amongst books

amongst books

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Ruth Stone - In the Next Galaxy

Ruth Stone – In the Next Galaxy
Copper Canyon Press, 2002

if you feel like reading
contemplative poetry.
perhaps you have just
returned from an early
morning blood test.
after your 12-hour fast
you drink glass after
glass of water to make up
for your thin veins, your
thin skin. there is someone
you should read, a woman,
Ruth Stone. her book,
In the Next Galaxy, is dog-
eared. if you want close observation,
poetry that listens, expressions
you haven’t heard of before that
make sense in way that makes it
seem as if the author is having a
private conversation with you.
she is the second Stone poet, the
first is Anne Stone, except that Anne
is described as a novelist, but they share
similar tones from what I remember, the
tone of silence & of space between thoughts
something that I always need but especially
in the summer. not all subjects are easy,
comforting. “every death breaks you apart”
writes R. Stone. in “Shapes.”

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Unarmed Journal - a small & punchy little magazine you should read

Michael Mann of St. Paul, Minnesota publishes a small magazine entitled “unarmed journal” & some chapbooks. 

he recently was kind enough to send me gratis issues 66 & 67 & chapbooks by Fungo Appetite & Tom Wiegel. I have been fortunate to have had some work in previous issues & other poetry pals, such as Pearl Pirie & Kemeny Babineau are regulars.

the first characteristic that differs from standard journals is that author names are not published alongside the work. to find out who wrote or created the work you have to go to the back of the issue. I like this idea. in fact, I wouldn’t mind it at all if no names appeared, but I can understand that it’s nice to receive credit for your work. with that in mind, I will credit the creators when I refer to work here.

Issue 66 begins with a striking piece of art by david spinelli entitled “shrine of st. rochs.” it is a colourful assemblage of rusted metal shoes with braces, angel wings, a heart, moulds for feet pictured in front of crumbling stucco walls. it provides a promising beginning to the issue.

the back cover is entitled “Anti-Ham” & is a colour collage with indecipherable handwritten text, stenciled “DA revolution” & D / A, some Asian characters, a red seal, a portrait of a man with his insides revealed. again this back cover seems fitting in that it is eclectic, provocative & not easily mapped to some specific answer or method.

if I could make any overall comment about the aesthetic of unarmed, I would say that the poetry tends to be without ornamentation or fluff, conversational rather than high brow. I’ve always been heartened by that fact.

the issues are always chock full of work. Issue 66 has 25 pages; while Issue 67 has 28.
here are a few notes on a few pieces in Issue 66:

what’s left by kent taylor is a quiet & meditative poem that has haiku like qualities.

Before Sunrise by jonathan brannen (1950-2013) is a lovely, meditative & touching piece. what drives a lot of these poems, in my opinion, is the willingness not to be certain or for things not to work out perfectly: “I would want to talk/before sunrise/of rooms/in clumsy times…unteachable/wet roads” & “though sometimes the voice of a thought/is so soft that the sound of spoken words/is enough to drown it.” brannen was active in poetry, visual poetry & music. see an interview with him here in Altered Scale 

Symphony for Sorrowful Songs by tom kryss is a spiritual & quiet prose piece.

Love in Pattee Canyon when I was a Red Headed Witch by debbie florence is a fun, yet ironic piece about love. I like its repetition & imagery.

Yeshiva Code by tom weigel begins as a dissasociative list of odd juxtapositions that culminates in a life observation that brings everything together. it’s a nice technique.

Rio Arriba Bulletin & Rio Arriba Bulletin #2 by michael kinkaid are spare poems with haiku qualities & insightful observations.

Doppelgänger’s Lament by Camille Martin is a playful & imaginative piece that feels like a kind of short form based on a crime novel.

Picasso’s Binoculars by john olson is a fun, witty, imaginative & visual piece.

I suggest you contact Michael Mann to see how you can order copies of Unarmed. i enjoy that I get a chance to discover writers/artists that I would never have heard of before. for more info contact, Michael at unarmedjournal at comcast dot net.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Smut Break: My Husband Toys With Me

is a story of mine that has just been published by RavenousRomance in its “Bad Boy Ménage” anthology. the story is about a woman, her husband & their encounter with a blond hot bi guy they meet in an elevator who likes to kiss. the anthology includes hot stories by Giselle Renarde, Shane Allison & more. BBM was edited by the dedicated & supportive F. Leonora Solomon, a  writer & editor living in New York City

stay tuned for more smut news.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Help Chaudiere Books Rebuild

My publisher has started an Indiegogo campaign to raise $5000 to help them in their challenging rebuilding year. There are some lovely perks in exchange for your support. I hope you’ll help them out.

I say often enough how much I love Ottawa’s literary community & rob has been one of its key driving forces. Not only does he promote, publish & support writers, but he also promotes our literary activity to the world by writing reviews & essays, organizing readings, & distributing books & chapbooks hither & yon.

Christine is a brilliant writer in her own right & a skilled book designer. This combination is powerful & I can’t wait to see what they create together. Especially with the assistance of young Rose, their darling almost toddler.

If you are regular followers of my blog, you are likely involved with books in some capacity, whether a reader, writer, small press publisher, literary event organizer, librarian etc. I don’t have to tell you how challenging it is to run a publishing company today, especially one that specializes in literary fiction & poetry.

Chaudiere Books has already achieved a great deal in its first few years. One of its authors, Monty Reid, was the recipient of the Archibald Lampman Award for the Chaudiere Books title, Disappointment Island. Other books from the Chaudiere Books catalogue have been shortlisted for awards.

What is more important to me is that the books that Chaudiere has published so far have been engaging & if Chaudiere wasn’t around, I’m not sure these books would have been published.

I am ever so pleased that they are publishing Kiki, a book I worked on for several years & put my heart & soul into. Without them, this book wouldn’t be experiencing the brush of your fingertips over its pages in the near future.

I stand behind Chaudiere Books & its goals to foster writers & to share great writing with the world. I hope you will join me in doing so by contributing much needed funds to its campaign

Poetry at Ottawa’s spring literary festivals

as I write this it is early May. it’s raining, the Ottawa International Writers Festival spring edition has just ended. But when you are reading this, in the future, it is mid-July. so try to imagine or remember those early cold spring days & nights after the long hard & what felt endless winter. how fortunate we were at that time to have two literary festivals almost back to back: the aforementioned Writers Festival in April & VERSeFest, Ottawa’s annual poetry festival, third year, in March.

I had the pleasure of being one of the featured readers at VERSeFest & also one of the inductees, along with the talented Danielle Grégoire, into the Hall of Honour. it was a moving experience. everyone was attentive, welcoming & supportive, as this community always is, but it’s not something to take for granted.

the strength & fascination of this festival for me is its versatility. I’m not really talking about the fact that the program includes both spoken word & poetry, I’m talking about its inclusion of poetry choreographed with dance, as demonstrated by Ian Ferrier’s reading of his sea-fully wonderful poem, accompanied by the guitar with dance by Body & Light, their movements on the floor like that of Sirens rattling on the sea bottom & creating grotesquely contorted shadows on the walls.

Sandra Alland’s combination of poetry with video also had me wrapt. Then there was the delightful & unassuming Mary Ruefle with her silent poem demonstrating how to fold a fitted sheet. 2 Dope Boys with their psychedelic talk opera The Anthropocalypse. An absolute joy to witness & mull over afterward.  Sarah Clancy was fascinating & funny, also insightful. I really don’t know much about Ireland or its current battles with economic disaster. Stephen James Smith was charming & his poems made me laugh. 

The BC poet, Sarah de Leew’s book “Geographies of  A Lover” with its erotic content mixed rather brilliantly with the wilds of BC. I sought her out after, told her we were kindreds. Lenelle Moïse gave a powerful reading & performance from her book, Haitian Glass. her poem about Noah’s Ark is still in my mind, a few months later. David McFadden was resilient & humourous with deadpan delivery of his haiku & autobiographical poems. 

Tim Bowling’s poem about poets like worker bees was entertaining & humourous. I love the way Tim plays with form. His diction is pleasing & soundy. Vincent Colistro was quite amusing & witty too. Michael Burkhard was a discovery for me. I enjoyed the sensuality of his work & his compassion was lovely.

the Ottawa International Writers Festival Spring Edition had three poetry events. The poetry cabaret with Rob Winger, Adam Sol & Sina Queyras held my attention. I loved the variety of the work, the insightful & visionary answers to questions about the future of poetry. I purchased all three books & will likely be writing about them more a future post. Adam Sol got off the stage & dipped a bit into the audience to read. I liked that. It went with his poetry. 

The  off-site poetry event held at the Manx pub & hosted by David O’Meara of the Plan 99 reading series featured Brecken Hancock & Aisha Sasha John. Both poets gave powerful & moving readings from their books.

