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Talking to Myself: Poetics Statements

11 questions of the how and why of poeming.

What do the poems teach?

I hope poetry, along with conversations, blogging, getting to know particular people better, that it keeps my brain in tune to become more aware, astute, observant, knowing how to sidestep bias or discern patterns. They all teach me how to be more articulate and speak and listen to the degree necessary. Rather than locking down an argument they are about being receptive to perceive or look and reexamine. (Part of intellectual rigour is refusing story as much as to tell it even-handedly or well.)

Writing poems is a slow-motion, stop-motion thought. Poems give a space to think through at length. It is easiest to know what I think when I see it in words. When I type I have the distance to see my attitude, or what feelings I’ve been told to project, what I’m reacting against or I generate new to me possibilities. Exploring how vocabulary sets tone (like thrice dotted was saying at the Bot Summit) Memory being what it is, it may be rediscovering what I figured out at several year intervals, but still.

What is the poem necessary for?

Is the poem a material thing?  Jorie Graham was asking after that. Poems are not unique snowflake ideas. I find it hard to believe that a meme is encoded in poetry in a way it can’t be in music or movie or life lived without verbal. Its form limits or specializes where it travels because of bias of people who “don’t do poetry”. I am biased towards poetry because it is more likely to be idea-dense than most language.

The poem can be to soothe or stimulate for the audience. It can be for perceiving and creating for the writer. For either it could be to nod the little ape head among like-minds to confirm bias. Like any communication a certain level of nuance can only be understood within a certain range of dialect. General states can go across species so any being can know an ill beetle or ill tree or a healthy or fearful vertebrate.

What niche is for poetry? Marketing? It probably doesn’t tell a joke as well as stand-up. It usually doesn’t tell a myth as well as a traditional storyteller. It doesn’t rebel like graffiti or like meetings with political representatives. What is it doing with all its diversity? I suppose each poem’s use is in the moment of contact where it causes a reaction or immunity. A poem puts something newly remixed into the world, which is largely more of the same but over time there’s a cultural migration that it rides or is ridden by.

It is necessary as a thinking being to have a disciplined way of thinking. You think you understand something until you express. That’s a further test of what you think you believe or know.

You can process patterns in the exploration of form of a novel’s constraints or through a microscope or telescope or field observations. Or little brother sous-chef, language. It is necessary, as a sensory being, to make beauty, to put patterns in order and to create and reconcile the larger patterns.

Who is the poem for?

The poem is for the parts of myself I want to nourish, reform, learn, or convince to speak. The poem is for the not-me who doesn’t yet know they needed it. It is for the future culture. By being conscious of impact we might be able to make a set of futures where our values perpetuate actions that make a more foresightful, insightful world where people are flourishing in difference rather than blocked and shut out and shut down.

At present I hope that anyone will hop on and become part of the dialogue but lives only have so much slack to play with and some are at full extension with all they have going on as is. They want a poem that’s simple. Some minds leap easily and fast. Some see the same patterns everywhere. Some are only comfortable when heavily cued with adjectives of how they are supposed to interpret then obey by feeling sad or angry or connected or pitying or used or whatever their favorite trip is. I suppose my poems are for those who are more drivers than passengers in that way. People who give themselves permission to laugh or be baffled or bored or spurred to learn something else, look something up, examine assumptions.

What’s your relationship to narrative?

Fine, so far as it acknowledges downside, upside, neutrals and doesn’t end in a bummer.

The thing with narrative is that it simplifies into a fiction. What a story is depends on where you arbitrarily cut off the story for the ending you want. Which is fine, except we forget it’s a construction. That’s why the make-beleive of false etymologies and more overt nonsense is more appealing. Even if someone will take anything at face value. A lot of poetry is representational but what if verbal can also be abstract in the painting sense, or impressionism, and communicate?

Do your poems tell a story?

Some do. Some talk around the margins of a few. Set dressing I suppose. Some are anthropologists observing and making a record of what was related, trying to get into the heads of others. Some are about holding an ephemeral, some about exploring, some about creating.

Many are trying to rework—not sound and stillness—but idea and movement. These are usually called “soundy”, or worse “evocative” which means that the reader is entranced but has no wish to understand. As far as I can tell that reader prefers the dazzle or the sensation of feeling confused as a goal.

What work is the poem doing?

Some poems are play spaces, some are work spaces.  Some are essaying. Poems that are called “oblique” are not trying to tell a story but often to refuse the monoculture of story. They try to generate combinations of words in different relationships with one another, to abut phrases that force new possibilities. They may play and subvert expected phrases to dislocate the usual motion and deflect clichés —which may not work as a process since they still prime the cliché by punning and spinning near it. They try to make pleasing movements in the ear, faster and slower, breaking against their own momentums.

My poem usually isn’t aiming to be random. Life is all random and its only imaginations that imposes most patterns. Random isn’t often adding value. But to avoid the tyranny and boredom which is narrative is something.

All creation is just selecting and ordering. The selection signal boosts an idea, whether “hip-breakers” (those small rugs that nurses and home care notice cause seniors to trip and break a hip) or “disproportional”.  Its work is partially resistance, partly exposure therapy, partly tickles. It is to stretch neurons. I suppose particularly with homophonic translations, I never know what is going to happen next. I’m trying to avoid letting understanding come in. Depending on what I start with there’s no syntax or semantic safety net. What it generates reveals itself to me in the process of translating and editing. Then I can create things I’ve never thought. At least in that way. I can trick myself into not repeating myself, exploring then trying to tether it back into grammatical linked, maybe in-filled surreal story. It’s like a whisper game of what’s in the air and what could be made.

How does it hook or be sticky?

The opening hook tends to be an unexpected tight line. There shouldn’t be a dull word in any phrase. Each line should be able to stand on its own as fresh. (That strength of freshness, I suppose, relies on youth more than considered age. ) The end hook tends to be a twist ending payoff which, even with wisdom-lines creeping in, is more a comedy device.

What is missing is a more considered use of rhythm for effect as in music. Intuition for that, needs to be trained and schooled so it is ready when the ideas need arises.

Born in the post-blank-verse era of self-expression where schoolkids were told any arrangement of intent, words or letters make it poetry, poetry tends to ramble, the movement of ideas laid like railway ties but there’s little tension or formal devices. It’s frustrating because sloppy, blasé and vague things are a violence against curiosity and are a closure of self rather than an opening.

How do different poems relate?

I don’t try to make an internal consistency or coherence. There are many routes to many useful places.

Haiku plays pretend that two things coinciding have an influence on each other and color one another. In this way they are like ghost stories. But they are exacting and muscular. They need to allow interpretation space for the reader and multiple readings, reference the past conventions yet extend, do so without being too verbose or self-referential or sentimental. They may pretend to be objective and remove the subject yet aim to move a reader with something that seems to signify. It is a good exercise for paring down. It presumes there is an ordered universe where bad turns are more the exception to the foil of a kind world.

Surreal poetry allows the play of rope so things can fly wild in a dream-like relationship to one another, be symbolic, allegorical, be revealed by writing while concealing. It tends to allow the speech to the nihilism of depression. It allows one to spiel nonsense and imagine your way out and give back control.

Machine-cooperative and fragment sort of poems—cobbled from a word search of a corpus, pwoermds, found phrases, overheard conversations, matryoshka words, scrabble relationships—all allow words to tumble to play against the idea of the world as ordered as it is. It allows play and it refuses the heroes arc of storytelling. This allows to see more of the possibilities not just the search result of 18-1619 TCX Maroon. That allows more spectrum of questions, answers, discoveries. But then, maybe that’s the sole domain where I remain a hopeless optimist.

What makes you despair in poetry?

Too much poetry gives pain like any excess. Too much of one kind doesn’t work for an omnivore system. I despair most when I want to understand the pleasure I see others partaking in but I see only my walls. It is about the people and the rest of the planet, not the hoops of someone or other’s perfection. Each writes to their own need.

What gives you hope for poetry?

