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95books in 2015: list 9: Keying In On Details

I mussed up my numbering system, not transferring all from spreadsheet to twitter or visa versa, so this will be at odds with what I had on twitter. Bah.

Overall, past this particular list, for 2015, 27% of books I read were published this year or last. 14% are a century or older, higher than before and I’ve been pushing more towards older things.

Of those finished, 43% females, 42% male and 15% both or genderqueer. My Canadian content has dropped compared to last year to 36%. Poetry is the lowest year on record at 56%. I’ve been hitting non-fiction hard and I have half a dozen more non-fiction underway. Queer writers are at 9% but always a problem getting that accurate since I presume hetero if I don’t know. As Tania Israel points out, people who behave as bisexual or are attracted to either gender or anywhere on the gender spectrum, could be 40% of the population. People of Colour are 15% which is the highest rate to date.


72. The Tree It Was by Sandra Fuhringer (Hexagram Series, King’s Road Press, 2002)

The poem sometimes needs to be shaken clear of its chaff. Then you come to something exceptional and want all the rest to be more diligent. This was exceedingly diligent. A book of the week at the Haiku Foundation, The Tree It Was, has an eye for astute telling moments. Too bad I didn’t mention that sooner. Sandra died earlier this year.

There is this chapbook and 1 broadsheet from 1996 that I know of her poems collected up.

morphine mothwing

Minimalist poem and yet with volume. Some of the poems are concrete. Some differently direct.

midnight rain
the vacancy sign
is turned off

It’s always a race to read the living as they disappear like fireflies.

73. Pail in Hand: 25 Haiku, Angelee Deodhar (privately published, 2000)

Book of the Week: Pail in Hand. One of the most prominent promoters of haiku in India this was produced there from poems that had been previously published in various journals. Particularly striking are the the keen level of details. From one aspect, you can picture much around it.

p. 9

sharing an umbrella
your wet left shoulder
my right one

A sample is hard to choose. The collection is not a rewriting, reexploring of the same idea repeatedly.


from the shadows
ceaseless as the song of cicadas
sex-show sex-show

It sheds light onto the cicada as well as the human lifespan of cycles of pursuing sexual and being underground, as individuals and society. It unpacks with its comparison in a way that complements both elements.


his saffron robes
pale before
the nasturtiums

It is so sharply sensory. The shift of perception goes with narrator and reader in lockstop. You picture the monk but then resharpening the colour once you have the contrast so the poem completes itself in the reader.

74. the blue, blue there by Marilyn Irwin (Apt 9, 2015)
Good? Hands down. Hands up. We are not worthy.

Jeez. Making the rest look bad.

The humour and unique vantage point of a 22 point list “for when you make friends with a turtle” is charming and and comic. For example “fourteen: never resort to baby talk. they’re better than that and so are you.”

What else can a list do?


a red Bic
a safety pin
a receipt for Greek

it is unseasonably cold

nightmares accelerate

the comfort
of your collarbone

When you don’t feel verbal and yet this tight list fast forwards thru time and gestures to getting by through sparse times. Each physical object is emblematic. The lighter causes the poem to loop but withholds it from clicking shut because it loops and then continues. It breaks the trope of long poet against the universe because there is an other there and supportive. And although simple, the last 3 lines pivot back and forth on the middle line for dibs.

Even as a short poem “the mice were alright” does more work than some longer pieces that absolve themselves of guilt by blaming others. It steps up for culpability as a narrator which seems to me a way to resolve rather than entrench

and then we gave them cancer
turned their genes blue
science is helpful
we are right
we are sorry

From the title that calls up “the kids are alright” to the Canadianism of apology it seems quintessentially characteristic of Canada now. Understated rather than overworked and overwrought, they are poems with dignity and yet not holding up SWAT team shields. I could go on but buy it yourself while they last.

