Wednesday 19 December 2007

Anne Stevenson finally gets her due.

In her 75th year, poet Anne Stevenson is propelled from relative obscurity to relative fame, you know, for a poet. Here's the story:

ANNE STEVENSON IS A well-kept secret. She has published 18 volumes of poetry, but you won't find her in The Nation's Favourite Poems. She has lived and written in Britain for more than 40 years but has never won a national poetry prize. She was a contemporary of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes but hasn't come within a mile of their fame.

All that might be about to change, however. If there is such a thing as a poetry jackpot, Stevenson has just hit it: this year she has won three important American literary prizes, together worth $260,000 (£130,000), and in 2008 the Library of America will publish a new edition of her Selected Poems, edited by Andrew Motion. All the more remarkable, this sudden rush of recognition has come in her 75th year (from The Times).

So, you see, there's hope.

Friday 14 December 2007

My "Elegy for Paul Winchell" is featured on NPR

My poem "Elegy for Paul Winchell" is featured right now on the Northern Poetry Review website.

To learn more about the multi-talented subject of my poem (pictured with his dummies Jerry Mahoney and Knucklehead Smiff), please visit his website here.

And while you're at it, check out what else NPR has to offer.

Saturday 1 December 2007

The Runaway Jury

For the last few years, literary blogger Alex Good has been staging The Runaway Jury, a mock jury to put the actual Governor General's jury to the test. This year Alex's jury consisted of Alex, Carmine Starnino, and myself. We put this year's poetry nominees through our own critical paces. To see what we had to say about the short-listed collections by Dennis Lee, Rob Winger, Brian Henderson, Margaret Atwood, and winner Don Domanski, just click here.

Thursday 8 November 2007

I have a new poem in Taddle Creek Magazine

Hey folks, my poem "Hands" is in the Christmas 2007--10th Anniversary issue of Taddle Creek Magazine. You can read the poem online thanks to the Taddle Creek website, just click here.

The magazine and its editor and publisher Conan Tobias have been steadfast supporters of my work over the years, so of course it is a genuine pleasure to be included in the anniversary issue.

Taddle Creek will, of course, be celebrating its anniversary in style—and you’re invited. Please join Taddle Creek on Wednesday, November 28th, at the Gladstone Hotel ballroom, 1214 Queen Street West, starting at 8 p.m. Ever-so-brief readings will be performed by Gary Barwin, Chris Chambers, Dani Couture, Patrick Rawley, and David Whitton, with music by the Eradicators. There will also be door prizes, and maybe cake. Admission, as always, is free, free, free.

Sunday 4 November 2007

Wilfred Owen profiled in the Telegraph, just in time for Remembrance Day

Jeremy Paxon on Wilfred Owen's life, achievements, and death:

I don't suppose there's a thoughtful student in the land who is unaware of Wilfred Owen's best-known poem, "Dulce et Decorum Est".

Indeed, it tells us something about our pervading cynicism that Horace's words are now taken more readily as sarcasm than at face value.

It is often assumed – as a student, I made the mistake myself – that the poem's author was some sort of bitter, jaundiced pacifist. But the enigma of Wilfred Owen is that he was anything but that. The fascination of his life is his embodiment of contradictions.

It is true that he was not among the first to answer the call to bash the Boche. Indeed, he seems to have been a rather fey and precious young man, first as a vicar's assistant in Berkshire, and then as an English teacher in France.

When he finally decided to join the Army (through the Artists' Rifles, to fit with his own idea of himself as a poet, despite the fact that he was unpublished, and, frankly, not very good, either) he was repulsed by the coarseness of the men among whom he found himself.

But his letters to his mother – our main source of information about his life – show how much he changed. Initial distaste at the vulgarity of the sweaty, noisy men among whom he was obliged to live became a genuine love.

Read the whole story here.

Ted Hughes' letters reveal an unsung eco-warrior

From Ed Douglas in the Guardian Unlimited:

The publication last week of the letters of Ted Hughes has left critics crackling with excitement. Revealing, intimate, often generous, sometimes bleak, they catch the mind of a poet in the process of creation, bewildered and lost in the wreckage of his ill-starred relationships with Sylvia Plath and Assia Wevill - or offering young students advice on poetry or life. But one aspect of Hughes's life, which inspired his poetry and engaged his hunger for learning, is missing - his deep love of nature and concern for the environment. Despite the yards of shelf space devoted to Hughes's complex personal life in memoirs, biographies and criticism, despite the popularity of nature writers such as Roger Deakin, Robert Macfarlane and Kathleen Jamie, Hughes's environmental activism and his prophetic insight into the consequences of consumerism have been almost entirely overlooked. It's a shame because these were essential to the man and the poet, and because so many of his hunches about what the future held are coming true.

Read the whole article here.

Friday 19 October 2007

Star Wars and poetry, two great tastes that taste great togeth.... excuse me, what?

Thanks to LucasArts and Sony Online Entertainment, there's a virtual Star Wars universe online where people spend time living out their Skywalker-inspired fantasies.

I sense a disturbance in the Force. This really can't be very healthy for some people.

Well, now there's a new fake attraction in this fake universe. The House of Poetry! That's right. It's a virtual coffee house where players are invited to post their poems and chat with their poetry-loving peers in an online, droid-infested forum. Here's more:
The House of Poetry is open 24 hours a day and is a great place to meet new people (or aliens depending on your taste). Every first Friday of the month, the regulars of the location meet to talk about writing and poetry. If you're interested in gaining access to this place, you'll be pleased to know that admission is free.

If you're passionate about writing and play LucasArts' Star Wars Galaxies, you might want to drop by The House of Poetry to chat with some of the people there. Heck, you probably won't find any other place in the whole galaxy where you can openly post your thoughts without getting shot, cut, or trampled by a Bantha.

From MMORPG blog.
It's like the Art Bar open mic set for the weird and socially inept, just like the actual Art Bar open mic set, where I once had the misfortune of seeing two people dressed as Klingons (different brand of geekdom, I know) reciting something (verse?) in the make-believe Klingon language. It was both ridiculous and disturbing. It was disticulous.

Wednesday 17 October 2007

Lucia Perilllo's book of essays: a smart, entertaining, and exhilarating read

Ron Slate has started up a new book reviewing blog, and he's chosen to review one of my very favourite books of the year, Lucia Perillo's collection of essays I've Heard the Vultures Singing.

Blunt, mordant, impatient, attentive: This is the tone throughout I Heard the Vultures Singing, a book of 16 essays shuttling between two main reference points – the non-human world of the Pacific Northwest, and the debilitation of the body. In “Knowledge Game” she says, “It takes courage to spend time considering nature when your life is circumscribed, because this means considering what you have lost.” She isn’t making a case for her bravery, but rather pointing out something she knows and we don’t, namely that gazing at the beauty of nature may be trying. This book is largely intent on wrecking given standards for the appreciation of life, and replacing them with the chance to look intently at life itself. Perillo is greatly talented in situating us -- in a place where we may experience an impingement, life intruding on us. The function of the chastened view from her wheelchair is to disrupt our expectations while depriving us of opportunities to feel virtuous about it. The physically stricken person tells us that nature abhors a plenitude and achieves some of its greatest accomplishments while scrounging through the ruin and decay.

Read the rest here.

Wednesday 10 October 2007

Brian Turner on his book Here, Bullet in the NY Times

Last month I asked where all the present day war poets were and came up with Brian Turner.

Brian Turner discusses the origin of the poems in his book Here, Bullet today in the New York Times.

For anyone out there who might hear the word “poetry” and cringe, or having just read the word here, immediately look to click to some other article, silently cursing this guy Turner for not sticking with the Home Fires mission — don’t worry: I am going to be writing about my time in Iraq, where I served as an infantry team leader. But Iraq is also the place where I wrote my first book of poetry — “Here, Bullet” — during my unit’s deployment there. (It was published by Alice James Books.) So today I want to look back and talk about some of the things that went on in my head then, not only fighting, but observing, witnessing and writing. Poetry.
I believe in the saying, Poetry finishes in the reader. I can (and will) tell you about some of the things I wrote in-country, there in the sand, or what was going on in my head at the time (I use my journals from back then to help refresh my memory). But in the end, I truly believe you’ll take it with a grain of salt and decide for yourself what the poem itself is all about.
Read the rest of Turner's piece here.

Friday 28 September 2007

Big Brouhaha at Poetry Society of America. . . and what it has to do with Seinfeld

It goes like this. The board members of the Poetry Society of America are leaving in droves. It all started a couple of years ago when it was suggested they give a prize called the Frost Medal to John Hollander (pictured). See, it seems Hollander has been quoted as saying places like Mexico, Central America and West Africa are "cultures without literatures," which prompted at least one reported to "paraphrase" him as suggesting that maybe there isn't much quality poetry coming from nonwhite poets these days, and if that's really what you meant, John, that's a bloody terrible thing to say.

But maybe he meant that developing nations have insufficient publishing infrastructures for.... oh never mind.

Well, now the president of the board of the PSA, William Louis-Dreyfus, has stepped down, too. No, not because he too is upset about what Hollander has perhaps suggested, but because he thinks the other board members are being a bunch of reactionary, McCarthyist crybabies. And yes, William is the father of Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who played Elaine on Seinfeld, and he also happens to be on Forbes' list of the wealthiest people in the world.

And that's when the name calling really begins. It's like Thurston Howell III, Daddy Warbucks, and Montgomery Burns having it out because someone made a snide remark at the Governor's Ball. Oh, the New York Times has the rest of the story....

UPDATE: Some interesting comments about this have been made over at Bookninja.

Wednesday 26 September 2007

More on Muldoon and The New Yorker

Robert Potts weighs in on the Muldoon situation in the Guardian Unlimited's books blog, and he even plugs my blog while he's at it!

So read what Potts has to say about things, and then when you get to the part that says (in reference to a cute story I wrote about back in March), "An even-handed account of this spat, pointing out the various vested interests on all sides, appears here," you can click back here for more of my unsolicited opinions.

Thursday 20 September 2007

New Yorker may soon publish first decent poem in more than 20 years

Okay, maybe that's a bit of an overstatement, but Alice Quinn's 20-year tenure as The New Yorker's poetry editor has, in the opinion of this reader, been characterized largely by a penchant for poems that manage to be both staid and trite. Or as the poet and critic David Orr has put it, the typical New Yorker poem has come to be regarded as "an epiphany-centered lyric heavy on words like 'water' and 'light.'" It's a formula that gets old very quickly, even in the pages of America's self-proclaimed best magazine.

But all that is, fingers crossed, about to change. Enter Paul Muldoon. He's been selected to replace Quinn as poetry editor, and one would hope he will be bringing the full force of his knowledge, wit and erudition with him to the job. The magazine's editor David Remnick, in a statement that can hardly be called surprising, is already trying to take the wind out of such optimistic sails. From the New York Times:
Mr. Remnick added that the selection of Mr. Muldoon, who had his first poem published when he was just 16, did not represent “some sort of radical aesthetic or theoretical shift.”
He added, “It’s not as if we went from a structuralist to a post-structuralist or a Beat to a conservative.”
My guess is that Remnick is just saying that to be nice. I hope so, at least.

Read the whole story here.

Sunday 16 September 2007

James Fenton wants more professionalism in poetry readings

James Fenton foresees a day when poetry readings will need directors, producers, rehearsals, and that's not all. He also wants the poets to act more professional, too. No more going over your alotted time. No more decided what to read only after you take the stage. (You know who you are). And he thinks there are limits on how a poet ought to "perform" a poem. And I am with him wholeheartedly on that point. Read on.

We do not, for instance, dramatise the emotional events of a poem as if they were unfolding before the eyes of the audience. We have written the poem. Now we are reading or reciting it. Something about our manner should never forget that we are in front of an audience, presenting something we have written. We may become emotional, but not to the extent of - say - slobbering and weeping and wiping our noses on our sleeves. We may be exuberant and spontaneous, but not to the point of spontaneous combustion.

Certain tricks of the radio actor's voice are forbidden to us - funny little gargling sounds or strictures of the windpipe, conventional ways of signalling that there's an emotional passage coming up. We don't like these vocal athletics anyway, when we hear actors reading poems, and we like it even less when we witness other poets moving in that direction.

I chose to quote this passage from the article because it's true, and it's a pet peeve of mine. I can't stand to hear actors reading other people's poems. That's because actors have a tendency to act poems rather than read them. Every time I have heard a professional actor read a poem, say, at an awards ceremony because the actual poet couldn't make it, the result has been a bombastic, Pollyanna massacre of the poem. If a poet can't make it, please don't bring in an actor to recite the work. There are probably any number of poets in the audience who can read the honouree's work just as well, if not better. Most likely better.

And why not listen to James Fenton read his own work? Even if he tends to emphasize form over content when he reads, you might learn something.

Monday 10 September 2007

Where are all the war poets?

World War One had Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon. World War Two had Keith Douglas, Sydney Keyes, and Alan Ross. Viet Nam inspired a veritable army of poets to write about its horrors. This week in the Guardian, James Campbell asks a very good question: where are the war poets of today? Aside from Brian Turner, author of the excellent collection Here, Bullet, there are not many to be found. Here's a brief excerpt from the article:

There is at least one book of high-quality poetry about the Iraq war. Here, Bullet is a collection of 50 poems by an American soldier, Brian Turner, published by a small firm based in Maine, Alice James Books. It is populated by the dead and the near-dead, "the ghosts of American soldiers", the bodies of Iraqi policemen, the vultures overhead to whom one day might be offered "my life / a gift of heat and steam".

