Sunday 13 December 2009

My favourite poetry collections of 2009

Here is my top 10 poetry collections of 2009. I want to preface this list of personal favourites with the same disclaimer as last year’s: I'm probably forgetting something here, and I haven't got around to reading all the books I've meant to read 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) To Be Read in 500 Years by Albert Goldbarth (Graywolf Press)

2) A Village Life by Louise Glück (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

3) Inseminating the Elephant by Lucia Perillo (Copper Canyon Press)

4) Lousy Explorers by Laisha Rosnau (Nightwood Editions)

5) Mr. Skylight by Ed Skoog (Copper Canyon Press)

6) Pigeon by Karen Solie (House of Anansi Press)

7) Something Burned Along the Southern Border by Robert Earl Stewart (The

Mansfield Press)

8) Reticent Bodies by Moez Surani (Wolsak & Wynn)

9) Selected Poems by Dara Weir (Wave Books)

10) Always Die Before Your Mother by Patrick Woodcock (ECW Press)

As usual, I don’t include books that I’ve edited for my own imprint with Insomniac Press, though I think these are also wonderful books, and I recommend them to you as well:

Wanton by Angela Hibbs

Porcupine Archery by Bill Howell

Naming the Mannequins by Nic Labriola

Honorable Mentions

There are simply too many fabulous books to fit on a list with only ten slots. Here are some other books that I loved from 2009, and I hope you will love them, too:

God of Missed Connections by Elizabeth Bachinsky (Nightwood Editions)

The Certainty Dream by Kate Hall (Coach House Books)

Word Comix by Charlie Smith (W.W. Norton & Company)

This Way Out by Carmine Starnino (Gaspereau Press)

Mole by Patrick Warner (House of Anansi Press)

Friday 11 December 2009

James Dickey internet poetry round-up

While many people today know James Dickey best at the author of the novel Deliverance (and as the sheriff in the film version of that novel), James Dickey was first and foremost a poet, one of great primal urgency and emotive power whose poetry achieved enormous popularity in his own lifetime and beyond.

I am a fan of James Dickey's poetry, and I have noticed that there are a great deal of excellent resources for readers interested in his poetry on the internet. I have gathered here what I consider to be the best available. If you're a fan of Dickey's like I am, then I hope you enjoy where these links take you, and if you're new to Dickey's work, then I hope they lead you to his books, where you are sure to find more of his fabulous work.


"For the last Wolverine"

"The Sheep Child"

"May Day Sermon to the Women of Gilmer County by a Lady Preacher Leaving the Baptist Church"


"The Heaven of Animals"

"The Hospital Window"

"The Lifeguard"

"The Strength of Fields"


"The Dusk of Horses"

"Hunting Civil War Relics at Nimblewill Creek"

"The Shark's Parlor"



"At Darrien Bridge"

"Buckdancer's Choice"

"In the Marble Quarry"

"In the Tree House at Night"

Poet and novelist Maria Hummel offers a marvellous essay on Dickey's poem "The Sheep Child" (a personal favourite of mine) at The Poetry Foundation's website. I encourage you to read it after you've read the poem a few times.


Bronwen Dickey on her father's legacy

CNN audio archive of James Dickey

The James Dickey Library, University of South Carolina

The James Dickey papers, Washington University in St. Louis

The James Dickey Society and Newsletter


Saturday 21 November 2009

Authorial intent, snark, and missing the point on purpose.

Lately, some of my contemporaries have been engaged in a rather nasty debate about the state of poetry reviewing, the apparent prevalence of snark, and the role of authorial intent in criticism.

Let's start with "authorial intent"

This is a much misunderstood and abused term, and I think some people might be misunderstanding it on purpose. It's a familiar term in critical discourse, and I don't know why it needs to be explained, but apparently it does. It has a specific meaning that has nothing to do with magically "knowing" what the artist was "trying to do" like some are claiming. That's just a red herring. That's not what it means at all.

Poetry is more than mere building blocks; it's communication, and all communication has a purpose, which to say it has intent. In critical discourse, engaging with "intent" has more to do with understanding how the poetry works within its given mode, understanding how a text has been assembled and reading it with an eye towards understanding its purpose, its message, and its content. For example, one would not (should not) measure a poem by E.E. Cummings with the same material yardstick one would use to measure a poem by Robert Frost, or whichever two dissimilar poets you might choose. The two poets have a different ethos, a different project, a different way of communicating, a different "intent" that is expressly manifest in their work.

It's disingenuous to say a critic cannot, given a close reading, determine the functionality of a text, and from that, extrapolate its purpose and gauge that against the traditions it either draws upon or tries to subvert. It would be an incompetent critic indeed who could not do that, but that is what it means to engage with the "intent" of a text in critical discourse. It has nothing to with reading the author's mind. If a critic understands the "intent" of a piece, for instance, he will not declare that a poem failed to be a sonnet when in fact it meant to be a lipogram, or vice versa.

Different modes of criticism have their own relationships with the idea of authorial intent: deconstructionists, post-structuralists, materialists, etc. Only the most rigidly fundamentalist critical approaches disregard "intent" completely. In doing so, they create large black holes in the reading of a text. They miss the point on purpose, so to speak. I dislike fundamentalisms of any kind, and that includes both critical and aesthetic ones. In poetics, at both the conservative and radical ends of the spectrum, you have those modes that fetishize their own kind of formalism to the detriment of (or even to the exclusion of) concerns about content. At either extreme these formalist fundamentalisms (say a revived take on the radical poetics of Oulipo or an orthodox approach to classicist meter and rhyme) you will find a kind of literary tunnel vision; the poems are toying with their physical minutiae, but they are disinterested in actually communicating much of anything. When such fundamentalists bring their aesthetic ideology (their dogma?) into the critical arena, they end up measuring poetries against it that aren't compatible with their criteria. Holders of this position cannot help but commit the fallacy of saying, "the non-traditional is bad because it is not the traditional" or vice versa. They mistake the rationalization or the justification of taste with the application of reason and critical rigor. They are, in a sense, defending a camp. They are saying: I have staked my poetic identity to this ideal, and now I must protect it and evangelize it. But creativity isn't fostered by defending a camp. It comes from exploring strange, new lands. The plural and open are fruitful, while the limited and the closed are doomed.

And what does this have to do with "snark"?

Quite a lot, actually.

But first, let's remind ourselves exactly what "snark" means in terms of book reviewing. The term was coined by Heidi Julavits in an essay in the March 2003 issue of The Believer magazine:
I fear that book reviews are just an opportunity for a critic to strive for humor, and to appear funny and smart and a little bit bitchy, without attempting to espouse any higher ideals—or even to try to understand, on a very localized level, what a certain book is trying to do [italics mine], even if it does it badly. This is wit for wit’s sake—or, hostility for hostility’s sake. This hostile, knowing, bitter tone of contempt is, I suspect, a bastard offspring of Orwell’s flea-weighers. I call it Snark, and it has crept with alarming speed into the reviewing community... (link)

So, according to Julavits, a refusal to engage with intent is a key ingredient in snarkiness. The critic is there to look clever and bitchy, and engagement with the books, and with literature in general, is secondary. Snarkiness is inherently self-serving, and generally at someone else’s expense. It’s selfish. I agree that this style of book reviewing has become all too prevalent in recent years. I believe that even if a reviewer dislikes a work, he can afford its author the dignity of treating it seriously, and if he does not believe a work warrants serious critical attention, positive or negative, then why review it? Just to be bitchy?

This raises another issue. Whenever the issue of snark or nastiness in reviewing is raised, someone, usually the offender, inevitably cries, "What? You don't believe in negative reviews?" Again, this is a simple case of missing the point on purpose. A bitchy tone and a critical value judgment are not the same thing. A snarky book reviewer is no more a “critic” than a muckraker like Perez Hilton is a “journalist.” A reviewer can offer a negative value judgment without being snarky, entertaining himself with his own barbs. Indeed, such a rancorous tone can be evidence of an ad hominem fallacy; if a reviewer's tone (or, indeed, his language) suggests that he believes the author is inept (rather than the text insufficient), then he is guilty of an ad hominem fallacy. This seems to go hand in hand with the fallacy that all insults are honest and all civility is phony, or that trying to hurt or demoralize people is a valid critical stance.
It isn’t.

Wednesday 18 November 2009

The Al Purdy A-frame in the Globe and Mail

The launch for The Al Purdy A-frame Anthology is tonight at Harbourfront Centre. York Quay Centre, Lakeside Terrace, 7:30pm.

Here's what the Globe and Mail's John Barber has to say about it:

“It's not just a shack in the woods,” says Jean Baird, the Vancouver editor who is leading the preservation effort. “It has been a pilgrimage place for decades for young writers – for all writers.” Acolytes who never knew Purdy or drank his wild-grape wine out of old whisky bottles still leave totems on his nearby grave, according to Baird. “If the e-mails I get are any indication, the back roads of Prince Edward County are full of lost poets, looking for the A-frame.”

There's nothing else like it in the country, she adds. The boyhood home of Pierre Berton in Dawson City operates today as a writers' retreat, but that late author never wrote there and wouldn't recognize it if he were alive today, according to Baird. Purdy not only hand-built and lived in the A-frame, he made it and its landscape the focus of some of his finest poems. “Berton House doesn't have the clout of this place,” Baird says. “On a heritage meter, this one's off the charts.”

Not only a place of pilgrimage for such young, unpublished writers as Michael Ondaatje, the Purdy A-frame also appears to have functioned as the drunken boat of Canadian literature. Blackouts, broken legs and furious arguments mark the anthologized reminiscences.

Read the whole article here.

Sunday 1 November 2009

New on my bookshelf

Here's some more catching up with what's new on my bookshelf:

A Village Life by Louise Glück

This is a warm, open and generous collection -- generous in the sense that the poet seems genuinely engaged with her readers in a giving sense. These poems are gifts. They are meant to be enjoyed and re-read, and they reward this over and over. It's a tremendous book that I want everyone to read.

Made Flesh by Craig Arnold

Craig Arnold's disappearance earlier this year while researching volcanoes in Japan is a terrible tragedy. This book, published last year, demonstrates an expansive and scrupulous literary intelligence. There is much to admire here, and I especially liked Arnold's "Hymn to Persephone." We are richer for what he wrote, and poorer for what he didn't have the chance to write.

Joy Is So Exhausting by Susan Holbrook

Holbrook's approach to the poetic is steeped in the playful and the humourous. I like this. We need poetry to be fun as much as we need it to be the thousand other things it can be. For the most part, this book is delightful: lyrically sharp and poetically adventurous, but a few pieces did leave me cold. "POETsmart: Training for Your Poet," for example, takes a PETsmart advertisement for pet training and substitutes the word "poet" for "pet." The result is cute, but it works more on the level of a funny(ish) email forwarded to you by a relative. As a joke, it's old (so poets can be emotional and sloppy, okay and...?), and as poem, it's just (I'm sorry to say) trite.

Still, what's marvellous about this book is still marvellous. Read it for that.

Reticent Bodies by Moez Surani

Let's be thankful for Moez Surani. He has taken a multi-layered history and heritage and turned it into subject matter and backdrop for a delicately arranged collection of poetry that is engaged as much with its poetic pedigree as with its worldly one -- the result is a book that is enriched by its cultural relevence and its complex and unorthadox approach to lyric. Surani has that rare ability to write beautifully without ornament. His lyricism is stripped bare, unpacked, disassembled. It's effects are immediate. It's both stark and relevatory.

The Certainty Dream by Kate Hall

I really like this book. It wants me to think about epistimology, ontology and various psychological states without being all poncey about it. This is good. Hall can promise that nearly every line of her poetry will deliver something interesting, be it a startling image, a memorable sound, or a surprise or twist of some kind. The poems seem to invite the reader to read them, and if a challenge is issued, it's never adversarial to the reader's enjoyment. What more could you want?

Dave Bidini on Al Purdy's house and the effort to preserve it

In Canada, looking for ghosts is a mug's game. You don't have to look far. Places disappear after getting rezoned into bigger places, losing their borders and their names. Old brick buildings mortared with history fall to developers. And the only public recognition of past lives comes whenever city council or its heritage wing can agree on the weight of a person, place or event. John Lennon played his first concert without The Beatles at Varsity Stadium in Toronto, and Errol Flynn died on the steps of the Hotel Vancouver, but you wouldn't have remembered these events if I hadn't just mentioned them. In an empty country without many people, the forgotten often outnumber those who have failed to remember them.

Ameliasburgh, Ont., just south of Belleville, has its ghosts, too, or rather, its ghost: poet Al Purdy, the Voice of the Land. Al lived here for most of his life, although he later divided his time between his hometown and Sydney, on Vancouver Island. The late poet was regarded as cantankerous and combative by those on the outside, but to friends and literary accomplices, his hide was never as rough as his reputation. Over the years, he was an encouraging and congenial host with a soft spot for poets and for any artist who ever tried.

Wednesday 28 October 2009

New on my bookshelf

Well, thanks to a little something called "reading week" I finally have a few days to myself, and I thought I would catch up with what's new on my bookshelf. Let's start with three books I picked up today.

Selected Poems By Dara Wier

Wave Books has done the world a favour by publishing this book. I hope this selection of Wier's poems brings new readers to her work.

Stuart Ross pointed her work out to me years ago, and I've been reading it ever since. Some of her works are difficult to come by in
Canada, though, so when I saw this on the shelf at Type Books, I snatched it up!

Wier doesn't appear to be interested in being a mere traditionalist, but she doesn't seem interested in doing something new for the sake of doing something new, either. Rather, it seems likes she's always looking for the way the poem wants to be written. Almost never is a word, a line-break, or a punctuation mark out of place. These poems are technically neat as a pin, but the thoughts they contain seem to rage and wander and fret and sometimes moon the world. Her poems are funny without being trite, startlingly beautiful without being overly dramatic about it, and thoughtful without rubbing the reader's nose in philosophical pretentions. Rare traits all. I recommend her poems highly.

Track & Trace by Zachariah Wells

This is, without a doubt, one of the most beautifully produced trade paperback editions of a poetry book I have ever seen published in Canada (and with publishers like Gaspereau Press, Pedlar Press, and this book's publisher Biblioasis on the scene, there are more beautiful trade paperbacks around than ever before). When I first heard it was being illustrated by Seth, I worried the result might be a little too gimmicky, but no. Seth's stark, simple illustrations work well as a counterpoint to Zach's meticulous craftsmanship. As for the poems themselves, Zach has definitely built on the burly aesthetic he demonstrated in his first book (which was edited by me, incidentally). This is an aesthetic generally characterized by an assertive (even, at times, severe) approach to metre that is enhanced by an ardent attention to sonic effects like alliteration, syncopation, rhyme, etc., and his control over such a severe metre is both admirable and remarkable (only on a couple of occasions does it sound too conveniently clippity-cloppity to my ear). And verse with such a robust physicality is well-suited to his subject matter: woods, ponds, floods, cormorants, slugs, briars, ice floes, etc.

I'm recommending that you order one today.

Mister Skylight by Ed Skoog

If you haven't heard of Ed Skoog yet, memorize the name. This is his first collection, and it is stunning. Thanks to a tip from my good friend Chris Banks, I read some of Skoog's work in APR a while back and just loved it.

The poetry of both Dara Wier and Zachariah Wells, although very different to one another in style and technique, leaves the reader with a tangible sense of the intellectual vigor and material craftsmanship that went into it. Not so much with Skoog. Not to say these poems are not wonderfully thoughtful and well-crafted, they are! Often with tremendous formal constraints and schemes ("Canzoniere of Late July" will blow your mind). But Skoog manages to make it appear effortless, natural, protean -- It's an illusion, of course, and a good one, and one that makes the strength of the work all the more powerful for the reader. Skoog brings his combination of innate talent and acquired skills to bear on a poetic debut that's truly exciting and memorable.


From the University of Calgary:

Following Al Purdy’s death in 2001, The Al Purdy A-Frame Trust was formed in order to save the poet’s home in Ameliasburgh, Ontario from the wrecking ball by transforming it into a writer-in-residence retreat. This retreat will offer Canadian authors and critics a secluded, historical setting in which to develop the manuscripts that will shape the next generation of Canadian literature. Towards this end, the After Al Purdy Poetry Contest offers poets the chance to engage textually with the legacy of one of Canada’s most important poets, while also contributing to the fundraising initiative to save the A-frame.

The Contest: We are seeking previously unpublished poems that engage in some direct way with Al Purdy’s poetry, poetics, and/or poetic legacy. There is no limit on the length or number of poems submitted as long as the appropriate entry fees are included. The judges will select the top three poems in each category (see Categories, below). Event, The New Quarterly, and The Antigonish Review will each publish two of the winning poems in 2010. The winners will also receive a selection of titles from Harbour Publishing (including Paul Vermeersch's forthcoming The Al Purdy A-Frame Anthology) and Freehand Books.

Categories: Entries will be judged under one of two categories: emerging poet or established poet. An established poet is someone who has published a book of poetry (longer than a chapbook), or has one forthcoming with a confirmed publisher.

Contest Fee/Donation: Entry fee is $10/poem, with all monies thus collected going directly to The Al Purdy A-Frame Trust. Further donations to this initiative are welcomed and encouraged. Tax receipts will be issued, upon request, for any submission fee/donation of $50 or more. Cheques and money orders must be made out to The Al Purdy A-Frame Trust.

