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the véhicule press blog



Breaking news. Literary exhortation. Entertainments. And occasionally the arcane.



Updated: 2018-04-13T17:13:32.614-04:00

 



Nyla Matuk and Derek Webster Reading at McGill

2018-04-13T17:13:32.407-04:00

On Thursday, April 12 Mordecai Richler Writer-in-Residence Nyla Matuk, author of Stranger and Sumptuary Laws, and Derek Webster, author of Mockingbird, gave a reading of new and selected poems. Following the reading there was a fascinating conversation with the poets led by Professor Eli MacLaren. The event took place in the newly-renovated Colgate Room of McGill's Rare Books and Special Collections in the MacLennan Library.Eli MacLaren, Nyla Matuk and Derek WebsterNyla, Derek, Adrian King-Edwards and Rare Books Librarian Chris LyonsAdrian King-Edwards and Donna Jean-Louis of The Word Bookstore, and Derek WebsterRobyn Sarah and Chris Lyons[...]



Meet The Bleeds

2017-12-21T17:23:16.677-05:00

“For half a century, the Bleeds have ruled with an iron fist. Once hailed as the founders of an independence movement, they’ve long since cemented into corrupt autocrats upheld by the foreign investors who manage their region’s uranium trade.”Sound familiar? Regrettably we know of too many nations whose leaders, in their quest for riches and power, have betrayed their people. The above quote is from the description of Dimitri Nasrallah’s third novel, The Bleeds, which hits Canadian bookshelves next February. A fresh take on the contemporary thriller, from the author of Niko (nominated for CBC Canada Reads and the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award) comes an allegory of power and privilege resurrected from the thwarted ideals of the Arab Spring.With advance reading copies in hand we are spreading the word. And what a year 2018 is for Dimitri. In addition to The Bleeds, his translation, Mayonnaise, the second volume in Éric Plamondon’s classic “1984 Trilogy" appears this fall. Plus the French language edition of his second novel Niko, a commercial and critical success, has been optioned for a French-language film and is awaiting a high-profile publication in France this March.Dimitri Nasrallah’s The Bleeds (An Esplanade Book) is a harbinger of many good things that await readers in 2018—our anniversary year.[...]



Ann Charney Tribute

2017-11-10T11:29:08.136-05:00

 This past April, the Blue Metropolis Literary Festival celebrated Montreal writer Ann Charney. We have had requests from folks who could not attend, to make this short speech available. In her non-fiction writing, Ann has chronicled Quebec society, like few writers have, particularly for the three-decade period beginning in the early 1970s. The original speech included a reading from Defiance in Their Eyes. In 1995, Véhicule Press published Ann Charney’s Defiance in Their Eyes: True Stories from the Margins. It was made up of six stories that focused on Pierre Vallières, Paul Rose, the Mohawks, Paolo Violi, Claude Jutra, and Jean Castonguay. For me, this book is emblematic of Anne’s journalistic writing.As Ann writes in the Introduction to the book, these individuals, for different reasons were “trapped between rage and despair,” where “violence inevitably becomes the only possible resolution.” That she wrote about these people in crisis with such empathy and nuanced understanding of Quebec society is remarkable. Perhaps a contributing factor is that Anne is a Quebecer, as she phrases it, because “a capricious cataclysm of history swept the remnants of my family away from their birthplace, and landed them in this curiously innocent land, with its nearly bloodless soil and uncomplicated history.”By reading the Acknowledgements page (And one learns much from the acknowledgements), the reader discovers that all the pieces in the book originated from magazines that were published in the 70s, 80s, and 90s. It was a time when quality writing could find a home in national publications such as Weekend magazine (which was distributed across the country with the Saturday papers), Maclean’s, and Saturday Night. Most of the pieces in the Defiance in Their Eyes appeared in Saturday Night, which published Ann’s impeccably researched and crafted stories that, occasionally ruffled feathers. This is evidenced in the book when Ann thanks Robert Fulford, as she puts it, “for his steadfast support during the controversy surrounding the publication of [her] interview with Paul Rose.” We know there is a story there!I first read Ann’s magazine pieces in either Weekend magazine or Saturday Nightbefore I ever met her—long before I had any idea that she wrote fiction and that we would publish her novel Rousseau’s Garden. The book was well received. A particularly astute review appeared in Library Journal, and I would also apply the reviewers conclusions to Anne’s  non-fiction. I believe it summarizes her writing in a nutshell.“Charney has the wisdom to let her story speak for itself, and it does so very affectingly. The result is quiet, dignified work with telling insights that make one pause to reassess one’s own life.”  You can’t get better than that.                                                                         -Simon Dardick   [...]



The Chemical Life, Ship of Gold, Toronto Launch

2017-11-05T00:16:23.455-04:00

Jim Johnstone (The Chemical Life) and Marc di Saverio (Ship of Gold: The Essential Poems of Émile Nelligan) read from their new collections at Ben McNally Books on November 2. They were followed by guest readings by fellow and forthcoming Signal poets Catriona Wright (Table Manners) and Robin Richardson (Sit How You Want--spring 2018).The bonus event was the launch of The Gamekeeper by Michael Harris, published by Porcupine's Quill. Carmine Starnino, MC  Marc Di SaverioCatriona WrightJim JohnstoneMichael HarrisRobin Richardson[...]



Signal Editions & Goose Lane Montreal Launch

2017-11-05T00:17:47.106-04:00

On October 20, in Drawn & Quarterly's new event space, it was standing room only for the launch of Jim Johnstone's The Chemical Life and Marc Di Saverio's translation Ship of Gold: The Essential Poems of Émile Nelligan. The tribute to Alden Nowlan added poignancy to the evening as poets read from Alden Nowlan's Collected Poems (Published by Goose Lane and edited by Brian Bartlett).Marc Di SaverioJim Johnstone and Erica. The day of the launch was his birthday!Mark AbleyMarc PlourdeIt was a packed house.Geoff Cook and Manijeh Ali Don Winkler and Derek Webster (who hosted the evening)[...]



The Original Face Montreal Launch

2017-11-05T00:19:30.258-04:00

allowFullScreen='true' webkitallowfullscreen='true' mozallowfullscreen='true' width='320' height='266' src='https://www.blogger.com/video.g?token=AD6v5dydtmJkXGmKhzvoy3iFN-nKJ3iVxyxWYjudZFa9lB30fkHBU7FzgorNteWWS1KLl0EjxosjFbHdSNaz0D42rA' class='b-hbp-video b-uploaded' FRAMEBORDER='0' />
The audience was thoroughly entertained on October 7 at Le Gare when Heather O'Neill interviewed Guillaume Morissette during the launch of his second novel, The Original Face. The audio on this clip is a bit low but it still provides a taste.



Stranger, Based on Actual Events, Toronto Launch

2016-10-06T15:51:56.991-04:00

Carmine StarninoRobert MooreNyla MatukMonarch Tavern[...]



Sunday Poem

2016-08-21T17:42:09.747-04:00

WHAT WAS THE LAND BEFORE IT WAS LANDSCAPE?

All those years, before I became lost, I lived a different life. 
I am like the stones people place on graves to make them a little heavier. 
Some bring boxes of burning words grown from roots. 
Each attempts to read what the other has scripted. 
The rocks here are volcanic. They rise from the sea. 
They give a light unequal to the light that's cast on them. 
I've seen how the sky becomes the echo of what's flown through it. 
Not that it's easy to keep certain moments. 
What makes me break this silence and speak to you this way? 
Graveyards have things to say, and say them gently. 
There's nothing so wonderful as to be heard to the very end.

By Ruth Roach Pierson, from Untranslatable Thought (Anstruther Press, 2016)



Rare Books, Ctd

2016-08-20T13:10:21.494-04:00

David McGimpsey's tumblr site is a cache of rare treasures found while secondhand book shopping in Montreal. Check out his latest spoils. (I featured his previous discoveries here, here and here.)[...]



The Idiot Boy

2016-08-19T16:51:42.097-04:00


Jana Prikryl has a hate-on for William Wordsworth:
Poetry tends to resist smug certainties and predetermined conclusions, but Wordsworth has a kind of genius for self-transcription: He thinks a thought or holds a belief, and then he spells it out for you, and in that transaction—which is hardly a transaction! Nothing has really been exchanged, or changed— there’s no room for anything to surprise him much less the reader. I think his unquestioned pedestal in the canon has more to do with people’s admiration of his positions, his “message,” than with the ways he got that message across—which seems to me a function of the tastes of the prose-based community, warping what poetry is meant to do and capable of doing. Plus, he was personally and professionally cruel to Coleridge, whom I love in an awfully personal way. I tend to take my own partisanship on behalf of Coleridge past the brink of self-parody… because somebody’s got to.



