Saturday 30 December 2006

Ruth Padel urges us to make time for poetry in 2007

Ruth Padel makes her case for poetry. Maybe she's preaching to the converted, but I think she's got something here.

Isn't it difficult? Not more than we are. Our complicated lives (not to speak of the LCD display on the gym treadmill) are much more difficult than most poems. We are difficult to ourselves, difficult to each other. But OK, yes, some poetic artefacts can be slightly labour-intensive. Wallace Stevens said a poem should "resist the intelligence, almost successfully" and good poems are rarely explicit. They want you to discover what you feel for yourself and don't do simplification. If you simplify, says the Palestinian poet Mourid Barghouti, you "misrepresent what's human at the moment of pretending to celebrate it". Taking "the accessible and the easy" out of the human condition, you "blur that condition instead of defining it". (from the Guardian)

Friday 29 December 2006

Jay Parini on John Heath-Stubbs

"I just read that John Heath-Stubbs, the poet, has died of cancer at the age of 88. He was an eccentric but marvellous figure - relatively unknown, except among poets themselves, many of whom benefited from his wit and kindness, as I did as a very young man." From The Guardian

Wednesday 27 December 2006

R.I.P. John Heath-Stubbs

"John Heath-Stubbs, a British poet and translator who used classical mythology as an inspiration for his verse, died Dec. 26. He was 88.
"The 1973 winner of the Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry died at the Athlone House Nursing Home in west London, the facility said. The cause of death was not announced." From The Washington Post

Monday 18 December 2006

Poet Chris Banks featured on Trevor Cole's Authors Aloud

Novelist Trevor Cole, who clearly has an appreciation for the spoken word, has been posting recoded readings by Canadian writers on his Authors Aloud website since last August.

Recently, poet Chris Banks (pictured) was featured on Cole's website reading from his fabulous new collection The Cold Panes of Surfaces. You can listen to Banks' reading by visiting

There's plenty of good poets and fiction writers on Trevor Cole's site. I'm going to bookmark it and make it a regular stop on my cyber route.

Sunday 17 December 2006

Donald Hall, still awesome, profiled

Recently, Hall has been appointed Poet Laureate of the United States, and his new book White Apples and the Taste of Stone: Selected Poems 1946 - 2006 is a momument to a marvellous body of work from a marvellous poet. If you're a fan of his as I am, this recent profile by Mike Pride makes for good reading.
The short cold days of winter have come to northern New England, and Donald Hall dreads them. He is the nation's poet laureate, a man made for this job, a poet seasoned to speak about essential things - what poetry means in our age, what poetry is, and isn't. Hall is also a 78-year-old man, bowed, slowed but not quite stilled, wishing he were 70 again.
He writes little now, or seems to. When I visited him recently, he said he had a couple of poems under way and was thinking about another. You can't trust what poets tell you about their works in progress because they delight in exaggerating their misery, but Hall is famous for his industry. He has almost always had dozens of poems in various stages of revision. Some mornings now, he works on his memoirs, but others he spends reading and dozing in the blue chair in the living room of what was once his mother's family's farmhouse.
Age has not diminished Hall's standards for poetry, including his own. The Nov. 13 New Yorker published his Maples, a poem that condenses nearly his entire lifespan into 22 lines while also striking the themes of his lifework: decline and loss, place, nature, mankind's addiction to wanton destruction. (from the St. Petersburg Times)

Friday 15 December 2006

John Steffler's father profiled in the Campbell River Mirror

I couldn't resist posting a link to this sweet little story about our new Poet Laureate's father. He sews cloth bags to send to needy children in Iraq. And he plays the harmonica. Here's a tidbit:
“I can’t understand his poetry,” Harold (Harmonica) Steffler says with a mischievous grin. “Only the poets know what they’re writing about and the rest of us have to guess.

“Besides, I’m no good at spelling!”

But Harold still beams with pride for his son, who was officially welcomed Monday to Ottawa as the country’s new poet laureate, a dignified position even if it doesn’t pay very well. John Steffler will be Canada’s poetic voice for the next two years, traveling the country and promoting Canadian literature. And writing poetry, of course.

You can read the rest at the Cambell River Mirror.

Monday 11 December 2006

Poem on Statue of Liberty finally makes sense

From an editorial point of view, this story is a real gem.

There appears to be an error on the bronze plaque inside the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty, inscribed with the famous sonnet "The New Colossus" by Emma Lazarus.

Lazarus's poem contains the immortal lines: "‘Give me your tired, your poor, / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, / The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.'" Just prior to these lines on the plaque are inscribed the following lines: "‘Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!' cries she / With silent lips." But in the handwritten manuscript for a collection of poems that Lazarus compiled in 1886, a year before her death, the phrase "ancient lands" is set off by commas: "‘Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!'"

"There's definitely a comma after the word ‘keep,'" said the publisher of Riverside Book Company Inc., Brian Eskenazi, who realized the discrepancy after Congregation Shearith Israel, the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue, which once counted Lazarus as a member, commissioned him to publish a book on the 350th anniversary of the congregation. Mr. Eskenazi, who studied medieval and renaissance studies at Columbia University, said with one comma missing, the line was nonsensical or sounded as though what might be kept was "ancient lands" rather than their "pomp." The version on the plaque at the Statue of Liberty "didn't make sense to me as an editor," he said. (from The New York Sun)

Wednesday 6 December 2006

New Literary Magazine launched in U.K.

The Delinquent is the U.K.'s newest and coolest (because I'm in it) literary journal.

Issue #1 can be ordered in a traditional hard copy or in an electronic version (note: The electronic version is way cheaper, but probably more difficult to read while in the loo).

Issue #2 is already in the works.

I thought I would give them a plug. Visit them at

Eric Ormsby on the pitfalls of writing poetry in a second language

It's an old topic, but Ormsby is smart enough to make it interesting again.

It's one thing to learn a foreign language well, quite another to learn it well enough to be able to feel in it, and harder still, if not impossible, to master an alien idiom so completely as to convey the force of what you feel. A few modern writers have made the leap: Joseph Conrad and Vladimir Nabokov in English, Samuel Beckett in French. But all three wrote their best work in prose. I can't think of a single poet, who has written great, or even noteworthy, poetry in a language other than his or her own. Poetry, it seems, can only be written well in one's mother tongue. This was the opinion of W.B. Yeats who dismissed Rabindranath Tagore's English verse, even though it won the Bengali poet a Nobel Prize. In our own day, one has only to read a few poems by the late Joseph Brodsky to realize that his English verse is, for the most part, hopelessly inept. Brodsky struggles constantly to escape the confinement of his adopted idiom but his English falters, always in small but fatal ways, in the process. (You can read the rest at The New York Sun)

Monday 4 December 2006

John Steffler named Parliamentary Poet Laureate of Canada today

The Speaker of the Senate, the Honourable Noël A. Kinsella, and Speaker of the House of Commons, the Honourable Peter Milliken, appointed Mr. John Steffler as the Parliamentary Poet Laureate on December 4, 2006.

“As an award winning poet and fiction writer, Mr. Steffler has been a highly-regarded ambassador of Canadian writing for many years,” said Speaker Kinsella. “His career-long interest in the interaction between people and the places they inhabit will lead to some insightful poetic reflections on the Canadian experience.”

“Mr Steffler has spent a good part of his career teaching others about his craft,” said Speaker Milliken. “I welcome his appointment to a position that seeks to enhance Canadians’ appreciation of the value of poetry in our society.” MORE HERE

Steffler is a great choice, as far as I'm concerned. I'm an admirer of his work, and I'm looking forward to seeing what he does with the post. I can't imagine he's the type to rest on his newly-crowned laurels.

The Ottawa Citizen has more on the story.

Sunday 3 December 2006

Dylan Thomas's daughter weighs in on the films being made about her parents

Dylan's daughter Aeronwy says the menage trois tale is "pure speculation" but will do little to dim the reputation of her father who died in 1953 when she was 10.
"I've actually seen the script already and I managed to erase some errors in it but with a film you are always going to have a bit of titillation," said Aeronwy, who is president of the Dylan Thomas Society.
"Over the years I've learned quite a lot about my parents and, though certain liberties have been taken with the script, like the three-in-a-bed scene, I'd still be happy to watch it.
"It really doesn't bother me. It's only speculation and supposedly happened when my father was abroad."
But she said she had no idea what to expect from the other film, called Caitlin.(from
And the BBC has asked her to reminisce a little about the father she remembers:
"I don't find the image of him as a drunken genius upsetting, because it's a long time ago. The only time I felt indignant about the way my father's been depicted was when the major institutions here in Wales didn't take my father seriously because he was a drunk. I thought that has nothing to do with his literary output and he didn't write in Welsh." (from

Saturday 2 December 2006

P.K. Page profiled

At ninety years old, P.K. Page is still going strong. In this piece from The Goldstream News Gazette she has a few things to say about global warming and the neurology of creative practice.