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

good stuff from the web

In 2014, I began to read Numéro Cinq & I’m enamoured of it because of the variety & depth of articles published on the site.  “Numéro Cinq started January 11, 2010, as…a reading, discussion and resource site for a small group of Douglas Glover‘s friends and writing students. It has morphed into something monstrous, tenticulate, multiform and quite possibly (gasp) alive!”
Numéro Cinq publishes new content constantly. here are a few poetry related highlights from recent issues.

The Ralph Angel essay begins with this quote:

“It is the performance of the poem which is the poem.  Without this, these rows of curiously assembled words are but inexplicable fabrications.” –Paul Valéry

In the essay, Angel talks about various novels & poems, some he hasn’t been able to bear finishing because of their beauty & wholeness. At the time of writing the essay, he had not been satisfied with his own writing. Reading works like Sappho’s fragments, he realizes: “I could no longer bear the sanctuary of feeling whole.  It didn’t feel right.  Without thinking about it or knowing what I was doing I’d moved away from that.  I walked in my own dark.  Every novel is a fragment, I thought.  Every poem.”

& then quite wonderfully, he talks about the boxes of Joseph Cornell. I am a huge fan of these boxes. “Joseph Cornell understood that it was his job to walk the city, and to rummage through the fragments that are there, and to collect them, and that it was his job, too, to go back home and, in his quiet, to do the work, time and time again, in his quiet, to get things done.”

Angel talks about how we experience the world in fragments & moments, rather than in a linear fashion. He muses on his need, in the end, for silence.

In the April issue, DM Spitzer responds to the essay in “Mythology:A Response to Ralph Angel’s “The Exile and Return of Poetry” 

His essay begins with a discussion of mythological gods & monsters, the idea that the poet designs a sanctuary into which the monster of imagination is led. This essay is quite thrilling & inspiring: “Write poems on papyrus scraps and send them to the skies on wings of smoke and flame. Too near the sun they have already burned to ash and their flight continues. Poem needs no ground save the whole of things; air discloses the whole.”

I like the idea of being a poet who creates a sanctuary for the fragment, with the idea of sanctuary being, as Spitzer suggests, “a forbidden vein of dark blood writing the holy secrets across its innermost holy place, a place of healing.”

I am not so sure about the idea of being a poet who can create a holy place or a place of healing. that part doesn’t sit well with me, but the forbidden bit does…

I am not so sure either about his contention that wholeness comes first; although he uses Aristotle to back up this idea, so who am I to argue? “Only after the presencing of wholes to consciousness do the fragments begin to appear, light-catching as glass-shards.”

I don’t usually see the whole or the big picture, but notice only the fragments until some well-meaning person points out the whole to me.

& then this apt quote by Schopenhauer: “[N]ot everything can be given straight away to the understanding through the work of art,” as Schopenhauer noted, “but only what is needed to set the imagination on the right path; it must always leave out something—indeed, the final thing—for the imagination to produce for itself.”

So it turns out that Spitzer is speaking of a different kind of wholeness, presentation of the art by the creator & its reception by an audience makes the work complete…which I can get on board with & which is in keeping with Angel’s point: “Out of this engagement the fragmentary poem overcomes itself and reaches its latent wholeness, which consists in the belonging-together of literary art and the thoughtful auditor or reader.  All strives for wholeness.[vi] Imagination reaches out for the dynamism inherent to phenomena, as phenomena strive towards an outside-of-themselves that completes them.” This is, I guess you could say, perfection.

Another piece I also enjoyed “Entering A Contrary Moon |Poems & Paintings — Elaine Handley & Marco Montanari" like Numéro Cinq, I have a thing for hybrid art. “Ekphrasis is the Greek rhetorical device of inserting the description of a work of art into a text as a way of creating meaning (by analogy or parallel).”

When war ends ghosts rise up
to blossom white against
the world gone black,
color like hope, bled out.
from Rapprochement by Elaine Handley in response to Maro Montanari’s Dark Merging into Light.

& please do take a look at this: "Proposal for a Whole New Scale: Poems — Julie Larios” Larios writes energetic poetry: “the comedy of the body that won’t stop.” 

thanks to Numéro Cinq, I have discovered the poetry of Leslie Ullman. Read this review of her latest book: “Progress on the Subject of Immensity.” Her work has synaesthesiastic qualities [yes, I’m making that word up].  