Turner served for seven years in the US Army, first in Bosnia, then in Iraq as a team leader with the 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division. The poems in Here, Bullet, inspired by the latter experience, are steeped in pity for the occupants of Iraq, while at the same time remaining on full alert to the likely moment "when a twelve-year-old / rolls a grenade into the room". After a murderous market-place explosion, "Allah must wander in the crowd / as, I do, dazed ..."

Read the whole article in The Guardian.

Get more information about Brian Turner's Here, Bullet.

Click here to read some poems from the book. The title poem is especially wonderful.

Saturday 8 September 2007

Where is Alden Nowlan's Collected Poems?

Robert Bly called Alden Nowlan the greatest Canadian poet of the twentieth century, and time might very well prove him right, so the question must be asked, almost 25 years after the Nowlan’s death, why has there never been a comprehensive edition of his collected poems?
When I first took on the responsibility of being poetry editor for Insomniac Press in 2001, I ambitiously set out to bring such a book into existence. After asking around, I learned that Ross Leckie was already preparing Nowlan’s collected poems for Goose Lane Editions. Shortly thereafter, Leckie contacted me to ask if I had bought the rights to the project out from under his nose. I hadn’t, of course, but it seems that someone had. The Goose Lane project had to be scuttled because the rights were unavailable, but neither of us knew who was withholding the rights. The book and the mystery both ended there. No one came forward to claim responsibility, and while I have waited for this essential book to appear, nothing has come of it.
Despite the lack of a proper collected poems, Nowlan’s international reputation as a poet of the first rank continues to grow. That someone out there is purposefully preventing his collected poems from being published is nothing short of an abject transgression against literature. So, where is the Collected Poems of Alden Nowlan? Who is responsible for keeping this book from coming into existence? And what good reason could there possibly be for suppressing Nowlan’s rightful literary legacy? I, and many others, would like to know. More importantly, we want the book.

Madeleine L'Engle: 1918 -- 2007

Poet and novelist Madeleine L'Engle has died at age 88.

New York Times
Washington Post

Sunday 2 September 2007

Poetry and songwriting are different. Duh.

Bob Dylan (shown while still somewhat coherent) is a great songwriter, but he's no poet, says Sam Leith. I wholeheartedly agree! Students who want to write their poetry papers on their favourite songwriters are the bane of my existence! This story is from the Telegraph:

As a lover of poetry, I always feel a deep gloom sinking on to me at the approach of National Poetry Day. Oh god, I think. There's going to be a lot of press releases. There's going to be an attempt to make poetry relevant and fun, by making it less like poetry. There's going to be… oh god.

This year, it's Bob Dylan. Children at key stages three and four English are going to be instructed to study the great man's work with the aid of a special "Dylan Education Pack", issued in honour of National Poetry Day.

In my mind and the minds of most people who give serious attention to his work as a lyricist, Dylan is a genius. But he's a songwriter, not a poet. It doesn't elevate his work to call it poetry any more than it elevates an apple to call it an orange; nor does it give you a useful way of thinking about it academically.

Some rock and pop lyrics, Dylan's among them, work as poetry - live differently, but also well, on the page. You'd expect that. Poetry and song - as the two main rhythmic uses of language - have the same origins and much in common.

But that's not to say they're the same thing. We share an ancestor with the chimpanzee, and we both like bananas, but we're not the same creature.

Sorry, kids. It needed to be said. Read the whole story here.

Thursday 30 August 2007

Benigni recites Dante, shots fired

Dante: one /
security guard: zero.

Roberto Benigni is touring Italy with a new show. In it, he recites passages from Dante's The Divine Comedy and offers his own political satire in-between recitations. So desperate was one man to hear Benigni 's recital, that he shot a security guard five times in the leg when the guard tried to prevent the man from entering the piazza without a ticket.

And around the world, living poets can only dream of being so popular.

The Guardian Unlimited, UK
CBC Ottawa

Friday 24 August 2007

This guy wants your kids to read more poetry!

That's because this guy is Michael Rosen, Britain's Children's Laureate. (Maybe Canada should have one of these...)

This is from the Scotsman:
SOME people have faces which are just naturally funny. When Michael Rosen starts to perform one of his much-loved poems for children, his eyes bulge with excitement and his mouth spreads into a broad grin with a big ear on either end. It's the kind of face which made him Quentin Blake's model for the BFG. The kind of face you warm to.

It's now the new face of children's literature, since Rosen was appointed Children's Laureate in June. The two-year appointment, previously held by the likes of Michael Morpurgo and Jacqueline Wilson, aims to raise the profile of writing for children. Rosen, 61, is the fifth Laureate, and the first poet to hold the position.

Each Laureate is given the opportunity to advance projects of their own, and Rosen is bursting with ideas. Over coffee in a greasy spoon near his home in Hackney, he enthuses about a YouTube-type interactive website for performance poets, a children's poetry roadshow, literature trails, poetry-friendly classrooms and a prize for the funniest children's book of the year. He's got two years and the clock is ticking. No point hanging about. There is a sense in which the Laureateship has simply given a formal shape to what Rosen has been doing for 30 years.
Read the whole story here.

Monday 20 August 2007

George Bowering tells NPR about the power of jazz, Percy Shelley and the human mind

"I believe that the human intellect is the closest thing we have to the divine. It is the way we can join one another in spirit.
Sometimes when you are listening to a great jazz musician performing a long solo, you are experiencing his mind, moment by moment, as it shifts and decides, as it adds and reminds. This happens whether the player is a saxophone player or a bass player or a pianist. You are in there, where that other mind is. His mind is coming through your ears and inside your mind."
Read the whole story here.

And while you're at it, check out Gregory Orr's thoughts on poetry's ability to heal the psyche.

Sunday 19 August 2007

Where Donald Hall gets his writing done: Eagle Pond Farm

This is from the New York Times.

Donald Hall, the nation’s poet laureate and author of 18 books of poetry in addition to books of essays and prose, provided us with our first subject. It is the New Hampshire house where he spent most of his summers growing up and where he has lived and worked since 1975, when he moved in with his wife, the poet Jane Kenyon, who died in 1995.
Built in 1803, Eagle Pond Farm was always “a poetry place,” Mr. Hall said. His grandfather raised sheep, cattle and pigs there, and harvested maple syrup. During the summers the young Donald would help him. He grew up loving the place, he said, “loving the landscape, loving the way people talked.”

