ideas. The Yaghan tongue--and by inference all language--proceeds as a system of navigation. Named things are fixed points, aligned or compared, which allow the speaker to plot the next move. Had [Thomas] Bridges uncovered the range of Yaghan metaphor, his work would never have come to completion. Yet sufficient survives for us to resurrect the clarity of their intellect.
What shall we think of a people who defined 'monotony' as 'an absence of male friends?' Or, for 'depression', used the word that described the vulnerable phase in a crab's seasonal cycle, when it has sloughed off its old shell and waits for another to grow? Or who derived 'lazy' from the Jackass Penguin? Or 'adulterous' from the hobby, a small hawk that flits here and there, hovering motionless over its next victim?


The layers of metaphorical associations that made up their mental soil shackled the Indians to their homeland with ties that could not be broken. A tribe's territory, however uncomfortable, was always a paradise that could never be improved on. By contrast the outside world was Hell and its inhabitants no better than beasts.

--Bruce Chatwin, In Patagonia

Reprinted poem online

My poem "We Are More or Less," recently reprinted by Geist magazine, is now up on their website and making the rounds on social media. It's not a bad time for this to be posted, with the rupture of the under-built Mount Polley tailings pond and Canadapologist Shane Koyczan poised to go on tour with David Suzuki et al. Yup, we are more.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Poem reprinted

My spoken-word poem/op-ed rant "We Are More or Less," which was originally published in Vancouver Review, has been reprinted (with a slightly modified title) from Career Limiting Moves by Geist magazine in their latest issue.

 You can also hear me deliver the piece:

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Interview and poems online and in print

I'm pleased and honoured to be featured in the very first issue of The Humber Literary Review. They've posted an interview and two poems on their website.

The poems are both from the manuscript of my next collection, which is to be called Sum. I have just recently sent the manuscript in to publisher and editor (my good friend Carmine Starnino, who also edited Track & Trace), and I'm told it should be in print early spring of 2015.

Translation lost and found

Regular readers of this blog (if there are any left) will recall that I went to Mexico a couple of years ago to take part in the Linares International Literary Festival, organized by Irish-Canadian expat Colin Carberry. With the help of a crowd funding campaign, I hired a translator, Lidia Valencia Fourcans, to convert ten of my poems into Spanish. After I came back from Mexico, my publisher asked me if Lidia and I could write something for Biblioasis' translation blog. We did, and sent it on, but in the midst of much other busyness at the press, the blog went into hibernation before my piece was posted. One of the things Jesse Eckerlin has done since joining team Biblioasis is reanimate the translation blog. Then I remembered that I still had this piece. And now, at last, it's up on the blog, for your reading pleasure.

And I still have some copies of the translation chapbook, if anyone wants to buy one.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Alexis vs. Gilmour

Anne Kingston has done a nice job writing up the rather dreary "feud" between two novelists who talk a lot of shit. She highlights my response to a particularly smelly piece of Andre Alexis bullshit in her piece, but seems to think the title of my book is meant more unironically than it is.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Confirmation Bias at Work

It seems to me that, when we lost our aesthetic pleasure in the human presence as a thing to be looked at and contemplated, at the same time we ceased to enjoy human act and gesture, which civilzation has always before found to be beautiful even when it was also grievous or terrible, as the epics and tragedies and the grandest novels testify. Now when we read history, increasingly we read it as a record of cynicism and manipulation. We assume that nothing is what it appears to be, that it is less and worse, insofar as it might once have seemed worthy of respectful interest. We routinely disqualify testimony that would plead for extenuation. That is, we are so persuaded of the rightness of our judgment as to invalidate evidence that does not confirm us in it. Nothing that deserves to be called truth could ever be arrived at by such means. If truth in this sense is essentially inaccessible in any case, that should only confirm us in humility and awe.

--Marilynne Robinson, The Death of Adam

I have a lot of time for what Robinson says here. Unfortunately, she follows this paragraph, the last in the introductory essay of her collection, with an essay so thoroughly tendentious in its arguments (broadly, against what she calls "Darwinism"), so selectively blind to extenuating testimony, that it could have been the target of the quotation above. In the first essay, she castigates writers on Calvinism for having no works by Calvin in their bibliographies. I got so irked reading caricatures of various philosophers and scientists in the second essay that I flipped to the back to check out her bibliography. There was none. It's pretty shocking that she seems to have been deaf to these ironies.

Here is an excellent response to Robinson's essay.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Some love for CLM

My old friend Mark Sampson (who I've known since we lived in the same dorm at the University of King's College in 1995-96) has posted a review of Career Limiting Moves on his blog. I'm especially glad that he highlighted my review of Souvankham Thammavongsa's Found, as it's a piece I'm particularly proud of. (I was also glad to hear recently that Thammavongsa's wonderful follow-up collection, Light, has been shortlisted for Ontario's Trillium Prize.)

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Waypoints broadside

When I was crowdfunding my trip to Paris a few months ago, one of the perks available was a broadside featuring the four poems set to music by Erik Ross and performed by Phillip Addis and Emily Hamper. I got word from Gaspereau the other day that, after some mechanical problems at the press that delayed production, the Waypoints broadside has now been printed. Andrew Steeves has produced only twenty copies, exactly the number I need to fulfill the perk claims, so there will be none for sale. Nevertheless, it looks so pretty that I just had to share.

Earlier this month, on Mother's Day, the full four-song sequence was performed for the first time at Montreal's Conservatoire de Musique (the score for "Broken" was not finished early enough for it to be rehearsed for the recitals in Toronto and Paris). I was in attendance, along with Rachel and a number of friends, among the seventy or so audience members (mostly members of Montreal's Société d'Art Vocal, which was hosting the recital). It was another brilliant performance and people were excited that I was actually there, since the creators of most of the music they hear are no longer living. The Société provided excellent hospitality, including a post-recital reception at their private club. So good to hear the full sequence; it will be interesting to see, in coming years, if any other performers incorporate it into their repertoire.

Monday, April 21, 2014


The fact that I persist despite the futile
nature of this brutal quest is no
proof that I want reason. If bloated
bait lingers on my line and I hammer stakes
three fingers deeper into carbonized
humus, you mustn't see me as apostle
to St. Anthony, follower of fool's
errands or keeper of extinguished flames.
Ceteris paribus et mutatis mutandis,
if I don't brake or bail, it's because I can't
go on, but, like Sisyphus who is,
of course, just like the rest of us, I must.
Now is no time to reckon or cut loss—
now is when I must honour my sunk costs.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Messy procedure

I've been reading Don Paterson's commentary on Shakespeare's sonnets in desultory fashion for many months (its home during that time has been on top of my toilet's water tank). The book is often brilliant and funny, occasionally sloppy and maddening. One of the things I love about it is Paterson's engagement with earlier exegeses of the sonnets, but perhaps my favourite parts are the digressive excursions he makes from time to time, commenting on poetry and criticism more generally.

In his commentary on Sonnet 148, he talks about Helen Vendler's "kabbalistic tour de force that uncovers many buried correspondences, DEFECTIVE KEY WORDS, chiastic and structural patterns--absolutely none of which, I suspect, WS was either aware of or had intended." He continues:

By now, you may be getting the impression that I don't think Vendler's is the way to do criticism. Yes and no: HV is often brilliantly illuminating, but her commentary on the Sonnets suffers from a double-whammy of misperceptions.
     Firstly, too much stuff is described as deliberately planned effect that I'm certain arose from nothing more than human feeling and instinctive decision-making, driven through the local compositional exigencies of the sonnet form. Secondly, and more sinisterly, HV seem sot assume that the poem actually has a deep essence, pattern or structure which we can usefully abstract and codify in this way. It doesn't; the game of poetry is to keep those things in play, and to fix and codify them is to misrepresent their protean nature, and their total dependency on the dynamic process of subjective reading; otherwise you're conferring a reality they don't possess. This is the theistic fallacy in another guise. I think many of the deep patters and symbolic underpinnings that HV diagnoses are not integral to the poem itself, but only back-formed from her sometimes too-careful reading; which is to say they're here, and not Shakespeare's. If they do really exist, they must be in the hands of some remote third party, who at some point will confirm the accuracy of the brilliant exegesis. But there's just you, me, and this wee poem. That's an open game. However HV too often plays a closed one, poring over the Sonnets as if they were a holy book--as if it actually possessed rather than generated some meaning, and finds nothing more or less than the richness of her own mind. A relief that it's so rich, since one invariably learns so much from its company. But the Sonnets were the work of a brilliant and fallible human, and they shouldn't be interrogated like the Book of Thoth.
     Everyone composes in a roughly similar way. Frost's notebooks are pretty much like mine and like those of my friends, the difference lying only in the genius of the results. There are both a thousand ways to write a poem, and precisely one: messy procedure. The poem may take on a crystalline and even algebraic appearance in the end, but for all its ferocious technique, that final poem was reached through a dynamic process with feeling and instinct at its heart--and was not guided by the kind of structural blueprint and organizational intelligence that critics like HV divine at every turn. You see the problem: it looks like a subtle distinction, but there's actually a massive difference between suggestion that the structure is somehow anterior to the poem, as opposed to merely an emergent feature of its final form, with which its pattern of feeling and lyric is not properly separable.
     Poets want us to lose ourselves in the surface our their language, not its hidden machinery--not least because that machinery is often hidden from the poets themselves. Not that we should always honour that desire: as you'll have noticed, I'm all for putting the poem into dry dock, so we can see what's going on beneath the surface, find what keeps it afloat, and marvel at its construction. But to talk as if that's where the deeper or larger truth of the poem might reside is wrong. To find that, we need to set it back in the water. The truth of a poem is in the cut of its jib, the breath in its sails, the clever route it charts to its new poet, and the skill and speed and grace with which it moves.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

CLM excerpt online

Jesse Eckerlin has posted my review of Goran Simić's From Sarajevo, with Sorrow on the Biblioasis International Translation blog. The review, originally published (2005) in the now-defunct Books in Canada, predates my involvement with Biblioasis and my friendship with Goran, whose subsequent poetry collection, Sunrise in the Eyes of the Snowman, I had the pleasure and honour of editing for the press. Funny routes one winds up taking in this game.


To own the podium
in the Victim Olympics;
to deserve the odium
of well born limpets.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Bryson on CLM

Michael Bryson has just posted a thoughtful and penetrating review of Career Limiting Moves on his blog. Since Michael and I go way back, as he makes plain from the get-go, it's a personally-inflected piece, but he also manages to say some things about my work that strike me as true, but which I hadn't thought of in precisely such terms before. Which is none too common in reviews--but most welcome.

Bachinger on CLM

Jacob Bachinger, a writer and teacher based in the northern wilds of Manitoba, has posted some thoughtful comments about Career Limiting Moves on his blog.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Hamilton panel writeup

The Puritan proves that not all bloggers are created equal, with Ryan Pratt's concise, thoughtful and accurate response to the recent panel in the Hammer. (Scroll down for my audio recording of the panel.) What's not touched on much in this piece is the pretty great Q&A with the audience. Amanda Jernigan did a masterful job, as Pratt acknowledges, of mediating the discussion. Overall, I'd say it was the most successful of the four events.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Speaking of stunted

A rather sloppy, tendentious response to the Toronto panel has been posted on The Puritan's blog. If nothing else, it demonstrates that the blogosphere's earnest contributors need to work harder if they want to meet basic journalistic standards. They could at least listen to the posted audio instead of relying on scribbled notes to cobble things haphazardly together again from memory.