75. Eight Shades of Blue by Denis Garrison (Modern English Tanka Press, 2000)
Eight Shades of Blue Denis M. Garrison (Modern English Tanka Press, 2000)
As a book of the week, inside the downloadable pdf is an essay on “The Need for Experimentation”. He posits about the 1st culture tradition: “it is always to futile to attempt to control what one has given away.” He raises the question of how season words can convey something now that we are disconnected from seasons for harvest, survival in our non-agrarian lives.

He also talks about the crystalline which encourages euphony, the development of haiku noir as well as ideas of poetry broadly. “The rules of poetics are not for writing the poem; the rules are for forming the craft of the poet.”

It’s been said before but bears repeating for any form: “If a western poet is to write haiku, and if that poet is going to go beyond the traditional boundaries of the art form, then she or he had better know where the boundaries are. There is no merit in freedom by virtue of ignorance.” The thought structures or lack of them behind poems are visible in the energy of the poem as much as a person nattily or sloppily dressed.

At risk of quoting all 90-odd pages well, largely most is poetry not the essay parts that I enjoy more than the poems. I’d rather talk about poetry than read it sometimes.

…One more sample, “The technical criteria are really very simple. The hard part, the fun part, the real art, is developing a good ear for a euphonious verse. Nothing works here except practice. Of course, for those who are already accomplished poets and have highly developed ears for a pleasingly modulated line, the challenge may be simply in fitting a lovely line to this strict form.”

Although taken with hi essays, his poems, not as much. They seem expected and overly wordy.

2 A.M.

sitting in her chair
the silence

Or these Chrystalines,

The mural on the mall’s facade
is festooned with butterflies at rest.

Why do we need the word facade? To indicate outside? To go with festooned which seems a rather odd poet-ery word. Would this be better? But the form constraint wants 17 syllables. Not enough content so it feels padded. If I re-write it’s 14 syllables,

on the mall’s orange mural
wind moves butterflies at rest

but feels, what, less joyous. Maybe that adds some zip. When a poem annoys taking it apart to tinker can help see why the choices were made.

At the bottom of the wishing well,
a thank-you note lies bleeding ink.

Why is that comma there when a pause is already enforced by the line break? Why not a comma after lies? Why is the word bleeding in a poem? The syntax is mussed. It makes a turbulence in reading in order to play off “lies bleeding”. Was it worth the payoff?

Why would a wishing well have water? Aren’t must the wooden decorative jobbies for kitsch appeal the most common? Or it is just in the rain? A thank you lies bleeding? So it deeply wounds not to honour a thank you note and cherish it forever? I find it disproportionally confusing for its length.

Some books I’m not on the same wavelength as but it’s odd that the essays ring so well and the poems so far off my radar.

76. Handful of Sand by Stanford M. Forrester (Bottle Rockets Press, 2001)
Online are a few of his haiku, including these,

spring morning—
the breeze
in one curl of her hair


summer afternoon—
the first drops of rain
on my bare feet

They key in on the smallest detail of sensation or motion which is where all the immediacy is. Noticing the quiet beauty is a defiant act in a society that sells conflict. They don’t deny what is outside the poem so much as recognize by countering.

77. The Perils of Geography by Helen Humphreys (Brick Books, 1995)
Bit of a slog for me. It’s against my bias of proper sentence structure, story as poetry. Why not just save paper and present as fine memoirs. Or we need another word.

If you aren’t improving you should try something else. And she has improved over 20 years. I heard her read at festivals from her novels. This was written how many tens of thousands of words ago? I liked Flood, p. 21. It has a musicality to it.

Helen Humphreys

The anecdotes aren’t often to my taste as they traipse about in inaction. I suppose it is made of vignettes, still life rather than a short story arc. Plod not plot. There is season. There is ground. There is water. Just as one starts to come to something, the poem closes so that it feels like the content is turned away from. The foundational work is laid but then. It seems the sketching on characters to come, like the eldest daughter dancing in the pig trough on her sister’s wedding day to be blessed with enough luck to also to be married, to feel oneself foolish in brokering in such myth, then at some point just enjoying the dance.

