Saturday 31 July 2010

Parkdale has a new (used) bookstore!

Good news! My neighbourhood has a new used bookstore. We really needed one in Parkdale. It's called the The River Trading Company, and it's located at 1418 Queen Street West, just east of Landsdowne between West Lodge and O'Hara.

From the store's bookmark: "A unique store in Parkdale buying and selling good quality books, CDs, DVDs, and assorted interesting items, and affording a convivial space for authors to read and artists to show their work. Call David for details: 416-452-6727." 

Today is the grand opening, so if you're in the neighbourhood, drop by and check it out!

Jacob McArthur Mooney has more on the story at Vox Populism

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Tuesday 20 July 2010

The false dichotomy of the Canadian poetry conversation

It seems to me as though the public conversation about Canadian poetry these days is dominated by a false dichotomy: are you a practitioner of the avant garde, or are you a lyrical traditionalist? The only two aesthetic possibilities on offer are extremes: radicalism or conservatism. Both are more concerned with the progression or integrity of poetic form(s) than with poetry's function, and the most vocal champions at either extreme often seem anxious to claim sole legitimacy for their own camp.

But it's a fallacious dilemma from the start. There's a wide, wonderful spectrum of different approaches to poetry between these two wintry poles, any of which might produce work that could be called innovative, experimental, or difficult -- words that certain branches of the avant garde usually claim to have a trademark on, though many of Geoffrey Hill's lyrical poems could be called difficult, for example, and Tony Hoagland's approach to the narrative poem as an exponent of American cultural commentary is certainly innovative, etc. And I notice that, more and more, younger poets are quite rightly disinterested in band wagons and pigeon holes. Such things might provide some poets with a shortcut to recognition within their circle, but not necessarily to a practice of good writing. 

And what does it mean to be avant garde, anyway? It's a good question, and one that this year's Scream Festival and now the TNSOW have both raised. Some other poets have jumped in with questions of their own. There's even some dissension within the avantesque ranks over who's more avantish (and I'm sure the answer is it doesn't matter). But in artistic parlance, the term simply means "at the very forefront of the art." To me, it seems a little arrogant and presumptuous to claim this territory for oneself, but in a more general way of speaking the expression has come to be used as a blanket term or brand name for a whole host of post-modern and theoretical approaches to writing that may actually have little in common beyond an aversion to established poetical tools like narrative syntax or a lyrical sensibility. I prefer the term "post-modern" to describe these approaches to poetry for the reasons mentioned above.

To be fair we must also ask what does it mean to be a traditional lyrical poet? Surely no one is actually interested in repeating the same themes in the same styles as Tennyson or Hopkins or Petrarch. Even traditionalists need to experiment in order to be relevant in their time. But to what extent must traditional poetics be abandoned in order to experiment? To what extent must tradition be observed at the expense of innovation? There is only fallacy in positions that offer only black and white answers to these questions.

All poems, in their writing, are experiments. Their outcomes are never assured. There is always some risk, some possibility of failure. Or there should be. I love poetry for these reasons and more. I love to read it. I love to read about it, talk about it. I think about it almost constantly, and I enjoy a wide array of different approaches to the writing of it. Sure, not all poetries are to everyone's tastes, but having personal preferences doesn't have to narrow the mind. In a very general way I love what poetry is, and I love what it does. I love the possibilities of poetry, and I became a poet because I am fascinated with the bounty of its history and the promise of its future, in all its mesmerizing, inimitable manifestations. I think most people who come to poetry humbly and sincerely have that in common. Why else would anyone devote a life to it? 

Furthermore it seems ridiculous to me that so much hot air is vented in a spurious contest between the two most diametric camps: the stubbornly newfangled and the intractably fusty. Both camps have their merits and make their contributions to poetry at large, but poetry at large is much larger than both camps. If there was less evangelizing in the aesthetic fringes, less defending of camp-like mentalities, the art form would be better for it. In the meantime, I would encourage the majordomos of poetry's most terminal outposts to spend more time prospecting the vast, fruitful grounds between their ideological citadels. There's so much to explore out there in the open.

Monday 19 July 2010

Some more kind words for my new book

A few days ago in the Globe and Mail, George Fetherling kindly mentioned my latest collection in a lovely column about his home library, saying, "The Reinvention of the Human Hand by Paul Vermeersch is a remarkable collection, deep and rich."

A couple of days later (i.e. yesterday), novelist Mark Sampson gave my book a thorough review on his blog, and this is what he had to say: "The Reinvention of the Human is, quite simply, a powerhouse book of poetry, an astonishing feat for a poet who has not yet turned forty."

I am grateful that the book is being read by people who like it, and more grateful that they want to spread the word.

UPDATE: Mark Sampson's review has been reposted on the Maisonneuve Magazine website. Thanks everyone.

Wednesday 14 July 2010

Why e-books suck for poetry

The first time I saw my own work in e-book format I was thoroughly unimpressed. Disappointed, even. The formal integrity of the work -- line breaks, line lengths, stanza shapes, indentations, etc. -- was completely altered, bulldozed into gormless simplicity to better suit the limitations of its new vessel. It's like looking at paintings on a device that changes red to green and moves thing inside the paintings to different places. Solutions to solve this problem, such as scrolling horizontally or inserting some indication to readers that the format has been altered, are also unsatisfactory.

It seems I'm not alone. Billy Collins, among others, has weighed-in on the disaster of reformatting poetry to the clumsier e-book format:

"I found that even in a very small font that if the original line is beyond a certain length, they will take the extra word and have it flush left on the screen, so that instead of a three-line stanza you actually have a four-line stanza. And that screws everything up," says Collins, a former U.S. poet laureate whose "Ballistics" came out in February.

When he adjusted the size to large print, his work was changed beyond recognition, a single line turning into three, "which is quite distressing," he adds.

Read the whole article here.

Thursday 1 July 2010

A poem for Canada Day, 2010

after Dennis Lee

     Often the sun, the pollution, and the lives
     of citizens congregating are
     no different, invisible until
     they come gutted to the concrete.

     I watch the furies one morning, my city
     nailed, men and women muddy
     and crumpled before the
     phalanx riding down Yonge Street.  

     Eight-hundred odd scared skinny gawked      
     and bolted like rabbits, zigzag
     through porticos, twitching,
     rootless, human. We might asphyxiate.

     But in the tangle of truth, out of the smog
     and empire, we sit down as if our lives were real.

-- Paul Vermeersch, Canada Day, 2010

I created this poem on reflection of the events of the G20 summit in Toronto last week, during which we saw the largest mass arrests in Canadian history, executed with the flagrant abuse of police powers and the violation of the rights of hundreds of ordinary citizens as enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This is an “elision” poem; the entire text of this sonnet is redacted from Civil Elegies (part 1) by Dennis Lee.