Saturday, December 22, 2012

NBT Thing

The indefatigable rob mclennan tapped me to answer these interview questions and pass them on.

What is your working title of your book?


Where did the idea come from for the book?

After looking at the sequences I’d been writing for the last few years I realized that what they all had in common was that all the poems were engaged with the process of “carrying across” meaning from one to discourse to another.

What genre does your book fall under?

Poetry/ translation.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

I think Helen Mirren could do a good Gertrude Stein. Someone in the Skarsgard clan could pass as bpNichol. With some CGI I can cover Mayakovsky myself.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

A book of alternative translations, ranging from homolinguistic to homophonic to ekphrasic.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I haven’t sent it out yet.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

I’m still working on it, but it includes poems I started five years ago.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Translating Translating Apollinaire, Six Fillious, Zygal, Frogments from the Frag Pool.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

The avant-garde tradition in western literature.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

It’s got it all: image-music-text, verbi-vocal-visual, comics to captchas.

I was supposed to tag five more writers, but I could only find two people to play, Greg Betts, and Jonathan Ball (who immediately tagged me back). There you go.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Raymond Souster (1912-2012)

I was very saddened by the news of the passing of Raymond Souster. As well as being an inspiring figure in both his writing and his publishing ventures, Souster's lifelong home in West Toronto (High Park/ Baby Point) has also been my locale for the last decade. I frequently walk past such streets as Armadale Avenue, and never fail to think of Souster and his poem below:

Armadale Avenue Revisted

Street of my boyhood
(I lived right around the corner),
quiet, leaf-heavy street
of West Toronto.
behind that house, in the lane,
from garage roofs we ambushed
the Nelles Street gang,
pinned them down with catapults,
then, out of acorns,
forgot all our strategy
and ran like hell.
                        Out this door,
on Christmas Day
of all days, that queer girl
came sleep-walking, nightgown and all,
and even the snow underfoot
couldn't waken her.
                            At this number lived
the grease-monkey boys,
(their Stutz Touring shined
to a blinding dazzle),
who sometimes took me
as heart-pounding passenger
out the Queen Elizabeth,
to run her, gun her
past eighty on a straight stretch,
with the extra spice
of maybe a speed-cop
coming out of nowhere.
                                  On this lawn
I pounded and bloodied
my next-to-worst enemy,
and curiously found
it wasn't fun anymore.

But tonight it's only
ghosts I see around these houses,
the old gang gone,
every one of them;
some killed in war,
some from natural causes,
the rest, I can guess,
growing fat and middle-aged
like me.
           But not one of them
comes back here, I know,
they've got better sense:

just the crazy poet
well hooked on the past,
a sucker for memories.

There have been a number of tributes to Souster in the last few weeks (including a rather back-handed one by Russell Smith in the Globe). One of the best has been Cameron Anstee's consideration of Souster's Contact magazine and press which can be found here. I was also grateful to see that rob mclennan's tribute to Souster mentions an essay I wrote about Souster and Toronto which was originally published in The Canadian Modernists Meet (U of Ottawa, 2005) and edited by Dean Irvine.

In honour of Souster, I'd like to make "Mapping Raymond Souster's Toronto" available to read here.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Norry Comments on it in 1965

Sharon Harris brought my attention to this article by Russell Smith in this week's Globe and Mail.

Strange that Smith would complain about something that, in his estimation, has not only has existed since 1955, but has been critiqued since 1965. If Northrop Frye--not the most contemporary-minded and radical of our critics--found this trend problematic 35 years ago, why is this news today? What truth to power is he speaking? And what does it say about Smith's peers like Michael Redhill, Anne Michaels, Michael Crummey, Ross King, or Jane Urquhart,  who continue to uphold this tradition?

From Frye's "Conclusion to a Literary History of Canada":

Why do Canadians write so many historical romances ...? One can understand it in the earlier period: the tendency to melodrama in romance makes it part of a central convention of that time. But romances are still going strong in the twentieth century and if anything even stronger in our own day. They get a little sexier and more violent as they go on, but the formula remains much the same: so much love-making, so much "research" about antiquities and costume copied off filing cards, more love-making, more filing cards. There is clearly a steady market for this ....

