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95books, list 15, more history than mystery, 120-125

I’ve been poking away at various local histories. Finished a couple. It’s good to clean the palate with straight-up language. Poetry can try to be difficult and claim the art is the being difficult. It’s touching earth to have people talk about events and people instead of ideas.

I say I don’t read novels and it’s largely true. It’s like people having wine with their meals. It’s easier to say that I don’t drink than to explain that I might a handful of times per year or over a few years.

My mom reads a novel a day. I might read a novel or two some years. Basically I light up for poetry. Or essays about poetry. Or memoirs by poets. But I like to keep variety in poetry and in genre. So,

120. Waging Peace: Poetry and Political Action, edited by Susan McMaster (Penumbra Press, 2002)
(seen references to here and there, finally tracked down a copy thru the editor)

The book was part of a process of approaching Members of Parliament petitioning them to be aware of the wages of war and to raise consciousness about peace, giving them abstract visual art and poems.

Jerahmiel S Grafstein also had this to say in an essay,
Jerahmiel S Grafstein also had this to say in an essay.

Roger Nash asks about lines, jingoism vs. steering well clear of anything risky. Where do we fall?

The poetry is not about how to do peace but largely complaining about war being destructive and hurtful. To torque a phrase, peace is not the opposing of war but the presence of seeking a difficult compassion and solution.

I actually liked the essays much more than the poetry. Sarah Klassen’s in particular as she got at the core of my understanding of what the book’s work is, to “propose an alternative to aggression”. I have a book of her poetry that I’ve never read. May have to crack that spine.

121. 20 Most Asked Questions about the Amish and Mennonites by Merle & Phyllis Good (Good Books, 1975, 1995)
(The Ottawa heart institute has a May Court Library and a library cart and accept donations to any information desk or nurses’ station there.)

The authors are articulate in belief, “Each group draws its boundary lines differently–but no less sincerely” (p. 25) and cover food and gender relations, and formation.

This didn’t exactly cover its subject of answering the questions of why the appeal of farming but there are a million of Amish or Mennonite people worldwide across various continents, more outside Europe than in it, the most in Africa now, especially Zaire (136,000) and Ethiopia (50,000). the Caribbean, Central and South America, most concentrated in Paraguay (22,000) and Mexico (20,000). There’s a lot of diversity and each community self-governs, isn’t a central top-down system.

The old order conservative of each group have more in common than the more liberal orders. Some use motorcars, buttons and the internet, selectively and enter trades. They are often a parallel society with their own system for childcare and care of the elderly and in some regions have exemptions from the military.

From p. 4-5,

“It is impossible to summarize these peoples’ lives in one short sentence.[...] It is impossible to interpret the lives of a people—any people—in one or two quick sentences. It sees a violent act.”

I had forgotten what I used to know about the anabaptists. There was violence for belief and a response 400+ years long.

122. The House of the Black Goat by R.M. Ferrier (self-published, 2015)
(written by son of dad’s friend, passed thru family)

This is twisted and odd and every few pages made my head hurt. A lot of gods in these machines. Back story revealed by conversations. A lot of generational incest.

Spoiler: It became a ghost story around page 70. There’s a ghost who aged which is something I hadn’t seen before. Her green eyes cried so much her eyes became colorless/black.

At the same time, without spoilers, villains become more noble and heroes become villainous. It spans the better part of a century so whole generations die. The landscape is as much a character as anyone living or dead in the book with its boggy morass that eats whole herds of cattle.

It’s got a gothic feel. Warning: there is a late scene of women slut-shaming each other. Maybe the language is a little anachronistic here ad there, but it has a momentum hooking forward. The language was strikingly poetic at times.

I jotted quotes but (glitch) often almost entirely illegibly. p. 51 in light of a death of a child, “The old plastered and varnished pine walls warp around in eloquence”, p. 113 “these memories have been left to drown in a pool of their own vagueness”, p 115 “he makes the finest of gestures by biting his lip and presenting his teeth most amiably”.

123. The Boy from the Farm by Frank Hedley Arnold (Epic Press, 2002)
(book by the neighbour of a man my dad used to sell horses to who came and sold the book.)

Interesting person. A real go-getting who hopped from career to career in agriculture but I wish it had been fleshed out more. Here’s a sentence summary of a story. Next story. No, that was an upshot of what could be an interesting story which you just skipped. Bah. Frustrating.

But odd things turned up, like how he met his wife. He was in England in line to see a movie in 1946 and the wicket ticket fellow asked the woman ahead of him if there was someone she knew she could sit with. (blink). The writer volunteered. The date went well. They married the next year.

He ran a milk route and expanded and sub-contracted out part. He managed a plant. When the factory closed, he hopped to something seemingly random. He and his wife ran a factory putting caramel on apples and expanded it. He had a nose for opportunity and a tough gut to go for it. He wasn’t opposed to working flat out for years, but drove himself to 2 heart attack and exhaustion. He was fervently anti-union feeling it was an impediment to getting things done. In a factory when something broke, he applied his mechanical skill to get the assembly line running with minimal interruption but was called on the red carpet because proper procedure was to get a union mechanic to come out and do it.

He jumped on opportunities to improve process on farms where he was a milkhand, and to run farms for others on vacation. He built up his reputation a business in Canada called Agricultural Labour Service where he would supply himself or other people to allow a farmer a vacation. The Agricultural Labour Pool still exists. What a good service. Most farmers never get an hour’s vacation over a lifetime. He would have his guys shadow the farmer to learn how that person ran things so the farmer could be sure the substitute would do thing his way.

He competing in international plowing matches with horses and tractors and naturally rose to chairman since his habit is absorb something completely, then manage from the top.

124. Arden Blackburn’s Mail Route: The Early Days at Christie Lake by John A. McKenty (Wheels Gone Bye, 2012)
(book that is about dad’s cousin in part)

The title was the organizing factor— who was on the mailroute around Christie Lake 15 clicks from Perth. There’s little about Arden or the mail route, even in chapters titled after them. Once he was on the route, he ran mail 6 days a week, and whatever items people wanted, whether grocery pickup (since he was in town anyway) to a stove or giving someone a ride in.

Apart from tidbits like before there was a mail route who had mail at the town post office knew that from a notice in the newspaper. Once there was a postmaster station on the lake in 1914, George Noonan was named postmaster although it was actually his wife who did it but women weren’t legally allowed to be postmasters. (p. 204) 30 years later George received a government medal for longtime service instead of her.

From sentence to sentence the subject and year change even when there’s a narrow subject chapter heading. And sometimes unanswered questions. Amelia Rancier worked for the Noonans from 1895 as a house cleaner, nanny, maid, cowherd, and then at some undated time members of the Methodist church arrived with the sheriff and took her to work at the Matheson House as a maid. She bolted back to the farm ad when the sheriff came back Noonan ordered the sheriff off the property or face consequences. The sheriff left. The servant (worker? slave?) stayed.

A game warden complained that he was shot at for trespassing by George’s grandsons. George asked, did they hit you? The warden said no so George said, those are no grandsons of mine then. (p. 205-206)

There was a school for poor boys and girls and sports teams, race days for boats and swimming, a phase of sports fishing, and a stream of cottages built, sold, closed, used for scrap to rebuild, expanded, etc.

There was the story of putting the railway through Mud Lake in 1913. It was 2 or 3 feet deep but below that was 20 feet of muck and then clay and sand. To find bedrock they had to set a pier a 103 feet below water level with concrete footings poured on site.

