Monday 22 December 2008

My Top Ten Poetry Books of 2008... and then some.

Okay, I'm probably forgetting something here, and I haven't got around to reading all the books I've meant to this year, and I do have a stack of books I've bought but haven't read yet, so try not to take this too seriously. If your book isn't here, I apologize. You know I think you're brilliant. These are not ranked (stopping at ten is arbitrary enough), rather, they are listed in alphabetical order by author:

1) Corinna A-Maying the Apocalypse by Darcie Dennigan (Fordham University Press)

2) All-American Poem by Matthew Dickman (
APR/Honickman 1st Book Award)

3) Crabwise to the Hounds by Jeramy Dodds (Coach House Books)

4) Gloria by Selima Hill (Bloodaxe Books)

5) Twigs & Knucklebones by Sarah Lindsay (Copper Canyon Press)

6) Seven Notebooks by Campbell McGrath (HarperCollins)

7) The New Layman's Almanac by Jacob McArthur Mooney (McClelland & Stewart)

8) The Sentinel by A.F. Moritz (House of Anansi Press)

9) Dead Cars in Managua by Stuart Ross (Punchy Writers/DC Books

10) Blert by Jordan Scott (Coach House Books)

It's interesting to note that four books that made my list are first books (Dennigan, Dickman, Dodds, and Mooney).


To avoid the appearance of favouritism, I haven't included books that I edited for my own imprint with Insomniac Press on my top ten list, but I am still very proud of these books and would like to recommend them, as well. Here they are in alphabetical order by author:

1) The Debaucher by Jason Camlot

2) The Red Element by Catherine Graham

3) Into the Drowned World by Ryan Kamstra

(other books I loved this year, because stopping at ten is arbitrary enough)

1) Palilalia by Jefferey Donaldson (MQUP)

Repose by Adam Getty (Nightwood Editions)

3) Be Calm, Honey by David W. McFadden (The Mansfield Press)

4) Noble Gas, Penny Black by David O'Meara (Brick Books)

5) Breaker by Sue Sinclair (Brick Books)

6) Jeremiah, Ohio by Adam Sol (Anansi)

7) Ghost Soldier by James Tate (Ecco/HarperCollins)

Happy reading!

Sunday 14 December 2008

Resurgence of painting's popularity bodes well for lyrical poetry, I think.

Peter Darbyshire's points to this article by Deborah Campbell in Canadian Art magazine, and while it is about the resurgence in the popularity of painting as an artform, I think the general ideas behind this resurgence in painting's popularity bode well for lyrical poetry, too.

The whole article is very interesting, but, for me, it boils down to this:

For artists who came of age in the 1980s and 1990s, painting had not only been knocked from its centuries old pedestal but had become a very nearly leprous form, replaced by conceptual and -- particularly in Vancouver -- photo-based art. To be a young painter in a university program at the time was to be bludgeoned with critical texts such as Douglas Crimp’s famous 1981 essay “The End of Painting,” a defi nitive attack on the medium that today might be considered as infl uential -- and as wrong-headed -- as Francis Fukuyama’s essay “The End of History?”


“The conceptual practice was very good for Vancouver in that it established an example of success -- that local artists can be respected internationally and have signifi cant careers,” he says. The unfortunate side effect was that other possibilities were all but foreclosed.

“Painting was incorrect and the correct thinkers scorned it,” he continues. “Under conceptualism, human empathy was replaced with correct thought and intellection and self-pride in intellection. Spirit was taken off the agenda. Rhythm was taken off the agenda. Soul was taken off the agenda. The only thing left was the narrow spectrum of the intellectual.” -- (Neil Campbell, a sessional instructor at Emily Carr whose abstract geometric paintings opened the fall 2008 season at Marianne Boesky Gallery in New York.)


Which makes one think. Could it be that a lopsided emphasis on intellect -- methodical, analytic, scholarly, bloodless -- is losing traction? It may be that the failure of intellect, of technology, to contend with the troubles confronting the planet -- troubles too often brought about by technological innovation and its Edward Burtynsky-esque consequences -- has engendered a backlash. Or that, at a time when it’s often said that anyone can make a movie on a laptop, we want to see something anyone can’t do -- like make really interesting stuff with their hands. Or maybe people have just gotten bored.

I am completely in favour of this boom for the tactile arts. As Peter Darbyshire said on his blog, we should support "anything that’s about craft rather than just being a gimmick." The reason I think this bodes well for lyrical poetry is pretty simple. Movements in literary circles tend to trail movements in the art world, and this might mean that people are also getting bored with poetry that is methodical, analytic, scholarly, and bloodless. I, for one, grow every day more and more tired of poetry that seems to exist for no other purpose than to illustrate some tautological tidbit of critical theory, which is a creative impulse I really can't reconcile with a love of poetry. It isn't difficult to plug some words into a formula and watch the intellectualized gibberish spill forth. But where is the craft? Where is the love? Wanting to become a poet because you love critical theory is like wanting to become a chef because you love cutlery. The result is something no one should have to stomach.

Friday 12 December 2008

Religious nutjobs get their knickers in an twist over Patrick Jones' poetry

It's an insipid irony when a group of fanatics exercise their right to free speech by impinging on someone else’s rights. But that is exactly what has been happening in Wales lately. A lunatic fringe of fundamentalist Christians, who call themselves Christian Voice (note: if you belong to a religious group with a grandiose name, you’re officially a fanatic), have been harassing poet Patrick Jones (pictured) at his readings because they judge his work to be blasphemous.

Just today, over 200 of these nutjobs showed up outside Jones’ reading at the Welsh Assembly, trying to shout him down with prayers and hymns. To add to the irony, Jones had been invited to give this reading by a couple of Welsh legislators, who clearly value the right to free speech, after an earlier event at a local bookshop was cancelled when the store’s pusillanimous manager yielded to the campaign of intimidation waged by this reactionary mob of sanctimonious zealots.