How to Enter: Send a cover letter identifying under which category your poem(s) is/are to be judged, along with one hard copy of each poem, and the appropriate entry fee ($10/poem) to:

After Al Purdy Poetry Contest,
Department of English, University of Calgary
2500 University Drive NW
Calgary, AB T2N 1N4

Please include your contact information, including your name and email address at the top right-hand corner of each submitted poem. Email submissions will not be accepted. Please keep a copy of poem(s) submitted; entries will not be returned.

Contest Closing Date: Entries must be post-marked by Friday, November 13, 2009. Winners will be announced by January 1, 2010, and will have their winning poems published in 2010. Entries will be judged by University of Calgary English Department graduate students and faculty:

Suzette Mayr, Owen Percy, Robyn Read, and Tom Wayman.

Sponsored by the English Department at the University of Calgary, Freehand Books, Harbour Publishing, The Antigonish Review, Event, and The New Quarterly.

Visit After Al Purdy Contest on the web at
More information on The Al Purdy A-Frame Trust can be found at

Saturday 17 October 2009

Mooney and Banks have new poetry blogs.

Last month, poet Jacob McArthur Mooney (The New Layman's Almanac) was the writer in residence for Open Book Toronto. I liked his blog posts so much, I told him, "When you're done with this job, you should start your own blog. I'd sure read it." And now, heeding my advice, Mooney has started his own blog, so I'm taking the credit for it. He's calling it Vox Populism, and his first post is about the recent use of poems by Frost and Whitman in television commercials for Ford and Levi's respectively. Interesting stuff.

Poet Chris Banks (Bonfires and The Cold Panes of Surfaces) also has a new blog, and I'm going to take the credit for it, too. Recently, I mentioned to Chris that we poets all have a role to play not only in the making of poetry, but also in the conversation about poetry (or something along those lines). I suggested he write about the kinds of poetry he likes best and why, and, as if heeding my call, that's the very purpose of his new blog Table Music.

Both of these will surely be excellent blogs for anyone with an interest in poetry. I know I'm going to be reading them regularly. After all, they were both my idea!

And while I'm at it, I'm also going to take credit for polio vaccines, blowing up the Death Star, and the invention of the wheel.

Friday 16 October 2009

The Al Purdy A-frame Anthology will be launched at Harbourfront Centre.


Harbour Publishing and Authors at Harbourfront Centre invite you to celebrate the launch of The Al Purdy A-frame Anthology with special guests including: Paul Vermeersch, Dennis Lee, Geoff Heinricks, Russell Brown, Dave Bidini, Michael Ondaatje, Steven Heighton, and more.

Poet and novelist John Degen of the Ontario Arts Council will host this evening of poetry and anecdotes. Book sales and an auction featuring Al Purdy items & artwork will help raise funds for the Al Purdy A-frame Trust, an organization dedicated to preserving the A-frame for future generations of Canadian writers.

This event will be held at Harbourfront Centre in the Lakeside Terrace located at 235 Queens Quay West on Wednesday, November 18th at 7:30 pm. Doors open at 7:00 pm. Refreshments and canapes will be served. Tickets are $8.00. For more information, please call (416) 973-4000.

Wednesday 14 October 2009

Griffin Poetry Prize announces the judges for 2010.

The judges for next spring's Griffin Poetry Prize
have been announced, and it's certainly a smart bunch: Anne Carson, Kathleen Jamie, and Carl Phillips.

I like this line-up, and it follows a pattern the Griffin Prize seems to like: a Canadian, a European, and an American. Carson is the Canadian judge, but she's not exactly part of the Canadian poetry scene. This makes it nigh-impossible to predict who might make the Canadian shortlist based on close associations alone and should quell some of the inevitable cronyism allegations that often accompany literary prizes.

The judges have a lot of work ahead of them. There have been an awful lot of excellent collections pubished this year and paring the list down to four international and three Canadian titles will be a challenge.

In 2008, six of the seven shortlisted books were either collected or selected volumes, and that created a feeling that perhaps the prize that year was given more for a life's work than for a single book. But in 2009, the shortlisted books were all stand-alone collections. Will there be a similar trend this year?

Thursday 1 October 2009

Al Purdy Auction in Ameliasburg on October 17th

Looking for a fun fall road trip? How about one with a literary theme?

AMELIASBURGH - Al Purdy Auction

Saturday, Oct. 17th - 10am - 1pm
Al Purdy Library in Ameliasburgh

Contents: The auction will include small items, sentimental trinkets and household items/furnishings from the A-Frame as used/purchased by Al, Eurithe Purdy and the many literary visitors to the cottage.There are some volumes of old books and magazines that will be included in the auction.

With your help we can raise money to support the A- Frame Trust Project.

Where: The Al Purdy Library, Ameliasburgh, County Rd #19 in the village of Ameliasburgh. Continue through village to STOP SIGN and turn immediately left on Whitney Rd.

Wednesday 30 September 2009

Al Purdy's house on the cover of Filling Station

Check out the latest issue of Filling Station magazine... on news stands now! The cover story is about Al Purdy's A-frame house and the effort to preserve it as a cultural landmark and writing retreat for authors.

And while your at it, why not pre-order a copy of The Al Purdy A-frame Anthology. Proceeds are going to the The Al Purdy A-frame Trust. The anthology is great read (if I do say so myself), and the trust is a worthy cause.

It's great that word is getting out about this project, and kudos to the folks at Filling Station for getting on board.

Saturday 5 September 2009

What poetry are U of T students reading?

If I have less time for blogging these days, the opposite seems to be true for Jacob McArthur Mooney, who is this month's writer in residence for Open Book Toronto. In the back-to-school spirit, he's had a close look at what poetic fare students of the University of Toronto (pictured here the last time they updated their reading lists, apparently) can expect to find on their syllabi.

Here's a sample:

I don’t know what I expected, but I expected more. I went to an underfunded university at the far edge of the country, took exactly three English courses, and still got exposure to the likes of Solie and Babstock. What’s stopping the University of Toronto from doing the same?

And why is The Waste Land an introductory text, exactly? I’ve read The Waste Land twenty times, and there’s still stuff in there I can’t quite wrap my head around. What is it about the instruction of poetry that makes us begin with poems that are as distant and foreign to their students as possible, and slowly move toward things like Al Purdy’s Rooms for Rent on Other Planets (English 354Y)? I’m not talking about degrees of difficulty, you understand. Al Purdy can occasionally be a very difficult poet, but he writes about a life far more coherent to a crowd of 1991 births than a Spenser or Keats or even Eliot or Pound.

Read the rest at Open Book Toronto.

Friday 4 September 2009

Back to school

Starting next week, I am going back to school... not only as a teacher at Sheridan College, where I have been teaching since January 2007, but also as a student! I am enrolled in the creative writing MFA program at the University of Guelph. I have not been a student in any official capacity for over thirteen years, but I fully expect that this will be positive, challenging experience.

Right now, I am putting the finishing touches on my new collection of poetry The Reinvention of the Human Hand which will be published by McClelland & Stewart this coming March, and I'm also preparing for the October release of The Al Purdy A-frame Anthology, of which I am the editor.

Between teaching, studying, writing and editing, I will have a lot on my plate over the next several months, and this might leave very little time for blogging, but I do hope to update this site from time to time, especially with news about my new book, Insomniac Press's poetry titles, and the Al Purdy A-frame project.

Saturday 22 August 2009

New on my bookshelf

Fire to Fire: New and Selected Poems by Mark Doty

Mark Doty is one of those poets I have enjoyed reading for a long time, but there are still large gaps in my experience with his work. I hope that this volume will help me to fill many of those gaps, and that is exactly what a 'new and selected' volume of poems is supposed to do.

Hare Soup by Dorothy Molloy

Dorothy Molloy's wonderful poetry first caught my attention with her marvellous second collection Gethsemane Day in 2006. Her first collection, Hare Soup, was published in 2004 just weeks after her untimely death due to cancer.

Her poems are technically adroit and playful and full of sex and gusto. One could say she wrote "populist" poetry in the same sense one could say the same thing about Philip Larkin. The poems are certainly entertaining, but by no means should anyone take "entertaining" or "populist" to mean they aren't technically excellent, or inventive, or barbed with intellect and wit. She was a fine poet who died too soon, but we should be glad for these two excellent books.

Next we have three recent titles from Nightwood Editions, showing why Nightwood is one of the most exciting small literary publishers in Canada.

Letters I Didn't Write by John MacKenzie

John MacKenzie is another poet I've been reading for years, and he keeps getting better and better. His first book was published around the same time as mine, and we were both shortlisted for the 2001 Gerald Lampert Memorial Award, both of us joining the long list of distinguished poets who haven't won that award.

His new book invokes Hank Williams and Federico Garcia Lorca with equal aplomb (among other things), demonstrating not only his technical skills, but also his chameleon-like command over a poem's voice.

Lousy Explorers by Laisha Rosnau

Rosnau's new book is mostly about domestic stuff: moving to a new place, going to a shopping mall, new marriages and motherhood and all that Home & Garden shit that normally makes me want to throw a book of poetry straight down the hole of the nearest outhouse... except of course when Laisha Rosnau writes it!

Unlike a lot of poetry that focuses on themes of domesticity, there are none of those fucking poems that use glaring sexual innuendo to describe the eating of something mildly exotic like, shall we say, a bowl of spicy pumpkin soup (you know the kind: 'I plop a dollop of cream in its middle...' FUCK OFF!). And thank goodness for that! To the contrary, Rosnau's poems are never content with mere fantasies of suburban prettiness. She brings a psychological depth and gravitas reminiscent of William Stafford's or James Dickey's disturbed rural precincts into the residential corridors of southern British Columbia, and that makes me very happy.

Living Things by Matt Rader

If this book is any indicator, Matt Rader and I share a lot of thematic preoccupations in our writing, so of course he has my complete attention. For his second collection, Rader has crafted poems in tune with the physical world, the wonder of nature, and the constantly rolling crest of history's wave. I like Rader's first book very much, but this one? I absolutely love it!

Thursday 20 August 2009

Albert Goldbarth talks about his toy spaceship collection and reads his fabulous poems

Überpoet and extremely cool dude Albert Goldbarth, whose latest collection of poems is To Be Read in 500 Years, is the subject of a PBS poetry series feature on Jim Lehrer's show in which he talks about his collection of toy spaceships and reads a few poems from his new book; be sure to watch the streaming video!

Monday 20 July 2009

New on my bookshelf

John Ashbery's Collected Poems 1956 -- 1987

It's a mountain of Ashbery. It's magnificent, vital, fun. Defies description. An absolute must have.

And it's Library of America, so the binding is GORGEOUS!

Chronic by D.A. Powell

Those who know me well enough know of my fascination with the poetics of the physical body and its relation to the natural, physical world. Powell addresses similar preoccupations in his new collection (actually it seems like somewhat of a departure for him; his previous work struck me more as "social poetry" in its aims... think O'Hara, think Hoagland, only the aesthetic was Powell's own), so naturally I was drawn to it.

I'm really enjoying the fluidity of his syntax and his ability to roll along in little eddies of image and sound.

T.S. Eliot's Collected Poems 1909 -- 1962

Okay, so he's a bit of a poncey wanker... but he has chops.

I needed it... you know... for reference.

Douglas Dunn's Selected Poems 1964 -- 1983

Out of print. Used.

I picked this up in Balfour's and read about a dozen poems while standing in the ailse. I quite liked them, so I bought the book. I'm looking forward to digging into it when I get the chance.

It has since been supplanted by a more recent selected.

Tuesday 30 June 2009

Dennis Lee approaching seventy

Jacob McArthur Mooney weighs in:

To see septuagenarianism looming in Dennis Lee’s near future is as inarguable a sign of time’s passing as exists for Canadian culture. His breakthrough success (1972’s Civil Elegies, the entirety of which Lee plans to read at the Scream) is so evocative of a certain point in the history of burdened optimism that it forever fixes its creator to a specific time and place ? as the perpetual radical twentysomething buzzing around Yorkville in the years before Canada stopped concerning itself with questions of what it meant to be Canadian.

Even more important than its introduction of Dennis Lee, Civil Elegies is memorable for its reintroduction of anger into Canada’s literary arsenal. A real, blood-and-spit kind of anger. And not just personal anger, either, or domestic anger. Instead, a massive, coast-to-coast, national anger. Anger as unifying theme. Lee’s early-career masterwork hums with a volatile disappointment that imposes itself on its readers, and that drags them into hard and surprising new territories. The humanism in Elegies is the kind that’s willing to put its head down and charge, unflinching, through to the far reaches of its philosophy and arrive as a kind of reactionary anarchism; as an anger that presents itself as both pout and polemics, before settling into its heartbreaking final movement as one young man sits in a public square surrounded by his fellow citizens and tries to give voice to his loneliness and rage.

Read the entire essay here.

And check out this event in this year's Scream Literary Festival. Lee will read Civil Elegies, Un, and Yesno in their entireties.