There was a whole Hollywood North sort of scene in the 1930s-1960s with a choreographer and ballet director for the Rockettes. It was a theatre colony for the off-season with the Marks Brothers and their friends of the touring theatre road shows. Strauss who wrote documentaries on Marilyn Monroe and Jascque Cousteau summered here. (Chapter 8).
Part of Chapter 11 is on Dickie Patterson who was profoundly mentally challenged and lived at the dump in a shack he built himself and hoarded in. People brought him meals, even built him a toilet but he destroyed it and went back to the log he was used to. He was a character who didn’t understand money but worked odd jobs and errands and was watched out for by the community.

It has fascinating information but is terribly arranged in the common manner of local histories. It’s like the book was cut to pieces and then pasted together randomly by machine. Photos and years and people are all scattered. Good material, good anecdotes. Good for bathroom reading where you don’t expect you can sit through a whole chapter or book so don’t need continuity.

125. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King (Simon & Schuster, 2000)

This is recommended from various directions, lists of what to read, recommended at Author for Indies day, a couple friends said it was worthwhile.

What I took away wasn’t anything I’d seen quoted. For example, a tip given to him that the second draft should be 10% smaller than the first draft. Or that to overexplain is rooted in fear of not being understood. In writing as in theatre, nothing should be on stage that doesn’t serve. And if you didn’t put it on stage in act 1, it’s inelegant and ill-advised to lob it in late as surprise.

Independently of each other he and Jeffrey Skinner (in The 6.5 Practices of Moderately Successful Poets) talk about how alcoholism and drug addiction aren’t mandates of creativity but impede living. And how art is to make life better; life is not to make art better.

He talks about how if you love words, how can there be an excuse to not read or write at any time? There is no muse. Drop that. Show up 3 hours a day and if the muse wants to find you, it knows where you are. You’re working on your quota of words.

He didn’t think much of workshops as they flatter without trying to cut the fat. He learned more in a few black lines of a newspaper editor than in two workshops. Curious that Alden Nowlan wrote so astutely and came from newspaper world, carrying forward the lessons of what works for comprehension.

I’ve never read his novel. I first heard of him in grade 7. A classmate consumed book after book standing on the front porch at lunch reading Thinner and Carrie.

It was interesting how he locked into horror from a very young age. People lock in early. Girls in 4H with me were mad about horses. 30 years later they compete in rodeos. I was ambivalent on horses but scribbled poems during 4H. Now look where we all are still.

King lives a fascinating life and it is an easy and lively read. Long but it doesn’t feel bloated. I’d pass on the recommendation.

Worth a read and a re-read.

Categories: Currently reading.

95books, list 14, poetry habit and a touch of science, 115-119

Putting your poetry into the stream of culture and literature takes either guts or naivety. Maybe both. But one does it because one must.

It’s an art, it’s a science, a compulsion and derived from pulse.
115. Trout Stream Creed by David Carpenter (Coteau Books, 2003)
(found at a bookstore in Saskachewan)
Write about what you love. There’s an argument for that. I find the notion of fishing horrific. Sports fishing is the same as game hunting as incomprehensibly callous but these poems are glowing. The love comes thru. Some of the poems are about caring for dying parents, coming to realization of his father’s mortality. I’ll be out of here tomorrow, says his father. The son thinks release, optimism, renewed life-wish and only considers later that his father meant acceptance of death. Which is understandable since there’s that decline in late life then a sudden improvement which is a hallmark of the zag before the end instead of a new better era.

You can tell when a writer is in their passion, not talking for platform or audience. It is written with a love and skill.


As father in the hospital again and may not come out this time, it becomes grounded in observations such as relating dad’s life attitude,

A thoroughly enjoyable book for craft and content.

116. Nicholodeon: a book of lowerglyphs by Darren Wershler-Henry (Coach House, 1997)
(found in library catalogue)

How curious vispo tributes go to men. Are there that few practioners? What would tilt to disproportionally male? Is it a generational thing related to socialization of females chatter of their lives and males speak more externally? Or about who mentors who and males happened to give access at a certain time and place?

This tribute to bp of using his elements in a letterpress tray particularly popped, as well as breaking the form of the book by having a fold out sheet. Wow, in a land of tidy bound pages it seems extravagance more typical of hand-made press items.

Structured as tributes, an insiders kind of book. I wonder what some people would get out of it.

117. Grey Owl: The Mystery of Archie Belaney by Armand Garnet Ruffo (Coteau, 1996)
(found in library catalogue)

What an enjoyable read, quite compelling as it went thru his life in a chronological memoir. I’ve seen a few books by Ruffo but this is my hand’s down favourite.

I too read of Grey Owl as a figure in my childhood and didn’t know he wasn’t native. A complex figure rendered from poems from various points of view to build a complete chronological memoir. It reads like a biography and unfolds like a mystery wondering what turn his life will take next. It hooks forward like a whole unit more than individual poems although each poem stands alone. I liked the research aspect and how thing from his journal were actually from his journal, like this,

We don’t have to make stuff up. There’s a wealth of out there to draw on.

118. Riveted: The science of Why Jokes make us laugh, movies make us cry, and religion makes us feel one with the universe by Jim Davies (Palvgrave & McMillan, 2014)
(seen at writers fest)

Everyone should read this. I was skeptical about it being pop sci with a lot of hook but no follow thru but it was chock full of neat little facts. It’s almost manic energy keeps up without being too all over the place. It took a while to adapt to the jumpiness of the almost stream of consciousness text but it is clustered by subjects. Still, I wish it had an editor to corral it a little more, but as the text and studies show, to work more to understand leads you to believe the text more.

depression and call
Fascinating stuff.

OC and religion
OC and religion. Better than his talk at Writers Fest focussing more on how vs. people believing in UFOs.

119. Our Days in Vaudeville: 29 Collaborations with Stuart Ross (Mansfield Press, 2013)
(bought at an Ottawa small press fair)

Because it’s collaboration, it’s a different beast than some. Some poems went back and forth by word, or line, or couplet or quatrain. It has the feel of a exquisite corpse. Sometimes they jazz together. Sometimes it feels like two writers competing and resisting one another like a jazz improv I once saw.

Sometimes its reeling to sillyland like this,

Non-sequitur jumps is my mother tongue.

Favorite one has a sense of humour in playful pokes against one another as the two styles were collaged:

Ridley, Footnotes
It has a meta level that reminds me of Michele Provost’s work in and against text.

Categories: Currently reading.

95books, list 13, poetry habit, 107-114

Well, I’ve gone and done it again. By time I do a round up of what I read the start of the list is starting to fade from memory. Complicated by my computer battery kacking, attention divided and my iphone frying and with it photos of pages I did take. Ach. Some weeks, I tell ya.

I’ve got 27 books open under currently reading and as many stacked under the start next once i corral them all up.

So better sooner than even more later.

107. Dickinson, Emily. “Poems (Vol. 3).”
(Got by searching book app for free books)

Have I mentioned how struck I am by how religious they are?

She is in myth a hermit but lived with her father and sister and was the yearly hostess to her father’s party. She went to church until she found sacredness more in the woods. Lover-of-my-soul pining could be for an object of smittenness or Christ lover of soul longing for the next world. Pining for death, to the better world coming could be depression or religious ideal. Still they’re pretty goth overall. Sometimes it’s more being a completist than engaging. 3 books was something of a marathon hobble. It’s not that it was bad, but more down-in-the-mouth than I recall, which might say something about where my equilibrium was the last time I read vs. now.