Detox

2016-08-17T21:47:52.300-04:00


Scottish poet Robin Robertson earns his living as a fiction editor at Jonathan Cape. He has a tip for aspiring writers:
If I could advise all of your younger readers, I would tell them not to go into publishing or into academia if you are writing. It's difficult, because if you're working at close quarters with text during the day, the last thing you really want to do, or the last thing you really can do in the evening is to turn your mind to your own work, because you've too many other voices in your head if you've been doing your job properly and are deep into editing and the deconstruction of a text. Your mind, then, is somebody else's. That has been an impediment. I mean, I enjoy my job and working with the 50 or so authors I look after, but it takes me a couple of weeks to detox from their creativity and try and turn my mind to my own.



Sunday Poem

2016-07-31T18:57:11.056-04:00

COLD JULY 
for Elise Partridge (1958–2015) 
1.
I have seen it a beaver-dammed
lukewarm dribble, but this summer the brook’s a river,
deep and cold, running steeped tea
and a skim of froth around lichened rocks,
roaring like an air conditioner.
Its white noise is enforced by oversized pines:
their branches albatross
from broom-closet dry to green ends shagged
with cones the colour of peanut skins
and flecked with crystals of sap.
A cindery sentry guards the top:
his ash beak clacking as he hunches
for takeoff, his wings branching
from a light crate core, eyelashing at the tips.
Timber creak in his phlegm-fat caw.

2.
Down on the strand, big surf bangs,
lifting gulls from where they sit
like electric clothes irons. They leave
lead-white splotches
and webbed wavery wigwams.
A piece of driftwood perfectly catches
the boomerang of a swimmer’s arm.
Six-foot kelp bullwhips
have the trapped viscosity of poured motor oil
before they flare to lasagna at the tips.
Out where the ocean betrays
its breathing—closer in than the endless flat,
but farther out than the surf—a whiskery face
rides a swell and watches: time on the Nautilus
would bulk those milk bottle shoulders.
Drawn-tight hoodies small our faces
to beach stone ovals
on which our features perish.
Your message to us was simple:
look closely, and cherish. 
By Patrick Warner, from Octopus (Biblioasis, 2016)
(Painting by Mats Gustafson). 



Sunday Poem

2016-07-17T13:48:54.964-04:00


BOREAL SWING

My mother hunted moose
as a child my grandfather taught her
how to field dress a bull:
make an incision from the throat
to the pelvis
the abdominal cavity emptied
haul him up between two pines
the body inverted
antlers almost grazing
the soil
each hind limb leashed to a trunk above
to allow the flesh to cool
then she’d climb inside
the open chest
fix her toes along the ledge
of two ribs
and with a kick to the bull’s left shoulder
he sent her
swinging

By Liz Howard, from Infinite Citizen of the Shaking Tent (McClelland & Stewart, 2015)



Sunday Poem

2016-06-26T13:41:54.359-04:00

WAX LYRICALOne day I take a little razor and shave it all off.Looking obscenely young, I admire myself,head bent or staring forward in a mirror.Cool and young and sexy,I’m available, stripped to possibility.Discover me or I need to discover myself.For in the shower every drop of water is felt.I am exposed and experience it as an intrusion.Hair is an extra layer of skin, a means not to feel.Being now so naked I sense my modesty even with clothes on.Edge a blade across my most intimate skin,a clean, marble look, with a slight rose glow.By evening, there is a blue tinge,little heads below the skin,a female five o’clock shadow.Shaving then isn’t an option.It speeds growth and thickens the bush.It leaves a latent feel of uncleanliness.I try waxing a stylish square of hair.Return to a woman where I don’t mind unfolding my legs.She touches without fearing the smell of me.Obviously one showers comprehensivelybefore such an intimate appointment.She cleans me up and pats me dry like a baby.But after, the sides are red,the pores stand out,bruised,little specks of blood where tough hairs were extracted,discolorations in the soft folds between thigh and pelvis,a bikini wax gone wrong, the sensitivityof my pubis renders it unsightly.After a number of days the region temporarilysettles into cinematic perfection.Before the hair grows out, still too short to redo.There’s an acid lotion that eats away the hair.You smear it on like cream,wait,scrape it off with a pink plastic tool,scared to burn your fingerswhile lathering it directly on intimacy.It stinks of putrefaction and dissolution of tissue.Why complain, professionals say,laser hair removal is permanent.Permanence sounds traditional. I flee.Initially when I decided to tidy up pubic hair,I was told, there are styles, you need to choose an identity.Do you want nothing,a strip of hair,a pattern?If you leave some, will it be trimmed or naturally curled?People like to say, au naturel, as if it’s funnyor an aesthetic choice to be yourself.Hair has a life of its own. It splits,devilish,two hairs per root.It bursts through the surface, pubescence vying with maturity.Or it won’t grow at all, sticking beneath the skin,a type of pelvic acne. I read somewhere,who cares, just pop them as you’d do on your faceI’m shocked, can’t believe what I see.It’s all about surface.To do with connecting the inner and outer planesof body, while also destructingthe flatness of skin.When hair is removed, uniformity is installed.Feeling the leg, so smooth, but empty.One-sided touch, a hand running along skin,but body not reaching back.Surface can mean that which is obvious,or that which is not obvious at all.Like the area of my visible body, a first superficial layer.Like what still needs to surface, what is hidden deeper.It’s in submission then, with a gesture of penitence,that one day I start removing my body hair one by one,plucking each out with a pair of tweezers.The guilt of imperfection weighs me down.I sense that my body is in the wrong.It should be crystal clear.By Klara du Plessis, from Wax Lyrical (Anstruther Press, 2015)[...]



The Mind's Motifs

2016-06-26T14:22:32.650-04:00


Michael Prior discusses his preference for poetry books that are eclectic rather than conceptual:
I wouldn't exactly say I'm wary about books that begin as conceptual projects (there are so many excellent, conceptually focused or "project"-based books) but in general, I tend to prefer a collection’s eclectic approach, its arbitrary, temporal origins (a poet’s most engaging poems written during a given period). I like to see a mind’s motifs and predilections not only in conversation, but also in heated argument—and in my experience, this seems to happen more surprisingly when a poet hasn’t set out to write a “project,” but rather, when individual poems, written without pretense of future assembly, end up in restless dialogue. Of course, I’m being a little facile: the boundaries between collection and project are undeniably porous: where does one end and the other begin? I very well may have written a book that could be categorized as a project, but while drafting the poems in Model Disciple, I avoided thinking of the book that way because I was worried that a conscious conceptual focus might influence the sort of poems I was writing, or, ultimately, which poems made it into the book: I was afraid that if I were writing toward a set of thematic and theoretical end goals, I would distract myself from saying what I needed to, in the way I needed to.



Sunday Poem

2016-06-19T10:17:39.707-04:00

HEIRLOOM 
My father bequeathed me no wide estates;
No keys and ledgers were my heritage;
Only some holy books with yahrzeit dates
Writ mournfully upon a blank front page—
Books of the Baal Shem Tov, and of his wonders;
Pamphlets upon the devil and his crew;
Prayers against road demons, witches, thunders;
And sundry other tomes for a good Jew. 
Beautiful: though no pictures on them, save
The scorpion crawling on a printed track;
The Virgin floating on a scriptural wave,
Square letters twinkling in the Zodiac. 
The snuff left on this page, now brown and old,
The tallow stains of midnight liturgy—
These are my coat of arms, and these unfold
My noble lineage, my proud ancestry! 
And my tears, too, have stained this heirloomed ground,
When reading in these treatises some weird
Miracle, I turned a leaf and found
A white hair fallen from my father's beard.
By A.M. Klein, from Complete Poems (ed. Zailig Pollock, University of Toronto Press, 1990)



