Friday, December 24, 2010
Saturday, December 18, 2010
I'm a huge fan of Gertrude Stein, and have been reading her for decades, but the amount of writing she produced is so prodigious that I haven't manged to read all of it yet. Similarly, Stein's circle of friends, collaborators, and correspondents is so large that one can spend years reading biographies and memoirs and still not uncover all the interconnections.
That's why I was happy to hear of the publication of Crystal Flowers, the collected poetry of Florine Stettheimer (edited by Suzanne Zelazo and Irene Gammel) from Bookthug. Stettheimer is probably best known for designing the costumes and set for Stein's Four Saints in Three Acts in 1934, but was also a visual artist and now, thanks to this collection, she can be recognized and reassessed as an interesting Modernist poet.
Zelazo and Gammel's generous introduction draws connections between Stettheimer and such experimental women writers as Emily Dickinson, Mina Loy and, of course, Stein, but emphasizes Stettheimer's distinct camp aesthetic, painterly style, and light satiric verse. In many ways her writing is diametrically opposed to Stein's Cubist portraiture, but one can make connections between Stettheimer's sexualized "Comestibles" poems and Stein's equally sensual (although more esoteric) "Objects" sequence from Tender Buttons. For example:
"You Beat Me" (Stettheimer)
You beat me
Your sweetest sweet you almost drowned me in
You parcelled out my whole self
You thrust me into darkness
You made me hot--hot--hot
I crisped into "kisses"
"This is the Dress, Aider" (Stein)
Aider, why aider why whow, whow stop touch, aider whow, aider stop the muncher, muncher munchers.
A jack in kill her, a jack in, makes a meadowed king, makes a to let.
And, like Stein, Stettheimer also has numerous short and often elliptical portraits of friends, objects, flowers, and Americana throughout her collection.
Although not mentioned in the introduction, Stettheimer's work often reminded me of the work of British poet Stevie Smith sharing Smith's short, sly, and deceptively innocent tone. Stettheimer even has several satirical nursery rhymes and parables that resemble that of Smith. This is a rather strange connection to make because, aside from the verse produced, the lives of these two women were completely at odds: Smith being the reclusive English "spinster" and Stettheimer moving in, and hosting parties for, the most visible and artistic social circles of New York's pre-WWII glitterati.
Because of her social connections and gregarious lifestyle (she counted among her close friends Marcel Duchamp, Georgia O'Keeffe, and Carl Van Vechten), Stettheimer's writing will also be of interest for readers seeking insight to the lives and lifestyles of the "bright young things" of New York's golden age, and her writing can be profitably viewed as a precursor to the ambiguously sexual and camp creations of Frank O'Hara and Andy Warhol.
I should also note the beautiful production of Crystal Flowers, one of the strongest I've seen from Bookthug, including a colourful Stettheimer painting on the cover, photos, reproductions of Stettheimer's manuscripts, and detailed editorial annotations by Zelazo and Gammel. A real steal at less than $20.
Ordering information can be found here.
Saturday, December 11, 2010
-- Andre Marin, Ontario Ombudsman
And, worth forgetting:
Ubu Rob "enchained" by Palcontent Cherry
"He's going to be the greatest mayor this city has ever seen. Put that in your pipe, you left-wing kooks," said Cherry.
Hey Don, I know you're just a regular blue-collar millionaire, but how about you keep your comments reserved for the millionaires who perform on ice, rather than the millionaires who run for office....
Saturday, November 27, 2010
Saturday, November 13, 2010
Founded by Barbara Godard, Daphne Marlatt, Gail Scott, Louise Cotnoir, Susan Knutson, and Kathy Mezei, Tessera is essential reading for anyone with even a passing interest in feminist theory, ecriture feminine, or translation theory.
Check out the complete archive of 38 issues here.
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
Saturday, October 23, 2010
Saturday, October 16, 2010
Saturday, October 09, 2010
academic texts of the past decade. I had a chance to hear Marcus present a section from In Praise of Copying about a year ago at the UofT and it taught me all I know about Louis Vuitton handbags (as well as being an impressive display of erudition and the ability to draw parallels between subjects as diverse as Eastern philosophy, Heidegger, and Takashi Murakami).
He'll be launching the new book in Toronto this coming Tuesday in conjunction with a performance by the legendary John Giorno:
This Is Not A Reading Series presents:
Marcus Boon and John Giorno in a creative performance and dialogue
at The Annex Live, 296 Brunswick Avenue, Toronto. $5 cover charge.
Tuesday, October 12th, 2010, 8 p.m.
Saturday, September 25, 2010
No Press in Calgary has re-released Crowns Creek by Steve McCaffery and Steven Smith, which was originally published in 1978 by McCaffery's Anonbeyond Press.
