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95books, 2016

I post the 2016 reads on twitter (@pesbo).

I used to heavily hyperlink the summary posts but that add 3x the time. Maybe links mean that publishers and writers can more readily find mention of what they sent into the world. Or maybe trackback isn’t common as it used to be.

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This much I can say for sure, I’m a grumpier reader this year. I started a lot of books that I threw over saying life is too short. Or I’m not in a place to hear. Or I’ve listened too long and am getting nothing but frustrated.

I’ve read 63% Canadian and 8% chapbook. 58% poetry, which is higher than I’d guess. 1/4 of writers are POC and 17% GLTBQQ. So far my CWILA-style number show 46% male, 29% female, 24% multiple or non-binary. My history reach is 46% published this year or last. For genres not-poetry it’s pretty even among memoir, science, novels and history. I read about 3500 pages of completed books, or about 65 pages per day on average, although reading clusters on Sundays.

That said, these read:

    1. A Profession of Hope: Farming on the Edge of Grizzly Trail by Jenna Butler (Wolsak & Wynn, 2015) This was a book we thoroughly enjoyed. I read it silently once and entirely aloud with hubby for a second read. We love the idea of off-grid sustainable farming, although the prospect of land clearing and mosquitoes and second jobs for the privilege and joy of getting to be in a forest some of the time is daunting. It reignited my desire to vermicompost. She has such light and beauty in her passages, love coming through in a way that it transmits more commonly in music.
    2. Failed Haiku edited by Mike Rehling, (issue 1, 2016) This is how to simply get poems out into the world. Gather what tickles, pop them in a file, save as pdf and post. We often get carried away with design and forget about the centrality of the message. It isn’t all medium, McLuhan. The senryu are often in comic digs. Enjoyable issue.
    3. A Splash of Water: Haiku Society of America Member Anthology 2015 (HNA, 2015). I’m in this issue so got a copy. It sounds dangerous to theme on water. Surely you will hate the sound of the word before too many pages but it was pretty deftly done, covering all the water cycle and all tones of poems.
    4. This Day Full of Promise: Poems selected and new by Michael Dennis (Broken Jaw, 2001) I’ve had this book a while and I think I should add notations to the inside cover like I do with recipes to note each time it’s used. I think it’s my third read. Hockey, tv, music, lovers, work, family in plain language.
    5. poems for jessica-flynn by Michael Dennis (not one cent of subsidy press, 1986) These poems were composed in a bookstore window. This book I’ve had a while and it wasn’t until meeting the bookstore owner that I got curious to look at it again. One of my first memories of Ottawa was rob mclennan sitting in a bookstore window composing although I didn’t realize until now that he was doing it as a nod to Michael Dennis. The concrete poetry surprised me. A zen exercise in capturing the moment as it happens. “people being captured for all time/brief moments of their lives/captured forever/posterity coming to them/without choice”
    6. Whiskey Jack by Milton Acorn (HMS, 1986). A CanPo classic book I’ve heard talk of but never actually read. It struck me that some were strong. What does one say, uneven? The pacing probably isn’t what one writing now would do. His bird poems struck me as the most moving in the book.
    7. Debbie: An Epic by Lisa Robertson (A New Star Book, 1997). Another CanPo classic that I feel I should read since so many talk so highly of it. People who like it like it a lot. I was taken by the way the page design is breaking from its confines. What it does with typography makes me energized. The language is caught up in the delight of making language so heady or of-the-head. The poems rail against the long dead for dismissing and omitting women instead of making something new in a parallel culture that goes toe-to-toe. It seems what Virginia Woolf said is true of women being stuck away from sublime because of the defensive position of being treated unequally and assailed.
    8. Tells of the Crackling by Hoa Nguyen (Ugly Duckling Press, 2015) The curious thing about this text is how subjective it was that I could enter. In a buoyant mood I couldn’t hear it. When I was in brooding doldrums it all made sense. It is jumping and jittering, leaping, nervous and angry.
    9. Said like reeds or things by Mark Truscott (Coach House, 2004) I seem to keep bring this back as exemplar of good poetry. I’ve done that in at least 4 workshops. Carefully constructed minimalism
    10. The Best Canadian Poetry 2015, edited by Jacob McArthur Mooney (Tightrope, 2015) A survey of what’s going on. CanPo snapshot for the year. It doesn’t vary by sub-genre as much as last year and I’m still holding out for an edition where a tanka or haiku makes the cut but this is a solid collection with strong poems by a wide range of poets in style and tone. Lucas Crawford’s tribute to Rita MacNeil was moving and I never followed her music. Marcus McCann’s could not be more different in style but also captures a time and place. Lesley Battler scrapes technotalk about oil industry.  Tanis Macdonald’s poem on lineage of women who don’t bear children tickles a different part of the brain.
    11. The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester (Oxford University Press, 2003) This was a fascinating account of the arduous making of the project. Tiny sheets of paper and thousands of people spending decades to put this thing together, trace a word to its earliest citation. I suppose you could say it had an outcome and changed my behaviour since I installed the OED on my phone, replacing
    12. Why We Write: Conversations With African Canadian Poets and Novelists, edited by H Nigel Thomas (TZAR, 2006) This set of interviews was done by a sheet of questions exchanged for the answers I assume since replies left things dangling and not picked up on. That said, they also feel like friendly conversation. One of the most memorable was a novelist who was called from off-continent by mom who twisted an ear over the miles to say how dare you say your mother is a cleaner? The publisher insisted on calling it a biography while the writer contended it was a novel.
