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.”