amongst books

amongst books

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Counting Ghosts and Angels in Contemporary CanPo

As part of my health crisis in 2009, I developed ICU psychosis in which I endured horrifying delusions. Horrifying because of the presence of evil characters and ghosts; I had no way of escaping from them, and I couldn’t differentiate them from reality. These delusions later made me think about those who have to suffer through such all the time, who deal with mental health issues as part of their daily routines.

About a year before my health crisis, I encountered a homeless woman one day. She was speaking aloud and lugging a shopping cart behind her, wearing layers and layers of clothes. From what I could overhear from her words, she seemed to be spouting prophesy. For some reason, she intrigued me. I never saw her again, but I kept thinking about her.  In my mind, I named her Ursula.

When I looked up the name Ursula, I found out about Saint Ursula, a woman from the third or fourth century. Variations on the saint’s story exist. In one version, she is travelling by ship with eleven thousand virgins to meet her groom, a Pagan. The ship is attacked and the women, including Ursula, are beheaded by the Huns.  I was inspired to write a long poem entitled “Ursula,” the first part of which was published by Pooka Press as a broadside & the whole poem self-published as a limited edition chapbook of 26 copies. through my micro-press, AngelHousePress.

Last year, I had the idea to write a sequel entitled “Saint Ursula’s Commonplace Book” because I didn’t feel like I was finished exploring the character and her relationship to the saint. I began learning more about the saint and reading up on delusions, visions and the sacred. In July, I received funding from the City of Ottawa to work on the manuscript.
I wished to incorporate the type of visions and hallucinations the modern-day Ursula has into the manuscript. While a vision is a spiritual awakening that comes from a state of dream or trance, hallucinations are more general. Ursula’s visions and hallucinations take the form of dreams, nightmares and the presence of ghosts, angels and what she perceives as memories of the murder of Saint Ursula/her own death.

When treating the life of a woman who was canonized, I’ve had to consider religion and the sacred in the writing of the manuscript. In dealing with a character who has delusions and confuses them with reality, I’ve had to think about my own delusions when I was hospitalized in 2009. I wanted to deal with this confusion between nightmare and reality, the presence of ghosts, a supernatural phenomenon that seems completely real to the haunted.

I wondered about the presence of supernatural phenomena, such as ghosts, angels, demons, and the presence of death in the work of other contemporary Canadian poets.
I decided to take a look at the works of other Canadian poets to see how the supernatural was dealt with since I’d rarely come across poems of that nature in my reading of contemporary poetry.

Folk tales, fables, legends, mythology, creation stories, tall tales, versions of the truth, dreams and nightmares are rich sources for poetry. My preconceived notion was that I wouldn’t find a lot of such elements in contemporary Canadian poetry. I had a general impression, based on my readings, that much of the content in our poetry is mined from lives lived, memories, moments observed…in other words, reality and experiences. Or in some cases, extrapolation from historical figures (see Carolyn Smart’s “Hooked”or invented fictional characters (see Dennis Cooley’s” the Bentleys” or Natalie Zina Walshots, “Doomed”).

Jason Christie has pointed out to me that poetry is catalogued as non-fiction in public libraries. Yet not all poetry is non-fiction. Or it can often be a hybrid of fact and fiction, the personal and the imagined. His own poetry collection, “i-Robot Poetry,” would fit into science/speculative fiction, and another Western Canadian poet Jill Hartman’s “A Painted Elephant,” falls into the realm of the fantastic.

Anne Carson blurs genres between poetry and other forms, including theatre. She often retells and revises myths and translates classic Greek and Latin stories.

Twentieth century poet, Gwendolyn MacEwen also included myth, magic and enchantment in her writing.

In the last century also the French Canadian poet Emile Nelligan wrote of angels. Perhaps he wasn’t the only francophone poet to write of angels…

The only journal I discovered with a supernatural focus was Goblin Fruit. Goblin Fruit is a contemporary quarterly journal that treats mythic, surreal, fantasy and folkloric themes, or approaches other themes in a fantastical way.  In reference to that well-known fantasy poem of Christina Rossetti’s, “Goblin Market” (1862).

I read through the Best Canadian Poetry (BCP) series of anthologies published by Tight Rope Books. In these books, Tight Rope publishes poetry culled from a selection of that year’s literary magazines, both on line and in print, with different Canadian poets acting as editors each year.

I went through the first three (because they were the ones I could get from the Main Branch of the Ottawa Public Library).

I found that these other worldly characters and elements of the supernatural occur in three basic ways:

1. On the periphery, as mere mentions;

2. Figuratively;

3. Deliberately ambiguous.

Take for example, Jeffrey Donaldson’s poem, “Museum” published in the 2008 BCP. Exhibits from the Royal Ontario Museum in glass cases with aboriginal masks are described as descending “like messengers from the real world above,” but the rendering here seems figurative rather than literal. A former professor/mentor is evoked, but we are not told if he is still living or a ghost; although there are references to ghosts throughout the poem.

Or Méira Cook in “A Walker in the City”: “when all the angels have been let out of their cages.” (BPC 2008).

Jason Heroux uses his reversal technique to make it seem like nature is performing actions, at least figuratively: “A small forest walking through us” & “We can feel the lost forest inside us closing its eyes” (Lost Forest, BPC 2008). 

In Keith Maillard’s “July” an evil dog is “the devil running” (BPC 2008).

Joy Russell in “On King George’s Crowing” talks about “how air moves vampires through bone.” (BPC 2008).

In the 2009 edition of Best Canadian Poetry, Margaret Atwood evokes Bluebeard’s Castle in her poem “Ice Palace”: “Where/is the fearful beast who runs the show/and longs for kisses?”

In “Space Is A Temporal Concept,” Jan Conn mentions the goddess Diana, the Aztec calendar, a Wide-Eared Clown and Lord Death, but Diana is a marble statue, the clown and Death are costumes. “our loved ones join us, my father included, and all the emotional debris of a lifetime hovers overhead in a vast vertical column…” (BPC 2009)

Death is treated as sacred and holy in Don Domanski’s “Bite Down Little Whisper.” There’s something ethereal and magical about the whole poem, which deals with pain. Much of the vocabulary is spiritual: “dharma of bruised lips, talismans, the ghosts of our fallen hair, microorganisms written as sacred text.” (BPC 2009)

In “Six Times,” Tyler Enfield writes about a dead loved one who is moping on the grave, “sitting cross-legged in the dirt.” (BPC 2009)

Some supernatural or magical phenomena are recounted as dreams, such as in Connie Fife in “New World Poem”: “I dreamt I had goat hooves, hollow horns, coarse hair,/and scaled the face of a rock slide.”  (BPC 2009)

Adam Getty’s poem, “Pender Harbour,” also relies on the dream to render a magic phenomenon, this time of a crone slowly bleeding out her child as an analogy for the way humans treat the earth. (BPC 2009)

Matt Rader’s “The Ocean Voyager,” doesn’t contain references to anything magic or supernatural and yet its rendering feels magical and epic with its majestic descriptions, such as” to hell/with illness-stitched wool, English pain/Balled in musket shot, delicate otter shells//Pile like money in the hold.” […] “and since then I have flown/Lightning wracked seas in the fissured west, Known what men thought they’ve known.” (BPC 2009)

In Kildare Dobbs’ poem “It” (BPC 2010), an unexplained presence enters a room. “you are safe now/but just you wait, it is never far away/and it can be here whenever it chooses.”
Don Domanski evokes dreams and the afterlife in “Gloria Mundi.” (BPC 2010).

In “The Trees Have Loved Us All Along” Sonnet L’Abbé applies human senses to trees, including the sense of smell. (BPC 2010).

In “Rupert’s Land,” Tim Lilburn refers to “the guy who invented the guitar, a turtle-in-a-/handbag kind of daemon” & references Hermes. (BPC 2010)

In “Cullen in Old Age,” P.K. Page writes about a ninety-year-old man whose dreams conjure up clowns and dancing dogs, who hears the Guardian Angel. He “had a vision of heaven./Total immersion. Where? He couldn’t tell./A flotation tank, perhaps, a void, a vast/container for single souls that gathered together/and merged in a giant soul that encircled the world/where everything came out even./ (BPC 2010)

In Marilyn Gear Pulling’s entertaining poem, “Billy Collins Interviewed on Stage at Chautauqua,” the speaker sees that Collins has wings and flies from the stage. (BPC 2010).

In “Postscript” Karen Solie thinks about the life of mathematician Carl Gauss and ties it to the land, existence and past existence. There is something magical in her descriptions. “Has the devil any servant on earth so perfect/as the stranger?”

David Zieroth’s poem “How Brave” is about how the non-believer faces death. There’s a mention of cherubs, but they are church cherubs.

There are so many sub-genres of poetry including fantasy, sci-fi, horror, weird, etc, but the predominant type of poetry found in Canada’s official verse culture in the form of  mainstream literary magazines, prizes and anthologies is realism with a soupçon of the supernatural. It’s not always straight-forward. Many of the poems I read included whismy and flights of fancy, but these flights were more inclined toward the possible than the impossible or the supernatural.

If I had time and inclination, I would also go through various contemporary Canadian poetry anthologies to count angels, devils and ghosts; however, the initial survey I’ve conducted here has helped me figure out how to tackle the supernatural qualities of my manuscript, so I’ll leave it to you, dear reader, to conduct further inquiries…

Articles consulted for this note:

Speculative Poetry: A Symposium by Mike Allen, Alan DeNiro, Theodora Goss, and Matthew Cheney (ed.)

Magic Realism in Wikipedia:

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Ampersand, a poetry workshop group


For a brief period, possibly a little over a year in the mid aughts, a group of writers met once a month or so to discuss, get advice about, commiserate over their poetry. They began in the Royal Oak basement on Laurier St. E., then moved to a small café in the Byward Market, then another café in the Market.

The time period wasn’t long but from the point of view of this member of the group, the experience led to collaborations, better poetry & deepened friendships.


At one point, Roland Prevost & I were discussing our editing dream teams. He mentioned that his would consist of me, Marcus McCann, Pearl Pirie & Nicholas Lea. I’d worked with Roland on his Bywords’ chapbook, Metafizz after he won the John Newlove Poetry Award in 2006, & I’d been in a poetry workshop with Pearl, Nick & Marcus around the same time.
A while later, I invited Roland, Nick, Marcus & Pearl Pirie, to form a workshop group. I was already in a fiction workshop group with rob mclennan, Kate Heartfield, Steve Zytfeld, Tina Trineer, and Wes Smederle (with the addition of Spencer Gordon and Emily Falvey later on) & I found the experience to be worthwhile.

After Nick left the group, I invited Sandra Ridley to join.

We put out two chapbooks via my new small press, AngelHousePress:

Whack of Clouds (2008) & Pent Up (2009)

Marcus left town & Roland left the group to focus on other priorities. I got sick in 2009. We invited Christine McNair to join us in 2010, met at my place, but the group didn’t continue. From my perspective, I was just recovering from my health crisis & wasn’t writing that much at first, then less interested in meeting regularly & frankly, without Roland & Marcus, it didn’t feel the same.


Sandra: “my best memory was sitting in the Tea House and seeing a shetland pony walking by, outside on the sidewalk. surreal time-warped reality? or hallucination?”

Nick: “I remember it being a really productive/supportive group, easily one of the best groups i've worked with.”

