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: