11 December 2008

The pavement of famous molecules

I've been in New York City since last Friday.

Some of what I've been up to.

Friday: An awful lot of wandering, followed by dropping in at a book launch at Idlewild Books, a pretty interesting indie shop. The launch was for Ben Greenman's fiction publication Correspondences, a gorgeous, fold-out "book" containing four stories, published by Hotel St. George Press. I didn't buy a copy, because it costs $50 and because while I enjoyed the reading, I wasn't knocked out. Idlewild is a gorgeous store, a little uppercrust, and with an interesting premise: the shelves are divided by country, so that you get a bunch of travel books first for, say, France, and then you get a bunch of novels (mostly) by French authors. The Canada shelf was right at the floor, so it was hard to see, but the dozen of so books included Margaret Atwood, Robertson Davies and ... Will Ferguson? Seems a little random. One woman walked into the store and said, "This place is so FSG!" Later on, I went to the KGB bar, for a party for the Summer Literary Seminars in St. Petersburg, which was crammed with people I didn't know, except for Mike Spry, from Montreal, who I finally got to speak with at some length. What a neat guy. And he introduced me to Pasha Malla, whose poetry book I like an awful lot. Then I returned to feeling alienated and pathetic.

Saturday: The Indie & Small Press Book Fair all day at the glorious New York Center for Independent Presses. Four floors of indie publishers, from the literary to the Hollywood gossip. It was an impressive range of presses, but I was disappointed by so many of the absences: Adventures in Poetry, Wave Books, Dalkey Archive.... I was there representing Anvil Press, who let me use part of the table for Proper Tales. Sales were slow, with the books discounted at about 25% off, but it was fun and I met lots of neat people. The highlight for me was perhaps seeing all the Archipelago Books together: that's a small press dedicated to translations, run out of Brooklyn by Jill Schoolman. She's published two of Anne McLean's Cortazar translations. In the evening, I took the subway up to Columbia U and read for the Ugly Fish student group in the Post-Crypt (a freaky little basement crypt; perhaps the neatest venue I've ever read in) of St. Paul's Chapel. Each time I've come to NYC, I've tried to get a reading and it's been impossible: oh, everything's booked so far in advance blah blah blah. But this time I was offered the reading on Friday and there I was on Saturday. Really nice crowd: mostly an open mic for creative writing students and profs, and they offered me a 20-minute set.

Sunday: The second and last day of the fair. I reduced the prices on the Anvil titles and stuff moved pretty well. There was a lot of interest: I gotta say, Anvil's books were some of the nicest at the fair. Other highlights for me: Hotel St. George Press with their four titles to date, and Turtle Point Press. Also was happy to be introduced to McPherson, who are publishing a newly translated novel by Sergio Ramírez this spring. ¡Sandinista! In the evening, a trip to St. Mark's, where there was a reading of a filmscript by Tony Torn based on Richard Hell's excellent novel Godlike. Pretty fun experience!

Monday: Fantastic afternoon at the MoMA. So goddamn inspiring. Bumped into Simon Pettet in the lobby. Saw some amazing art. I loved the Barnett Newman pieces. Wrote down a list of other stuff I liked, but god knows where it is.

Tuesday: Moved to a great little hotel in the East Village. A morning with my friend Kate from London, U.K., who I also bumped into at the MoMA the day before. We went to the International Center of Photography, and that was incredible too. Most thrilling were Susan Meiselas's photos of revolutionary Nicaragua, along with video interviews shot when she went back 20 years later to find the people she'd photographed. Her show of Kurdistan photos was also amazing. There was, too, a Cornell Capa show that included some older Nicaragua photos, as well as some photos of workers in Guatemala during the reign of the International Fruit Company. In the evening, went to a reading at Dixon Place that left me mostly underwhelmed, except for a novelist named Magdalena Zurawski, whose book The Bruise sounds fantastic. MZ's biz card reads "Minor American Writer." Outside the reading, I bumped into Anselm Berrigan, but kept confusing him with other people. What a fucking idiot I am. Inside, CAConrad had caught me sleeping during the reading.

Wednesday: An afternoon with Larry Fagin, who told me everything I need to know about poetry. Really. He's been very generous with his time whenever I've come down here. An evening reading at the Cornelia Street Cafe featured four old guys, including the one I'd come to see, Bill Zavatsky. It was a thrill to meet him: nice guy! He read two works, one long and one short, about his father. The long one was a sort of "I Remember," but consisting entirely of phrases and jokes and songs his late father uttered. It was a pretty angry piece mostly. In a nuanced kind of way. Followed by my millionth visit to St. Mark's Bookshop and a great French movie, Tell No One.

