Skip to content

95books in 2015, list 6: chaos, morals, stories and refusing story

This set of poems is a coin of two sides, observation of concrete world, and moral engagement.

To my eye it doesn’t look well for tanka and haiku side but it’s not a football match where winner takes the cup, is it?

Thinking about diversity more, what is salient to define? What is achieved with the goal if VIDA and CWILA achieve parity of presentation? What if consumers become indifferent to genitalia-culture and who sleeps with whom (although that’s always interesting, isn’t it)? Do we have a better world?

In putting Diversity as a priority, am I looking for allies with a different skin tint and a different distribution of body fat without changing content?

Should it only qualify as diversity if it’s disagreeable? If my goal is not to reinforce what I already know and agree with in new variations, should I be looking for spy novel authors who are wife-owning neo-Nazi factory beef farmers/Rhino hunters who hobby farm because they already made generations of income from oil money and dog fighting, so dabble with gay-conversion fundamentalist Sunday Schools?

If I’m not willing to change my mind going in, there’s no point in reading. I’d just be propping up by arguments by knowing the “enemy side’s”, creating more entrenchment which is against the point of diversity.

If I read only what is liable to resonate, if that were possible to line up, am I not just in a constant state of vibration and chasing sensation, not caring what is true or valuable or out there. Almighty aesthetics displace the value of people putting a mental construct of art before honouring what is. Again, morality creeps into choice.

Does reading what you like work? Does it build a safe space against the world? Is that what the art is for? There are parallel systems of aesthetics rather than hierarchy. Yes, some things are more perfect for a time and place and particular person. And we go on,

53. Doubleheader: Hurrah for Anything, Poemscapes & A Letter to God by Kenneth Patchen (New Directions, 1958)
Patchen is brilliant and twisted and confounding and wise. I think I’ll collect everything of his.

His Poemscapes,

47) Getting Up Early

Such a marvelous delicacy of castles shimmering out upon these bushes in the morninglight…

That oblique yes. It doesn’t parse straight up and yet it is that exactly. Waking before normal time. The quality of light like a different planet. Ephemeralness and constancy. Castles in the sky at earth level so close you can touch them and all seems not daunting. I stopped on that line for miles. People y’all can stop writing now.

It has more density than you’d get from compressing many books. And yet it doesn’t become precious overextenuating of tone.

And there’s crossing some of the same paths but things sitting side by side, coming back to “conversations with mirrors” or “little essays”. Things can’t be said if everything has to fit together like marquetry over a flat square surface. There’s no anticipation of what will come with non-sequitur and yet it is not unconsidered mood blurt.

Friend the Rabbit (72
They were both frowning up at the Tower Room, where sometimes lovely maidens have a hard deal escaping the clutches of wicked (but rich) kinds. He whispered something to his mule, and — bam ! ! ! no castle

Same castle. Symmetry of word or overall picture? It confounds.

As Jack Underwood points out, a poem interrupts a day and has to make it worthwhile for someone to care about what the poem says. The audience has no obligation to be polite if it is not engaging.

167) You’re all nuts

Boobs, scamps, frauds, and you assorted blaugh-swilling drearies — oh, COME OFF IT!

The other half of the book, if you flip it around becomes Hurrah for Anything which have comic illustrations as if bpNichol and bill bissett came out of a tradition.

Kenneth Patchen, Hurrah for Anything (1957)

A photo posted by Pearl Pirie (@pearlksp) on

p. 27

Perhaps it is time

Does anyone think it’s easy
To be a creature in this world?
To ask for reasons
When all reasons serve only
To make the darkness darker,
And to break the heart?
— Not only of man,
But of all breathing things?
Perhaps, friends, it is time
To take a stand
Against all this senseless hurt.

Many are unapologetically absurd but not patronizing but with a joy to them. The previous book of his I read felt like contraband, like between mattress banned material calling out war in terms of kindness if the way to live. Written decades ago, they are as relevant.

His poems present to an audience, as if people are colleagues, participants. Calling out not a litany of things to be enraged of as if the audience has experienced nothing, but for thinktank, actionbank.