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Secret Influences 9: General Motors

With the recent news of more closures at the Oshawa General Motors plant I'm reminded of the significance GM has had in developing some of my aesthetic.

In the early 1990s I was fortunate enough to be employed as a temporary line worker for three summers. Over that time I worked the chassis assembly, the brake line, and the engine line and learned much about union culture and work floor politics. Coming from a middle class family in a working class city I've always respected the importance of the auto industry in sustaining my hometown and in the 1990s this was consolidated with first-hand experience of what it means to labour on assembly lines, to do double shifts, to work overnights, and to learn about solidarity and the interaction between bodies and machines.

This shows up most explicitly (and formally) in poems like "Hydra" and in American Standard/ Canada Dry as a whole, as well as in the ideology behind much of I Can Say Interpellation.

Over those three summers I also tackled three long novels I probably wouldn't have had the opportunity to read otherwise: Don Quixote, Moby Dick, and The Making of Americans. Before shifts, during breaks and lunch, as well as the times when the assembly line broke down I'd be able to finish a chapter or so, but I'd also read between tasks--for example, I'd finish one engine or brake and then read a couple of sentences before the next part came down the line. I'd prop the novel up in my work station and hold the page down with a bolt, moving it slowly down the page as the shift continued. I'm sure this affected how I consumed those novels--sometimes slowly, sometimes in bursts, and all connected with the smell of the car factory and the wear and tear the air gun was taking on my wrist and upper body. I particularly associate Stein with that experience and the copy I was reading was one I checked out from the York University library. That copy is still in circulation at Scott and still bears the grease marks on its pages from my bookmark bolt.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Dog and the Man

Finally having a chance to read Various Positions, Ira Nadel's biography of Leonard Cohen (1996, rev. 2007). So far the most revealing passage has been:

As a child, Cohen had a small Scottish terrier, nicknamed Tinkie for the tinkle of his license and identification tags. His parents surprised him with the dog as a gift ... His mother had actually named the dog Tovarishch, but his father disliked the reminder of the site of the Russo-German treaties. Tinkie disappeared in a snowstorm fifteen years later and was found dead under a neighbor's porch the next spring. The dog had been one of Cohen's closest childhood companions; Cohen still keeps a picture of Tinkie in his Los Angles home. To this day he refuses to get another dog...

I don't think I need to read anymore of the biography after this: everything is there in essence.

Monday, June 18, 2012


This is the first year that I noticed that Bloomsday and Father's Day are so close together. It's strangely appropriate for a novel so concerned with questions of paternity, patronage, and sons (missing, dead, resentful...) as well as the desired surrogate father-son relationship between Bloom and Stephen.

[Image from the BBC radio dramatization of Ulysses].

While this year is significant for Joyce studies due to the works coming into the public domain, for me, 2012 also marks 25 years since my father's passing.

Friday, June 08, 2012

Happy Birthday Bro

Happy 40th Birthday to my amazing brother Michael who features in several poems in Double Helix, and for whom the sequence "Arcadian Suite" is dedicated.

THE CRYSTAL PALACE (from "Arcadian Suite")
"The arcade is a street of lascivious commerce only; it is wholly adapted to arousing desires."

-- Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project --

The site of youthful addictions. Perhaps a Parnassus, or Fortress of Solitude. But only when school was skipped, before the crowds arrived. Mall rations, tokenism at best, anniversary adversaries.

So revel without pause. That brief magic moment before it was all brought home. Colours as candy, the rotting as subliminal, darkness at the centre of town. Exercision. Eye or hand, a quarter nation.

No pleasure without fraternity. Two-player team-ups with the lines drawn religiously. Paying to fight, just like a colony. Queen Elizabeth II confrontations. Cain my brother, Cain my enabeler.