78. Histories of the Future Perfect by Ellen Kombiyil (Great Indian Poetry Collective, 2015)
A few poems in this shone out. In the third page of “How I came to Love” there’s a scene sharp with details

bare-chested men played pool, where light spilled
like arctic light, weak on exposed flesh.

their eyes on my eyes, balls coming to rest,
yet no one spoke, their round bellies seeming

to suggest they swallow meals whole.
my feet cobbled to the spot.[...]

an escaped parrot among sword leaves

dropped her fruit, and I’m astonished
by colors streaking sky, the knowledge

hat fuchsia can look grey in photographs.

The poem goes thru dream-imagery hoops. (Isn’t it funny how life is discontinuous but we need to speak dreams to recognize the non-sequitur of it all?)

To my eye the stongest poem is “They will [not] speak of” of p.77 which like Cheryl Clarke’s Narratives works around the unspoken, the coercively silencing moments. From the middle of the poem,

What was once quiet pasture becomes
voices shushed in latticed pie crusts.
That’s all behind us now, the civic
leader rings out, naming it wild female
. It’s still happening.

They will speak of forgiveness, They will not
say violence

It’s got some lovely movement “Insert your horror here [ ].”

“If you won’t forgive God/ won’t forgive you” says the minister in the poem. Heard that. Implicit blame. To forgive too soon isn’t to lip service while remaining unheard.

This one I will call out because it was striking to read intercut with Nowlan’s.

Her’s, p. 62
p. 62


Daughter of Zion

Seeing the bloodless lips, the ugly knot of salt-coloured hair,
the shapeless housedress with its grotesque flowers
like those printed on wallpaper in cheap rooming houses,
sadder than if she wore black.

observing how she tries to avoid the sun,
crossing the street with her eyes cast down
as though such fierce light were an indecent spectacle:
if darkness could be bought like yard goods
she would stuff her shopping bag with shadows,

noting all this and more,
who would look at her twice?
What stranger would suspect that only last night
in a tent by the river,
in the aisles between the rows
of rough planks laid on kitchen chairs,
before an altar of orange crates,
in the light of a kerosene lantern,
God Himself, the Old One, seized her in his arms and lifted

     her up and danced with her,
and Christ, with the sawdust clinging to his garments and

      the swear of the carpenter’s shop
on his body and the smell of wine and
garlic on his breath
drew her to his breast and kissed her,

and the Holy Ghost
went into her body and spoke through her mouth
the language they speak in heaven!

So in A, a woman is indoors, in a porn-shop office, a private session with God and nothing sexual happens despite expectation. All the power is with her, and the god is a needy waif. God is colorless and surrounded by river rock of office equipment. He looks like nothing and is turned away from. The poem moves from openness to closure and a colouring of contempt and dismissal towards god.

In B, written in another time and space, a colourless woman is outdoors on the street. She looks like nothing but is attended to by the narrator. She is more than she seems. She had a passionate sexual encounter with a trinity of god by the river. She has that power within her. The poem starts harshly but takes a omniscient second look. There’s an urging to look past the superficial and a compassionate gaze.

79. Selected Poems: Alden Nowlan (House of Anansi, 2011)
Ah, and this is how poetry can be effective. It has story, a beauty to ear and tongue not falling to sweet because of the brutality of life force related. There’s a worldview with an axis, a moral fibre of hangman-strength, a point to the utterance known to the writer before it begins that unfolds with the reader filling in blanks which are not impossible to traverse. It is no riddle. No you-had-to-be-there-cultural-reference. I don’t know fishing life in the Maritimes half a century ago. The drama is human universal and transcends the details with the details.

“July 15th” I read as part of last week’s Literary Landscape. “He Attempts to Love his Neighbours” I shared on FB as part of 5 poems for 5 days meme.