108. The Wrong Cat: poems by Lorna Crozier (M&S, 2015)
(got by browsing at a library)

Interesting to read alongside her husband’s biography, seeing the cats in the round. There’s a light touch of grace that is harder to achieve than one might think. Pretty gentle and light, a fast read but not fluffy. Necessarily but The Moose’s Nose was pretty straight-up comic.

I swore I took notes, and a couple photos of poems but can I find either? No, but I recall liking Deer’s take on Man which Amazon will also let you preview.

109. Industrial Sabatage #64
(by subscription.)

New issue finally made it to production. (#63 came in 2008.) It’s the thing you do not the scheduling it as if poetry is a business. Even when there is a business of subscriptions. Weird poems, various pages printed in different ink colours.

Judith Copithorn’s Anti-inflammatory is my favourite. “Plum blossoms in the incandescent light/as silent and slippery as snow” Beyond sound there’s the indoors lighting and ephemeralness of electricity compared to snow. A modern sort of comparison. As if this power grid too shall pass.

110. aberrant lounges by Kimmy Beach (The Martian Press, 2006)
(found again by sorting my chapbook drawers and boxes)
A road trip thru the prairies via dingy diners. You can nearly hear the flies. Strangers in bars.

From Cudsworth Saskatchewan, January, 2003…

I ignore the NO TRESSPASSING sign between
Stations VII and VIII of The Cross
trudge up the hill and there she is
a foot of snow around her bare feet
an angel faces in every direction
they keep an eye on her abandonned barns,
dead tractors, Our Lady
of Perpetual Frostbite

the blue jays scream at me
I leave peanuts for them at her hem

and from Grand Hotel Patio

a very important business man is a the next table
and my left hand is low at your back
he speaks to someone on a headset
about Futures I let my shoulder lean into your arm
the man’s companions swirl expensive wine over their tongues
stare past his busy head
they could all be in different restaurants

you are not mine to hold or touch
I do it anyway
the night bleeding onto my bare and sweating hands

111. update by Bill Kennedy & Darren Wershler (Snare, 2008)
(found in library browsing)

I probably wasn’t suppose to read the thing. It’s conceptual poetry. The concept that you feed in the status updates of the authors, have the software strip out your names and replace with names from a list of index of poets.

Culture is replicated not embellished to model the world we want to create. So 4/5 of the poets are male while reaching thru centuries of world literature. Is our obligation to reflect history or fix it?

Identity is melded. One is one with them all. Your thoughts are my thoughts. A vulcan mind meld with a disordered mind of much pain like Horta except on the subjects of being hung over, dealing with email, thinking about the Flintstones.

It did run on. It aims to be against Great Significance and the Poet As Heroic Figure Thinking Timeless Thoughts.


I’m not sure if it was the best of the algorith’s randomness or if that would be against process. It is commentary on data stream of trivialness I guess. It’s alternative to narrative, significance, and authorship. Look ma, no hands.

112. return to open water: poems news and selected by Harold Rhenisch (Ronsdale Press, 2007)
(found at a used bookstore, Black Squirrel I believe)
To read is to map your thoughts into the gait of another, go thru the gates of their choice. This selected was by someone I’d never read.

It is about curating the significant.

It was a bit distracting/amusing to read since it is used and a previous reader did scansion marks on quite a few poems and here and there edited with marginalia and crossed out wording. Have to go with the author’s original wordings or line breaks.

“like a man’s life
pouring out of his eyes in sleep—”
p. 22 a previous reader was sure the line break should put pouring up on the line to make lines even. I think it would trouble the read and to have the line short and the couplet uneven unlike the other suits the shift in tone there.

p. 19
“The sun is a white glare
glancing off a crow’s blue wing feathers,”

The previous reader struck ‘wing feathers’ as redundant. I might have to agree with my co-reader on that one.

Despite there being a lot of poems troping bird and river and darkness, copse, grass and poeterly poems of quietude, it was a pleasant read.

p. 133, some beautiful slow reveals and expansions.
“the white house,
the red door, the shock

of arrogance
and settlement”

Some true observations like the list of things at the flea market, a pottery with a thumbprint and whatnots, who “plunks their money down// to live the life. We all take on/what others have put off.”

113. Land Without Chocolate by faizal deen (Wolsak & Wynn, 1999)
(given to me by rob mclennan)

Accumulation-style poems of run-on sentences. Seeming stream of consciousness. Not feeling particularly cooked or too tangled but a tangled spilling forth.

Is this like the sensation when I was teaching ESL and the quorums of students would come forward and ask that I not use “that word” any more? The word in that case was “gay”. So people couldn’t conjugate some verbs. They could learn the distinctions between gay and transsexual and cross-dressing and bisexual, or least learn not to make jokes where in gay marriage one had to be the woman.

I digress.


Intense as a read. Dark. I didn’t often follow what was going on.

114. Beatitudes of Ice by Rienzi Crusz (TSAR, 1995)
(found browsing the library catalogue)

He has written an enormous number of books and yet they don’t blather. Tight poems from this Canadian Sri Lanka writer who has been in Canada longer than I’ve been alive. Some poems about elephants but not in the superficial way that is more common. Some poems of everyday life of seeing the snow plough come but with a deeper reach thru history.

Suitcase, p 50, revolves around a list of things in the suitcase with “a small white pad/ of unwritten poems—/white gold/asking to be mined.”

I’d happily read another of his books. In Canada since the early 60s some of the poems are about Sri Lanka, some, like this, below, are grounded here.

A poem on page 4 is about a suburban snowstorm evoking let my people go. For the plow to drive thru would be like parting the Red Sea.

“There shall be no diaspora today[...]
Your Egypt still shines[...] in its white misery”

How unfortunately typical that hounding assumption “but what are you really”.

Categories: Currently reading.

LitLand and Literary Upcoming

Did you miss Daniel Zomparelli of CantLit and Poetry is Dead with JM? That’s on playback here.

The week previous it was me with Avonlea Fotheringham on workshopping and editing poems. Speaking of which she is leading a Tree workshop on Sept 8 as the new season begins after that with Moritz at 8.

Speaking of upcoming, Factory has a reading in a couple weeks you won’t want to miss (but I have to, booo): Ryan Pratt (Hamilton), Roland Prevost (Ottawa), Cameron Anstee (Ottawa) and Monty Reid (Ottawa). That’s September 24th.

The week before the reading I’ll be on air with Cameron Anstee. So tune in on the 17th to CKCU.

Categories: CKCU, PSA, Poetry.

Stats Check

Stats check:

Chapbooks are running at 16% of total. 1/3 of what I read is current 2014/2015. When not reading poetry (3/4 of the time), it’s a 3-way tie between essays, memoir & history. After that, science, novels and business.

I went back and gave a starred system— which I probably will never share per item — ranking the 2015 books I read. It’s skewed because 1 star doesn’t exist. If it does it is hell, no—life is to short to hate-read and those will never go to a done list.

2 star is likely going to drag to a halt before done but if finished, was a real slog with some payoff but if so, not immediately. Might be worthwhile to read some of at least. 18% of the finished were a slog in part or whole.

53% I’d say are average, good enough, competent, maybe enjoyable or interesting with a part that jazzed up.