When someone comes into their own out of red, shaking, anxious, uncertainty and momentarily finds articulacy, insight and centredness of one thing. A click for the writer that makes me vicariously happy for them. More so if it’s some direction as me. And every now and again someone writes something that I have struggled to understand and they are enough ahead of my curve that they can convincingly succinctly powerfully say what I aimed to.  An inner yes.

Does it improve on silence?

That is like insisting only top violinists may begin studying violin. The process of learning requires things worse than good silence, and sometimes worse than bad silencing.

Sometimes it says something that gives self permission to react, witness, or admit so that a small pebble can come out of the shoe so the walk can go on.


Join in and answer the questions yourself and leave a pingback or comment if you do.

Categories: Poetics.

Tonight on Literary Landscape

Coming up at 6:30pm on 93.1fm: Mia Morgan. “Mia is a voracious reader and writer, and is currently completing her degree in English Literature and Philosophy. She’s got a place in her heart for Modern poetry, small press, and fancy sandwiches. She is the former Editor-in-Chief of the Ottawa Arts Review, and former host of the Blue Mondays reading series. Now, she is hoping to continue her dedication to Ottawa’s poetry community while working on her poetry. Her piece “Suburbia” is forthcoming from In/Words press.”

Categories: CKCU.

In Translation

This poem is now in translation to Arabic in Jordan. Ali Znaidi of Tunisia. It was

published on December 9, 2014 in a respectable electronic cultural newspaper based in Jordan. It is called, in Arabic, Qaba Qaosayn (The name of the newspaper is translated into English as At Two Bow’s Length).

The poem is here in English and Arabic.

Categories: Link Dump.

95books for 2014: List 15: Coming Down to the Line

Reading from October and November…

  1. Kenneth Patchen’s Hallellujah Anyway
    Based on people’s raving of how fundamental to poetry Patchen is, I found a book.

    It wasn’t anything like I expected since the quote were put in tidy stacks of textual ideas whereas he drew and handwrote around and within his drawings, mostly legibly.

    What is a line but a convenience derived from efficient use of scarce expensive calfskin? From emulating scribes in Gutenberg’s presses. From the computer emulating the hot metal type standard? All along there has been more.

    The ideas still seem subversive even today. He thinks what he likes. Rather blows off the doors of poetry. Not one tone tome, some are hard-hitting detailed against Religion and nuclears but for a god, and beauty. Some are playful. Some absurd. Some he’s thinking things out.

    Reading it at writers fest front ticket desk before a poetry event a man slipped up quietly and asked what I was reading. Patchen!, oh, you’re a real poet then. And to think a week before I wouldn’t have qualified.

    I’ve happily reread it a few times.

  2. Brood by rob thomas
    The winner of the year’s John Newlove Award for poetry, the poems go thru a sort of family scene with a twist.

    the number fourteen bus

    that stranger we warn our kids about, it’s him.
    he boards and sits across the aisle from us.
    his body odour shouts down diesel fumes.
    doors hiss. the engine climbs an octave.

    nonnas, crow black, crowd in around my kids.
    your boys? they ask. so cute. how old are they?
    near two and three. their mother? they want to know.
    the elder tucks his chin. the young one smiles.

    the stranger smiles too. he’s missing a leg.
    hey kids, you want to see something special?
    he asks. the nonnas don’t breathe, certain he’ll expose
    himself. he twists the prosthetic and holds it up.

    the nonnas are not relieved, as I am. the boys look
    bored and sleepy. the man looks injured.

    Interesting how the ragged right edge is a Cole’s Notes. A good counter message in the world of stranger-danger which ignores that most injury comes from familiar people who look “normal”. I’ve seen a comparable scene myself a few times. Often drunken people on busses, those particularly high in body odour and alcohol, mostly our elders, the seniors with unruly luck. Parents watch for risks and kids only know they’re hungry or restless. Such a classic scene. And so often the parents shut it down and teach kids to shut down but sometimes some magical connections happens too.