He Attempts to Love His Neighbours

My neighbours do not wish to be love.
They have made it clear that they prefer to go peacefully
about their business and want me to do the same.
This ought not surprise me as it does;
I ought to know by now that most people have a hundred things
they would rather do than have me love them.
There is television, for instance; the truth is that almost everybody,
given the choice between being loved and watching TV,
would choose the latter. Love interrupts dinner,
interferes with mowing the lawn, washing the car,
or walking the dog. Love is a telephone ringing or a doorbell
waking you moments after you’ve finally succeeded in getting to sleep.
So we must be careful, those of us who were born with
the wrong number of fingers or the gift
of loving; we must do our best to behave
like normal members of society and not make nuisances
of our ourselves; otherwise it could go hard with us.
It is better to bite back your tears,
swallow your laughter,
and learn to fake the mildly self-deprecating titter
favoured by the bourgeoisie
than to be left entirely alone, as you will be,
if your disconformity embarrasses
your neighbours; I wish I didn’t keep forgetting that.

“He Sits Down on the Floor of a School for the Retarded” was also a lovely poem. “How Beautiful Art Thy Feet with Shoes” is the sweetest love poem I’ve read in a good long while. I bookmarked rather a lot “Great Things Have Happened” and “A Pair of Pruning Shears struck me so a feather could have toppled me the rest of the way. “The Secretive Fisherman” was a wonder in how it revealed without revealing, as if by recording the audience, the central spectacle’s impact is felt but without knowing the what or who yet still being impacted. He has a concrete, direct language.

I should think I’ll re-read with a paper copy since trying to re-read is bearish, only from a technological point of view as it is my first foray into “overdrive” a public library lending of a file. Which really as a concept I don’t understand. I can’t copy or paste, highlight or make any notes like other digital files. The library doesn’t auto-delete at the end of borrowing. I have to “return it” somehow. I can bookmark poems. Yep, I’m getting the paper version.

Categories: Currently reading.

95books in 2015, list 8: On and Off the Radar

Bit of a speedbump there. I couldn’t place my hand on where I’ve since put some of the books.

If you read only what is comfortable, gratifying and what you get you bog into your cliché until your sweet spot breaks from overuse. It’s not sustainable, is it?

66. Poems: Jim Behrle & Fred Moten (Pressed Wafer, 2002)
There’s some parallels between Behrle’s and McGimpsy’s in referencing those specifics that pass. For Behrle it’s worth mentioning Krispy Kreme and Pepsi. There’s in common subject jumping rather than the rippleless lyric whole. For the first half of a poem,

good to go

please suggest changes
to my breath and head.
breath like dust, climbing

and settling. convey our
sense of loss and regret
with flags and puppets.

at the edge of the party
entertaining portraits of
dead actors. at centre

making a dull speech.
disinterest me again like
a platter of flat hors d’ouevres.

Behrle also gestures to the general, saying actor, rather than pinpoint one and a world noted that consists of diners and urban storefronts, rather than say, undifferentiated city and trees, sky, birds.

Anthem I keep coming back to. It moves in such an expected and yet careful way, built of deliberate small things yet adding up to a sort of cherishing.

Jim Behrle poems

On the flip side of the book was Fred Moten’s poems. This set references music, often entitled for the name of a drummer or singer. I’m out of my depth since it’s probably calling up all kinds of references to songs I don’t know. I don’t know music.

It begs the question of what is reading. To run eyes over words and stare real hard doesn’t exactly convey anything if you can’t follow it.

Here’s one:

Fred Moten, poems, 2002

67. Twigs & Leaves Vol VIII: 2014 (Broken Rules Press, 2014)
This is the annual chapbook of poems voted best of the year’s open mic at Ste. Anne de Bellevue is 36 pages. It comes with a CD of 66 more poems recorded live. French, English, code switching between those and Cree. Long as oral poetry goes, but what a neat idea. It’s like an open mic you can hit pause on at any time. Poems range from 18 seconds to under 4 minutes, most of them under a minute long. You can do any poem for 40 seconds and when you can’t it’s like Britain’s Got Talent.

Some snippets from Joyceline Falconer: “the crinkle of autumn about your eyes” “your purgatory I am not”

GT doing it like late night radio talk with a keyboard/synthesizer: “two people inside me./ one wants to be captured, /one wants to be free”

“The things we do not say might have filled the library of Alexandria” ~ R de Smit

“Mission still not accomplished and now I’ve gone and forgotten what it was[…] facing down death, it must have been. ” from a birthday poem by Claudia Morrison.

