27 February 2007

Snow, Joe

Well, go figure. We have a snowstorm Sunday night, plus the stupid Academy Awards, and the Fictitious Reading Series gets one of its finest turnouts. Great readings, too, by Beatriz Hausner and Steve Venright. People were also very generous to the passed hat, and Charlie of This Ain't called across the room to ask if my sub-Terrain column was "working." That's the column in which I berate people who are cheapskates at PWYC lit events. I suspect there was no connection between column and lucrative hat. I think surrealism just draws out the big bucks.

Today I'm seriously considering braving the snowy roads to Buffalo once more (last time, I travelled three hours and barely got halfway there before I had to turn back). It's the final week of the Joe Brainard show at the university art gallery there. My last chance: maybe there won't be a Brainard exhibition within striking distance ever again.

It's sort of a weird thought setting foot into the United States of America, though. I've been watching the brilliant BBC World News increasingly, and becoming increasingly aware of what a blinkered, anaesthetized nation we've got clinging to our border. Just a few minutes of BBC news offers more varied perspectives and voices (actual Iraqis! women who aren't Condi Rice! brown people who aren't Condi Rice! socialists!) than a thousand hours of Wolf Blitzer/Anderson Cooper/Lou Dobbs.

CBC News falls somewhere in between the two extremes. CNN seems to target the lowest common denominator, and CBC the highest. Perhaps the actual populations of the two countries aren't all that different, and I shouldn't be judging a country by its cable newscasts. Except in Canada we're not brought up brainwashed into crowing that "we are the greatest nation on earth." We did elect Stephen Harper, though.

Over and out.

24 February 2007

This Sunday Is Nothing but a Fiction

Come to the Fictitious Reading on Sunday night!

Toronto writers Steve Venright and Beatriz Hausner, both recognized primarily as poets (and surrealists!), will be reading fiction at the 9th installment of the Fictitious Reading Series on Sunday, Feb. 25, 7:30 pm, upstairs at This Ain't the Rosedale Library, 483 Church.

Steve will be reading from a novel in progress, and Beatriz will be reading from fiction works she has translated from the Spanish. The reading of translations will be a first for Fictitious!

After the readings, I'll be leading an "onstage" chat with both writers, where we'll delve into surrealism and translation, Torpor Vigil Industries (Steve's project) and public libraries (Beatriz's day job). Oh, and writing methods as well.

Cohost Kate and I pass the hat to pay the writers, and attendees are encourage to bring a beverage of their choice. Cheezies and chips will be provided.

See you there! For more info, click the Fictitious link in the sidebar to the right.

23 February 2007

A letter of complaint has arrived at the office.

Finished Soldiers of Salamis, by Javier Cercas, and the third part was exhilarating. He managed to get Fat City into there, a great John Huston movie I was discussing with Walmsley just recently. And then Robert Bolaños, the late Chilean writer, stepped into the novel as a character. It certainly went places I never would've guessed. And Anne's translation: holy cow: the prose of the last few pages especially took my breath away.

Thought I'd follow that book up with Rosemary Sullivan's Villa Bel-Air, about the project of smuggling artists, writers, and intellectuals out of Vichy France. I almost wish it was written in Cercas' "true novel" style, instead of as a real non-fiction book. It's good, though, and I suspect it'll become ever more compelling as I get deeper into it. Some great photos of Andre Breton, Benjamin Peret, and others.

Tuesday night's reading at the Victory went extremely well: I read mainly stuff I'd never read aloud before: sections from my hospital sequence, my side of my correspondence with Huttel, and a couple poems from Hey, Crumbling Balcony! that I don't remember ever reading before. Got paid, sold six books, had a good visit with Fictitious Kate.

The second installment of my workshop was last night, and it seemed to go very well again. A lot of interesting work, and a real nice group. I think I've got to become increasingly challenging. I'm enjoying the experience, for sure.

Today received my big batch of sub-Terrains. Brian tells me a letter arrived dissing my column. It's my first Hunkamooga letter! (Aside from personal notes I receive.) Yay! Now I've gotta start working on the next installment.

Over and out.