Saturday, June 02, 2012

God Save Jamie Reid

1977 was the first year that I was conscious of what year it was. The first weekend of June that year I was turning seven and birthday cards & books that I received were often inscribed with "1977". Thus it's not surprising that that year is vividly embossed in my memory. During that time I was also a novice stamp collector & remember being annoyed that many of the Canadian stamps in the early part of the year were devoted to images of the Queen (at the expense of other cool things that seemed to happening that year, like a new Toronto baseball team called the Blue Jays, or Star Wars, a life-changing film I had seen a month earlier ...). 

Flash-forward to 2012, my birthday is approaching & earlier this week I couldn't buy a set of postage stamps anywhere in Toronto that didn't have military hardware or images of the Queen on them. And fully half of last night's National was devoted to the Queen's jubilee (at the expense of detailed stories on the Montreal protests, Syria, European and U.S. economic meltdowns, the gutting of environmental research in Canada, General Motors closures, and so on...)

At this time I feel it's worth revisiting Jamie Reid's original artwork for the Sex Pistols' "God Save the Queen" which responded to the Queen's Silver Jubilee & which is more transgressive than the eventual artwork utilized: swastika eyes & all...

And Canada's dreaming...

Friday, May 25, 2012

New Conley Launching

I had the opportunity to read an advance version of Tim Conley's first collection of poetry, One False Move, and contributed a blurb for this great book. I don't know the other readers on the bill, but I'm excited about checking out this launch on Tuesday as Quattro continues to publish more and more interesting work.

Quattro Books Spring Launch

Quattro Books, ‘Home of the Novella’, hosts
the final launch of their Spring 2012 list


Ken Klonsky, Life Without;
Binnie Brennan, A Certain Grace;
Leah Murray, Romancing the Buzzard;
Tim Conley, One False Move; and
Chantel Lavoie, Where the Terror Lies

Tuesday May.29thSupermarket Restaurant,268 Augusta Avenue, Toronto 7:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.
Admission is free. Books will be available for purchase. Drinks and food are sold through the restaurant and bar.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Sunday, May 13, 2012

BafterC Launching

The issue of BafterC I guest-edited will be launching on May 22nd at the Supermarket along with a bevy of excellent books and chapbooks from Bookthug, including those by Margaret Christakos, Christine McNair, Andrew McEwan, Nicole Markotic, and H.D.

More info here.

Monday, May 07, 2012

Petition for Understanding Canada

Composed by Colin Coates:

As Canadian scholars who specialise in the study of our country, we would like to express our deep concern and opposition to the termination of the ‘Understanding Canada’ programme. For the last thirty years, the Canadian government has provided well-targeted funds to scholarly associations in countries around the world to encourage the study of Canada.

This efficient programme through its support for the expansion of Canadian Studies programmes has fostered greater international understanding and strategic scholarly, economic, social and cultural interest in our nation. There are now Canadian Studies Associations active in countries from Argentina to Poland, and from Israel to India.

International scholarship on Canada is a tremendous benefit to scholars, researchers and policy makers in this country. It has created a network of specialists able to comment on Canada and Canadian issues in a non-partisan, informed, and insightful manner. Our own scholarship and understanding of our country is enriched by our opportunity to exchange views with international scholars.

Eliminating the programme which supports international Canadian Studies is a false economy. Canadian resources invested are more than matched by investments from participating countries. Much of these monies are spent in Canada, as international scholars travelled to our country for research, collaborative initiatives, or conferences. These resources fostered a international partnerships which afforded important opportunities for Canadian scholars and in particular our students. Graduate and undergraduate students in Canadian Studies have benefited from the perspectives our international colleagues have provided. These cuts will have a negative impact on their education.

All leading countries support cultural and scholarly diplomacy. The Canadian model has been extremely productive at delivering results in a cost-effective fashion. 

Sign petition here.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Embrace April

I keep forgetting which month it is. Is it the unpredictable weather or this?:

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Bookthug Night at Pivot

I can't participate in this reading tonight, but please come out to see Greg Betts and Marianne Apostolides as part of the Pivot Reading Series' celebration of recent Bookthug authors.