    13. The Beggar’s Opera by Peggy Blair (Penguine, 2012) I’m reading all her novels now. Funny, first time I saw her read at Writers Fest I didn’t like it. Saw her read a year or so later at an authors in bookstore day and was struck by how incisively written it was. Then came across one book and sought out them all. Next one in the 4 part series comes out in April. The series has heavy subjects, child abuse, tainted water, pornography rings, poverty, murder, various religions and ghosts and yet it feels manageable and that there are also people resolved to correct such problems.
    14. PCB Jam by Lynne Kositsky (Unfinished Monument Press, 1981) A chapbook of poems from someone who since became a novelist, the poems talk about fruit picking labourers and inside difficult class lines.
    15. Talking Into the Ear of A Donkey: Poems Robert By Bly (WW Norton & Co, 2011) These poems are like parables that seem more of the arabic tradition of poems. Not terribly exciting but not intended to be intense body-hits. They follow their own trajectory of an orderly world and plain spoken cosmic morsels.
    16. I’m not crazy…I’m allergic by Sherilyn Powers (Friesen Press, 2015) This book was fascinating as it doesn’t duplicate what I know. It could have been a few chapters longer. The idea that allergies may manifest not only in hives or breathing problems but emotional irregularity, depression, exhaustion or pain is a whole panel of things I hadn’t known to watch for. A whole other set of body communications of distress where I was confining, anger of mind comes from mind and muscle issues from muscles but mind-body connection means all kinds of cross-overs.
    17. The Goddess and the Bull: Catalhoyuk: An Archeological Journey to the Dawn of Civilization by Michael Balter (Free Press, 2005). Interesting but not at all what the title billed. A frustrating book to read because of its baggy style and choices of what to include. Reading was panning for things actually about the site. He would rather tell that an archeologist had a pony for a certain birthday, or that a woman working on site distracted archeologists [thereby writing out all the female straight archeologists]. A city that made mural and sculpture, had equal nutrition and burial for men and women, and sometimes seemingly a favoured pet is rife with interest. History or Hot-or-Not? Tic of describing whole life biography felt like an intro that never ended because so many work at the dig. More interested in personal lattices than findings. More about the dig, less about him digging a dance with young women might have been fixed in edits. It led me to other articles and sites and background reading about this fascinating time.
    18. The Poisononed Pawn by Peggy Blair (Penguin, 2012) Much as what I said about The Beggar’s Opera above. Except I might add what a pleasure to read a book where the protagonists are Cuban and where a main recurring character was a transgender person. The focus is on abuses of the Catholic church, not as a local thing but where the church protects its own, moving people when they get in trouble.
    19. Gender Failure by Rae Spoon and Ivan E Coyote (Arsenal Pulp, 2014) This book alternates two points of view as they go thru their lives from young adolescence to present, the challenges, coming of age, sense of group, sense of self, sense of humour. I have heard the book roundly praised and having read it finally, I’d have to agree. A sort of gift-book for giving away, sharing around. It allows one to hop into the daily in the tradition of good storytelling. By all means, let’s dissolve this sugar-cube cage of gender binary as the narrative of all identity and explanation of motivation of all acts.
    20. Pawpaw: In Search of America’s Forgotten Fruit by Andrew Moore (Chelsea Green, 2015) I read about pawpaw as a kid. It used to be all along the waterways in southern Ontario but as all over North America, it was yanked out as scrub. Somewhere between mango, custard apple and melon in taste it was probably eaten by mastadons, probably cultivated in orchards wherever the Iroquois went. This book is obsessively researched. It is following a road trip to find known people and places associated with the fruit, and travels back to the 1700s in writing references. It covers the ice age and the pushback of seeds to Florida. It goes all over the US finding people growing the tree, or collecting the seed for a genetic bank, trying to make it a commercially viable food. There’s an Ohio pawpaw festival and I might just have to go.
    21. Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude by Ross Gay (University of Pittsburgh Press: Pitt Poetry Series, 2015) Having read an article or few, seen some youtube and rewatched, it’s a sign that it’s worth trying a book. I couldn’t get it in paper since at the time I checked there were none in stock, so I went with ebook. The poems are about finding a route to joy but but not by bypassing joy’s twin, grief. There are visions of community as people interacting in good humour and sharing, caretaking moments when people came together, say to walk close in a homophobic neighbourhood, but taking the risk of being fond of one another anyway. A heartening book writing with complexity and elegance. Trees and death interweave “shimmy into the pawpaw’s steeple/where my rank bloom/ tongue kissed by flies/puckers at the gorgeous world”
    22. The Last Maasai Warriors: an autobiography by Wilson Meikuaya and Jackson Ntirkana (Me to We Press, 2012). A find at a book sale, it is an eye-opening sort of book. Taken for granted offhandedly the 17 language groups of Maasai, the 4 or 5 wives and dozens of kids but being bewildered by the Pentecostals coming to town and the strange habits of tubes of cloth people were in. Maasai so isolated that the concept of vehicle and glass has not reached. Living 2 km from a school, but avoiding any contact with others, whether black or white, the boys grew up within the culture of herding, drinking cow milk, cow blood, sucking clotted cow’s blood and journeyed to get botany degrees and speak a few languages while maintaining their culture and coming home to farm. Before that, one teen saying we need to change starting a wave of ending female circumcision. A whole other perspective and relationship to pain as kids burn each other to teach braveness and strength.