20 February 2007

Convincing Americans & Military Wurst

Yesterday I had tea/coffee with Jim Smith for the first time in a couple of years. Time before that had probably been five years earlier, or more. Jim was once a poetry hero of mine (as well as a good friend): I still think he wrote the best political poetry this country has ever seen. His books include One Hundred Most Frightening Things, Leonel/Roque, Convincing Americans (published by my Proper Tales Press), and Translating Sleep.

But shortly after he turned 40, Jim quit writing, vanished from the lit scene, and enrolled in law school. Now he's a lawyer for the province and doing pretty well for himself. Me, I followed the literary trail and I'm still trying to figure out how to make a living at it.

It was great to see Jim, and I hold out hopes that he's secretly still writing, or that he'll write again someday. I did manage to squeeze a poem out of him for the 40th-anniversary issue of This Magazine, and also for my anthology of love poems for GWB.

A little later, on Yonge Street, I saw Steve Venright across the road and called out his name. He was between shifts at the restaurant he serves at, so we managed to fit in a visit at, of all places, the fucking Hard Rock Cafe. When I ordered my beer, the server asked if I'd like it in a "souvenir mug you can take home with you." I declined. Steve and I talked about 9/11 conspiracies and David McFadden, the two perhaps related.

Over the past couple of days I've been absorbed in Javier Cercas's novel Soldiers of Salamis. It's a hugely award-winning novel of the Spanish Civil War, and the translation, by my friend Anne McLean, has also won some awards. I'd tried digging into this book a couple of times before, but it never took; this time it was like a whirlpool. I'm two-thirds of the way through, and there've been moments in it that have practically winded me. I sense that the last third is going to hold some incredible revelations. Something of it reminds me of Gunnar Kopperud's novel A Time of Light: perhaps it's the complex focus on the "evil" protagonist during wartime.

To wind down, I picked up season 2 of 24. Dana and I have our work cut out for us.

Over and out.

17 February 2007


Ahhh! Just checked my calendar and found that I'm reading this Tuesday (Feb. 20), 8 pm, at the Art Bar Series, at the Victory Café on Markham. I have no memory of booking this. But it seems I'm reading with someone even more curmudgeonly than myself, Fraser Sutherland, as well as Julie Roorda, who I don't believe is the least bit curmudgeonly. I think maybe I'll read some really long poetry sequence.

Then, next Sunday (February 25) marks the revival of the Fictitious Reading Series, curated by me and Kate Sutherland. A brilliant lineup: Steve Venright and Beatriz Hausner. Both Steve and Beatriz are better known as two of Canada's premier surrealist poets, but Steve has been writing fiction for years, and is working on a very weird novel, and Beatriz is the translator of several Latin American surrealist fictioneers. That reading takes place at This Ain't the Rosedale Library, 483 Church, 7:30 pm. And you can bring what you'd like to drink. We will pass a hat to pay the writers (see my "Hunkamooga" column in the current sub-Terrain for my thoughts on those who spend more on beer than on the writers).

This past Thursday, had the first of the Get Your Hands on My Poem! workshops at This Ain't: I was thrilled that the five participants were all very keen and were all capable of writing good poetry, and very diverse poetry. It was really enjoyable. I'm going to enjoy this challenge.

Last night got together with Dave Fine, my buddy from my high school days, who's visiting from Vancouver. It doesn't feel much different from those days: we poked into a few CD shops and insulted each other's musical tastes. It was a lot of fun. Dave and his wife, Alison Snowden, are preparing to launch their new animated kids' TV series, Ricky Sprockett, this fall. I tried to buy a spin-off haiku franchise for 5 bucks, but Dave spurned me. I encourage all poets to create unauthorized Ricky Sprockett haikus.

Over and out.

15 February 2007

Preemptive poetry strike on U.S.!

Nice to see Kevin Connolly's excellent book Drift reviewed thoughtfully in the February issue of the stunningly named American magazine Poetry. There's also a poem in there by Steve Heighton. This some kinda Canadian invasion? An invasion is a good idea. Throw that delusional homicidal fratboy outta the White House and install Bill Knott.

Over and out.

14 February 2007

S.E. Hint-Hint

For the past few weeks, I've been immersed in a couple of editing jobs: a book on the history of stag films for ECW; the selected David McFadden for Insomniac.