22% are wow, so glad I read that. That, my friends is how to do it.

And 8% are recommended that you’d buy and read this! Why hasn’t everyone read this.

I see 19 places I get books from. The top sources for books I read:

7. small press fair or a writing festival table,
6. direct from publisher,
5. gift,
4. direct from author,
3. online,
2. used book store, bricks or online
1. library

Categories: Currently reading.

Arc Poetry Magazine announces Lampman Award finalists

Each year, Arc Poetry Magazine honours Ottawa poets. Arc is proud to present the three finalists for the $1500 2014 Archibald Lampman Award for an outstanding book of poetry by a National Capital author.

The award is named in honour of Archibald Lampman (1861 – 1899), one of Canada’s finest nineteenth-century poets. Lampman moved to Ottawa in 1882, and much of his mature poetry was inspired by the National Capital region.

The 2014 Archibald Lampman Award will be presented in conjunction with the City of Ottawa Book Awards by Mayor Jim Watson. The awards ceremony will take place at Ottawa City Hall on October 21, 5-7 pm. Nine books were entered in the 2014 competition and Arc congratulates all the finalists and their publishers! Arc would also like to thank the 2014 judges Arleen Paré, E. Alex Pierce and David O’Meara.

The three finalists are:

Steven Artelle Metropantheon (Signature Editions, Winnipeg, 2014)

Inspired by eastern myth and theology, the Persian epic, Hindu scripture, and other eastern classics, Metropantheon is a gritty, brilliant, and wonderfully eccentric debut

collection that seeks to inject a bit of spiritual levity into the rat-race void of western urban life. Judges remarked on the book’s exuberance and imaginative scope, noted its political stance and striking imagery, and sprinted to keep up with its headlong streetwise pace. Able to present completely different but utterly compelling scenes as points of departure for larger mediations on art, politics, history, and contemporary culture, this is a powerful book by a gifted poet.

Shane Book, Congotronic (House of Anansi. Toronto, 2014)

The second collection from poet and filmmaker Shane Book, Congotronic riffs on philosophic texts, manifestos and a West African epic in an explosive series of original, unsettling poems. The language is energetic, the imagery vivid, and the territory unstable, as multiple layers of voice, diction and music collide. Sometimes as sparse as prayer, other times jangling with hip-hop rhythms, Congotronic is an original, unnerving book.

Deanna Young, House Dreams: (Brick Books, London, 2014)

House Dreams is a subtle exploration of adulthood, that uneasy realm between the expectations of youth and the fears of mounting responsibility. The book quietly surprises with graceful and unsettling images drawn deftly from domestic shadows. A book of both urgency and grace, House Dreams exhibits expert technique and careful metaphor, and its words take on a disturbing dreamlike quality, almost escaping the page. Haunted and haunting, this is a book of plainspoken power and the uncanny imagery that transforms everyday life.

Watch for announcements of a reading by the Lampman finalists coming soon!

Categories: PSA, Poetry.


One for the eyes,

Clean Sails by Gustave Morin is coming this fall,

Gustave Morin has gathered up dozens of typewriters on their so–called dying legs, modified several of them with the addition of hand–crafted custom typeheads and, by driving these jalopies to the very limits of their capabilities, wrenched from them one last spin around the proverbial block.Clean Sails is the culmination of countless thousands of hours spent typing — five years in the actual writing, after a 20–year private apprenticeship and period of incubation going back to 1990, when Gustave’s formal experiments with concrete poetry began in earnest. Clean Sails is his masterwork, the result of a life–long investigation into the typewriter poem.

One for the ears,
Paul Nelson interviews Barry McKinnon which is broken over several parts about his writing, teaching, memories of running a reading series and about poetics. For example, he quotes Creeley who said ‘I write short poems because my wife keeps walking into the room.’ These are not profound metaphysical arguments but they are real.

Categories: Link Dump.

95books, list 12: local history & literary histories

The problem with lists rather than real time is the fall-off of memory and the books getting re-scattered.

102. Ottawa’s Farm: A History of the Central Experimental Farm by Helen Smith (General Store Publishing, 1996)

Got at St. Vincent de Paul Thift store.

This was full of fascinating stories and details about the development of the farm, where buildings were, what people remember of the days as Ottawa developed towards that area, and around it. People in streetcars used to come by and steal the fruit from trees which they couldn’t begrudge much in the dirty 30s but it did make hybridizing research harder.

Did you know the cattle are there just for pleasing the public now? They don’t have a mandate, or didn’t at the time of writing, to research dairy cattle anymore. Volunteers look after the flower beds, which also aren’t part of the research anymore. The sunken flower bed uses the foundation of a house that became derelict and kept the foundation plantings. At one point, someone tried to abscond with flagstones. Can you imagine. Of all the things to steal.

It does some research to advance agriculture but is partly supported by the general public and Friends of the Farm.

103. Kathleen’s Caroliole Ride by Margaret Kell Virany (Virany & Virany, 2014)

Got at the Ottawa Small Press fair.

This was a story of her parent’s young life, from just before they met, continuing mostly though their early marriage in the native north where her father worked as a preacher. Although a curtailed version of her earlier book, A Book of Kells, it feels right-sized and with very little exact overlap. Both are good and complementary books.

From Jack’s journals we see him realize that the HBC was not out to support the natives but get as much fur with as much profit. He was left to pick up the pieces as people died of TB, VD and goodbye gifts of children from traders who were going back south. When he first arrived picked a nice piece of 75 acres as his, and built a cabin, which as it turned out was a holy hill where the progenitor or all otters came from. (p.12-13). Life was often harsh, with him getting used to frost bite. His skin will turn waxy and white and then burn and then flake off. He read novels, recorded Cree family structures. (Wish more of that had been pushed forward).

104. George Eliot by Marghanita Laski (Thames and Hudson, 1973)
Used library books sale.

The main thing about this book is the details. Every life every in tangential or 5 steps removed from George Eliot is named. People family worked for, people who worked for the family, school teachers, people who are speculated to be based on characters, including the author who sees her 1st cousin, 4 times removed as the real life source. A lot of the focus is establishing the real life counterpart to events in novels. An accountant’s zeal to pass forward every financial transaction, amount and address. It is lush with sketches, engravings, first hand quotations. Fascinating stuff. The who, where, when and what are accounted for. The underlying why and how are not interjected so much. Lots of character witnesses/assassinations to say she came across as false, mean and cold in later years while she was a pariah and socialite combined.

Certainly there’s a lot to track, with her travelling frequently and far and oh, the dramas of a life of swingers and free thinkers turned more puritanical later and denying fangirls who professed love. One even dedicated her tombstone to the legacy of George. George (and her name thru the book takes on whatever dominant spelling or pen name which dominated in the era being talked about) took the name of her husband who couldn’t divorce because of some legal loophole of permitted his ex to have children with another man with his knowledge. A consequence of this relationship her brother blacklisted her for 23 years, only speaking to her again once she was clearly wed to the next man, 20 years her junior for the few months before she died.

I’ve poked away on and off at Middlemarch for years. I got rid of my print edition for the sake of shelf space but got an ebook to see how I’ll get on this time.

105. Further Confessions of a Small Press Racketeer by Stuart Ross (Anvil Press, 2015)
Got at the Ottawa small press fair.

