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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.

New mini chapbooks

P6100018 (1)
Opening to curtains to 3 new mini chapbooks at the Ottawa small press fair at Jack Purcell tomorrow afternoon (or to a surprise 4th as well should the forces of gnomes and homes be with me).

Alicia Cumming has a chapbook of women, mother/daughter, body image and finding one’s personal footing. Example excerpt: “suppressing, moulding,/unceasing until I become/acceptable, a doll of exquisite beauty,/deep fear the only part of me/that is left”

She’s reading tonight at the pre-small press fair reading. That’s Marilyn Irwin, Dean Steadman, Alicia Cumming and Stuart Ross at the Carleton Tavern, doors 7pm.

Also coming out tomorrow is Anita Dolman’s latest glass studio, poems of fracturing and repair, poems about being active creators of one’s world. Example excerpt: “she breaks the glass/just like that, a new night”

And a mini chapbook from Michael Dennis full of plain truths with quirky twists. An example excerpt: “Richard Brautigan/was blowing pot smoke rings/at a bull’s eye on a poster/with a photo of Ezra Pound”

Categories: PSA, Poetry, Poetics, phafours press news.

Explaining Poetry

Intro patter that is backstory not visible in the poem is one thing.

Where you give away ending of the poem in the introduction thus undermining the effect is another.

Here’s a third way prefaces to poems can harm the effectiveness of the reading: Some months ago a poet explained an lexicon of terms, not characters only but also general vocabulary.

It struck me as long-winded, taking time that could be spent on the poetry. Was it more? Patronizing but that could be nervousness, a reader falling back on habit of other role as authority and teacher, mistaking the reading for a lecture.

It’s partly that, but I’ve put my finger on the key issue now. If the poet speaks to the audience, he or she speaks what the audience can understand. If it’s assumed the audience can’t understand then it is the wrong poems for the audience.

In this case the poet low-balled the audience explaining the most commonplace things.

It brings the question of how do you know what someone else knows especially when in a roomful of strange faces? Almost without exception everyone in a room of a poetry reading is a poet. Maybe published, maybe doing decades of competent work and reading.

Too often a poet gets up and explains what a poetic form is, or some ubiquitous thing presuming an audience unfamiliar with poetry. If someone was dragged in by a coworker, a line of definition will not be enough. If the audience is familiar, a line will be too much.

You want to make everyone feel included. It’s rare for someone to be attending their first reading. Every individual is the core audience but so is the third person in the group, the average personality of the crowd.

Poems meant for slow re-read of the eyes may not translate well to the quick air.

If most of your poems are not for oral, it misrepresents the book to choose only those most similar to the medium of easy to the ear.

Is it not best to present the poem straight out? It will entice with what was partially caught, or the whole will be caught but if it doesn’t stand alone, there’s no way to remedy that at this stage. Plough on.

If the poem is structured with such difficulty that one pass isn’t enough the grasp its outlines or energy, that’s the concern of another day.

Every reading will not be outstanding. Sometimes there’s an off energy within the reader so he or she can’t stay present in the poems. Sometimes the audience, that third collective energy, will get the poems and feedback loop beautifully. Sometimes it won’t. That’s not in the poet’s control or the poems. There’s ultimately just doing it.

Categories: Poetics.

Haiku World Forms

I made an infographic map of haiku and related forms. Some influenced haiku or were influenced by, some derived from, some share a common ancestor of ancient Chinese court poetry.

It’s a projection map where haiku is large and central because it is a map of haiku. If tanka were the centre or concrete poetry proportions would be different.

Categories: Poetics.