UPDATE: Phoebe Wang of The Puritan has posted a defence (consisting mainly of excuses) of Tracy Kyncl's post. Oddly, the fact that Ms. Kyncl possesses an MA and is the editor of a magazine actually makes the sloppiness of her post seem more egregious; I had assumed previously she was an undergrad. I've responded to Ms. Wang with an elaboration on my objections above. And that's as much time as I'm prepared to waste on this.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Stunted critical credos

A wee excerpt from Career Limiting Moves, read at the recent Toronto panel talk, filmed by Pino Coluccio:

ZW reads AO

I read a poem at Ben McNally Books, from Alexandra Oliver's Meeting the Tormentors in Safeway, in her absence.

Monday, March 24, 2014

What We Talk About When We Talk About Poetry in Windsor

What We Talk About When We Talk About Poetry in Hamilton

What We Talk About When We Talk About Poetry, Toronto edition

CNQ: The Montreal Issue

The arrival of Canadian Notes & Queries is always an event, but I haven't been this excited about getting my copy in a while. The Montreal issue contains a wealth of literary delectables, including a piece I commissioned from American poet and critic Bill Coyle on Robyn Sarah's most recent collection and a reprint of my appreciation of Peter Van Toorn's sui generis sonnet "Mountain Leaf." The latter is accompanied (for subscribers) by a postcard print of the poem, beautifully designed and illustrated by Biblioasis's own Kate Hargreaves (whom I had the pleasure of meeting in Windsor the other day). 

Maybe it's time to subscribe, hey?

Audio: What We Talk About When We Talk About Poetry, Montreal Edition

I realize belatedly that, although I sent out all kinds of invitations via social media and email, I've been neglectful in posting here about my four-day, four-city promotional tour for Career Limiting Moves, the book. I'm home now from a blitz of Montreal, Toronto, Hamilton and Windsor, accompanied by Jason Guriel (who recently published his own prose collection, The Pigheaded Soul) and Anita Lahey, whose prose collection The Mystery Shopping Cart is still warm off the press. They're both excellent books and their authors are great company, so it was a hyper-stimulating pleasure to do these events with them. The tour was the brain child of my publisher, Biblioasis, proving once again that they're one of the best. Below is the audio from the Montreal event, hosted by Adrian King-Edward of The Word and moderated by Carmine Starnino, who edited both Jason and Anita's books and who, of course, has been a colleague and friend of mine for years. I'll be posting audio from the others shortly.

Here, also, is an article written in advance of the Montreal panel.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014


Monday, February 24, 2014

Buzz Off, Bezos

I spent a bit of time this morning deleting all links to my books on Amazon sites from this blog's sidebar and from my website. I haven't bought anything from Amazon for years, mostly because I don't like the pressure they, and other juggernaut retailers, place on small press publishers to discount their titles. I've left the links up as long as I have because I know that many people appreciate the convenience of buying from Amazon--and I want my books to be bought and read. After reading an article this morning in Salon, however, I couldn't in good conscience continue to support Amazon, however tacitly, as a seller of my work. The article paints an Orwellian picture of globalized labour relations hell in Amazon's gargantuan warehouses. This is a truly repugnant corporation. Please, if you want to buy my books, go to an independent bookseller or to my publishers' websites.

Review in Print

My copy of Arc Poetry Magazine 73 just arrived, and in it is my brief review of Dan O'Brien's collection War Reporter. It's a book that's received a fair bit of attention and praise, but I had problems with it. You'll have to track down a copy of Arc 73 to see what they are.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

CLM gets some press

Career Limiting Moves has received its first review, thanks to Mike Landry of The Telegraph Journal

Saturday, February 8, 2014


Through Facebook the other day, I learned of singer/songwriter Christa Couture's crowdfunding campaign to help her get a new, state-of-the-art prosthetic leg that will improve her mobility and quality of life immeasurably. I don't know Christa, but I was persuaded by the video on the campaign website that this was something really worth getting behind. I've donated five copies of Track & Trace as a perk that donors can claim. Please do visit the site, watch the video and check out the other great perks.