It's been raining most the week. It's raining now. I've written a couple of poems. This city drives me crazy and makes me anxious because I don't want to waste a second. But it's also pretty damn inspiring.

Over and out.

02 December 2008

Going back a decade: Henry Kafka reviewed

As I'm working away today on Melanie Little's first-round edit of my forthcoming short-story collection, Buying Cigarettes for the Dog, I thought I'd have a look back a decade at Quill & Quire's review of my first collection, Henry Kafka & Other Stories (The Mercury Press, 1997; write me if you'd like to buy a copy!). The review is by Nadia Halim, who I didn't know then but who is a swell friend now.

Here it is.

In addition, the Globe & Mail ran a positive review of the book, and the Toronto Star's Bert Archer massacred it. I expect the same mixture of love and hate this time around. That's the way it goes!

Over and out.

01 December 2008

Indie Literary Market yee-ha!

My experience of the last few months, working with the Meet the Presses collective, was a great one. And our first event, the Indie Literary Market this past Saturday, was a true thrill. It reminded me of the excitement of the early years of the Toronto Small Press Book Fair. We crammed about 25 literary presses into the murky back room of Clinton's, and after a slow first hour, the atmosphere was pretty electric and exciting and grass-roots and positive.

It was great to see, in one room, representatives from Coach House (even Stan Bevington sat behind their table for a while!), Insomniac, Porcupine's Quill, Pedlar, Mansfield, Um Yeah, The Emergency Response Unit, and so many more. It's particularly great at a time when it so often feels that the Toronto literary community is splintering into groups divided by press loyalty, reading-series loyalty and so on. So yeah, Saturday felt sort of like the 1970s to me!

Sales were good too for most of the room. I did nicely at my Proper Tales table. I was disappointed to sell only a few copies of Peter O'Toole: A Magazine of One-Line Poems and only a single Orphan's Song, but I had really big sellers with my two new $2 items — hastily folded-and-stapled mini-chapbooks containing a short story each: The Twelve Rabbis of, um, of, uh, and So Sue Me, You Talentless Fucker. I also moved several copies of both Confessions of a Small Press Racketeer (gotta start pestering Anvil about a second volume…) and Dead Cars in Managua.

It was also fun to sit beside Denis De Klerck of Mansfield Press (for whom I'm poetry editor); I think this was his first time sitting behind a press table at this kind of event. He started off a little curmudgeonly, but by mid-afternoon he was practically giddy with the experience, and it was great to see a lot of new people exposed to Mansfield books.

I could've easily spent hundreds of dollars at the Indie Literary Market, but here's what I did end up with (have only read a bit of it so far):

Punctuat!on Funn!es, by Gary Barwin (serif of nottingham) — yay!
Inverting the Deer, by Gary Barwin (serif of nottingham)
Stanzas #26, by Gary Barwin (ed. rob mclennan; above/ground press)
Help, My Dean Koontz Collection Is on Fire, by Ryan Bird (Um, Yeah Press) — what a great title!
Twaddle #3, edited by Ryan Bird
A Painter's Journey, Vol. II, by Barbara Caruso (Mercury Press)
A Slice of Voice at the Edge of Hearing, by Brian Dedora (Mercury Press) — holy shit!
This Snowing Under, by Nashira Dernesch (The Emergency Response Unit)
Poems, by Anya Douglas (The Emergency Response Unit)
Useful Knots and How to Tie Them, by Andrew Faulkner (The Emergency Response Unit) — this is really good stuff!
One Hour Empire #1, edited by James Gunn
Morse Tupping, by Sam Kaufman
In a Sense, by Sam Kaufman
Embassies 1 – 4, by Sam Kaufman
Between You and Me, by Lesley McAllister (Mercury Press) — really excited about a new book by Lesley!
Force quit, by Marcus McCann (The Emergency Response Unit)
five-seven-five: train poems, by Leigh Nash (The Emergency Response Unit)
Cutting Water, by Nicholas Power (Gesture Press)
Journal, by E. Thomson (Monkmanmedia)
Ministry of the Environment, by Carey Toane (Bench Press) — Carey's first stand-alone publication!

What did you get?

I imagine the Meet the Presses collective'll want to catch their breath, but I'm excited about our next meeting, whenever that'll be, and I'm excited about what other events we'll be cooking up. I don't think I've ever had such a positive and effective cooperative experience before. It was really meaningful to be working with Nicholas Power again, and even better because we were part of an entity that also included vets Beth Follett, Maggie Helwig, Paul Dutton, Gary Barwin and Maria Erskine, and really energetic newcomers Ally Fleming and Leigh Nash. It sorta feels like anything's possible now.

Over and out.