No Press publisher derek beaulieu has done a nice job at capturing the ephemeral feel of the original publication, keeping the unbound pages in a folder format, but changing the cover from rust-coloured cardstock to cream bond paper and reducing the size from 5 1/2" x 8 1/2" to 4" x 5 1/2". I also notice that for the No Press edition, the cover has been changed to add "Ross" to Steven Smith's name, the publishing name which he began going by in the 1980s. I'm curious how this correction came about--whether derek added to the graphic or got a new one from Steve and Steve--as its addition seems smooth and unobtrusive.
derek's also made the decision to change the interior font of the original text from its electric typewriter monospaced font (IBM Selectric?) to a heavily serifed proportional font which seems to signal a shift from the micropress mimeo/ xerox aesthetic of the 1970s to a more desktop publishing aesthetic of the 1990s: a fitting choice for a reprint.
Crowns Creek (notice the lack of apostrophe) is a fun, if somewhat light, text in the McCaffery canon, but does appear to fit with McCaffery's tendency towards collaborative work, which increased substantially during the late 1970s. As well as his frequent collaborations with bpNichol (through the Toronto Research Group, and in the collection In England Now that Spring) McCaffery published co-authored work with the Four Horsemen, an earlier visual text with Smith (Edge. Toronto: Anonbeyond, 1975), and one of the first (if not the first) collections of LANGUAGE-based writing, Legend (1980), with Bruce Andrews, Charles Bernstein, Ray DiPalma, and Ron Silliman, during this period.
While the cover image resembles the type of visual interrogation of cartography that McCaffery was doing in sequences like Maps: A Different Landscape (or even earlier with Carnival and Ground Plans for a Speaking City) the text of Crowns Creek seems to be working in the allusive referential mode that McCaffery had developed with Dick Higgins in which one translated a text homolinguistically, creating a new text through word association, resonance, and subjective interpretation of the words in the original text. McCaffery's best example of this technique was published in Every Way Oakly, a translation of "Objects" by Gertrude Stein. In the case of Crowns Creek, however, the allusive referential technique seems to be utilized in a more call-and-response mode with one author offering a line or two of poetry and the other responding to its associations. For example:
Saturday, September 11, 2010
there’s great danes yeah
for the locust range hotel
no simple ballots
plug the sink
next thing soldiers upheld
your fingers all aligned
all the funnels stand empty
stay good to your tv set
there’s great danes yeah
hangover most people’s savior
local biscuits justice barman scrapes the scene
next things overly surreal
your fingers all in a line
all the battles stand empty
stay good to your tv set
Saturday, August 28, 2010
Since we're dealing with Google-searches, here's Google Books' description of the novel:
At a wedding for a childhood friend, young-professional Jean Duprez, strong, self-confident but with a dark past, meets the magnetic, charming and aloof Steven Cain. The two begin an intense, obsessive affair. After an enticing afternoon on Steven's sailboat, Steven shuts a car door on Jean's hand. Intentionally? Unsure, and unable to resist Steven's charms, Jean remains fascinated. As the novel spirals to its final, shocking conclusion, we can only watch with horror and curiosity as Jean becomes ensared in Steven's sinister designs.
Of course Jean, the heroine, should have immediately realized that Steven Cain is evil by the spelling of his name alone. The rule of thumb is always: "ph" Stephens good; "v" Stevens bad. (Exceptions: Steven Heighton and Steven Hayward are good guys).
Saturday, August 21, 2010
Saturday, July 31, 2010
Saturday, July 24, 2010
Saturday, July 17, 2010
Saturday, July 10, 2010
Steve McCaffery also possessed the energy of a man many years younger as he conducted the intensive verbal gymnastics necessary to premiere the vocal version of Carnival: Panel 3. Using a prerecording of his earlier performance of Panel 1, McCaffery read Panel 2 live, creating the aural palimpsest that is Panel 3. After years of listening and studying sound poetry I think my ear is finally attuned to recognizing modes and techniques of vocal performance, and it was wonderful to hear elements across the entire history of sound poetry entering McCaffery's reading from pre-semantic vocalisms, to ecstatic chants (as in Hugo Ball), to interrogative ejaculations and simultaneous languages (pioneered at the Cabaret Voltaire), to the rolling consonants and inflections of Schwitters's Ursonate, to the improvisational "free-jazz" of the Four Horsemen. The piece's conclusion, in fact, strongly reminded me of the Four Horsemen with long mantra-like voicing creating a base-line over which McCaffery uttered recognizable poetic phrases, which was often a standard Four Horsemen technique, especially in pieces like "Matthew's Line" or "Seasons" from CanaDADA or some moments recorded on 4 Horsemen, 2 Nights. Listening to McCaffery read Panel 3 "solo" was like getting 4-Horsemen-in-1.