54. A Charm of Finches: Haiku, Senryu, And Tanka by Richard Stevenson (Ekstasis, 2004)
By booksale luck someone was clearing out several of their haiku books and I was right place and time for the windfall of half a dozen haiku and tanka collections. The prevailing idea of these seemed to look outside such as p. 34

two yellow leaves
or a McDonald’s wrapped
in the cottonwood

A lot of wind and sun but not the plumb bob of insight that some have. p. 59. Decidedly gentle humour where the turn is more the poem and poet than the object,

a squad of Cessnas?
No, just the neighbours mowing
meek suburban lawns

< strong>55. ASHINEoVSUN by John Barlow (Exile, 1999)

John Barlow’s poems are much closer to no bars of Patchen. Straight up plain or a wild ride. p. 59 was some solace thru months of pain,

Two Communists

I guess there’s some sort of solace in knowing
there is no solace for some types of pain,
- they’re givens, and you don’t have to tire
yourself seeking out relief from them – those
ones are just solid there, amount to a kind of

Some poets aim for wisdom lines tacked on like a sticker to close the envelope but one like that, the whole is the point. Expend what you can’t afford to lose trying to escape the pain when you could just accept and get a windfall. Struggling against not fair barriers reminds me of a man who bummed off my grandma who loved him as a son, accepted him as he was. I challenge you to find any man with a wage or salary who works harder than that man to not have to get a job, scheming thru disability and welfare and favour taking up all his time so he’d have less to do if hired. It gave him zip and a sense of compensating power to work around the givens of disadvantage, born poor, poor in school and with literacy, kicked out of the house as a teen. Start where you are. Feet on the ground. If the systems are built against you structurally, set up to trip you up, why cooperate with them?

Another poem, which I will place whole. It doesn’t confuse poem with anecdote or poem with essay or poem with impressionist mood piece by tralalah and error. It isn’t brokering in language, sidelining ideas or audience. It is itself:

(which you can enbiggen with a click)

56. Islands by Robin Skelton (Ekstasis Editions, 1993)
The intro essay was interesting talking about the history and development, Somonka, Choka, Katauka and other lesser used forms in English. They are deliberately cosmic in scope, not really my cup of tea.

p. 54

(Mondo form)

Are you alone?
     The wind has a hundred voices.

Will you forget me?
     I walk in yesterday’s shoes.

Have you succeeded?
     Reeds shiver in the dawn.

Is there no justice?
     The spider has altered the ceiling

His haiku are 5-7-5 and have titles which scrape my sensibilities but it’s good to scrape up one’s habitual thinking or else one becomes petrified instead of tree. p. 56


This day is enough,
an apple high on the bough,
a cobweb shining

57. Blasts Cries Laughter by Lawrence Ferlinghetti (New Directions Poetry Pamphlet #9, 1988, 2014)
I actually picked it up for a friend and have yet to deliver it. His reputation precedes my reading him by decades. He’s 96 and still scrappy as ever. The chapbook has been edited to amend the list poem, “The First and Last of Everything”, that starts with the dawn of life on earth, to add 9/11, and Obama,

The next-to-last free speech radio
The next-to-last independent newspaper raising hell
The next-to-last independent bookstore with a mind of its own
The next-to-last lefty looking for Obama Nirvana
The first fine day of the Wall Street Occupation
        to set forth upon this continent as a new nation!

In Blind Poet he says, “I am painting the landscape of my bent soul/and the soul of mankind/as I see it.” It is about life amid the apocalypse, politically, in nature, for homeless, displaced, dispossessed. In “Cries of Animals dying he describes and decries, ” “the daily scrimmage for existence/in the wind up model of the universe/the spinning meat-wheel world/about to consume itself”.

58. Narratives: poems in the tradition of black women, 2nd edition, by Cheryl Clarke, (Kitchen Table Women of Color Press, NY, 1982, 2nd edition, 1983)
This was a lucky bookstore find which took me a while to get to. It’s by Kitchen Table: Women of Colour Press which Audre Lorde had a hand in starting in 1980 to build a parallel black culture publishing industry, focussing on women of colour, open to all sexualities. The press has a blog.

Jaime M. Grant, in her 1996 essay “Building Community-Based Coalitions from Academe: The Union Institute and the Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press Transition Coalition” said works published by the press have “literally transformed the conversation on racism, sexism, and homophobia in the classroom in the last decade.” [Wikipedia].

Clarke is a member of the Board of Directors of the Newark Pride Alliance, which is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to LGBTQ advocacy and programming in the city of Newark, New Jersey. This was her first book in her early 30s. Clarke since went on to publish 5 more books including a collected.

It takes to time and place. 1968, Washington and a mixed race family as riots spread. A good enough man but one who goes caveman and sits all night with a gun in case his castle is attacked too. Nervous, he shoots his daughter coming in during the wee hours. The unfolding is gut-wrenching.