UPDATE: The Kneeraiser reached its target within three days and is now in quest of a stretch goal to get the best possible microprocessor knee for Christa. One of my books has been claimed, but there are four there yet to be snagged and more perks popping up every day.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Review Online

My review of Carmelita McGrath's arresting collection Escape Velocity is now online at Arc Poetry Magazine's site.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

CLM Has Landed!

Hey, look what knocked on my door Friday afternoon. The official publication date was last November, but like so many of the pieces it contains, my book of critical writings came in a bit past deadline. But now, patient readers, Career Limiting Moves the book can be purchased from better booksellers everywhere, be they brick and mortar or virtual.

If you're going to order online, why not go straight to the publisher?

I have to say, it's strange to have published a book with such a thick spine after putting out a bunch of skinny poetry books. Despite its girth, however, the book is right handsome, thanks to the top-notch design work of Kate Hargreaves.

Launch events TBA.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Recital review

A French critic named Olivier Brunel has written a review of the Paris recital. He is unfortunately--and I don't think very fairly, but I am neither impartial in this case nor well-educated in such matters generally--harsh on Phillip Addis' vocal stylings, but impressed by Emily Hamper's work on piano. Pleasantly for yours truly, however, Brunel reserves his highest praise for the "Waypoints" cycle:

Il est rare aussi de bénéficier au cours d’un récital d’une création comme ce fut le cas avec celle de Waypoints(«Points de repère») commande des deux protagonistes pour leur tournée de récitals au compositeur canadien Erik Ross (né en 1972) sur des textes de l’écrivain et poète canadien Zachariah Wells (présent dans la salle pour cette création française). Ce superbe cycle de trois chansons de facture assez classique et tonale a été le moment le plus fort de ce concert.

Something missing from the review is an acknowledgment of how well the audience received the performance, a fact that doesn't necessarily negate Brunel's criticisms, but would help significantly to contextualize them. He does not, for example, mention that the Ralph Vaughn Williams song that closed the evening was performed in response to quite palpable popular demand. Hélas.

Review online

My review of David O'Meara's stellar collection, A Pretty Sight, has been posted on Arc Poetry Magazine's website.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Opera Report Post Scriptum

As I just said on the Indiegogo page for my fundraising campaign, I am enormously grateful to everyone who has helped to make this happen for me. I really am a fortunate man.

Opera Report

As I said on Facebook last night, I have enjoyed a handful of truly great nights in my life. First among them were my marriage night and the birth of my son. What I experienced last night at the amphitheatre of the Opéra Bastille is not far behind.

After tramping around all day--from our flat in the 2e Arrondissement through the courtyard of the Louvre and the Tuileries, through part of the Champs Elysées, then across the Seine to the spectacular Musée d'Orsay (where we lunched and took in a couple of the permanent exhibits, including Van Gogh and Gauguin)--my mother and I hit Ile de la Cité and strolled along the river to Ile St. Louis, where we strolled some more before having an early supper at one of the few restaurants that serves such a meal (most of the other patrons had small children with them).

After supper, we made our way to the Opéra Bastille, the somewhat controversial modern opera house built in the late '80s. After I picked up our comp tickets, we headed downstairs to the Amphithéâtre, the intimate open-seating venue for Phillip Addis' and Emily Hamper's performance. We were among the first people there, so we managed to snag front row seats, just right of centre stage.

Shortly after settling in, we were warmly greeted by Christophe Ghristi and Mireille Campioni, the Opera staff members in charge of the Amphithéâtre. While we waited, spectators arrived steadily, eventually filling the three central seating sections. A handful of people sat in the outer two sections. I would estimate that somewhere between 200 and 225 people attended, all told.

I'd be surprised if a single one of them was disappointed. Phillip and Emily started off with Hugo Wolf's "Abendbilder," a short song cycle, with German text by Nikolaus Lenau. I'm a complete ingénue when it comes to music, but I thought it was very fine. Phillip and Emily headed offstage to warm applause and returned to deliver Benjamin Britten's settings of "Songs and Proverbs of William Blake." An ambitious selection of fourteen of Blake's most famous short poems, this was where both pianist and singer soared. And when they finished, the crowd showed their appreciation, going into a rhythmic clap that cues a curtain call. (After the show, Emily said that a curtain call at the intermission is very rare, since people are generally keener to hit the bar or the WC than to stay in their seats any longer.)

