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.