Poems with punch, including The johnny cake (for Charley), p. 45, which starts

Death frees people for new experiences.
At the funeral of my friend’s mother I was to learn this.
As no one in my family I care about had died then
I knew nothing of grief.

It returns as a refrain, each time with a different pitch

The 6 page poem continues, driving with the friend 95 miles south for his mother’s funeral, “the car and inexperience between us”. She describes the rituals of visitors, “by noon the kitchen was stacked with food. The rooms filled with the talk of bold/independent women comforting the aunt.” and the aunt. The brightly lit colourful public moments intercut with private,

the aunt brought me cloying peach cobbler
and watched me it and lick the pate.
She licked the plate after me”

And pages later, “I welcome her hand inside my drawers.?And come for the first time/for the rest of the day./With the same hand she kneads the dough/short/and asks nothing back.”

There are many scenes of home violence, from father and boyfriend, mostly left to be inferred. Much left almost unsaid. p. 23, Gum,


Categories: Currently reading.

Hat tip

Thanks to rob mclennan for the notice or Anita Dolman and Michael Dennis’ mini chapbooks from phafours.

Categories: phafours press news.

95books in 2015, list 5: Translating the Past to Present

Reading all of these now engage in asking what to bring forward into tomorrow’s present? I suppose all poetry is about what not to throw out. If something doesn’t matter to you, why bring it up or tart it up in font? People have the majority of their lives already comprised of minutiae that doesn’t matter. It’s no value added to swill about some more random curation like picking a personalized licence plates derived from I Ching.

To make sense it doesn’t have to be direct. Being blunt is often more a billboard in front of scenery. What you think you mean is the box around the gift. Mostly poetry, some essays.

Working around the edges of what threads are dangling, in translating cross-culturally or cross-century.

47. The Hatch by Colin Browne (Talon, 2015)
Having heard him read from it I wanted to read it myself. Always a good sign, yes? The long movements in the poems are similar to what David O’Meara’s last one did as well. The roots of the poems are more deeply buried so it may not always be evident what’s going on but there’s an intoxicating reel. A freedom to play shift gears, take flight, keep grounded, let the unconscious muse. They seem poems that are not attempting to be poems but thoughts coming to understand themselves, which I take it to be the fruit of working at poetry since the TISH-era.

The notes at the back are a rich read. More can be understood from direct quote than from an amount of my standing in between it and you so in the poem p. 15, the fire

the past is not the barrow of your sorrow
you’re its wings

lombardies, a winding drive
a failed retirement complex
with flower boxes, hops, scrubbed trilobites with tyres
you can’t hose the unhappiness away”

The tone shifts freely, more like gymnast than square dancer. p. 69, the first half of “form”

what gives with
beauty’s nose

for dismembering
and spite?

when he sang, magnolias
keeled over

stones sought stones
to roll against

the limbs of meadows
arched heavily

“Coxwain, my coxwain
in the dory of my flesh”

when grif struck
wheat wept

bird plucked out
their tails

he grew a trunk, a sycamore
they say

young men sighed
in that shade

he laid down his lyre
and his vanity

the old gods
fumed when

he gave them
the finger

There are twists that I can’t predict which are tasty. A register change in a poem is apt comes with a “see! see!” at some ghost of a grade 10 English teacher telling me it isn’t done. The book rolls around, doesn’t feel like a project book. You have to sit back and watch the poem unfold without trying to logically parse it’s essay. As Jack Underwood put it, “If a poem wanted you to know exactly what it was about, it would be a boiled egg.”

48. Emily Dickinson: Poems, Vol. 2 (1891)
She seems to have some pragmatic observations with this set that have more quip than longing. Reading is such a funny elephant. Half a dozen people read the same work and one grabs a tail, one an ear, one slaps a flank. What struck me “We play at paste/Till qualified for pearl/Then drop the paste”. They are more circumspect poems than the last set. “Faith is a fine invention/For gentlemen who see; But microscopes are prudent/In an emergency.” Satisfaction after struggle is a transitory thing that makes beggars of us all. “By catching at the twigs that grow/between the bliss and me” and it’s gone, that “instant’s grace.” About the size of it, yep.

49. O Cadoiro by Erin Moure (House of Anansi, 2007)
I love the bits of poems that are stitched together, literally with colored threads in colour photo reproduction tying bits in.