After the event today, Jones commented on his own website. Here’s some of what he said:

It was a great day for democracy yesterday. It has reinforced my faith in humanity. I would like to publicly thank Peter Black and Lorraine Barratt and thanks to all who came to the readings at The Senedd and Borders. I have had support from Buddhist ministers, local vicars, intelligent Christians and people without belief in a deity. Thank you to Borders for their brave stance against the bigots. It is interesting that many AM's (all conservative and some labour and plaid) have taken the side of Stephen Green and Christian Voice in trying to halt the reading so these so called democrats would rather applaud hate filled diatribes against homosexuality, blame the gay mardi gras for the New Orleans floods, deny children the chance to be educated about sexuality and wish to get rid of the marital rape law. That is what we voted for in the Welsh Assembly!!!. However, it is still a great victory for debate, reason, poetry, freedom of speech, responsibility of speech and peace and amidst threats of disruption, hate filled emails, abusive phone calls, religious hatred and vitriol the readings will go ahead and love will outlast bigotry. Thank you. Create dangerously. Peace."

Patrick Jones

All this fuss has been about Jones' book Darkness Is Where the Stars Are from Cinnamon Press. In solidarity with the author, I shall be ordering a copy immediately. Apparently the publishers, to show support for their author, have lowered this price of the book.... so you should order it, too.

Read more of the story:

Saturday 29 November 2008

Nick Laird talks about the common ground of poetry and religion. Hmmmmmm.

Among other interesting things, Laird writes:

Though an atheist - in that I believe we're here only by happy accident - my sensibility is religious. I like ritual and heightened states. I like mind-altering drugs. I believe in invisible forces - radioactivity, magnetism, sound waves - and I'm more than willing to sit for an hour listening to a church organist practice, which I did just last week. And I'll let myself shiver along with the immense chord changes. I don't like faith but I'm fond of its trappings- the kitschy icons, the candles, the paintings, the architecture and, especially, the poetry. Though many great religious figures, from Augustine to Screwtape, have taken prose as their instrument for confessing or cajoling, when it comes to praise, poetry's the usual choice. I've been reading Robert Alter's magnificent new translations of The Book of Psalms, and "My heart is astir with a goodly word".

The relationship between poetry, those goodly words, and religion is hard to quantify. Both involve the hidden, working at the borders of the sayable. They share an experiential dimension. Personal religion involves a private speech act (prayer), chanting (psalms), heightened states achieved by ritualised words. The Lord's prayer is one of the first poems I learned. Leached of its import by years of mindless recital, it's almost a Sitwellian sound poem to me.

There's more to Laird's musings in the Guardian. Go read it. Oh, I wish Canadian newspapers had more time and space for these thoughtful, friendly essays on poetry. They're one of the things I really love about British newspapers, the Guardian in particular.

Friday 28 November 2008

Looking back at Dana Gioia's tenure as chairman of the NEA

Gioia is stepping down from the NEA, but I hope he continues to find ways to promote the arts in general, and poetry in particular, because he is singularly good at it, and he is one the smartest, and most level-headed, in the "business" -- here's an article (in the National Review of all places) by Thomas S. Hibbs profiling his run at the NEA:

Gioia — an award-winning poet and author of the influential article “Can Poetry Matter?” — has been a trenchant critic of the increasing professionalization and isolation of the arts, and of poetry’s smug and self-congratulatory retreat to the confines of academia in particular. After many years as a successful poet, Gioia still thinks of himself primarily as a reader. One of his early shifts at the NEA was away from a focus on the producers of art to a greater emphasis on the consumers of art. “Controversy,” he reflects, “is not an intrinsic artistic concept; it’s a byproduct. I can’t defend things that are wild and crazy for the sake of being wild and crazy.”....

Gioia also shows how populism and intellectual cultivation — accessibility and refinement — need not be at odds with one another. In graduate school at Harvard, he realized that he was being trained to write in such a way that the people who raised him would not understand him. His love of poetry dates from his youth: His mother recited poetry to him from memory. Gioia maintains that preserving a connection to one’s roots and writing poetry that reaches an audience beyond academia are not matters of condescension but of the craft of language — of finding words to invite the “intelligent, non-educated reader” to become a lover of poetry, to be transformed and elevated by the experience of beauty.

Tuesday 11 November 2008

I recommend Sarah Lindsay's Twigs & Knucklebones

I devoured every word of this book, and went back for seconds. Everything about it appealed to me. Lindsay shares many of my own thematic preoccupations -- particularly the natural sciences -- but she approaches them differently enough that these poems kept me fascinated. Aesthetically, she is marvel, an ace of the discursive style, particularly the free verse narrative poem, which in my opinion is experiencing an incredibly dynamic renaissance in American poetry today, thanks largely to poets like Lucia Perillo, Rodney Jones, Tony Hoagland, Charlie Smith, and, clearly, Sarah Lindsay herself.

Poetry Magazine
has eight poems Twigs & Knucklebones on their website.

Poetry Daily has three poems from Twigs and Knucklebones on their website.

Order this book from your local independent bookseller. I've already ordered her two previous books, Mount Clutter and Primate Behaviour. I have a feeling she will be a poet who I will be reading for a very long time.

Wednesday 5 November 2008

Insomniac Press is launching Ryan Kamstra's Into the Drowned World on Nov. 18th

WHEN: Tuesday, November 18, 2008 at 7:00pm

UNTIL: Wednesday, November 19, 2008 at 2:00am

WHERE: Mitzi's Sister, 1554 Queen Street West

Come early for dinner and stay late for the band.
The food, the book and the music will all be excellent.
The readings, etc. will begin after 8pm.
The music starts at 10pm.

-- The night will feature readings by Ryan Kamstra, Nick Thran and more.

-- Madonna trivia with music critic Carl Wilson. Prizes to be won!

-- A prize for the best Madonna costume!

-- Two full sets of awesome music with Tomboyfriend!