I also had a chance to pick up the Scream's program in which Bill Kennedy discusses the theme of this year's festival: "Following the events of the G20 here in Toronto, it may seem both apt and puzzling that we would use the term `Agents Provocateurs' as a theme for a literary festival. In the wake of widespread protest and massive security presence, burning police cars and civil outrage, global politics and civic disfigurement, is the notion of a writers-as-provocateurs beside the point? Where does literature fit within this charged political climate?"
I'll reverse Bill's mode of rhetoric and instead move from two clear literary provocateurs (although, notably, from poets two or more generations older than the Scream's organizers, volunteers, and every reader at the mainstage this year) to the question of literal G20 provocateurs...
Here are links to two petitions that ask that the events of the G20 be fully investigated, particularly the trampling of human and civic rights that occurred that weekend, and the conduct of the security forces:
Canadian Educators Condemn the G20 Attack on Civic Education
Amnesty International Calls for an Independent Review of G20 Security Measures
Saturday, July 03, 2010
As an avid watcher of CBC's The National, I was at first heartened by the coverage of the police brutality on newscasts on Sunday and Monday, but it soon became obvious the story was being buried as G20 news (both pro and con) completely disappeared by Tuesday night's broadcast. Suddenly, it was all the Queen's visit...
At least the Toronto Star carried this story yesterday, which seems a fair report of recent protests against the treatment of peaceful activists.You'll see that even the mainstream media are reporting on people being dragged from their showers and detained without charge.
The only thing I would immediately dispute is the statistic about the majority of Torontonians being happy with the police-action. I'd like to know what the exact question that was asked in the poll, and how it was conducted....
Meanwhile I feel I should post about the upcoming Scream Literary Festival noting, as Jenny Sampirisi did a few days ago, that the theme of this year's festival, "Agents Provocateurs," has taken on quite a different resonance.
Here's the mainstage (Monday, July 12th) lineup:
Brian Joseph Davis
The Element Choir
You can find the complete schedule here. I'll be performing at the Zygal event on Thursday the 8th, and am very excited to finally have to opportunity to see David Antin on Tuesday the 6th.
Saturday, June 26, 2010
Unfortunately, it appears that there is little chance of saving the store at its current location, due to the seemingly unreasonable actions of the store's landlord.
If This Ain't the Rosedale Library closes permanently, as owners Jesse and Charlie Huisken seem to predict, this will be, to my mind, a devastating blow to Toronto literary community--far more significant, in my opinion, than the closure of Pages. This Ain't the Rosedale Library was/ is a true supporter of the alternative literary culture in Toronto, providing venues for important readings, launches, and lectures (at both its earlier Church St. location and its current space), stocking small press and micropress publications (especially poetry), and run by two informed and community-orientated booksellers (Jesse is himself a brilliant poet, and Charlie has long been a cultural-commentator which a deep interest and knowledge of the New York School)
The above is just one small and personal example of This Ain't the Rosedale's activities: a photo by Peter Culley of me reading outside on the patio area of the bookstore last fall with him for the launch of The Age of Briggs & Stratton. A wonderful and idyllic evening spent with great company, and graciously hosted by Jesse and Charlie. Here's hoping that the store, its important activities and services, and of course its dedicated owners, can salvage this situation and find a new home in a more accommodating location.
Saturday, June 19, 2010
JAMES: You ever get those things in your eye?
SAMUEL: What things?
JAMES: They're like dark spots that shift when you move your eyes.
SAMUEL: What, floaters?
JAMES: Is that what they're called?
JAMES: What do you do about them?
SAMUEL: I don't know.
JAMES: Do you ever get them?
Saturday, June 12, 2010
So, until next week, here's some video footage of the Hearthside Reading I did with Greg Betts back in April at Jordan and Priscilia's home in Niagara Falls. It's in four parts, but only the first section has sound, so you'll have to guess which poems I'm reading by my gestures....
UPDATE: New video footage with sound--thanks again to Priscilia and Jordan for hosting and posting!
Saturday, June 05, 2010
Saturday, May 29, 2010
This video is, of course, riffing on the character of Ozymandias from Alan Moore's Watchmen who views multiple televisions at the same time, but I'm betting that Pop Will Eat Itself were also aware when making this video that Moore himself was gesturing to an earlier cinematic image--that of David Bowie in Nicolas Roeg's The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976):
Anyone know if this is really the genesis of this image, or are there earlier incarnations? Might be worth exploring in a McLuhanesque essay someday. And speaking of critical analysis, while much of the imagery in the "Wise Up! Sucker" video is dated, I still appreciate the latent (?) psychoanalytic elements going on in the video, with the megaphone functioning as the superego, attempting to awaken the lead singer from his television-induced narcissistic anesthesia: wise up!
I listened to a lot of Pop Will Eat Itself (PWEI) in the early nineties, particularly This is the Day... This is the Hour... This is This! (1989), the album from which "Wise Up! Sucker" is taken. PWEI were one of the first bands to mix electronica, hip-hop, politics, and pop culture in one smart, infectious, and danceable groove, and This is the Day was their masterstroke, one of the best concept albums of the late 1980s, which perfectly captures the zeitgeist of fear induced by Reaganite/ Thatcherite neoliberalism, nuclear proliferation, and the rise of global media empires, with citizens being pacified by blockbuster films, computer games, and new recreational drugs.
Besides being a product of that period, what influenced me most about PWEI, and what I still love about them today is their pure dialogicism--lyrically, multiple voices and discourses clash and collide creating puns and connections beyond the surface and, musically, the samples and cinematic voice-overs spin intertextual references at a non-semantic level. I see similar effects in an album like Paul's Boutique, which is also another influence on my wordplay and poetics, but PWEI was certainly more underground and subversive than the Beastie Boys during this period.
A track like "Can U Dig It?" is probably a better example than "Wise Up! Sucker," taking its title and dominant sample from the 1979 cult film about street gangs, The Warriors, and moving to a full-on investigation of the influence of American imagery on global culture. But PWEI add their own Anglophilia to the mix, showing how British comic artists and musicians are just as influential and exciting as their American counterparts. A few of the kung-fu and action-film references don't appeal to me, but I love the conjunction of Schwarzenegger, Mark E. Smith, and Watchmen in the triplet "Terminator!/ Hit the North!/ Alan Moore knows the score":
I'll sign off with the third single from This is the Day, "Def. Con. One" which comes the closest to what I'm attempting in "American Standard," suggesting that connections (or "the con") between corporatism, junk food, nuclear war, and fascism are not far-fetched:
Saturday, May 22, 2010
I wish I could say that I worked very closely with Barbara over the years but, despite having many literary enthusiasms in common, as it happened most of our initial interactions were at a slight distance. For example, I regrettably didn't have the chance to take classes with her, or have her as part of a supervisory committee while a graduate student at York (although she did send me a lengthy and kind email after I defended my dissertation on Coach House Press, detailing some of things I might be interested in investigating further regarding the CH translation series and her willingness to guide me). After I joined York as a faculty member, however, I began to work with Barbara on a more frequent basis, initially on departmental business (I treasure another email that she once sent me complimenting me on some comments I made a meeting that I was feeling a bit embarrassed about at the time ... If you know me, you know I'm not overly vocal at meetings, so Barbara's gesture meant a lot), and later we had several conversations about Open Letter (ex. the Ray Ellenwood festschrift, the recent feminist poetics issue, and possible future issues). My fondest memory, however, is probably our trip to the Windsor Bookfest where we spoke on a panel on translation, and over the weekend there finally had a chance to talk candidly about many issues, including our admiration for Mallarme and bpNichol, as well as discussing her efforts at a troublesome translation in which she was attempting to find the proper French equivalent for "roadkill."
A few posts ago, I commented on feeling that I didn't work hard enough at my writing in reference to Andy Warhol and Lou Reed, but if one really wants to be put to shame, one need only look at the accomplishments of Barbara. This website is still in progress, but if you click on the translation and publication links you'll see the astonishing amount of work Barbara accomplished over the years. At the funeral yesterday Ray told an amazing anecdote about being graduate director and noticing that not only was Barbara supervising more students than any other individual faculty member in the department, she was supervising more than all the faculty members combined!
What stays with me most from this collection is the introductory interview with Smaro Kamboureli, where Barbara recounts her efforts to create many of the subject areas in the academy that we now take for granted. It enlightened me as to how different the academic landscape was back in the 1970s, and how many of the fields that I currently work in wouldn't exist to the same degree without Barbara's contributions. What I mean is that I realized how pivotal she was in defining and constructing the discourses of Contemporary Canadian Literature, Literary Theory, Translation, and Women's Studies, in the academy and in this nation as a whole.
At the same time, the interview suggested how difficult this task was, how antagonizing the academy and its administration can be, how quickly these discursive victories can be eroded, and how we need to be constantly vigilant. Since reading that introduction I've often thought about how the academic terrain has shifted detrimentally and how there are still struggles underway. Considering a few of the areas that Barbara was most passionate about, in recent years I've been witness to attempts to amalgamate Canadian Studies into North American Studies, and seen Canadian Literature courses move from being mandatory to barely optional. I've watched the Harper government cancel funding for women's organizations and attempt to reposition the abortion debate, as well as seen many academic institutions diluting Women's Studies into Gender Studies. Similarly, fewer incoming graduate students appear to be interested in theory and less grants tend to be awarded to theoretical projects by government agencies. And, after all the efforts Barbara made over the years to introduce Quebecois literature to English Canada, when was the last time that you saw an anthology of "Canadian" writing that included both English and French Canadian writers in one volume?