I'm sure they meant to say "former" poet laureate. Read the entire feature here.

Friday 17 August 2007

Adam Kirsch reflects on Robert Lowell's last days and final book

"Thirty years ago, on September 12, 1977, Robert Lowell died of a heart attack in the back of a taxicab, on his way home to the Upper West Side from Kennedy Airport. Lowell was just 60 years old when he died, but he had already outlived most of the poets of his brilliant, afflicted generation. Delmore Schwartz, his onetime roommate, died in 1966, a paranoid recluse in a Times Square flophouse; John Berryman, his close friend and rival, committed suicide in 1972 by jumping off a bridge in Minneapolis; Randall Jarrell, his college roommate, was hit by a car in 1965, also probably a suicide; Sylvia Plath, whom he had taught at Boston University, killed herself in London in 1963. As this list shows, Lowell stood at the center of his generation in a personal as well as a literary sense. It was not just that he was the most talented poet of his time, and the most famous. For three decades, he was poetry's epicenter, and the violent tremors that radiated out from his life and work reshaped the whole landscape of American verse.
Read the rest in The New York Sun.

Wednesday 15 August 2007

Walt Whitman reviewed in the Atlantic, 1882

On their website the Atlantic is offering a review of Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass that originally ran in the pages of their magazine in January 1882.

Here is how it begins:
"The appearance of Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass in a new edition has revived a discussion always imminent when the name of this writer is brought forward, and always more or less acrimonious. Some persons even imagine it obligatory upon them to deny him all merit of poetic endowment, so violent is their revolt against the offensiveness which Mr. Whitman has chosen to make a central and integral point of his literary method."

And here is how it ends:

"Every one imbued with the "primal sanities" must be revolted by this offense, and protest against it. Fortunately, however, the chief damage done will be to the author himself, who thus dishonors his own physical nature; for imperfect though the race is, it still remains so much purer than the stained and distorted reflection of its animalism in Leaves of Grass, that the book cannot attain to any very wide influence."

I leave it to you, if you are imbued with the "primal sanities", to read the rest of the review here.

Monday 13 August 2007

Have you read David W. McFadden's latest book yet?

Canadian poets are weighing in on David W. McFadden's excellent new selected, Why Are You So Sad?: Selected Poems of David W. McFadden. Here's what they're saying:

"This book astounds me with the range of its invention, humour, humanity, compassion, description, self-aware sentimentality, insight, fun, and ability to take the form of the poem to surprising and startlingly creative places. I feel a mixture of joy, wonder, bemusement, sadness, incredulity, delight, exhilaration, recognition, and inspiration when reading McFadden's work." -- Gary Barwin, read his entire entry here.
"The self-proclaimed master of the coincidence, Toronto's David McFadden (originally from Hamilton, Ontario) somehow manages to write poems that exist as part of the world around him, instead of simply being about him. His poems aren’t about the world, his poems are the world." -- rob mclennan, read his entire entry here.
"Well, the book is huge and cheap and everyone should go out and buy a copy or order one online and read the thing from cover to cover. This book is an adventure."
-- Stuart Ross, read his entire entry here.

Truer words were seldom spoken, Stuart!
Buy Why Are You So Sad? in Canada.
Buy Why Are You So Sad? in the United States.
Buy Why Are You So Sad? in the U.K.

You can read some of David McFadden's new poems if you visit THIS Magazine here.

Visit Insomniac Press and read a sample from the book.

Saturday 11 August 2007

RIP Margaret Avison

One of our greatest lyrical voices is no longer with us.

Margaret Avison passed away last week in Toronto at the age of 89, but it appears the story is only now being reported. A private memorial service has already been held. I will spend some time with her poems to remember her life and work in my own way.

Globe and Mail
Edmonton Journal
London Free Press
Vancouver Sun

Friday 10 August 2007

Marvin Bell in conversation on politics, war, poetry, and his new collection

Marvin Bell's latest collection is Mars Being Red from Copper Canyon Press. I will be ordering this immediately.

Margaret Bikman of The Bellingham Herald talks with Bell about his view on politics and war, poetry and teaching, and his new book.

Q: These are not quiet meditations on the philosophy of war; rather, these are visceral, graphic, tossing-in-one’ssleep poems. Would you elaborate on your thought in a recent interview that you’ve “been trying for 30 years to figure out how best to put the news into poems — what other people would call politics”?

A: It doesn’t seem enough to me for poetry to be a graph of the mind, an experiment in language, or an aesthetic expression of emotion. The problem? Overt political content tends to overwhelm the poem so that it lacks insistent form and/or the complexity of the human condition.

Read the whole interview here.

Monday 6 August 2007

Poem of the week

My poem "The Painted Beasts of Lascaux" has been selected to be this week's Poem of the Week by the Parliamentary Poet Laureate of Canada John Steffler. Check it out here.

And you can take a virtual tour of the caves here.

Saturday 4 August 2007

Elitism, Accessability, and Billy Collins

Collins takes some lumps from a lot of his peers for being a writer of "accessible" poetry. San Fransisco Chronicle columnist John Carroll, who admits that he is not a big reader of poetry himself, takes the time to ponder the question of accessibility, elitism, and place of Billy Collins in contemporary poetry.
For the record, Collins doesn't much care for the word "accessible" either, because it suggests "ramps for poetically handicapped people." He likes the word "hospitable." But he concedes that "accessible" has won the day, and he's happy with the side he finds himself on. "Some poems talk to us; others want us to witness an act of literary experimentation."

Read the whole column here.

Wednesday 1 August 2007

Bookslut praises Perillo

Melissa A. Barton offers her thoughts on Lucia Perillo's new book of essays I've Heard the Vultures Singing: Field Notes on Poetry, Illness, and Nature on the popular website bookslut.

From the very first line of I’ve Heard the Vultures Singing: Field Notes on Poetry, Illness, and Nature it is clear that Lucia Perillo is a poet. Her prose is lyrical, sharp and rich with unusual and striking imagery and biting lines, whether she’s writing about seagulls, Emily Dickinson, or her desperate trials of alternative treatments for multiple sclerosis.

Perillo, the author of four award-winning books of poetry, was a backcountry ranger before she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in her 30s. Since then, the disease has made her “ever more physically compromised,” which requires her to redefine her concept of wilderness so she can still experience wilderness despite being unable to walk.

Thus I’ve Heard the Vultures Singing opens with Perillo’s observations of that most reviled and overlooked bird: the seagull. As Perillo learns to see seagulls, so does the reader. Wilderness can be found in unexpected places, even odd-smelling, trash-ridden, muddy docks. While seagulls aren’t as good for stories as eagles, they have their own appeal.
I've recently finished reading this, and I thought it was marvellous. One thing I found remarkable about these essays was how effortlessly Perillo incorporates discussion of poetry into her memoir of illness and nature. All her themes coexist organically with one another and nothing ever feels like it's been parachuted into the scene. For Perillo, poetry is a natural part of life, as present in the world as seagulls and illness, and often much more pleasant.

