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.


Saturday 24 March 2007

Muldoon profiled in the Guardian

Key texts
The Faber Book of Modern Verse (third edition, 1965)
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
Death of a Naturalist by Seamus Heaney
The Waste Land by TS Eliot
Chuck Berry
This is a great read for any fan of Paul Muldoon's work. Read the profile here.

I review two by Judith Fitzgerald in the Globe and Mail

My review of two collections of poetry by Judith Fitzgerald is in this weekend's Globe and Mail Books section.

The books are Adagios: Orestes' Lament and Adagios: Electra's Benison both published by Oberon Press. They are parts two and three respectively of her Adagios quartet, her own poetic interpretations of the myths surrounding the family of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra.

Here's the review.

Wednesday 21 March 2007

Happy World Poetry Day 2007

UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) declared March 21 to be World Poetry Day in 1999.

You too can help to promote World Poetry Day. Register your poetry-related websites and events with Unesco:

Read at least one poem today, or you might never forgive yourself.

Monday 19 March 2007

Listen to Derek Walcott's interview on NPR

Yesterday Derek Walcott was interviewed on NPR's All Things Considered. He reads a couple of poems, and they talk about his early attempts at writing poetry and about his new book of Selected Poems published by both Faber and Faber and Farrar, Straus and Grioux. Find out why a priest once accused the young Walcott of blasphemy (hint: it had to do with writing poetry).

Listening to Walcott read his poetry aloud is one of the supreme pleasures in the English-speaking literary world. NPR has a link to the audio file for the entire interview here.

Thursday 15 March 2007

What I'm reading this week: Stanley Moss and Albert Goldbarth

For my leisure reading this week, I'm alternating between a couple of fantastic books, both 'New & Selected,' and both by two American poets who deserve a wide readership. These are the books:

New & Selected Poems 2006 by Stanley Moss
The Kitchen Sink: New and Selected Poems: 1972-2007 by Albert Goldbarth

Stanley Moss might be better known to many as the publisher of The Sheep Meadow Press, but he is a first rate poet in his own right. His poems are robust, intelligent and deeply felt, and there are several in this selection that give me chills. Moss is an atheist, and his poems often challenge the simplistic assertions and logical failings of superstition and magical thinking, making this book all the more human, and humane, as a result. One of my favourites, a poem called "The Good Shepherd" was recently featured on Poetry Daily.

Albert Goldbarth is a much different poet than Moss in terms of mood (Goldbarth is less terse and more free-wheeling than Moss) but no less robust, intelligent or deeply felt. Put short, Goldbarth is the paragon of erudition. In a poem, he can bring us science, history, crime, folly, romance, myth, enchantment, entertainment, and sometimes all that in just the title. His poem "Heart Heart Heart Heart Heart Heart Heart" is something I will be reading again and again, along with several others he's written, for years to come.

Both books are highly recommended.

Monday 12 March 2007

David Orr defends the Poetry Foundation
(...and questionsThe New Yorker's recent record when it comes to poetry, "fluffy chimney" and all)

Remember that article in The New Yorker last month? The one in which Dana Goodyear skewers the Poetry Foundation's business-like strategies for promoting poetry? I wrote about it here, and I even agreed with some of her concerns.

Well, David Orr has written a rebuttal in the New York Times to set the record straight. Not only does Orr defend the position of the Poetry Foundation, at least against some of Goodyear's more strident attacks, he also goes on a counter-offensive, calling into question the credibility of The New Yorker when it comes to its coverage of poetry in general. And I find myself agreeing with Orr, too. Especially on the topic of the lukewarm turds of hackneyed verse that The New Yorker so often offers up disguised as actual poetry. In the past, I have often accused the poems that appear in The New Yorker of being "verse for sleazy lawyers who want to feel cultured." Here, Orr expands on how such a good magazine could publish such shitty poems.
And then there’s the question of the poems the magazine chooses to run. Granted, picking poems for a national publication is nearly impossible, and The New Yorker’s poetry editor, Alice Quinn, probably does it as well as anyone could. (Quinn is also liked personally, and rightly so, by many poets.) But there are two ways in which The New Yorker’s poem selection indicates the tension between reinforcing the “literariness” of the magazine’s brand and actually saying something interesting about poetry. First, The New Yorker tends to run bad poems by excellent poets. This occurs in part because the magazine has to take Big Names, but many Big Names don’t work in ways that are palatable to The New Yorker’s vast audience (in addition, many well-known poets don’t write what’s known in the poetry world as “the New Yorker poem” — basically an epiphany-centered lyric heavy on words like “water” and “light”). As a result, you get fine writers trying on a style that doesn’t suit them. The Irish poet Michael Longley writes powerful, earthy yet cerebral lines, but you wouldn’t know it from his New Yorker poem “For My Grandson”: “Did you hear the wind in the fluffy chimney?” Yes, the fluffy chimney.
But it gets worse. We might have suspected that a big, hip magazine like The New Yorker would be a wretched hive of nepotism and cronyism, but we were probably thinking about the suits in the advertising department, or maybe the effete snobs who deal with the theatre reviews, but certainly not the well-meaning people who select the poetry. And we'd be right. Right?