Barbara's passing has made me realize how grateful I am for the work she accomplished, how my intellectual life has been enriched by her pioneering investigations, and has reminded me that, in being inspired by her example, I need to redouble my efforts to sustain the discourses that Barbara fought so hard to develop.
Saturday, May 15, 2010
Following the truism that it's never too late to give notice to a collection of poetry, I wanted to note that I've finally had a chance to sit down with the collected poetry of Raymond Knister, After Exile, edited by Gregory Betts in 2003.
Since Knister died in 1932 at the age of 33 (before he had a chance to publish a full collection of poetry) his early promise and experimentation has made him a minor legend in Canadian Modernism. Certainly, in pieces like "The Ploughman," "Sumach," or "The Hawk" one can admire how he adapted Imagist techniques for the Canadian setting, eschewing the pseudo-Hellenistic (or Orientalist) imagery of peers like H.D. and Pound:
Across the bristled and sallow fields,
The speckled stubble of cut clover,
Wades your shadow.
Or against a grimy and tattered
Or you shear a swath
From trembling tiny forests
With the steel of your wings--
Or make a row of waves
By the heat of your flight
Along the soundless horizon.
Still, a little of this goes a long way, so what's much more exciting is some of the more experimental writing that Betts has managed to dig up, such as the urban prose-poems "Sidewalks of Toronto" (the first example of flaneur writing in Canada?) or the proto-concrete poem "Dragonflies at Noon" (1921) which is contemporaneous to e. e. cummings:
Dragonflies at Noon
Dragon -- flies at noon.
D D D D D D D
Dragon -- f f f f flies at noon noon
Dragon f f f f f fl lies fl lies
l l l l lies lies
But I suppose what I appreciate most about this collection is its handiness. Not only does Betts collect all extant Knister poems and variations, but he includes short critical responses to individual poems, a selection Knister's poetics, photos, letters, and a fairly detailed scrapbook of newspaper notices and condolences following Knister's drowning. In short, it's a great primer on Knister (and Canadian Modernism of the 1920-30s), produced with concision and with an eye to being readable and utilitarian. Here's to hoping that others follow Betts's example for the other neglected Modernists of the period.
Saturday, May 08, 2010
To make this blindspot a strength, I came up with the idea of trying to write 10 declarative sentences about 10 popular television shows I've never seen. Honestly, I've not seen one episode of the following. But I wanted to see how much popular culture seeps in despite not having direct access to it, or what sort of humourous conjunctions might arise from my ignorance. It might say something about the hegemonic power of television, or reveal some underlying ideological aspects of the popular media during the last decade.
I've titled the sequence "TV, I" in a gesture to both Iggy Pop's "TV Eye" and Bowie's "TVC 15" (which was also apparently inspired by Iggy Pop), as well as Hitchcock's I Confess. I imagined it was like my television testimonial: as if I was under interrogation from the Cultural Studies police and I had to tell the absolute truth about all I knew about these programs. It's also related to identity: my relationship to television, or else how we often define ourselves and our peer groups by the television programs that we watch.
People sing and are eliminated each week. There are a group of judges who make sarcastic comments about the singers. One is Simon Caldwell, and another is Paula Abdul. The first American Idol was Kelly Clarkson. Another was Clay Atkin. Some of people who don’t make it to the end sometimes still have careers like William Ho, while some winners don’t even get a recording contract. The show is still on, and very popular. There is also a Canadian Idol spin-off. The judges on the Canadian version are Sass Jordan, Maestro Fresh Wes, and someone named Zack. There are probably Idol shows in other countries too.
It’s about a group of people who are on a desert island. No one knows why they are there and each episode reveals clues about how they got there and what will happen to them. It’s not like The Prisoner, it’s more like Sartre’s No Exit. The show has literary pretensions and one of the episodes is based on Flann O’Brien’s The Third Policeman. The cast is mostly young and the women wear bikinis. It might be like Survivor in that way. People like giving their theories of what’s really happening. It could be that everyone on the show is dead and the island is like Purgatory. Or it could be something like an alien life form has captured these people to observe them, like in a Kurt Vonnegut novel. It might all be a dream.
It’s a constraint-based TV show. It takes place in “real” time with each episode being an hour long and the projected 24 episodes making up an entire day. It maintains the Aristotlean unities and is still in progress. The plot is about a bomb that will be detonated in the 24th hour. Or maybe it’s about a hostage who will be killed within 24 hours. It stars Kiefer Sutherland and is filmed in Canada. He plays a morally-dubious character. He is a single dad and an alcoholic; he makes “bad” decisions in order to solve the crime. Some of the cast, especially the minor characters, are Canadians. It might actually take place in Toronto.