Here Moure is translating Galician-Portuguese cantigua, allowing sense and transparency of meaning to falter where it will. Sometimes it breaks lucid,

p. 53,

Walking is not yet prayer

They are often poems of ache and longing, such as p.79 asking mother to not allow her to go see her love “If I go there I’ll die of love”. There are poems of separation and other unkind kinds of solitude: p. 44. “Please waken. I am suffering from so many/ consonant, consoants, and I am/ not a good sufferer”

50. Sonnets from the Portuguese by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
I’ve been meaning to read them. They are here. The more familiar naturally seems better from confirmation bias but that said, it seems the How Do I Love Thee poem stands out for a reason. I didn’t find them all terribly moving nor mind-blowing but not a waste of time either. They feel like a more of a formal exercise than I expected. Suppose it is a working-through “Beloved, I only love thee! let it pass.”

Although love poems for a husband it feels torqued like an unrequited love, or love between non-reciprocal intensities, not dissimilar to Philip Sidney’s Astrophil and Stella. From EBB’s sonnet 14,

If thou must love me, let it be for nought
Except for love’s sake only. Do not say
“I love her for her smile—her look—her way
Of speaking gently,—for a trick of thought
That falls in well with mine, and certes brought
A sense of pleasant ease on such a day”—
For these things in themselves, Belovëd,

Make an unconditional decision of relationship and fill in the behaviors that follow to maintain such feelings. A bottomless well wanting assurance “Say over again, and yet once over again,
That thou dost love me…To love me also in silence with thy soul.” Or maybe it is more ecstatic jubilation. But as coupleness is negotiated, a fierce: don’t tell me how to be, and let us each be our own selves, she commands,

Accuse me not, beseech thee, that I wear
Too calm and sad a face in front of thine;
For we two look two ways, and cannot shine
With the same sunlight on our brow and hair.

A strong sense of monopolist of love. Giving a lock of hair, which makes sense before years of photographs. But only mother love her hair, then it’s given to the mortician.

I thought the funeral-shears
Would take this first, but Love is justified,—
Take it thou,—finding pure, from all those years,
The kiss my mother left here when she died.

No pressure, no pressure. It almost seems satirical. But then, monolithic intensity does.

51. A Few Words by Czandra (Melinda Cochrane International, 2014)
Bear Brook
Poems of nature with a river of sound and passion running through them. Some words of native language to ground as tent pegs sideways, not just down into history of geology and all the species around them. Reciting names of species brings us closer to loving them more.

52. Me Funny, edited by Drew Hayden Taylor (Douglas & McIntyre, 2005)
Since I saw Drew Hayden Taylor at Ottawa Writers Fest I’ve been meaning to get another book by him. I didn’t notice that he edited rather than wrote this and its essays on humour. So it’s more sociology of native relationship to humour and art than anything comedic. It explains humour as a coping mechanism for dire situations where there’s alcohol and family abuse.

Some essays were strong. Some dry enough to put the desert in a dissertation. Most agree that you either laugh or you cry and to laugh is to take control. Humour and teasing are ways to maintain order. Whatever happens to laugh is to not lose face.

The book points out some luminaries in Canada’s native leaders. It talks more about visual art and plays.

Categories: Currently reading.

95books in 2015, list 4: What Is and Isn’t Black and White

By way of CWILA self-monitoring update: 38% female, 45% male and 17% multiple or non-binary. I think it’s important to notice because blithering along, defaults run disproportional to who is around. Not that one needs parity and equilibrium with the world, or else I’d be watching misogynist Hollywood not reading, let alone reading poetry. Here, have you read this discussion with Elisa Gabbert?

That said, back to stats, at the time of writing, 40% of the books I’ve read this year were published this year or last. 19% were written at or before the 1850s. Not quite as much older stuff as I planned.

As much as I searched, only 10% are by people of colour. Makes visible how much easier access to white people is. Books by queer writers (GLBTQQ) is a worse ratio. Its 12% over the last few months fell to 5%. But there are probably 2 dozen books in progress around the place that may re-skew those proportions.

Surprisingly to me, only a quarter of titles are Canadian. I had intended to read more international but tipped further than I expected.

39. Emily Dickinson: Poems (Vol. 1).
If I knew Dickinson did so much religious verse, I’d forgotten. Perhaps when I read her last it had been water to a fish. She spoke “the calvary of woe”. Likewise I guess, the sadness was such my usual state it made no impression. Such an ache of waiting when time was even slower than now. Although, absorbed in paying attention, time goes more quickly anywhere. She has a way with metaphor and I can see the case that hers is a more modern verse than her era often was.

