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

Wednesday 4 June 2008

More Praise for McFadden!

Well, tonight's the night. The Griffin Prize for poetry will be announced, and of course I'm keeping my fingers crossed for Insomniac Press author, and friend, David W. McFadden. David gave a wonderful reading at the Macmillan Theatre and, despite his famous shyness, he seemed completely at home on the same stage as John Ashbery and the other heavy-weights, including Korean poet and freedom fighter Ko Un, who recieved the Griffin Lifetime Achievement Award last night to a standing ovation after a very moving tribute from poet Robert Hass. When he finally took to the podium, David's reading was so warm, funny, engaging, and entertaining, it seemed natural that his should be the final reading of what was a very wonderful night of poetry all around.

Over the weekend both the Ottawa Citizen and the Toronto Star ran profiles of David, saying many wonderful things about him and his book Why Are You So Sad? Selected Poems of David W. McFadden.

In the Toronto Star, Vit Wagner wrote:

It seems a curious coincidence Toronto poet David W. McFadden, a voracious reader since childhood, has lately been gorging on the prose fiction of Samuel Beckett.

Beckett, in addition to being one of the 20th century's greatest literary giants, famously shunned all displays of public recognition, even to the point of hiding out in Tunisia in 1969 when he could have been in Stockholm accepting the Nobel Prize for Literature.

It's unlikely McFadden will perform a similar disappearing act should he happen to be the Canadian winner of the $50,000 Griffin Poetry Prize on Wednesday – even if he does admit to being entirely unnerved by finding his name on the shortlist when it was announced last month.

"I have no idea why, but I had anxiety like I've never had before in my life," he allows, seated in a comfortable armchair during an interview earlier this week at Ben McNally Books. "I'm just a shy guy, I guess, but there has to be a lot more to it than that."

So great was McFadden's torment he privately began to fantasize the winning cheque would end up in the hands of one of this year's other two Canadian nominees, Robin Blaser or Nicole Brassard. (The international portion of the prize, also $50,000, will be awarded to one of John Ashbery, Elaine Equi, C├ęsar Vallejo or David Harsent.)

"I so dreaded winning because I only have to give a speech if I win," he says. "I was constantly upset for three or four weeks, but I'm pretty relaxed now."

Relaxed maybe, but no less ambivalent.

You can read the whole article here.

And in the Ottawa Citizen, Donna Bailey Nurse wrote:

The collection illustrates McFadden's unique sensibility -- an extraordinary alertness to his surroundings, agitated by a hyperactive, surreal imagination, and deep anxieties regarding mortality and the passage of time. He is a relentless observer, and as if to symbolize this role, he wears a giant eyeball ring that stared boldly at me throughout our conversation.

McFadden has published several novels, short stories and plays and received his most popular success with two series of travel books, one involving tours around the Great Lakes and another, Innocent Abroad, which conveys the reader to Newfoundland, Ireland, Scotland and Cuba. Charming, whimsical, and full of quirky happenstance, McFadden's travel books illuminate his creative process -- the way he notices practically everything, and speedily transforms this experience into art. His celebration of the natural world and the commonplace likens him to the Romantic poets. Like William Blake, McFadden describes a world of innocence and experience, two states he attempts to reconcile.

You can read the whole article here.

Good luck tonight, David. I'll be cheering for you.

Photo: Ingrid Paulson.