68. Asbestos Heights by David McGimpsey (Coach House, 2015)
There comes a time in many books when you run out of bookmarks or paper nearby that you can conscionably shred for strips. Then you have to read the whole thing over again because that one you were looking for was not put in there like a pop-up book. Same font as the rest and in the case of chubby sonnets, same shape as all the other poems. The first section has titles about flowers, the second about baseball, the third “a history of Canada: its poetry, its birds, its Prime Ministers and its trees.” With each starting with an I Love Noodles song.

When I put the book against L’il Bastard it seems similar, comparable voice and poems that travel a distance over the length of each rather than rotate like a vignette top. These seem higher contrast, darker, tipped to jaded from cynical, from rootless to restless, proportionally less self-deprecating and more bummed out. In L’il Bastard in “Song for a Silent Treatment, p 84. “I told her in plain language, how I felt./And by that I mean I mumbled a poorly/paraphrased and already cryptic passage/from one of Yeat’s later poems.//When she asked, “What was that?” I said, “Nothing./Nothing. It doesn’t matter. It mattered,/of course.”

In p 46 of Asbestos Heights in a poem entitled “William Faulkner” “One out of every thousand Hart Cranes/does not commit suicide. Tough odds, sure,/but better than the odds of throwing/a perfect games for the Chicago Cubs.”

There’s more reference to suicide, murder and being hated. And more surreal and disjointed in their travel. There’s a point or few in most poems of the latest where stanzas non sequitur as far as I can tell.

Compare p. 31 (below) of L’il Bastard

flower chapter
to p. 11 of Asbestos Heights

The thing with McGimpsey’s books is that even when I don’t have any point of reference for the pop culture, it’s the structure, the non-verbal rhythms of funny or pathos. It still reaches. This book seemed an experiment in poetry, poems pushing and shoving within themselves.

In p. 80 the poem entitled, “When Sylvia Plath said ‘People or stars regard me sadly,’ I think she mostly meant people” he flips expectations “Make it new. You learn from old masters,/taking Keats’s ‘I believe you had likes me/for my own sake’ and renewing it/to ‘Wanna do a panel at AWP’?

Why pretend poetry is for someone other than poets? It baffles me when a featured reader presumes there are non-poets and consequently define a stanza or form name.

If you also have points of reference for baseball and movie stars and music world, it may resonate with you more. I mostly got the funny lines of paragraph-long titles and the way it kicked back against pretty nature poetry and easy smooth pretty poetry.

69. Jack Kerouac Book of Haikus (Penguin, 1969, 2003)
First thought best thought? The risk of writing any poetry is to write and “so what?”.

There’s this and there’s that and none of it signifies or its not elaborated enough in the . People are surrounded by things of no significance. How can curating more help?

That’s freedom from overbearing imposition of meaning. Or wasting everyone’s time?

Water in a hole
— behold
The sodden skies

This book made me grumpy but a couple bits were pleasant enought, urban haiku and senryu, kinda. The car speaks to timeless and the moment that passes. The latter being present in a single breath moment, most literally.

Ancient ancient world
—tight skirts
By the new car

My hand,
A thing with hairs,
rising and falling with my belly.

The preface explains that Haikus was the original title so was kept even if he realized later the plural of haiku is haiku.

70. A Really Good Brown Girl by Marilyn Dumont (Brick, 1996/2015)
This comes from the poem as anecdote tradition with prose syntax. “The Sky is Promising” has a refrain of “Danny come home” which added up to something that moved the body even if the mind didn’t understand why or how.

Mostly they are straight up stories although the style and density vary from poem to poem. I liked the phrase you are “as open as/a window in a storm” and how it could mean closed, or letting unpleasantness in.

Lee Maracle’s preface on how it moved her and others, and the impact of the book on people with similar stories was a great addition to the new Brick Anniversary edition.

Funny, Still Unsaved Soul has a lot of parallel convergence with Kay Ryan’s 1985 book (Strangely Marked Metal) that speaks the frustrations and impasses of being surrounded by a religion but can’t believe.

Marilyn Dumont

71. Tracelanguage by Mark Goldstein (BookThug, 2010)
There are moments of tickle but by and whole, I don’t get it. Or do but don’t know how to engage with it. With time and mood change, it doesn’t aid. It is about language in language, letting it drift, untether from the original sense and mutate as it translates across languages. The crux of it seems p. 73,

Mark Goldstein

Although p.96 seems to key in on a skeleton key as well.
Mark Goldstein

Can I say when I read Gertrude Stein that I understand? When it is an accumulated list of pathogens, do I get the mood? When do I say I’ve got all that was put out to give? Where do I need to position myself to get more or are my rootlets taking in all that they can take it? What is reading? Where is the line of understanding enough to say you’ve read it. If I run my eyes over every character of Russian which I do not read, have I read the book? What is the smallest unit where meaning resides? Is a chance operation, a language procedure an event equivalent to an action to effect a change?

To transtranslate without content only for sound to recombine towards language, into language certainly but not without intent, being led by the language, is that meaning-making, or language-making? Does one fool oneself any more than when listening to semblance of language when people thrust clichés, stereotypes, gossip and weather at one another. What is substance? What is is exchanged? Is it only the act of being together, even if there’s no story telling and no dance of musicality or humour.

The symbolists thought that there was prose-logic and there was poetry and the two shouldn’t be the same. More should be done by the reader.

In Umberto Eo’s Experiences in Translation, “a text is a machine conceived for eliciting interpretations”. How much should the presentation be argument, a puzzle, wheedling the reader or weeding the readers? The transtranslations are cantilevered more than grounded. They build off each other to see where they go. Is it up to the writer or reader to test if that’s somewhere interesting that’s offered. The roles are askew from some differently didactic works.

Categories: Currently reading.

As good as its title

One can get good at vigorous effort of seeming to make good oratory sounds, movements of rise and denouement without having anything particularly compelling to another audience.

One can write tight, clear and creative, but on a topic of no interest. Every utterance is an invitation to broaden interests.

One can move one person to tears while the other blinks in confusion because it elicits shared experience, or doesn’t.

There can be shabby shoddy thinking in any form. Rhyme doesn’t mean it’s mostly filler. And refusal of the anaesthetic of narrative doesn’t mean deep side thoughts instead of provincial personal diaries.

Style factor doesn’t prove anything. But it can be an indicator. How often is the title or cover a fair warning of mismatch?

Categories: Uncategorized.

Rita Wong on Literary Landscape

Missed last night’s show? Talk of water and poetry, from the director of Avatar to the tar sands to our capacity to make the world better instead of eroded, Rita Wong on Literary Landscape. Never fear, it’s on playback.

Rita Wong

Also ready to play again is last week’s show when 3 novelists shared Memories of Jane Crosier: Elizabeth Hay, Brenda Chapman and Barbara Fradkin. Jane was the first host of the show for 12 years.

Next week JM Francheteau, following week Kate then I’m back again with my 40th episode.

Categories: CKCU.

95books in 2015, list 7: Mixing it Up Like Batter

59. Conversations with the Kid by Marco Fraticelli (King’s Road Press, 2015)
How neat to get a copy of this. It is haibun by Marco of conversations with his grandchild. A limited edition given out at Haiku Canada which I couldn’t attend this year. It was made using one of my templates that I offer under free resources. I’ve heard of other ones coming into being here and there but it’s the first paper I’ve seen myself. Here’s one of his haibun,

Time After Time

I was remembering this morning that there was once a time when I used to wear two watches. Not only that, but I used to collect antique clocks. I was convinced that all these clocks would help me control time.

How come you don’t wear a watch these days, Grandpa?

Because I always know exactly what time it is.

Really? So what time is it then?

It’s now.

‘Now’ isn’t a time.

You’re wrong, kid. ‘Now’ is the only time.

taking off
my watch
for yoga

Funny how yoga seems to be the new beer for poets. Everywhere I look, more yoga poems. I suppose it’s more adaptive in the post-modern era once we take surviving as something to shoot for.

60. The Testing Tree: Poems by Stanley Kunitz (Atlantic Monthly Press Book, 1962)

I read the whole book waiting for a delayed flight. And I only regret it a little. I rushed thru a 5-course cordon bleu meal because I didn’t want it interrupted at an awkward time when we did get clearance to leave the tarmac, in case we hit turbulence. And because I didn’t want to stop. Although often anecdotes, they are precisely worded and not as plain as their syntax. p. 59

Again! Again!

Love knocked again at my door :
I tossed her a bucket of bones.
From each bone springs a soldier
who shoots me as a stranger.

It has a lot of movement in there for the number of words but not haphazard shifts for randomness’ sake. It moves pragmatically but not a straight course.

Even when it is a simple poem of watching a Robin Redbreast, it is shot through with an unexpected trauma where the erratic behaviour of the bird is not its doing but because he had been hunted with a bb-gun and you can see sky thru its skull. That reveal of sky after all the musing to help or figure out the movement before stops the poem like a car against a freight train.

There is the moral tug throughout, attempting to be what is the good in this world, to be pacifist and kind, and yet the bind of all the wrongs leading to a desire to get to the the hangman. That complex nature of humanity is missing in many poems written now. Why should that be? Is it the infinite moral relativism? It helps to read now as opposed to then perhaps because I don’t anticipate I’m being set up. But the twist isn’t away but to the deeper questions. There are also the gentle loving poems such as “After the Last Dynasty”, p. 28-89, there’s a kindliness in the poke, a fond acceptance in tone in the comic hyperbole of distance,

Reading in Li Po
how “the peach blossoms follows the water”
I keep thinking of you
because you were so much like
Chairman Mao,
naturally with the sex
and the figure slighter.
Loving you was a kind
of Chinese guerrilla war.

And it comes back

“Pet, spitfire, blue-eyed pony,
here is a new note
I want to pin on your door,
through I am ten years late
and you are nowhere:
Tell me,
are you still mistress of the valley,
what trophies drift downriver,
why did you keep me waiting?

I suppose it is a lack of raw thrashing that appeals. There’s a resolution rather than unclarity of how to interpret presented as the finished thing. It has closure as well as an attention to beauty in flow of sound.

61. undercurrent by Rita Wong (Nightwood, 2015)
This was an interesting read. It could have gone towards tiresome lecturing/apocalyptic but it stayed grounded and kept circling. It covers things from canoeing to a tar sands walk, to regenerating wild areas within a city, to resource mining. Various angles turn so the theme of water is there but it feels more suggestive as a theme than project-writing. Unlike The Polymers (House of Anansi, 2013) this kept its momentum and represented more of what I see Canada as— English, Native, Chinese, intellects, personal experiences, men, women, a reach into history and completely contemporary.

Some are plainly stated, others play in language. Some are a list poem such “a moving target” where as “a walking mineral body” “an orchestra of nutrients/infiltrated by capital’s clear shout/consumed while consuming/disoriented in proprioceptive profusion.” Another, a sort of daffynition poem, runs like a dictionary (“micro: a power we don’t have words for ; the burgess shale in your eyelashes”)

Here’s one, p36

Medicines in the city

horsetail hints
at abundant water beneath
transformed into fine green nodes

sprouting up from cracks in pavement
near Main & Broadway [...]

scrub brush, toothbrush, removed of toxins
horsetail ever-so-slowly heals inflictions
a living fossil who quietly outlasts our cities

The book itself is gorgeously designed and I hope whoever did it gets an award. The simple touches of water text running along the bottoms of the pages hold a common’s day book of quotes of a wide range of thinkers. Much better than to epigraph and try to parse how you got from A to B or it looking arbitrarily tacked on. They sit near each other in a sort of dialogue.

Also recommended as one of my most recommended reads. She is also going to be my guest on Literary Landscape on the second Thursday of July, that is this week. Tune in one 93.1fm to hear more.