If you were coming in the fall,
I’d brush the summer by
With half a smile and half a spurn,
As housewives do a fly.

If I could see you in a year,
I’d wind the months in balls,
And put them each in separate drawers,
Until their time befalls.

If only centuries delayed,
I’d count them on my hand,
Subtracting till my fingers dropped
Into Van Diemen’s land.

If certain, when this life was out,
That yours and mine should be,
I’d toss it yonder like a rind,
And taste eternity.

But now, all ignorant of the length
Of time’s uncertain wing,
It goads me, like the goblin bee,
That will not state its sting.

40. Kiki by Amanda Earl (Chaudiere Books, 2014)
This was a most interrupted read. I started it in the fall and turned the house upside down to find it again. It runs through Kiki’s Paris, Montparnasse, the artists, the dadaists, the drugs and other kinds of users. What I liked best was the sound runs mixing music of different languages, “Zadkine drinks filtré/and smokes Gauloises,/forming handkerchiefs/of clouds at the Café Select” , “Stieglitz hears illusions/on a ship of maquillage.” The use of comparison is apt and economical. “Ziegfield is desolate/as a tumbler” and “The Saturday Evening Post/is serious as death-mask”. I wonder if Tales of Montparnasse will rise again, expanded. One year in a lush edition with the vispo mixed in in more of dadaist extravaganza of colour. [If you want more you can get your hands on the BookThug Welcome To Earth by Earl.]

41. Poems from Black Africa, ed., by Langston Hughes (Indiana University Press, 1963)
The poems varied a lot naturally, considering its an anthology across countries. One Wife for One Man by Frank Aig-Imoukhuede dialogues the culture-front where preacher says one man and woman and locals say grandfather’s models worked. Women kept other wives in check. No one had to be excellent at all things.

A striking poem by Peter Abrahams was called “Me, Coloured” was a about a boy trying to work out what he is, since a boy he met at the river has a tribe and claimed his Zulu people used to have a king. With the simplicity of childhood he asks his mom plain questions and continues to play.

This other universal poem struck me particularly strongly:

Poems from Black Africa, ed by Langston Hughes

A photo posted by Pearl Pirie (@pearlksp) on

42. Their Biography: an organism of relationships by kevin mcpherson eckhoff (BookThug, 2015)
This is a trippy kind of book. Each page may leap anywhere, from surreal poem to drawing to anecdote to crossword. Any may be fictional or somewhere else on the fiction spectrum. Having seen Kevin reading from it three times, or rather, not perform it but outsource it somehow, it is all part of the schema of the book. In the Toronto launch he asked a woman to write his obituary and read that which she did, the death of each minute of who he used to be. In another case he had audience members read a piece. All the pieces were written by others. But what is Authorship? What is owned? What is ownership. What is known? What is verified? What is sense? What is self? Community? The pieces are eclectic, electric, strange. I kick myself for having seen the call and never jumped in the ring too. Fun thing it is.

I said more here in BookThug recommended summer reads.

43. A Pretty Sight by David O’Meara (Coach House, 2013)
Over at another stage of poetry of the page, and performance, A Pretty Sight was launched with finger puppets of Sid Vicious and Socrates. And a band doing mood musical accompaniment. These poems are all by O’Meara. They vary in tone but have his cadence. You can listen to him read one and talk about them in the May Literary Landscape show. These poems are more slow contemplative in this book, tighter, more detailed and concrete and grittier than his 1999′s Storm Still and with more exploration of extended thought than he did in 2003′s The Vicinity. It’s funny how it seems more conversational and yet there is more density. I’m not sure I can back that up and agree with my impression without sidelining myself into re-reading Storm Still.

A favourite is A Pretty Sight the time travelling through Circa Now, letting the cascade of history fall thru time and space, rise to space pov. “80,0000 inches of continental drift” to a Kerala market to Star Wars to Virgil and once bustling spa town of Heirapolis to tai chi grannies conjuring longevity. One gaze to take in the whole mandala of the universe from the grateful present to the known but unseen to the read of, to the feet.