For the whole review please click here.

Friday 27 July 2007

Theodore Roethke subject of new play by David Wagoner

From the Seattle Times:
"One of the great experiences of youth is finding a writer who speaks directly to you, as if they know you intimately and understand you entirely.
A writer who spoke to me that way was the poet Theodore Roethke, the subject of "First Class," a new play by David Wagoner debuting soon at ACT Theatre.
"First Class" has local hooks aplenty. Wagoner is also a well-known poet, who teaches creative writing at the University of Washington. Roethke, Wagoner's teacher and mentor, taught at UW, with a few hiatuses, from 1947 until his death in 1963."
Read the rest here.

Monday 18 June 2007

I'm off to the Berlin Poetry Festival

Well, I'm off to Berlin for the poetry festival. It's a fantastic opportunity, and I'll be filing a full report upon my return.

Check out the program of events here.

Wednesday 13 June 2007

Children's Poet Laureate... Why don't we have one?

Michael Rosen, shown here, has just been appointed the Children's Laureate for the U.K., taking over from Jacqueline Wilson. The BBC reports:

The author and poet is best known for books like We're Going On A Bear Hunt and Don't Put Mustard In The Custard.
He will hold the position of Children's Laureate for two years and wins a £10,000 bursary.
Rosen was chosen by peers in the world of children's literature, and takes over from Jacqueline Wilson.
The 61-year-old said: "I see my job as Children's Laureate being an ambassador for fun with books.
"I hope that I'll be able to boost all children's reading for pleasure but also to give a special lift to the wonderful diverse world of poetry for children," he added.
(Full story here.)

Last year the Poetry Foundation appointed Jack Prelutsky to a similar position in the U.S. Here is a press release from their website:

The Poetry Foundation inaugurated Jack Prelutsky as the nation’s first “Children’s Poet Laureate” on September 27 at the Pegasus Awards ceremony in Chicago. The award is given to a living poet for a career devoted to the writing of some of the best poetry for the young. The award is also intended to raise awareness among poetry readers and the public that children are naturally receptive to poetry when written especially for them, and that this often is the beginning of a lifelong love of poetry.
(Read the full release here.)

Now, I know Canada often lags behind the trend in these matters. After all, the U.S. only got a children's laureate last year. And let's not forget, it took us an awful long time just to get around to appointing a regular poet laureate, mere centuries behind the pioneers in the field. But I believe a children's poet laureate would be an asset for Canada. We could use such an advocate in this country for children's education and literacy. An ambassador for both the arts and for children, who can address the public, advise the government, and entertain and educate our young people. For a country where a large percentage of the population was raised on Alligator Pie and Garbage Delight I know this goes without saying, but I would like to nominate Dennis Lee for the honour. I don't think many, if any, would disagree. He has been the unofficial children's laureate for long enough. I think it's time we, as a nation, made it official.

So what do we do now? Well we lobby. We can write to our MPs. I will be doing this today. And it couldn't hurt to mention this idea to the current Parliamentary Poet Laureate John Steffler. Perhaps he can mention it to the Parliamentary Librarian, who in turn could mention it to....

UPDATE: I have written to my MP (Peggy Nash) and to the PPL (John Steffler) about this. Let's see if anything happens.

Saturday 9 June 2007

RIP Michael Hamburger

Obituary from The Telegraph.

As a poet, Hamburger certainly had no cause to feel inadequate, though he was a surprising omission from many anthologies of mid-20th-century verse.

It was surprising because his work had nothing in it to offend the sensibilities of the custodians of received wisdom and, though markedly intellectual at points, had no obscurantism in its language. On the whole, his work was characterised by an unsentimental integrity and he was particularly evocative in his reflections on nature.

But if he had been neglected as a poet, it was his distinction as a critic, a teacher and, above all, as a translator, rather than any hostility toward his verse, which was the cause.

Hamburger translated fluently and widely from both French and German writers, though his greatest achievement was generally considered to be his translations of Hölderlin, which brought the poet to a wider audience.

Read the rest here.

Michael Hamburger in The Poetry Archive.

Poet Sharon Harris reports on the Griffin Gala

Here's a sample of Sharon's report:

Host Scott Griffin began the proceedings with a speech about the importance of poetry, and presented The Lifetime Recognition Award to legendary poet Tomas Tranströmer. The Swedish poet, who was in attendance with his wife, Monica, has been translated into English more than any poet in the world, and is often called one of our greatest living poets. Tranströmer’s work was read in Swedish by Monica Tranströmer, and in translation by Griffin Trustee Robin Robertson. Trustee Robert Hass paid tribute with a moving speech about the poet’s career; glasses were raised. Later in the evening, Canadian winner Don McKay cited Tomas as “the most important poet” in his life.

American poet Matthew Rohrer, a founding editor of Fence Books and a past Griffin nominee, gave a keynote speech which was thoughtful and humourous. He told a great anecdote about a fellow U.S. poet who was stopped at the Canadian border. Reason: he gave his occupation as “Poet.”

For his job description, the American poet was immediately whisked to a windowless room and asked to spell “Rimbaud.” He responded successfully, and next the guard commented, “it’s too bad Rimbaud died so young.” The poet correctly countered that Rimbaud stopped writing at an early age, but enjoyed a long life. His passport was officially stamped “Poet” and its owner was welcomed to Canada!

For the whole story, click here.

For more information on what Sharon Harris is up to these days, visit her website.

Thursday 7 June 2007

And the winners are....

Don McKay and Charles Wright take the cake.
Press release. Globe and Mail.

It was a great party. The steak was fabulous. I had a nice chat with Rodney Jones, one of my favourite American poets, about Lucia Perillo, another of my favourite American poets. No complaints.

Wednesday 6 June 2007

Tomas Tranströmer surprise guest at Griffin readings last night

I am huge admirer of the poet Rodney Jones, and last night I had the very good fortune to see him give a reading as part of the Griffin Prize readings. He was tremendous, and the crowd seemed to love him. Paul Farley, a young British poet, also knocked my socks off. I will be reading him for years to come. Together Jones and Farley would have made an utterly memorable reading (which, it should be noted, is a very rare thing), but the stage was stocked overfull with some the greatest literary talent the poetry world has to offer.