* * *

Advance Praise for iNTO tHE dROWNED wORL_D:

Flamboyant, sensuous, and seamed with slick finesse, Kamstra's turns of phrase are more lubricated than 99% of CanLit. His Into the Drowned World will make you want to feel like a virgin, and read like a forager, over and over.
— Margaret Christakos, author of Sooner

Kamstra's kitsch kamera-angled poetics of excess floods across the text's face, giving radical pop new meaning. In this hyper-lyric world, porn, Nixon, robots and globalisation all have intercourse, generating surprising, delicious artifice. Apollinaire has Madonna's love child: Ryan's wild, wired, weird and witty daughter. This is poetry so over-the-edge innovative, it makes Dada look dim, and the future old hat. Into the Drowned World sets a new high-water mark for 21st century Canadian poetry.
— Todd Swift, author of Seaway: New & Selected Poems

The poems of Into the Drowned World keep leaping out of "the shallow grave" of post-modernist, post-capitalist life. These poems, so linguistically inventive, so over the top, so associatively awake, are profound expressions of "a hunger in this world… not even for food."
— Rebecca Seiferle, author of Wild Tongue

Into the Drowned World is a visionary work of pop-culture apocrypha, recited by a nodding, benumbed narrator who is perpetually reliving the day before the turn of the millennium. At its heart is Kamstra's breathless, ecstatic response to Madonna's infamous Drowned World Tour of 2001, which forms both a lyrical and lexical shorthand for our stunted relations, abandoned tenets, and an almost forgotten civil society.

Ryan Kamstra is writer of poems, fiction and songs. His first book of poems, Late Capitalist Sublime, was published by Insomniac Press in 2002. As a musician he is also known by the name Scratch Kamstra, and his band, Tomboyfriend, is fast becoming a cult sensation. Visit him at

Visit Insomniac Press.

Visit Mitzi's Sister.

Can't attend the launch?

Monday 20 October 2008

Poems and Recordings from the 2007 Berlin Poetry Festival, the online companion to Berlin's Literaturwerkstatt, the brains and brawn behind the annual Berlin Poetry Festival, have finally posted the poems and recordings by myself and my fellow Canadian poets, both anglophone and francophone, from last year's festival at the Kulturbrauerei in Berlin. All the poems come complete with audio recordings.

My poems consist of five poems from my book Between the Walls and five new poems. You can read, and listen to, my poems here.

You can also enjoy the poems of Anglophone poets Karen Solie, Ken Babstock, Suzanne Buffam, Tim Lilburn, and Erín Moure, and also of our Francophone compatriots Stéphane Despatie, Hélène Dorion, Louise Dupré, Claude Beausoleil, Marc André Brouillette, and Denise Desautels.

Wednesday 8 October 2008

Free "avant garde" book titles

If you’re writing a book of avant-garde-inspired (or L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E-ish) poetry, but you're having trouble thinking of a title with a cute enough deconstructionist-sorta pun in it, fear not! You may help yourself to one of these:

Banane Appeal

Cough, Caw!


Vague Ares


Clawed Levi Strauss



Dairy Da-Da


You're welcome.

Thursday 2 October 2008

The Conservative Party vs Al Purdy, 1981

It's nothing new, and it’s not just our Karl-Rove-esque, culture-bashing Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Canadian Conservative politicians have had it in for the arts for a long time, as poet Al Purdy found out way back in 1981. Below is an excerpt from Purdy’s memoir Reaching for the Beaufort Sea, published by Harbour Publishing in 1993. Purdy had been to the Galapagos Islands and was charmed by the wildlife enough to write some light-hearted poems about them. Needless to say, the Tories weren't impressed.
Among the poems I wrote in tortoise islands is one about the blue-footed booby, which is perhaps the most slow-witted creature there. It’s not a completely serious poem, which I thought might serve to lighten my customary philosophic solemnity. When “Birdwatching at the Equator” was published in a magazine, a Conservative Member of Parliament noticed it and read it aloud to the Liberal government in the House of Commons in Ottawa. His object was undoubtedly to embarrass the Liberals, to say, in effect: “This is the kind of shit you people encourage through Canada Council grants?”
I was completely unaware of this cultural occasion in the legislative chambers. Its later repercussions only came as a surprise to me.

And here is the offending poem. I just love the ending.

Birdwatching at the Equator

The blue-footed booby
stands on tropic island
in the Galapagos Group
stands all day long
shading her eggs from the sun
also protecting her blue feet
from too much ultraviolet
Sometimes the male booby
flaps his wings and dances
to entertain his mate
pointing his toes upward
so they can discuss blueness
which seems to them very beautiful
Their only real enemy
is the piratical frigate bird
floating on great black wings
above the mile-long island
Sometimes the frigate bird
robs them of their fish
whereupon the booby
is wont to say “Friggit”
and catches some more
When night comes all the boobies
sit down at once as if
God has given them a signal
or else one booby says
to the rest “Let’s flop boys”
and they do

The booby’s own capsule
comment about evolution:
if God won’t do it for you
do it yourself:
stand up
sit down
make love
have some babies
catch fish
dance sometimes
admire your feet
what else is there?

--Al Purdy, 1981. Used with the permission of Harbour Publishing. All rights reserved.

Tuesday 30 September 2008

Sadly, Hayden Carruth has passed away

August 3, 1921 -- September 29, 2008
Carruth, who suffered a series of strokes toward the end of summer, passed away in his home late yesterday. No eulogies just yet, just news in brief from these sources:
Vermont Public Radio
AM New York
Associated Press

Here is his poem "Endnote."

I was an admirer of both his talent and his conviction for what he believed was best in poetry. I will remember him by reading his books.

UPDATE: OCTOBER 3rd, 2008.

The Eulogies:

The New York Times:
The tension between the chaos of the human heart and the sublime order of nature imbued his best work with a sense of momentous struggle, “a Lear-like words-against-the-storm quality,” as the critic Geoffrey Gardner put it. Mr. Carruth wrote: “My poems, I think, exist in a state of tension between the love of natural beauty and the fear of natural meaninglessness or absurdity.”
The Washington Post:
Through years of isolation and neglect, he doggedly continued to write, gaining belated recognition for his more than 30 books. A 1996 Virginia Quarterly Review article described him as "certainly one of the most important poets working in this country today."
At Syracuse, his students included Haxton and acclaimed fiction writer George Saunders.
"I used to sit at the end of the table farthest from Hayden, because he was so terrifyingly brilliant," Saunders said. "You'd spout off about Ezra Pound and then he'd say, 'Now, what I remember about Ezra was. ...' I don't think I said a word all year. Just sat there quietly and soaked it all in."

Monday 22 September 2008

Griffin jury announced

Press Release:

Toronto, ON (September 22, 2008) The trustees of the Griffin Trust for Excellence in Poetry are pleased to announce that Saskia Hamilton (USA), Dennis O'Driscoll (Ireland), and Michael Redhill (Canada) are the judges for the 2009 Griffin Poetry Prize.

Saskia Hamilton is the author of two books of poetry, As for Dream (2001) and Divide These (2005). She is also the editor of The Letters of Robert Lowell (2005) and a co-editor of Words in Air: The Complete Correspondence between Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell (2008). The recipient of a Bunting Fellowship from the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Saskia Hamilton teaches at Barnard College, Columbia University, and lives in New York City. (Click here for additional bio details.)

Dennis O'Driscoll was born in Thurles, County Tipperary, Ireland. His eight books of poetry include Weather Permitting (1999), which was shortlisted for the Irish Times Poetry Prize; Exemplary Damages (2002), and New and Selected Poems (2004). His latest collection of poems, Reality Check (2007), was shortlisted for the Irish Times / Poetry Now Prize in 2008. A selection of his essays and reviews, Troubled Thoughts, Majestic Dreams was published in 2001. He is the editor of The Bloodaxe Book of Poetry Quotations (2006) and its American counterpart, Quote Poet Unquote (2008). He has received a Lannan Literary Award (1999), the E.M. Forster Award (2005) and the O'Shaughnessy Award for Poetry (2006). O'Driscoll's new book, Stepping Stones: Interviews with Seamus Heaney, is scheduled for publication in November 2008. (Click here for additional bio details.)

Michael Redhill is a novelist, poet, and playwright, as well as the publisher and one of the editors of Brick. His most recent novel, Consolation, was longlisted for the 2007 Man Booker Prize, won the Toronto Book Award, and was the Toronto Public Library's inaugural One Book One City choice in 2008. His 2005 play, Goodness, won the Carol Tambor Prize in 2006 for the best play at the Edinburgh Fringe and has since played in New York, Vancouver, and Girona, and will open later in 2008 in Barcelona and Helsinki. Michael Redhill currently lives in the south of France with his partner and their two sons. (Click here for additional bio details.)

All three judges understand the importance of the Griffin Poetry Prize’s international reach and may consequently call in books of English language poetry from around the world.

Submissions for The Griffin Poetry Prize are accepted up until December 31, 2008. The shortlisted books (four International and three Canadian) will be announced on April 7, 2009 at a press conference in Toronto, Canada.

For more information, contact:

Press Relations and Publicity

June Dickenson
Elana Rabinovitch

General Inquiries

Ruth Smith
Griffin Trust Manager

Thursday 18 September 2008

I have some readings coming up

Free Speech Reading Series: Tuesday, September 23, 2008.

When: 7pm

Where: Tinto, 89 Roncesvalles

Who: Me, novelist Russell Smith, poet Erin Robinsong, and singer-songwriter Treasa Levasseur.

UPDATE: I'm told Smith has had to cancel. Robert Everett-Green will appear instead.

Hosted by Johan Hultqvist. DETAILS

Pivot Readings at the Press Club: Wednesday, October 15, 2008.

When: 8pm

Where: The Press Club, 850 Dundas Street West

Who: Me, Alex Boyd, Leigh Nash, and Rebecca Rosenblum.

Hosted by Carey Toane. DETAILS

This is will be the inaugural reading event in this new series! See below.

PS. There's another great reading happening this Tuesday at the Art Bar Poetry Series, featuring Jason Camlot, Sharon Thesen and Iggy McGovern. Decisions! Decisions! Jason Camlot will be reading from his new book The Debaucher, which I can assure you is well worth it, so if you're not coming to Tinto this Tuesday, why not check out Camlot and company at the Art Bar. I'm sorry I can't be in two places at once.

Wednesday 10 September 2008

Like the Phoenix from the flames, the I.V. Lounge Reading Series rises again...

...but it's changed, altered. It looks... even better! This is EXCELLENT news.

The I.V. Lounge is no more, and so is the I.V. Lounge Reading Series, but not really. The reading series and its traditions will continue in a new home, with a new name and a new host.

I'm very pleased that Carey Toane, an energetic up-and-comer on the literary scene, has taken up the torch from the previous host (and my successor) Alex Boyd. You can think of it as the same old reading series, but with a bit a of a makeover and a transfusion of new blood. It's been renamed Pivot Readings at the Press Club, incorporating the name of the new venue at 850 Dundas St. W. and the letters "iv" in the word pivot, a tip of the hat to the series' origins.

I will always feel fondly nostalgic for the ten years we had at I.V. Lounge, but I have to say I love the new location. It's a cozy bar with great atmosphere, a fantastic beer selection and a nice back patio. Even its name, The Press Club, evokes a culture of letters. Sounds perfect to me. Here's a bit of what it says on the series new website:

When the I.V. Lounge closed its doors at the end of August (*sniff*), the series was left without a home. We have moved west down Dundas to the Press Club, located in an East Berlin-style, up-and-coming strip at 850 Dundas Street West, just three short blocks west of Bathurst on the north side of the street. We are very excited about the new location with its warm, art-filled space and great drink menu served with style by owners Mikael and Andrew Hickey. The bar also features a back patio for outdoor readings on warm summer nights.

You can visit the website here, where no doubt they will soon have details about readings, writers, and dates. I can't wait.

Tuesday 2 September 2008

Evie Christie's new blog about writers' desks

I'd like to introduce you to a new blog by one of Canada's most talented young poets, Evie Christie. It's called Desk Space. Evie is grilling writers on their work space and writing habits.

