amongst books

amongst books

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Three picks from the Ottawa International Writers Festival

One of the delights of an Ottawa springtime is the Ottawa International Writers Festival, which begins this Wednesday. You can go crazy trying to hit up all of the events, from the literary to the political, to the memoir to the science talks. I tend to focus on the literary and primarily the fiction because we’d have a  paucity of fiction events here in Ottawa, were it not for the festival. This is a great opportunity to hear new and established writers, chat them up, get copies of their books and hang about with fellow bibliophiles.

Here are three events I’m jumping up and down in my seat about:

I think I’ve been to every one of these and they always hold surprises. I discover new music and hear songs I  haven’t heard by some of my favourite musicians. The format is interesting. Alan usually has some sort of theme and picks singer/songwriters that fit within the theme. There’s a lot of conversation and clips from interviews. This year the theme is Random Play with musical guests: CRAIG FINN of THE HOLD STEADY,  

I have been a fan of Michael’s since I first read Cumberland, his novel set in Cornwall, Ontario, several years ago. I also enjoyed his second novel, Progress, and am looking forward to his memoir, My Body is Yours. Michael is a talented writer of both fiction and poetry and also a filmmaker

I just read Raziel Reid’s When Everything Feels Like the Movies this past winter and I found it to be heart-breaking, compelling and humorous.

Glenn Nuotio is one of my favourite people and I love his music.

I also feel that discussions surrounding gender identity, prejudice based on gender and sexual orientation are vital and I’m glad that these are being addressed at the festival through these fine works.

April 25, 6:30pm The Time to Make It Shorter with Mark Anthony Jarman, Steven Hayward, Heather O'Neill and Guy Vanderhaeghe

With all due respect to all of the writers at this event, the person I  am most looking forward to is Heather O’Neill. I have just devoured her second book, The Girl Who was Saturday Night; last winter I enjoyed Lullabies for Little Criminals, and have just started her short story collection, Daydreams of Angels. I love her writing, her characters, her descriptions of Montreal and her fancifulness. I like the fact that she writes about people who are treated as the dregs of society, petty criminals, drug dealers, fat old Russians, aging former Quebec musical icons, patients in mental hospitals, feral cats.

The Ottawa International Writers Festival Spring Edition takes place at Christ Church Cathedral, 414 Sparks Street from April 22 to April 28, 2015 and includes poetry, fiction, memoir, history, politics, science, music, food, laughter, mayhem, sweet smiles, awkward pauses, CBC hosts, Carleton and U of O students, workshops, glamourous outfits, Sean Wilson in a baseball cap and surprises…

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Taking a stand

1. I believe in the concept of innocence until guilt is proven in a court of law.

2. Someone who is on the receiving end of negative accusations in public has the right to address the accusations through a court of law via lawsuits.

3. Proof is essential and cannot be discounted. The legal system cannot be disregarded or bypassed.

4. The court of public opinion where innuendo, gossip and power games are the chief means of  obtaining information, instead of facts, evidence and proof, is not an acceptable method of dealing with issues of criminality or wrong-doing.

These points for me are not debatable. I merely raise them for the sake of integrity and the need to demonstrate that not everyone agrees with those who think they are just in publicly shaming/gossiping about their peers or celebrities or whomever.  I am hoping people will think twice before spreading rumours, gossip and mean comments about their fellow human beings. Social media is not the correct way to deal with issues of criminality. I am not on any one side: accuser or accused, but more importantly I am on the side of everyone’s right to be presumed innocent unless they are convicted in a court of law.

I will not address specific issues in public, particularly in social  media. I encourage you to voice your own opinions in social media or elsewhere, but I will delete comments made on my FB page & any other social media I belong to, on this subject. 

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

my work featured on Jacket2, notes by rob mclennan

rob mclennan continues the conversation of contemporary poetics in this latest series of notes on Canadian poetry published in the Australian on line magazine, Jacket2. I am fortunate to be included in the series with his notes on several of my poetry projects, including my current work-in-progress, Saint Ursula’s Commonplace Book. Note that I will be reading from the work on February 7 at the Factory Reading Series, February 18 at the Sawdust Reading Series and in March at VERSeFest, where I will also read from Kiki.  I will do my best to read from different sections of these works so that those of you who are good enough to attend multiple readings won’t be bored.
I am grateful to the City of Ottawa for the funding I have received for Saint Ursula’s Commonplace Books, Kiki and Ghazals Against the Gradual Demise. Thanks also to the Ontario Arts Council, which also funded the latter two manuscripts while they were in development.

Here are rob’s Jacket2 notes so far from latest to earliest:

- Amanda Earl: Excerpts from Saint Ursula’s Commonplace Book 
- A short interview with Armand Garnet Ruffo
- David McGimpsey: Three new poems
- The Canadian prose poem : Notes toward an essay I haven’t quite written
- Annharte’s AKA Inendagosekwe
- A short interview with Nikki Reimer
- jwcurry's archive
- Roland Prevost: two new poems
- Pearl Pirie: two new poems
- Chris Turnbull's endless directions
- Gil McElroy's cartography
- Selecting Phil Hall

thanks to rob for all he does and for including me once again.

for those of you who haven’t heard of Jacket2, I  highly recommend it as a resource on modern poetry and poetics. it includes interviews, articles, panel discussions, podcasts and more. For example, take a read of this interesting panel discussion of poetry as music led by Anselm Berrigan or this article on the new face of Chinese poetry.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Big Book of Domination Blog Tour

I’m chuffed that my story “The Third Floor” was published by Cleis Press in the Big Book of Domination in 2014. I’ve been asked to take part in a blog tour to promote the book, edited by D.L. King.