Pearl: “There was one at the hotel lounge out the east entrance doors of Rideau Centre, Besserer, Pressed Cafe out of Les Suites Hotel, where there was Nicholas, Amanda, Marcus and I at least. It was dark, inclement weather, cold, blustery. The seats were tall and deep and squeaked leather. drinks were on the table. some cold. one steamed. Energy was lower and more conservative. It must have been an earlier one before the free for all pile ones of one poem after the next until the pile was thru. Getting bolder with detailed comments as people learned there’s the poem and the person. That all came eventually. Lightning edit rounds for ratcheting the poems.”

Roland: “My best sessions with the group were the ones where everyone had one or two fresh works. A few sessions at the tea room come to mind. People were obviously pushing the envelope, experimenting with form and voices. A very rich soup to be writing in. In addition to the meetings, I had email exchanges with many of the group members over time, where all sorts of things, including sometimes poetics and poetry, were discussed. For me, it was a hothouse period for poetry writing. An awesome group, to say the least. Very smart. Well read. And especially willing to play.”

Amanda: “the main thing I remember is not specific, but it was a feeling of relief that I was among kindred poets when the critiques I received were germane & helpful without asking me to bring more cohesive narrative into the work, etc.”

Origins of Ampersand

We never actually agreed that this was our name. I have no idea why some of us called it that, other than our tendency to use the &… but here are two possibilities from Marcus & Roland:
Marcus: “I think "Ampersand" was your idea, Amanda, and came about after Nick left. It was an acroynym of sorts: A(manda)M(arcus)Pe(arl)R(oland)Sand(y).”

Roland: “On the origins of the name ampersand. You’re the one who came up with that name, Amanda. I believe this was in response to an email I’d sent showing something like the following names in a sort of a scrabble pattern. Something like, but not identical to this:


 Since not everyone in the group had “an & in their names” it never occurred to me that the entire group could be called that. You suggested the name, I think, saying at the time that we all had a tendency to use &s in our writing, which was true.”

Where Are They Now?

N.W. Lea has a new book coming out with Chaudiere Books soon.

Pearl Pirie: “Making wee micro chapbooks, a few a year for various writers. between chapbooks and books from phafours I’m at 30 titles this year with new ones coming by Phil Hall and Monty Reid. I’ve been doing layout design printing for other people’s self-publishing projects. I’ve had 6 chapbooks since we met as Ampers&s including one from AngelHouse. I have  2 books out and 1 more coming and 3 more at various stages of incomplete. Since then I started organizing the Tree Seed Workshops, started doing workshops and talks on poetry for various organizations. Oh, and following the lineage of Literary Landscapes taking over from Christine McNair who took over from Marcus.”

Sandra Ridley was writer-in-residence for Open Book Toronto in September. Her third book, “The Counting House” came out with Book Thug last year. Sandra & I worked on a collaborative poetry manuscript together in 2009/2010. The manuscript was shortlisted for the Robert Kroetsch Innovative Poetry Award.

Marcus McCann moved to Toronto, & became a lawyer. His second book “The Hard Return” was published by Insomniac Press in 2012.

Christine McNair married rob mclennan, had baby Rose last year, become co-publisher of the newly relaunched Chaudiere Books with rob, & is working on a new manuscript. Her first poetry book, “Conflict” was published by Book Thug in 2012.

Amanda Earl is up to her usual shenanigans, living a great life with Tom & Charles. “Kiki,” her first (assuming there may be more) poetry book was published by Chaudiere Books this year.
Roland Prevost’s first poetry book, “Singular Plurals” was published by Chaudiere Books this year after previous publication of four chapbooks.