  3. Punctuation: Art, Politics, and Play by Jennifer DeVere Brody (Duke U Press, 2008)
    This book I’ve been pecking away at since the publishing year. The person writing immensely enjoys the academic language. It could make some interesting set of half a dozen short articles. That seems harsh. It’s not op-ed but it is baggy. It is heavily illustration, deeply thought out, playful in its way but each chapter has its challenges. Describing a one-person non-verbal experimental theatre verbally as a person acts out many roles loses something with words. The ideas of hyphenated Americans conflated with spy, alien, suspicion was an interesting read. It was more in depth than most on the subject. The deep meaning of what we do when we hyphenate and the parallels between unfamiliar using hyphens and words losing that is a sign of integration to the mainstream consciousness. Think of orang-utan and how it used to be a borrowed hyphenated word. Seems to me in my childhood it had multiple hyphens.

    Her section on period seemed more tangental to the punctuation. A great treatise on Yayoi Kusama who liked to paint herself and others with polkadots and yet was sidelined in the 60s. She was to herald a new period of feminine that didn’t distinguish between environment and self, between author and life. It didn’t take. Jacob Wren’s Polyamourous Love Song still sees that as the futuristic setting.

  4. Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynn Truss
    I knew it sold well but it is surprisingly sticky and entertaining. She’s got a silly wag wit. In the chapter on commas, “no dogs please” is an indefensible generalization; dogs make a point of pleasing.

    It was a vastly entertaining book in the light reads section. Which is not to say it was airily researched. But the effect is flowing.

  5. Bird Facts by Dave currie (Apt 9, 2014)
    Seriously funny. Tying politics and human interactions and culture in with bird habit. Not like a poem-type that tires me where there’s a musing on feathers and myth but missing all the details which characterize the species or particular bird. So there’s that.

    And this is how text is a transcription of sound. All the timing, set up, pause, reveals, turns are there in the sentence structures. Unlike poets that read entirely differently than their page presentation would suggest, this is musical notation for language. Why should that be so rare?

  6. Klee Wyck by Emily Carr. She does lovely things with sentences, such as “News travels quickly over the sea top. Once submerged and it is locked in secrecy. “

    When I said to Mary, “Chahko muckamuck”, the little woman looked up and laughed at me just as one little girl laughs at another little girl.

    I used to hang round at noon on Mondays so that I could go and say, “Chahko muckamuck, Mary”. I liked to see her stroke the suds from her arms back into the tub and dry her arms on her wide skirt as she crossed to the kitchen. Then too I used to watch her lug out the big basket and tip-toe on her bare feet to hang the wash on the line, her mouth full of clothes pins—the old straight kind that had no spring, but round wooden knobs on the top that made them look like a row of little dolls dancing over the empty flapping clothes.

    Funny the portrayal difference. Pauline Johnson was a young woman with stories of different natives but saw human nature as caricatured and portrayed natives as violent and British as saviors. Whereas Emily Carr, known as a painter, had an eye for gesture, detail and human heart and could see a humanity in natives, individuality among people.

    Even with the love of canoe club which Pauline had, her descriptions feel flat because it about her, compared to

    As the canoe glided on, her human cargo was as silent as the cedar-life that once had filled her. She had done with the forest now; when they shoved her into the sea they had dug out her heart. Submissively she accepted the new element, going with the tide. When tide or wind crossed her she became fractious. Some still element of the forest clung yet to the cedar’s hollow rind which resented the restless push of waves.

  7. John Sheirer’s Another Bad Haircut
    Did you know the Haiku Foundation has an online library of scanned books? They feature a book per week. What a resource.

    first deer hunt
    after the gunshots
    noticing the wind

  8. Blink by Malcolm Gladwell
    A third reread. In the hard cover set edition, here’s added a note on that end that he thought his book wasn’t a moral tale and yet there’s the lesson of what happened when orchestra’s started doing auditions blind. Only the sound coming from behind a screen. If the person auditioning coughed or crossed the floor in a female click of heel they’d be randomized back in queue. Each person had a number, no telltale name. Can someone Japanese play a German tune? Can a female play a male instrument as the lead? When judging blind females in orchestra went from 5% to 50%. Can the court systems do the same to correct itself so judges and juries can work? A jury of peers is fine but when justice is blind it might work better. He suggests typing testimony by Skype where identifying features are blotted. Would this correct overcriminization of natives and young black men?