Saturday, May 01, 2010
Ok, it's probably not that secret, as I reference Greg Dulli in Double Helix, and the line "I'm a gentle gentile man," from Torontology, is my homophonic take on the title of the Afghan Whigs' fourth album.
But still, Gentlemen, although released in 1993, was really the secret soundtrack to my poetic composition in the late summer of 2001, a time I was dealing with the turmoil of a romantic break-up and struggling to control several addictions.
Gentlemen helped provide the catharsis that I needed to move from the emotionally-sprawling, and somewhat cavalier imagery of my first two poetry collections, to the more politically-aware and formally-controlled poetics of American Standard/ Canada Dry. So one might consider Gentlemen the transitional intertext from my poems composed in the 1990s to those written in the new millennium.
Thanks to one of the most unsettling album covers of all time, and tracks such as "What Jail is Really Like" and "Fountain and Fairfax", Gentlemen also convinced me that any residual adolescent conceptions of masculinity and neo-Romantic notions of what a male poet should be needed to be re-examined and transcended--something I've continued to work at doing for the last decade.
Saturday, April 24, 2010
Act so that there is no use in a centre. A wide action is not a width. A preparation is given to the ones preparing. They do not eat who mention silver and sweet. There was an occupation.
A whole centre and a border make hanging a way of dressing. This which is not why there is a voice is the remains of an offering. There was no rental.
The first two stanzas of my allusive referential reduction of Stein's "Rooms":
Perform without a spotlight.
A mix for the masters.
Starve the saccharine smiths.
Attired for the execution.
A speaking sacrifice.
I've called the whole reduction-translation Stanzas, and it will be out soon as a chapbook from Bookthug.
Saturday, April 17, 2010
While my earliest recollection of understanding Icarus as a poetic figure comes from Alden Nowlan's evocative "I, Icarus" (and okay, I'll be honest, Iron Maiden's "Flight of Icarus"), my favourite representation of Icarus comes from the above 1558 painting by Pieter Brueghel. As is probably common for contemporary poets, I first sought out this image after reading William Carlos Williams's Pictures from Brueghel, but the painting has had a more lasting effect on my poetry than the Williams poem. While I certainly admire Williams, and count him as an influence, his ekphrasic take on this painting has always seemed more descriptive than allegorical.
Beyond providing me with an analogy for the adventurous poet in contemporary society, this painting was influential in the composition of Torontology. While I was quite invested with the investigation of Greek and Roman myth in that book, I was attempting to do so from a contemporary perspective and Brueghel's painting spoke to me about the place of the mythological within the quotidian, about society's neglect of the marvellous (in Andre Breton's sense), and about the importance of the unexpected in art--that even when you believe that you've grasped the dominant meaning of a given poem, your reading can always be problematized by something small happening in the lower right corner.
Saturday, April 10, 2010
RUST BELT BOOKS
Date and Time: 7:30pm, Tuesday April 20th
Gregory Betts is a poet and scholar in
Stephen Cain is the author of three poetry collections—American Standard/
Holly (a second-year PhD candidate affiliated with the Buffalo Poetics Program) Melgard (DOB: 10/13/83, Sex: F, Eyes: Br, Ht: 5’3, Wt: 145 lbs, Organ donor) is an English Composition (101, 201, and 102) instructor (section C-1, Park 148, 10-10:50 M,W,F). A profile of her most recent work has just been published online by Craigslist, Wikipedia, and MScape. Other poems have been published in print by
Justin Parks is a third-year PhD student, a fellow-traveler of the poetics program, and a student of American modernist literature and culture. With Minna Miemi, he’s co-authored an essay on Claude McKay and James Joyce that will be appearing in a collection titled Phenomenology, Modernism, and Beyond later this year.
The day after, Greg and I will back across the border, in Niagara Falls, to participate in the Hearthside Reading Series:
brought to you by grey borders
the hearthside hearings present:
an evening with authors Gregory Betts and Stephen Cain
Wed. April 21st 2010 8:00pm EST In Niagara Falls Ontario
seats are very limited so please contact us
to RSVP before April 16, 2010
Admittance is free but donations will be accepted graciously at the door
if you cannot attend in person join us LIVE on ustream
Wednesday April 21, 2010 at 8:00pm EST
Saturday, April 03, 2010
Saturday, March 27, 2010
Many phrases from that album continue to run through my head involuntarily, or find themselves peppering my conversation about writing, notably: "There's no Michelangelo coming from Pittsburgh," (from "Small Town"), "that's the trouble with Classicists" (from the song of the same name), or "the most important thing is work" (from "Work"). Actually, a whole stanza from that latter song continues to haunt me when I'm feeling unproductive in my creative or academic life, that being the one where Warhol chastizes Reed for not writing enough: No matter what I did it never seemed enough/ he said I was lazy, I said I was young/ He said, "How many songs did you write ?"/ I'd written zero, I'd lied and said, "Ten."/ "You won't be young forever/ You should have written fifteen"/ It's work.