44. The Marvelous Arithmetics of Distance: Poems 1987-1992 by Audre Lorde (WW Morton, 1993)
It’s not hard to believe these are her ultimate work. The book was her legacy as she raced time against cancer again. Rough playmate, cancer. Her rage of earlier poem was more solid defiance, rule-setting, and solidarity such as in this poem.
She had a sort of eye for details such as in the poem “Production” which is about a bee farm of 100,000 bees sorted by Sadiq and Curtis. At the end of the day, what can you say but, “Tomorrow we will make a living/two dollars at a time”.

45. A More Perfect [ by Jimmy McInnis (BookThug, 2015)
This was a riveting sort of read. He has taken the A More Perfect Union speech delivered by President Barack Obama on March 18, 2008 (which itself uses a phrase from the 1787 preamble to the constitution) to disassemble intent. What is the structural intent of each phrase? What if we take out the specifics of which country and which demographic? What is we point out that this is to tie that. It is hard to explain why this works so well. Watch a video of the reading.

46. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
This book was not at all like the derivative caricatures of it of mad scientist, leaving out entirely the dignified gentleman. It was much more complex. It was rich in sensory details to transport. It is not about the chemistry so much as social norms, sense of identity. He was in existential crisis and found his imperfections intolerable so tried to cleave himself into unrepressed and fully suppressed so he could behave perfectly and be perfectly free.

Categories: Currently reading.

95books in 2015, list 3: Geography is Social

I’ve fallen behind in notes on #95books since April when I mentioned book 30. I’m at book 67 now. As with such things, backlog is a stressor. I’ve been reading but not posting here, only on twitter while doing readings, renos, getting spring press titles out and garden in.

I had the notion of chunking it up into 2 or 3 titles and parsing it out every few days. Or in knots of 10. Then of skipping ahead to where I was like I did for the end of last year when it got ahead of me last year. Maybe better to push thru.

Better to do it now before everything goes back to boxes as renovation hits my office and then wait for the sort back to rearranged shelves and re-alphabeticalized. Could be a doozy of a speed bump.

Geography is mostly internal. It is self-selecting to a degree. Geography is inescapable. It is where ever we are. But also whoever we are and whoever we are with.

31. Transmitter and Receiver: Poems by Raoul Fernandes (Nightwood, 2015)
I’d absorbed news of a few people wowed by this first collection. I liked the “attachments poem” where every line is a photo not taken, described in its file name such as “lightsmearedghostsonthegreencouch.jpg” or “jakeplayingwishyouwerehereonmyguitarforthethousandthtimeandallofusreallywanthimtostop.jpg”
An interesting idea. A vague anomie.

Maybe I’m just old at this point. Guy talking about guys in high school. Skateboarders, unfocused people hanging around, wandering around, looking in windows, having insomnia, waking up. Of course, not that poems need be a Van Damme movie. I have a bias against the word girls. In here there are no women only “girls” who are helped, like a shivering girl given a jacket. While true that presenting as young female is presenting a lot of skin that doesn’t well suit a lot of Canadian weather…it’s a funny division of genders. That way humans have of splitting apart by binary gender shows up here.

Largely it is more content connect than style didn’t reach. There’s a fire within and some strong bits in sound and implication and language play. Take for example, p. 46, from the middle of “Driftwood”

Let the driftwood fire converse
withh something in your chest
as if you weren’t there. Let it continue

until the police come down and instruct you
to kick sand over the flames. And before that

someone always hefts a log, burning at one end,
into the low tide. It hisses darkly. Nobody knows
what it means, but it’s not like we are in the business

of meaning things. You take off your grey-green jacket
and offer it to the shivering girl but she shakes her head.

You set the jacket down and it crawls into the ocean”

The more I look at it again, the more I think I want to give it another good look.

32. petals in the dark: 15 renku led and edited by Marshall Hyrcuik (Catkin, 2015)
This collection is spread over years of renka sessions over various countries with the traditional note of hour and place where it started and end. These things can run for 6 hours or more each so become a pub crawl. Seeing how the different moods and spirits moved thru the collaborative poems was fun. I ended up meeting one of the poets I hadn’t heard of before this because I was so impressed with her pieces that I cold-complimented her. Which is what poetry should do, right, connect.

The renku aim to fit the whole universe in any given collaborative chain, in the first few verses a handshake, in the middle going to more dodgy things like conflict, sex, politics then closing again with softer thoughts. A sample from 2009, p. 36,
p. 36
You can see the sense of pivot and these poems are made of the context, mental and physical to capture a snapshot that a camera alone can’t. It gets one contribution from each person present.