My interview appears today. Here's a sample:

DS When did you start writing, publish your first book (or when are you publishing your next)?

PV I can never answer the question about when I started writing. I think people who have a definite answer to that question are bullshitting a little bit, or self-mythologizing. It’s always something cute or profound or interesting. They’ll say things like they read Pushkin when they were eight and then they knew what they wanted to do with their lives, or they’ll have some story about publishing their first poem in a local paper before they could walk. When I was a kid, I wasn’t in touch with high culture at all. I read corny adventure stories, if I read anything at all, and I wrote funny (to me) rhymes and verses, but even then I was more inspired by novelty songs than by Ogden Nash or Robert Service. Mostly, I watched cartoons and the Three Stooges....
You can read the rest of the interview here, complete with a picture of my desk and my somewhat anti-social cat Milosz.

So far, Brenda Schmidt and Zachariah Wells have also participated, and more interviews are on the way.

Sunday 24 August 2008

So long, I.V. Lounge

The I.V. Lounge on Dundas Street (seen here in a manipulated image created by Steve Venright for the cover the anthology The I.V. Lounge Reader) is closing its doors for good starting tomorrow. As many people know, this is the place where I started, with the help of Peter Darbyshire, the I.V. Lounge Reading Series in 1998. I ran the series for five years, and Alex Boyd has been running the series since 2003. Now, the reading series is kaput, though I guess we can be proud of a strong ten-year run.

Alex has written a farewell message on his blog, but he also lets us know that there's still one more celebration to be had at the I.V. Lounge:
...there’s one more opportunity to have a drink at the I.V. Lounge, say thanks to Kevin and chill out there, and that will be Sunday night, Aug 24 anytime after 3pm. After that, the bar is closed. It also happens to be Kevin’s birthday, so feel free to wish him a happy one, aside from wishing him luck. I suspect I’ll be there sometime after 8pm, and hope to see a few of you.
For the rest of Alex's message, click here.

For a few memories of the old days when I ran the series, Google Books has some pages from the The I.V. Lounge Reader available to view online. The selection includes my introduction to the anthology, poems by David McGimspey, George Bowering, Jennifer LoveGrove, and A.F. Moritz, and fiction by Derek McCormack, Tamas Dobozy, and an otherwise unpublished short story by Andrew Pyper in which he coins the word "sockfarty" which is probably one of my all time favourite Canadian neologisms. You can read it all by clicking here.

Saturday 23 August 2008

John B. Lee targeted in Pulitzer Prize hoax

This is bizarre. Brantford, Ontario, Poet Laureate John B. Lee is among those targeted by an email phishing scam that seeks to exploit the fragile egos of poets, asking them to fork over a "handling fee" of 1,555 Euros to process their nomination for the newly international Pulitzer Prize.

In fact, the Pulitzer Prize is still only open to American citizens, so Canadians needn't worry themselves about it. Lee admits he had "a sliver of hope," but quickly realized the email was bogus. So far, it doesn't seem this scam has been successful, as no one has handed over the fee. The phishing here is laughably obvious. The Pulitzer Prize wouldn't ask nominees for money, let alone in Euros. As crime goes, this one belongs in the Stupid Criminal Files.

This story was reported by the Brantford Expositor. Read about it here.

Tuesday 19 August 2008

Jason Camlot on David Lehman's Best American Poetry blog

Jason Camlot, seen here reading from his latest book The Debaucher, is the Chosen One.

It seems like everyone is chosing Jason Camlot, and now he has been chosen by David Lehman for inclusion on The Best American Poetry blog.

Camlot's poem "Since I have stuck my toungue..." -- a reworking of a poem by Victor Hugo -- is the first of several poems by Camlot selected for the online companion to the popular book series.

Read Camlot's poem here.

And if you like the poem, well, there's more where that came from. You should buy his book and read the rest of it. As one fan of Camlot's poetry has written, "you go, guy."*

* Honestly. Check out the comments on Lehman's blog.

Saturday 9 August 2008

Stuart Ross interviewed by Evie Christie

I took this picture of Stuart Ross (left) and Jason Camlot (with Stuart's camera) during a trip to Buffalo back in May. You can see my reflection in the window, and you can also see a strange little doll that could be one of the lost boys from Peter Pan. Stuart and Jason were there to promote their new books, Camlot's The Debaucher and Ross's Dead Cars in Managua, and I was just tagging along for support.

Anyway, that same Stuart Ross has been interviewed by Evie Christie for Mondo, a volunteer-run, Toronto-based, arts, culture, and humour webzine. Here's a timbit of their interview:

Evie: At the Punchy/Insomniac launch in Toronto, the crowd was vocal and enthusiastic during your reading. Afterwards I heard many people talking about the artwork - the cover as well as the photographs of the cars inside. How did you decide on your cover art, and can you give some of the back story about the cars?

Stuart: I think the crowd was also vocal because I had been threatened with a defamation suit by a couple of other poets who were there in the audience, and this was a show of support for me. I can’t believe these two had the gall to show up at my launch after they’d sent a lawyer after me to shut me up. And then this other lousy poet was there, too, who had equated me publicly with Holocaust deniers because I was, to quote his mangled miscommand of the English language, “wrapping myself around the flag of freedom of expression.” Well, sorry, chump, but it was an issue of freedom of expression. And given that most of my great uncles and aunts and cousins died in concentration camps, I took offense. And it’s just now occurred to me that this guy shares the same name as the moronic Nazi colonel in Hogan’s Heroes....

You can read the rest of the interview here.

Monday 4 August 2008

It's time to applaud Selima Hill

As far as I'm concerned, Selima Hill has not been allotted the full measure of public acclaim that she deserves. Perhaps she has been taken for granted -- the hard-working poet who can always be relied upon to produce engaging work, she needn't be distracted with too much praise! Or perhaps because her poetry is so inwardly potent, so complex in its evocative power and yet so crystalline, so seemingly simple in its execution, that some critics and academics have neglected to tout the excellence of her work because it doesn't flatter their own.

Readers in Canada have another reason for not knowing much about Hill's poetry. Her books are published by the marvellous Bloodaxe Books, one of the English-speaking world's best poetry publishers, but Bloodaxe books do not have a Canadian distributor (though they can be found on, so they are seldom found by Canadian poetry readers who enjoy browsing in their local independent bookseller's shop.

This year, in a bold publishing move, Bloodaxe has brought out two books by Hill at the same time. One is her piercing new collection The Hat, and the other is the generous career retrospective Gloria: Selected Poems. Taken together, it is clear that a unique poetic talent has been producing a unified and dizzingly animated body of work for decades. Her early work is not eclipsed by her later work, and her later work does not suffer from creative exhaustion. Here is a sample from Gloria, a poem reprinted from her second collection My Darling Camel (1988):

Visiting the Zoo
The tall giraffes can never sit.
Their names are Valerie and Gwendoline.
I am their tall reticulated son.
This is our sand and hay.
Follow our gold strip to holy Tassili,
blonde swallow-tails, hares, a little milk.
You are a good girl. He will never know
you are in love with someone else, not him.

Perhaps, now that readers have the opportunity to not only read her latest work, but also to catch up on the best of her output to date, she may finally come into the attention she very richly deserves. To help her along, I've gathered together a few resources from the internet for those who are interested in knowing more about this remarkable poet and her work.

Here is a review of both Gloria and The Hat from The Guardian by Fiona Sampson:

If Gloria's generous 330-odd pages demonstrate how substantial Hill's body of work is, The Hat shows this brilliant lyricist of human darkness writing more acutely than ever. So original that it has sometimes scared off critical scrutineers, her work must now, surely, be acknowledged as being of central importance in British poetry - not only for the courage of its subject matter but also for the lucid compression of its poetics.
Read the full review here.

Here is an interview with Selima Hill, conducted by Bucharest University professor Lidia Vianu:
SELIMA HILL: I was born in 1945. When I was a baby I was burnt in a fire. I was rescued from my burning cot by a farmer who saw the flames. I spent six months (maybe a year, I’m not sure) in hospital. Of course, I nearly died. An of course my mother felt guilty... I was born into a family of painters. My grandparents and my parents were painters. (My ex-husband and my son are also painters. My daughter is a photographer. My youngest son is a writer.) My father was sixty when I was born. I was sent to boarding school, and then University, where I read philosophy. I then had a breakdown and spent another year in hospital (Psychiatric hospital). There is no connection between John Fowles and myself (except that I used to live in his flat – one big room overlooking the sea). I now live with my various animals in a house with a small orchard near the beach – and also near my seven grandchildren and my ex-husband and his new wife and my children and their husbands and horses...
Read the entire interview here.

The British Council offers sound recordings of five Selima Hill poems here.
The poems included are "Being a Wife", "My Sister's Poodle is Accused of Eating the Housekeeping Monkey", "The World's Entire Wasp Population", "Why I Left You", and "Your Girlfriend's Thigh."

And here is a video of Selima Hill reading her poem "Cow." Enjoy:

Order Gloria in Canada, the USA, and the UK.

Order The Hat in Canada, the USA, and the UK.

Sunday 3 August 2008

"The Days Dogs Die" on YouTube

A high school student named Sarah Davis (aka hamstergirl7) made a video for my poem "The Days Dogs Die" as an assignment for her English class. She has posted it on YouTube, and (with her permission) I'd like to share it with you. Thanks, Sarah.

Saturday 2 August 2008

Visions & Voices: a fantastic documentary series about 13 American poets

Good news! The excellent documentary series Visions & Voices is now available online in streaming video thanks to My first experience with this series was the marvellously engaging documentary about Robert Lowell that I borrowed from a friend who owned a copy on VHS. You can watch a sample clip of Lowell reading his spectacular poem "My Last Afternoon with Uncle Devereux Winslow" here.

Aside from Lowell, the series also includes documentaries about Elizabeth Bishop, Hart Crane, Emily Dickinson, T.S. Eliot, Robert Frost, Langston Hughes, Marianne Moore, Sylvia Plath, Ezra Pound, Wallace Stevens, Walt Whitman, and William Carlos Williams. I've already watched a few of these, and I'm looking forward to watching the rest.

Here's how the website describes the series:

A video instructional series on American poetry for college and high school classrooms and adult learners; 13 one-hour video programs and coordinated books; also available on CD-ROM.

The lives and works of 13 renowned American poets are interpreted through dramatic readings, archival photographs, dance, performances, and interviews in this inspiring series. Illustrative poems in each program are accompanied by insights into their historical and cultural connections. The series covers the terminology of poetry and the larger role of poets in American and world literature studies. Poets include Langston Hughes, Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson, and Elizabeth Bishop.

To watch the streaming video-on-demand, you have to register with the site, but it only takes a few seconds to do that. To get started, just visit this website, and soon you'll be enjoying the programs.

If you prefer to buy the series on DVD, you can do that here.

Friday 1 August 2008

All Stuart Ross's Goddamn Poetry Books

Canadian literary icon Stuart Ross has decided to read all the poetry books he owns. This might be a first in the history of owning a lot of poetry books, and I might even be inspired to follow suit one day. Stuart will go one step further by blogging about his experiences reading all these books. Here is how Ross explains his new project:

I've got about 1,200 single-author poetry books, not including chapbooks. What I'm going to do here is go through them all and read them, one each day or so, and write about them. Thereby learning how to write about poetry books. And thereby deciding which ones to get rid of, because I'm drowning in books. Oh, also I'll presumably find hundreds of great poems I haven't read before, because I've only read a fraction of the collection.

Tomorrow, I'll read an author whose last name starts with A. On Saturday one whose last name starts with B. And so on. I'll keep cycling through the alphabet, until I've read and written about all my goddamn poetry books.

Or maybe I'll give up after Day 4. We'll soon find out.

And here is where you can find Stuart Ross's new blog.

And here is Bloggamooga, Stuart Ross's general blog about other blogworthy things not related to the aforementioned blog. It's worth dropping in from time to time to see what Ross is up to.

Monday 28 July 2008

August Kleinzahler profiled in the LA Times

"I'm really just a nice, middle-class Jewish boy from New Jersey. If you take a swing at me, I'll probably swing right back. I write poetry." -- August Kleinzahler

I love August Kleinzahler's poetry, and I love his scrappy, no-bullshit attitude. The LA Times' John Gilonna has prepared an exellent profile on this excellent artist. Enjoy.

SAN FRANCISCO -- August Kleinzahler gets into fights at poetry readings.

Once, in Ireland, he traded insults with a host he found verbose. At a reading in a New York bar, he told a noisy drunk to shut his trap. Fists flew after the guy made a crack about Kleinzahler's coat, a sentimental hand-me-down from his father.

Kleinzahler goes to readings because he is a poet. He just doesn't act like one.

He is, at 58, the bad boy of American poetry, whose public outbursts make academics cringe. He dismisses university writing programs as "multimillion-dollar Ponzi schemes" in which Volvo-driving poet-professors are too fearful of risking prizes or promotions to make waves.

Kleinzahler considers himself an outsider, compelled to stir up trouble. He has labored largely in obscurity -- more popular in London than in New York. And though as a rule he stubbornly avoids the poetry establishment, he surfaces now and then with a bone to pick.

In literary journals, he takes poets and critics to task for what he perceives as their slights and shoddy work. A few years ago, he even skewered Garrison Keillor's radio poetry readings.

So what if he's unpopular? It keeps his name in play. "I make my living off these stooges," he says.

You can read the rest of Gilonna's profile here.

For a sample of Kleinzahler's poetry, click here.

Bill Murray helps out at Poets House event

Bill Murray, seen here in a portrait by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, was one of hundreds of people who turned out at an event for Poets House in New York.

Listen to the Studio 360 report here:

And listen to Bill Murray recite poems by Thomas Lux, Martin Espada, and Galway Kinnell here:

Now if only Toronto has its own Poets House. And its own Bill Murray.

Friday 25 July 2008

Lucia Perillo on her "writing space"

The American Poetry Review has a column called APR in the Studio in which poets are invited to describe their studios, workrooms, desks, or wherever it is that they compose their poems. In the May/June issue of APR, Lucia Perillo, who David Kirby has called "the funniest poet writing today" in the New York Times, took the column in a different, more intimate, direction, and described instead the state of her "internal" writing space, that place in her physical brain where her poems come from. Poetry Daily has made that column available to read online. Here is a sample:

In what computer people call the meat world, I wrote always in a place that had a window. Otherwise there's not much to say (a door rests on top of two filing cabinets that have been moved from window to window). Of more interest is the internal studio. What to call it—encephalic? Virtual? Made-from-meat-yet-not? The broodio? The stain?
Here's a picture, because what we find most titillating about this column is the image that gives us a glimpse of the poet's actual furniture and rugs.
Though I am not enough of a scientist to be able to work out the mind-body correspondences, like anybody else I start in the deep hub that's said to be reptilian. It's also where the doctor saw something anomalous when she looked at my brain scans, a wispy streak like the tail of a comet trailing across my corpus callosum (I knew it was bad when she called it interesting). So the generative reptile center is defective, and what comes out of it is scrambled, gnarled, free? (the hospitable way to say it) from conventional language. Or you could say the place is a wreck, and what comes out of it is gibberish.
You can read the rest of Perillo's column here.

Tuesday 22 July 2008

Fear of Narrative and the Skittery Poem of Our Moment

There's been an recent outcry in some poetic circles that "narrative" is the devil's music, a capitalist, patriarchal construct. Poppycock, I says! A narrative is whatever you write it to be.

Poet Tony Hoagland, seen here looking eerily like actor Matt Frewer when he guested on Star Trek, released a book of essays last year called Real Sofistikashun which I thought was wonderful. Perhaps my favourite essay in the book was one called "Fear of Narrative and the Skittery Poem of Our Moment" which mirrored a lot of my current thoughts and concerns with recent fashions in contemporary North American poetry.

That essay is available, courtesy of the Poetry Foundation, to be read online. Here is a sample:

In the last ten years American poetry has seen a surge in associative and “experimental” poetries, in a wild variety of forms and orientations. Some of this work has been influenced by theories of literary criticism and epistemology, some by the old Dionysian imperative to jazz things up. The energetic cadres of MFA grads have certainly contributed to this milieu, founding magazines, presses, and aesthetic clusters which encourage and influence each other’s experiments. Generally speaking, this time could be characterized as one of great invention and playfulness. Simultaneously, it is also a moment of great aesthetic self-consciousness and emotional removal.

Systematic development is out; obliquity, fracture, and discontinuity are in. Especially among young poets, there is a widespread mistrust of narrative forms and, in fact, a pervasive sense of the inadequacy or exhaustion of all modes other than the associative. Under the label of “narrative,” all kinds of poetry currently get lumped misleadingly together: not just story but discursion, argument, even descriptive lyrics. They might better be called the “Poetries of Continuity.”
You can read the entire essay here.
You can order the book here.

Monday 21 July 2008

Nick Laird on Science and Poetry

Here's an interesting article in which Nick Laird (pictured) ponders -- and even, cautiously, calls for -- a poetics that is more engaged with the universe on a scientific level. It's a topic of great interest to me, and one that I am actively working out through my own recent writing. Here's a snippet:

In general, though, modern poets have taken more easily to Freud than Darwin, for reasons obvious enough: Freud's work privileges the human, Darwin's does not. But the remit of science is forever widening. Neuroscience is asking what the self is made from. Evolutionary biology seeks to explain behaviour. Quantum mechanics overturns notions of causation. Astronomy attempts to discover the texture and origin of the universe. In these inquiries, the "hows" become the "whys".
Just as Emerson called for a new kind of poetry that was commensurate with America, and Whitman obliged, should we hope for poetry capacious enough to map the new countries of science? There are problems. Can complexity of this kind be versified? Poetry evokes better than it explains. There is also, for the poet, the danger of simply being seduced by new terminology, the taste of exotic words. The poem becomes a list. And there is the lack of shared reference. Mention a telephone or tree, a marriage or goose-bumps, and we have some similar notion of what is meant. Our experiences of science are either abstract or mediated. How far can we imagine what a cell is like? Or a radio wave? Outer space comes to us only through telescopes and satellites.
Read the entire article here.
And for further reading, here is Albert Goldbarth's poem "The Sciences Sing a Lullabye."

Saturday 12 July 2008

Save Al Purdy's house!

This is the house Al Purdy built by hand (with the help of his wife Eurithe, and later, Milton Acorn), and behind this house is Roblin Lake, the muse for so many of Purdy's poems. The cultural significance of this house cannot be underestimated. Unfortunately, it has become necessary for Eurithe Purdy to put the place up for sale. “It's become too much for me,” she has said in a story in the Globe and Mail.

The idea of some Saab-driving nincompoop buying this property and tearing it down to build a garrish three-storey cottage send paroxysms of disgust down my spinal cord.

I know there are a few writers in Canada, and some who were close to Purdy, for whom purchasing this property would be no more of a financial strain than it would be for most people to buy a new pello chair from Ikea. (I just checked my Super-7 ticket, and I'm not one of them.) Why wouldn't they pool their resources and buy this place? It should be a museum to Canadian letters, or a writer's retreat like Pierre Berton House in Dawson City.

Read more about it here.

Monday 23 June 2008

Al Purdy's statue unveiling and more

My account of the unveiling of Al Purdy's statue is in the summer issue of Open Book Toronto's online magaine. It includes my account of the day Al's ashes were buried in Ameliasburg when two-hundred mouners unexpectedly dropped in at someone's yard sale.

You can read it all here. And see photographer David Waldman's photographs of the unveiling here.

For more on Al Purdy, I've been enjoying the CBC digital archives. They have a collection called "Al Purdy, An Uncommon Poet." It includes 9 radio interviews and 4 television clips. Enjoy!

Wednesday 18 June 2008

CBC Podcast: Andre Alexis interviews John Ashbery

This is a great podcast, except that it's not really a podcast. You can't download it to your iPod and listen to it while on the treadmill at the gym, which is what I would like to do, if I belonged to a gym.

It begins with a woman explaining what the podcast contains, and then it has some audio recorded at the Griffin Poetry Prize gala, including the acceptance speeches of the winners: John Ashbery and Robin Blaser. Finally, there is a wonderful interview with Andre Alexis asking Ashbery a lot of interesting questions, and Ashbery offering, in return, many interesting answers. Hear Alexis and Ashbery discuss art, music, criticism and the difficulty of poetic language.

Have a listen here.

Saturday 14 June 2008

I review Houle, Porco, Scott and Vaughan in the Globe and Mail today

It's a long, four-book review. Here's just a bit of what I have to say about each book. For the whole text, check out the Globe and Mail.

By Karen Houle
Gaspereau, 112 pages, $19.95

This book demands painstaking concentration from its readers, but once given over to it, a reader will discover a book steeped in the marvels of the natural world, where human thoughts seem to emanate from organic forms, and all is rendered in a poetry of jungle-like density where the chief pleasure is the texture of the language itself.

By Allesandro Porco
ECW, 64 pages, $16.95

As though raising a defiant middle finger to his detractors, Porco now gives us his second collection, Augustine in Carthage. Don't let the high-minded title fool you; he hasn't shied away from the sin and silliness that characterized his first book. If anything, he has upped the ante, not only in gleeful vulgarity, but also in skillful versification. It is in the foggy gulch between high art and seedy subculture or preposterous kitsch where Porco, like painter John Currin and sculptor Jeff Koons, creates the aesthetic tension that drives his art.

By Jordan Scott (pictured above)
Coach House, 72 pages, $16.95

Scott's poetry, on the other hand, frequently ditches the notion of syntax altogether. Words don't need to mean anything when they can exist solely as physical matter, as literal building blocks, and for Scott, words are eminently physical, not only as ink printed on paper, but also as plosives, fricatives and taps, as a column of air shaped in his body and expelled from his mouth.... Admirably, Scott has taken his so-called impediment and from it crafted a poetry that is physically beautiful, conceptually rich, and relevant to the world outside the book that contains it.

By R. M. Vaughan
Coach House, 80 pages, $16.95

Good lord, what a gorgeous and courageous book! I scarcely know where to begin, but here are the basics: Troubled is a memoir in poems; it chronicles the disastrous sexual relationship that Vaughan had with his actual (and unnamed) psychiatrist and the emotional, legal and professional fallout that ensued.... Rhythm, metaphor, rhetoric, all the weapons in the poet's arsenal are strategically and expertly deployed here, and R. M. Vaughan, both as poet and as victim, achieves a final and decisive victory.

To see the complete text of this review, check out today's Globe and Mail, or click here.

Friday 13 June 2008

R.I.P. James Reaney

Poet, playwright, artist, and educator, James Reaney: 1926 - 2008

Few people have dedicated their life and energy so totally to Canadian culture as James Reaney did. Those of us who care about that culture, its history and its future, owe him a huge debt of gratitide and a moment of silent remembrance.

London Free Press
London Free Press
Globe and Mail

UWO Gazette

Thursday 5 June 2008

Congratulations to John Ashbery and Robin Blaser

Well, David McFadden didn't take home the Griffin Prize last night, but it was a wonderful night for poetry nonetheless. John Ashbery (pictured left) won in the international category and Robin Blaser (right) won the Canadian half of the prize. Both men are passionate poets with the most serious commitment to their art, and I am very pleased for both of them. Scott Griffin (centre) has done it again.

Here are some news stories covering the big night (some links won't last):

Griffin Trust Press Release
Globe and Mail
National Post

Quillblog photos