Sunday 28 June 2009

New on my bookshelf

Poems 1959 - 2009 by Frederick Seidel

Sometimes I don't know what to make of Frederick Seidel. Just when you think he's cracking off some bit of eye-rolling Muldoonish clownery, swoosh! Out comes the switchblade! (or sometimes vice-versa). He's been called both a "ghoul" (by Michael Robbins) and the “the best American poet writing today” (lots of people). His writing is extremely complex, not only in its poetics, but also (probably even more so) in its psychology. All this is compounded by the mystery of the author. I went out today to enjoy a coffee and read the introduction to this substantial volume of collected poems. But there was no introduction. No context or commentary. No welcome mat. No doorway in. Just the poems to wrestle with... and readers better be ready for a royal ass-whooping.

House of Anansi didn't have its annual poetry bash in Toronto this year, so I'm only now getting around to the rest of their 2009 poetry titles after first reading Karen Solie's Pigeon.

Gun Dogs by James Langer

Langer is a poet clearly energized by the present-day Canadian renaissance of New Formalism in lyric poetry (which is the hot topic in CanPo according to its champions ...and only 25 years behind the Americans who have long since moved on to more interesting discussions). The mode, however, suits Langer to a tee. Forget whether or not it's fashionable right now (and right now, it is); he's just really very good at making the sounds of language do his bidding, and reading very good writing of any kind should be a welcome pleasure for anyone, shouldn't it? Occasionally the style wins out over substance (a few poems are like scrimshaw -- rustic and ornate, but what do they do?), but overall this is an extremely polished and eloquent book.

Mole by Patrick Warner

There must be something about Eastern Canada that lights a fire in well-rounded poets like Patrick Warner. He strikes me as the same kind and calibre of poet that those other Easterners Milton Acorn and Alden Nowlan were at their very best: equal parts Romantic and Modernist, equally at ease with a tight quatrain or a whirling and lunging stretch of free verse, but also deeply and empathically contending with the haunting material substance of their worlds. Best of all, he possesses the ability to surprise the reader with small yet sublime revelations. Like a beam from a lighthouse, wherever Warner fixes his poetic gaze, he exposes the jagged rocks in the seemingly placid shallows.

Tuesday 23 June 2009

New on my bookshelf

Poetry in the Making by Ted Hughes

Hughes' classic 1967 work on the writing and teaching of poetry is back in print. For me, the first chapter (called 'Capturing Animals') alone is worth the price of the book, but there's a lot more. It's always a pleasure to read a book like this by a great poet who is also a great commentator on poetry. Delightful.

Fish Bones by Gillian Sze

Taking their cues from painted scenes, photographs and portraits, these poems bring the quiet tableaus of their subjects' private lives vividly to life. Often, poems that describe still images are overly static themselves, claustrophobic with stagnant austerity... but not these. Sze's poems are often tender, funny, erotic or ardent; this is another encouraging debut by a writer who isn't content to ignore the physical world or the readers who inhabit it.

Saturday 20 June 2009

Some recent reviews I've written for the Globe & Mail

Love Outlandish by Barry Dempster

" could be argued that love has been the principal subject matter of poetry since we began writing it, and from Solomon to Sappho, from Shakespeare to Sexton, many poets have made it their specialty. To that long list we may now add Barry Dempster.

Love Outlandish
, Dempster's 10th collection of poetry, contains (let me count the ways) exactly 60 poems, and each one aspires to approach the well-charted subject of love from a new direction. In order to accomplish this feat, there are at least 4,000 years' worth of sap, sentiment and cliché to navigate around. It's a very tall order."

Read the rest of my review here.

This Way Out by Carmine Starnino

"What is surprising is how much more free-wheeling and playful Starnino the poet seems to be than Starnino the critic. For example, the poem Doge's Dungeon brilliantly uses this emoticon (:-o) as a kind of conceptual end-rhyme with the word “terror.” And the poem Heavenography is a stream-of-consciousness prose poem about “working-class” clouds. It's a rollicking, surrealist vaudeville of a poem that has more in common with experimentalist sensibilities than Starnino the critic might like to admit, but its jazzy freeform lightheartedness suits the poet so well that we should all hope he'll write more like it soon.

I like this version of Carmine Starnino best: the good-natured poet, full of beans, approaching his aesthetics with an air of carefree mischief. It's so refreshing, one has to wonder..."

Read the rest of my review here.