But I've been thinking lots about the poetry workshop that starts tomorrow, Get Your Hands on My Poem! (what a dumb title, huh?). This morning I had a great talk about the workshop with Michael Dennis, whose input was excellent. I think Michael should be leading a workshop in Ottawa; I bug him to.

Also been reading some great essays on poetry, by Alice Notley, Mark Strand, Charles North. Ted Berrigan's On the Level Everyday, a collection of his talks, is always inspiring. Getting a kick, too, out of Jonathan Lethem's essay in the new issue of Harper's, "The Ecstasy of Influence," which Sandra recently enthused about on her blog.

My anxiety over this workshop has transformed to excitement. I'm confident I can avoid the major pitfall of the critiquing workshop: an atmosphere that creates a factory for poetry by committee.

Still a few spaces left (hint, hint), but already the group looks great: a solid mixture of poets published and, I think, unpublished.

Odd thing: I was just looking at my glorious bookshelves of poetry again and realized that all of my books are by contemporary poets, except for a selected Walt Whitman and a collected Stephen Crane, and whatever I might have by old guys in anthologies. Where the hell is my John Donne collection? Do I really not have Shakespeare's sonnets? I'm convinced this stuff must all be in a box somewhere. Time to do some archaeological digging through my stored heaps.

Over and out.

P.S. — Happy Valentine's Day, Dana

12 February 2007

Bush on Dad, me on workshop

George W. Bush told an interviewer this morning, "I'm more concerned about [my father] than I've ever been in my life, because he's been paying too much attention to the news."

Hell, American news doesn't tell you anything anyway. I've been gradually weaning myself off the evil of CNN, and the arrival of a channel devoted to the BBC World News has really driven home to me just how vapid the Yanks' mainstream news is. This past weekend, the BBC station had an hourlong town-hall debate over whether a new dictator should be installed in Iraq to assert order. There were actual Iraqis on the panel, plus a pro-resolution former CIA guy who called the Bush admin incompetent. Perhaps most exciting was George Galloway, the British politician who is about as radical as they get.

Meanwhile, the Dixie Chicks blew their chance to say smart things when they won all those Grammies.

But what I've been meaning to say is that my workshop Get Your Hands On My Poem! starts this Thursday, so there's still some time to sign up. Details are over to the right of this frame. I've been avoiding this kind of critiquing workshop, but there was a real call for it in my Boot Camps. And my experience this past year of editing books by a wide range of poets has dissipated any impostor syndrome I've felt. In the end, I figured it's better that I'm doing this than some goof who thinks Lorna Crozier, Billy Collins, and Don Paterson are the tickets to poetic genius.

I'm that other kind of goof.

Over and out.

Spider, spider on the wall — and a little bit of New York

Found some great books in a Goodwill today, including a selected Bernadette Mayer. But picked up something called Vessel, by a poet I'd never heard of, Howard Schwartz (Unicorn, 1977). Had blurbs on the back from Yehuda Amichai, Charles Simic and David Meltzer, so I was intrigued.

Before I dug into his stuff, though, I found a handwritten letter tucked into the book. I love when I find letters tucked into books. They always seem to be from girls to boys. This one featured three poems by someone named "Kathy." Here's one of her poems:


The spider on the wall —
blackmail looms tall
the sinuous web continues to grow…
How else am I supposed to make some dough?
…all the secrets that I know…
I've got it on 'em all!

Kathy likely never read Schwartz's book or she might have learned something. He's pretty interesting. A lot of his poems are really Jewish. Here's one that isn't, except perhaps in tone:


For every dark cloud a red warning.

For every blade brighter than the sun
An animal clawing
The darkness.

For every wounded tree
A dark sun dropping out of the sky.

Schwartz really saves it with that last stanza, I think. Though I do admire the plainspokenness and the compression throughout.

OK, something else. After my aborted trip to see Padgett and Elmslie read in Buffalo a few weeks back, I decided to try to catch Kenward Elmslie's New York reading in early April. I'm hoping to make it to the open mic at the Pink Pony the night before, but I would love to read somewhere in New York for real. I mean, I think it'll happen someday, but April would be nice. Any ideas?

Over and out.

09 February 2007

Brawlers, Bawlers & Bastards

Got the new issue of sub-Terrain in the mail today. As always, great to see my Hunkamooga column on the back page. I'm pleased with this one, and I hope it doesn't get me into too much trouble.