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Categories: Currently reading.

Chris Faiers

Coming up today on Literary Landscape, a talk with Chris Faiers who published perhaps the first haiku chapbooks in Canada in the 60s, started Unfinished Monument Press in the 70s, ran the Main Street Library Series in Toronto in the 70s and 80s bringing in 60-70 poets, and Purdyfest in Purdy country in 2000s. He mentions his poem “Dominion Day in Jail” when he was jailed for the hate crime of a slogan on his tshirt in the 70s.

On two things I’m reading, as flashback to early 80s Unfinished Monument Press with poems by Mark McCawley, now of Urban Graffiti and now novelist Lynne Kositsky. That’s at 6:30pm EST at 93.1fm or CKCUfm online.

Categories: CKCU.

Studio Nouveau Poetry Workshops Online

Studio Nouveau has been popping up for a little while with readings and workshops as a branch of phafours press. Currently underway is a more intensive workshop of 8 weeks focussing on deep reads and making news poems and chapbooks. See the syllabus.

Coming in February is a comparable series, 8-weeks but accessible to anyone, online with more focus on individual poems, with chats via email, Skype and a Facebook group page.

I have 3 trade collections, over a dozen chapbooks, ran the Tree Seed Workshop for 5 years, taught adult education in ESL and ABE for 12 years, have had my poetry published since 1991 and was longlisted for The Best Canadian Poetry, and in the Best Canadian Poetry anthology, have run a small press for over 7 years, and won the Robert Kroetsch [pronounced Croach] Award for Innovative Poetry.

Categories: phafours press news.

Fw: Ottawa’s French poetry reading series

AAOF launched its first reading series, and we would like to invite you all to our first Poetry Night of 2016, next Monday, January 18, 7 pm at L’Avant-Garde Bar (135, Besserer St.).

Categories: PSA, Poetry.

Poetry Links

“It is not my job as an instructor to reify the knowledge that students already have and the spaces that they understand – it is my job to present them with information that they don’t know how to parse” ~ derek beaulieu  in interview.

Blab chat on experiences with making anthologies with Ally Bishop and others. Interesting tidbit, if it’s a Kindle anthology users may not know how to get to the table of contents so if one piece isn’t as interesting they are more apt to skip to another book rather than poke ahead many times to get to the next story. Also, suggestion that a 4-month lead time is best if you have over 5 contributors to the anthology.

(Blab is a few-month old platform where you can video interviews, panels, informal live chats, etc.)

The semicolon project to get tattoos as gesture of solidarity and de-stigmatizing mental illness had an event where 27 got tattooed and the parlour gave the money towards the cause. ““The semi colon represents your story is not over” says Wile who is doing other events to publicize the idea.

The Ottawa Public Library now has a copy of The Other 23 & A Half Hours Or Everything You Wanted to Know That Your MFA Didn’t Teach You By Owen, Catherine and 4 are in line.

Amy McLay Paterson tracked her book reading, comments on learnings and made a public spreadsheet which tracks page number, nationality of publication, why it was chosen to read, and like GoodReads Reading Challenge, which I may eventually figure out (but the interface sure is bearish).

““We get drawn into arguments we did not choose for ourselves.” Sometimes I feel like I would rather talk about Kathy Acker. But what does the word “disability” mean? Is it useful to me? Can I get some heat from it? I am reminded of what Borges said to his nephew, “If you behave, I’ll give you permission to think of a bear.” Most often, I think about disability when I am asked to think about it. Then I feel an obligation to behave.[…] You are expected to be moral and teach. I think this is why Amiri Baraka wrote “Fuck poems / and they are useful.” Or what Laura Hershey meant by “Everything you say will prove something about / their god, or their economic system.”” Jillian Weisse

Sometimes an interview is enough to put a book on the to-read list, like this, with Laura Clarke‘s Decline of the Animal Kingdom.

Peterborough news had a prevailing “bleak fascination with crime and deviance, and a blandly smug insistence on the universality of majority values, of family and home and country.” but  Electric City to the rescue as an alternative.

“Attention is a muscle, one that requires development.[…] While it might not work for everyone, the daily practice, and the momentum it can create, is the only way in which I get anything done.” from The Malahat Review tips column with rob mclennan.  In the fall Shane Neilson did a column and said, “(currently I spend at least half of my professional life attending to the writing of others in essay form) I am immersed in the writing of others and I contribute to a conversation about that writing as a matter of course.[…] donate—invest!—ten percent of your professional time towards the writing of others in the form of reviews.”Jessica Michalofsky in her column agrees with the value of reviewing, how to get started and how to proceed.

Reviewing, workshopping and judging the work of others can hone the editing knife you can turn on your own work….

3 more days to vote for the people’s choice award of haiku at Heron’s Nest. Back issues are online.