We are still in contact & some of us have worked together or consult one another on occasion on our poetry. We are all friends. What we all had in common, still have in common, I believe, is the help, support & encouragement of rob mclennan, whether it be through workshops we’ve taken with him or conversations over beer or his reviews & publication & promotion of our work, he has been there from the beginning. Thank you, rob.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Sandra Ridley & Erín Moure Open the A B Series

Twas a crisp night in early October when I strolled to the bottom of Gloucester Street & into Ottawa’s City Hall where, aside from being given the opportunity to vote in the upcoming municipal election, I had the choice—a much more interesting one—to attend the opening reading of the A B Series’ 8th Season. Ok, it wasn’t a choice at that point, I’d already decided that this was my plan.

The reading took place inside the recently named Karsh-Masson Gallery with an exhibit by Karsh Award recipient, Chantal Gervais. I love it when readings are in galleries. As E.  pointed out, when S. read, two arms from the photograph behind her surrounded her, as if they were buoying her up.

There’s a visceral rawness to Gervais’ work, triptych of a naked man’s body, photos of a neatly organized garage with a canoe suspended from the ceiling, x-ray type bodies, an examination of the other…the self…

 “C has burrowed far into bodies—into intimate fat, flesh, the crooks of bones, injured limbs, her own scared, scarred heart…” from the catalogue & fitting for the evening’s readings.

S. read from new work & texts from recent responses to the art of Michèle Provost & the photography of Pedro Isztin. The new work was poignant & powerful. Sandra works primarily in the long poem format & the work is minimal. She reads carefully, gives the work space, given the readers time to breathe & take in her words. The Prairies were prevalent in both poets’ readings. & there were other intersections as well: music lyrics, fathers…

E. read from her latest book, Insecession a dual book with Chus Pato's Secession. C. writes in Galician. E. translates, adding her own parallel text. Biographies alongside notions of poetics.

Both poets work in the form of the fragment, don’t complete, don’t answer questions. This is satisfying to me. & then the organizer, Max Middle, took a photo of the two of them, side by side, jumping in at the last minute to be part of the moment. 

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Kiki launched in Ottawa, a dream come true

 I don’t remember when I first dreamed of having a poetry book published. I kept it to myself, tried not to imagine it because I never believed it could happen, but on January 1, 2014, I received the great news that Chaudiere Books would be publishing Kiki.

This year has been full of splendour & goodness, but it started with that first bit of happy news.

The books were delivered personally by my publishers, rob mclennan & Christine McNair of Chaudiere Books.

Friends sent pictures of the book on bookstore shelves. A few people have even written kindly about the book. 

I've even been interviewed already about myself & the book's creation & development.
The launch lived up to the dream. I had the pleasure of reading with two friends, also launching that night: Roland Prevost & Monty Reid.  The room was full of supportive & dear friends; my two loves, Charles & Tom surrounded me & kept me calm. & I had great fun reading a section of the book with Tom.

Thanks to rob & Christine, dear friends & publishers of Chaudiere Books, to Sean, Kira & Leslie of the Festival, to Mike, who did such a fabulous job on our sound for both this event & the Bywords John Newlove Poetry Award, to Carmel, our tireless book seller, to all who attended & showed their support. Ottawa’s literary community is sweet as pie & enriches me.

I'm hoping to read a bit further afield, if invited, but i'll never forget the kindness & support shown to me by Ottawa's  poetry enthusiasts.

[photos by Charles Earl]

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Natalie Zina Walschots: Doom, Love Songs for Supervillains

Gosh, I love feisty poetry, don’t you? I’m not a particular aficionado of supervillains in popular culture but that didn’t stop me from enjoying "Doom, Love Songs for Supervillains"(Insomniac Press, 2012). But if you do love DC & Marvel Comics, you'll probably go ape-shit over this book.

First of all, I enjoyed the honed down poppety pop sound play. You can read these babies aloud to your pals & they will laugh. I have to admit that it’s refreshing to read poems that aren’t autobiographical. it’s not that I’m against autobiography. I write a fair number of them myself, but sometimes you just want well-written poems that have fun & icksnay on the woe is me-isms, if you get my drift. I’m writing like this under the influence of NZW’s poetry.