Charles Simic, one of the judges of this year's Griffin Prize and a winner in 2005, was there. I have been reading his work with delight since I was twenty. Don McKay, one of my Canadian heroes, gave an excellent reading. This is his third time being nominated in the seven year history of the Prize. Charles Wright was beyond charming. John Burnside, a large man with a large voice, was a presence at once imposing and disarming. Watching him unfold several scraps of crumpled notes in order to introduce Ken Babstock was nothing short of cute.

The usually reclusive Frederick Seidel remained reclusive, it seemed, and a young actress (who's name I didn't recognize or retain) was hired to read poems from his book Ooga Booga. Though it was no fault of hers, I think it was a bad choice. As actors are want to do when reading poetry, she over did it. And Seidel's poems require subtlety. She had warned the audience that she was going to try to "inhabit" Seidel's words. And she did so, but I fear she may have had to first evict the consciousness that wrote them. She rendered Seidel's black, deadpan humour with too much of a smile, in my opinion. It seemed wrong. It felt uncomfortably sunny. Still, her effort was sincere, and I applaud her for that, and the poems are excellent regardless.

You'd think a more impressive line-up would be difficult to assemble. But add to all this Karen Solie, another judge and herself a past Griffin nominee not to mention one of the finest Canadian poets of her generation, and nominee Priscila Uppal. What could you possibly want to add to such an already wonderful mixed bag of talents?

Enter Scott Griffin, the illustrious founder of the feast. The time had come to award a senior poet with the Griffin Lifetime Achievement Award. This award, begun last year when Robin Blaser received the inaugural honour, is an initiative of the trustees of the Griffin Prize and completely separate from the judges and the nominees. Scott introduced Robert Hass to present the award. When Hass got behind the microphone, he said, "Tomas Tranströmer. . . " and for several moments the rest of his words were the aural equivalent of a blur. An audible gasp rose the audience. Excited whispers flew. In the wings, I could see the shape of a man sitting a wheelchair. He was actually there.

Tranströmer (pictured) was brought on stage to thunderous applause and a standing ovation that last several minutes. He is a true legend, someone who's name will live on through the ages when all our athletes and politicians are long forgotten. He lays more claim to literary posterity than perhaps any writer of poetry alive today. After he was presented with his prize, his wife Monica read a poem of his, "Couples," in Swedish. Such beauty, it made me want to learn the language on the spot. Griffin trustee Robin Robertson followed with an English version of the same. I was moved, to say the least, and still somewhat stunned to be in the same room with a man who's talent I consider to be larger than life.

In the lobby after the reading, when the crowd was milling aimlessly, I noticed Tranströmer sitting near me, and he was not yet surrounded by a throng of admirers. I offered my hand and spoke to him. What I said is not important. It was nothing special or original. His response was a simple smile, genuine, pleased, reassuring. I will never forget it.

Thursday 31 May 2007

Canadian Poet Laureate brings back the Poem of the Week program

John Steffler, Canada's current poet laureate, has brought back the Poem of the Week program that George Bowering started during his term as PPL, and which was continued by Pauline Michel during her tenure. So far, Stephanie Bolster and Rhea Tregebov have contributed to the renewed program, with more poets to follow.

If you already make a habit of visiting Poetry Daily on a regular basis, as I do, why not make Canada's Poem of the Week a regular stop as well. I certainly will be.

Sunday 27 May 2007

David W. McFadden and Roseanne Carrara are launching new books!

When: Wednesday, May 30, at 7pm.
Where: The Dora Keogh Pub, 141 Danforth Ave. Toronto.
I will be the emcee.

DAVID W. McFADDEN will be launching his Selected Poems: Why Are You So Sad? Edited and introduced by Stuart Ross.

“David’s poetry, like David, is social. It’s interested in people, and in trees, squirrels, dogs, and oceans. It’s also social in that it wants to be read, and it makes itself readable – not just to academics and to other poets, but to the convenience-store guy and the woman on the bus…. There are few Canadian poets who offer as much pure pleasure as Dave. In fact, he forbids analysis of his poems.” – Stuart Ross, from the introduction

ROSEANNE CARRARA will be launching A Newer Wilderness, her amazing debut collection of poems.

"Roseanne Carrara’s poems in A Newer Wilderness actually say something about life today, and they say it in clear, generous, precise registrations. Her directness and depth of literary and artistic reference allow her (convincingly and without expressionism) to propose Presence as perhaps our only hope for renewal both of our relationship to nature and of our cultural forms. Carrara’s clean, sharp lines, at times extending into long poems and poetic essay, are a welcome breath of fresh air." – Sharon Thesen


Wednesday 23 May 2007

Berlin Poetry Festival

The Berlin Poetry Festival is less than a month away. I'm looking forward to my participation in it, as, I am certain, are my fellow Canadian poets who will also be participating. There's finally something about it on the internet, you can read it in either German, French or English. More to follow as more becomes available.

Sunday 13 May 2007

PennSound is a free source for poetry audio files for poetry audiophiles

PennSound is like iTunes for poetry -- but each poem is free, said Charles Bernstein, an English professor and the site's co-director.

"It's unprecedented within poetry," Bernstein said, calling it the "first and the biggest site of its kind."

Started more than two years ago, PennSound features about 200 writers and more than 10,000 recordings contributed by poets, fans and scholars worldwide and converted to digital format. Some, such as Gertrude Stein recordings from 1934, date back decades.

The site mainly focuses on historical avant-garde and innovative contemporary poetry. So while you can hear Allen Ginsberg or current U.S. Poet Laureate Donald Hall, you won't find Maya Angelou. -- Get the rest of the story on

There's a few Canadians here, too. Including Darren Wershler-Henry, bpNichol, Paul Dutton, a.rawlings, and Christian Bök. Which is wonderful, but with theory-lovin' folks like Charles Bernstein and Kenneth Goldsmith behind this project, it's no wonder other Canadian poets, ones who write more in the mode of Donald Hall or CK Williams, are not represented. Still, it is an excellent resource to add to your collection on on-line poetry treasure troves.

Wednesday 9 May 2007

Street in Côte St. Luc named after Irving Layton

"Côte St. Luc unveiled Sunday the new Irving Layton Avenue, named after the late Montreal educator and poet who died in January 2006.
“'We honour an author, whose path from a crowded household as an immigrant family coming to Montreal to a literary giant, is as inspirational as the poetry he left us,' Mayor Anthony Housefather told a crowd gathered on the new street that contains new homes under construction, and is located near Guelph Road and Parkhaven Avenue." Joel Goldenberg at The Suburban has the rest of the story.
More at The Gazette.

Don't forget to visit The Official Irving Layton Website.

Saturday 5 May 2007

David O'Meara is quized by the Citizen

The layout of this piece could be a lot better, but it's kinda cute the way they treat a Canadian poet like a teen-mag celebrity by making him answer some ridiculously fluffy questionnaire.