I have a couple dozen more books on the go at the moment. Hard to say which will finish off before the year’s end. Before then I expect I’ll do a best of year, here and/or at GoodReads. And a self-audit of those read by gender. Will I break it down by books and chapbooks as well? We’ll see.

Categories: Currently reading.

It’s a Dusie

At Dusie the Tuesday Poem #88 is my poem entitled: neither evil nor saved, I sidestepped it all at the second coming. Perhaps for curiosity seekers, to see the previous step before would be interesting. It is a homophonic translation of this:

Plantée devant la grille, je tends mes mains moites vers le corbeau de fer que le froid hérisse d’une sorte de duvet blanc. Peut-être seras-tu le seul dans toute l’école, ce jour-là. Pas une âme qui vive. Profites-en. Paresseux, insouciant, la tête ailleurs, le jardinier laisserait tout faire. « Personne ne montera sur mon estrade, dit Mademoiselle, en secouant son chignon. » Puis elle s’éloigne, à grandes enjambées dans le corridor, après avoir refermé la porte.

Which is a paragraph from the P-text chapter of Michele Provost’s Roman Feuilleton which is derived from her taking classic Quebecois novels and cutting sentences into strips alphabetically by the first letter of the sentence, and making new books and works from putting them into new books alphabetically.

Categories: Poetics.

Paul Mackan

Paul Mackan reads Elizabeth Barrett Browning at the Tree Reading Series, Dead Poet Reading, 24 Aug 2010. For that he won best performance of the year. Paul was a regular at Tree Seed Workshops and at Tree for years. He read at the open mic a few dozen times. He also did a presentation on W.S. Gilbert. Here’s Mackan’s poem Black-Veined Stone at the Open Mic

He divided his time between theatre and literature. He was well-equipped to present by example and with advice for poets from his grounding in theatre. He won an ACTRA award and won a Senior Filmmaking Award from the OAC for Catherine’s Song.

He had a love of cadence and prosody and for the exact right word in the exact right place. Sometimes that perfect word is a “hard word” so learn it then. He could discuss philosophy as ably as history. Blunt, he did not suffer fools gladly but laughed heartily. To spar, he sparkled. He also delighted in some sublime use of language and was quick to call up into everyday conversation quotes from his educated repertoire of classic literature and history.

He brought for the sales table his poetry books including O My God of Apes and Apples (Publish America, 2011). To lose one’s partner late in life is a particular acute grief. He was in mourning but it did not bind his tongue. In that book he included a powerful poem for his Saralee with whom he shared 47 years,
The Rage of the Bull

cutting, tearing away
life before life—
sweet, careless—
inconsequential pretence of doings,
young, ambivalent.

No breast excited
until yours opened my lips,
no softness of belly
silk of thigh,
touched the deepest bottom of being
until yours.

In the fulness of flesh I held you
fulfilling want topping senses,
grace-filled, favouring the crucible
for inpouring weakness.
Impregnating the emptiness between us,
unforgotten argument,
the two-edged sword’s thrust
and parry
in the fevered unfair battle,
entered into my invitation only,

Steered to bullship in engagement vesuvian:

acceded-to carnality,
spalling youth’s
self-evident truth,
diminishing, delighting.

O bless’d emptiness between
that merited so sweet a swelling

Still I hold you in the autumn air
in the hillock’s grass
among the colouring leaves
whipped by the wind your dust rests,
awaiting winter and melting spring.
Frost, thunder, damp, dew,
not the rage of heaven
will revoke the perfume of you.

And I will hold you
roiling, rutting,
exulting possessing your fullness
in this fleshpot of earth.

(Sept 2009) [p. 52]

Paul Mackan
He liked the second take as people saw the back cover and compared his old face to his current. He said, “I used to be a handsome s.o.b. Youth like summer brave, age like winter bare.”

He was pressing hard to get to print again over the last few years. Cancer is no respecter of persons. And mortality, a great motivator. He used to say he read the obituaries each morning to make sure he wasn’t there yet.