Pivot Readings at the Press Club
Featuring Marianne Apostolides and Gregory Betts
Wednesday, April 18
8 PM
The Press Club
850 Dundas Street West

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Chewed Covers

I find that Winter Studies and Summer Rambles (1838) by Anna Jameson is my least favourite of the three "ladies in the wilderness" books which found the Canadian canon. While one can't help but admire Jameson's bravery in her travels through southwestern Ontario in the 1830s, and her fairly sensitive discussion of the Natives she encounters (particularly the Ojibway/ Chippewa), the book as a whole lacks the irony and subtlety of Susanna Moodie's Roughing it in the Bush (1852) or the cheerful optimism and joyful recording of the flora of Ontario and its settlers found Catharine Parr Traill's Backwoods of Canada (1836). Rather, one quickly tires of Jameson's lecturing on Goethe, German Romanticism, and her constant return to the importance of temperance/ prohibition.

Our six-month-old puppy would, I believe, concur with this opinion as evidenced by her recent review of the book:

Photo by Sharon Harris

Saturday, March 24, 2012

GB Report

Last Friday's Grey Borders reading was one of the most enjoyable events I have participated in or witnessed in many years. All three of the readers I shared the stage with were exceptional, the audience was receptive and a pleasure to read to, and the venue and the organization of the evening were both top notch.

Photo by Amanda Roth.

A report on the night can be found on the Grey Borders blog.

And more photos by Amanda Roth are apparently available for those of you on Facebook here.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Approaching Grey Borders

I'm looking forward to reading at the Grey Borders series in St. Catharines in two weeks with the awesome line-up of Phil Hall, Susan Holbrook and Helen Hajnoczky.

Phil Hall
Susan Holbrook
Stephen Cain
Helen Hajnoczky

Friday 16 March 2012 @ 7pm
Niagara Artists Centre (354 St. Paul Street, St. Catharines, Ontario)

Info on the Grey Borders Series here.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Cool Covers 5?

While I'm scanning new book covers to discuss, I thought I'd throw this puzzling entry into the ring. Not a book cover, but in the same strange spirit?

Back when I was living in Kingston for the second time (1999-2001) my neighbour Steve Heighton introduced me to retsina. We both knew that this was not a high-calibre Greek wine, but man is it refreshing when chilled. I don't know if its the resin or the grape, but nothing I've encountered tastes as cold as this beverage.

I've taken to drinking a glass of Malamatina while doing my evening reading of poetry and have been pondering this strange label:

I believe the Greek in the top corner translates as "Malamatina forever!" and I understand why there are grapes at the top, but what are we to make of the central figure?

Is it supposed to be a child? A dwarf? Is it wearing diapers? To me it looks like Tintin or Astro Boy on a bender, or a teletubbie hitting the bottle. And why is it drinking wine out of a mug?

And then there's the key. What's it supposed to be opening? One's gullet? Is it loosening one's inhibitions? Or is it a key to happiness? If it's some wind-up element it's on the wrong side of the figure.

I find this as inscrutable as a free mason emblem and I haven't been able to find anything online about the origins of this design. Perhaps someone better-versed in semiotics can give me a hand....

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Review and Reminder

Nice review of I Can Say Interpellation in the new Broken Pencil by Nico Mara-McKay:

And a reminder for those of you in the Toronto area that I'll be reading from the said text, as well as new and old material, Sunday evening at the Holy Oak (see last posting).

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Avantgarden Reading

I'll be reading from I Can Say Interpellation and new material at the Avantgarden series with Mat Laporte and Jimmy McInnes.

Sunday, February 19, 2012 - 5:30pm

Holy Oak Cafe
1241 Bloor Street West
Toronto, ON
M6H 1N6

More info here.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Cool Covers 4

A find at a yard sale for $1, perhaps the cheesiest bookcover I own (although Cool Covers 6 might test that premise):

Published by Avon Books ("The Sign of Good Reading") in 1965, this misleading edition makes me wonder what Avon would have produced had they acquired the rights for Beautiful Losers, a book which actually does have pornographic passages.

Beyond the photo, and the American re-spelling of the original title, I'm surprised that the cover copy defines the favourite game as sex.