Find out how David O'Meara answers these scintillating questions:
What's your favourite TV show?
Were you a good kid, or a brat?
When will the Senators win the Cup?
What gadget or technology can you not live without?
What's your favourite body part?
When your done with that, read his books Storm Still and The Vicinity. They're much better.

Friday 4 May 2007

German Poetry

Twentieth-Century German Poetry, An Anthology: Edited by Michael Hofmann

I should probably read this book before heading to Germany for the Berlin Poetry Festival next month. I have no doubt some of the locals will ask me if I like German poetry, and I will say yes, and they will ask me who I like best, and I will say Rilke... oh, and some Hölderlin, and maybe some Goethe, and they will roll their eyes, because that's what everyone says if they don't know much about German poetry, which I don't.

But I would like to. Good thing I have Michael Hofmann to give me a head start.

Faber and Faber (UK) offer the same book in paperback.

Wednesday 25 April 2007

Canadian poet John Stiles stars in Scouts Are Cancelled at Hot Docs

Canadian poet John Stiles is the subject of a documentary called Scouts Are Cancelled (also the title of Stiles' first book of poems) that will debut tonight in Toronto's Hot Docs Festival. Here's what critic Geoff Pevere recently wrote in the Toronto Star:
"Scouts Are Cancelled: Watching John Stiles performing his poetry – which largely evokes his childhood growing up in Nova Scotia's rural Annapolis Valley – is like watching someone lost in a trance. He squeezes his eyes shut, channels the voices of his speakers and loudly emits the sounds of growling dogs, wailing sirens and non-verbal whoops of joy and despair. An original artist with an unsurprisingly obtuse relationship with the world, he has become the subject of a film – made by his close friend John Scott – that is both true to the poet's art and understanding of the person's idiosyncrasies.
It runs tonight at The ROM Theatre at 9:30 pm.
Saturday, April 28th, at 7:45 pm at The Al Green Theatre.

In related news, John's first audio CD is now available!

Monday 16 April 2007

Religious idiot acts like an idiot: sues poet for blasphemy

Here's the whole story (it's a short one) from the Middle East Times.

Egypt cleric sues poet for comparing God to cop
April 16, 2007

CAIRO -- A senior Islamic cleric is taking a writer and a culture magazine editor to court for offending Islam after writing a poem comparing God to a "traffic policeman," a judicial source said Sunday.

Sheikh Youssef Al Badri, of the government Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, together with 18 other plaintiffs, is suing poet Helmy Salem and Ahmed Higazi, the editor-in-chief of the culture publication Al Ibdaa, for "blasphemy" and "offending the divine being."

The plaintiffs complained of the "insolence of the writer to portray God as a traffic policeman."

So, there are still places in the world where a poet can be sued for blasphemy. Whatever happened to reason, enlightenment, freedom? Egypt has earned a top spot on the Big List of Backward Countries Stuck in the Intellectual Dark Ages right next to Saudia Arabia, the United States under George W. Bush, and Canada under Stephen Harper.

Monday 9 April 2007

No money in poetry? Become a "kept" man! reports that :

A male poet from Hunan Povince, Huang Hui, declared to media last October that because it was too difficult to live by writing poetry he was willing to be "kept" by a rich woman.

She would support him, allowing him to pursue fine literature and, as the word "to keep" connotes, would have an intimate relationship with him in return.

Two months later, a Chongqing woman, Hong Yan, said to have a large fortune, offered to "keep" him for one year. If he produced a master work or two, the relationship could continue, she said.

Recently, they have signed a contract of "keeping," according to the Wuhan Evening News on March 25.
Apparently, this caused quite an uproar within Shanghai's more delicate circles, but the author of the article thinks it's all just a crass publicity stunt. Frankly, I don't see what the big deal is either way. If a male poet or writer can find a rich lover or wife who will allow him to stay at home and write full time, and that makes him happy, I say good for him.

Saturday 7 April 2007

A bunch of poets talk about poetry in the Globe and Mail, and I talk about Rilke

In this weekend's Globe and Mail books section, editor Martin Levin asks several Canadian poets, including me, about poems that have had a profound impact on them. The other poets in the article are George Murray, Carmine Starnino, K.I. Press, Jane Urquhart, Judith Fitzgerald, Alison Pick, Priscila Uppal, and Sonnet l'Abbé. Martin also weighs in with his esteem for Yeats.

Here' s my two cents:
I always come back to Rilke's Archaic Torso of Apollo. That poem has it all -- classical subject matter, but also the Romanticism of Shelley's Ozymandias. It also strikes me as a rather daring poem philosophically and, for its time, sexually. I suppose that's partly why Philip Roth used it as the climax for his ribald Kafka parody The Breast. And the final line, so accurate, so bold, always catches me: "You must change your life." (Read the whole column here.)
We were not given much space in which to espouse our love for our chosen poems, though perhaps that is best. The poems speak best for themselves. My favourite of Rilke's English-language translators is the remarkably talented Edward Snow. "Archaic Torso of Apollo" is from Rilke's New Poems: The Other Part, published in 1908. The collected New Poems as translated by Snow is a must-read, especially for those who aren't aware of much of Rilke's work beyond the Duino Elegies and Sonnets to Orpheus. Snow's translation of "Archaic Torso of Apollo" is by far the most powerful I have read. I hope he doesn't mind if, for illustrative purposes, I post it for you here:
Archaic Torso of Apollo
(trans. Edward Snow)

We never knew his head and all the light
that ripened in his fabled eyes. But
his torso still glows like a gas lamp dimmed
in which his gaze, lit long ago,

holds fast and shines. Otherwise the surge
of the breast could not blind you, nor a smile
run through the slight twist of the loins
toward that center where procreation thrived.

Otherwise this stone would stand deformed and curt
under the shoulders' transparent plunge
and not glisten just like wild beasts' fur

and not burst forth from all its contours
like a star: for there is no place
that does not see you. You must change your life.

I realize in hindsight I might just as easily have chose Rilke's poem "The Panther" for completely different reasons. It might be too much to say that Rilke is my favourite poet (I don't believe I have a favourite poet), but he certainly has written a few of my favourite poems. To demonstrate how important it is for a poem to have a good translator, here's a page with several different English-language translations of "The Panther" (and, again, my favourite among them is the one by Edward Snow).

Friday 6 April 2007

Call for Submissions: Atheism in the Arts

Call for Submissions

Topic: Atheism in the Arts

The editors of a forthcoming anthology are seeking essays on the subject of atheism in the arts.

Writers, journalists and scholars are asked to submit essays that advance the position and principles of atheism, secular humanism, and freethought in the arts, challenging the age-old misconception that the arts are primarily a spiritual pursuit.