“As Kafka suggested, a really great book is like an axe that breaks the frozen sea within us.” … “To write is to challenge the negligent, disinterested, laissez-faire status quo.”

"One thimble-full of salvaged words, one pearl of sweat or salt tear, one drop of ink, made of belief, commitment, made of love of humanity, of history, of culture, and of nature, no matter how humble, no matter how seemingly quiet, inarticulate, or out of tune, no matter how seemingly unheeded, may be precisely the enlivening, moistening alchemical liquid needful to keep the well of inspiration from going dry once and for all."

Necessary Fiction- Fit Into Me by Molly Gaudry, April’s writer-in-residence. in short fragments Molly tells the story of a tea-house woman, a recurring character in her work. I would, if I had to classify “Fit Into Me,” call it poetic fiction. but why classify? It is lyrical, full of sensual & erotic details.

“The first word of the tea house woman’s story is dripping, which could refer to anything: the faulty kitchen faucet; the basement ceiling of the tea house after the flood; stems of wildflower bouquets pulled putrid from tall white pitchers; even her own wet cunt.” Book One, Fragment One.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

A Wander Through Liminality in Poetry

I pack a large bottle of water. My cell phone is charged.
I am ready to step into the elevator. If I am trapped I will
dial 911. If I am trapped I will sing. If I am trapped I will
take deep breaths. I will try to breathe. First the sound
of metal upon metal grinding. Will the cables snap. Will
the elevator car lose its grounding & shake us like rag dolls.
I am a rag doll. Every day I feel it. A dog can pick me up
& carry me away in its jowls.

[Fear of Elevators, 2012]

In his article "Thresholds and Liminality," Dr. J. Michael Stitt tells us that Limin is Latin for threshold or doorway. Liminality is a threshold period or a time of waiting. I think elevators, escalators and revolving doors are liminal urban spaces. They represent a period of non activity in our lives. We are simply waiting to pass from one realm into another. We are in limbo.

Perhaps then even fear itself represents a kind of liminality in its anticipation of what could go wrong. there's a stillness, a kind of waiting, we are on hold until the inevitable happens. we always have a packed suitcase on hand, should we need, suddenly, to flee.
Googling around to find instances of liminality in literature, I came across this very lovely blog, which explores " the fragile borders between landscape and people. Of architecture, cities, geography, maps, mythology, drifting, perambulation, wanderlust, deep topography, psychogeography, the creative spirit and the environment." I like the idea of liminality representing the concept of borders. There are posts about snow, the river & Ballardian space, which if I understand is a kind of fusion between past & present memories…There are references in the blog to Ulysses' wanderings, Ben Jonsons' poetry etc.

Another blog makes me think about liminality as a form of stillness or rather, stillness as a form of liminality: Shawna Lemay's Calm Things which offers still life photographs of dried flowers, & frost on fences, food not yet eaten, the play of light and shadow in a room. The quote on the day I looked at the site comes from a poem by Galway Kinnel called "Saint Francis and the Sow": "The bud/stands for all things,/even for those things that don’t flower,"

Off the top of my head, I can think of other poets who work with liminal spaces. Sandra
Ridley' in Post-Apothecary about a woman who is ill & confined to her bed. she thinks of
the dark and the woods and the outside. sometimes the outside takes on a malevolent
potential, but all of this is within her imagination.

Writers, such as Anne Carson & Nathanaël, who blend or blur genre lines come to mind
as possible practitioners of liminality, if one can practice it like it's a religion or a violin.
Liminality is also seen as a transformation from one state to another. Just another way
of restating the above, I guess, but the idea of transformation seems to add a new idea.
In this article, Liminality in Literature by Sarah Scott , the author talks about speculative fiction as a genre with liminal beings such as werewolves etc. I can't think of too many contemporary poems where
such a literal transformation appears. Dennis Cooley's Seeing Red (Turnstone Press, 2003), a re-imagining of Dracula, comes to mind, but there are less literal transformations in poetry. Transformations from one state to another.

To fall is a downward movement
that stops breath [Nathalie Stephens'
paraphrase from At Alberta].
Elevators are liminal. Neither here
nor there, but somewhere in
between. To pass each floor is to pass
residents in the process of being
alive: cleaning floors, baking a cake,
making love, talking on the phone.
While the elevator redraws its
vertical line over & over, the
building's inhabitants reach
outward. Elevator riders fall into the
middle of what has already been
going on before they arrive.