Anyway, it inspired me to assemble my various Hunkamooga columns and other such writings: the kernel of a Further Confessions of a Small Press Racketeer. That'd be a fun book to create. Another few years and it should be together.

Been reading an awful lot of poetry lately, in addition to the repeated readings of David McFadden's stuff for the Selected (which is just about together now, at last). The World Doesn't End, by Charles Simic, is an interesting one, containing as it does a lot of prose poems, which is rare for Simic. Somehow reading the book in one sitting brought to mind Jerzy Kosinski's The Painted Bird.

Next up was Charles North's brilliant The Nearness of the Way You Look Tonight, published a few years back by Larry Fagin's revivified Adventures in Poetry press. This book is really challenging, but also enormously funny. It's pretty much a perfect poetry book, at least for my present condition. It really is an adventure in poetry — all these years into his career, North is still trying out all kinds of crazy stuff. When I was done for now with that book, I picked up North's Selected Prose and so far have just read his attack on Harold Bloom's take on Ashbery. Great stuff.

Finally read the grotty copy of Larry Fagin's own Rhymes of a Jerk that I bought from Jay MillAr's excellent Apollinaire's Bookshop. The first half is mainly very small poems, and very crazy poems, by Fagin alone, and the second half is collaborations: with Coolidge, Padgett, etc. The whole thing is a riot and perhaps is best read stoned. I'll try that next time. Fagin is apparently still writing and publishing but his stuff seems to come out only in very limited editions of very expensive artists' books, so I have no idea where his poetry has gone.

I've managed a couple of my own poems in the last week or so, which feels good, plus a poem that Sandra Alland and I collaborated on at the Rhino earlier this week after she read at the Gladstone.

Oh, there are still some spaces available in my six-week poetry workshop. Details over there on the right.

Tom Waits' Orphans is playing out of my DVD player now. I think I'll go read along with the lyrics.

Over and out.

01 February 2007

Barney Truhlar Fife

Last night at the Bloor Cinema: Matthew Barney's Drawing Restraint 9, with Barney and Björk. Mesmerizing, beautiful, repulsive. As I said to D. afterward, "Glad it was made, regret that I had to watch it." Though that's not true. It just sounded like a good thing to say. Its seafaring ways and its human/whale blurring reminded me of The Incredible Mr. Limpet, with Don Knotts, where Knott falls into the sea, becomes a cartoon fish, falls in love with another cartoon fish, and has to decide between land and sea. Me and Mark Laba loved that movie when we were kids on Pannahill. Anyway, watch this: Matthew Barney/Barney Fife/Don Knotts.

Woke up this morning, and before leaving bed, read a book that my shelving earthquake had shoved to the surface: Richard Truhlar's Utensile Paradise. It would be good to read a book of poems every day before leaving bed. Anyway, this book was published in 1987 by Mercury's caterpillar, Aya Press. And I hadn't read it since then. It brought so much back to me. It's a brief book, with just seven extended poems. I find the linear poems a bit vague and ponderous, but the three prose poems are wonderfully focussed investigations. What interests me so much about Truhlar is not only his obsessive precision, but that he's obviously strongly influenced by the later fiction of Samuel Beckett, and simultaneously by British new wave sci-fi writers like Brian Aldiss and J.G. Ballard, perhaps even Michael Moorcock.

Like Drawing Restraint 9, Richard is preoccupied by repetition, human gesture, intimate human relations, human/environment blurring. And the X-acto knife, nut-wrench, and fork on the cover of Richard's book resonates well, too, with Barney's film.

Here's the first stanza/paragraph of the opening poem, "Some( )else":

How the doors close silently, silently in a room, in a house, sitting silently alone, sitting and watching the doors close, sitting and watching her friends leave her.

Here are the first three from the book's final poem, "Thanksgiving" (let's ignore for now the dangling modifier in stanza 2):

On a map, red dots are appearing and disappearing.

Slicing open the scrotum with a surgical instrument, the testes look like giblets, bright pink, surrounded by small yellow iridescent seeds about to hatch, this is the way the operation proceeds, says someone who is a specialist, others look on. There is the sound of a frozen turkey's orifice being pried apart.

We travel on buses and subways, know our routes by rote.

Over and out.