Letting It All Out

2016-06-18T18:58:44.135-04:00

Momina Mela wonders if the term "confessional poetry" should still be used:Confessional poetry has always faced the difficulty of carving out a definition for itself, particularly due to the autobiographical elements attached to it and the various psychological interpretations it issues. The act of confessing depicts a disclosure of ‘sinful’ activities or intentions and brings forth the admittance of one’s guilt, thereby attaching an accusatory semblance to the work of confessional poets. The term itself was coined by M.L Rosenthal in reviewing Robert Lowell’s Life Studies, who immediately realized the problem with using this term as he later made a statement in The New Poets against its usage: ‘It was a term both helpful and too limited, and very possibly the conception of a confessional school has by now done a certain amount of damage.’Cate Marvin agrees about the damage:Confessional poetry is, to my mind, more slippery than poems that are sloppily autobiographical; I find the confessional mode much more akin to dramatic monologue. Lowell, Plath, Berryman, et al., were masters of their craft and brilliant manipulators. I’ve been at work on an essay that deals particularly with how female confessional poets were/are received, for their situation was different from their male counterparts. It was enough for male confessional poets to admit a weakness, whether that be depression, alcoholism, etc. Female confessional poets literally disrobed, discussed the female body, and revealed their uglier (angrier) selves. Poets like Plath refused to present their intelligence in a coded fashion. I wish people would think more carefully about what they mean when they use the word “confessional” because it’s been bandied about for some time now as a negative term. And this discredits the work of some of our finest poets from the latter half of the twentieth century.For Jake Orbison, the term discredits the very art used to make the poetry feel so "naked":To claim this intense exploration and exposition as a form of nakedness, as Rosenthal did, undermines the project of these poets. It misses the seamless, yet immense artifice required in their work. It ignores the amazing and apparently painful transformation that turns Berryman into his famous avatar, Henry, and Henry into his company of hideous characters. Of course, there are inevitable and immediate differences separating the lyric “I” from the living, breathing poet. “Henry pays no income tax… Henry doesn’t have any bats.” But part of what we find exhilarating and new about this moment is the elegance that renders extremity and grotesqueness as “naked” expression. As if underneath all of us there were a book of confessional poetry, waiting to be exhumed; as if the emotion that these poems track down and lay bare were not those same ones our subconscious spends all day and night avoiding. [...]



Little Life Raft

2016-06-18T07:33:29.049-04:00


Vincent Colistro reflects on the relationship between poetry and comedy:
I think you’re right there’s a link between poets and comedians. Both inspect and wrestle with the status quo, and both do so to share the experience of discovery. But I think comedy has unseated poetry over the past 100 years in popular culture because its core purpose is more straightforward—laughter. The other stuff, the “Thinky Pain” as Marc Maron puts it, gets to tag along like a rider provision in a congress bill. Comedy has this way of leading different interpretations to the same general response—again, laughter. Poetry doesn’t have a core purpose as easily definable as comedy (look at all the ink spilled everywhere), so maybe people are unsure what they’re supposed to glean from it, or how they’re to react. I love poetry for that. I love that a single line can elicit all sorts of interpretations. The reason I guess that I use humour sometimes is to toss a little life raft into the storm and say, let’s all convene to have the same response to something, if just for a moment. It’s a cheap way to scooch your audience closer.



How I Lost the Plot (It’s a Good Thing, Too)

2016-06-10T09:46:01.091-04:00

by Lydia PerovićWe like things happening rather than not, we prefer continuity to contingency, purpose to chance, narration to meaninglessness. Alasdair MacIntyre is still right: humans are storytelling animals. That’s how we are as readers of books and as readers of our own lives. We talk of characters, events, arc, movement through time, one thing following another; that is our vernacular. Even in our fairly secular societies, we continue to need to re-enchant the world through the fabrication that is the story and the many shapes it assumes through different media.You may ask, But isn’t the alternative too unpleasant? The answer depends on how you view literature’s purpose. If it’s there to offer comfort from the harsh world, or appease worries, or offer escape, if it’s used to give the mind a few hours of rest by engaging it in a well-told story, then we play on different teams. I suspect I’m forever expelled from that particular paradise, of taking pleasure from stories and plot. I can’t pretend to having come even close to understanding what great fiction does, but it’s not that kind of consoling re-enchantment. Any consoling happens secondarily, not by design. Yes, Iris Murdoch, I hear you, “Great art cannot but console what it weeps over.” But this weeping nevertheless remains. Is it over the loss of continuity, the loss of purpose, or the hope in hell that Might won’t always make Right?Great writing is, I suspect, in the business of a certain kind of truth-telling. It’s a kind of work, perhaps a work of conceptualizing, perhaps a work of play, that the reader and the author undertake together. It does not pretend that everything eliminated for a good story to exist does not actually exist. Rather, great writing is interested in what’s on the cutting room floor. It’s equally interested in those sides of life that are unreachable, invisible, unknowable or empty. It doesn’t run away from the void.Of the many books that have influenced my thinking around the time I started writing All That Sang – a book trying to settle itself around a void – a few stand out. There is Siri Hustvedt’s portrait of the artist as a woman, The Blazing World (2014). As an experiment in gendered reception, said artist decides to present her work to the world through men of her choice, the three artists who have agreed to the game. Little else is straightforward: multiple voices argue and speculate about the artist, her work and her reasons, but we never dip into the central character. The woman making art is not heard. An echo of what has been happening with women artists for centuries? Or a line of escape from other people’s narratives, a window of freedom?Then there’s Keith Ridgway’s Hawthorn & Child (2012), which begins as a police procedural set in North London, but then we zoom high up and the storytelling peters out in rivulets. What we follow are side views from the margins, people who may or may not be involved in whatever the central event will turn out to be. The two titular detectives occasionally reappear amid the other voices, but by the time they reunite in the final chapter, we realize we didn’t even grasp much of their relationship, let alone discern what exactly, if anything, is taking place in the centre of the book. Its core is disturbingly empty. What happened? And is it amenable to language?There’s also Jean-Philippe Toussaint and his novels that explore the interstices of living. Some of his works are like a photographic negative, the usual story-forming elements made invisible and the[...]