Much more contemporary than the previous collection that went further back. Essays — but don’t let the word essays scare you because they aren’t academic bafflegab but talking around a subject— on themed books vs. miscellaneous collectons, with thumbs ups to particular ones, 35 years of memories of Crad Kilodney, musing on what is good and bad literature anyway, one on Michael Dennis. A lot of it is resume and shout outs. Interesting perspectives on the long look at the League of Canadian Poets.

The postscripts that update the columns are a fun element. A favourite is one that starts with a poem by Stephen Crane and ponders on the goals that got away; it concludes —**spoiler alert**— that the point is process of going towards the next horizon. Somehow this sequel feels more like memoir than Confessions of a Small Press Racketeer.

106. The Library Book: An Overdue History of the Ottawa Public Library 1906-2001 by Phil Jenkins (Ottawa Public Library, 2002)

Gifted by the library for doing workshops, or was it judging a contest? I forget.

Fascinating bit of history. Hands up who knew that the first Ottawa Public Library was a Carnegie that was torn down to build the current main branch which may be replaced for the same reason. Too small and ugly by the standards of the day. Glad they kept the stained glass and hope they do that the next time they move.

All the dramas of getting the bookmobile going. Did you know there were a few writer-in-residence positions over the years sporadically from 1987-2000 with Joan Finnegan, Gabrielle Poulin, Elisabeth Harvor, Charles de Lint and Jan Andrews?

Categories: Currently reading.

95books, list 11: Poetry & Non-fiction stacks

I’m adding where the books come from to each title because sometimes I do wonder how they all get here. It can’t be gnomes.

To read different stories from the same era at once gives a richness to history. This list will continue into the next with more books of the era. The same names turn up in different contexts.

89. A Book of Kells by Margaret Kell Virany (2002)
A find at the Ottawa Small Press Fair.

Taken from first hand accounts of living in Canada’s North by an HBC outpost, the stories go from the early part of the 1900s to the middle of the century, so spreads across 3 generations to see what can worked out about psychology and what formed self and family dynamics. Pretty neat inquiry and peeks into what it was like to live far north where mail came by canoe over a few days from an outpost.

Did you know Tim Horton’s name wasn’t Tim. Her sister Enid dated the boy Miles, and felt the name didn’t match him so dubbed him Timmy who would go on to play hockey then found Tim Horton’s. (p. 139).

History is so interconnected. She took a class with Northrop Frye. (p. 157). Earlier, in her class as a kid was a 15 year old who was just starting school then, sink or swim, thrown into the school with no literacy. He would become a member of The Boyd Gang of bank robbers.

An elegant perception of growing up in a one-horse town: p. 137 “The display of china and pretty paper serviettes were my art gallery.” It makes sense.

p. 147. “Grandmother was such a teetotaller that “the wets” teased her by throwing empty whisky bottles in the lane. She picked them up and filled them with her homemade chilli sauce.” (Harsh way to live, way to turn the lemons!)

p. 161. She said of her mother “She could get along with anywhere if she had a cleaning woman, a hairdresser and a historical novel. The latter kept her mind from whipping itself up to enervating spirits.” (Sounds like me, and especially, mom.)

It passed on an insight that could apply to how various couples work p. 161 (before his wife was hospitalized) “I had never noticed father was subject to high and low moods…mother’s naggy presence relieved him of the compulsion to scold himself….her type of attention exasperated onlookers but kept him evenly cheerful.”

90. Strangely Marked Metal by Kay Ryan (Copper Beech Press, 1985)
A find at a community garage sale.

I love the density of things I don’t feel I’ve read before “Your worst losses/warm angels; despair puts/a glint on God’s hair.” (p. 18). The advantage of a collection over a collected or selected is visible. This is quite different from the previous couple I read of hers and the one read in parallel. She’s definitely not repeating herself. The poems are punchy and jettisoning and resisting religion from within Christian myths yet tangling with them, p. 44.


She’s harsh on Satie suggesting (p. 35) that abstract art is decorative copout when it could be more. Or is she saying, it not the thing but how we ignore its power as we (mis)use it?

yours longueurs are
loungeable, your soussouirs
rearrangeable to suit
a walk-up flat or suite,
your coeur screws into
any lamp [...]
Your passions in the whimsical
colors of cushions please[...]
knots you gave your eyes to
are a saraband of lace.”

A good read and a good re-read. There’s an eye for beauty and a measured step of an ordered mind that shows what years of practicing to be articulate can do.

91. Chronicles of the Hostile Sun by Dionne Brand (Williams-Wallace, 1984)

Found at a used bookstore in Toronto, Ten Editions.

An older collection but with a sharp eye for details such as seen in the series “Old Pictures of the New World”

1. They show tourists rolling
on beaches in Barbados
someone told me that this island
is flat and inescapable
just right for american military transports,
this same someone said,
the topography of the island
lacking in gradient or thick forest
gives historical witness to the abscence
of salve rebellions,
the salves having owhere to run
adopted n oily demeanour.
How history slaps us in teh face,
using our own hand too.


3. They show a little grenadian boy
eating an orange
with an american soldier
this is the new picture postcard
the new commercial for the new right
the new look for the new colonialisms.

I haven’t seen that postcard but the more things change…

While looking at ads for travel I was struck by how much of the Caribbean was populated by white people sailing, eating, shopping. Looking at Wikipedia for the same countries, black and Indian populations are 80% upwards black and East Indian. But not in the ads. Invisible in their own majority populations.

There’s a certain chagrin and a a certain humour. p. 66. Book tour time:

I am now in Saskatchewan
on a bus passing through Blackstrap
I doze off watching the snow
interrupted by grain silos
I must explain imperialism again
in a library in Saskatoon
thankfully there are some old CCFers
in the crowd.

91. Noon, issue 9
Noun: Journal of the Short Poem has some gorgeous items in the hop over from hand-bound to digital. So glad Rowland keeps it going in some form. (I have a bunch of the paper issues.)

Some interesting angles on the world, like

A demon sits
in the corner
of all poetry.

Scott Honeycutt makes an interesting scene. Something like idle hands are the devil’s workshop except the devil is busy and innocuous which leaves the task of making problems to the poetry which crowds him out. Or what is the relationship of the parts. Fun sort of puzzle.

Jim Kacian has a gorgeous concrete poem in there. Eve Luckring has interesting one as well. Economical.

Nick Ravo has a wonderfully elegant elagaic concrete poem.

light handcuffed to wet cobblestones

by John Levy is a show-stopper. If it were in a long poem, it would be the takeaway image. Why not have it stand on its own as a linguistic artifact of experience.

93. Elephant Rocks: Poems by Kay Ryan (Grove Press, 1996)
These were seriously rhyming poems but they don’t iambic dance into bad verse.

“The Vessel and the Cup: From a Hasidic story”

What cup knows the distress
of the large vessel, knows
any more than two inches
of the purple? for the cup,
everything that fill it up
is equal—the little jug,
the pot, the large vessel.
Beyond its own meniscus
nothing’s knowable for a cup.
But the vessel wishes
one something
could use it up.

She came back to this image of a vase and how its contents fill it. I know exactly where I read it, sitting on a deck at dusk by an Ontario Lake 3 years ago. It was half smaller. Can I find it? A perfect poem with nothing extraneous and something true. And the alphabetical order of my book has gone a bit alphabet soup and I can’t lay my hands on it just now. And so, to silence, or almost, p. 55.


Silence is not snow.
It cannot grow
deeper. A thousand years
of it are thinner
than paper. So
we must have it
all wrong
when we feel trapped
like mastodons.