33. Liquidities: Vancouver poems then and now by Daphne Marlatt (Talon, 2013)
The poems are characteristically dense. It is striking that both Hastings-Sunrise and Liquidities are the same geography, even if not quite the same time period. Where Simmers sees urban renewal and guerilla gardeners, gentrification and children’s swing, Marlatt sees the down and out, the drunk woman falling off her barstoo, car crashes, fire, rot “(choked) light”, “hi pockets worn with want”. The scratched side of the record has an inertia to it. The signals from the world are closed: “her face displays no interest.”

There’ also an outdoor wading pool in this book and the next on list, but this with menace instead of children’s laugther: “The fury of his look it circles her,/gulls, wading pool, girls— What is a misprized tool?/mistaken want?//Simply momentarily free, cotton/skirts.”

34. Hastings-Sunrise by Bren Simmers (Nightwood, 2015)
This poet’s work impressed me that I got her on the air of Literary Landscape. That play-on-demand podcast is here. The poems have a simple focussed attention that feels like fondness. There’s a orange colour cast to the poem and they have a mixture of forms including some concrete poetry. Reading the book I felt my shoulders come down. Poetry can also include pleasure and beauty. There’s so much preoccupation with kvetching and clever stretching. Lovely read and re-read.

Compare one of the summer scenes
“Days ironed flat as a sheet//residents stoop-sit.//Bathing suits drip.//Back of knees sweat.//On a late-night walk, heat opens//barred windows and doors://

The world opens out in trust. How much it shows, geography is mostly internal.

I mention this book again in recommended books here.

35. Sum by Zachariah Wells (Bibliooasis, 2015)
A universe populated by Stephen Jay Gould, Phineas Gage, David Attenborough, Émile Nelligan, Oliver Sacks…one even after Dodds, Dewdney & Muldoon. It felt in that way a little Lord of the Rings. The first woman on p. 29: Wisława Szymborska, a top of the world poet. Then back to the men, even if chastising male martyrs.

       By Christ, I’m tired of the self-dramatics
of martyr-complex men. Get off
       the cross, Alan, your lot’s no worse
to bear than any other’s—

Men are named, John Cage. And females are represented rarely and anonymously by role: a woman on a train and a female self-immolating moth. “You’d swear she was made for self-immolation the way she spirals onto ad hoc pyres.”

Any poetry collection is fraught with the fright of offering one’s dreamscape for public analysis. But one channels society and is not formed from nothingness. This was marked by poems dedicated to men, after poems by men, talking about men. I feel outside the circle but get to overhear. Everyone doesn’t have to be accommodated into each conversation because that is demanding a privilege. Should he excise Latin while Fred Moten only talks as if he knows I am an intended listener?

While an offbeat collection in that there’s a style stretch to emulate various writers, it is still all within the firm formalist control. Tightly controlled, essay argument poems, they aim to impact. The set even comes with a tongue-in-cheeky penis poem:

Such a slim barrow into which to stuff
     a life; such a narrow beam to cross
and brace the walls. Pollarded and shallow-
     rooted, it resists the winds, persists
despite its pruning. Stiff and stolid
     in its ramrod stance, it stands, but shifts
and strays when no one’s watching.
     It sees the road ahead, but is always looking
back. It asserts and it equivocates.
     It makes mistakes. It flirts with grief and grace.
It wears a mask to hide its missing face.

after Erving Goffman

It ends up questioning what it is we present. Leaving it to the reader to ask why and divert course.

36. Warrior Poet: A Biography of Audre Lorde by Alexis de Veaux (WW Norton, 2004)
After reading her biography, I wanted to read her poems. But the biography reading was probably on and off for 3 years. It was a harsh portrait as if the biographer respected her, perhaps obsessed with her but didn’t like her choices very much. She took copious notes, even of diary entries while Lorde travelled to see where her grandmother lived. And would say she gave a speech but made no note of the contents. Would say, this poem was published and not quote it. The gaps were odd. It seems Lorde was a domineering fickle difficult woman. She was frustrated in her life being adamant in her intersectionality before that was a thing. Black women tried to rally but tended to be heteronormative. Queer women rallied but tended to be white. Black people rallied but black among black. And here was Lorde with a white husband and open about many female lovers. She wanted to be pro-woman but not to the exclusion of men because she was raising a son. She was conscious of men being essential to the society. She felt American, but excluded, so sought identity in the Caribbean and in Africa and infused her own personal brew of identity and religion.

37. Collected Poems: Philip Larkin ed by Anthony Thwaite (Farrar, Strauss, Giroux, 1989)
Now this was one sad lad. My goodness. He just kept spiralling down. The course was checked by the editor in that he chopped a bunch of earlier poems to bring up later in the book, which made the impact of both greater. His poems are sharp, acutely so. I wonder if he were born later is he would have been medicated and set on a more even road than drinking his brain to slosh.

38. 384 BC-322 BC Aristotle. “Poetics. English.” (iBooks).
An interesting read along the ride from St. Catharines to Toronto, accompanied by vineyards then big box stores leading the way way to skyscrapers. “infinitely various are the incidents in one man’s life which cannot be reduced to unity”. He explained deus ex machina which was fascinating. Playwright wrote himself into a corner and a Gilbert & Sullivan style quick fix. They cranked actors down out of the ceiling as gods to solve the problems by no means pointed to in what came before. Also, iambic, a conversational sort of meter, was initially done for lampooning, for satires of mean men. I suppose even in bridging languages, the music of iambic run too perfectly still carries that hopping from foot-to-foot effect.

Categories: Currently reading.

3 new poems

3 new poems of mine hit the screen over the course of the week.

One more in another style should be coming down the digital chute over the next little while.

Categories: PSA, Poetry.

Best Canadian Poetry in English 2015

The 50 poets are announced here. Edited by Jacob McArthur Mooney, it’s going to be another good issue.

Categories: PSA, Poetry.

Harriet Tubman Legacy conference

Lillian Allen, Natalie Caples, Ronald Cummings & Tamari Kitossa are organizing a conference for October — deadline for proposals Sept. 1 — there are a lot of possible topics here that link with recent issues — please share and submit! Conference: 22nd-23rd October 2015

“Harriet’s Legacies: Race, Historical Memory and Futures in the Niagara Region.”
CALL FOR PAPERS: Abstracts due 1 September 2015
This important conference will highlight the historical presence of Black Canadians in Niagara, Ontario, and, more generally, Canada. The title refers to the crucial role that St. Catharines played in the Underground Railroad and the abolition of slavery. Harriet Tubman, who is recognized by UNESCO, as a freedom seeker, abolitionist and ‘conductor’ was the city’s most renowned participant in the Underground Railroad. Tubman and the Black citizens who helped to build St. Catharines are soon to be recognized by the opening of a new elementary school in downtown St. Catharines. The timing of the conference will help to connect the university and the broader community around shared goals of unity in diversity, the recovery and memorialization of Black history in Ontario and the promotion of general knowledge around the multiple accomplishments of Black Canadians.

Here’s a link to a higher-res PDF version

Categories: PSA, Poetry.

Anthology of Best Canadian Poets in NYC: Two Days Only

Best Canadian Poets and Authors from Tightrope Books are convening in the apple.

Tues June 23, 2015, 7-8:30pm
Word for Word welcomes Canadian Poets, Byrant Park, NYC
Best Canadian Poetry launch as part of Word for Word featuring the Canadian Poets: George Elliott Clarke, Aaron Kreuter, Kateri Lanthier, Pearl Pirie, Wanda O’Connor, Medrie Purdham, Brent Raycroft, Carl Watts and Special Guest: Sonnet L’Abbe, 2014 Best Canadian Poetry Guest Editor. In case of rain, events are held under a tent at the Bryant Park Reading Room. In case of severe weather, please check for the indoor location.

June 24, 2015, 7:00 pm – 9:00 pm, KGB Bar, 85 East 4th St,
Join poets from The Best Canadian Poetry series and authors from Tightrope Books for an evening of Canadian writing featuring George Elliott Clarke, Megan Fernandes, Aaron Kreuter, Sonnet L’Abbe, Kateri Lanthier, Ken Murray, Wanda O’Connor, Medrie Purdham, Brent Raycroft and Carl Watts in NYC/details

at Joy Bistro, 884 Queen St. E

Categories: PSA, Poetry.

Win, win. Also win-win.

While keep rolling up the rim and not getting donuts when you could be getting poetry?

While I recover from the small press fair extravaganza, and go to see a friend perform in a Gilbert & Sullivan play, you might consider competing to win a copy of radish. A copy of your very own, or a second you can mark up to keep on pristine. Or one for a friend, for family, pets, houseplants, your bus driver, that nice grocery clerk…

It’s thru GoodReads and the good folks at BookThug. 3 copies are available to be won, and only until June 21st.

Categories: PSA, Poetry.