Areas of particular interest include literature, film, music, and the visual arts, though submissions dealing with other artistic disciplines are certainly welcome.

Successful submissions will be scholarly in ambition but practical in execution, i.e. they will be intellectually stimulating and well written in a style that is naturally engaging and free from superfluous technical jargon. The editors are not the type to confuse fashionable academic verbosity with true talent and eloquence.

Please keep in mind that submissions should be of an appropriate length for an anthology. Full book-length submissions will not be considered.

Please visit:

For more information, or to obtain a set of submission guidelines, please query:

Wednesday 4 April 2007

Ashbery's gluestick

File this under Didyaknow? John Ashbery is a collage artist, often a naughty one, and has been for years. Karen Wright at has the story:
Poet John Ashbery sits in the parlor of his 19th-century house in Hudson, New York, with collages scattered around him on the sofa.
In one, a 1950s-style pinup girl dangles in front of a cactus. In another, a face fuses into a canyon, while a third depicts an angelic schoolboy holding a blackboard that, on closer inspection, displays a woman's exposed breast.
``You think it will be his homework,'' he laughs, ``and look!''
Get the whole story here.
While you're at it, check out Ashbery's lastest book A Worldly Country: New Poems.

Tuesday 3 April 2007

Griffin shortlist announced

Canadian Shortlist

Airstream Land Yacht • Ken Babstock
House of Anansi Press

Strike/Slip • Don McKay
McClelland & Stewart

Ontological Necessities • Priscila Uppal
Exile Editions

International Shortlist

Tramp in Flames • Paul Farley

Salvation Blues • Rodney Jones
Houghton Mifflin

Ooga-Booga • Frederick Seidel
Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Scar Tissue • Charles Wright
Farrar, Straus and Giroux

It's an incredibly strong field this year. I've already read four of these books (Babstock, McKay, Jones, and Seidel). That has to be a Griffin shortlist record for me.

This is Don McKay's third nomination. Could the third time be the charm? Rodney Jones has already won the Kinglsey Tufts award for Salvation Blues. Will the Griffin follow suit?

The seven finalists – three Canadian and four International – will be invited to read in Toronto at the MacMillan Theatre on Tuesday, June 5, 2007. The winners, who each receive C$50,000, will be announced on Wednesday, June 6, 2007 at the seventh annual Griffin Poetry Prize Awards Evening. Read the press release.

Congratulations to all the finalists.


Globe and Mail 1
Globe and Mail 2
The Toronto Star
The Waterloo Record

Nick Thran is a finalist for the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award

Every Inadequate Name by Nick Thran (which I edited for my 4 A.M. Books imprint with Insomniac Press) has been declared a finalist for the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award for the best first book of poetry in Canada. Congratulations Nick!

Read the press release here.
Read more about Nick's book here.
Buy the book here or here.

Sunday 1 April 2007

April is National Poetry Month /
The Patchy Squirrel hits Toronto

Established in 1999 by the League of Canadian Poets, keeping in step with similar promotional campaigns in the U.S. and Britain, April is the month when Canadians are reminded to take the time to read, listen to, and maybe even buy some poetry.

Ottawa Citizen columnist Janice Kennedy reflects on what poetry month means to her:

If I open the floodgates, a torrent of fond names and brilliant moments rushes out, a jumble of mismatched times and places, each a stirring memory: Yeats, Arnold, cummings, Donne, Eliot, Swinburne, Plath, Coleridge, Stevens, Frost, Gray, Sexton, Ferlinghetti, Amis, Shakespeare.

I recall what it felt like to read the older Canadian poets -- called "modern" in texts of the day -- who stirred something in me: Scott, Layton, Smith, Pratt, Klein, Page, Birney, whom I idolized. I recall being bowled over in the 1960s by a young Margaret Atwood and by Leonard Cohen before he ever opened his mouth to sing.

You can read the entire article here.

If you live in the Toronto area, you can keep track of poetry related events by hooking up with The Patchy Squirrel Lit-Serv, a new listing service from Dani Couture and Stuart Ross to alert subscribers to literary events in the GTA. Here's their press release:


Hi there, readers & writers & other literary enthusiasts!

How would you like to receive detailed weekly notices of literary events happening in Toronto? Read on....


The Patchy Squirrel Lit-serv is an email list devoted to Toronto literary events. It is delivered to subscribers every Monday morning and contains listings for events from Tuesday to the following Monday. Patchy launches on April 2, 2007. Patchy is open to actual events: book launches, readings, signings, book fairs, literary lectures, and workshops.

Unlike print listings or web listings, Patchy lands in your email in-box every week. Also, Patchy isn't just a tiny squib with date/place/writers. Patchy includes all the info that reading, workshop, or launch organizers want you to know: substantial description of the event, author bios, book descriptions, manifestos!

The Patchy Squirrel Lit-serv is a free service. However, Patchy welcomes donations from both subscribers and event organizers.

The Patchy Squirrel Lit-serv is brought to you by two Toronto writers, Stuart Ross and Dani Couture.

To receive the Patchy Squirrel Lit-serv every Monday, beginning April 2, just send an email to with "SUBSCRIBE" in the subject header. Please leave the body of the message blank. Patchy will use it to store nuts.

Friday 30 March 2007

Milton Acorn would have been 84 years old today

On his birthday, let us remember Milton Acorn and his contributions to Canadian poetry. His was a gigantic, even mythic, presence in our letters. We might suspect he saw himself this way as well. Consider his famous poem "The Natural History of Elephants" which he wrote as a kind of poetic self-portrait.

A wonderful selection of his poems, edited by poet Anne Compton, is in print. The Edge of Home: Milton Acorn from the Island is published by Island Studies Press.

Thursday 29 March 2007

Obama's bad enjambment

If you didn't have enough reasons to like Barack Obama, the American senator who is equal parts brilliant orator and amiable everyman, here's one more. He was once an aspiring poet! And, to be sure, not a terribly good one.

Apparently, according to some sources, the U.S. presidential hopeful should be embarrassed that a couple of his bad student poems have surfaced in L.A. To be fair, his poems aren't much worse than mine were when I was 19. We can't all be early bloomers like Keats and Rimbaud, but I believe we should all strive for better enjambment than Obama used in "Pop," a poem about a boy's love for his grandfather.

More noteworthy, perhaps, is the second poem of Obama's found in old issues of Occidental College's campus literary magazines. I think it's one of the weirdest poems I've ever read in my life. Apes. Figs. Rushing water. Here it is:


Under water grottos, caverns

Filled with apes

That eat figs.

Stepping on the figs

That the apes

Eat, they crunch.

The apes howl, bare

Their fangs, dance,

Tumble in the

Rushing water,

Musty, wet pelts

Glistening in the blue.