Minimalism but not the expected path. Ends stop with syntax and breath but continue with a pivot that is appreciated and appreciable.

94. Duende poems by Tracy K Smith (Graywolf, 2007)
Smith was just named director of Princeton’s Creative Writing Program after winning a Pulitzer with the book that followed this one. She’s since written a memoir. (My age and writing a memoir. Am I memoir-old?) I’ll have more to say when I’m done reading her next book. And do a more compare and contrast then.

95. There is a Season: A Memoir by Patrick Lane (M&S, 2004)

I’ve had this book for years, bought used at Salvation Army or St. Vincent, but it go set aside. This was a gorgeous read, read entirely aloud. Beautiful sentences. A gorgeous slow unfolding, structured over the months of a year.

The attraction of beauty detailed out, offset by the ghosts of early life, sorting out in sobriety all that happened in the 45 years of being high and drunk. Making a garden, what does it mean to make a memory of a life?

p. 148, on the hermit thrush,
p. 148

Before halfway through the book, wanted to re-read, didn’t want it to end so read slower.

96. Moving by Jen Frankel (Jen Frankel, 2014)
Found in a Free Library where poetry is pretty rare. (Mostly it seems to be crime fiction or old tomes of non-fiction.) With a spine but at the cusp of book and chapbook.

I liked the visuals better. They didn’t usually relate to the poems but I liked them.

The writer is a novelist, playwright and these poems are fragments of life. They feel like a new poet, rough but vigorous at the edges. (The following is right justified which I don’t think I can do in html). Nice observation,

“She reminds me a little of Glenn Gould,
below the wrist at least. Always her hands
are held just so—just so— and Estelle
conducts the empty air as if the
world were her music.”

97. The Sustainable Vegetable Garden: A Backyard Guide to Helathy Soil and Higher Yields by John Jeavons and Carol Cox (Ten Speed Press, 1999)
How did this come to me? Oh yes, a box of books marked free at the end of someone’s driveway.

A good scavenge. This was immensely informative. Who knew we knew so much as a species about effects of gardening. Basically by this guide my parents did it all wrong. No compost, no rotating of crop, no nitrogen fixing plants, rototilling to chop up the earthworms, ruins soil texture and create a hard pan just below the surface that prevent deep roots. Never did any deep digging. Next spring I’ll be new and better.

Saving seeds from lettuce you need a sample from at least 5 plants to keep genetic diversity but for buckwheat you’d need 15. Dry beans are viable for 9 years but our carrot package are duds by 3 years. Which would be why they didn’t sprout. Some of their tables are scaled for massive scale of home gardening. Sprouting and transplanting 250 of any given species but the principles are good.

98. The Beech-Woods by Duncan Armbrest (William Briggs, 1919)
Found in a free library.

If you’re in the US you can read it online for free. Otherwise there seems to be a lot of copies floating around.

His first book, and dedicated to his mom, the records remaining online of this Toronto fellow rest in his painting career. He quotes through the book part of poems from his neighbour Ethelwyn Wetherald such as the one describing the bird that “might live ten years among the leaves,/Ten—only ten—of all a life’s long day”

Enroofed with apple buds afar to roam,
Or clover-cradled on the murmurous sod;
To drowse within the blessed fields of home,
So near to earth—so very near to God.

The Globe declared her 1907 book of sonnets and other poems, The Last Robin flowing and harmonious. She wrote half a dozen books, The Dictionary of Literary Biography calls the best of her poems “musical, restrained, and precise,” and “equal to much of the work of her better-known Canadian contemporaries such as Archibald Lampman, Bliss Carman, and Duncan Campbell Scott.” Those are touted in every direction but who has heard her name now? Her 1902 book can be ordered and printed on demand from New Delhi, India. Odd, small, big world.

But the book at hand is prose. It is a walk through the season in the Beech grove and surrounding fields through the seasons, and with 2 last walks, one chapter of the day, and one chapter of the night. The prose is lovingly rendered by the Neighbour as the narrator terms himself.

I wonder where exactly in the Toronto area these Beech Woods would have been? Are they under a parkway? Retail shopping space downtown or big box parking lot? The first chapter ran as an article in Canadian Magazine. With the right loop-jumping you can read all the issues of that online.

Here’s a bit about the crows,


99. Tamarack & Clearcut by Marianne Bluger and Rudi Haas (Carleton University Press, 1997)
One of the last book of the press before it was folded into McGill-Queens and expanded from poetry into all kinds of social studies and arts books.

Marianne Bluger is a respected name in haiku. Here’s one I admire (p. 38):

down the night ward
interrupting my pain
a nurse’s flashbeam

That in very few sounds brings the scene, hospital, many beds, and how pain can suspend or be displaced by a shift in attention or fear. Likewise on the ext page

in a shoebox of seashells
a few grains of sand

Season is often there but the pivot isn’t always so pronounced. (p. 82) “one loon calls/across the lake/— a light”. While there’s the ambiguity of ownership over line 2 that tugs back and forth or rests tied between L1 and L3, how to unbundle the poem. The loon call itself is like a form of light, a form of hope, connection, familiarity, home. L2 is more a conveyer than a content. Loons don’t call across anything else, not rivers, not office towers, not space ships. If the loon calls, words have already situated the poem on a lake. L2 is like a cracker to convey the dip on both sides.

Despite naming the season explicitly it gets at the doldrums of waiting out winter and how the smallest things allow us to grasp at hope and verify that summer wasn’t a figment.

Sometimes the sense of season is gentle as a breeze. p. 83

a breeze
through the wisteria lifting
hairs on his chest

Again, L2 tugs between the two lines. The syntax can hop tracks. Or it can be one straight run as if I one line poem. The wind is giving more role as an actor than usual on a poem. It runs like a laundry line lifting the wisteria and then the chest hairs. Wisteria is a lovely word. A flower with a longing built in to point forward to the chest.

I’ve seen and flipped through the book over the years. The photo record of Ottawa is quite striking. We live in a beautiful spot.

100. Simplified Holy Passage by Elizabeth Robinson (above/ground, 2015)
Got as part of my above/ground subscription, this was a pleasure to read and re-read. Teasing apart ideas, returning, squeezing and tugging again. Meditation/reflection over a couple dozen days. As a long thought, turned over and over, how to excerpt? Part of the beauty is in how it moves, doubles back, picks up some thoughts from before, re-examines and finds new things. It suggests walking along a beach looking for the best shell, assessing the pocketed ones, throwing some back, upgrading, and walking more.

day 5

The question is how can one pick up a process and continue it after an interruption. If that is even possible.

Interruption being, after all, the most holy passage.

If not the most simple.

A bit fey and may not make sense when feeling expedient yet with a bigger view and slower mood, it seems a question that’s reasonable. It’s similar to someone admonishing “you can’t do that” while it is in the process of being done— it’s rhetorical more than real inquiry. There is only interruption and continuing. What are the holy passages in life? Can we step outside any? Some seem more soft-box and Seeming to Signify. If we are rushing past the glorious and peeved at the beautiful it doesn’t erase the beauty, just eclipse it for us by our gestures. In the garage, day 7

The man says that he thinks they can repair the leak soon.

I am not sure where I want to go, except away from here
(and that’s a metaphysical issue). Sitting beside an
as for a car battery called “Power Pro”

Being aware of the moment we are in with peripheral vision of what’s coming in, where we’ve been and self-aware enough to distinguish between inward and outward, that’s doing good work in poetry.