Nope. Read on.
The second issue with The New Yorker’s poem selection is trickier. This is what you might call “the home job”: the magazine’s widely noted fondness for the work of its own staffers and social associates. The most notorious examples were the three poems The New Yorker published by the Manhattan doyenne Brooke Astor in 1996-7 (one more than Robert Creeley managed in his whole life). Some representative lines: “I learned to take the good and bad / And smile whenever I felt sad.” Even more questionable, however, is the magazine’s preference for its own junior employees. In 2002, for instance, the poet who appeared most frequently in the magazine was the assistant to David Remnick, the editor — that assistant’s name, coincidentally, was Dana Goodyear. In fact, since 2000, Goodyear (who is 30) has appeared in the New Yorker more than Czeslaw Milosz, Jorie Graham, Derek Walcott, Wislawa Szymborska, Kay Ryan and every living American poet laureate except for W. S. Merwin. She’s already equaled Sylvia Plath’s total.
Bastards! Right?


But just because Dana Goodyear is so deep inside her own magazine's back door she might as well have the words "conflict of interest" tattooed on her face, does that excuse the Poetry Foundation's somewhat churlish president John Barr from thinking that schlock-traps like funny poem contests and the like are suitable promotional ventures for the venerable Poetry magazine?

No, I still don't think so. Poetry, the magazine, and poetry, the art form, both deserve better.

Sunday 11 March 2007

Praise for The Cold Panes of Surfaces

I don't know how I missed it, so I'll link to it now. Last month, Chris Banks' book The Cold Panes of Surfaces received a very good review from the Toronto Star's resident poetry critic Barbara Carey. Here's a bit of what Carey had to say:

". . . his pensive poems take hold of the reader in a quiet but emphatic way. . . . Look past that frost-forming title; this collection is chock full of deft phrasing and memorable images."

The entire review can be read here.

Congratulations, Chris!

Sunday 4 March 2007

Lucia Perillo: title change for new book of essays

Back in November, I reported on the forthcoming release of a new book of essays by Lucia Perillo. Back then, the book was to be called Ground Truth: On Disability, Poetry, Nature, though now it would seem the book's title has been changed, probably for the better, to the very catchy I've Heard the Vultures Singing: Field Notes on Poetry, Illness, and Nature.

Perillo is one my favourite contemporary poets, and I'm eagerly awaiting this collection of her essays. Here's a snippet of the book's description from the publisher:

During her days as a park ranger, Lucia Perillo loved nothing more than to brave the Cascade Mountains alone, taking special pride in her daring solo skis down the raw, unpatrolled slopes of Mount Rainier. Then, in her thirties, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. In I've Heard the Vultures Singing, Perillo confronts, in stark but funny terms, the ironies of being someone with her history and gusto for life being suddenly unable to walk.... These essays explore what it’s like to experience desire as a sick person, how to lower one’s expectations just enough for a wilderness experience, and how to navigate the vagaries of a disease that has no predictable trajectory. I've Heard the Vultures Singing records in unflinching, honest prose one woman’s struggle to find her place in a difficult new world.

I've Heard the Vultures Singing: Field Notes on Poetry, Illness, and Nature is scheduled to published in May, but it can be pre-ordered in both the USA and Canada. Until then, Perillo's latest book of poems is still Luck is Luck, and I still recommend it, and her other collections, extremely highly.

Friday 2 March 2007

THIS Magazine, MySpace

My poem "Sorrow for Frogsong" is in the March/April issue of THIS Magazine (on sale now). There's also a frog-related poem by Gary Barwin and a frog-related short story by Maria Smythe. It's definitely a must read for people who love literature and/or frogs.

Also, I'm trying out the internet phenomenon known as MySpace. You can check out my profile here. As usual, when it comes to this kind of thing, I'm probably a little bit behind the vanguard of hip, but I caved in to peer pressure from some poet friends of mine, namely Adam Getty and Carleton Wilson. There are some annoying features to this site, not the least of which are the songs that play automatically when you visit some people's pages, but what the hell, I'll give it a try. Perhaps it will serve as a tool to help me stay connected with the larger poetic community around the globe. Perhaps it will be a waste of time. Only time, wasted or not, will tell.