Following the intermission came another change of pace with Francis Poulenc's sublime song cycle "La fraîcheur et le feu," with French texts by Paul Eluard. I will confess that the deeper into the Poulenc they got, the harder it was for me to relax and listen, knowing that "Waypoints" (the song cycle that Erik Ross built out of my poems "I," "Anattā" and "Waypoints") was coming up. Appropriately, the last stanza of Eluard's chimes nicely with an image from "Waypoints":

Je sais le sort de la lumière
J'en ai assez pour jouer son éclat
Pour me parfaire au dos de mes paupières
Pour que rien ne vive sans moi.

Its final word made for a perfect segue into "I."

Before that would happen, however, Phillip and Emily, having taken their post-Poulenc bows, disappeared backstage to refresh themselves and my heart started beating hard. When they came back out, Phillip produced a slip of paper from his pocket and read some prepared remarks in French about the genesis of the "Waypoints" cycle. He finished by saying that Erik Ross was unfortunately unable to attend, but that I was here from Halifax. He gestured to me and I walked to the edge of the stage (which was level with the front row) and bowed to the applauding audience.

My heartbeat cranked up another notch or two as I returned to my seat. What followed I can't adequately describe, both because my knowledge of music is rudimentary and because the performance hit me on such an emotional, pre-verbal level. I write with the spoken voice in mind. I write my poems not just to be read, but to be heard. I have a pretty good idea when I've made a poem sound right (or as right as I can), but never have I imagined them sounding so transcendently gorgeous. The range of tone was staggering; on a couple of occasions, as my mother pointed out, Phillip turned red in the face while singing, which didn't happen during any of the other cycles. I was enraptured for the duration of the performance, chills running up and down my spine. The score, the performance, the setting--the whole thing blew me away.

The audience response was enormous. Phillip bowed, then gestured to Emily (as he did following each cycle), who bowed, then he looked over at me and pointed at the floor beside him. In a daze, I walked onto the stage, embraced Phillip and Emily (both of whom I was meeting in person for the first time), turned to face the audience, and bowed. The crowd kept clapping and Phillip nodded at me to bow again; then the three of us joined hands and bowed together. I half-staggered back to my seat while Phillip and Emily strode off-stage. My mother said afterwards that she wished someone had been taking photographs--house rules prohibited pictures--so I could see the expression on my face when I was taking my bows. Phlegmatic fellow that I am, it's rare that I radiate joy, but I'm sure I did last night.

Phillip and Emily returned to perform two songs by Eric Wolfgang Korngold, with lyrics by Elisabeth Honold and Josef von Eichendorff, respectively. Appropriately, the second song ends "Singe, sing nur mimer zu!" (Sing, sing without stopping!) The audience was clearly in sympathy with that thought. Phillip and Emily's bows were followed by more rhythmic clapping, along with shouts of Bravo! and Encore! They came out for a curtain call, went backstage, then came out again, to play a song by Ralph Von Williams, with a text taken from Henry V.

Thus ended the magic, but the night wasn't over. My mother and I went backstage, along with Opera staff and friends of Phillip and Emily's. We had champagne (the real McCoy, natch) and chatted for a while before a group of us headed to a restaurant next door for drinks and food and a lot of great conversation. I can't express how incredibly lucky I am, not only to have had my work given such royal  treatment, but to have it done by collaborators who are also charming, lovely people. The only things that would have made this evening more memorable yet would have been the presence of Erik Ross (whom I got to meet and hang out with in Toronto a couple of months back, at least) and Rachel, who has been with me for most of my writing life and without whom it's hard to say where I'd be in life and literature today.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

My interview this morning on Global Morning News