These poems are smart too: they use some highfallutin’ scientific lingo.  

I read a heck of a lot of unrequited love poems & hear the same at open mics. They all have the same references to the moon, the wistful tone…Doom, Love Songs for Supervillains is parody of such without being cruel. It has off-the-wall similes & metaphors: "envious as a viaduct" (Dr. Octopus), "voicebox a soup can" (Joker); the opposite of praise: "face only a geneticist could love" (Doombot)...

How many of you have read “Thumbscrews,” (Snare Books, 2007) NZW’s first book, winner of the 2007 Robert Kroetsch Award for Poetry? It explores the concept of constraint in terms of poetic form and BDSM. It’s a helluva kinky little read. This follow-up collection has its share of kink too; nothing like a little degradation & humiliation & brattiness to spice up a read:

General Zod

kneel before
                obeisance buys lives
                so I knowtow
                press my forehead to your boot tip
                slobber and grovel –

or do you prefer me unbroken?
                I’ll grudgingly genuflect
                sweetly sneer
                as you wrench back my hair
                twist me to bruised knees


The whole idea of constraint from the last book is applicable here too, in my opinion. There’s a discipline to these poems in their minimalism, choice of diction & form. These poems do not wander; they get straight to the point.

They are smart too. Take a look at this one from the first section “Rogues Gallery: Domination”:

Jekyll and Hyde

you speak in third person
and enraptured by your dichotomy
I crave triad

all grey area
the swooping arch
of the coin caught

the in-betweenity
before chance

I long to be
your indeterminate

let me be the pause

the second part of this collection, "Strong Hold," which describes various fictional settings from the Marvel/DC Comics universe, seems to pour on the Gothic: hell never lets in a draft/never lets a hearth grow cold/never quails before collapsing towers” (Latveria).

I haven’t read a lot of comic books, but I’ve seen a few of the Marvel Comics films. One of the things that I noticed about these poems is that they seem to be an alternative rendering or viewpoint of what happens to the female characters, such as

Danger Room

and it is because she
her body an abattoir
smeared with rank slaughter

and data became senses
as flamethrowers shrieked
and radiation splattered

and her spine was destruction
each rib a welded hell
heartbeat a hologram

and with each invasion and tamper
each rape of her circuits
the heroes befouled her

and their filth swelled into form
the shape of metallic consciousness
her processor’s core gone synaptic and cold

a bullwhip breaking the sound barrier
a live wire touching your tongue
and she said: “Shall we begin?”

“Rogues Gallery: Girl Fight” features supervillainesses, such as Catwoman, Poison Ivy & Lady Deathstrike. I have to say that these poems are poems I wish I’d written. I wish I could write like this: powerful, brooking no argument, insightful, playful, argumentative with the status quo.

The next section, "Bondage," is about the prisons where these villains are housed. There’s a short section of two poems called “Bang” and a final section, “Rogues Gallery 3-Destruction.”

I’m impressed with the power of these poems & the creativity, playfulness & intelligence that went into them. I should also mention the superb illustrations by the very talented Evan Munday.

On a personal note, I remember when Natalie came to town to read, along with Ryan Fitzpatrick & William Neil Scott at the A B Series on November 1, 2007. It was the inaugural event of the darling A B Series. I wrote about it here.  afterward we chatted & drank at that back of the Mayflower pub that no longer exists. Dear friend Warren Dean Fulton was there too. It was a heck of a good time. I dearly wish Natalie, Neil & Ryan would return. We'll have to find a new pub though. 

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

hunting for the dark: above/ground press...2014 so far...

on an unseasonably rainy & cold night in mid-August I had an appetite for the above. I wanted to look in less obvious places. I have a stack of above/ground press chapbooks published in 2014, since i am a subscriber…i was curious to see if any of the authors had a penchant for the Gothic, etc. what i found primarily was an overriding tone of anxiety concerning the monotony of 21st century existence. seems scary enough to me...

