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.