[Fear of Elevators, 2012]

Jane Hirshfield suggests that writers ourselves must be liminal to maintain openness. In this case, liminal seems to mean fluid, changeable.

Given the preceding thoughts, the dream state also seems to be a state of liminality. The dreamer is in an unreal world of dreams where anything could happen but also lying in her bed in the real world, a kind of hybrid. Dreams themselves are liminal in nature.

What about longing? Longing seems to be a liminal state to me. It's a state of waiting for something to happen, even if it never does.

Oana Avasilichioae's We, Beasts (Wolsak & Wynn, 2012) opens with The Distant Song, a song of longing. The whole book has a dream-like feel to it & includes liminal spaces & concepts such as shadows, borders, the activity of listening, half-opened hands, time displacement: this hourless hour, an uncertain heart, the outsider: the muse sits on a stoop, a valley between slippery rocks and creek where something is happening, tales of witches & wolfbats, transformations of caterpillars into butterflies, thresholds: a home knocks on the door of itself, a hybrid of multiple languages, wings, tears, personified natural elements such as dawn, the use of "about to," interiority, as an outsider element: the violet season turns interior, etc

Maybe poetry itself is liminal in that its status in society is often questioned, written by marginals, reprobates, those who live outside the bounds of mainstream convention. Contemporary poetry is often hybrid, often mixing formal constraints with experimentalism. See my favourite poetry anthology American Hybrid (Norton, 2009), edited by David Saint John & Cole Swensen . Contemporary poetry, thankfully, often escapes genre classification. It is neither one thing nor another, is a threshold, an entrance to the real or a return to the imagination.

This article talks about Aristotle's poetics, saying that poetry was placed separately from history & philosophy, thereby making it liminal. ‘The poet’s task is, Aristotle writes, to speak not what has happened really, but of what may have happened, i.e. of the necessary or possible as need might arise’. The poet is a kind of mediator between history & philosophy, between the real world & its possibilities.

A poem,
like trying
to remember,
is a movement
of the whole body.
You follow the
into more fog.
Maybe the door ahead
the facts
from natural affection. How
can I know. I meet
too many
in every mirror.

Rosemarie Waldrop, from section 1 of “The Ambition of Ghosts: I. Remembering to Sleep,” Another Language: Selected Poems (Talisman House Publishers, 1997) [found on Tumblr via LiteraryMiscellany

Also consulted:

Charles La Shure, Liminality, the space in between 

Friday, June 06, 2014

Devilish Shenanigans at the Fair

Making mischief & mayhem at this year’s fair & pre-fair reading will be AngelHousePress, along with our new imprint, DevilHouse.

Tonight (Friday, June 6, 2014) we launch a debut collection of short stories by David Menear, One Dead Tree, at the Carleton Tavern, 223 Armstrong Street, UPSTAIRS, doors 7pm; Reading 7:30pm.

I’m very excited & pleased to publishDavid’s chapbook. He covers taboo subjects with humour & daring. I’m hoping his will be the first of many darkly entertaining chapbooks to corrupt & provoke readers via DevilHouse.

Copies will be available for sale at both the pre-fair and the Ottawa Small Press Book Fair on Saturday June, 7 at the Jack Purcell Centre from noon to five pm, along with Issue 1 of the Tawdry Goat, which features new & previously published fiction by Ottawa writer Bill Brown, Montreal writer Daniel Allen Cox, Toronto writers Tamara Faith Berger & Tom Walmsley & all the way from jolly old England, London-based writer, Remittance Girl. These are writers whose work I’ve admired for some time & in some cases have previously published via AHP’s online magazines, or or have worked with as a fellow writer or editor. 

AngelHouse will offer “Bone Sapling.” a new chapbook, a collaborative visual poetry collection by Gary Barwin & myself, Amanda Earl. I had great fun working with Gary on this chapbook last winter. He is a creative & prolific artist & a dear friend.

I’m  very excited about all the doings at AngelHouse, especially the new imprint, DevilHouse, which has been in the planning stages ever since I first doodled the name in my red journal at the Meet the Presses Fair in Toronto a few years ago. is an investigation of the meaning of transgression in creative work, whether that transgression be in form or content. Go visit & take a look at the interviews with various publishers & writers who take joy in pushing boundaries.

I hope to see you at tonight’s reading &/or at the fair on Saturday. There may be some devilish treats if you’re ever so good.