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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Found at a used bookstore in Toronto, Ten Editions.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Some interesting angles on the world, like

A demon sits
in the corner
of all poetry.

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

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

Nick Ravo has a wonderfully elegant elagaic concrete poem.

light handcuffed to wet cobblestones

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s a bit about the crows,


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

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

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

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

in a shoebox of seashells
a few grains of sand

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

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

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

a breeze
through the wisteria lifting
hairs on his chest

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

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

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

day 5

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

Interruption being, after all, the most holy passage.

If not the most simple.

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

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

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

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

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

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

alphabetic culture turning to snow

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

an ashen language in the drive-by of our bones

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

under a wheelbarrow a snake absorbing grace

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

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

Categories: Currently reading.

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

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

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

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

Such variability in the creature.

Stomach, extraneous.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

holiday roadkill
the crow too
has Thanksgiving

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

Also exceptional and worthwhile p. 100 from Terry Ann Carter

across the border
the maples
also, red

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

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

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

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

My mother says we never had a milkman

Then who was that guy

That buy who brought something white and glass

And what was that sound

When you told me about slavery

It was glass breaking or change dropping

It was dimes dropping and the servants bowed.

(We never had servants)

Then who was that guy

Standing at the skirt of an exchange

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

p. 42 I particularly liked,

To grasp the combinations of bracket, brace and radical

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

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

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

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

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

From p15

and p 65

Probably on the reading list of the transgender poetry course.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2 Esdras 2:4

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

3 “Yes, sir, I do!” I answered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

p. 47 “Demi-monde”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Opportunity is One More Thing

Categories: Currently reading.

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.