62. Flamingo Watching: Poems by Kay Ryan (Copper Canyon, 1994)
This is an oldie, relatively speaking, but goodie. They are plain parable, carefully considered truth-kernal sort of poems. p. 39

Half a Loaf

The whole loaf’s loft
is halved in profile,
like the standing side
of a bombed out cathedral.

The cut face
of half a loaf
puckers a little.

The bread cells
are open and brittle
like touching coral.

It is nothing like the middle
of an uncut loaf,
nothing like a conceptual half
which stays moist.

I say do not adjust to half
unless you must,

A simple object turned around in the head, suggesting an allegory for all the things we live on which from the outside of unstarted seem more complete than they could ever be if we start. How can you stay with your dreams and pursue them both? It seems tongue in cheek. It seems a careful new way of seeing bread. Bread as it comes out of the oven continues to bake for a while, small crackles as it completes its trajectory of being baked. The structure is worse if you break the steam’s crust seal and open it too soon.

p 30
p. 30, The Narrow Path also has those lessons on how to live. If you’re prepared to plan your pleasure, your delayed gratification, there are tools and ways. If you follow the whimsy of the moment’s pleasure, the way looks easier but there is no rest searching for the next hit, and hold. The value, like a tortoise and hare story, of daily discipline rather than impulse takes you further

63. MxT by Sina Queyras (Coach House, 2014)
This book came out and I am still in the swaying foothills of grief of my father as well. Does one ever get over a loss of any person or just shift the acuteness is getting over the worst?

It wasn’t as fraught as I expected. My favourite parts were the pataphysics type graphics of circuits marking each chapter. Each chapter was different. I didn’t think I’d get thru the first but somewhere in the first third was captivating.

There are immediate bits: “I want to take you by the scruff of your heart” and the book caused a new poem to spring into existence, so that’s something.

with poetry of grief to temper the sunshine. sheesh, poets. good stiff by Sina.

A photo posted by Pearl Pirie (@pearlksp) on

64. Comparing Tattoos (Haiku Canada, 2015)
An anthology of who’s playing in that haiku pool this year, the snapshot was edited by Mike Montreuil and Cathy Drinkwater Better. A favourite piece was David Randen’s

mom busy
organizing photos
two clocks ticking

which sits nicely on the line of literal, clean observation and with the sense of double meaning in the second part. Another senryu by Judit Hollos was around mother,

in mom’s eyes—
the clouds only he sees

I seem to have a thing for cataracts. They keep appearing in my poems. Probably being raised around people in their senior years I grew up with a sense of immediacy of old age, expecting arthritis, loss of one arm, paralysis, all that glamour, as normal.

65. Maestro: A Surprising Story About Leadership by Listening by Roger Nierenberg (Portfolio, 2009)
A business parable it talks about how to do company management by understanding how a conductor works with an orchestra, picking up cues, leading while also interacting but sharing a vision, letting people have control and ownership of the direction, so they can do their best. I may understand classical music a little better. I know more about how conducting music works at least.

Slow paced and rather high ratio of say it, say what you’ve said and recap once more before you move on, but was an interesting enough read, better than the standard extended allegory for how to do business fare.

Categories: Currently reading.

Worse Case Ontario Tour

A kickstarter for the Worse Case Ontario Tour five young emerging Canadian authors are hoping to raise funds to tour North America promoting Canadian literary arts through readings. Poetry Book Tour of August 2015 will feature Jessica Bebenek, JC Bouchard, dalton derkson, JM Francheteau and Julie Mannell. They’ll tour fron Toronto, ON to St. Catherines to Pittsburgh, PA, Brooklyn, NY, Boston, MA, Burlington, VT to Montreal, QC and Ottawa, ON. Are you in any of those places? Check out the links for details.

Categories: PSA, Poetry.

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.”

I wonder if she read Bel and the Dragon and when she said she was pulled backwards by the hair into love, was making a religious reference to Habakkuk who was seized by the angel and dragged back to Babylon at windspeed to feed Daniel in the lion’s den.

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.