He blanched at turnaround times of 2 or 3 years to go with mainstream presses. I haven’t got that long, he declared so he pursued other routes. His novel ConneXions came out with LeBeag recently. He brought out a children’s poetry collection, “Dream Girl, Dream!: A Story for Children to Share with Groan-Ups (eBook)” and The Cockamamy World of A. Yold. Thru Publish America he brought out two short story collections, !Holy Christmas!: Eight Novel Tales for Family Reading around Christmas and Brian-o and, thru Xlibris, her name was Helen, Stories.

He also brought out a chapbook A Breath of Rebirth (Stanza Break Series #50 from the Ontario Poetry Society, 2013). From that collection, p. 10 and 11

Your Call

“Acquire and beget a temperance”
for after your last bow
you may hope but not presume
your final critic’s pronouncement.
No matter your lessons learned,
“the very age and body”
of your time will be written
by another’s hand.


This Play’s the Thing

“Speak the speech I pray you”
a scene, an act or two
is all that’s allowed
for word pronounced
at conception time,
the last moment of bliss
given before first entrance
and final bow.

He died Dec 2nd. His obituary says his memorial will be Dec 12.

Peacefully in Ottawa on December 2, 2014. Passionate about the arts, Paul used his talents in writing, theatre, sacred music, film and TV. His essays appeared in the Ottawa Citizen and on CBC Radio. Paul and his partner, Sara Lee Stadelman, devoted decades to bringing an appreciation of the arts to Catholic circles, holding workshops, producing pageants and touring their own theatrical productions. Based in Michigan, Palmer’s Rapids, ON, and then Ottawa, their work took them to Mexico, Italy, much of the United States and parts of Canada.

In spite of advancing cancer, Paul continued acting, writing, teaching, and coaching. He published several books and volunteered countless hours at Ottawa’s Third Wall Theatre.

Predeceased by his parents, Donald and Helen (Sheridan) Mackan, and seven siblings, Paul is survived by his sister, Sheila Land, brother Tom, many nieces and nephews, notably Don Mackan, and many, many friends.

Paul received outstanding care from his medical teams including Dr. Donald Guy, and staff at the Regional Cancer Centre, Billingswood Manor, the Ottawa Hospital, and the Elisabeth Bruyere Centre.

Donations may be made to the Paul Mackan Fund for Young Artists c/o Community Foundation of Ottawa, 301 – 75 Albert St., Ottawa, ON, K1P 5E7 or online: Paul has donated his body to medical education. T

here will be a Memorial Mass at St. George’s Church, 415 Piccadilly Ave on Friday, December 12, 2014 at 3 p.m. followed by coffee. Arrangements entrusted to The Whelan Funeral Home, tel. 613. 233-1488. []

Categories: PSA, Poetry.

Me at Meet the Presses

Here’s more about Meet the Presses on Saturday in Toronto. It’ll be fun to get to see the big reveal of who won the bpNichol chapbook award at 2pm there. And just look at all those presses. Lots to explore.

My table will look something like this:

And I have Square which means I can accept plastic as well as cash.

Apt 9, Chaudiere Books and above/ground and phafours press will be among the Ottawa contingent at Meet the Presses. I’ll have some backlist and new mini and full chapbooks. If you can’t make it to that either, now some of my little chapbooks have their own Etsy shop.

Categories: phafours press news.

Best Canadian Poetry Anthology 2014

Join series editors Molly Peacock & Anita Lahey and guest editor Sonnet L’Abbe in celebrating the Toronto launch of The Best Canadian Poetry in English, 2014 – the 7th edition of this distinguished annual anthology.

That’s at Joy Bistro, 884 Queen St. E, Toronto, Ontario on Monday, November 24at 7:00pm

I’m not sure who all will be reading but I will and a bunch others. Make it out if you can.

That’s not to be confused with that which was last night, The Best Canadian Poetry Series of Coach House.

Categories: Uncategorized.

New Mini Chapbook

I mentioned this on FB but not here: Added to the fall 2014 mini chapbook set is this doing & undoing by Avonlea Fotheringham. Short tight beautiful little poems.

PB130005 (2)

Categories: phafours press news.

Ottawa Poet Laureate Meeting


Categories: PSA, Poetry.