101. Noon, issue 8
Found by a google search Noun: Journal of the Short Poem

I liked the one liners best but I am on a kick of one-sentence and one line poems. There’s one by Lee Gurga

alphabetic culture turning to snow

Economical and evocative of that moment when walking that language disappears into the motion of walking and into the motion of wet snowflakes.

an ashen language in the drive-by of our bones

by Cherie Hunter Day. Koanic and abstract yet feeling somehow concrete because of how it tethers to specific touchstone words.

under a wheelbarrow a snake absorbing grace

Susan Diridoni. It seta a scene, a season, and a position in the world.

The magazine doing what magazines do best, showing samples to inspire you to seek out more.

Categories: Currently reading.

95books for 2015, list 10, Ancient, Lasting or Passing

80. Bipolar Bear by Catherine Kidd (Conundrum Press, 2005)
This book has a history with me. I nearly bought it the year of release but I had no cash and no idea of where a machine might be. I was too shy to ask if I could COD or something. The copy I eventually got had no CD in the back, only the marking of where it would be.

Now this was very rhymed in one section, Flying Lizard of lizard-sitting and losing and finding the lizard. Perfect rhymes make my head throb. And a short story in another which was surreal in a teenage dream sense.

But “Human Fish” about a Slovenian cave salamander was marvellous content.

Such variability in the creature.

Stomach, extraneous.

81. The Good Bacteria: Poems by Sharon Thesen (Anansi, 2006)
Found fallen away behind a row of books. A finalist for the gg. I think if I read the book before (and without marginalia it’s hard to tell) I wouldn’t have remembered it any more than a pleasant day that blends without trauma or drama. Not objectionable. Not poorly done. Worthwhile enough.

They are quiet presence poems. Skies, birds, trees, hat, Lady Di, parking lots, drug stores. They don’t get a lot of purchase with me. Not aiming for density exactly, but they aren’t baggy. Each verbal step is carefully chosen.

The last section is a tribute to her dead friend. One can hardly kick one wanting to make an elegy of what used to be the everyday normal of companionship. Under Birthday Poem (p.50) “What I do is I make gleam/that which already gleams enough.” That seems true. Isn’t life enough without making a poem on top of it? To notice, to point. “The Rooftop Opposite” (p. 35)

social relations in the shrieking
jaded sirens of a 3 a.m. down on Esplanade.

But wait, I get ahead of myself.
It’s a nice evening. Still light and bright
at 6:30 just beyond the equinox. Just for laughs
my pink hibiscus aims her orange tongue
at the traffic roar, the heavy commerce on the water.

A sense of season and place, a tone and mood. Some self-modulation instead of the usual scree of leaving trauma in a cliffhanger of fear that is so popular to consume.

82. Painting Sunlight: A Trilingual Canadian Haiku Anthology (Wah, 2015)
Haiku in Punjabi, Hindi and English of Haiku Canada poet.

Bias alert, my haiku are in the volume. I liked leRoy Gorman’s p. 89,

holiday roadkill
the crow too
has Thanksgiving

The too is an active little word. A plot twist of not knowing whether the crow was struck by a vehicle while eating the roadkill. Conflict to resolution in very few syllables. Densely packed we recognize that more highway traffic means more animals being killed. An odd sort of ending, unexpected but fitting to complete which holiday. We are rooting for the crow and then it’s extended further so we are happy that not only people get a special treat of extra feast in their extended families but the richness is extended to the neighbour animal, somehow causing forgiveness, turning one death into life betterment for the other. Suggesting with it that the sacrificial animal of Thanksgiving is also justifiable as we also are part of the chain of life.

Also exceptional and worthwhile p. 100 from Terry Ann Carter

across the border
the maples
also, red

While not a new idea, commonality across human borders while plants and animals crisscross our politics are have commonality, it’s a message I like and and this is particularly succinct. And because they are maples it suggests the politics and people in common. There’s continuity of trees and season and people. Canadians are loyal to the ideals of the nation, even if they live in the U.S. even though Canada has since removed their right to vote here and reduced those with dual citizenship to second class citizenship.

83. The Hearts of the Vikings by Lesley Yalen (Natural History Press, 2015)
Part of it was a reenvisioning of the creation story. And 38 pages of it double spaced then it stopped? That is about as off-point as caring about the font but why? And why each line sentence case but punctuation sometimes (by mood? To make a hard break harder?) It seems distractingly idiosyncratic. Which isn’t to say wrong. It bears up to re-reads to figure out why choices were made.

But that’s minor quibbles, like a typographical accent. The content matters more than form. From “Sea of Tranquility” (p. 15-19), “A lone gunman got to the moon/But was it the moon we suspected?/We try to donate the moon to/The Indians but they refuse its racist artwork/And grudging life-forms”

What is it about this talk of the moon. Is it “Asking for the moon”, meaning asking for a perfect society which necessarily is conceived in history with vestigial embedded hatreds? How can we start fresh? Blaming the moon for the gunman we put on it. p 18,

My mother says we never had a milkman

Then who was that guy

That buy who brought something white and glass

And what was that sound

When you told me about slavery

It was glass breaking or change dropping

It was dimes dropping and the servants bowed.

(We never had servants)

Then who was that guy

Standing at the skirt of an exchange

Trying to reconstruct a personal memory and disentangle it from cultural/collective memory and ascertain culpability in race relations? Were milkmen black in the US? In my children’s books they were white. Hired help here were white too but the book comes out of the U.S. How is a child learning about slavery like a dime? The coin drops. A small understanding. It’s a curious interrogation of history and self.

p. 42 I particularly liked,

To grasp the combinations of bracket, brace and radical

There are days when the close attention I must give to details chafes my spirit. When the testing of hypotheses makes nothing dear. There are days when I can’t revise fast enough, feeling quite alone. In the classroom I am of course practically alone. The small girl strings beads neatly. Her stutter is a break in meaning with meaning. Her necklace is for the pleasure of my neck.

Although it feels like a sketch, like a diary meditation, it resists being entirely understood. Yet the idea of stutter as signifying is interesting and there’s nothing I can say isn’t universally true nor anything I can say I’ve read before.

84. Wanting in Arabic by Trish Salah (TSAR, 2002)

The second edition came out 2 years ago and won and Salah was the Winner of the 2013 Lambda Literary Award for Transgender Fiction.

Like Bipolar Bear, it is an anthology of sorts with each section being its own separate thing. Some in Wanting in Arabic are diary-form, or kaleidoscope tumble of sex (leather, chains, heels), or trad ghazals. Mostly it aims to be harsh, at hard corners without blinders. It has moments of beauty like “pulled a cloud distance” (p. 62) or “she woke with blood on the narrator”. I’m not sure what would be representative sample. Here are 2:

From p15

and p 65

Probably on the reading list of the transgender poetry course.

Oh, and TSAR, as you may have heard, has been recently renamed Mawenzi House.

85. Two Hundred Poems from The Greek Anthology, translated by Robin Skelton (M&S, 1971)
As I understand it, Skelton (1925-1997) was a renaissance man, a polymath of literature who wrote somewhere around 100 books. His translation of these Greek poems was foundational to the modern era.