Of course it is one of the great aspects of the novel that the favourite game remains somewhat ambiguous, but can it really be reduced to sex? This is my reading copy of the novel:

Glad to see that McClelland and Stewart's NCL edition has the proper spelling (but which way will the new German-owned M&S go?). This time the cover image implies that the music industry is the favourite game, although this edition's backcover copy suggests otherwise:

There is humour here, and tenderness, heightened by a shrewd appraisal of the human comedy--where "the favourite game" is love.

I like this interpretation, but what does Cohen himself suggest by the novel's end? In my favourite passage, which concludes the book, Cohen writes:

Jesus! I just remembered what Lisa's favourite game was. After a heavy snow we would go into a back yard with a few of our friends. The expanse of snow would be white and unbroken. Bertha was the spinner. You held her hands while she turned on her heels, you circled her until your feet left the ground. Then she let go and you flew over the snow. You remained still in whatever position you landed. When everyone had been flung in this fashion into the fresh snow, the beautiful part of the game began. You stood up carefully, taking great pains not to disturb the impression you had made. Now the comparisons. Of course you would have done your best to land in some crazy position, arms and legs sticking out. Then we walked away, leaving a lovely white field of blossom-like shapes with footprint stems.

For a history of a similarly misrepresented Canadian "classic", see the Dusty Bookcase on Thomas Raddall's The Nymph and the Lamp here.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Grad School Anthem

Having been a big fan of the Weakerthans, and chief songwriter John K. Samson, for a long time it's nice to see his first solo album, Provincial, leading off with such a strong track. Riffing on Bob Dylan's "When I Paint My Masterpiece," Samson builds from a foundation of a Ramones-style guitar sound to produce a portrait of academic ennui that any grad student can identify with: 

Samson, who is also one of the founders of the activist press Arbeiter Ring, has also released a collection of his poems and lyrics, which he was recently in Toronto to promote.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Cool Covers 3

Another book I picked up at Contact Editions based on the cover alone. A 1958 title from a time when Toronto-based Harlequin Books was marketing books for both men and women, and was dabbling in non-fiction (at least of the "true-crime" nature) and flying the flag a bit with a nod to nationalism. Many Harlequin books from the 1950s have great artwork and titles, but few as remarkable as this:

For the full back-story of Gay Canadian Rogues (as well as other early Harlequins) check out the Dusty Bookcase blog here.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Cool Covers 2

As a Canadianist I couldn't resist picking up this one-off Archie Digest from 1996 where the gang visits Canada.

I like to bring it to my introduction to Canadian Literature or Canadian Studies class and ask them, as Canadians, what's wrong with the cover image (beyond its obvious sexism) and see how long it takes to find the error.

Answer is in the comments....

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Cool Covers 1

Still reading Mark Polizzotti's biography of Andre Breton, Revolution of the Mind, and am deep into the part of Breton's life where he was desperate to be considered part of the Communist revolutionary vanguard and was constantly rebuffed by the French Communist Party. As the 1930s draw to a close Breton's battle shifts to oppose Stalin's version of Communism and results in a friendship and intellectual collaboration with Trotsky. The schism between Trotskyists and Stalinists also becomes personal as Breton breaks all communication with Paul Eluard over his support of Stalin (Louis Aragon had been "excommunicated" earlier for the same reason). With all this infighting I was compelled to pull out my favourite copy of the Communist Manifesto:
I picked this up a decade ago when I was working at Contact Editions on Mount Pleasant. Published and printed in Moscow in 1954, it is quite the deluxe edition, the cover featuring embossed portraits of Marx and Engels, and their names appearing gilded (not so clear from the scan above). The interior is also surprisingly high-end for a mass-market paperback with photographic plates, some in colour. In many ways it resembles a bible, which I suppose is appropriate as Communism was to replace conventional religion. What is also surprising in the interior is the half-title page:

Here we have Stalin sticking his head into a lineage with Marx, Engels, and Lenin. Initially I thought this was hilarious, with yet another example of Stalin's immense ego, and his pretensions to intellectualism--and notice that he comes first: me Stalin me come first. But after recently reading about Trotsky's assassination and starting to look through Timothy Snyder's Bloodlands, I now just find it sobering.