14 September 2011

John Robert Colombo!

Had an excellent time at Wordstock in Collingwood last weekend, where I gave a one-hour seminar on self-publishing that went extremely well. Also was able to catch excellent readings and onstage interviews with Wayne Johnston and Camilla Gibb, as well as a great reading by Randy Boyagoda, who I hadn't been familiar with.

The nicest surprise was getting to see a reading by John Robert Colombo. Now, way back when I was about 14, I was a page at a library at Bathurst and Lawrence in Toronto. A fellow page, Annette, pointed out a poet who came in regularly. So I read a few of Colombo's books of that era: Neo Poems, Abracadabra, and The Great Wall of China. Next time he came into the library I introduced myself as a young poet and told him I liked his books. I guess he was the first "real writer" I'd ever met.

John suggested that what a young poet should do is apprentice an elder poet, so I took the job, and for the next few years I helped John put together his Concise Canadian Quotations (well, I snipped quotations from the big Colombo's Canadian Quotations and put them in enveloped]s divided by subject). I proofread a few of his poetry collections (I think The Sad Truths and Translations from the English were among them, and also a collection of translated Bulgarian poetry, perhaps called Under the Eaves of a Forgotten Village). I got to hang around the home office of an actual working writer, and he critiqued a pile of my teenage poems.

Through John, I also met another real writer: the science-fiction legend and anthologist Judith Merril. John loaded me up with all her anthologies and sent me off to her Ideas office at CBC Radio, where I photocopied all the text by her in the anthologies (introductions and prefaces and so forth). She was pretty intimidating, and smart and funny.

So right, back in Collingwood: I went to a small gallery on the main street and there was John, a little older (like about 30 years) but still the same John Robert Colombo. The gallery was packed and John was just beginning: "I don't do spoken word," he said, "and I don't do rap." And then he proceeded to read a whole set of unpublished poems he'd written since the beginning of the year. Many of them were aphoristic and philosophical; I could see heavy Eastern European influences that I never would have noticed as a teenager. John is a wit, a charmer and a showman, and the reading was absolutely enjoyable.

When he was done, I went over and introduced myself and he looked a little surprised. It had been a while.

Then both of us fled before the spoken-word event that was following in the same venue.

Over and out.

09 September 2011

Workshop in Collingwood, new video

On my way to Collingwood, Ontario, for a literary festival called Wordstock, where I'm doing a workshop tomorrow morning on self-publishing, one of my favourite topics — though one that's getting mighty muddied these days. While everyone's talking about eBooks, I'm going to touch on that, but concentrate on physical entities — books, chapbook, leaflets, broadsides, etc. That's still where my heart is.

In fact, I published a new chapbook just a couple weeks ago — a collection of poems about Cobourg, Ontario, accompanied by a reprint of a column of mine from sub-Terrain. Here I am reading from it:

Over and out.

05 September 2011

Happy 97th, Nicanor Parra!

Nicanor Parra, the Chilean anti-poet, turns 97 years old today. Back when I was a teenager, I came across a copy of the New Directions collection Emergency Poems. I had never heard of Parra, but, flipping through the book, I was blown away. And I never turned back. What Nicanor makes possible for poetry is remarkable.

Jim Smith, another poet who has been a huge inspiration to me, celebrates Parra with a new blog. Jim is probably the closest thing Canada has to a Parra — the boldness, the audaciousness, the directness, the humour, the refusal to compromise in either art or politics. If you don't believe me, have a look at this book of his I edited for Mansfield Press:

On September 17, Jim turns 60. And I sure hope he has at least another 37 years of poetry-writing ahead of him!

Happy birthday to both of 'em and thanks for all the poetry and the courage!

Over and out.