“I think I have been influenced if not conditioned by left-hemisphere culture – a rational culture which we live in, linear,” she says. “When I was young I hadn’t been conditioned by that because I was young. I hadn’t been exposed to it that much and it may not have been quite as rational. And I don’t mean that it was irrational.”

“When I was young, my poetry came out in sort of uncontrollable images,” she continues. “I think it was mostly out of my right hemisphere that I wrote. Not entirely, of course, because language is in your left hemisphere. But nevertheless I think my right hemisphere was the driver and my left hemisphere just took the dictation and wrote it down.”

Thursday 30 November 2006

Annex Books

This is my friend Janet. She's very dear to me. For the past couple of decades she has run the best antiquarian bookshop in Toronto, Annex Books. In its own quiet way, her store has been a significant hub of Canadian literature. It's a place where writers go when they need something to read, or when they need inspiration, or when they need to chat with Janet, whose advice is always honest, from the heart, and (usually) dead-on correct, even when it's not what you want to hear. And for a handful of those years I was lucky enough to work there with her, and even luckier to have been given the title "Annex Books Poet in Residence."

I am sad to say that Annex Books will be closing at the end of 2006. The Toronto Star has a piece about it. She’s having a big sale. Everything under $100 is half price. So go there and get some Christmas shopping done.

Thank you, Janet. For everything. I owe you more than I will ever be able to repay.

Monday 27 November 2006

Kunitz's awesome Manhattan apartment for sale

Got an extra two and quarter mil? You could live in a nice little corner of American Literary history.
The family of Stanley Kunitz, who received every possible prize and praise before his death in May at 100, is selling his co-op for $2.25 million. It’s located in Butterfield House, a graceful 1962 building by architects William Conklin and James Rossant. (Paul Goldberger has called it one of the best postwar buildings in the city.) Kunitz shared the four-bedroom with his wife, the painter Elise Asher, until her death in 2004 and spent many years shuttling back and forth between the apartment—which has a private solarium and central air—and a house on Cape Cod. Corcoran brokers Sharon Held and Maria Manuche have the listing. (from New York Magazine)
Nice. I'd sell my place for much less than that, if I owned it.

Sunday 26 November 2006

UPDATE: Another Thomas movie in the works, this one with real actress in Caitlin role

Forget Lindsay Lohan, another film about Dylan and Caitlin Thomas is being made with Miranda Richardson in the role of the poet's charming wife. But it could be a race to the silver screen.

Both concentrate on the charismatic and wayward personality of Caitlin: the first, simply called Caitlin, will star Miranda Richardson and former Bond girl Rosamund Pike as her younger self.
The second, with the working title The Best Time of Our Lives, is to star Lindsay Lohan, the 20-year-old Hollywood star, as Caitlin and British actress Keira Knightley, 21, as Vera Phillips, the poet's childhood sweetheart and the woman who went on to develop an intimate relationship with his wife.
Timing will be crucial for the success of either film. The box office is usually much kinder to the first film out on a real-life subject. The triumph of last year's Oscar-winning film Capote, about the life of the American writer Truman Capote, came at a great cost to the second film to be released about the writer's life. Infamous, starring British actor Toby Jones as Capote, yet to come out in Britain, has fared poorly despite good reviews in the United States. (from The Guardian)

The film Caitlin will star the excellent Michael Sheen as Dylan Thomas. A good cast is a good start. I hope the filmmakers will do the story justice.

Saturday 25 November 2006

British kid discovers Larkin, mother gets all waspish and huffy

In his famous poem, "This Be the Verse," Philip Larkin wrote: "They fuck you up, your mum and dad. They may not mean to, but they do." But one mum in England thinks it goes the other way around and is placing the blame on Larkin himself. Her son, Kieran, took this book home from his school's library for a homework assignment. Upon examining her son's choice of reading material, she was shocked to discover the afore-mentioned verse by Larkin, as well as some sexually suggestive poems, such as E.E. Cummings' erotic sonnet "i like my body when it is with your..."
Two more pieces of work described two people killing themselves while another told of a drunk vomiting.
Babs, 40, of Parkstone Heights, Poole, confiscated the book from Kieran before he got to read it and then phoned the school to complain.
She said: "I was horrified that this sort of material was available for kids in a first school.
"I could possibly understand it in a secondary school but it is totally inappropriate for a child of seven.
"I would have been livid had he read it. Some of its is filth." (from the Dorset Daily Echo)
I'm not sure what to think of this except that Babs might be over-reacting. There are ways of pointing out that a book might be unsuitable for a children's library without running to the press and crying foul. And besides, there are enough grown-ups who can't get their heads around poets like Larkin and Cummings; I hardly think a seven year old boy could be seriously "fucked up" by a couple of maturely themed poems.