Reed's New York came out the summer I turned drinking age, and all that year it was an essential album at all occasions (I think I had it on vinyl and tape, and it was one of the first albums I got as a CD when I bought a player the following year). In contrast, Songs for Drella was the sleeper album (quite literally: I'd often play it before passing out after a long day) that I listened to all through the first year of university when I'd left home and was trying to figure out my own aesthetics. Songs for Drella, thanks to the presence of Cale, also led me to investigating the Velvet Underground (yep, typical bass-ackward adolescent idiocy--of course "Sweet Jane" was popular again thanks to the Cowboy Junkies cover which was also huge in Canada during 1989, but it took me several years to track down the entire Velvets catalogue and give it the listen it warrants) and Cale's solo work.
Once that album wormed its way into my subconscious, it wasn't long before I started investigating Warhol himself. The 1990s were a great opportunity to do so, as several films featuring Warhol came out during that time (Basquiat and I Shot Andy Warhol both in 1996), a cool Kingston theatre company did an environmental production based on Warhol's Factory when I was in third year, and I got to see a small Warhol exhibit while visiting Madrid in the spring of 1990. My interest in Warhol and his circle continued, but was really rekindled in the last few years after meeting Kenny Goldsmith and reading his excellent critical work on Warhol, including I'll Be Your Mirror: The Selected Andy Warhol Interviews (2004). By this time, my interest was less in the gossip and lifestyle of the Factory, and more in Warhol's actual cultural production, which is how it always should have been (as I keep returning: adolescent impressions take a while to overcome).
Beyond the use of pop culture references in my poetry, what Warhol--and more particularly the representation of Warhol in Songs for Drella--taught me was the importance of working hard at your craft, not to be afraid of repetition (which would be reinforced when I first read Gertrude Stein at around the same time), and how you didn't need to come from a cool place (I still struggle with my Oshawa upbringing), be a confident kid, or have a remarkable early family life, to be an artist. I guess it comes down to this song:
Saturday, March 20, 2010
In the spirit of that investigation I went back to one of the earliest embarrassing influences on my poetry: a skit by John Cleese. During my teen and pre-teen years in Oshawa, Monty Python was a big source of entertainment at mostly-male weekend gatherings where the albums and films were always in heavy rotation. I imagine it has been the same among socially-awkward and pseudo-intellectual boys across North America and the U.K. for the past 30 years. Thus it is with chagrin that I realize how much my early writing was influenced Cleese's "Word Association."
This piece taught me about parataxis long before I read Gertrude Stein, about the importance of grammatical shifters years before encountering Steve McCaffery, and the energy that can be created by shifting verbal registers before I had even heard of Bruce Andrews. Both the skill of this performance and and the humour of this piece reminds me of the best LANGUAGE poetry, and I wouldn't be surprised if I one day learned that Charles Bernstein was inspired by some of the Pythons (although I'm guessing he would cite Groucho Marx and early American comedians before the British). I also seem to recall that Brian Kim Stefans once made a quip about possible connections between the performances of John Cleese and Steve McCaffery. I can't remember if Steve thought the comparison flattering or apt, but I think there's something there: in my writing, if not in his and the others.
Saturday, March 13, 2010
- The Pornographer’s Poem (Michael Turner, 2000)
- What We All Long For (Dionne Brand, 2005)
- Buddha Stevens & Other Stories (Steven Hayward, 2000)
- Spare Parts Plus Two (Gail Scott, 2002)
- Hopeful Monsters (Hiromi Goto, 2004)
- Girls Fall Down (Maggie Helwig, 2008)
- Asylum (Andre Alexis, 2008)
- Lullabies for Little Criminals (Heather O’Neill, 2006)
- Getting Lucky (Matt Cohen, 2001)
- The Shadow Boxer (Steven Heighton, 2000)
Saturday, March 06, 2010
I've been thinking about compiling a list of my favourite Canadian fiction of the past decade as a companion piece to the top 10 poetry titles I posted a few weeks ago. I say favourite as opposed to "best" as I don't get a chance to read as much contemporary fiction as I'd like (most of my spare reading time is devoted to poetry and theory). While drafting a list I realized I'd have to leave off many of my most admired fictions as I'd had a hand in their production as editor. To compensate for these omissions I thought I'd revisit the imprint I edited at Insomniac Press from 2002-2006.