Sarah Rosenthal’s "Estelle Morning Star" fits the bill nicely with descriptions of women carrying “dying dead things” “emaciated/mangled/animals” I love her turns of phrase & odd juxtapositions, a sense of the macabre amongst business like celebration: “hard core birds in the / ballroom throw themselves/at convention windows/clatter to the table      their/colours running out.” she paints a vivid picture. Estelle wears mary janes.

Hugh Thomas gives us absurd portraits of anxious composers pursued by fierce demons in "Albanian Suite."“When I was with you, the ravens/and milktrucks made such music.” a fun use of black & white. in “Epithalamion” there are bite-marked necks, the monotony of waiting. “It misunderstands today’s poetry/overgrown with wildflowers to forget these sojourners.”  “Poetry is a pagoda, built of friendly embracings, like a square dance complicating society” … a ticket to days of radishes/and saliva” not to discount the beauty in these poems. it’s there between ice-cold moments: “Time, you murderous sun fills my lungs with honey,” there’s something sweetly chilling about that image. & another from “Selfportrait Unwilling to Sit”: “a tramcar apocalypse/on the move/dragging behind dissonance, divine regret.” there’s something Gothic about that image. & in “Metropolitan”: “The two sicknesses frequent in this epoch are heat and isolation.” Thomas’ poems alternate between the tiniest, spot on observations to elaborate, absurd images. I have to say, this is one of my favourite chapbooks this year so far. some of the poems are translations.

In "Present!" N.W. Lea opens with a gangster with rubber extendable arms holding someone up like a baby. an absurd image & not without its horrifying effect…followed later in the next poem in the sequence by “the swans of hurt/burn circles in the snow” there’s lots here about the terror of mundanity, of the burbs…even a littered cough candy is menacing: “a pale pink/half-sucked lozenge/on the pavement/glinting//plus us//have to contend with the teeth of the neighbourhood” you are “snug in your death-sweater.” there are “great swarms/of dusk-bats” "Present!" is a sequence of estrangement.

there are some menacing animals & a kind of helplessness, a monotony in Camille Martin’s "Sugar Beach:" “A leap of leopards under a crescent moon/happens without us, but we’re there/just the same.” “Newfangleness” Sharpshooters are juxtaposed with picnics in “Blind Engine.” In “No Such Identical Horses,” Martin writes, “I was counting on my favourite superstition/to endow the mirage with authority.” There are rotted leaves, wormy fruit, a beast stampeding down a trail, “the chitinous exoskeleton of a locust” & in the title poem a feeling of wasted extravagance in an image of a rusty tanker scooping “mounds of raw sugar.”  “Machine in the Ghost” evokes a cemetery scene. The poems in this chapbook are sound & image collages.

Eric Baus gives us fanciful nightmares of octopi with burned tentacles, ghosts, insects in “The Rain of Ice.” I loved how imaginative & unusual these prose poems were.

In “Many forms in water,” Rachel Moritz gives us white coffins, bitter flowers, gathering storms, “the ribbon of heat rising past digits black in air.” In “The finished forms in the sand record movement that has ceased,” this is a particularly grotesque image: “I carried her through the woods, slept in waterlogged leaves with her body on my chest.” This poem & the others manage to create a tone of melancholy, grief, poignant emotions. I’m quite enamoured of these poems, especially imagery like “How we carried the bell down irrevocable stairs, passed our sentence of doubt and kept moving.” in “Flowing water encounters a widely submerged outside.” 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

all things Walmsley

I was invited once more to take part in the ten book meme thingy, where you list ten books that have stayed with you. I found myself thinking about how much my writing has been influenced by Tom Walmsley since I first came into contact with him last November...all the books i list here are his & the reasons for this are considerable:

the man has worked in multiple genres & styles from poetry to fiction, to plays & film, even a libretto. I admire his versatility. It is something I aspire to in my own writing. His style ranges from the humorous, to the badass, to the spare to the quietly poignant to the violent, always with keen observations about human nature & the dark places we find ourselves in…

i didn't read What Happened until six years after its publication (it was on my shelf all that time!). after we began to talk in November, 2013, i remembered i had it. i was taken by surprise. it may be that i fell in love with Tom after reading this book. i guess it was a feeling of recognition, of meeting someone of like mind & heart...