Sunday Poem

2016-06-05T11:37:05.930-04:00

HUMANITARIAN WAR FUGUE We killed with the best of intentions.The goals that we died for were sound.The notions we killed for were sterling,our motives the sort that one mentions,frankly, with pride.                            Quit scrupling,quibbling, lying downand lay this down:                            Bad guys by the graveful we gunned down so girls, little girlsby the classful, could go to school. Girls, too, busing to school,           we slew so girls could go to school unharmed, in errorwe slew them, with better intentions, bad eggs however we harmed           to win hearts, warm cockles, gain guts and livers and                           limbs and mindswith decent intentions, good eggs we even armed (only good eggs           armed)—the rest we smashed, truncated,atomized until the doves among us                                                   buckled, seldom seeing dead men un-           dismantled, while heads of this and that kept touting,hawking our cause like crack,           our crystal intentions, motives one mentionsespecially when aim is less than exact            and friendlies get fried… With downsized intentions we killed and we strafedand we mortared and missiled and mined,sniped too, droned too,           till we wilted to haunts in OSI wards, nightlywading tarns and tar-ponds incarnadine,and they dosed and discharged and forsook us,but on we kept killing with credible reasonsin a lush neural loop of gibbering visionsfrom hovering gunships, maniacally hooting,culling the groundlings with motives forgottento a playlist of metal eternally cycling… Of course, looking back, you would like to rebootand start over, but there is no over—this spraying and shredding forever recursive—this Gatling drum always ample with ammo—and papa and papa our weapons keep bleating—a ceaseless returning and endless rehearsing—you’re killing with the best ofwith the best of themkilling with the best ofwith the best of them, killing,By Steven Heighton. from The Walking Comes Late (Anansi, 2016)[...]



Reality is all Flux

2016-06-04T07:30:45.921-04:00

Steven Heighton on the laziness of literary labels:
I mistrust all labels (who doesn’t?) and despise custodial nouns like “formalist” or “experimentalist.” I expect you feel the same way—that nouning the world is an unhealthy, essentially lazy practice. Yet we all do it, and we do it for the same reason that we map territories— to help us immobilize the chaos and navigate it. But the practice creates verbal/mental berms against reality, since reality is all flux: growth, decay, death, rebirth etc. Any artist should want to resist being nouned into nullity that way— being pinned down or penned in (pun unintentional) by abstract descriptions. Only verbs, especially present participles, can really capture what artists are trying to do— and then only for a moment. So when labellers libel Christian Bök as a mere “avant-gardist” or “Oulipian,” or describe Amanda Jernigan as a “formalist” or “neo-formalist,” I get frustrated and impatient.

As for my actual writing, I’ll use techniques that could be described as “formalist” if a particular poem seems to demand them; or I’ll write a poem that will look, on the page, almost Black Mountainish if that’s what the evolving poem seems to require. To me, such flexibility of approach is essentially just what it means to be a poet— you pledge allegiance to poetry, to language, and to the work of trying to re-enact poetic impulses in the most effective way possible, rather than flashing your membership card in the “experimental” or “lyrical” school. Or any number of other schools.



Ink Addict

2016-06-04T07:01:49.431-04:00


Gerry Cambridge discusses how his twin obsessions—fountain pens and poetry—come together:
I am not really a collector. I like to use all my pens. But I love associations—connections that increase the significance of a pen, even if only for me. Poetry is, after all, partly the art of seeing connections—the root of metaphor. One of my pens, a woodgrain-finish Onoto, was made in 1930. I bought it partly because in that year my mother was born. Another pen I bought in America, after giving a talk there on Richard Wilbur—who had been sitting, unexpectedly, in the audience. That pen had been made in 1947: the year Wilbur’s first book of poems, The Beautiful Changes, was published. Some years ago I was writing an essay about an acutely psychological poem of Robert Frost’s, ‘The Exposed Nest’. I was drafting the essay with a 1910 Waterman ‘eyedropper’—so called because you fill its barrel with ink from an eyedropper. I realised with a start that the pen had been made not long before Frost’s poem was written.