Originally planned as a publishing offshoot of the Queen Street Quarterly literary journal, which Suzanne Zelazo and I had edited for the previous seven years, when Suzanne and I split up I took on the imprint at Insomniac as a solo enterprise. In starting out, I chose the title of the imprint from part of a line by Charles Bernstein ("in the imploded sentence the reader stays plugged into the wave-like pulse of the writing") and I also knew that the first book that I wanted to do was debut collection of Emily Schultz who had been a frequent contributor to the QSQ. After that first title, I continued to seek out diverse and challenging texts--often experimental in form or at least thematically unconventional--and after four years had produced a list of which I remain proud.
Working at Insomniac during this period was an exciting and occasionally frustrating time as acquiring exceptional fiction titles proved to be a greater challenge than I had expected when I began in 2002. Thus. when I began full time teaching at York in 2005, the amount of work required by both jobs meant that I had to retire Implosion in order to concentrate on academics.
As for the graphic, which I'm often asked about, in a Spinal Tap moment I scrawled my idea for the imprint's logo on a napkin while drinking at the Horseshoe Tavern and gave it to publisher and designer Mike O'Connor who kindly and admirably rendered the image as it appears above.
Checklist of Implosion titles 2002-2006:
Black Coffee Night (Emily Schultz, 2002)
A Penny Dreadful (Gustave Morin, 2003)
The Inactivist (Chris Eaton, 2003)
Meet Me in the Parking Lot (Alexandra Leggat, 2004)
Certifiable (David McGimpsey, 2004)
Asthmatica (Jon Paul Fiorentino, 2005: 1st Ed., white cover)
Asthmatica (Jon Paul Fiorentino, 2005: Reprint, black cover)
The Grammar Architect (Chris Eaton, 2005)
Whatever Happens (Tim Conley, 2006)
The Mole Chronicles (Andy Brown, 2006)
Saturday, February 27, 2010
"Trustful Fatigue and Reality" is the only text in Entrails (Coach House, 1981), Ray Ellenwood's award-winning English translation of Gauvreau's short plays, that Ellenwood chose not to "translate" as it is appears to be written in an invented language with few recognizable cognates. Gauvreau himself would call this style of writing an attempt to move beyond standard poetic imagery (which may be rhythmic, reflective, or transformative according to Gauvreau) to a new image explor éenne, or explorational image consisting of non-semantic utterance.
In keeping with this explorational process, my solution was to render the play semantically, but in non-referential language through a homophonic translation. The original Gauvreau, followed by my translation, appears below.
Claude Gauvreau (1925-1971)
Trustful Fatigue and Reality
Keulessa Kyrien Cobliéniz Jaboir
Veulééioto Caubitchounitz Abléoco
Vénicir Chlaham Kérioti Kliko
Sannessa vélo Moutchnaïk Révoi
Kharinaïne bénessoir sellèr achmatz
krioun alégo amemor ripiutz leslé
aglradine noeutéon paklica erremmetz
djackliane mandousse petréobor
nochnéagriawa sételsel clariassener
jôquoimoil nontonduc allessande rébrér
novaképalès Djvoriadjiana Kuntroubel
tetrapaïte jonsel nilâcouâ alrivage
akdoc cousine-germaine déplaatz
circuitz monse dobo lévil-clair
palosse-pensée moulmolossse adjeuate
Kénoice Salibleuwié Aklistantan
Schnlouem Jakonitz Eulbéka Krôhenn
LaToilia Dédjoitonte Wanékoin
Lite-gazère Goitena Chapelle automatique
A Homophonic Translation of Claude Gauvreau’s “Trustful Fatigue and Reality”
[For Ray Ellenwood]
Keys you lease, Kyries cost, laid in knights jab our
View; lay into cows, bitch or nits enable a coup.
Sand-nestled veils of
Karen-Anne, Benny’s sore cellar, and mats.
Crayons and Lego, a memoir ripped its last legs.
A glad dime, no eating, we packed light, an error met.
Jack and Dianne: man does Peter abhor ‘em.
Nought or nay, agreeable water-sellers clear a sinner.
Joe crows “more oil”: none-ton dukes all sand their Ray beards.
Nova comes pale, DJs various, and DJs come troubled.
Tetra packs join sales; nails and coins all ravage.
And our dock cousins: Germans out of place.
Circus monks say: to do about evil’s clear?
Pals lose pens, say: more molasses and juice, eh?
Ok, once slipped you weigh acts, lists, and time.
Since you’re him, Jack (or not), you’ll beckon crows and hens.
Late toil, I’m dead; joy taunts, wanting coin.
Light glazes air, going on ten, the chap’s an auto magnate.