What You Do

i like it when you do that like
the way it falls like leaves like
water like it can't wait to touch
me you do that so well like a what in
the night like a something in the
dark like a bird just the wings only
the blue leafy wings of a
quiet violent bird.

the poems are tender & visceral, humble & lyrical, full of intensity & raw sexuality.

an excerpt from "Little Honey":

i learned that with honey too
much had burst in the dark i tried to
retreat i gave him ideas mad & dangerous i
wanted to kneel like our first time
honey stretched on a broken bed a
streetlight giving us the thirties glow of
romance it is so arduous being the remote
hard guy when you're lovers &
when you're not a hard guy

i read all of these poems in one fell swoop & right after I wrote a long poem called "Trouble" in 48 hours & have been working on a life poem called "Paradise" that is an attempt to memorialize, i guess you could say, our love affair, beginning with our first meeting in February until today...

I am not currently writing fiction, but I will return to it & one of the things that Tom’s fiction has taught me is the power of the actual & the immediate. his description of going off into a dream state during a boxing match in Kid Stuff is fascinating & impossible to invent if you don’t know about boxing. I’ve always kind of dismissed my experiences as being not interesting enough…but maybe I’m wrong…

I love this man’s imagination & his willingness to write about the unspeakable, in such works as Shades & Honeymoon in Berlin. it is one of the things we have in common, a willingness to tackle subjects that breach the rules followed by polite society.

one of the images from Tom's writing that remains with me is that of a naked woman walking down a winter street & glowing red. It is from the opening chapter of Shades, entitled "The Passenger":

"Roxanne was standing on a street corner in the middle of the city at 4:30 in the morning and she wasn't wearing a stitch. Snow drifted against her and turned into trickles of water, then escaped as steam. Her body, trim and tense, glowed red from the lone neon sign behind her. She did a quick scan on all sides: not a creature was stirring. She couldn't remember the last time it had snowed on Christmas morning."

i learned a lot about dialogue and timing by reading Tom's plays. they are darkly comedic & fascinating. i wish i could see them performed...

after reading several of his plays, I embarked on an ambitious undertaking to write my own play, "Heaven," which remains a tangled mess of rewrites…stay tuned…there is something amazing about the thought that something I write could be translated into theatre. it’s like going 3D. it opens up myriad possibilities.

since we are two writers on the same wavelength, i don't think it's any surprise that we’ve taken to writing some things together, including a very smutty piece of erotica that may one day be shared with the world, a series of haiku entitled "Dirty Love" & a rather playful long poem,"the Feast." you can read some of these works-in-progress, if you dare, on the sweet fan site, Tom created in my name, which is not just a fan site, but a celebration of this unexpected love & camaraderie that has developed between us.

here in no particular order are all of the books & plays I’ve read, & films i've seen that have been adapted from his writing  & been enthralled by of Mr. Walmsley, who I have the pleasure & honour of calling
my love:

Rabies, poetry

Lexington Hero, poetry

Three Squares A Day, play

Descent, play

Delirium, play

Blood, film based on his play

Paris, France, film

note that there are still numerous plays i haven't yet read but i will...

from so many points of view I’m thrilled that Tom has come into my life, but from the point of view of this blog, of things literary, he has galvanized me, is a creative force & my muse...I am awed by his skill as a writer, his versatility,  his brilliance, his appetite for the dark & the forbidden, the duende in his work. may all of it rub off on me. as I’m rubbing against him…but that’s another story…