Such seemingly insignificant connections are a source of considerable satisfaction if you spend much of your life, as I do, head-down in the wordy thickets. As a vocation, poetry is perhaps unusually liable to obscurity, ignominy and penury. Anything a poet can do to make the hands-on, messy element of writing more entertaining, colourful and, well, personal, is a gift.



Sunday Poem

2016-05-22T08:12:26.415-04:00


VISZONTLÁTÁSRA

You are here you leave and
come back you
look back through before this you
     used only hello to say

Looking over your back
     you are still greeting until
     again and you are lying
you will leave this home not
     your home you have left
            your own home you have

Just started to settle in before
going back again and you will
again say hello or again and

Be back, that look, the one
               you exchange until again and
                           there is no end.

Goodbye until again.

By Helen Hajnoczky, from Magyarázni (Coach House , 2016)
(Painting by Derek Overfield)



Keeping it Small

2016-05-22T07:33:21.275-04:00

Michael Young believes we have to stop giving chapbooks the short shrift:The poet Tomas Transtromer, winner of the 2011 Nobel Prize, demonstrated the power of an oeuvre that accumulates in small increments, growing slowly like a glacier over years. Each individual addition to his total output never amounts to what is defined as a full-length collection. Only by combining old material with new material does he make more than a chapbook. His first book, 17 Poems, was, of course, 17 poems and they weren’t long enough to cover 48 pages. Not even close. The next set of new poems, Secrets on the Way, added fourteen more poems to his work. The collection after that, The Half-Finished Heaven, added twenty-one more poems. In this way, he kept adding to his oeuvre. But any given addition never would have broken that 48-page barrier. Many other poets have published works that are chapbooks. The original publications of T.S. Eliot’s Prufrock and Other Observations, and Ginsberg’s Howl were both chapbooks. Of Louise Bogan’s four major collections, two of them—The Body of This Death, and The Sleeping Fury, were chapbooks. Edgar Bowers’ second collection, To the Astronomers, was 36 pages. And the following collection Living Together, although 84 pages, was a new & selected and therefore, full of material from his first two collections. I’m fortunate to own a copy of this book and can tell you that the new poems in the collection only compose a total of 10 more pages. This could also be pointed out of many other poets. So what is our obsession with making collections long when so many important poets published short works of great significance? Why consider these mere works on the way to—not more important work, but just larger collections of work? He continues:Our entire culture believes, as if it were divine writ, that bigger-is-better, that perpetual growth defines success. But it is error in many ways and folly for poets to follow along with this thinking. A poet should write and construct the best book they can, and if that collection is under 48 pages, then that is how long it’s supposed to be. To ignore a collection because it’s only 20 or 30 pages long rather than 60 or 80 pages is simply the error of a mind that thinks bigger is better. Or it at least is not questioning that implicit assumption. I wager that most poets don’t think of themselves as adhering to this mentality and yet, here we are, all racing toward that 48-page mark as though it were what defines a collection of poetry. Certainly nothing in poetry itself determines that. It is an ulterior motive shaping the collection to reach that mark. Consciously or unconsciously it is not a poetic motive directing the poet’s choices here and it’s time to put that to an end.[...]



Sunday Poem

2016-05-15T13:48:50.447-04:00

SPRUNG 
Crow goes off, a gravelgullet.
An exit wound beyond the pane.
What day? Fuck fuckmonday.
Fivefifteen a.m. Wrong time.
Unholy hour. Rollover, ah—
Squawksquawk! Notetoself:
Fellthatdamnedtree where crow
now Everests exhilarated as
Hillary. Here, radio goes off.
Gawd. Pop song's off. Sloppy,
not in time or tune. My ears.
Brain's gone off. Altered state.
Not quite sprung. Ungodly March.
Note to Nature: keep your sex
to a dull roar. SQUAWK! Right.
No sleep now. Stare at where
roof apparently is. Conjure
a silent reveal of stars. Far off. 
By Ingrid Ruthig, from This Being (Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2016)