Friday 24 November 2006

P.K. Page gives back

P.K. Page, who turns 90 this month, has established a new award for poetry in her name at the Malahat Review.

"The annual P.K. Page Founder's Award for Poetry will be presented to the author of the best poem or sequence of poems to have published in the previous year in the University of Victoria literary magazine, The Malahat Review.

"The award comes with a cash prize of $1,000. The winner of the inaugural award will be chosen by Sooke writer Marilyn Bowering and will be announced in the spring 2007 issue of the magazine.

"In establishing the award, Page recognizes her long-standing association with UVic and her deep association with her peers, said UVic spokesperson Chris Thackray.

"Malahat editor John Barton is thrilled with the announcement.

"'It is a great honour for the magazine to have the opportunity to give out an award in P.K.'s name,' he said. 'She is one of Canada's most respected and iconic poets whose accomplishments have been an inspiration to several generations of writers.'" (from Victoria News)

Poets in this country owe P.K. Page a debt of thanks for much more than this award, which is a wonderful thing in itself. She truly is a national treasure, and her poems have been an inspiration.

Thursday 23 November 2006

Trashy nincompoop Lohan slated to ruin film about Dylan Thomas

The entire population of the country of Wales must be clutching their chests in pain today after hearing the news that Lindsay Lohan has been cast in a film about the great Welsh poet Dylan Thomas.
"Lohan is to play the role of Thomas’ wife Caitlin, while Knightley will portray his childhood friend Vera Phillips.
"‘The Best Time of Our Lives’ is the title given to the film which is set in New Quay, Wales, in 1945.
"The story centres around a dramatic real-life attack on Thomas by Phillip’s husband William Killick. After an argument in a pub over Thomas’ friendship with his wife, Killick opened fire on Thomas’ home with a machine gun and grenades." (from gair rhydd.)
The machine gun and grenades sound terrific. Keira Knightley, too. Bring 'em on! But Lohan? Instead of spinning in his grave, today we imagine Thomas reaching for a stiff drink. And then another.

But I digress. Instead of the vacuous Lohan, instead of alcohol abuse, let us remember Dylan Thomas for his true legacy, such magnificent poems as Fern Hill and A Refusal to Mourn the Death, by Fire, of a Child in London.

Wednesday 22 November 2006

Christians in Swaziland cancel poetry award, making themselves sworn enemies of poetry-lovers everywhere

Troubling news today in Swaziland. The Association Of Christian Artists In Swaziland (or ACASWA) has decided to cancel the poetry category in their popular Glory Awards this year, citing a lack of submissions as their excuse.

"The sudden changes might be a setback to some gospel artists in the poetry category who had already collected entry forms from the ACASWA office.

"Most of the artists who have shown interest in taking part in this year’s event are said to have collected the entry forms as of Monday.

"It was also confirmed that the category was replaced by the Best Mass Choir Category. When the categories were announced, this category had not been included.

"The Best Mass Choir award was scooped by Growing Faith Mass Choir in the 2004 awards.

"This means mass choirs like Redemption Mass Choir, Youth Ablaze, Mbabane Divine Youth and Alliance Choir will now be eligible to take part in this year’s awards.

"It was also gathered that one of the reasons that led the executive committee to decide on scrapping off the poetry category was the fact that there were very few artists, if any, that had recorded poetry albums in the country." (from The Swazi Observer).

So far, there has been no official statement from the office of HM King Mswati III, but if he is a good and thoughtful ruler who loves poetry, then it's my guess he must be totally pissed off.

Tuesday 21 November 2006

Award-winning poet Chris Banks is back with stunning follow-up collection

Waterloo-based poet Chris Banks, shown here literally giving the shirt off his back to novelist Douglas Coupland (click here to find out why), won the Canadian Authors Association Jack Chalmers Award for poetry for his first book of poems, Bonfires. That was a couple of years ago. Since then he's been hard at work on book number two, and now the moment of truth has arrived. Chris called me up earlier this evening to say that he had just heard from his editor, Carleton Wilson of Junction Books (an imprint of Nightwood Editions), who had told Chris the book was finally in from the printer, and that he could come by to pick up some copies, if he liked. It was my task, as poet-friend, to accompany Mr. Banks to the Junction Books studio in Toronto in order to collect the books, and then, with the new books in hand, to go somewhere and drink some beer with the celebrated author. This we did. And it is my pleasure to say: mission accomplished! The book has been properly welcomed into the world, and now, without hesitation, I can recommend it. The Cold Panes of Surfaces is a marvellous follow-up to Banks' award-winning debut. Now here's your part. Knowing his work is so highly-regarded, and knowing he has a generous propensity for distributing fine garments, I think you should make Chris Banks' new collection of poems your choice for poetry reading this holiday season. You'll be glad you did.

Prisoners in Des Moines get visit from Marvin Bell

Christmas came early for some of the inmates at the Newton Correctional Facility in Iowa this week. At least it might have looked like Christmas, but that man with the long white beard wasn't Santa Claus, it was Iowa's first Poet Laureate, Marvin Bell. Here's some of what the inmates involved in the Inside/Out Writing Collective had to say:

"Mr. Bell encouraged the writing we do and gave us what most of us have sought -- permission to write and do so freely. He reminded us that in writing the reward is the journey itself. He took away some of our anxiety about writing and told us, 'There is no good stuff without the bad stuff.' That statement applied to so many things in our lives. The more we thought about it, the more we realized that he was right, and we slowly became aware that he was talking about much more than poetry."(Click here for the entire article.)

I've long been a great admirer of Marvin Bell's poetry, and now of his generosity of spirit, as well. A poem of his hangs on the wall above my desk. It's called "Less Self." I recommend reading his work. A good place to start is with Nightworks : Poems 1962-2000, which includes, among many other treasures, all of his famous "Dead Man" poems.

Monday 20 November 2006

Who's your Laureate now, Canada?

Sad news in Ottawa this evening. The Official Palace of Canada's Parliamentary Poet Laureate (pictured left) may be empty tonight, lifeless, laureateless. According to the website of the Parliamentary Library, the term of the previous Poet Laureate, Pauline Michel, ended on November 16th, 2006. That means our nation has languished for four entire days without an officially appointed Parliamentary Poet Laureate to inspire us, and has anyone even noticed? Join me in wondering who the next PPL will be? Has there been any coverage in the media at all? I certainly haven't seen any. So, to rectify the situation as best as I can, I have sent a query about the matter to the Parliamentary Library by email, and I will report back when (and if) anyone replies.

Emily Dickinson Was a Redhead

Some rag from Mass. called The Repulican, with what seems like an inordinate amount of ink dedicated to "debating" gay marriage, reports this morning that Emily Dickinson was a redhead:

"'Because people see that black-and-white photograph, it's always amazing to them that she had red hair - a beautiful shade of red. It's auburn, not carrot red, but auburn. I always get the shivers when I see it,' said Polly Longsworth, a biographer of the poet and a member of the board of governors of the Emily Dickinson Museum in Amherst." (Read the whole article here.)

Sunday 19 November 2006

Lucia Perillo on Disability, Poetry, and Nature

Good news. Lucia Perillo, one of my very favourite contemporary poets, has a new book coming out from Trinity University Press next spring. This new offering will be a book of essays entitled Ground Truth: On Disability, Poetry, and Nature. These are topics about which Perillo has more intimate knowledge than the average person. As one of America's finest poets she is at home in the world of letters, but Perillo is equally familiar with the wild and woolly grandeur of the great outdoors. Armed with a degree in wildlife management from McGill University, she once worked as a park ranger at Mount Rainier National Park and as a naturalist for the San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge. It was her diagnosis with MS in the mid-1980s that diverted her career toward more literary pursuits. Unfortunately, we'll have to wait until next May for the release of Ground Truth, though it can be pre-ordered in both Canada and the United States. Until then, Perillo's most recent collection of poems, Luck is Luck, much like her previous works, is still a book to read and to return to.

Saturday 18 November 2006

Flemish Poet finally available in English

I can't wait to get my hands on this. Herman de Coninck is a Flemish poet I became aware many years ago. I haven't been able to find much of his work translated into English, though what I have found has usually delighted me, and I've always been hungry to find more. Well now there's more. The Plural of Happiness: Selected Poems has just been published by Oberlin College, with translations by Laure-Anne Bosselaar and Kurt Brown. Some of the poems recently appeared on Poetry Daily, and from the looks of things de Coninck's poems have finally received the translations they deserve.

Friday 17 November 2006


Today is my 33rd birthday. I've decided to mark the occasion by starting this website. Only time will tell what I will make of it.