Categories: Link Dump.

Stats for Writing 2015

I meant to stay on top of the writing rates for 2015 and made it, well, halfway thru the year in real time.

What I find at the year’s end is I got published about 10% of what I start. Which is a good thing. I am to pursue fewer things more without giving up the attempting much. Drafts freshen the air.

drafted: 462
completed: 115
submitted*: 56
published: 42 poems (including 21 in 2 chapbooks, not including the ones in the radish book)

*(a wrinkle because I counted as a submission if 1 poem sent or 5 pages, but counted published per poem so they’re not entirely comparable. I’ll fix that for 2016.)

This year has about the same amount completed but had a bump up in drafts over last year’s 269 drafts because of a push to do senryu, haiku and one-word poems. I submitted twice as much as last year but published 10 fewer, although also published more that wasn’t poetry, a short story, a couple essays and a chapbook of trope humour.

Visually speaking to put in context of 3 years,

I went thru a longer retrospective last year going back over the 24 years of spreadsheet.

Categories: Poem draft, Poetics.

Reading Series Communication: What and When

I do post of tips occasionally, for example, a poetry rubric (2008), prompts (2009) Getting around Writer’s Block (2009), Tips on Giving Readings (2013), Author Photo Do and Don’ts (2013), and Taming the Uncontrollable Open Mic (2014). I’ve offered Templates for use in making chapbooks and broadsheets. Last year I did an Overview of Ottawa’s Literary and Book Scene (2015).

For those starting a series or trying to hone one, some observations as an organizer and as a reader about communications with the reader.

Here are some things I think reading series would do well to communicate with their readers.

4 months-1 year ahead:

  • We’d like you to read here with series named ___ which has been going since (year).
  • Can you come to City X at this time and place if we get funding? If we get funding the payment is $V. Can you come if we can’t? We do a hat pass and it may be around $W.
  • Please send a twitter-length bio (140 characters), a long bio (a paragraph), and a full resolution original photo (at least 1000 x 1400)
  • (We expect to know about funding by __ date).
  • Other readings in our area are: ___ and their organizer’s contact if you want to do a reading there while you are in the area: ____

1-2 months ahead:

  • We have funding. Can you still come to venue Y at City X, at this time and place?
  • Do you need help with billeting?
  • What is your twitter, website, book info for us to promote?
  • Do you have any youtube video we can use to promote you?
  • The url of our series’ website, blog, twitter feed, tumblr, and Facebook page are: ___

2-3 weeks ahead:

  • Have their been any changes in your bio?
  • You co-readers are Z, A and B.
  • The reading length is ___ minutes.
  • The evening usually wraps by (time).
  • The poster for the reading is attached.
  • The schedule of the evening is the following: ____.
  • We can(‘t) have someone on hand to sell your merch.
  • The turnout to readings vary between this number and this number.
  • There is(n’t) a microphone and will/won’t be a recording.
  • The url of our series’ website, blog, twitter feed, tumblr, and Facebook page are: ______
  • The event on FB and listing in the local arts calendar is at: ____

1-2 weeks ahead:

  • Would you like to do an interview with ___ to promote your reading?
  • The MC will be C and contact on site will be D.
  • The venue at Y address opens at (time).
  • If you plan to film, inquire permission from the reader
  • Recommended restaurants are: ___ and we would like to host you if you can make it.
  • Remember to bring your books to sell.
  • Look forward to seeing you.

Within 3 days afterwards:

  • Thank the reader
  • Ask if there were any concerns
  • Point to any photos, tweets or video

The more you are comfortably on the same page, the better. If you need a certain amount of lighting or microphone or use of sound or video equipment, better to arrange ahead.

Readings like publishing is a scratch each-other’s back sort of cooperation. The more you combine your resources and audiences, the better for all.

Categories: PSA, Poetry.

The Stats: 2015

Almost a third of what I read was written this year or last with a push over the last couple months to finish up new things. Last year that rate was 57% was the current year.

I was aiming to read more classics but 66% of what I read was published in the 15 most recent years, which is an improvement in spectrum over last year with more deeper history.

I aimed to read wider. By path of least resistance I’m apt to read straight white males disproportionally to population. I looked for lists of recommendations for everyone else. In the end, in 2015 it broke down to 13% is by queer writers, 18% by People of Colour, compared against 7% PoC and 8% queer in 2014.

What about CWILA-style self-audit of gender? 47% by male, 39% female, 14% combined authorship or gender queer. Compare that to 2014’s 53% male, 38% female, and 9% combined or gender queer.

Domestic or international? 58% of titles are by Canadians, compared to 65% last year. I had aimed to read more international.

I was aiming to spread out to more science and more novels. It’s about extending gaze to more of the world and not burning out in a poetry rut. The world’s bigger. Still, my appetite is for poetry and two thirds of what I read is poetry, compared to 74% last year.

A quarter of what isn’t poetry is memoir, a fifth are essays and a fifth are novels, 15% history and 11% science. (I didn’t track genres last year.)

I added source this year. The library beats rest of top 5, twice the rate of online, direct from author, used book store or thrift store which were all about even. I feel I get a lot at festivals and book fairs but I guess it makes more of an impact because it costs me more. Thrift and used stores are $1-$10 each instead of $20 or $30 with tax and shipping.

This year I added a 5 star rating system, for my own uses. It’s skewed because why would I stick with books that are 1 or 2 star? Still I did that 53 times. Occasionally a book would pay off by the end but usually it was an opportunity cost of not reading something I liked better. Still a stretch is healthy. If I’m only reading what is easy and agrees with me I’m in a far more vulnerable position. The top 10% I’ve put in the previous post.

Let’s see that again, graphically:


Of those, 176 were “book-books”, that is over 48 pages. Almost a fifth of titles are chapbooks, about the same as last year.

Last year I split out the numbers twice, once for all, once excluding chapbooks. This year I let it ride. I started to count pages partway thru the year by which time I returned, gave away or couldn’t find some of the books. Some books had no page numbers. But the ballpark estimate is 27,000 pages, averaging 135 pages.

How does one compare anything to anything really. A small format book, and a large format, or one with a lot of white space or images or large print, or with little white space, tiny writing and little concern for editing.

Still, if you’re a mac-user and want to track such things, at resources I have a downloaded Numbers file, pre-loaded with graphs and some replaceable filler titles to get you started.

Categories: Currently reading.

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Favourite Books from 2015

Rating books there’s the immediate buzz of bzzt, a no or a wow, but then 6 months pass and do they stay with you or are long gone?

My top more or less 10% favourite reads of 2015:

Another world:

  • 300 Selected Poems of the Tang Dynasty by Chiang Yee/Jiang Yi — The translation makes particular poets and eras feel distinct, unlike the officially sanction Chinese government translation which a converstion to terrible and dull verse. The poems are vivid in the touch of this translator to fold elapsed time. It’s a whole other world and feels like a transport. Closest comparison is a memoir: Like Color to the Blind: Soul Searching & Soul Finding by Donna Williams (Times Books, 1996) — Her second of many books looking inside perception that is overstimulated by Irlen syndrome and intense autism she makes a path to high functioning. Her mind at work is unique.

Perspective tilt:

  • A Small Place by Jamaica Kincaid (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1988) — A perspective shift in how to perceive privilege. An acerbic report of brown life in contrast to entitled classes and tourists. Powerful yet less sense of a life-met of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Elisabeth Beecher Stowe (1852) — Wild ride. It is a classic for a reason. It goes inside the lives, follows a lot of paths but gives a sense of what motivated people from all angles.
  • Clean Sails by Gustave Morin (New Star Books, 2015) — Yes, this is how to think and do typewriter poetry. Boggled at the planning and effort any given page must have taken once you have ideas liftoff. That is took 20 years is no surprise. Sensation of what all is possible.


  • There is a Season: A Memoir by Patrick Lane (M&S, 2004) — A gorgeous bit of writing intercutting memory with gardening to reach a shape that is almost like a novel in reaching resolution. Compares favourably to Between Gods by Alison Pick (Doubleday, 2014) — A memoir that rapidly moves in the pursuit of individual and group identity. It has a sense of arc that coalesces but the darkness is far less than Lane’s.


  • Confessions of a Fairy’s Daughter: Growing up with a Gay Dad by Alison Wearing (Alfred A Knopf, 2013) — We may never have read a book aloud to each other faster. 2 am comes on the heels of an early supper then reluctantly put it away for the night. While a memoir, it goes thru the zeitgeists of the century.
  • Obasan by Joy Kogawa (Penguin, 1981) — This classic is a dark but not unrelenting journey not from the pov of a child as the cover suggests but thru the whole life and community, psychology of choices, a long term asking us about the role of Canada and constructions of “the other”


  • Selected Poems: Alden Nowlan (House of Anansi, 2011) — Ah, this is why he is respected. Taken as a whole the poems are masterful and open. They let the reader into a time and place with room to infer what happened. Control of sound and scene with a  balance of self-assurance and humbleness.
  • The Best Canadian Poetry of 2014, ed, Sonnet L’Abbé (Tightrope, 2014) — a true broad section of what is happening in poetry in Canada with many styles and distinct voices.
  • Cut Up Apologetic by Jamie Sharpe (ECW, 2015) — As if the book were catered to my tastes. Sweet spots of interesting pivots and phrasings. Such uncommonly enjoyable poems. Likewise, Marry & Burn by Rachel Rose (Harbour Publishing, 2015) — A knockout book of poetry. Alert, playful, skilled, interesting in content and moving (and not much can move this rock-heart)
  • Doubleheader: Hurrah for Anything, Poemscapes & A Letter to God by Kenneth Patchen (New Directions,1958) —  How’d he do it? The extremely complex set interconnected yet in each part simple and odd. In comparison Hallelujah Anyway by Kenneth Patchen (A New Directions Book, 1960) — Even in re-read it feels bold in ideas. Handwritten with childlike drawings, if Grandma Moses took some LSD. Very different book yet from the same mind.
  • Honourable mentions: abecedarium by Dennis Cooley (U of Alberta press, 2014), Hastings-Sunrise by Bren Simmers (Nightwood, 2015), Their Biography: an organism of relationships by kevin mcpherson eckhoff (BookThug, 2015), A More Perfect [ by Jimmy McInnis (BookThug, 2015), The Testing Tree: Poems by Stanley Kunitz (Atlantic Monthly Press Book, 1962), undercurrent by Rita Wong (Nightwood, 2015)



  • Shut Up Slow Down Let Go Breathe by Marcus McCann (2015) — each publication by McCann is perfectly rendered so there’s no an ill-considered rhythm or word or syllable and going places that are interesting for journey and destination. Another wower the blue, blue there by Marilyn Irwin (Apt 9, 2015) — sweet to have all these astute crisp tight poems in one tidy bundle of yes.


  • Eight Million Gods by Wen Spencer (Baen, 2013) — I love her books but the last few sagged. This got its mojo back. The wild run into Japan where the ancient gods are real, there in the subway and fields. Love the idea of needing to write as a medical condition. Females are main character which is a surprisingly rare thing. Compared against another murder novel, Hungry Ghosts by Peggy Blair (Simon and Schuster, 2015) — Ghosts was fabulous. I forced myself to put it down once but the parallel worlds in Cuba and northern Ontario reserve as the characters observe and piece together the murder was great.

About writing:

  • How to Tell a Story: The Secrets of Writing Captivating Tales by Peter Rubie and Gary Prevost (Writers Digest Books, 1998) — This was a rosetta stone for storytelling. It goes step by step thru motivation, how sub-plots mirror large plots and the distinction between plot and anecdote. For the kind, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King (Simon & Schuster, 2000) is often touted. I don’t regret reading it but I don’t feel it left any impression other than empathy at his being struck by a vehicle. Still it was a compelling read, more memoir than how-to guide.

Not humans for a change:

  • Mongoose Watch: A family Observed by Anne Rasa (John Murray Publishers, 1984) — A third read. Watching the mongoose in attentive detail without presuming meaning. She learned by sound alone to interpret the vocabulary and recognize individual voices. The individuals live. Compare to: Animal Wise: The Thoughts and Emotions of Our Fellow Creatures  by Virginia Morell, (Crown, 2013). It is a survey of many researchers world wide and decades so reads less like a novel but gathers many species and observations into fascinating accounts. Honourable mention:  Spiders: learning to love them by Lynne Kelly (Jacana, 2009)
  • What a Plant Knows: A Field Guide to the Senses by Daniel Chamovitz (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2012) — Utterly fascinating of what plants can perceive, how they react and communicate chemically within their cells. This should be baseline universal knowledge. I want to read it again.


  • The Yorkshire Shepherdess by Amanda Owen (Magna Large Print Books, 2014) — the story of a city girl who finds her calling among the ancient farmhills raising a large brood of kids. Similar in storytelling and humour to: Hit by a Farm: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Barn by Catherine Friend (Da Capo Press, 2006)


  • The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson — This was far more psychologically interesting than any of the cultural derivatives would hint at. The relationship to self and others can become ghastly with shame. (compared against Around the World in 80 days by Jules Verne (Penguin, 1873), Verne is a Bruce Willis Action movie)


How about that. The pet radish, shrunken is on another favourite of the year list at Dusie.

Categories: Currently reading.

95books: List 25: Family in Poetry 207-216

207. Aethel by Donato Mancini (New Star Books, 2007)
Got and did not read right off. Tendonitis Androgenous uses a sign language (ASL?) as starting point for textual manipulation.

Aethel by Donato Mancini (New Star Books, 2007)

Some such as as the tangle called “What are you reading” or “We Come in Peace” (below) are humourous.

Aethel by Donato Mancini (New Star Books, 2007)

Aethel looked like two parallel text, titles as wit tangetially related. It felt more intellectual than some of his poems that may be more concept-rooted. Funny how I can resonate with arrangement of letters without semantics to different degrees.

I found his Buffet World was fun, barbed, playful. Blurb says it provokes being choked with rage at consumerism. I just found it sparkly tickly. Ligatures I read from a borrowed copy, borrowed again, reread, then bought my own. There’s the cluster of words and letters as if frequency of occurrence and the graphic novel that’s all a personally developed shorthand that is just off the wall. Its graphically classified alphabet amused me above all. My favourite remains Ligatures.

208. When My Brother Was an Aztec by Natalie Diaz (Copper Canyon, 2012)
I pecked away at this for a long time. The middle section takes the lens out to the dirt-poor reserve and Arizona’s poverty despair where all the decisions come from white foreman and the grunt-labour comes from the labour pool of native muscle.

When My Brother Was an Aztec by Natalie Diaz (Copper Canyon, 2012)

The middle section gives a break from the main poem which is brother in freefall and impact on the family. How to do an intervention for a family member going off the rails? The pov is held helpless. The words are vivid but there’s no momentum, more a spiral on the same.

When My Brother Was an Aztec

209. Confessions of a Fairy’s Daughter: Growing up with a Gay Dad by Alison Wearing (Alfred A Knopf, 2013)
This was structured in 3 parts. The first was the daughter’s point of view as a child and young adult, her humourous take on anecdotes. It was all lively and amusing. A second part was archival notes of the father presented without any interjections to speak of, the father’s turmoil in trying to sort his head and life when he finally came out in his 40s. The final was the mother’s chapter, which was more the postscript of daughter living with the mother, tying a sense of coherence and follow through. I would recommend reading for its interesting points of views, its walk through a time and place, what it was like before being out was considered a viable option. It was recent that bathhouse raids happened but already being forgotten.

210. Object Permanence by David B. Goldstein (Ugly Duckling Press, 2015).
The little books they make are lovely in the hand, with page numbers, which I always appreciate in books.

Each poem is a portrait written from the perspective of a different ugly, broken doll. Perhaps people who are fascinating with Chuckie of horror films would find this fun. I didn’t get it. A lot of blinking.

Handless Doll

Sometimes a single word
can grant me the will to live.
So you know how old I am?
Do you find my legs beautiful?
Come, touch the clustered pale grapes
of my hair.

On the day, after midnight blood
breaks the skin
the whole world will become blue.

As homeless people become frustrated at being ignored, differently frustrated at attention and sympathy given to their pets, perhaps, to write confessional is looked past but speaking allegorically thru dolls people with a step removed feel safe to feel compassion.

After so many damaged dolls, I was dreading what the animal chapter would be but it actually was my favourite. Glad I stuck it through. Porcelain Cicadas was interesting.

Object Permanence

They go on to “rejoin-language consciousness which you call colour,/ and will report everything we have heard.// What we have heard: longing, the pretence of longing, and arguing over finances.”

211. The State in Which by Hailey Higdon (above/ground, 2013)
This was a project to write one poem per month. My copy of the chapbooks was assembled wrong somehow so continuity was mussed in June and July. It was kind of diary and self-conscious of writing as writing. It fell in and out of focus. For example, the first half of December,

so many people are ok
with not being the best
versions of themselves
it was a million domestic
situations that made me
choose from one thing to the next
rebel, this is what I did
I stopped the idle, saying
yes, so much more often, so much more, storing up, collecting yeses,
risk, but the inverse
of take it and move on, I used to
keep repeating the same mistake–
quitting days, I know better now

The first three lines sound promising. Then its structured as stream of consciousness. Why not take the time to untangle. Part of it is the chaotic surge forward of life “I am looking for jobs, trying to locate the future perfect. How poinsettias arrive in the grocery story each year, looking so consistently identical, you can’t help staring.”

212. Animal Wise: The Thoughts and Emotions of Our Fellow Creatures by Virginia Morell, (Crown, 2013)
This I’d recommend for the content. Did you know an ant is 1/7 brain? They have ganglia nerves, form memories and preferences, choose new conditions for a colony, train others in how to get to the new place. Franks put a colour dot pattern on each individual and by that means his lab could watch and understand as individuals rather than a mass.

In the chapter on dogs and wolves there was this:
Animal Wise: The Thoughts and Emotions of Our Fellow Creatures

In the book there was also a great deal of emphasis on of course we can’t use the world language, we can only say they communicate intent and content. Which really is some retiree linguist matter. It was belaboured how animals were believed to be instinct machines, which seems kind of strange. That is evidently wrong and has been. Only for a few decades in human history have some assumed that as a blip.

p. 264-265. Grey whales don’t migrate by instinct mindlessly but choose a route and if a shark kills a calf one year, she’ll migrate a new route the next year. Managing wildlife as if they were vegetables to weed has impacts. For example, older male elephants and cougars keep the young males in check. Remove them and the males in teenage year attack anything that moves. Whether that control is social or social and chemical, the group is impacted by taking out individuals. In 2008 Marc Cattet found that collaring bears spiked enzymes of muscle damage for months. They moved stiffly as if sore for up to 5 weeks then, recovered rushed to get back on track and catch up with the pace as if there is a scheduled destination and time.

p. 66-70 Braitwaite studies pain in fish. Because their face are impassive they don’t signal as we are used to reading. They think, plan, use tools, glean scent from water, have colour vision, acute hearing, learn from their peers, make a range of calls out of our hearing range to find mates, warn enemies away, warn their young. They squeal, squeal, chirp, bark, groan and hum. They have the same type of nerve cells to transmit pain. When a trout’s lip is injected with saline the trout eats normally. When stung with an irritant acetic acid or bee venom, the trout rock back and forth and rub their lip on sand or surfaces (as primates do), go off their food. A stickleback when put in their usual maze, after a sting make poor choices and are disoriented enough to not get the bait or will ignore a new danger or attack it as it doesn’t do when uninjured. Hatchery fish released to the wild has injuries and were aggressive to other fish and few survived. Fish were thought to not have amygdala but anatomist found it. It was missed because fish brains develop outward rather than inward like ours. All their special structures are in the outside not inside of their brains.

p. 18-19 The bower bird not only decorate but lays ornaments so that it creates an illusion of perspective in size of sticks and stones. Cheetah males do male bonding so much that a pair when one is killed, the other will give a distress call until he may stop eating, become weak and die.

Only caveat is that the style for chapter intros annoyed the bejeepers out of me. Every person entering room needed to have an assessment of their clothes, hairs, colouring, what stereotype they evoke and something about their style of speech. The room had copious extraneous details of material. I suppose that’s place setting.

213. Spiders: learning to love them by Lynne Kelly (Jacana Books, 2009)
I adore the book. The writer is copiously detailed and passionate. It splits across Australia, Europe and America, with some on Asia.

Some paragraphs could be split out into whole chapters. The content is fascinating but wish it jumped around less and was more combed. Part of it is just a layout issue with photos appearing a few pages off from the content.

Much of what is known about spiders was in the 1800s when people actually went outside. Still, the orb-weavers tend to be visible if you’re out and about and many spiderlings drop a line to the wind to be carried to new territory. I thought as a kid and was told that spiders grew across the grass in the night before dew. It seems obvious now they were parachuters fledging and landed all across the field. The lines disappeared because spiders use their habit is to not waste protein. You use the thread and wind to travel, then ball it back up and eat it.

It assumes no knowledge, and with the subject of spiders, that’s a safe assumption. Most spider species makes 7 kinds of silk, and most may not be scientifically described yet. Only 40,000 species are described yet. Most if they have names, are local names and one species may be as variable as a dog with different size and coloration and patterns. The most reliable way to tell is by turning a microscope on their genitals because those are keyed to a species. Almost no species are deadly. Some female primitive spider species may live for decades and never be seen because they live underground, putting out threads to persuade prey to walk in. Like skinks, a spider can lose a leg if a predator grabs it. To a certain age, the next moult will replace the limb. (p. 41).

Spiders: learning to love them by Lynne Kelly (Jacana Books, 2009)

Some spider species are built more for digging and may be feet underground. Others like soft soil. The diversity is about as much as mammal. Some spider species regurgitate food to their young and lay infertile eggs for them to eat before they fledge. Some start eating right away. Some eat the mom.

Some spiders recognize their young from plants from another spider and let them ride on her back while shaking off the others.

Some spiders disperse wide away and others make their homes within a few centimetres from where they were hatched. Some lay eggs and die. Some live for decades. Some mate and then live with the male for weeks or months. Some mate and if the male doesn’t move quickly is eaten. Some mate and then are indifferent and can store the sperm in mini packets for years, self-inseminating whenever the conditions are right.

Spiders: learning to love them by Lynne Kelly (Jacana Books, 2009)

p. 156. The pellet spider (Stanwellia nebulosa) digs a burrow and makes a clay pebble from its spit and web and dirt so that it is pear-shaped. It makes a hollow on the side and threads it. Should a predator not prey come into the burrow the way is blocked by the spider who pulls a pouch collar’s thread and the clay is pulled off the wall and onto the pouch. When enough time has passed, pushed from below, the clay pebble is pushed back up onto the shelf.

214. Sweet Devilry by Yi-Mei Tsiang (Oolichan Books, 2011)
I have been picking up and setting down this one for about 40 books. I am irrationally irritated by the notion of doing fairy tales recast as poems but Hansel and Gretel flipped culpability to the father not the woman with the oven, suggesting he is violent “who would creep into their bedrooms/at night, eyes glinting an axe,/looking at all he could cut through”. I am irrationally bound to the idea of reading books in the order they were presented and not skipping. I am not found of mother poems but Winter House pulled back the perspective to how the whole family is relating to the world.

Sweet Devilry

215. Marry & Burn by Rachel Rose (Habour Publishing, 2015)
One of the strongest books of poetry I’ve seen in a good while. It has punch, articulacy, form-skills, something to say and a way of saying that isn’t blunt and plain nor needlessly obscure. Each poem isn’t following the same formula for content and style but it doesn’t feel like a few disparate chapbooks stapled together without coherence either. I don’t know which of a dozen might be my favourite; Sublimation; Intervention; The Introduction; Confusion [which was the Dec 31 Two Things I’m Reading at Literary Landscape];Bees; Corona for Charlotte; Good Measure; Compersion; The Flight; Marry or Burn; The End of I; Anthropology.

From “The Introduction”, taking kids to a play about Nazism, “The play about evil is described by critics as universal./There are songs as we can only protect them/for so long without damaging them.”

I don’t know what would be representative. So many styles, distances, subjects and tones. Intervention,

Marry & Burn by Rachel Rose (Habour Publishing, 2015)

216. Observing the Moon by Sneha Madhavan-Reece (Hagios, 2015)
From the Strike Fire, New Authors Series from Hagios come these tender poems, sometimes poignant without being sentimental, a hard balance to strike. There is anecdote telling of true life tales but there’s craft to suggest it’s poetry not lineated prose. There’s a plainness of concrete language mixed with symbolic depth, “And every morning we show reverence for the sun;/we eat breakfast turned away, facing our shadows on the wall.” (Giving In, p.80).

They run as tying down the worth keeping about parents, husband, child and one’s own childhood and present. There’s a bit of humour popping up as in “Sudden Spring” p. 62 “The only thing hatching are potholes./I’ve always wanted to live near water.”

How to Bless a New Home

Turn your head
when the milk boils. Let it
bubble over. Laugh and make tea
with what is left: it will bring
fortune far greater
than the cost
of the milk you have spilled.

I can imagine the scene, the boxes still packed but the resolve to live well with what is. Refusing to let the small stuff sour the important whole.

I love that there is a mix of language, of external and internal “Learning French (p.82) in Chinatwon “I collect /French worlds like a child’s/treasures: little rocks in my pockets.//Waiting outside/for the homeward bus,/I whisper to myself: oiseaux,/l’arc en ciel. The small boys beside me/point and shout — câi hóng!

Categories: Currently reading.