The Greek Anthology in its original form is over a dozen volumes. He picked ones that he liked best and worryingly to my mind, made it “relatable” so sandals became high heels and Latin names became Jane and John. A flower seller in the street sells chocolates instead, which, while not an idea I oppose, I don’t think is more common. And it doesn’t update it any to have her lewdly harassed across millennia over whether it was the product or herself that was for sale.

So, when we translate, what to keep and what to pitch? He kept in the poems of Strato of an adult lover to male child lover saying, Why do you warm the stone wall with your splendid bottom when it could be me? (Now there’s a creepy scene.) In the preface he warns there are poems not in keeping with modern sensibility calling out homosexual poems. (Perhaps he conflates child love with that?) “Several of them would be completely inoffensive to our day were the sex of the protagonists adjusted a little” (The past is another country and they do things differently there?)

There are a lot of dismissive poems of prostitutes, and the foolishness of paying more than you have to, and how old women are ugly. Can’t say I found the book edifying.

He said he took pains to match the rhyme idea of the original but as with the Chinese poetry anthology read earlier in the year, matched rhyme scheme across time and place doesn’t necessarily yield the same impact. Take skipping rhymes for insults such as Demodocus’ “Take one, take all/the Turk’s a jerk/except for Paul,/and Paul’s a Turk”.

The closest I came to liking a poem was by Crinaoras, v.119,

Whether you toss this way or that in bed,
switch from right side to left, or left to right,
makes little odds, my friends, for if your head
is not beside Estella’s through the night
you’ll get no proper sleep, but, harassed, worn,
will wake, played out, in an exhausted dawn.

86. The Deuterocanonical Books/Apocrypha (Good News Bible)
Which closes a very long chapter. Back story: I discovered the Apocrypha when I was 15. I was feeling violently ill with a migraine and took to the high school sick room and wanted to read the old testament and only had a new testament on me so went to the school office across the hall and asked if they had a Bible. They kept a few on hand and handed me one. In the dim light I discovered there was more than one Bible. I knew there were different translations but was shocked that the Catholics had whole other books. As a sidenote while in there laying down, the light flipped on and another sick kid came in. It was the crony of a bully. He first startled that he wasn’t alone then in the flash, looked deeply worried, and sad and said, “she finally did it!” He was relieved when I said, no just a headache.

Did I read the book there? Fliped thru mostly. We each took a sick couch and rested.

The stories were wild. It felt taboo. In an Orange community where my father prayed with grief for the lost souls of cousins who married Catholics and converted to that, could I read it? Some things take decades.

Some stories were wild rides, like Bel and the Dragon which I mentioned in an earlier post of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poems.

Some books were litanies of wars, tens of thousands of people killed, sometimes in detail of how, battle after battle for generations. Strategic ruses, details of battle formations and who did what. Which was destroyed, which countries allied with which. Who double-crossed. Who gave a daughter as bride to seal a deal then took her back and gave her to a different leader for a new pact. During rumours of war, people on the coast got their slave ships ready to take whoever was up for grabs on the losing end.

Some stories were plain but interesting, like two judges saying let’s do meetings as your house hoping to catch a glimpse of the wife they both fancied. Then over one lunch, finding her alone in the garden and propositioning their fellow judge’s wife. When she pauses, thinks about it then screams bloody murder until servants come, they lie and said there was a man attacking her but they prevented him but the young man got away. In trial, everyone came to gawk and they ordered her veil removed since she was a fallen women which made her ashamed and upset. 2:1 honourable men against a nobody who would get stoned for being raped. But a man in the crowd had suspicions, cried halt, called the proceeding unfair, and asked to speak the the judges separately. And in a separate room asked each, so what kind of tree were they under? Answers disagreed naturally. Small bush. Big oak. The punishment for false accusation and false testimony is to receive the punishment of the crime of the accused. So both already crooked judges were killed by stoning instead.

In another book there is how to live advise rather like Solomon except Sirach is perhaps wittier, say in 38:1, pray to god but call the doctor. 38:2 Mourn the dead for 2 days then put your mind on other thing because sorrow can kill you. 41:19 Be ashamed of leaving your elbows on the dining table. Jeepers, who knew that was an old rule. Or later. It is possible to sin by giving in to people too much. Don’t judge godless people. Don’t be cheap; share travel expenses with your fellow traveller. On the other hand some things don’t translate well like, never feel guilty about beating a a slave until the blood flows freely.

Lock up your daughters is biblical? Sirach 42:9-15. I paraphrase and condense. Keep her at home in a windowless room, not talking to men who might take her away and not talking with women because women damage other women as surely as a moth damages cloth. Your daughter is unmarried and you worry she’ll never get married and have children. Your daughter marries and you’re awake nights still wondering if she’s happy and if she’ll have children.

2 Esdras 2:4

1 The angel Uriel, who had been sent to me, replied, 2 “You can’t even understand what happens in this world. Do you think you can understand the ways of God Most High?”

3 “Yes, sir, I do!” I answered.

The angel continued, “I have been sent to ask you to solve three riddles about what happens in this world. 4 If you can explain even one of them to me, I will answer your questions about God’s ways and teach you why the human race has an evil impulse.”

5 “I agree, sir,” I said. Then he said to me, “Good! How do you weigh out a pound of fire? How do you measure a bushel of wind? How do you bring back a day that has passed?”

6 I answered, “Why do you ask me such questions? No human being could answer them.”

7 Then he said, “What if I had asked you how many dwelling places there are at the bottom of the sea? How many rivers flow into the waters beneath the earth? How many rivers are there above the dome of the sky? Where are the exits from the world of the dead? Where are the entrances to Paradise? 8 If I had asked you these questions, you might have answered, “I have never gone down into the waters beneath the earth, and I have not yet entered the world of the dead. I have never gone up to heaven.’ 9 But all I have asked you about is fire, wind, and the day that has just passed – things that you have experienced. Yet you have given me no answer. 10 You can’t even understand things that you have been familiar with since you were a child. 11 How then can your little mind understand the ways of God?

87.Reporting from Night by Katerie Lanthier (Iguana Books, 2011)
A lot of mom poems, out of the mouth of babes, or maybe those were the bits that stayed with me more. In Lullaby of Off-Off-Broadway, p. 32, “You said, ‘I hope his good mood/is coniferous,/not deciduous.’”

And course one after my own heart for embedded signs and love of snails, “Snail’s Pace” (p. 44) Nicholas pursues snails after the rain,

“You palm them, marvel,
then set them rippling,
athrill in a vegetable world.
Eight and in love.
“We put the ‘sigh’
in ‘science,’ you say.

Why athrill. It makes it a little more giddy. So snail ripple? It makes it a little technicolor cartoon. But sure. Language at its most vital is out of a child’s mouth and action. Let the children show how some of it can be done.

p. 47 “Demi-monde”

Marker rubbed off
when the kids wobble-traced
their hands and feet.

Now they wear drawings
of their hands and feet
on their hands and feet.

A simple observation but lovely. “wobble-traced” is just right.

88. Shut Up Slow Down Let Go Breathe by Marcus McCann (Dusie Kollectiv, 2015)
Now these are beautiful poems. I’ve had the pleasure of hearing some live or in previous publication points but how sweet and convenient to have them bound up together to hold me over until his next book. There is no wasted breath, no wasted space.

And the production standards on this is better than most books in design and printing.

One poem, which was also part of the Two Things I’m Reading Segment at Literary Landscape last time,

Opportunity is One More Thing

Categories: Currently reading.