“The Third Floor,” like much of my erotic fiction, is about desire. Not just desire but a type of desire that is taboo in mainstream society: the need to be dominated sexually. In the story, Mandy, the main character wrestles with this need. After numerous disappointing forays into online dominance and submission, Mandy encounters a potential master. She has to decide whether or not to take the leap from virtual submission to the real thing.

Of course, mine is not the only story in the anthology. There are twenty-five sizzling tales by both well-known and emerging erotica writers, with a foreward by Laura Antoniou, author of the Marketplace Series, and an introduction by D.L. King. I highly recommend this volume to anyone who is tantalized by the idea of power exchange.

I had the pleasure of reading my story at Northbound Leather as part of the More Than 50 Project recently in Toronto. The event was organized in conjunction with the release of the 50 Shades of Grey film to remind or let people know of great BDSM fiction. What do  you read after 50 Shades? The Big Book of Domination, of course. It was great to read with D.L. King, Nairne Holtz, Andrea Zanin, and Evan Mora whose stories were kick-ass. There was also a fabulous open mic reader named Cordelia who read hot and unusual stories. It was a great afternoon all round. Thanks to D.L. King for inviting me to read, to Northbound Leather for the event and to the audience.

I’d provide an excerpt from “The Third Floor” but it’s too graphic for this blog alas. You'll just have to buy the book. That’s an order…

If you would like to read more of my smut, you can purchase my collection "Coming Together Presents Amanda Earl." All the money from the book's purchase goes to researching & raising awareness about AIDS/HIV.

Here's the blog tour schedule:

1/19  Valerie Alexander
1/21  David Wraith
1/23  Giselle Renarde
1/25  Amanda Earl
1/27  Evan Mora
1/28  Angela Sargenti
1/30  Athena Marie
2/1   Anna Mitcham
2/3   Rachel Kramer Bussel
2/5   Zoe Amos
2/7   Olivia Summersweet
2/9   Katya Harris
2/11  Alison Winchester
2/12  Malin James  Http://
2/14  Laura Antoniou

Here are some sales links for "the Big Book of Domination":

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Poetry & Smut Readings in 2015

so far, here's the schedule:


Sunday, January 18, 2014, 2pm, The More Than 50 Project, Northbound Leather
with D. L. King, Andrea Zanin, Evan Mora, Amanda Earl, Jean Roberta, Nairne Holtz.
I'll be reading my story "The Third Floor" from the Big Book of Domination (Cleis Press, 2014) & possibly a wee bit of Kiki, if there's time. I'll have a few copies of the latter on hand. 


Friday, January 30, 2014, 7pm, Ottawater Issue 11 launch, The Carleton Tavern
i'll be reading along with a bunch of folk published in the issue.

Wednesday, February 18, the Sawdust Reading Series. I'll be reading from Kiki & my work-in-progress, Saint Ursula's Commonplace Book. There will be another featured reader to be announced closer to the date. Sawdust does a combo of invitation & contest for their features. 

March, VERSeFest, Ottawa's annual week long poetry festival. More details as they arrive.

That's it so far. I'm available for readings anywhere I can take the train, a local bus or walk to. I'm a member of the League of Canadian Poets, if that helps...

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Gratitude: poetry 5 x 5, a year in review

at this time last year, I madea year-long commitment to actively engage with poetry. I would do this by reading poetry & by writing regular blog entries about it in the following categories: recent poetry reads, theme, chapbook review, event report & gleanings from the web. i ended up reading & engaging with more poetry than I often do, which is the reason why I decided to do this in the first place. another reason was to help continue the conversation, so to speak, to contribute to keeping poetry alive in the minds of readers, potential readers, fellow writers…

the wheels fell off the apple cart in the autumn. I kept writing the entries but I stopped paying attention to the various topics & wrote whatever I felt like writing to do with poetry. this suited me best.

I liked having posts scheduled ahead of time & then posting them & scheduling them so that they appeared automatically. I do enjoy the process of planning my time, so this worked for me.

my favourite entries were those in the theme category: colour in Ken Babstock’s work, for example, or the piece on liminality; I also enjoyed reading through various poetry books & chapbooks & writing about them. 

I hope this has been an interesting year on my blog for you, readers. I’ve heard from a few of you over the year to let me know that you were reading the entries & have found them interesting. my hope is that anything I write, whether it be poetry, fiction or these blog entries, inspires you to create, to explore & to read more…

next year my blog entries will be sporadic & uncategorized. I will follow my curiosities & see where they lead.

2015 will be, for me, a year of colour, in which I engage with visual art more. you will find such engagements over on my tumblr account.

thank you for your friendship, your kindness, your support in 2014. may 2015 be a fulfilling year for you, full of warmth, colour, love & poetry…

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: